Monday, March 12, 2012

14 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Pine

Amy Pine
YA Dystopian

I suck at flirting, but Administration policy requires two dates a month, so I endure. At seventeen, I’ve never had a boyfriend. My best friend, Summer, complains, “Such a waste, Livvy. You’re gorgeous, but when you open your mouth—total disaster!” I don’t know about gorgeous. I’m definitely a Moore—my father’s dark, wavy hair and brown eyes, my mother’s pale skin, but I’ve never thought about my looks other than taming my wild mane into a pony tail. The disaster part is true.

Take my last date with Will Connelly. He’s heart-breakingly cute and ridiculously smart. We weren’t even randomly paired. He actually asked me out. Conversation went well until I asked what his sanctioned artistic release activity was. His answer? Dressing up his Pomeranian in a tankini and photographing it. Before I had time to censor myself, I nearly did a spit take and blurted, “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t. I apologized, but the damage was done.

This week I have no date. I can relax and live vicariously through Summer’s love life on the way to school.

“Livvy!” she nearly screams, practically running out her front door as I approach. “Did you hear? You have to have heard. I’m sure your father knows.”

“What doesn’t my father know? You’re going to have to be more specific than that.” Though I refrain from actually doing it, I’m pretty sure she hears my eyes roll.

“Livvy!” This time she does scream, and I’m right in front of her. It’s loud. “There is a new guy entering the Academy today! NEW! As in, we have never met him before!”

Ok. This I do not know, though I can guarantee my father does, which causes my stomach to drop rather than my eyes to roll. Why wouldn’t he mention this?

“I didn’t know,” is all I can offer.

“Well, now you do, so we must discuss. We’ve been with the same, tired group of boys since we were five…”

“Umm, Summer? You do have a boyfriend.” It’s hard to keep track. Who can blame her? She is gorgeous. Hair—blond, straight. Skin—flawless honey. Her parents ran the risk of making her a cliché, but she owns it—the look, the name, all of it. “Wait. A What is he even doing here? New people don’t just come to this sector of ANT. I mean, they never do. Doesn’t this bother you out at all?”

“Actually, no! I guess the sheer intrigue of it all outweighs my logic. As for Jackson, please. He’s a biologist. I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the first date,” which was only four weeks ago, I want to remind her. “Just FOCUS on what’s really important here, Livvy!”

I cannot because the he she is speaking of stands right there, across the street, as we approach the school—the first stranger I’ve seen since childhood. And then I throw up.

“Livvy, what the flux?”

Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance.

“Ummm... What just happened?” I ask, with marked confusion.

“Ummm…you just hurled into the bushes.”

“No one else saw, did they?”

“I don’t think so. Here, take a mint. I’m sure you need it.”

“Thanks,” I say, but out of the corner of my eye I see him, looking right at me.

How Summer did not notice him across the street is beyond me, but she cannot miss him walking into our independent sciences class. His entrance brings immediate silence, all eyes on him. I’m pretty sure I’m starting to sweat, though I know this room is always frigid. The calm he emanates hides something, and he looks like no other guy I know. His hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen, cropped close to his head. The subtle stubble on his jaw indicates he has not shaven in a couple of days (completely against code), and his hazel eyes are fixed in my direction as our instructor, Mr. Pierce, introduces him. That’s when I realize I’m staring.

“Students, I know this is unorthodox, but we have a new addition to the Academy. This is Wes. He’ll be with us through graduation.”

Wes gives us all a slight, closed mouth grin and tucks his hands into his front pockets. His forearm peeks out from his cuff, and I see what looks like writing on the underside. He must notice too because he instinctively pulls his sleeve back to his wrist.

“Wes, why don’t you have a seat? Since this is an independent study class, you can work on whatever it is you want to work on. Tomorrow the rest of you introduce your topics of study with an abbreviated speech. Final project in four weeks.”

All eyes in the class follow as Mr. Pierce leads Wes to the empty table in the back. I look over in Summer’s direction and see her mouth one word—tattoo.

I don’t see Summer again until lunch. She practically jumps into the seat across from me. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”

“It has to be something else. Tattoos aren’t allowed in the territory.”

“Livvy, I know the rules, but he’s obviously not from here. And he looks like no guy I’ve ever seen before. I mean, every boy I’ve ever met looks like every boy I’ve ever met.” This is true. It’s not just the uniform. There’s also a certain uniformity to all the guys in our class. As we get closer to starting our lives in the Administration, the males are beginning to look more the part.

“And he’s kind of skinny, too,” she continues. “O.k. Not so much skinny but less bulky, you know? Not in a bad way. I like a change from the thick manufactured muscle of the male student body.”

“Just a reminder that some of that manufactured muscle is your current boyfriend and every other guy who has auditioned for the role. And it’s not like they have a choice. All male students are required to take a military fitness class as part of the curriculum.”

“Whatever,” she replies. “We both know I’m not going to marry anyone from here.”

“Oh, but you’re going to marry the illegally tattooed stranger?” If any other guy walked into class with a tattoo, he would risk more than a few demerit points. It could cost him his spot in the Administration and possible exile to a border sector. Nothing like this has happened in at least a generation, but we all know it can. Before I have a chance to get out of my head, Summer slaps my sandwich out of my hand before I take a bite. “Seriously?” I ask.

“Shhh! He just sat down at the table behind you!”

I try to be subtle, but my glimpse turns into a full-on face-to-face stare. Again, that same closed mouth grin. I smile awkwardly and turn back around.

“What was that?” Summer demands.

“I have no clue. One thing’s for sure, though. His eyes are definitely hazel, and I am not…

“Subtle?” she fills in. “No kidding. And what was with that smile?”

“I don’t know,” I defend, but what I should say is, “Well, you develop an instant chemistry with someone when they watch you puke. We’re bonded for life now.” I don’t have to because I am saved by the bell. I won’t see Summer again until after school. I hope that by then she’ll forget the familiarity in that smile.

She does. I don’t.


  1. Hi Amy,

    I still love the energy in your voice and the hints of the world coming through, and I love the hints of her father knowing something and some of teh additional intrigue that you've built up around the introduction of someone new. You have very subtly built this into much more than a "new boy" scenario. Great job!

    As a next step, I wonder if there might be a little bit too much energy jumping in though. Consider slowing down your transitions and making them a little more clearly fixed within a specific place and time--a detail or two and a few extra words could do that.

    Apart from that, be more subtle with the way the two girls are sharing information that you want the reader to know where they both already know the information.

    I don't understand why she threw up? And why is no one concerned about it?

    Overall, the main character and her motivations are strong, but you could make her even more distinct from the other girl if perhaps they weren't both gorgeous. At least use a different adjective for them?

    Basically, you are in great shape, but I would love even more sense of the uniqueness of the world. Really dig in and give us some visual uniqueness. Put us in this space so we KNOW this isn't a contemporary. You give us facts to support that, but I would love your mc and her friend to be shaped even more by the society that has produced them, adn I would love to interact with that world in a more sensory way.

    Looking forward to seeing more!



    1. Thank you so much for the feedback. Ah, yes, the world building. I have to figure that out!

  2. I was pleased to see that this "Dystopian" wasn't your typical dystopian. At least in the dregs-of-society-fighting-to-survive kind of way. :D I'm intrigued by what you have here. Your dialogue is good, but I'd like some more internal dialogue/descriptions threaded through. Especially since it's a new world you are creating.

    As far as the throwing up part, I assumed it's something about the boy and that it will be revealed later. If it's only there because she's nervous, I think it's too much. And if it is her connection to him, I'd like to see her focus on that internally a bit more. Does this throw her off? Does it make her wonder anything? Doesn't she think it's strange even for her to throw up?

    I like your voice, and I look forward to seeing more!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Lisa. I'm on the fence about what to do about the throwing up part. Some readers like it, and others don't. It is just supposed to be that he stirs up nerves in her like no other boy has before. Perhaps I should go more subtle there. :)

  3. I love the energy and the vibe you're creating here. Two ladies, hand in hand against the world. But I don't see the world. It's dystopian, the Administration wants them to date and even assigns them dates. Are there soldiers on the street, in the school hallways monitoring them? I like the detail you added about her father - so now we know she's elite. And you've done a good job getting across that she doesn't see herself that way.

    The part of Summer not being able to keep track of if she has a boyfriend or not bugs me. I know what you want to say but I think you can do it in way that doesn't make Summer seem so flakey. Also - I assume when you say Livvy looks like a Moore that that is her family name and not the character from Othello. It's confusing (to me at least) - especially if she's an only child. Now, if she's from a family like mine where she has 10 brothers and sister and they really do all look alike, then it's a more believable statement.

    I love the crisp last paragraph. Good job. Keep at it, I think you have a great start.

    1. You are not the first to ask if there is an Othello reference. It is just supposed to be her last name. I should probably clarify that. And I'll have to look at the part about Summer again because it's supposed to be Livvy not being able to keep track rather than Summer. Thank you for the feedback!

  4. I think you've cleaned up any confusion as to what's going on. I'd like to know more about the Administration, and you might be able to do this by describing the scenery of her academy some different it is to our normal world. I'm not as intrigued by the boy with the tattoo as I am that all the other boys start looking the same the older they get. creepy! That could be put to some good reason for rebelling against the administration. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. I love the girly friendship and dialogue. I love that your MC is funny.

    1. Thank you! I love dystopian YA, but I don't have the darkness in me that a Katniss or a Tris does, so I wanted my MC to be a little funny until things get a little more serious. I know I have to work on the world building here. That's the next task!

  5. Hi Amy,

    I really like the first line! It grabs my interest right of the bat. The voice is there too, which is probably part of the reason I'm sucked in.

    I still think I'd like to see this start off in a scene - maybe the same one described first, with William Connelly. I also think it'd be exciting if Liv DID have another date this week, and we were feeling her nerves/excitement/fear. That'd bring up even more questions, making the reader curious enough to read on. How does she feel about being forced into these dates? Why is the Administration making these dates in the first place?

    I like the bits of emotion. When Livvy's stomach drops, for example.

    I got a liiiiiittle lost in the class. It was hard to follow what Livvy and Summer were talking about - I think mainly because there were so many topics. They're talking about tattoos, Livvy's thinking about the boy's uniformity and separation, Mr. Pierce talks about an assignment, there's a mention of military classes, someone says they won't marry anyone from the class - it's just a little hard for me to follow.

    In one of your comments, you say you don't have the darkness that Katniss or Tris does... I don't know if it's technically dystopia, but I definitely recommend FEED by MT Anderson. It's an incredibly dark book, but only the situation/setting is dark. The voice and the main character is significantly lighter. (Which only adds to the dystopia feel, I guess.) The MC is immature and jokes around, so I definitely think it's possible to have a kind of Hex Hall/Anna and the French Kiss vibe going on in dark, dystopic setting. (I also think of FEED with Summer says, "Livvy, what the flux?" with its own futuristic slang.)

  6. Thanks, Kheryn! I have not read Feed yet, but it's on my list. Man my to-read list is huge! :) I appreciate the great ideas!

  7. Hey Amy

    LOL... my TBR is so huge too. I stare at all those books and sigh in pure joy.

    I love the Livvy and Summer's, and their dialogue as well.
    During the conversation, they spoke about sector ANT, though I didn't see it explained. Is it possible to hint on it what it is? probably it's mentioned in the following chapters. would be good to know what it is.

    I love the last paragraph.:)

  8. Thanks, Cecilia. I did explain ANT in the first version, but the feedback I got was that I was dumping too much info too early, so I'm trying to hold off until chapter 2.

  9. I'm wondering what the point of showing us Livvy and Summer's conversation before Wes is introduced to the class. Is there information there that we can't learn in some other way at some other time? I wish the scene in the classroom were a little longer--is it hard to work in class with the new boy? Is he in any of her other classes? I'm assuming there were other classes before science and lunch, since Livvy doesn't see Summer again until then.

    I'm also wondering if, by any chance, they have some sort of alternate means of communication. LIKE back in the day, people passed notes in class. Now they text. What about these kids? What do they do? Maybe that could be a great way to subtly world build and put all of this conversation between Livvy and Summer in the cafeteria into the classroom. Then, at least, I'd feel like there was a bit more tension because I'd be hoping they weren't caught and punished for not working.

    All in all, I felt like I was rushed through these three scenes in such a short amount of time.

    One other point. While the voice in the beginning is great, I keep getting caught up by how weird it seems that her last date's "artistic release activity" is dressing up his Pomeranian. How would that be sanctioned/allowed? In such a controlling society, I'd imagine he wouldn't be allowed?

  10. Thanks, Jessica. I actually do have more about electronic communication in my original but cut a lot out to get my five pages to end at a good spot! :) Will try to add more of that in!

    I appreciate the feedback!


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