Saturday, March 19, 2011

6 First Five Pages Workshop - March, Entry #4

Young Adult - Nicole Zoltack

Mr. McMichaels hated me ever since he confiscated a story I wrote during class. A story about an evil goblin warlord. Named McMichaels.
I guess I can't blame him for that but wouldn't you think most English teachers would love students who wanted to be authors?
The crowded hallway slowly thinned out as kids entered their classrooms. I passed by some hideous green locket on my way to English class. I loved green, deep forest green, not the locker's pale puke green.
"Riona?" someone called.
In response to my name, I turned around and saw Artex, a recent transfer student approach, a piece of paper in his hand. Despite being a recent transfer student, he was already popular due to his charm and good lucks. "Hi." I smiled, unsure why he was talking to me. After all, I was decidedly unpopular.
"I think this is yours." He handed me the paper.
I skimmed it. Yes it was mine, a story I had started in Spanish class. "Thank you. I didn't realize I had left it behind."
"Poor Roderick. You really wrote him into a tight spot. Those bloody pirates are more than he can handle." He fell into step beside me.
My cheeks grew hot. "You read it?" Even though I dreamed of seeing my name, Riona Streaming, on the spine of a book, I didn't have the courage to allow someone else to read my writing.
He laughed and brushed back some of his dark hair from his forehead. "How else did I know it was yours? Why don't you want people to read your stories?"
I frowned but didn't answer. The floor suddenly grew very interesting, and I stared at it. It was ugly, too, but mostly from all the sneaker scruff marks, I decided.
"If you want to be an author, people will have to read them."
Why was he pressing the issue? It was almost as if he was reading my thoughts. Or maybe he was just reading my face, I've been told I can't hide my emotions. "I know that," I said, a little testily.
He blinked and backed off. "Are you going to finish it?”
"Eventually." I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. I didn't know him that well, but he liked my writing so how bad could he be? Maybe he just wanted to encourage me.
I paused before the door to English. "Class," I said, feeling lame. Gah, why couldn't I ever talk to cute guys without sounding like a complete idiot?
Artex grinned. "I know. I have English with you." He waved his arm. "After you."
I walked into the small classroom and slid into my customary seat in the middle of the classroom. In the front, the teacher can see if you’re taking notes or not. In the back, the teacher assumes you’re a troublemaker. But in the middle, you can do anything.
Artex sat in the front.
Mr. McMichaels stood in front of the class. Short with a pot-belly, he really did resemble a goblin, at least to me he did. “Class, today I want to talk to you about the writing evil. You’ve all read the book A Wrinkle in Time. Did you know Madeleine L'Engle had a hard time publishing it because of the nature of evil in it?”
I furrowed my brow. Evil was a matter of fact within the world. Look at the evening news. Murders, shootings, war. Evil and mankind were inseparable throughout history.
“For the rest of class today, I want you to start a short story that shows evil in some way. You story must be completed by the end of the week. If you want, you may share your story with the class. You can begin.”
Permission to write during class? Fantastic! Evil… hm. What could be more evil than a necromancer? But that would be too contrite. Not all necromancers had to be evil. Slowly the idea formed, and I wrote about Zumar and his revenge against the people of Harrock. My pen raced across the paper.
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. Someone was staring at me. Artex? I glanced up. Sure enough, Artex was turned around in his seat, looking at me. He tapped his forehead twice, faced forward, and returned to his own writing.
Toward the middle of the story, I stalled. What had been Zumar’s motivation for becoming a necromancer?
A few minutes later, Artex stood up and approached Mr. McMichaels. They exchanged whispers before Mr. McMichaels called out, “Class, Artex already has a story he wishes to share.”
I blanched. If Artex had stolen my Roderick story…
Artex walked to the front of the class. He cleared his throat and began, “Hatred coursed through Zumar as he stared at the city below him. The people of Harrock had done him a great injustice.”
I gasped. Those exact words graced the top of my page. Every word was the same. But how could Artex have know? He sat in front of me, not behind me. He couldn’t have copied it.
Artex had continued reading. Instead of looking at him, I held up my pages, my hand trembling. Word for word, every sentence was identical. “Despite his closed eyes, he saw a bright, raging fire, consuming a small building, his home, with his wife and only child trapped inside. Zumar watched in horror as the flames covered their clothes, and their loud shrieks filled his ears.”
Yes. I had determined Zumar’s his wife and daughter dying as his motivation — but I hadn’t written that far. I leaned forward, my elbow on the desk, my chin resting in my hand, daring Artex to finish reading his story, my story, but the bell rang.
Mr. McMichaels' chair squeaked as he pushed it back and stood. “You can finish sharing tomorrow, Artex. Thank you.”
I glowered at Mr. McMichaels. He never thanked me after all the times I offered to share a poem with the class. A poem I would share willingly, a story not so much.
“Of course.” Artex caught my eye, smiled a secret little smile, and practically ran out the door.
I grabbed my papers and hurried after him. The rest of my classmates reached the door at the same time, and I had to push my way through them. By the time I reached the hallway, Artex was nowhere in sight.
What the heck? How did that just happen? There was no way it was a coincidence. Deciding to write about a necromancer, maybe. But every single word? Impossible!
But people can’t read minds.
I paused in the middle of the hallway. People bumped into me, but I stood still. Artex pressing about people needing to read my stories immediately after I had thought about not being courageous enough….
No. Not possible.
But what else explained the identical stories?
Artex had some serious explaining to do.
I walked slowly to my next class, so slowly that the hallway was almost empty. A locker slammed shut, the noise echoing. I glanced over to see a freshman hurry into a nearby classroom, his face completely flush from running.
Before I entered my next class, a figure down the hallway almost outside my peripheral vision caught my attention. I looked over, and my heart started to beat way too fast, the pulse drowning out all other sounds.
A face with dark eyes and red skin. The being was massive, with broad shoulders and muscles on top of muscles, and so tall its head nearly touched the ceiling.
A face I knew because I saw it every night.
I gasped with fright and backed up until the open door.
"Miss Streaming, care to join us for class?" my teacher asked.


  1. Sorry, guys, not sure why there isn't a space between paragraphs this time.

  2. Nicole - WOW!!!! You've revised the bejeebers out of this story!!! I'm going exclamation mark crazy because I'm so impressed. :D You have me hooked. You've done a fantastic job amping up the voice, making the hook clear, and keeping a great pace. I think you still have a few spots where the description can be shown instead of told, so I would go through and look for those. Example: "I gasped with fright and backed up until the open door." You can take out the fright part. We get it because of her gasp and backing into the open door. ;) Earlier you used the adverb "testily" I would challenge you to show that as well. No easy outs! Because OBVIOUSLY you are capable of great writing. So I'm not letting you off the hook. I also would love to see you go back through for a pass using other senses aside from sight to see what you come up with. One knit picky thing? She notices the puke green lockers, which is a great description, but she's pretty used to seeing them, right? What makes them stand out in her thoughts now? A couple of typos, but those are easily caught as well.
    Question: Is Artex hot? Is she attracted to him? Does she want to acknowledge that? Does it make her more nervous? Just curious..
    Again, fantastic revision.

  3. Great job with the rewrites! Her reaction is a lot more believable. I'm totally wanting to find out more.

    But I struggled with the very beginning. The geen lockers thing seemed odd to me too. It didn't really fit as something she would be noticing right then.

    Also, while I love that first paragraph, in this version, it felt like a little island by itself because you don't get back to Mr. McMichaels until they get to class. Plus, I would love to see that played up a little. Show how Mr. McMichaels hates her. It doesn't have to be anything big. Maybe a small comment from him about how some people seem to think that English teachers are evil . . . or I don't know, some cutting remark he'd make.

    Also, I think there is some room for tightening. For example, you have:

    "Riona?" someone called.

    In response to my name, I turned around and saw Artex,

    You could cut quite a bit:


    I turned and saw Artex.

    I'd look for spots like that.

    But you definitely have me hooked. I have to know what's going on! Great work!

  4. Hi Nicole!

    Great job with the revision! I think you're pretty much there with the plot and only noticed nitpicky things, which the two commenters ahead of me have already mentioned. I don't have anything to add. I just second their comments.

    Good luck!

  5. Wonderful job at revising this. I don't really have anything to add to the other comments. Except that in the part where she's in the crowded hall getting bumped you use people a lot. It could just be me, but maybe you can mix it up a bit. Use students or mention specific body parts or something.

    This is really shaping up nicely. Yay! :D

  6. WOW. Great job! And I agree what everyone else has said.

    Tightening-wise, I'm going to go even further than Lisa with an extreme example to get you really thinking. This is by no means to imply that it is better than what you have! I just want you to consider every single line to ensure you've accurately conveyed the action, POV, motivation, and reaction of the characters, and that you aren't restating somthing you've already shown. Everything on the page has to advance the story, and the actions and thoughts have to fit your overall story.

    I've also thrown in some spots where you can add in Riona's unique voice, POV, and phrasing. You can (and already have) squeezed a lot more than you think into fewer words. Exposing the core of it, and trusting yourself and the reader, will let you amp the tension.

    Mr. McMichaels had hated me ever since he confiscated a story I wrote during class. A story about an evil goblin warlord. Named McMichaels.

    I guess I can't blame him, but wouldn't you think most English teachers would love students who wanted to be authors? But no. He gave me B's every chance he got.

    The crowded hallway slowly thinned out as kids slammed puke-green lockers and ducked into their classrooms.

    "Riona?" someone called.

    I turned and spotted the new-kid, Artex, looking ungodly hot while he waved a piece of paper in his hand. I almost turned and looked behind me, because why would he even be bothering to talk to me?

    "I think this is yours." He handed me the story I'd been working on in Spanish class.

    "Thanks." I folded it in half. "I didn't realize I left it behind."

    "You really wrote poor Roderick into a tight spot."
    Artex fell into step beside me.

    My cheeks grew hot. "You read it?"

    Artex laughed and brushed back some of his dark hair from his forehead. "You mind? You should finish it. It's really good."

    I frowned, and the floor suddenly grew very interesting. It was ugly, too, but mostly from all the sneaker scruff marks.

    Artex shifted and cleared his throat. "So. Maybe you should try to get it published or something.”

    "Maybe." Someday. We'd reached the door to my English classroom, and I stopped with my hand on the knob. "Class," I said.

    Gah, why couldn't I ever talk to cute guys without sounding like a complete idiot?

    Of course, the looking hot thing I put in is a placeholder, as is the comment about the B's, and the Captain Obvious. That "ungodly hot" spot BEGS for a juicy, voicy declaration of just how hot he is in Riona's OWN voice. The B's spot lets you insert something to start building tension about the class situation, show us more about her abilities as a student, or whatever you want us to know right away about her. Look for other opportunities like that to really bring her voice up.

    Few last things.

    1) Wouldn't she have noticed that Artex was in her English class?

    2) Why would it occur to her that he would steal her story from Spanish class?

    3) Why did he actually steal her story? Does he want her to know he can read her mind? Or doesn't he realize that he's stolen it?

    4) Why does he talk to McMichaels? Were they supposed to read aloud? Doesn't McMichaels want the other kids to have time to finish their stories?

    If you cut at the beginning, you can address more of these questions. Some of them will need early hints so we have a nice breadcrumb trail leading us through.

    Finally, avoid telling us she was "feeling" something. Words like "felt, saw, heard" etc. add unnecessary distance.


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