Sunday, October 9, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Entry #2, Rev 1

Katie O'Sullivan
Young Adult, Contemporary Fantasy

Chapter One
It almost felt like an ordinary day.
Almost. But not quite. Something was off.
Shea Maguire tried to shrug off the weird feeling. He couldn’t ignore the tingling sensation running through his muscles. Maybe he’d overdone it yesterday when he was helping his father plow the back fields for the spring planting. Or maybe it was just the stupid tornado drill putting him on edge.
Finally, the all-clear bell rang and Shea heaved a sigh of relief.
“Okay people,” said Mr. Kelley, clapping his hands to get the attention of the freshmen milling next to the bleachers. “The drill is over. Let’s line up and head back to the classrooms.”
“At least we missed most of second period,” said Shea’s friend John Hansen, pushing into line behind him. At a solid six foot four, John was taller than most and built like a blond brick wall. The other kids scattered to give him room. “I really hate history this year. I mean, some things about high school are great. History isn’t one of them.”
“Yeah,” Shea agreed, smiling up at him. At six feet, Shea was one of the taller kids in the grade, but even he had to look up at John. They exited the gymnasium, jostling down the long hallway along with the crowd. “I can never get all those dates right,” Shea added.
“What are you talking about?” John laughed as he playfully punched Shea’s shoulder. Shea stumbled, bouncing off the wall of lockers, trying not to flinch. “You practically ace Mr. Kelley’s quiz every week.”
“No, no I don’t.” Shea scowled, rubbing his arm.
John laughed, shaking his head. “Whatever. So… did you ask yet about Saturday? Mom said you could spend the night Friday so we can get to the city early for the game and watch the teams warm up. I’ve got that extra bed in my room, now that Tanner’s off to college.”
Shea was still distracted by the way his spine still didn’t feel quite right, like little zings of lighting were shooting through him. “Oh, yeah, the Redhawks game. I forgot to ask yet.” The Oklahoma City Redhawks might be minor league, but the Hansens were huge baseball fans. Shea knew John already had plans to try out for the team as soon as he turned eighteen, with an eye on hitting the majors.
“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 does.”
“Your dad never lets you do anything fun,” John groaned as they reached their shadowy classroom. No one had bothered to turn on the overhead lights, but enough light leaked through the window blinds for the students to grope their way to their desks. To Shea it made no difference, his eyes always seemed to adjust to whatever light was available.
“If I didn’t know better,” John was saying, as he banged his knee into a misplaced chair, “I’d think your dad was trying to keep you locked up away from the world.”
“Nah,” Shea said. “Just a lot of work to do.” They’d reached the last row of desks, next to one of the windows that had been left propped open for the drill. The sky outside was the bluest of blues.
“Hey, what if there really was a tornado, and it sucked away that stupid John Deere of yours,” John said, pulling his chair out from his desk and rubbing his sore knee as he sat. “Then your dad’ll have to let you come to the ball game. He won’t have any excuses left.”
“Yeah, right.” Shea laughed. “I’d never be so lucky. Look at that sky. Not a storm cloud to be seen.” He dropped into his seat, making the metal legs screech against the tiled floor, as he watched the rest of their classmates trickle into the room. School safety drills were common, so no one seemed too freaked out. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except for my tingling muscles, Shea thought with a grimace.
Tornados and tornado drills were facts of life in central Oklahoma, even though the weathermen on the morning news had forecast a beautiful stretch of weather. Just a stupid safety drill, Shea told himself, glancing back out the window at the cloudless sea of blue. Another shiver ran down his spine.
Shea’s attention was drawn back into the room as 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 ponytail and smiled at some stupid thing B.J. said. Since his father was a big wig at the only bank in town, B.J. never had to work hard at anything… let alone miss a baseball game to drive a tractor.
Jeannie glanced up, catching Shea’s stare. He felt his cheeks burn a little as she smiled and winked at him. She leaned over to whisper something to Maria. The pair both glanced his way and giggled. Maybe John and I should ask them out to the movies this weekend, Shea thought, emboldened by their smiles. He glanced at John, remembering 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 to catch Shea’s attention. As if reading his mind, John said, “Dude, we’re not in middle school anymore. They’re cheerleaders now. Way out of our league.”
“Speak for yourself, buddy,” Shea said, and smiled. “Never hurts to ask, right?” He looked back at Jeannie, still working out what to say to her after class. Up in the front, B.J. looked from one girl to the other, and then back toward Shea. His eyebrows shot up as his eyes narrowed.
Suddenly, B.J. sat up 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 in an overly dramatic grimace while the girls giggled more. “Something stinks…”
He flared his nostrils and slowly swiveled his head toward the back of the room, and seemed surprised to spy Shea and John sitting there, staring right 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.”
Shea felt his face burning as laughter filled the classroom. His fists clenched by his sides as he opened his mouth for a quick comeback. But B.J. was faster.
“Didn’t your daddy ever teach you about soap, Maguire? Or doesn’t Mr. Farmer know any better either?” Bobby Joe barreled on with his sneering tirade. “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, reminding Shea he still had a friend on 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. My mom didn’t even hang around long enough to get to know me, how could I understand?
“All right, all right, settle down,” said Mr. Kelley, bustling into the classroom. “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.” Grabbing a stack of papers from the corner of the desk, he made his way down the aisle passing out the quizzes.
When he reached Shea’s desk, the teacher stopped. “Mr. Maguire,” he said in a loud voice. Shea lifted his head. “Can you guess how you did on this quiz?”
“Umm, I don’t know?” He heard Jeannie muffle another giggle, and felt his cheeks flame again.
“You got one wrong,” Mr. Kelley answered, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose with one finger. “Can you guess which one?”
“No?” Shea felt the burn creep down his neck. The rest of the class had turned to watch the exchange, a crackle of anticipation running through the class.
“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. On the last test, you correctly identified the northwest states and their capitals, but got the northeastern states wrong. This time you did just the opposite. In each instance it was the third question you failed to answer correctly.”
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. He looked up with the rest of the class as a state trooper stepped into the room, mirrored glasses hiding his eyes.
“Is there a Shea Maguire here?” The trooper’s face looked grim. As if in answer to the question, the entire class silently swiveled to face Shea.
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. This might be a Californian thing but I'm at a loss to understand where the students are mingling around the bleachers during the tornado drill. Is it the gym? Theater? Are there windows in that room? A bit more description might help for readers that don't live in Tornado ally.

    The dialog feels a little stilted, almost too mature at times ("High school is great but..."). Other times it feels like the dialog is being used as filler around backstory drops.

  2. I am seeing the setting and the characters. What I need is a clue to what is going on. Maybe it's there and I missed it. The beginning sentences need a bang or shock value to get the story going and this could be the clue I need.

  3. I had a hard time reading this because there were no breaks of space between paragraphs and no indents to break it up, but I tried to get past that to the content.

    I believe it's much more effective than the first try last week, because I have no idea what's wrong, but I know that something isn't right. There's definitely an undercurrent of brewing trouble, and I wanted to keep on reading to find out what was going to happen next. Left me wondering where the third question wrong was going to come up later and what the trooper wanted.

    Here are a few speed bumps that threw me off the ride:

    • John playfully punching Shea's shoulder didn't seem to fit. Guys that size don't strike me as playful, and it seemed out of phase with the rest.

    • Think you could show less and tell more about the kids getting settled in the classroom to tighten it up and speed the transition. It's not that important, so you don't need to slow the action down there by showing.

    Looking good! : )

  4. As you know, I liked the prologue in your original submission. But I also like how you’ve taken us straight into the story even better. I also like the mysteries surrounding Shea—his dad won’t let him go anywhere, he misses the third problem on every test, his mother ran off and left him… And I love the teasing from Bobby Joe.
    I have just a few suggestions that I think might make the writing tighter. One, I think there might be too much “ing,” action after the dialogue tags, i.e., “,clapping his hands” “,pushing into the line” “,jostling” “,smiling”. These various actions appear quite often after dialogue tags. It might not be a problem, but I think it would help make the writing tighter if you switched it up a bit by putting the action before the dialogue.
    Second, you might want to minimize the use of the word “as” after your dialogue tags also.
    Also, I’m not 100 percent certain about this, but I don’t think high school kids would be tested on state capitals. My kids learned that in elementary school, so it seems a little odd for YA (to me). But I loved the idea of Shea missing the third question on every test.
    Overall, I am really liking this story. And I am so wanting to know why that state trooper has called Shea out of the classroom.

  5. Hi Katie,

    Huge jump! Congrats! This is a big transformation, and you're off to a great start wtih it.

    Some additional things to think about:

    1) I'm not completely convinced by the voice yet. It is too old in places and doesn't feel authentically teen yet, and it hasn't picked up much that's compellingly unique enough to keep us reading.

    2) Without the prologue, we are starting off with what reads like tornado on a farm story. You've created a nice sense of potential trouble brewing with that first sentence, but I wonder how many times agents or editors see that same first sentence. Can you expand on it, make it more unique, bend the trope even further? How can you amp up the tension?

    3) Consider what is necessary here. What can you pull in more actively? How can you amp up the tension here. You've given us a tense situation, but you 've diffused it.

    4) Consider what you've conveyed in dialogue (and how you can make the dialogue accomplish more than one thing with every single line.) Make sure there's subtext to your dialogue.

    That's it. Speed things up. Show us your characters in action. Show us what's different and how your characters are different--and since it is a paranormal, bring in the paranormal more clearly with some additional hints and intriguing bits of weirdness. :D

    Great start. Looking forward to seeing the next round.



  6. I like this opening better, but now we need to smooth it out. :D I think you need to really get into your MC's head. I want to experience the story through his eyes, even in third. Try a page in first just to see the difference. Then the voice may come more naturally.

    You also seem to feel you have to qualify every introduction with an explanation. You tell (as opposed to show) who BJ is, etc. I got pulled in when the teacher pointed out in front of everyone that he was purposely missing every third question. And then the trooper... The stuff before that felt a little stiff and typical, and I know this story is anything but!

  7. I really like this better without the prologue. Jumping right to Shea made me care about him a lot more. I was a little confused by the bleachers too. I grew up in Ohio and had tornado drills as a kid, but I live in California now and for some reason, I was picturing bleachers outside. I figured it out pretty quick, but that's a quick easy fix. My only other suggestion is that the physical descriptions felt repetitive to me. I think there might be better ways to describe them as big guys without giving their exact height so close together.

    I really think this is a much stronger first five than what I read last week. Great job and I can't wait to see this polished even more.


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