Monday, October 17, 2011

6 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Entry #2, Rev 2

Katie O'Sullivan
Young Adult, Contemporary Fantasy

What had started as an ordinary Thursday was quickly turning into something else. And it wasn’t even third period yet.

The strange tingling sensations running up and down his legs had Shea more than a little concerned. It was like his whole body had flipped into some weird high gear as soon as the school’s emergency system started its loud electronic beeping. His chest felt constricted, his lungs laboring like he’d been working out all morning instead of sitting in class.

Could it be just the stupid tornado drill putting him on edge?

Tornados and tornado drills were facts of life in central Oklahoma, and the high school’s cavernous gym had more than enough room to hold the entire student body. So why was Shea having trouble breathing? Finally, the all-clear bell rang and he heaved a sigh of relief.

“Okay, people,” said Mr. Kelley, raising his voice to get the attention of the freshmen milling next to the bleachers. “The drill’s over. Line up and head back to class.”

John Hansen pushed into line behind Shea. “At least we missed most of history.” John was taller than most and built like a blond brick wall. “Western Civ has got to be my least favorite class this year.”

“Yeah, Mr. Kelley can be harsh,” Shea agreed. Just shy of six feet, Shea was considered big for a freshman, but even he felt dwarfed by his best friend. “I can never get all those dates right.”

“What are you talking about, Maguire?” John laughed. “You practically ace every quiz.”

Shea scowled. “No, no I don’t. I get some wrong.”

John kept laughing and shook his head. “Whatever. So… did you ask yet about Saturday? Mom said you could spend the night Friday so we can get an early start.”

Shea was still distracted by the last of the little zings shooting through his muscles, like electrical sparks crackling along his spine. “What? Oh, yeah, the Redhawks game. I forgot to ask.”

“Oh come on, Shea…”

“It’ll depend on whether we get the rest of the fields planted by tomorrow. Otherwise, I’ll have to stay. We don’t have as many farm hands as your family.”

“Your dad never lets you do anything fun,” John groaned as they reached their shadowy classroom. With the overhead lights still off, the students groped their way to their desks. The darkness made no difference to Shea since his eyes always adjusted instantly to whatever light was available.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think your dad was trying to keep you locked up away from the world,” John said, bumping against another desk.

“Nah.” Shea shook his head quickly. “Just a lot of work to do.”

“Hey, what if there really was a tornado, and it sucked away that stupid John Deere of yours?” John laughed. “Then your dad’ll have to let you come to the baseball game. He won’t have any excuses left.”

“Yeah, right. I’d never be so lucky.” Shea gestured toward the window, where brilliant blue skies peeked through the slatted blinds. “Not a storm cloud to be seen.”

Just a stupid safety drill, Shea told himself, looking out at the cloudless sea of blue. Another quick shiver bolted down his spine.

The last few students entered the room and flipped on the lights. Jeannie and Maria had leaned up against one of the front row desks to flirt with Bobby Joe Peters. Shea scowled as Jeannie tossed her long red ponytail and smiled at some stupid thing B.J. said.

Jeannie glanced up, catching Shea’s stare. She leaned over to whisper in Maria’s ear. The pair both glanced his way and Shea felt his cheeks burn a little. Maybe John and I should ask them out to the movies this weekend, Shea thought, emboldened by their smiles. His eyes slid over toward John as he remembered the baseball game. Maybe they could come with us to see the Redhawks. Hope dad finishes the plowing today without me.

John elbowed him in the ribs. “Dude, we’re not in middle school anymore. They’re cheerleaders now. Way out of our league.”

“Speak for yourself,” Shea said, and smiled in Jeannie’s direction. “Never hurts to ask, right?”

Up in the front, B.J. looked from one girl to the other, and then back toward Shea. His brows shot up as his eyes narrowed. Suddenly, B.J. sat straighter, making a big show of pointing his nose toward the ceiling and sniffing the air. “Do you smell something?” His voice was pitched a little too loud, his face contorting into an overly dramatic grimace while the girls giggled. “Something stinks…”

He flared his nostrils and slowly swiveled his head toward the back of the room. His eyes widened as he spotted Shea and John staring back at him. “Oh right, the farmboys are in this class! You should bathe more, Hansen. You too, Maguire. Eau de manure isn’t the ‘in’ thing this spring.”

Laughter filled the classroom. Shea could feel his face burn with embarrassment. Bobby Joe barreled on with his sneering tirade. “Didn’t your daddy ever teach you about soap, Maguire? Or doesn’t Mr. Farmer know any better either? No wonder your mom ran out on you – she probably couldn’t stand the smell.”

Shea’s throat constricted, any thought of continuing the argument gone. He glanced at Jeannie and saw she was laughing right along with the rest.

“Don’t listen to them,” John said in a low voice, nudging his arm to remind Shea he still had a friend at his side. “They don’t understand. Not really.”

Neither do I, thought Shea, giving John a half-hearted nod before putting his head down on his desk. The surface felt cool against his burning forehead. My mom didn’t even hang around long enough to get to know me, how could I understand?

Mr. Kelley entered the classroom. “All right, all right, settle down.” He put his hands on his hips as he waited for everyone to find their seats. “There’s just enough time to hand out last Friday’s quizzes and go over them. I’ll want them back before you leave the room, to keep in your files for the term.”

When he reached Shea’s desk, the teacher stopped. “Mr. Maguire.” When Shea lifted his head, Mr. Kelley asked, “Can you guess how many questions you answered correctly?”

“Umm, I don’t know?” He heard Jeannie muffle another giggle and felt his cheeks flame again.

“You got one wrong,” Mr. Kelley answered, his eyes glittering. “Can you guess which one?”

The rest of the class had turned in their seats to watch the exchange. Shea felt the burn creep down his neck. “Um, no?”

“The third question,” Mr. Kelley said, carefully placing the test paper in the exact center of Shea’s desk. His index finger skewered the page to the surface as he stood staring into Shea’s face. “It bothered me, because it’s a question I was sure you answered correctly the week before.” The teacher paused, his eyes never leaving Shea. “So I checked.”

Shea dropped his gaze. “So?” he finally mumbled, wishing a hole would open in the floor to swallow him.

“I looked back through your test papers. It seems you always get the third question wrong. Number three. Every week.”

“Um, Mr. Kelley… I…” A knock on the classroom door interrupted, giving Shea a few extra minutes to scramble for an excuse that wouldn’t sound completely lame. How could he explain that he was putting down wrong answers on purpose, so that he wouldn’t stand out? That his father told him perfect grades would draw undue attention?

It was Shea’s own fault for being lazy about the way he accomplished it.

“Is there a Shea Maguire here?”

Shea’s head jerked up. A state trooper stood in the doorway, mirrored sunglasses hiding his eyes. A cold ball formed in the pit of Shea’s stomach. His arm felt like lead as he raised his hand.

“Come with me, son,” commanded the trooper. Shea stood, automatically grabbing his backpack from the floor next to his chair. Moments ago he’d been wishing for a miracle to take him out of the situation, but suddenly he knew he’d rather stay.

He felt twenty pairs of eyes follow his long walk to the front of the room. Something was wrong. Really wrong.

“We’ll finish this discussion tomorrow,” Mr. Kelley called after him.

Shea kept walking.


  1. Hi Katie,

    Still enjoying your posts and I like your latest version the best of all. Here are my comments:

    Good hook for your opening line. I knew that it wasn't an ordinary day and wanted to know why.

    The next three paragraphs were telling instead of showing what was happening. I think it would be better to show any necessary info in following dialogue instead.

    For dialogue tags, people don't groan out their words, like John did. They say them, after which they would groan.

    The dialogue is moving the story and gives us an idea of what Shea is like, but B.J.'s conversation sounded more like a college student than a high school student (although he surely comes across as a jerk). Some of the dialogue after this sounds a little stiff, and Mr. Kelley seems malicious rather than penetrating in his examination of Shea.

    Did wonder about being smart enough to get every question right on a test but dumb enough to choose to make the same problem number wrong on each time.

    Really want to know why a policeman walked in and what's going to happen. Oh, the suspense!

    : ) Beth

  2. I had to wonder about the shadowy classroom when the students are trying to find their seats after the drill, are there no windows in the classroom? It's a small hangup that pulls me out of the story since later you mention the blinds are letting in enough light for Shea to see the sky. I gather you're mentioning it only to highlight the lack of light doesn't bother Shea but the inconsistency needs resolving.

    Another hangup I'm having is when the teacher discusses Shea's grade with him in front of the students. Either the teacher is a complete tool or I'm misinterpreting how the teacher is actually talking to Shea. Is it in a normal voice, whispered? How come the teacher hasn't told the other students to do something so they're not eavesdropping? The fact Shea's getting only the third question wrong doesn't having me wondering why. Instead I think he's cheating on the tests until I read that he's doing it on purpose. I would bring up the fact he's doing it on purpose earlier so you don't risk alienating the reader that thinks he's just a cheater.

    Those two things aside wow. Looking at the first draft to this you've made amazing progress!

  3. Okay - so this version is the best one yet. It still feels slightly stiff though, like you haven't really let loose with the voice. I'm not convinced it's authentic teens. Probably because of words like "emboldened". IDK. It's not that good vocabulary is a bad thing, on the contrary don't dumb it down, just that if you're talking about his feelings, I'm not sure he'd describe it as emboldened. I know it's third, but it should still feel like him. I think if you fixed that you'd have taken this to a whole new level that would just be incredible.

    I like the teacher catching him, as I said last week, but perhaps you need to flesh out the teacher's character a bit. I had this problem in one of my manuscripts. You don't want the adults to be cardboard, you want each one, big part or not, to feel real.

    I really like the idea here, and I love that you have a male MC. I'm curious to see what happens next. I think if you work on this even more it can be just that much better.

  4. I really LOVE this, Katie. The dialogue is flowing really well.
    There are just a few minor things that are troubling me. First, Shea's thoughts about asking the cheerleaders on a date with him and John don't seem right seeing that Shea is not allowed to socialize much. It seems that John should be the one distracted by the girls instead.
    Also, last week when you mentioned Shea missing the third question on every test, I thought it would have something to do with his visual perception (relating back to the fact that he could see in the darkened room when no one else could). So when I read that he intentionally missed the third question, it didn’t ring true to me.
    Lastly, what Steph said about the darkened room makes sense now that she’s pointed it out—how could the room be that dark with the blinds open?
    These are minor things, but overall, this sounds like it’s going to be a great story. I'm loving it.

  5. You did a great job incorporating the feedback from last week! The setting is much clearer (I understood the shadowy classroom, but maybe tone it down a little? Maybe less bumping into desks as they get closer to the window?) The one thing that tripped me up is when you that he flushed with embarrassment. It's a trap I fall into a lot - one of my crit partners calls it "fizzy" writing - the urge to write more when a single line will do. If he's flushing, we'd expect it to be because of embarrassment. I also think your dialogue is a little stiff for freshman, but I think that's a minor fix for you.
    I still love this and I've loved seeing it improve!

  6. Hi Katie,

    I agree this is definitely the best of the bunch so far. Good work! Very impressive. I also agree that while the story is getting very strong--and yes, I definitely want to see what's coming next--the voice needs more authenticity and immediacy. Lisa often mentions a trick that I find helpful too, so I'm going to echo that here. Try writing this in first person and digging deep into Shea's head and heart to see how he is feeling, then rewriting back to the 3rd person POV. Writing a close third like this can be difficult because it is tempting to put in distancing "telling" words like felt, saw, wondered, thought, etc. instead of simply letting us experience what he felt, saw, wondered, etc. IN A UNIQUE WAY.

    And that's the key here. This is a smooth commercial style, but you haven't convinced us yet. Tingling, for example, is very general and it's something that is mentioned in most paranormals at some point. So how is Shea's experience different? Similarly, you mentioned that "he aces almost every test" and you do a good job of setting that up subtly so that we feel there's more to it. But if he is super intelligent, then that needs to reflect in the POV throughout. What does he notice that normal people wouldn't notice. How do his abilities manifest in small things?

    Be careful to use the language precisely. Your sky/sea metaphor is nice, but not necessarily original enough to warrant having the reader fractionally pause. So be certain that the pay off for all those kinds of risks is there. Figurative language can really elevate the writing--I love it personally--but clarity is still king. Especially with this kind of a story, you never want the reader to have to pause.

    Good work! Really solid progress and I'm eager to see what you do next. This has come a very long way already!




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