Monday, July 16, 2012

8 1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Cook-Raymond Rev 1

Author: Sarah Cook-Raymond
Genre: YA urban fantasy

Chapter One

Irony: the opposite of what you’d expect—with a twist.

Before today the only irony I knew was being tall but sucking at basketball. But that’s the twist. The day your life changes forever begins like all the others. It’s just the ending that’s changed.

Chapter Two: Before

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. I swat the alarm clock into submission but don’t move out from under the warm folds of down comforter. It’s not time to get up. Not really. Not yet.

I hear the wood stairs creek and croak under Shelly’s shoes. “Toby!” she says, with a knock on my door. “It’s time to get up!” Shelly’s two years younger than me but you’d never know it.
Goodbye, bed.

I let out a sigh and then grudgingly throw the covers off. At once I feel the sharp bite of cold air as it hits my body. I let a Guinness Book of World Record-setting yawns and make my way to the closet. “Mom!” I holler, staring at the very few items still hanging there. “I thought you said you were going to do some laundry!”

“I will dear. I will,” says the zombie in pearls walking by my room. She disappears around the corner offering no further details. Despite my mother’s grand appearances, mornings are her downfall. Apparently it’s genetic.

I let out an audible sigh then grab what used to be my favorite shirt and look in the mirror. I’m met by gray eyes and side-swept, shaggy, brown hair. But then I look down. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say to the reflection of a lanky boy in a midriff flannel.

I’ve grown so much in the last year that barely anything fits which means doing laundry is essential. Every time puberty rears its awful head, Mom insists appearances aren’t everything. She’s clearly a liar who never went to high school.

I turn my boxers inside out, grab a hoodie, the same jeans I wore yesterday, and hurry downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast.

“Hey Big Shot,” says Dad, looking up from the Washington Post. There’s a stack of five other papers beside him, all already read.

“Hey,” I echo. I don’t contest the nickname. He’s spent my entire life trying to get it to catch on. No need to stop now. Still, I love him for that. I can’t explain why.

The coffee pot dings. Dad smiles and stands up from the table. His massive frame is draped in his uniform: dark suit, shiny shoes, crisp shirt. I see a small splash of coffee still in his cup as he goes over for a refill—meaning this is the second pot of the day.

I look over and see Mom leaning against the counter typing away feverishly on her Blackberry, a half-eaten piece of toast balanced between two fingers. “Here,” Dad says, moving across the kitchen and sliding a steaming mug of coffee in her direction. She looks up and their eyes meet. “Thanks,” she says with a crescent smile as she puts the Blackberry down. She takes a sip and I watch her shoulders rise and fall into a relaxed soft sigh.

“Alright, Alright.” Shelly bursts into the room wearing a backpack so full it’s amazing she doesn’t buckle under the weight. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for school.”

“Speak for yourself,” I say, grabbing one of the strawberry Pop-Tarts in her outstretched hand. I take a satisfying bite. “I swear if it wasn’t for you, I’d never eat,” I admit.

“I heard that,” says Mom, though she doesn’t contest it. “I have an open house to prep for,” she says, turning to Dad.

“I wanted to take them to school anyway.”

I climb into his black Range Rover. “So you excited about that English test today?” Dad asks, starting the engine.

“Excited? I don’t think it’s possible to ever be excited about a test.”

“Toby,” he says, pausing. “Life is a test.”

“Can we please turn the radio non?” begs Shelly from the back seat. The rest of the way to school it’s a Shelly and Dad duet of some Taylor Swift song. Awesome.

Dad drops Shelly off at the middle school first. “You have a great day now,” he says. Shelly reaches from the back seat and gives him as big a bear hug as her scrawny little arms can handle.

“You too,” she singsongs.

When we get to the high school I quickly jump out but not before Dad calls my attention back. “So Big Shot, we still on for tonight?”

Tonight is fantasy football draft night. I’m the defending champ.

“You bet. But be ready, old man!” I holler back to him, my body still moving towards the school’s double doors. “You’re gonna need some luck!”

I bound off the bus thankful the school day is over and that’s when I see it—the sight that stops me in my tracks—Mom’s car in the driveway uncharacteristically early. It’s strange how something so trivial can feel so terrifyingly serious.

Cautiously I opened the front door, all the hairs on my body standing on end. Something’s not right; I can feel it in my entire body, right down to my bones. And then, on the kitchen floor, is my sobbing mother flopping around like a helpless fish out of water. It unnerves me in the same way horror movies do. It’s that sensation where I want to cover my eyes but can’t because something—compulsion or curiosity—stops me.

As a realtor, Mom’s all about fake smiles and pretty fa├žades so to see this, not a stifled, Hollywood-type cry but a mess of tears and snot streaming together down her cheeks, unnerves me.

“Mom?” I ask cautiously as I approach her. I don’t see Shelly walk into the room but hear the squeak of her sneakers on the freshly-waxed floor as she stops abruptly at the sight I’ve only just begun to digest. Mom looks up at us from under red-rimmed eyes, her whole demeanor as fragile and breakable as ever. “Your father—” she eventually chokes out but breaks off. All that follows are blubbered incoherent words coupled with bouts of hyperventilation.

Precipice (n). I couldn’t remember the definition in class today. But I remember it now.

“Mom?” I repeat.

“He’s dead,” she says at last. My knees buckle and I collapse next to her. Shelly does the same. We’re just one big pile of bodies like football players in a heap only no one attempts to move and we don’t have any padding to cushion the blow.

At that moment tectonic plates begin to shift. We don’t feel them but we know they’re there, moving, cracking under the surface. The earth breaking in two, the before and the after, an ocean’s divide between them.


  1. Ok, I like this start MUCH better. I can see the happy family, can see how utterly destroyed Toby's going to be when Dad's gone. I can also see Shelly more clearly because you've shown what kind of person she is instead of telling it. Great job setting this up. Now for a little fine-tuning ;).

    While I like the set-up, there's a little too many scene jumps in this chapter--in bed, in the kitchen, in the car, coming home from school; it feels a little jerky. I think I would lose the car scene. You can include the important stuff (the life is a test dialogue, the fantasy football exchange, etc.) as they leave the breakfast table. I'd also like to suggest a hard section break before they come home from school. There's a significant time jump there, and a transition to a hard core plot event. Set it off with a break.

    There's much less telling in this revision, which is great. But there's still a fair bit here. Same drill: highlight the telling parts and show them instead.

    Also, I was a little confused in the bedroom when he's staring at the mirror. Not sure exactly why he's saying you've got to be kidding me; since he went to bed in those clothes, I don't understand why he's surprised in the morning. You might want to revisit that. Also, puberty is really a one-time thing (although it takes a while to get through). So to hear 'every time puberty raised its head' didn't sound quite right to me.

    Lastly, having the word 'precipice' there, and the part of speech but no definition read a little strange. I know what you were getting at, how he didn't know it in class, but he does now. Maybe, when he's getting off the bus, he could briefly reflect that he'd done alright on the English test, though he'd forgotten the definition for precipice. Then, at the end, it comes rushing back to him. I think something like this might have more impact.

    Great job on the rewrite. Good luck!

  2. Sarah, very nice job taking feedback from last week and making changes. You really took the time to show the father as a loving part of the household in just one scene.

    In terms of revisions, I would agree with Becca's comments above regarding telling/showing. Particularly where he comes back to school and senses something is wrong. You can likely convey that sense with just one detail. The biggest part that removed me from reading smoothly was the section where Toby is suddenly back home from school.

    I heard Cheryl Klein (from Levine) speak this week on crafting compelling characters and she shared that characters that are whiny or mopey on the first page are an instant "no" from an editorial standpoint. That said, your revision really paints Toby as much more likable as a first impression and less mopey. Now we can experience the pain of his loss because we were more vested. Your reworking is truly a big jump from last week and I'm excited to see where you go next!

  3. This is a much better beginning. Becca and Marissa have made great comments. The only comment I have is that I thought your character was girl until "lanky boy." Toby is a name that can be used for either sex and the voice sounded very feminine to me. (I have had girl students named Toby.) Even after "lanky boy", I was stopped by "midriff flannel." The use of the word "midriff" is one I've never heard a boy use to describe anything a boy would wear. The opening didn't give me "boy" since girls play basketball. I think if you made a simple change such as opening with "being the tallest boy in the junior class and sucking at basketball" would probably be enough along with a hard look at the looking-in-the-mirror scene to make it sound more masculine would fix it for me. Congrats on making such good changes.

  4. Thanks guys, all helpful edits. I did have a section break but somewhere between my Word doc and my email that must have been lost.

  5. Thanks guys, all helpful edits. I did have a section break but somewhere between my Word doc and my email that must have been lost.

  6. I love how your revisions have me feeling about Toby. Before, he was a little hard to connect to~ hardened and defensive for good reason, of course, but not quite as likeable. Now I'm more inclined to really want to spend time with his character. Love the relationship between him and his sister :)

    I really enjoy little details you put in~ the fact that Toby knows his dad has already read a bunch of papers and notices that he's on his second pot of coffee already--both small things, but they show a lot about the dad's character. I agree with Becca about the switches--I think you could start with Toby stumbling into the breakfast area without losing much.

    Great job!

  7. Sarah -

    You have done a great job of catching the personalities of each of these characters in very few words which is AWESOME! You see there flaws and their strengths and get a great sense of who they are. I like this much better than the first.

    A couple of things that pull me out of the story a bit - I know you have very little time to build this relationship with the father and you want to show Toby's love for him but it is almost too much adoration to make Toby believable as a cynical teen (which I am assuming is the case because he views everything else so critically). I think it's possible for him to be a little flip towards his father but still show some love there. Nope, not going to be easy in so few pages, but you're a good writer and I know you can find a way.

    One other thing - and this is just me passing on what I have been told in my critique groups - starting a scene with someone walking up and having someone look in a mirror to describe their looks is sometimes viewed as "an easy way out" (my critique groups words not mine honest! I've done both things in my writing!). Not saying "OMG you must change it the rules says so!" because I think it works here but it seems to be a polarizing subject where, even though it may work well, people love it or hate it.

  8. Thanks for hosting this contest! Can't wait to read these.


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