Monday, April 9, 2012

10 1st 5 Pages April Workshop - James

Author: Robert James
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Losing Robbie

Rachel Daniels sat in the Black Lion, wondering whether she should have left rather than let Robbie Buchanan, her boyfriend, get in another round of drinks. The seventeen-year-old could see that Robbie was swaying slightly as he spoke to the barmaid, and she was mentally preparing herself for another argument – Robbie believed that his chiselled face, fairly muscular body and spiked blonde hair should be a passage into her knickers. Despite being with him for two and a half years now, she’d always managed to resist his playful appeals to become, as he put it, a ‘proper’ couple, but over the past few months he’d been pushing the issue further and further. She knew that her best friends Angie and Stella considered her stupid for not simply giving in, but there had been several occasions when she’d seen them in tears over boys who’d dumped them quickly after having sex, and was determined not to repeat their mistakes.

Playing with her short dark hair, as she always did when she was nervous, she frowned slightly as the girl behind the bar licked her lips and brushed her hand against Robbie’s arm as she passed him his change. He ignored her though, making Rachel smile as he rolled his eyes theatrically, unseen by the barmaid who was looking at him appreciatively as he walked away.

“Got yourself an admirer there,” Rachel said to him casually as he placed a vodka and coke down for her, and a pint of Guinness for himself.

He laughed, “But I only have eyes for you, remember.” As he sat down, he was treated to the full force of her dazzling smile, and she moved to snuggle close to him.

“Sorry about the argument, sweetheart,” she murmured.

He smiled slightly, putting his arm around her, and slipping one hand to her generous chest. She started to pull away, but changed her mind and relaxed slightly. If it made him happy, perhaps she should leave it there for now. Misreading the signals, Robbie’s other hand slipped up her leg, nearly managing to creep under her skirt, but she quickly slapped it away.

Unseen by her, he rolled his eyes. “Come on, baby... stop being such a tease!”

“A tease,” she snorted, turning to face him and removing his other hand from her cleavage. “Look Robbie, I’ve told you enough times – stop trying to take advantage!”

“Two and a half years!” he snarled back. “I gave up so much for you – I gave up football, I stopped playing for the academy when I could have turned professional so I could be with you more, I’ve done everything you wanted for two and a half years, and one hand on your tit is the furthest I’ve got, how the hell is that taking advantage?”
Rachel was seething inwardly, and wished she’d followed her instincts and made an excuse to leave after the second round of drinks. “You gave up football because you preferred going out and getting drunk to keeping as fit as the academy wanted you too,” she hissed back at him. “And you should be bloody grateful that you could tell your parents it was to spend more time with me instead of having to admit to them you were just a lazy sod!”

An uncomfortable silence had descended on the tables closest to them, and Robbie saw the barmaid start to walk towards them out of the corner of his eye. This was by no means the first time they’d had a similar argument, but the others had all been in the privacy of one of their homes. Standing up before the barmaid reached them, he stormed out, as Rachel tried to stop the tears from welling up in her eyes.

Barrelling out of the door with his head down, he saw nothing except the floor, his eyes half closed with fury anyway. The next thing he knew, he felt his shoulder slam into an obstruction, and heard a shriek of rage as someone staggered backwards and slipped, landing in a muddy puddle.

“JESUS CHRIST!” the person screamed out, “Can’t you look where you’re going?”

She scrambled to her feet and a look of scorn came over her face. “Oh, it’s you, Robbie Buchanan.”

Robbie looked down and saw a small, slim, fairly pretty girl, with delicate features, brown eyes, and black hair cut in a bob. He recognised a girl he knew vaguely from college, Toni Hood. “Sorry Toni,” he said.

She shrugged her shoulders expressively. “Good lord, he knows my name! Why should I worry about being knocked flat on my back and ending up with legs covered in mud when Robbie Buchanan manages to stop thinking of Rachel Daniels for long enough to notice me! Joy is mine today, truly.”

“I... I was just distracted,” he stammered.

“Forget it,” she said. “Go back to daydreaming about bloody Rachel, I normally manage to get out of the way of idiots like you. Just my unlucky day, I suppose.”

Turning away from him, she pulled out her mobile and pressed a key to speed dial a number. “Julie? Sorry love, I’ll be a while longer than I said. Some dickhead just knocked me into the biggest puddle of mud you’ve ever seen, I’m going to go back home and get changed. See you in an hour or so if that’s okay? Grace is there, yeah?”

Sighing, Toni hung up and started to walk away. Robbie looked after her and quickly ran to stop her, tapping her on the shoulder.

“Going for the other one, are you?” she said, turning to face him. “What do you want now?”

“Ummm... just to apologise, sorry.”

“Whatever,” she said dismissively.

“Can I help somehow?” he asked.


“On what?”

“Got a decent skirt my size in your house? No way I’m going out in this one, it’s filthy now.”

He blushed. “Ummm... no, I don’t wear skirts.”

“There’s a surprise,” she said theatrically. “There is one thing, though.”


“BUGGER OFF and leave me alone before you do any more sodding damage!”

“Okay.” He looked crestfallen as he obeyed, but quickly turned back to her. “It’s just... I’m going to get a taxi anyway... you could share it if you want. I’d pay, of course.”

Toni weighed up her options quickly. True, it would mean being stuck with this idiot for an extra 10 minutes or so, but with no buses back to her house for another hour, it would save her a fair bit of time. “Okay,” she sighed with resignation, and watched as he quickly pulled his mobile out to call for a cab.

The taxi arrived mercifully quickly, and she jumped into the front seat, leaving him to sit in the back while she talked to the driver, giving him her address and then making small talk about the horrible weather that night and the likelihood of his business picking up because it was far too wet to walk anywhere.


  1. Okay, here's what I'm seeing. I see three close points of view within the first five pages. It's okay to do third. Omniscient isn't "in" but even if you decide to go there, I recommend not switching so often. Stay close to the POV of your main character. At this point if I were an editor, I'd put it down if only because I still wasn't sure who the MC was.
    I happen to love reading from the boy's POV. Not that it has to be, but I just wanted to put that out there!
    Another issue is "telling" vs. "showing" and I know how confusing that comment can be. Here's an example... "He looked crestfallen as he obeyed" Don't tell us how he looks, show us through his body language. Do his shoulders slump for example? Also, you can cut out a lot of extra words where you say things like, "The seventeen-year-old could see that Robbie was swaying" We get that she's seeing it, so if you eliminate that and the passive verb... Robbie swayed... It's much more direct and powerful that way. Go through and try those things out to see what you think. Good luck! Oh and I know I can't actually hear it, but I love your accent. ;D

  2. I love your accent too! I am curious about the legal drinking age where you live. In the US, it is likely that these two would get carded and not allowed to drink.

    I'd like to know who your MC is as well and would prefer to hear the story through his/her voice.

    Also, there's a lot of names at the beginning - Rachel, Robbie and Toni are important and then you drop Angie, Stella, and Grace
    If these poeple are important can you introduce them a little later? (Others may disagree with this.)

    You leave me wondering what is going to happen and if Rachel is out of the picture now.:)

  3. Completely lost my last comment! URGG! Okay, so I got confused on who was speaking. I read primairly YA and MG and so this didn't set with me. So I did a lot of re-reading. I felt the voice of the charcaters, so if you settle on one character, you'll probably have little trouble with a compelling voice. I was confused about the drinking and the fact that they'd been together for two and a half years without sex. I'm having a belivablity issue with that in this day and age. Finally, where are we going with this? Kids break up and have affairs all the time. What are the stakes? Just not getting any, and hooking up with someone else isn't enough, IMO, to carry a whole novel. Good luck. Can't wait to read your revision.

  4. I have to say that I agree with all the comments above. You have a knack for creating character voice, and for creating believable scenes in terms of action and dialogue. That may work against you when trying to evaluate a story though, becacuse it can mask the overall believability of a scenario in terms of its truth for the characters involved. This feels true in small details, but not true in the larger picture. The head-hopping POV shifts are a big issue on their own due to the speed of the shifts, and also because we don't know who to root for, and others have already pointed out the other main problems.

    One thing I will add that your opening paragraph is too "telling" rather than showing. I am not one who simply parrots that rule. I believe in telling where it is compelling narrative that tells us what a character is thinking and feeling about what is being told with introspection and specificity and consequences woven in. Or if there is a contrast being displayed between what is being shown and what you are telling. Or a hundred other valid reason. But for setting the stage like this, it doesn't work for me. Unless I am missing your rationale, this seems like it is purely a lead in to get us up to speed, and there is nothing there that you can't show us more compellignly.

    For the revision, you may want to consider:

    Who is the most important character to start with--who do you want us to root for or root against? Are we starting with Rachel because she is going to reform Robbie? Or with Robbie who is going to be reformed? Are you setting up a love triangle that will reshape all their lives? If so, whose POV can you start with that will best set up the stakes? Who will be the most altered by the situation?

    What facts do we need to know about each of these characters at the very beginning, and how best can you realistically show those in a dynamic and believable way? If Rachel purely Robbie's beard? She can't have been fending off these kind of advances for 2.5 years, so what is the situation that gets you where you need to go?

    What is the most critical aspect of each of their characters that you want to have come across here?

    Can you give us some foreshadowing or some better sense of mood or theme that will help set up your covenant with the reader about where this story is going to go?

    Eager to see your revision. You write very well, and your voices are beautifully executed. As soon as this snaps into place, this is going to sizzle.



  5. Hello Robert,
    Since I'm one of the last to comment I can echo the above suggestions.

    As a reader I want to know whose story is this: Rachel, Robbie, Toni? I want to know what the conflict is (even if there's just a strong hint) and that let's me know whether I'd be interested in reading further.

    The pace is quick and the dialogue interesting. The accent does come through and that is delightful, as is a setting in another country. Tell us more about the setting to give readers the flavor of the MC's world.

    See you next week,

  6. Thanks everyone! Great feedback, I really appreciate it. I'm going to focus on a couple of characters and try switching to first person instead of third to see if that helps. Looking forward to hearing what you think of my revisions next week.

  7. Hi Robert,

    First off i think this story has great potential. I love novels about romance and about regular life in general.
    I was hooked from the begining, you gave just enough history to get me focused on the present problems. I am going to agree with the above comments about POV. If you could focus on one character it would be more clear on who I want to follow. I think the story will end up being more about Robbie than Rachel. So far it looks great, and I can't wait to see your revisions! - DiNae' Billingsley

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  9. Hi Robert,

    These are the things that came to mind as I read your piece:

    • This is adult rather than YA. Most YA (if not all) are below drinking age and don't frequent bars as a normal thing. You might find a YA hanging out there trying to pass as adult, but it wouldn't be his/her normal environment. The text reads as early 20s rather than YA to me.

    • The POV switches were confusing. Usually you don't change POV without having a break in the text somehow to prepare the reader for it. I'm not sure who the main character is because I go through several people's heads during this first five pages. Some of it doesn't seem to be anyone's POV. 'Unseen by her, he rolled his eyes.' If it's unseen by her, we don't know it's happening unless we're in his head totally or unless you've chosen an omniscient writing POV.

    • Some of your dialogue tags jolted me out of the text. (He snarled, she snorted, he stammered, she screamed out, etc.) 'Said' is basically an invisible choice, but when you add an adverb to it, it works against you (she said theatrically). Better than going with the invisible 'said' is to eliminate some necessary dialogue tags with action sentences.

    Here's the original: “Two and a half years!” he snarled back. “I gave up..."
    Here's a possible change: "Two and a half years!" He slammed his fist on the tabletop. "I gave up..."

    The second choice shows his frustration instead of you telling about it.


  10. Thanks DiNae' and Beth, have already done this week's revision and sent it in but I'll definitely take your feedback on board next time, Beth.

    I've already switched from third person omniscient to first person, alternating chapters between two characters (Rachel and her stepsister Lauren) after comments from Lisa and Martina.

    I'd love to get other people's feedback on whether the pub setting is okay or not, by the way. Here in England and Wales, a lot of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds go out drinking quite often (normally in smaller pubs which aren't as bothered about ID as the large chain pubs), although admittedly it's significantly less common than when I was a teen twelve years ago. Beth's comment has got me trying to think of other possible settings.

    Thanks again to everyone for their feedback!


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