Saturday, March 12, 2011

First Five Pages Workshop - March, Revision for Entry #2

Middle Grade Historical by Brenda Drake


Maximillian Drayson didn't quite like girls, but he figured Annika Britanika was different. She could climb a tree faster than he was able and she could invent gadgets that actually worked. Heck, if he had to have a best friend, he couldn't think of a boy better than Annika. He felt bad for Annika because her father was gone--not dead gone--but gone all the same.

Max's mother had said Annika's father was hardly home because he was a great explorer and archeologist. Max's father added that it was merely fancy words for a treasure hunter. Max thought that was tremendous and could hardly wait for Mr. Britanika's monthly postcards to arrive and for Annika to read aloud from them the tales of her father's adventures.

Today was Annika's birthday and usually she'd receive a spectacular gift from some part of the unknown world that her father had been to. As of yesterday, one hadn't arrived. Annika was in no mood to talk about it when Max asked if Mr. Britanika might have forgotten to send one. Her full lips were trembling and her enormous brown eyes filled with tears when she huffed off and wouldn't talk to him.

"You know," Max's older brother, Dagwood, plopped down on Max's bed. "If I were you, I'd bring flowers. It isn't proper to kiss a girl if you don't bring a gift. You shouldn't touch any part of her during the kiss, and don't kiss and jabber to everyone about it."

Max drew his eyes away from the boots he was busy shining. "What do you know about kissing girls, anyhow?"

"I know plenty." Dagwood frowned at Max. "I've smooched Fallon behind the tree house. Brought her daisies, I did." Max doubted that he'd kissed Annika's sister. All the boys in Springfield fancied her. She was like an angel that had come from heaven, and just like those stories at Sunday school, a forbidden fruit that would tempt a boy to sin.

"Heck, I just want to kiss her without all the ceremony."
"Well, go easy, little brother." Dagwood stood and reached down to tie his undone lace. "You don't want to frighten her." He picked up the ball resting under the bed. Before he left, he added," tell Fallon I said hello." Before Max could even answer, he was gone.

Annika was turning thirteen today, and Max had turned the same months together now. He figured they were old enough to kiss. The whole thing seemed complicated by what you should do, and what you shouldn't do. He hoped her mood was better today as he sprinkled tooth powder on his brush. For it was the day she was to make good on her promise to him. The promise she had made when they were eight years of age, sitting in the tree house that teetered on the limbs of a large oak tree in her backyard. She had said she'd kiss him on her thirteenth birthday, and he was determined to collect on it. He scrubbed his teeth with better attention than his usual quick swipe around the gums.

Max greased his hair back just like Dagwood's golden locks. His brother's hand-me-down gray rugby suit just about fit him now. Well, that is, if he stretched his body upright and didn't slouch so the knickers wouldn't fall too far below his knees. He grabbed a bunch of Mrs. O'Hare's flowers that looked like puffy snowballs when he passed by on his way to Annika's house. Birds sang their singsongs and the grass smelled sweet as he whistled along, kicking a rock up the street. With the flowers in hand, he bounded up the steps and knocked hard on the fancy glass door.

"G'day Master Drayson," Molly, one of the four servants, said when she opened the door. "Aren't you a splendid young lad to bring hydrangeas for Mrs. Smith, eh?"

Max simply nodded and let her take the flowers. He didn't want her to know whom the flowers were actually meant for, or she'd know he was feeling romantic toward Annika.

"Miss Britanika is in the sitting room with a guest." Molly stepped aside to let Max in. "You may go in and join them."

"Thank you, ma'am," Max muttered as he passed her, remembering what his older brother had told him. One couldn't kiss a girl without bringing flowers first. The whole thing seemed complicated by what you should do, and what you shouldn't do. Such as, you should bring flowers, the first kiss should only be a quick one, you shouldn't touch any part of her during the kiss, and don't kiss and jabber to everyone about it. Heck, he just wanted to kiss her without all the ceremony.

He dragged his feet the entire length of the hall. At entering the sitting room, his breath hitched against his throat the moment, he saw Annika in a white flouncy dress and a big white satin bow flopped on top of her head. She looked better than any angel could. For she was the earth covered in fresh fallen snow.


The tattered brown package wrapped tightly with twine sat like a small ball in the palm of Annika's hand. In ink, her father had written OPEN ALONE all over the bruised package.

"That's unusual," Annika said. "Surely, Ayah wouldn't mind if I opened this with you." She had learned to call her father Ayah from when they lived in Bali.

"Hurry up already, and open it," Max said all jittery and anxious as he sat on the edge of Annika's white frilly bed beside her. "We're gonna miss the cake."

She frowned at him. "They can't have cake until all twelve candles is blown out. And since I'm the birthday girl, that's not going to happen until . . . well . . . I open this." With nervous hands, she removed the twine, tore away the brown paper, and pulled aside the wadded up newspaper.

Max leaned over Annika's arm to get a better look. "Well, what is it?

Annika held up the shiny golden globe--its stand balancing on her palm--for Max to see. "It's a globe of the world."

"Is it real gold?"

Max reached for the globe, and Annika yanked it away from his reach.

"Max, my nana says you have the bad luck curse. Everything you touch either dies or breaks. So I forbid you from touching anything of mine that is alive or important, and this sure does look important to me."


  1. Sorry guys, I noticed in my rush I sent off the wrong one. The only thing that changed from this version was the bit where Max reiterates about the ceremony of kissing a girl after Molly takes the flowers from him. This is the new paragraph:

    "Thank you, ma'am," Max muttered as he passed her, remembering what Dagwood had told him. One couldn't kiss a girl without bringing flowers first. He dragged his feet the entire length of the hall.

    Thanks again for such a great opportunity. Feel free to tear this up. :D

  2. Oh, also, some spaces between dialogue and paragraphs got lost when I sent it over. :D

  3. Not sure if we're supposed to leave a critique or not, but I would say the following and hope that it helps:

    • I liked the unusual conflict that he wanted to kiss the girl, but she doesn't want him to touch her or anything of hers because of a curse.

    • There's too much narration and back story, telling rather than showing. I found myself wanting to skim because I wasn't pulled into the story. It gives the story a sluggish, top-heavy feel that doesn't go away until he's sitting on the bed talking to Annika. I think this is the main problem with the chapter at this point.

    • The dialogue doesn't sound period to me. The actions of the kids don't either. A boy would never be in a girl's bedroom, much less sitting next to her on a bed. I'm guessing you did this because she's opening a private gift and wanted him present for it, but it just wouldn't happen. Also, a boy would probably be shy of openly discussing kissing a girl with his older brother. The older brother might brag about his own exploits, but I think Max would keep his thoughts to himself. People tended not to talk about these things as openly as they do now, and I think this would possibly extend to kids unless they hadn't been brought up in a genteel environment.

    Hope it helps. Best wishes with your book! : )

  4. Hey! Okay, I still love Max and your opening paragraph. Unfortunately you haven't fixed all the info dump. You're hanging onto it, and I get it! I do. But trust us to figure it out as we go. You jump into it right away too. Go straight to him brushing his teeth anticipating the promised kiss. Then the brother's tips. THEN to the house where she is distracted with a package from her father. By discussing the package you can give us a hint or two of why the dad is missing and sending it. We don't NEED to know more right now, do we?

    You use the term "angel" twice to describe both she and her sister. Take your time. I think it's because you were rushed to get this to us, because I LOVED your analogies last time.

    It's tough to do a period piece. Something I'd love to try, but I'm not brave enough. I see the point of the person above, and that's an easy fix. She can pull him into a sitting room or even a closet or something and make a comment about it not being proper but she can only show him. Maybe that even gives him a moment to get excited thinking she's going to kiss him. ;)

    Careful with your backstory fixes. She tells him that about the "curse" but hasn't this been going on for a while? Is this news for him or for US?

    I do feel a special spark with Max. I think you have an intriguing story and I think if you take your time you are more than capable of ironing it out.

  5. Hi Brenda,

    Everyone before me has raised excellent points. Especially that some of Max's voice (the things that were there that we all said we loved) have been edited out. Unfortunately, the backstory is still in there, and it needs to go.

    Although I love Max, for me, the story picks up when the package arrives. What about doing that scene from Max's view point? It would allow you to weave the backstory in much more smoothly. If he had been hoping to kiss her, but instead she has forgotten all about her promise and is only interested in the package, that provides great tension, especially if she then won't let him anywhere near the package once he realizes how interesting it is. His thoughts about the package would let you introduce the background about her father, all while building both internal and external conflict.

    I know it's hard to let things go when you love them, but I think the scene with the brother isn't as interesting or as believable as the rest. For what it's worth, I do agree that the dialogue and some of the terms and situations are not authentic, but those are easy fixes and for me, at least, come down to line edits at this point. I'm still more interested in developing the structure of the two scenes.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It has the potential to be such a great piece, and I'm excited to read more.

    Hope this helps!


  6. Lots of fun details. I can see you cut a lot of backstory from before, but I agree with the others . . . a lot more could be cut.

    I'll guess with Lisa that you were rushing to finish this because I felt like the voice that I loved last time wasn't as clear this time.

    I think you could start the story with the tooth powder as well. Maybe the brother could be teasing more than telling. And if you have the brother actually tell him that stuff, you don't really need to refer back to all the specific advice later. A general reference would work.

    I'm really intrigued with the globe and I think you have a fun story. Getting the first chapter/page is (for me) the hardest part. Best of luck!

  7. Yeah, good job telling it all from Max's perspective!

    A picky thing: If she's turning 13 why would there only be 12 candles on the cake?

    I liked Lisa's suggestions for moving the beginning along a bit better. But I also liked Martina's suggestion of focusing on the package and the tension about the kiss - that could also be a good starting point.

    I could try rewriting each way and then see which one you like better.

    Good luck with this - it sounds like it could be a really cool adventure!

  8. I love the opening paragraph but could you use it and then move on to the scene with the package? You could weave in details about Annika's father then, as well as Max wanting to kiss Annika. Still love the idea that he wants to kiss her, but she forgot about the promise. Her not wanting him to touch her things makes it even better!

    Good luck!


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)