Sunday, January 6, 2019

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Lambert

Jeannie Lambert
Young Adult 
Hacking Health

Nobody likes going mudding more than Jessie. Flinging mud and spinning tires fuel her with the same adrenaline rush that is typically bottled up in a Red Bull. The way is difficult, it’s hard to avoid the piles of cow dung through the billowing smoke; but she’ll be careful.   Holding her breath she steps through the diesel cloud.  She needs this – a gritty reality brake to stop her racing thoughts.  Stepping right up to the rim of a newly formed mud pit, she eyes the line of trucks waiting to compete.  Most people would pick the dually; it’s the biggest and appears ready to claim bragging rights. But she’ll declare bullshit if anyone thinks it’s a done deal.  The little rusty Chevy S-10 has same chance as the rest of them. 

A truck is successful when the tires skim the surface and cross a churned up bridge of mud.  Failure, almost always certain, is an axles-deep burial followed by a helpful tow from the crag mire. “Boiling Springs” is stamped all over this Saturday night.   

Moving closer to the speakers, staged on top of a truck bed; Jessie feels the pull to dance – solo.  It is not choreographed or planned, mostly a free form response to the music.  Her teachers wouldn’t recognize her.  She keeps to herself mostly in class.  Patiently quiet, she’s gotten marked absent and served a Saturday detention rather than speak up about the mistake.  Glancing down at her wrist, she sees her fluttering pulse keeping time with the Electronic Dance Music. The lyrics, “Dream, Dream, Dream bigger,” speak to her.  One song mixes into the next.  She notices that she is no longer by herself, but with others compelled to move along with the beat.

Despite the razor sharp edges of the corn stalks, too soon the light from morning cuts through.  Waking up from her trance, she feels an unrelenting pull to head back to the house.

“When,” asks Jessie. 

“Soon,” said the junior firefighter.  He hacks the Navy’s weather

“Not soon enough,” said Jessie.  Careful, she cautions herself; she can’t act like a yappy dog.  She doesn’t believe in making plans.

“In a day or two we can expect a lightning storm.  It should bust a groove for us to play in.” Jessie nods her head in response and steps with a boost of emotional helium that immediately lifts her mood.    

Walking away she notices that she is covered by a film of dirt with who knows what cling-on bugs, the nabs she ate hours ago makes her now crave a back side of a forward facing mule, her eyes feel hot-glued to her contacts; and she couldn’t be happier.   Moving to Boiling Springs from Miami a year ago was scary, but good based on tonight. 

Chapter 2
Miami, a 12-hour drive, seems further away somehow.  It’s been a long time since Jessie was a soccer girl there.  Her membership in the most popular group at Coral Gables High School was guaranteed, as long as the new recruits kept the All- Conference trophy.  No pressure, but Coral Gables was known for their soccer winning streak and subsequent visits from college recruiters.  By the time a freshman girl longingly thought about joining, it was too late.  While someone new to the school might think, “that’s unfair,” they didn’t take into consideration both the time and effort to build the team.  This was not a game of chance; a winning team was built by these girls when they were just five years-old.  Jessie earned her spot way back then.  Someone might think, “Easy for her.”  Call it easy if you want to, and then don’t be distracted by Jessie’s steady dedication to the sport – all ten years.  While other girls were having fun, she was spending her time getting better at soccer whether it be training, travel or sports camps. 

The girls made it look effortless to pass, maneuver, and strike the ball without losing their breath.  The defeat of the other team happened partially before they met on the field.  The green and gray reputation was confirmed during warm-ups, the balls appeared magnetized to the cleats of the girl’s every running steps.  And, confirmed by the score board after the bench emptied a continuous cohort of talented players, each girl prepared to exhibit the latest in bicycle kicks, headers and perfect forward passes. 

Jessie knew soccer, which helped her in other areas of her life.  School was easy for someone who knew how to focus and spend time learning new stuff.  Her social group was also set with friends and boys all too eager to follow their group.  Being in the coveted group was all that Jessie knew - hanging out with her friends; she didn’t realize that everyone didn’t have the same thing.  And she could’ve continued to live this very charmed life.  But that’s not how Jessie’s story plays out.  The universe conspired to change things for Jessie.  She saw a shadow of herself and had to respond like she always did in the past.  Attack and play the ball where ever it took her. 

Chapter 3
Miami had nothing on Boiling Springs when it came to parties. Jessie, like any normal teen, couldn’t agree more that these kids had a unique party vibe.  Unlike these friends, she didn’t have to scatter with the new covert mission to sneak back home before their respective parents find out they’ve been missing.  Jessie saunters to her ride.  She has no such concern.  She’s lucky, her friends remind her frequently.  She doesn’t have a meet-your-curfew or get-grounded set of parents.  In fact, she stays with her Grammy.  What she gained in the arrangement is freedom from anyone who keeps track of her, including oddly enough, Grammy.  A
self-proclaimed hermit, Grammy will tolerate Jessie; but she doesn’t like to bother with people in general.  Jessie promised Grammy that she’d take care of herself.  Which means mostly they live parallel lives with very little intersection.  

Out of respect for her octogenarian roommate, Jessie quietly sneaks down the outside egress steps to her basement DIY bedroom.  She operates the door handle with agonizing patience of a safe cracker.  Hoping not to wake up Grammy, she curses every mechanical click. 

Good.  The house is quiet.  Too quiet, she places buds in her ears ready to fill up the space.  It is the same music as tonight, but it in no way conjures up the same feeling.  She feels restless here in her room, but last night she felt alive in her skin.  Going to the beach offers her the same vibrant energy.  She loves the rough pull of the surf and the messy salty spray that she wears like a second skin.  In her old life, during the annual family Myrtle Beach trip she would select a seashell to bring back as a talisman to remind and reconnect her to that feeling.  In fact, her collection is next to her bed.  Turning a Lightning Whelk shell in her fingers she rubs the ridges, but the water that made those swirls is long gone and she can’t return to that moment no matter how hard she tries to transport herself back there. 

She flings herself on the mattress set in the corner of a cool basement. The caked mud flakes off, but Jessie is too tired to shower.  She’ll sleep on top of her covers, and then deal with the mess tomorrow.  Finding herself horizontal feels good especially for a self-proclaimed, non-sporty body.  Her mind is awake and searching.  Last night was fun in a new way.  She did her first ride along.  It didn’t last long – the truck made it about halfway through.  When she realized that Lars couldn’t make the truck go either forward or backward, she felt a little trapped.  She had to ditch the truck or suffer a public panic attack. They were in the middle of an epic mud hole and the only logical way was to walk through it.  She pulled a Jessie.    


  1. Hi Jeannie,

    You’ve got a lot of good conflict and intrigue in the beginning – I’m intrigued by the conversation with the junior firefighter (but what’s his name?), the way Jessie acts differently here than in class, and her interest in mud bikes. She’s a great character and I want to read more about her.

    However, the story moves fast without giving us much to really sink our teeth into. I’m a little disoriented as to where we are (who is competing? For fun or a real competition? Ground us in the setting and who else is there.) Then we quickly move to her dancing (I thought she wanted to go mudding, but on the third read, I realized she was just walking in to watch, not participate).

    Chapter 2 confused me and felt out of place. This could be weaved in the scene as backstory (but not too much – just little hints of the contrast between her old life and new.) There’s a lot of explanation about what mudding is and who Jessie was back in Miami instead of showing us these things. It would really make the story come alive (and help with the pacing) if we slowed down a bit to SHOW what’s going on and weave these elements in throughout one scene. Within these first five pages, we have 3 chapters, which is pretty fast. In Chapter 3, you mention her on her first ride along the night before – maybe show this as the opening scene.

    I think focusing on what you want the reader to get out of the beginning (usually it’s liking the main character, understanding the setting and hooking the reader) will help you focus on what’s important.

    Looking forward to the revision!

  2. Hello, Jeannie! Hope you're doing well.

    I got a clear feeling of who Jessie is as a character, and I liked her a lot. I would love to see her interact with other characters more, I think it'd be super interesting! Well done on Jessie!!

    My first thought upon reading your piece is that it could benefit a lot from breaking some of the paragraphs as well as some of the sentences. And also making some sentences longer. I noticed that within the paragraphs you have a lot of similar-length sentences one after the other, or too close, and that tends to feel very linear, and I think the story would flow better if it had a little rhythm, which you can get by combining short, medium, and long sentences into one paragraph.

    Another thing I think your piece could benefit from is descriptions! (I loathe writing descriptions, I think descritions are the worst, I would write dialogue for days if I could, but it's necessary). What does the setting look like? What does the firefighter look like? Is he wearing his uniform? What does that look like? There's mud all over the place, what does the mud smell like? What does the sky look like? Is it clear as she asks when they'll do it again? Is that why she says "not soon enough"? There are so many little details you can add that would make the setting come alive.

    The story moves really fast and, like Katie mentioned, we don't have time to process and savor all the content you're giving us, so you should try to slow it down, and descriptions will help you do that. So will restructuring the chapters. It seems you like short chapters and that's perfectly okay, but you can play around with taking paragraphs of chapter two and putting them strategically in chapter one and chapter three, depending on where they fit best, so the reader can get a little time to breathe since chapter 2 reads mostly like flashbacks. Personally, I think you could put these 3 chapters together into one longer first chapter, but you would have to play and move things around to see if you like it better or not (which is the fun part!)

    And finally (this is just a weird thought/suggestion), as a reader I think the second sentence would work GREAT as the first sentence, it would hook me right away and it also shows that she likes mudding a lot! "Flinging mud and spinning tires fuels Jessie with the same adrenaline rush that is typically bottled up in a Red Bull." Yes? No?

    Hope this was helpful! Looking forward to the revision :)

  3. Hi Jessie!

    This is a great start! You’ve got an intriguing character and some really great sentences here!

    I did, however, feel a bit confused. The summary nature of the first sentence made me think I was reading a synopsis, not the actual pages. And then on the first read, it seemed like the setting changed rapidly, first from mudding in Boiling Springs, then soccer in Miami, and then back in Boiling Springs at the apartment, and then Myrtle Beach. Upon rereading a second time I figured out that she wasn’t actually driving in chapter 1, chapter 2 is backstory, and that in chapter 3, she is sneaking back home from the mudding in chapter 1 (with Myrtle Beach also being backstory.) I think the problem is there is not enough present action in this story to ground us in what is actually happening. Most of the sentences beautifully describe the past or who she is — and I think you did a wonderful job here. The most action is when Jessie is dancing on the trucks. Could we have more moments like this, with more dialogue? So, my first suggestion is to give us more action in the present.

    The second bit of confusion comes from jumping from present tense to past tense to present again. Now, I know why you’re doing this — because the Miami soccer scene is last year — but I would think about whether you want so much backstory before the story even begins. In my opinion, this section could come later, after we are grounded in the present. Then, if this backstory is essential to your story, I would bring it in gradually. Cutting it would eliminate one of the locations (soccer, Coral Gables) and also eliminate the tense jump. It would also allow you to focus on the present action. This is just my opinion, though, so please just consider it.

    Finally, I am unclear if you are writing from an omniscient narrator or limited third person perspective. You seem to jump from one to the other here. I would pick one and stick with it.

    Good luck! I’m excited to learn more about Jessie!

  4. Hi Jeannie!
    I love that Jessie is hanging out in the mud pits and drooling over trucks—this speaks to my heart! I think that there is some great stuff happening here, but there is so much, its not allowing the reader to hone in on what the *important* stuff is. After the first paragraph, I was scrambling to keep track of what was happening, where Jessie was, and what it all meant.

    If you can, slow us down, focus on just one major element (I LOVE the trucks and mudding—so much there to speak to her character and give us a bit of action too) to really ground us in who Jessie is and what her world is like. I read this and it felt like home because of my background, but that works for me—when I read stories that are set in major cities, it’s a much longer time for me to get my bearings because that has never been my experience. What I’m going at here, is make sure that you give enough details to orient the unfamiliar as they dive in. You have these, but those who have never gone mudding, I wonder if they might feel a bit too lost?

    I also wasn’t sure what the POV was for sure—most YA is either first person or close 3rd. You can absolutely work outside of those parameters, but if that’s the decision, make sure it serves a specific purpose. When I read, I want to lose myself in the characters and for me, close 3rd is my favorite, for others its 1st. So, you have to work in what you want, but I think its also important to keep in mind what is going to make your story the most accessible for the reader. (I really want to spend the first five pages sitting with Jessie in her truck and mudding, the paragraph does not do the experience justice!)
    Thanks for letting me read and I look forward to seeing where it goes!
    -Katie P
    (also, sorry it took me so long to post! I couldn't find your pages... )

  5. This is Erin, posting for Ron:

    Hi Jeannie,

    Thanks for submitting your pages. It’s a great first step in becoming a better writer—sharing your work with others.

    You have some nice turns-of-phrase throughout:

    She loves the rough pull of the surf and the messy salty spray that she wears like a second skin.

    Flinging mud and spinning tires fuel her with the same adrenaline rush that is typically bottled up in a Red Bull.

    At first it seems as if Jessie is about to compete in a race of some sort (mudding?) but then it looks like she is dancing near a truck.

    I’m not sure what is happening here.

    It looks like you have a nice way with words, but this needs a lot of work to turn into fiction.

    I want you to look at your pages on your screen, and then pick up one of your favorite YA books. Do you see an immediate difference? Your story has blocks of text, which should be interspersed with dialogue and character movement. Scene-building. There’s a bit of dialogue early on, but I’m not sure how it serves the story.

    What we have here is a lot of “telling” and not “showing.”

    This seems to be a story about Jessie moving from Boiling Springs to Miami. She’s into soccer, also. What else is going on with her? Trying to fit into a new group at school?

    Have you tried an outline? Maybe this would help focus the story. What kind of story do you want to tell. If you only had ten seconds in an elevator with an agent how would you pitch your story? We need to get into Jessie’s head more. The narration is telling us everything about her life but we’re not experiencing it. We need to be in the moment with her.

    I suggest you try to build the story scene by scene and moment by moment. You can always give us a little backstory, but it has to be doled out in small doses.

    I hope this helps, Jeannie. Maybe concentrate on your opening scene for the next revision. See if you can really put the reader there with her at that mud race. It’s a great opportunity for lots of color and scene-building: trucks, mud…sounds like fun! Make us feel it with her.

    I know all of these comments can be daunting to take in, Jeannie. But we’ve all been there. Remember that as you move forward!


    Ronald L. Smith

  6. This is Erin, posting for Amy:
    Greetings, Jeannie – happy to meet you online and read your work.

    The very first thing I thought when reading your pages was, why third person? The tone at the beginning reads like a magazine profile – Jessie is described at a remove and in great contrast to the furious pace of the action around her. It made me also think of sports announcing where the announcer/speaker clearly wishes to be in the player’s head, but has to be satisfied with speculation, and precise, rapid description of action. Because of this distance in terms of voice, and because I’m unfamiliar with mudding, I had a hard time placing myself in a setting. A small amount of physical description - even a simple detail, such as telling the reader “Boiling Springs” is a place (and not mudding jargon) would help. J

    I am anchored by the third paragraph because I can picture the truck bed, and see the girl dancing to EDM – though I was confused at first because I thought she was a participant in the mudding, not just an observer. There we have mention of a trance which initially added to my confusion. A literal trance? The mudding she’d observed was all something she’d imagined while standing in a field? I decided she was entranced (rather than awakening from a trance) by the mudding.

    Then, who’s the junior firefighter? Because he’s defined by his role, I’m not sure whether or not he’s there as a firefighter or as a friend? I was happy to see him appear and sorry not to see him again.

    Chapter 2 is filled with a lot of descriptive back story. I’d pull this out for now and wait to dole the information out as it’s compelled by the action in the scene or chapter.

    The pages end on “she pulled a Jessie” which hints at Jessie’s arc in the book, but we haven’t seen it, really, yet and it’s what’s needed to keep your reader engaged and turning pages. The opening of a book should ideally introduce your character with a few specific, critical details that tell the reader more than the words on the page. Those details (which can be drawn through action, dialogue, response to setting – the list of possibilities is long) are what we follow along the trail toward her desire – the question asked about her that only the book can answer. What does Jessie want? Need? What will hold her back from that want or need? Will she achieve her goal? Will her goal change? How will she get there? Right now I think you have a handle on who Jessie is, we need to see what the stakes are for her.

    Can't wait to see where you take it!

  7. Hi Jeannie,
    Thanks for sharing your first few pages. I like your main character, her favorite sport (soccer), her determination to get on or stay on the team, her mature approach to the selection of the right team player. I see this will lead to a beautiful narrative as she has a close relationship with Grammy. Hopefully we'll learn a little more about her.

    When I first read the introduction, I was a bit confused. When I read it the second time, I realized it was a mud racing event. I enjoyed reading about this sport, I visualized the loud speakers announcing the racers, the mud flinging, cheering crowds, the clouds of engine smoke...I really like this scene. Then in chapter two, we learn about her favorite sport (which I love to watch myself). I like that you introduce her Grammy, hopefully, we learn a little more about their relationship (unless it is not essential to the story). I'm late in the game here, so I'm sure most was covered already. My suggestion: to review the sentences such as: She operates the door handle with agonizing patience of a safe cracker.
    And consider using an active verb, like: She opened the door handle...or...she turned the door handle...
    for some reason "operates" didn't flow nicely. I like your story, I look forward to reading more and perhaps getting to know Grammy more as I'm intrigued by the self-proclaimed hermit.