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After The Madness Workshop # B-7

Thursday, 29 March 2012  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Welcome to day four of After the Madness Workshop! Shelley Watters, Erica Chapman, the writers at YAtopia, and myself will critique the first 250 words of  two brave writers’ manuscripts per day for the next seven to eight days. There are four blogs joining in to offer up suggestions. Click on my partners’ sites in my sidebar to view the other critiques.

And next up is …

B-7 Melanie Conklin

It’s three weeks into my freshman year and no one, much less a certain best friend of my big brother, knows I exist.  Except for Tammy. And Brian, of course, but middle school friends don’t count in high school. It’s no big surprise, really. A girl with all the answers is not going to be the most popular girl in school. 

B’s notes: It’s really important to have a stellar first sentence. This one isn’t bad, but why not her big brother? It’s his best friend, right? Where’s her brother? Why does it matter that her brother’s best-friend ignored her. I’d make this sentence tighter and hook us. Why don’t middle school friends count. Going into high school, your friends from middle school mean the world to you.

“Hey, Katie.” Brian whispers, trying to get my attention on the sly.

But Mr. Hughes is looking my way, so I keep my trap shut for once. Sweat gleams on his forehead. An Indian Summer has turned our cinder block classroom into a stinky beige oven.
“Katie,” Brian whispers again, “Do you know why they call it Indian Summer?”

B’s notes: I’d lose the first ‘Indian Summer’ reference and have Brian tell her about it. It shows us his character – he knows something she doesn’t.

I stare blankly at him, confused by the jumble of my thoughts and his words. Did he just read my mind or did I read his?
“Never mind,” Brian says, looking bummed. He means well, really. He’s just a chronic over-sharer of useless information. I shrug off the weirdness and whisper back.(Put this sentence in the paragraph below with her dialogue.)
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Well, the theory is European colonies expected raids by Native American war parties late in the summer, so they called it Indian—“
“Excuse me, Brian,” Mr. Hughes says, “Let’s keep our minds on biology, shall we? As I was saying, today we will discuss the structures of the cell. But first I have a little surprise for you.”
He turns to his desk and scoops up an armload of photocopies. We hold our collective breath.

B’s notes: I remember the pitch for this one, and I was intrigued by her physic gift. The writing is good here, but I think you need to add something more to this scene to draw the reader in. Maybe a little humor. The setting isn’t unique here, and I’m not hooked yet. If you’re going to start off in a class room, you’ll have to have something unique happen to set it apart from all the other manuscripts that start off in classroom settings. Does your story really start here? I’ve had to cut entire chapters before to get to where my story actually started.

I hope this helps!

Remember this is subjective and others’ may feel differently. So I’ll now pass it on to the readers to critique. Please leave your comments, and remember the rules of critiquing … be nice, which I’m sure you all will be, but I have to say it … you know.


Filed: Misc, Workshops

  • Thanks, Brenda! It’s great to read your thoughts. You’re pinpointing exactly what I’ve been exploring with beta readers lately — getting to where the story starts. Obviously my foreshadowing of her psychic gift with the double Indian Summer reference isn’t working. I am considering moving the opening to the principal’s office, where the MC is accused of cheating, though it may necessitate a flashback, which I’m not so fond of. Thanks for giving me something to chew over! Any and all other gut reactions welcome! The journey has bumps, but getting there is what matters.

  • Brenda Drake says:

    I didn’t get that she read Indian Summer from Brian’s mind. Does she hear storms of voices too? It’s too subtle for me, I guess. Maybe you should play up the voices in her head more, and get to understand or wonder what’s going on. I think the problem is that I hear voices in my head all the time and I didn’t notice that hers was any different. LOL

  • Great insights. =D

  • @B – no voices, not at all – this is psychic 101, a slow discovery process rather than wham-bam-crazytown. I think the first bit just doesn’t work now, and that’s fine! What happens next is what really matters — she takes a pop quiz, and “remembers” all the answers, even though it turns out her teacher accidentally gave them the wrong quiz — and she shouldn’t remember any of it. because it hasn’t happened yet. so i need to get to that inciting moment more quickly.

  • Why not start with her taking the pop quiz? It sounds like that’s where your story really begins.

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