Saturday, March 12, 2011

8 First Five Pages Workshop - March, Revision on Entry #4

Young Adult by 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 I hated chemistry class. And I hated pop quizzes even more. Who needs to know the entire periodic table other than scientists?

Mr. McMichaels cleared his throat. “Ten minutes, people,” he announced, his voice barely containing his excitement.

He wanted us all to fail, I could tell. I wrinkled my nose and wrote down the initials to all the elements I recognized and stalled over several. The bell rang, and I scrambled to fill the remaining squares.

Mr. McMichaels stood behind me. “Time’s up, Riona.”

I wrote down another element and handed him the paper. “Here you go, Mr. McMichaels.” I half-smiled.

He huffed and resumed collecting the rest of the quizzes.

Cassie, my best friend, slung her school bag over her shoulders. “That was rough.”

I laughed. “Give me a break! Your father taught you the periodic table when you were, what, seven?”

“Eight.” Cassie shrugged as we exited the classroom and walked down the hall. “He’s still hoping I’ll be a chemist, too. Even though I almost turned my eye into an egg last lab.”

“Lovely visual, Cass, thanks.”

She grinned. “Talk to you later.” She headed down the stairs.

"Riona?" someone called.

I turned around and saw Artex, a recent transfer student approach, a piece of paper in his hand. "Hi." I smiled, unsure why he was talking to me.

"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, about an obsessive-compulsive knight named Roderick. "Thank you. I didn't realize I had left it behind."

"You're a good reader." He fell into step beside.

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? Poor Roderick. You really wrote him into a tight spot. Those bloody pirates are more than he can handle. 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?

I paused before my English class door. "Class," I said, feeling lame. Gah, why couldn't I ever talk to cute guys?

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.

Mrs. Tyebeta stood in front of the class. With her long flowing skirt and earth-toned jewelry, she looked like an Indian princess. “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 began to write 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 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 Mrs. Tyebeta. They exchanged whispers before she called out, “Class, Artex already has a story he wishes to share.”

I blanched. If Artex had stolen my Alessandro 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 were the same words that graced the top of my page. But how could Artex have know? He sat in front of me, not behind me. He couldn’t have copied it.

Artex hadn't stopped reading while I thought this. Every word he said, I had also written. “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.

Mrs. Tyebeta smiled apologetically. “You can finish sharing tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Artex caught my eye, smiled knowingly, and practically ran out the door.

I hurried after him, but the crowd of students hindered my progress. By the time I reached the hallway, Artex was nowhere in sight.

Could it have only been a coincidence? It had to be. After all, people can’t read minds.

Still. The next time I saw him, Artex would have some explaining to do.

I walked slowly to my next class, so slowly that the hallways were almost empty. Before I entered the door, I saw a figure down the hallway almost outside my peripheral vision. I looked over, and my heart started to beat way too fast, the pulse drowning out all other sounds.

I saw 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. I gasped with fright.

"Miss Streaming, care to join us for class?" my teacher asked.

I turned to face him, then glanced over my shoulder. The demon was gone. With my arms trembling so much that I almost dropped my books, I hurried to my desk.

For weeks now, I had been having recurring nightmares, all about demons trying to hunt me down and kill me.

I shivered as a feeling of déjà vu came over me. The demon I had seen — no, not seen, it had been a product of my overactive imagination — the demon had looked exactly like those in my nightmares.

Needless to say, I wasn't able to concentrate on any of my classes the rest of the day.


  1. I love that you really took our critiques to heart. To me it shows you are willing to do what it takes. I have three main pieces of critique for you. I'm going to be somewhat vague on purpose because I'd like to see what you make of them.

    1. Show don't tell. I know, I know, we've all heard it before and we all get called on it. But some of these scenes would have such a huge impact if you slowed them down and let us experience them with Riona. Ask yourself throughout if we (the readers) can tell something is true without you stating it.

    2. Sensory details. I know Martina already mentioned this, but it is important. Smell. Hearing. Taste. Touch. They can really bring certain moments and characters to life. Experiment.

    3. Emotion/reaction. Some weird stuff is happening here. Is Riona reacting appropriately? What would she really think and feel when these bizarre things happen?

    I think you have an intriguing story here. I really want to know why Artex had the same story! Did it really happen and she knew at some level? Did he read her mind? Just take your time and try to experience it along with your character because that's what I want to do vicariously. :D

  2. The idea behind your story is intriguing and (at least to me) unique. As a writer, I also love stories about other writers, so that's a draw right there. Also, I really want to know who is tuning into whose thoughts. Riona is convinced Artex is tapping in to hers, and that she's got the unique story, but it could be that she's tapping in to him and not realizing it. Anyway, overall I like the story and think it would appeal to teens.

    Here are some things that I think would bring out the strengths in your story:

    • I stumbled a little over all the unusual names. I like Riona, but I'm not sure about Tyebeta. I had to stop reading and spend time trying to figure out how I would interpret that in my brain every time I came across it. If a name wakes the reader up from the reading experience, I'd consider changing it.

    • Telling rather than showing. It's the bane of the writer, and there are places where telling is appropriate, but some of Riana's thoughts slow down the story too much and pull me out of it as a reader. I don't think they're necessary, either, and detract from the mystery that you're building with the story as a whole. Don't tell the reader so much. Let her come to her own conclusions.

    • If feel awkwardness in your language choices sometimes. I'm guessing this isn't your final draft anyway, but take some time to read your sentences out loud and see if you stumble over them. I think they could become more smooth with work.

  3. I really liked your new beginning. It felt a lot more authentic. I LOVED that Artex started reading her story word for word. You had me there.

    But I was disappointed that she would shrug it off so easily. Any writer knows that it's no coincidence when two pieces are identical. Not in a million years.

    I thought Cassie came across as a bit of a fake for calling the quiz rough when she'd known the answers for how many years? Just something to think about.

    Otherwise, I agreed with Lisa and Beth about slowing down a little and show us who this girl really is (vs. telling).

    I'm definitely wanting to read more, though. Loving the premise!

  4. WOW! HUGE difference, Nicole. So much stronger, more unique, and more fun. I thought it read very authentically right up until we got to the Artex exchange about her being a good reader (assume you meant writer, btw?). Then you lost me a bit. In any case, we don't need to know what the writing was about there, because you very cleverly *show* us the kind of thing she is writing a little bit later. Loved that. But I concur that she dismissed the coincidence too easily. You might consider having Artex say something ambiguous in the earlier exchange that mirrors what she was thinking, then when he reads her story, she is sure. And that makes it harder to dismiss the demons she's been seeing for a while and assumed were just overactive immagination. As Lisa says, it's a question of where you want to take the story and how you want to get there, but this is an enormous improvement over the previous draft.

    Great job! And thanks for sharing it with us!


  5. A couple more things, because I don't want to mislead you as you are making decisions. The egg thing threw me. I couldn't get the visual and chemically it isn't possible. Also agree with Janet's comment about Cassie. More critically, at the beginning of a story, every single line, every word, has to advance character and plot. I'm not sure what you accomplished with two separate classroom scenarious. They read authentically, but is there a reason you can't make McMichael's the english teacher so you can combine the two?

    While I like this version much, much better, don't let that stall you in brainstorming. You've made huge strides and the deeper you can get us into the unique aspects of the story and your world the better off you will be.


  6. I like this so much better than the previous beginning. I like the development of Artex and Riona's relationship and the question of whether he can read her mind, and why would he. And ending with her catching a glimpse of the demon from her dreams will keep a reader turning the pages.

    Lots of little line editing issues, however. The word beside begs for a pronoun to follow. Riona worries about Artex stealing her Alessandro story but we've only seen him with her Roderick story.

    Following up a bit on what Martina said, is the chemistry class scene necessary?

    I like where this is going. Great job!

  7. This revision is so much better and I love that you started with her in school instead. So cool and intriguing that they both wrote the same story--word for word. I agree with the others about adding sensory details. I couldn't get the egg eye thing and maybe she could have almost burned her eye or something, but I'm not into science so that could be it.

    Really make Riona freak out about the story thing, maybe she can knock her backpack over or knock a book to the floor, and the entire class and Artex looks at her and she has to recover or something. She's just not freaked out enough in that scene. All and all - loved it! :D

  8. The reason why I had the eye bit in the story is because my high school chemistry teacher told us during a lab not to get a particular chemical into our eye because it would turn it into an eye. But it's no biggie, I can change that.

    I hadn't realized how many small errors I missed! Alessandro should have been changed to Roderick. And I did mean writer, not reader.

    I see Martina and Vicki mean about maybe combining the two class scenes. I'll have to think about how I can make that work because I don't see an English teacher hating a student for writing during class. I'll have to think on that.

    You all have given me such great feedback! I'll work on slowing down the pace while ramping up the tension. I'm definitely going to change Riona's reaction to the story (make it a lot stronger) and working on showing more. Thanks, everyone!


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