Sunday, January 13, 2019

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Lambert Rev 1

Jeannie Lambert
Young Adult 
Hacking Health

It is 2:00.  Five minutes are left in class.  But, Jessie needs more – time - to tattoo this Cellular Respiration lesson to her eyelids; which is unusual because she’s good at school.  Beyond bored now, she needs to pick up her pace or suffer later.  She hates, repeat hates, staying after school for extra help (!)  She’d rather be hung up by her toenails, and anyway it’s Ms. Benson’s fault.  Every other teacher at Boiling Springs High School would give them more time to learn half of this stuff.  She leans in to listen harder, and giggles behind a closed fist covering her mouth.  Wouldn’t it be great to hack into Ms. Benson’s brain and transfer all of this stuff?  Then she wouldn’t have to take any notes or listen to her monotone voice drone on, and on.  If only she could tap into the potential of a neuron cell and make everything, or stuff she needs for the next test, jump the gap between synapses.  She can picture the lecture when they talked about neurons, that’s what she does; creates mental pictures.   For that lecture, she created a picture of an impulse traveling through the Nervous System on a skateboard - dramatically jumping the gaps between potential spaces.  Images like these usually help her remember stuff for the test, and she got an A.  In theory, it could work.  Jessie would be all set, but not today.  She has to try and ignore her butt ischemia from sitting still on a hard, plastic seat.  Moving around, she squeezes her butt cheeks discreetly.  Some feeling returns along with prickly sensations.  Jessie looks at the board, then down at her notes.  Dang it! She missed copying down the last phase of the Krebs cycle.  Jessie is not the only one shifting around in her seat.  There is a restless vibe.  Without breaking stride, or wind; Ms. Benson writes in capital letters: Test on Monday. 

“Pay attention, there will be a test on Monday,” she turns to address the class.  Collective groans verbalize what Jessie will not be so bold to express.

“Ms. Benson, how many questions are on the test?” asked Lars who is Jessie’s seatmate. 

“Lars how could you ask such a stupid question?”

“But Ms. Benson, I thought there is no such thing as a stupid question?”

"I’ll make an exception, and call that one stupid.  My test will have enough questions to see if you understand cellular respiration.  So, there could be ten or a hundred questions; it wouldn’t matter as long as you can describe the Krebs cycle, accurately and completely.”

“Sure Ms. Benson.  One more question, what’s the Krebs cycle?” asked Lars. 

“Lars.  Where have you been?” Ms. Benson gestures towards the full smart board upfront.”

“Ms. Benson can you repeat that?” asked Lars. 

“Repeat what, Lars.”

“Well everything, from the beginning,” said Lars. 

A few students laugh, out loud!  Ms. Benson gaze scans the room, seeing and hearing them for the first time since the class began.  It’s like she didn’t realize they were there.  She tries to catch any offenders of her rules, harsh rules all attached to sacrifices - time sacrifices.  She picks up her detention clipboard and dares them to test her.  The giggles stop, by everyone except for Lars.  She zeros in on him with a laser focus.  He is smiling, while he doesn’t break any immediate rules; it’s never good to chance it. 

“That’s okay Lars.  I’ll help you out. For your class, I’ll post a study guide on-line this weekend,” said Ms. Benson.  “Bring your completed work to class on Monday.”  Voted teacher of the year, no one polled any of these Biology students.  She doesn’t respect the covenant that weekends are sacred to teens.  “Now let’s finish up, basta.”  She’s not playing when she uses her default Italian words.  Enough already, Lars should know better.

Jessie feels hopeless, her notes look good; but she doesn’t know what they mean.  Usually school is easy.  Her mental pictures help her, but this topic is tricky.  At first she pictured a train, called the electron transport, traveling on a track hooked to cars named: ATP, ADP, and OH+.  But that study aid crashed at the station.  Random three-letter acronyms are swirling around in Jessie’s head, rather than making any true

Ms. Benson doesn’t look like she’s going stop early and give Jessie a chance to catch up – even on a Friday. Copying the stages of cellular respiration - 49 minutes and five pages of Cornell notes later – she is worn out.  It’s like she reached mile 24 of a marathon.  Jessie could easily give up... 

...I wonder what Sophie and them are doing tonight?  Stop it.  Jessie shakes her head to remove any other errant thoughts.  She’s no quitter.  Opening her eyes wider, Jessie returns her focus on the board.  Jessie’s annotated diagrams are precisely labeled with full, square lettering like a blue print.  She evaluates her work.  It’s pretty, in turn she feels good.  She might post this set of notes to her Pinterest page.   

Her hand cramps.  The green, for Biology, mechanical pencil doesn’t glide along the lined paper like before.  Her hand feels more like a prosthetic claw and clumsy words replace the neatly, formed shapes.  She reaches for her eraser to remove the messy script.  Using her green beveled edge, she makes perpendicular marks erasing one letter completely, before the next. Blowing the word pellets away from her notes she looks over at her seatmate.  Maybe she’ll copy his notes.
Lars, a nice guy, is waving to someone walking outside in the hallway.  She glances at his paper, it’s almost empty.  She leans over to get a better look, “Ask Jessie for her notes.” Written in scribble, his words travel across the entire page without respect to the linear guard-rails. He catches her looking like a hunter. Tracking her eyes, he locks onto her gaze.  Next, he points at his notebook, and then underlines what he wrote with his finger.  In response, she takes her finger and holds it against her mouth.  Channeling the spirit of Ms. Benson, she gestures sternly by tapping her closed lips, “Be quiet.”  Lars is already a target for getting into trouble with Ms. Benson and Jessie doesn’t want to get swept up. The desk begins to move and shake with a text from Lars' phone.  Come on now, Lars. He should know better. 


The screen lights up with the invitation.  Shielding the phone with his baseball cap, he props it against the brim while typing.  Risky, even though Ms. Benson has her back to the class. Still. 

Of course, my Chevy is ready.   

He rises up to sit a little straighter in his chair.  The text has his attention, which is a first since class began.  He may not be able to pass his Biology class, but everything else at school is going great for him.  Lars writes a new message on his paper.  Jessie follows his movements.  First, he re-traces the request for her to share class notes, and then points to the newest note:  Mudding? Raising his shoulders, he invites her to go along in exchange for her help. 

Mudding?  Jessie nods.  Why not?  She can’t resist Lars, nobody can.  Their eyes connect and agree to this silent contract.  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.               


  1. Hi Jeannie!

    I love the character insight that we get as Jessie thinks about her biology notes—it shows her as clearly intelligent and I love how she thinks, she is able to adapt information into something that makes sense to her. The first paragraph is rather huge though, it might work better to break it up with the dialogue that follows between Lars and Ms. Benson.

    This new beginning really focuses in and gives us a clear picture of who Jessie is, she is studious, exacting, precise, but also likes to go mudding—I love the complexity and multi-faceted dimension of her character.
    The bit with Lars and Ms. Benson kind of slows it down—there are a lot of words/time given to that altercation and while it’s clear that it makes Jessie uncomfortable and shows her attitude toward following the rules, it pulls a lot away from page time that should be Jessie’s . Maybe shorten that bit so it’s punchier and keeps the focus more on Jessie.

    AT the very end, I was getting a bit confused with the pronouns and how the paragraphs were set up and for a second I thought Jessie was a he and not a she. I had to read it several times to make sure I had it right.

    (side note, as a teacher I want to punch Ms. Benson because she is horrible and should not be working with teenagers!!)
    -Katie P

  2. Hi, it's Charlotte posting for Amy McNamara. We still can't figure out the technical difficulties!

    What a turn-around!
    We’re oriented right away in this draft to Jessie in a classroom, and it’s clear what’s going on, but the question I’d ask is how a paragraph about utter boredom in school will serve to introduce a larger story? I was waiting, at the end of that first paragraph for some kind of stakes to be revealed (beyond test on Monday).
    For example: Test on Monday. But Jessie wouldn’t be here.
    Something – anything to keep us excited and wondering about this girl who’s squirming in her seat.
    There’s enough about Lars in this intro that I’m assuming he’s going to play a role in Jessie’s stakes, but I still don’t know what, from these pages, those stakes will be. This information is essential to keeping a reader engaged beyond the beginning of a book. We need to know, from what’s laid out in the opening, who we’re reading about, what s/he’s facing, and why it’s interesting/important. Right now, we know Jessie’s a good student, Lars is not, and he’s asking her to trade school help for time together mudding and that Lars is a sought-after guy. That’s great – basic romance, but what makes it different? Interesting? Where’s the conflict for Jessie?

  3. Hi Jeannie!

    I love that we get to see more about who Jessie is. She cares about school, which is a huge insight into her personality.

    The first paragraph felt really long, and then the next part about Lars felt a little disorienting, since I knew the story was about Jessie and I wanted to get to know her here. Maybe give us a few thoughts Jessie has about Lars while they’re in class? But not too much, just enough to show there’s something there without taking away the time we need to get to know Jessie.

    The texting at the end confused me as to who was asking who what, so clarifying that will help.

    I love that we have a set up into her ordinary world though (school + mudding) which helps set the tone for what to expect!

  4. Hi Jeannie!

    Wow. This is a huge change. Kudos to you for being willing to rework so much!

    I think you’re still writing in third person omniscient, where I get the feeling that you are observing Jessie rather than really getting into Jessie’s head. I don’t know if this is intentional, but I will say that it makes me as the reader feel distant from the character and story. Some of this are easy fixes. For example, the first two lines could be changed to, “2:00. Five minutes left in class,” and we immediately feel like we’re in Jessie’s thoughts rather than outside of them.

    I like that we get a glimpse of the way Jessie thinks — but frankly, your previous opening of going mudding is way more exciting than sitting in a classroom, learning about a test. The dialogue between Lars and the teacher doesn’t add a ton, at least from what I can see of the story so far. I think if you want to keep this setting, you need to add way more conflict. Tell us what the stakes are for Jessie beyond just failing a test. Show the conflict with her interaction with Lars. Are you setting up for a romance here? If so, we need to see this much more clearly.

    Personally, I would shorten this part to the most intriguing bits — her interaction with Lars and his invitation — and go straight into mudding.

    Hope this is helpful! Good luck!!!

  5. Hi, Jeannie!

    What a big revision! I love that we get to see Jessie interact with people a lot more, we get to see aspects of her life we hadn't seen in the previous one, and it is a lot more rooted in the present. Also, it's one longer chapter, so yay! Great job!

    I will say again that the pace could still be slowed a little bit more, and you can do that my breaking the paragraphs into smaller paragraphs. The first one can be broken into at least 3 shorter paragraphs that would give the reader a little time to breathe and it would give the voice a more natural sense when we read.

    I suggest you sit down with this and have a careful read, and determine what needs to be there and what doesn't need to be there to tell the story you want to tell. Does this line, or this line, or that line help you tell the story you want to tell. And you might find yourself cutting some bits, and adding some others, but with a cleaner first chapter.

    But great job!! Can't wait to read the next revision!

  6. Ms. Benson sounds like a science teacher I had in 5th grade. Very entertaining. One suggestion, the point of view seems to shift from Jessie to Ms. Benson. I enjoyed reading this version, it picked up the pace, the first paragraph caught my attention. For the next revision maybe shift away from using exclamations in some parts, example: A few students laugh, out loud!

    I think using an active verb is enough. Fun read! I wonder if Ms. Benson is Jessie's nemesis, or help her grow.

  7. This is Erin posting for Ron:

    Hi Jeannie,

    What an improvement! There are so many great descriptions, turns-of-phrase and metaphors here I can’t list them all.

    Instead of giving a line by line edit, I’m going to tell you what works with this revision and what doesn’t.

    You’re definitely a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not. You have a unique rapid-fire style that has an attitude it. That’s called Voice.

    Your descriptive skills and moment by moment narration is good. What you should concentrate on is slowing down just a bit. Break up that first paragraph. Big chunks of text are the reader’s enemy. Your new added dialogue helps the rhythm of the prose. That’s good.

    I get a new sense of your character now that I didn’t get before. This story might benefit from short chapters. There’s a lot going on inside Jessie’s head! She’s pretty dynamic and you’ve painted her well, but take your time in letting readers get to know her.

    To recap:

    Shorter paragraphs

    Mix in dialogue to avoid run-ons and info-dumps

    Work on tense and stick to it. Here’s a handy reference:

    Perhaps use short chapters or scene breaks # between passages

    Read your work aloud. This helps weed out unnecessary words or confusing passages

    Good job, overall, Jeannie. I think you’ve really come far.

    (Oh, your title could use some work. Maybe something a bit more dynamic?)


    Ronald L. Smith
    Award-Winning Author of Hoodoo | The Mesmerist