Workshop #3

This workshop piece comes from Michele Tennant. Enjoy!

Dylan pushed off the sidewalk with his black Converse high-tops. Beneath him the wheels on his skateboard whirred. Tiny bumps on the concrete beneath sent vibrations up his legs. The only voice in his head was his own.

The Converse shoe is a “hi-top” (and they often call them Chucks…as a former punk kid/skate rat, I try to be aware of these things). The second sentence reads awkwardly. There’s a simpler way to say it, and the syntax is off. Not sure why you need to say that “The only voice in his head was his own.” I should hope so…whose else is in there? Doesn’t need explaining.

“Okay, folks you’re in for a treat,” Dylan mumbled under his breath. He mimicked the roar of a crowed stadium. “thirteen year old Dylan Davis will now be attempting the laser flip. Let’s hope he doesn’t scrape any freckles off on the pavement.”

Capitalized “Thirteen” here. When I talk about mimetic writing, I want you to be aware of what the character is doing. If he’s skating, he’s working out. The freckles/pavement line is too long for someone out of breath…

Another push and Dylan picked up speed. The crisp morning air stung his eyes making them water. Dylan breathed in the smell of damp pavement and lilac blossoms and saw a flash of red across the street. Katie Jordan had stepped off the curb. She was fresh and clean and dressed for work.

I’d put a comma between “eyes” and “water.” Good smell detail, though. We usually ignore that sense. “She was fresh and clean and dressed for work” is not something I’d imagine a 13 y.o. skate kid saying about a woman. The voice is too adult and too female. I would’ve also loved more context for who Katie is…a teacher? A neighbor? Mrs. Robinson?

She smiled and waved, and a breeze blew her flowing red skirt up just high enough for Dylan to get a glimpse of the black lace on her slip beneath. He waved back. Still following her with his eyes, he pushed off the ground again. One of the wheels struck a pebble. The board wobbled precariously causing Dylan to flail his arms as he steadied himself.

Would a 13 y.o. boy know what a slip is? This lacy peek is a bit sexy in this context, and we still don’t know who Katie is, so I don’t quite understand it yet. That description is not in voice, again, and the first sentence is overlong. I’d also use “underneath” here. We’ve got a bit of play-by-play narration going on here…you’re tracking what’s happening very closely, but I’m not sure we need all these details described so thoroughly. “Causing” is a very dry voice word, esp. for a 13 y.o. boy narrator. “Steadied” too.

He glanced back, hoping Katie hadn’t seen. Thankfully, she had bent to pick up the Sunday newspaper.

Up the street Dylan heard an engine rev.

Come on focus, he told himself. A little faster now . . . What did Jason say? Push off, jump, flip and land. Landing, that’s the part I’m worried about.

Is he just skating for the sake of skating or is there something coming up that he’s practicing for? A competition? The Impress The Older Lady Olympics? You could frame what he’s doing and why to give us more stakes for this practice session. “Thankfully” not in voice here. Overall, I’m really not getting a 13 y.o. boy sense from the prose. Try reading it aloud. Really get into your boy’s character.

A black SUV sped past Dylan. He turned to see it bump up over the curb and onto the sidewalk. There stood Katie, hand in her open mailbox, frozen, her eyes wide.

We don’t really get the danger in this description. Is it weaving? Does it narrowly miss him? One moment it “sped,” the next moment it is on a rampage. You could build up this moment more so that it’s not a jarring surprise to the reader, who wasn’t expecting this. It’s an issue of tone.

The newspaper dropped from Katie’s fingertips. Dylan opened his mouth to warn her, as he did the skateboard stopped abruptly. A jolt shuddered through Dylan’s body. He was propelled forward like a test dummy. The world flew past; Katie’s frightened face, the SUV, houses, trees, picket fence, sidewalk, sky.

The second sentence is clunky and an awkward transition. The test dummy image is a bit of a cliché. Like the snatches of images…they’re mimetic of what’s going on.

Dylan found himself on his back in the damp concrete culvert. All he could hear was the whoosh, whoosh, whooshing of the blood rushing through his veins. His body felt disconnected, numb and cold and a salty, metallic taste filled his mouth. He spit a mixture of blood and saliva onto the pavement beside him.

“Found himself” is a rather mild way of putting it. I’d switch out something with more impact. (Get it? Because he just hit the ground?) These sentences are a bit dry for something so intense. The syntax of “numb and cold and a salty” is off to me. Also, there has been no interiority in terms of his thoughts. Have your character react to what’s going on…a lot has just happened…where’s his head in all this?!

Taking a deep breath, Dylan struggled to lift his right arm. It wouldn’t budge. With his left elbow he managed to army crawled up the muddy, moss covered concrete to the sidewalk. There on the blacktop lay Katie’s mangled body. Her arms and legs stuck out at odd angles and a puddle that matched her skirt was slowly spreading around her. A dull hum filled his ears. It was as if someone had pushed the mute button for the whole planet.

Could use more thoughts. Like the last image very much. If we knew more about his relationship (or lack thereof) with Katie, we would care a lot more when she gets whalloped. It’s all about context. This might be a bit graphic, depending on the rest of the story, for MG. Also, good job starting right off with some action!

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  1. Barbara Watson’s avatar

    Every time I read these, I post, “These are so helpful. Thank you for doing them.” But they are! And thank you.

    Sometimes when I’m writing, even though I’m writing for MGers, I forget to write how a kid experiences the world and start interjecting too much of my adult self into it. Good reminder.

    Thank you, Michele, for entering your work – which helps all of us learn.

  2. Franziska Green’s avatar

    I’ll second Barbara’s ‘These are so helpful,’ comment.

    *Waves hello to Michele!* Hope this means you’ll be back in the game soon!

  3. Zach’s avatar

    The “Impress the Older Lady Olympics”? Now that’s an event I’ve got to see . . .

  4. Trisha Wolfe’s avatar

    This helped me so much today =) Thank you! And agree, loved how it started off right in the middle of some action!

  5. Michele Tennant’s avatar

    Hello Mary,

    Thank you for taking the time to give me feed back on my writing. As you know I am more accustomed to writing picture book length work and it is hard to know when adding in details how much is too much. One comment I did want to address.

    In the first paragraph you commented on, “the only voice in his head was his own.” You are right that it seems odd and perhaps it’s just too early to drop this clue, but by the end of the chapter his will not be the only voice in his head. Katie’s voice will also be whispering to him. In the next chapter the MC learns that there are psychics in his family that he had never heard of before. That part of the chapter is near the end so I couldn’t send it for this.

    This MG is not yet complete, I haven’t written the last three chapters. Trouble is, every time I make a change, I go back and rewrite the earlier chapters to make it fit. I should probably just finish the dang thing and fix things later. MG’s are whole different animal. With my picture books I can rewrite the whole story several times in one day if I feel the need.

    Thanks again for your comments. I will review them as I take the time to make revisions.

    Michele

    *Hey Siski, long time no email. I’m not to far back in the game yet. Time is limited. When I got my associates in March I enrolled again, this time for my BA in Illustration. Nice to see you on the board and on FB sometimes.

  6. Zach’s avatar

    Michele,

    Tragically, I’m not Mary, and I’m sure she’ll chime in when she has time, but I’d like to put in my two cents on your “voice” issue because, well, I’m kinda bored.

    The problem is that most (if not all) readers won’t see it as a clue. It would be okay (IMO) if 1). the MC already knew he was a psychic, 2). the audience already knew he was a psychic, 3). the fact that he had no voice currently poking around his head surprised him and the reader, or, at the very least, broke expectations, patterns, etc., and 4). you developed the idea more.

    In other words, I would expect something like this: “For once, thank God, the voice in his head was his own. That is, Katie’s voice wasn’t there telling him what to do. She wasn’t saying ‘no, you’re flipping the board the wrong way,’ or ‘yes, I can still read your thoughts, you perv, so stop thinking about older women and lacy slips’ . . .”

    But that may be difficult to throw out so soon.

  7. Mary’s avatar

    I think it’s too early and confusing for the voices clue. It did not read as you intended it to, at all.

  8. Beth Hull’s avatar

    Very helpful critique, and Michelle, what an intriguing beginning! Thanks to both Mary & Michelle.

  9. Karen’s avatar

    Great information. I agree that this beginning content may be a bit much for a middle grader.

    This is a great workshop!

  10. Liz Hollar’s avatar

    Great premise. I think if you tighten it up and take out the more adult words, you will have a great opening.

    I found the discussion of voice really helpful. A post on interiority done well vs. badly would be fantastic (Perhaps it already exists).

  11. Elizabeth May’s avatar

    I agree with Mary and Zach that the voices clue is too early.

    But I also want to add, now that you’ve put a context on it: when you put a clue like that into the prose, especially about something your MC hasn’t experienced yet, then it becomes an author aside. It’s not a clue from your MC’s perspective, it’s a clue from yours.

    We should experience events as your character experiences them. Insofar as clues go, they should only be given as your character sees them. In this case, it doesn’t apply. I agree with removing it. Let the sequence of events happen.

  12. Jennifer Estes’s avatar

    Michele, just a thanks for putting your work out there for all of us to learn from! I do agree with the hearing voices thing — I know it comes up later when he’s in the hospital, but I don’t think you need to drop that clue so overtly at the start. In fact, there doesn’t need to be a “clue” at all, as Elizabeth said. He’s thinking, reacting, and that’s all you need right now. I think the action needs to be faster, with more punch. A kid out for a ride on his skateboard witnesses a fatal car accident — it must happen quickly, harshly, and through the eyes of a kid. I’d focus on pacing and voice, with some interiority sprinkled to give us a sense of the MC. Soon enough, the other stuff will be brought in (the hospital, etc.)

    Again, thanks for being brave and helping us learn, and Mary, thanks again for the insights!

  13. Kayla’s avatar

    Thanks so much for these workshops they’re filled with invaluable information!

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