Sunday, June 9, 2019

1st 5 Pages Workshop - Mitchell Rev 1

Name: Prentis Mitchell
Genre: Young Adult, Magical realism
Title: The Hidden

The Opening Move

Jess Emem.  1.

The day at school had been a battle of endurance for Jess.

Her trials began with double French. Madam Chelsie hit them with a barrage of antecedents and conjugations which Jess would have struggled to understand in English, never mind French. Even from this low point, the day managed to continued to slide downhill.  

Out on the playing field, the cold wind bit into her bare legs as Jess and her friend, Paula, skilfully avoided any involvement in the football match.  The others kicked the ball around the pitch with such ferocity that at times Jess feared for her life.  

‘On your head!’ came a cry from across the field before the ball smashed straight into her face. 

The pain seared through her nose, stinging her eyes and drowning out the raucous laughter of the class.  The teacher raced over at the sight of blood, fishing an old tissue from out of her sleeve.  Jess took the tissue and pinched it to her nose as she trudged off to medical.  

The bleeding finally stopped by the time lunch arrived.  The queue for lunch snaked out of the door and so Jess squeezed herself through the line, scanning the canteen for Paula and the others.

A voice screeched from across the hall- ‘Oi, nice nose job, freak!’

Mandy Chambers sat surrounded by her sniggering cronies.  Using the canteen as her stage, she hollered over to Jess.  Like seagulls to a picnic, the mob began to build in anticipation of the approaching drama.

‘If you want, we can mess up the rest of your face to go with the nose.’ 

Jess turned away, shrugging off the laughter and trying her hardest to ignore the sting of humiliation.  Her hunt for Paula became more urgent as Mandy spat insult after insult at her.  After all these years together, Mandy never tired of preying on others. 

‘Look at the little tramp- covered in blood.  She hasn’t even got changed.’

The laughter in the hall became too much for Jess.  She ran from the canteen with the sound of Mandy’s taunts stabbing at her. The toilets were the only place Jess could think of to hide out on her own.  Looking at herself in the mirror, she wished she could wipe away the shame of running from Mandy as easily as she could the tears. A crowd of giggling year eight girls crashed through the door, shattering the peace of her temporary oasis.  Jess gave her eyes a final wipe, dropped the tissues into the bin and headed off to the torment which was fifth period maths.  

Finally, school was over.  Just as Jess thought the end was in view, another more upsetting sight hit her-  the bus home pulling away without her.  She ran as fast as she could, arms waving frantically to catch the driver’s attention, but the bus disappeared with Mandy and her gang sneering and pointing from the back window. Jess looked at her phone.  Her mum  would probably still be at work and wouldn’t appreciate her calling her for a lift.  Rather than face  an hour’s wait in the cold for the next bus, she slung her heavy bag to her shoulder and began the long walk home alone.  

The last dying rays of sun dipped behind the houses leaving a thin sliver of moon grinning  down on Jess as she hurried through the street.  Curtains were drawing the eyes of the buildings shut.  She dug her hands into her pockets, pulling her coat around her, as the chill wind swept down the street rustling the last few remaining leaves on the trees.  The only thing keeping Jess going was the thought that her mum may be home by now. Perhaps they could snuggle down with a duvet and binge watch something on TV.  With her head down, she didn’t notice the car until it tore past her, sending a torrent of water splashing from the puddle.  She dodged aside but it was too late to avoid the spray.  

‘How can this bloody day get any worse?’ she cursed under her breath, looking down at her drenched socks. 

She had no idea just how much worse the day would become.  

Brushing the water from her jacket, she crossed the road, completely unaware of the stranger who eagerly watched her doorway - a dark shape looming in the shadows of the alleyway.

Her stomach rumbled at the lingering smell of bread from the bakery tucked away in the basement of her building.  Through the window, Jess watched the last of the staff clear the chairs onto the tables as they swept the remains of the day away. She wished they could eat out tonight or even better order in some pizza. 

Jess climbed the steps to the front door, her bag cutting into her shoulder. Jess’ fingers stabbed the door code into the keypad, still oblivious to the stranger who watched from across the road memorising the position of each digit she pressed.  The door buzzed and she slipped into the warm glow of her building.  But before the door had even closed behind her, the shadow from the alleyway made its move.  Heavy feet pounded across the road towards her door.  

Desperate to put this day behind her, she took the stairs two at a time.  She passed by the rich smells drifting from number 23’s dinner and a fluffy, white cat curled up on a forgotten shopping bag.  The cat barely managed to force an eye open as she passed by.  At the door of her apartment, lay a parcel. The sight of the small brown box brought the first tingle of excitement in her whole day.  She picked it up, hoping it was for her.  The excitement slipped away as quickly as it had appeared when she saw the name ‘Mr Maughan’ printed on the label; they had left her neighbour’s parcel at the wrong address again.  She dropped it back to the floor, slipped her key into the lock and pushed open the door.

Jess abandoned her school bag on the floor, followed closely by her coat and wet socks.  It only took a couple of shouts to figure out that the flat was empty.  She went to the kitchen.  The light flickered to life illuminating a plate of food wrapped in cling film and a scribbled note left on the kitchen worktop.  Jess scanned the note.

‘So much for still being at work,’ she spat.

She tossed the note aside where it landed on the cold leftovers.  Her mum had gone out with her friend.  


All the anger and frustrations of the day twisted and gnawed in her stomach. The phone was in her hand before she even knew what she was going to say.  It rang and rang until eventually she heard her mum’s voice.

‘Hi.  I can’t take your call right now.  Please leave me a message.  Bye.’

The answer phone beep pierced Jess’ ears.  The ball of anger in her tummy erupted - a raging storm of frustration which she threw at her mum.  

‘I can’t actually believe you’ve gone out again.  Where even are you? I’ve been at school all day you know.’  

The rant continued.  For the most of it, Jess could not even remember what she said.  She threw the phone down onto the table.  The initial flood of anger was receding and now guilt was slipping inside.  She shouldn’t have said those things to her mum.  It was too late for that now, Jess thought as she shoved  the plate of food aside.  And anyway, if her mum had gone out partying with her friend, then why should she feel guilty or eat cold left overs from yesterday? Jess thundered out of the kitchen in search of the takeaway menus. 


  1. I definitely notice a lot more details in this version than the last. The part about the stranger seemed minimized though. I felt like it could have been built up more. Maybe you could describe the stranger walking along the street following her home from school. Somehow it just seemed like an after thought, not the core of the story. Now I am more interested in her school life and her relationship with her mother. It feels like contemporary fiction. But it is only the 1st five pages. I am interested to see when and where we get to the magic. I think the opening line could be a little stronger. I do feel pulled into Jess and invested in what will happen to her. I would also like to see a little more description so I can get a better picture of her in my mind.

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thank you for your comments. I focused on developing Jess far more in the first 5 pages rather than leaving it for later. the comments from last time were all wanting to connect more with her.

      With Mr Trick and the magic, I wanted to have him unnoticed by Jess and some other comments were about sticking closer to Jess' POV. At this point, she is unaware of him/ magic and so only want to hint at him. I think I can see how to make it a bit more darker and threatening though and from the next chapter we get straight into the magic.

      Thanks once again for your help.

    2. In a MG fantasy I just finished, I added a prologue describing the backstory of the witch (the main threat in the magical world where the MCs are later transported). Then my first chapter gives a background of the MC in the real world. Just a thought, maybe you could hint at the use of magic happening but Jess isn't a part of it yet. Then the reader will get a sense of the magical element and it will build curiosity about how it ties into Jess. A book I read recently that does this is Pegasus The Flame of Olympus. Just an idea and I'm curious to know what everyone else thinks about this approach.

    3. Strangely enough, that was something I spoke to a friends about today. We mentioned a perhaps a small sentence or even a quote for the beginning to bring it some sense of orientating the reader. I can’t decide!

      I think with a a pitch and the second chapter you would see the magic whereas at the moment, you don't. As well as that, making more of the threat would help.

      Lovely to have your ideas. Thanks for thinking of it.

  2. Hi Prentis, digging the deeper POV. I definitely feel for her a lot more when she gets home and her mum isn't even there - the poor thing!
    There were a couple of bits where if you're sticking to her POV she wouldn't notice - like the eagerness of the stranger watching her. You can still have her not noticing him, but maybe give her a more eerie sense of being followed, or the door closing a second later than it should have after a shadows follows her in so there's more of a "ooh what's going on" feeling.

    1. Hi KD,

      Thank you so much. It is so helpful having the feedback and with hindsight the chances seemed to obvious! I will have a think about the Mr Trick moment and how to make sure that it comes across correctly. I have an idea following on from your comments so I will experiment this week.

      Thanks once again.

  3. A couple of things:
    1) You can't tell us about a stranger she doesn't notice. You are in her POV, not your own. If she doesn't notice him, she can't know she's not noticing him. You can have her hear a noise and turn to see a disappearing shadow or something else that hints at something/someone that's there.
    2) "She had no idea just how much worse the day would become." - this is also your (the author's) POV. You are not a character in your story. It's very important to remember this when you write 3rd person. You should be able to switch to 1st person without losing any information.
    3) I feel like everything before the bus pulling away is just backstory that you've moved to the front. This would be a lot stronger if you started with the bus pulling away and then had her think about her crappy day as she walks home and gets splashed by a car etc...
    4) The new beginning is making this sound like light contemporary. Is this the tone of your entire story? Your first page is what tells the reader what kind of book they're going to get. Is it funny? Sad? Creepy? Scary? Unless your book is about her sucky life at high school, I think you've set the wrong tone here. Having said that, if you start at the bus leaving instead and add some more hints at the stranger, you might be okay. It's only the beginning that sounds different.


    1. Hi Holly,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      With the POV, I am trying to just use some narrative distance and vary the 3rd person. Following feedback, I have kept it tighter on Jess' POV but want to 'pan out' to show the threat without alerting Jess. I will reread though and make sure it is clearer and not jarring. Perhaps I will think of structural clues (italics etc) to signpost for readers.

      The part with Jess' day is to give more depth and understanding of her day. With it being magical realism, I want to establish the ordinary world for Jess before the inciting incident which opens up the magical world. Again, I will have a read through to perhaps heighten the tension/ threat for Jess.

      Did you find the timings and less descriptions worked better in this draft?


    2. I think you've done a good job at paring down the descriptions, but it still feels like it's taking a long time to get going. While it's important to show the regular pre-goal life of your main character, you still need to make that very first line/paragraph/page grab them. Many agents, editors and readers will never read past that.

    3. Thanks Holly. Nice to know I went in the right direction even if there is still more to go!


  4. I like that we get to know Jess better here, but I think there's too much actually at the school. The story really starts when she's on her way home. Maybe she can think about the crap that happened during the day as she walks home - then it will be a few lines about the bleeding nose, the bullying, hiding out in the toilets at lunchtime etc.

    There are a couple of places where I felt pulled out of her POV. She can't know that she's unaware of the stranger following her - that's you as the author intruding. Maybe she should have an unsettling feeling of being followed, or hear uneven footsteps behind her, but when she turns to look, sees nothing but a shadow disappearing into an alleyway or doorway.

    And finally, I still don't get why she's so mad at her mother. It makes her sound like a brat and I'm sure you don't want her to be a brat. She's not a little kid who needs her mommy, so while she could be irritated that her mother has gone out, this level of anger seems excessive. Unless maybe Mom has a habit of staggering home drunk at 3 am and dragging unsavory men with her...

    1. Hi Kate,

      Thanks for the ideas. I will trim the school day to streamline it as I don't want it to drag too much but wanted to flesh out why Jess was so moody.

      As for the anger - I might try telling my teenage kids not to get annoyed with us! The teenagers you know must be on a far more even keel than mine! Jess isnt a brat but has had a bad and as a teenager struggles with regulating her emotions. You are right with Jess' mum not being around much. Where she was out 'again' following the frustrations of the day, Jess blew up but then was remorseful with her.

      Thank you so much for your comments. They're going to help the final redraft.

  5. Hi Prentis!

    Nice revision! You’ve put in some great work. I’m starting to feel a natural empathy for Jess, especially when she returns home and her mother isn’t there. Kudos to you!

    It looks like people have already mentioned the "noticing the stranger" part, so I'll skip it.

    One thing that stuck out to me was the lack of detail about the neighborhood. What kind of houses is she passing on her way home? Old homes, new homes, French-styled? I also think a little more detail on the apartment building would be great. I still like the bakery in the basement—that’s a neat detail. I guess I’d just like more of it.

    Though I’m feeling more empathy for Jess, I as a reader still feel at a distance when I read about her. You know the phrase, “Life is 10% what happens to you; 90% how you react to it”? The beginning sets up all these bad things that happen to her, but we don’t see too well how she reacts to them. When the ball hits her, does she yell at the player? Does she cry? You could do a lot of great things here.

    Great improvement! Looking forward to seeing the end result!

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thank you so much. It feels a lot clearer- the power of hindsight when you think why didn't I see that before?!

      I think where I tried to really trim back on descriptions I can go back in and juts pepper a few through. This can include Jess too and make sure I am not cutting the emotions short.

      Plenty to do for the final revision.

      Thanks so much for the ideas and help.

  6. Hi Prentiss!
    I can tell you've really worked hard on this revision! This is all really great work - but probably not all of it should be in the first 5 pages. In those pages you really want to hook the reader. Take a look at What the Woods Keep, written by our wonderful mentor Katya - - there's a free sample. In the first couple of pages we know that Hayden's mom went missing in the woods, Hayden is haunted by strange dreams and flashbacks, and now that she's 18 the family lawyer needs to see her regarding her mother's bequest to her. We also know about her relationship with her roomate and her father. It's clear this is a contemporary mystery/fantasy, and we know Hayden's wound-her missing mother. The reader is hooked, eager to know more.

    In your pages, you've shown us that Jess had a crappy day at school, that school's hard for her and she's bullied by Mandy, and that her mom goes out a lot, upsetting Jess and leaving her lonely. That's all good stuff! But if you condense it, you'll have more room to hook your reader, and be able to bring in more of the mystery/stranger elements. Holly brings up a good point, If you started with Jess thinking about her crappy day while she walked home alone, then have Mandy yell some taunts at her as she drives by (if the bullying is important to the story, show it, if not, sum up in the crappy day thoughts), we'd get to the package sooner. Jess could turn her head, certain she heard heavy footsteps, or see something out of the corner of her eye - maybe a neighbor says a person was here, asking for you or some such, you'd start reeling the reader in, making the reader wonder what's going on. Jess could think at least mom promised she'd be home tonight and we'd binge watch tv and order pizza, and then she gets home and mom's not there. She could even be nervous/afraid at being alone, and so even more upset with mom for letting her down.

    You've done a great job revealing more of Jess - but you can even do more. How does she feel about being bullied? We see her react, wipe away tears, turn - but it feels as if we're being told a story about her day, we don't feel Jess's emotion. For example:

    Jess turned away, shrugging off the laughter and trying her hardest to ignore the sting of humiliation. Her hunt for Paula became more urgent as Mandy spat insult after insult at her. After all these years together, Mandy never tired of preying on others.

    Before Jess has these thoughts, she should feel an emotion - you tell us she feels shame, show it. Have her face turn beet red and her shoulders hunch, as if she could make herself invisible, or her stomach clench, instead of wiping away her tears (passive) be active - show the tears stinging her eyes, how she's struggling to not cry, to not give them more fodder...

    I'd still like to know more about her neighborhood/apartment building/apartment. Maybe less of the description of smells and cat, and more of the staircase or the lobby - is it shabby? nice?

    Finding the right place to start is SO hard! I hope this helps - and I look forward to reading next week!

    1. Hi Erin,

      That is all really useful, thank you. Definitely will have a look at Katya's opening and see how she managed it. You're right about finding the right place to start. I have always found this the hardest part of the story. Slowly winding my way there!

      Thank you so much for those ideas.

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  8. Prentiss,

    I appreciate all the work you put into this revision! I like that we start off with Jess's story and not so much the descriptions around her. I also appreciate that you clarified when she walked up the stairs and what she could see around her vs. closed doors.

    I did feel that the school setting got a little long-winded, mostly when it got to Mandy's taunting. That could definitely be condensed, and then maybe she misses the bus and walks home could be tightened as well. Unless any of those points are integral to the day, I think cut/tighten and get us to the apartment as quickly as possible.

    I agree with the other commenters in terms of not pulling us out of her POV and perhaps reworking the school scene as a flashback so we are kept more in the moment and with the stranger. One random thought that popped in my head (since I still want to know the message she left for her mom) is that she rehashes the day as a message to her ... so more upset than angry at her mom and she kind of hiccups her way through the story on a message. Again a random thought!

    1. Hi Nikki,

      Thanks so much for the ideas and advice. So much to decide for the final redraft. I completely agree with cutting. I think I got too carried away with showing more of Jess.

      Thank you once again.