Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Most Improved Player

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

- Don William Jr.

From the title, you thought this was going to be a post about teaching gym, didn’t you? Nope, it’s about writing.

I just pulled this excerpt below from 06/10/06. It’s my first completed manuscript. In rough draft. Why would I admit to this, you ask? Good question. I’m revealing this piece of (insert disparaging noun here) because it shows how far I’ve come.

This is the beginning of the prologue to Jordan Walsh the Extraordinary: Circle of Four:

Jordan Walsh was an ordinary teenager. Well, he felt he was ordinary. He lived in an ordinary suburb in Long Island, New York on an ordinary street. He had ordinary parents. He went to an ordinary public school. It was all so ordinary; it made him want to scream sometimes.

Jordan was on the threshold of his thirteenth birthday and teenage angst was beginning to bubble inside his veins. Of course, he didn’t feel there was angst involved or that it could possibly be from the very act of becoming a teenager. Jordan was quite sure he was justified in every emotion brewing inside his stomach, spreading to the tips of his fingers. Over the past year he spent more time alone in his room and less time with any of the friends he had from elementary school.

In fact, this previous year had been the loneliest in Jordan’s life. He felt himself turning more inward for the answers to the questions that began to buzz in his head. Sometimes he couldn’t make out the particular words for all the buzzes and hums, but he knew they were questions that would not let up unless he could figure out the answers. So, in order to devote more time to this task he had shut out virtually everyone and found himself in a deeper state of melancholy.

He felt had reasons for this malaise. After all, his parents seemed to be so preoccupied and had little time for him. He wasn’t sure he wanted time for them, but he wished more than a little that they acted more like parents were supposed to act. Jordan’s mom was the head of the PTA and she made it her whole world. There she was, working on behalf of all the students in his school, but one (two if you counted his sister). And many nights he had to reheat his own dinner or make a box of macaroni and cheese. There was always a meeting about a budget, event, or something to do with curriculum, whatever that was. She seemed to fly in and out of the house like a bird during the first warmth of spring. She would flit around to take care of a few household duties, phone in ear, and give absentminded kisses with instructions for dinner on the way out the door. She would rarely even sit still long enough for a conversation. It was as if his mother made herself busy just to avoid spending time with them. If she liked school so much, why didn’t she just become a teacher? Jordan didn’t understand why she didn’t try to get a full-time job like his father.

It’s the first 448 words. If you’ve been following my blog for any period of time, you may remember I’ve said I used to have a problem with show, not tell. YOU THINK? Was I writing a synopsis or query or…. WHAT?

I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m going to. When I tried to fix it, I added a wake-up scene, and then described every aspect of Jordan’s appearance by having him look in the mirror. I know. Shudder.

In contrast, here’s my most recent beginning, also a rough draft of Naked Eye:

You know how adults are always warning children not to run with scissors because they could lose an eye and to stop tipping back their chairs back because they could crack open their skulls? I’ve never cracked open my skull from tipping back a desk chair, but three years ago, I ran with scissors and lost an eye.

Seventh Grade

My class worked on an art project, making dioramas of our bedrooms, which had to be drawn to scale. “That’s my scissor,” I accused Andrea when I’d moved scraps of paper, bits of Styrofoam, and pipe cleaners only to spy my orange-handled one in her hand. “It’s mine now,” she responded. Her lifeless hair covered her expression, and she didn’t even bother looking up as she cut out her dilapidated-looking dresser. I only knew it was a dresser because she’d told me. Her attitude artistic ability was as bad as her attitude.

I huffed up from the table, banging shoulders with that sloth, Jeremy on the way to the art supply desk. We were locker neighbors, and he made sure to take his time with his door blocking mine so I’d stand there tapping my foot until just before the bell. It was only two weeks into school and I’d received three tardies because of him.

I searched the bin to find only rusty scissors were left, which would be terrible for slicing through thick paper. Snatching a scissor, I hurried back to the desk. “Lucienne, no running,” the art teacher, Ms. Lee warned from Jeremy’s table. I didn’t think it counted as running, but I wanted to get back to work and Andrea already wasted enough of my time. Something tripped up my feet and the next thing I knew, I flew forward landing smack on my stomach. Pain seared my right eye, which made my brain explode in a flash of light, with shrapnel reverberating in my skull.

I screamed forever as I writhed around on the ground. I kept my eyes shut tight to keep from knowing how bad it was. I knew it was horrible because I felt something sticky running down my right cheek. And the pain wouldn’t cease. The incessant agony went on and on to matter how hard I begged to escape even though no coherent words formed on my lips.

Hands were on me. People spoke but I couldn’t understand them because I couldn’t stop howling. There came a tugging on my hand and I realized my fist still gripped the rusty scissor. They wanted me to let it go, but I refused to release my grip. My body became a stuck in a fetal position. A prick stung my shoulder and within seconds, my body loosened until it wasn’t mine to control. My voice fell away along with the pain. They hoisted and placed me on something softer than the hard classroom floor, and soon my jelly body jostled as wind rushed over my skin. Running feet and squeaky wheels echoed in my head.

There came a slam, and then I sensed the light had dimmed while drops of liquid pricked my skin. I attempted to open my eyes but something was wrong. Only one eye cooperated. Above me loomed a threatening sky as rain assaulted my fragile face. I shut my working eye.

My last thought before I got knocked out was, Jeremy tripped me on purpose and because of him something terrible had happened to me.

This is the first chapter at 578 words. I read this part and some of the second chapter aloud to the peer critiquers at the NESCBWI conference. They gave me some great suggestions, which I haven’t yet incorporated. So you get to read it raw.

I’m excited to return from my trip and see where this story goes.

Another journey begins.


  1. In sixth grade, we had to write essays about the importance of following the rules because some idiot was messing around with clay in art.

    Mine was completely snarky and had a bit about putting your eye out with scissors (and all the other catastrophes that could befall you in the art room). My mom didn't want me to turn it in, thought it was a little to sassy. I was a good kid, though, so the teacher thought it was funny and read it to the class.

    There's a huge difference between the voice of your two pieces. Good work!

  2. I love how you were able to cut the prologue down to a small paragraph. the second was def much better! Isn't it crazy how much our writing changes over time?

  3. Wow, even raw, that is great! I was completely enthralled. Now I want mooooooooore.

  4. I love the first paragraph of Naked Eye. It's clean, authoritative and wow, it grabs my attention. Great job, have fun with this story.

  5. Excellent, Theresa, I want to hear what happened next??
    It's amazing how much we change as we proceed, although I did like the 'voice' of the character as well in the first piece, getting closer to a book, we hope!!

  6. Hi

    Aww Jordan Walsh - I liked it. Apart from the word "malaise" (he is 13 afterall!) I thought it was a really good piece of self-dialogue. And the whole thing was consistent and building up to creating a sense of Jordan Walsh because you stuck to giving us his monologue.

    Naked Eye - yes, the first para is a grabber!! I like that first paragraph! And what action throughout - very exciting! You come across as very confident and assured with this piece. Lovely!

    Well done you!! :-)

    take care

  7. Vicki, that's a great story. It must've been good if it was snarky but the teacher appreciated it.

    Creepy Query Girl, it is amazing. Last night, I cringed reading the first one. But it is better in chapter one when stuff actually happens. My husband tells me to rewrite it but it would take so much work to get it where it should be. Maybe someday.

    aLmYbNeNr, thank you. I can't wait to write mooooore! Right now, I'm only halfway through chapter two.

  8. Joanne, thank you. This story will be more complicated than anything I've done because every other chapter will go back in time as the protagonist uncovers a family mystery. And something magical is going t happen with the glass eye.

    Brigid, if I go back to the first one, I'd have to cut out the prologue and unfold the thoughts there into the story. I need more action too. And I think Jordan comes across as to whiney.

    Old Kitty, 'malaise' kills me now, but I was so impressed that I used it back then. Geez. If I take the prologue and rework it, I may have something.

    But there's too much other writing going on now. The Disappearances will be queried soon. And I have to send Aura to the agent from the conference. If she rejects it, I have to decide what I'm going to do with it next.

  9. I love to pull out the work we had the beginning and compare, you can actually see how much success you really had. I will say I loved the beginning of the story, the word ordinary was said so many times I couldn't help but chuckle, in fact if I hear the word ordinary at all today I'll be thinking of your post!

    I look forward to seeing where you go from here! The journey begins indeed, and it's never a dull road, always winding.

  10. Wow, what a difference! The second time around is so much stronger. You've clearly come a long way!

  11. Woa! An AMAZING difference!!! The eye thing on the beginning of the second excerpt made me go WTF!? It stuck me to reading bulls eye!
    Well done!

  12. Jen, I think Mary from Kidlit cautioned against using "ordinary" because it's been so overdone. Too bad I didn't know that when I used it a million times in the first paragraph!

    Talli, thank you. By embarrassing myself, the world can see my progression too!

    Clara, I'm glad you liked it. I hope the rest of the manuscript winds up being as strong as the beginning.

  13. I always feel a bit of embarassment when looking back on my old drafts or older projects, but more so, I feel really excited because I know that I'm a better writer and storyteller.

  14. Fwahahahaagh!

    I feel like I'm covered in spiders. I'd rather be covered in spiders, actually. I'd rather eat a bowl of spiders.

    I have a severe phobia -- and my wife and anyone who knows me will attest to that fact that I am an OCD freak about it -- with losing an eye to a sharp object or projectile.

    Totally Rainman, I'm telling you.

    I've said often that a gauged eye is my <a href=">Room 101</a>.

    You get me, right?

    Point is, Theresa, I could NOT read your piece. Not not NOT!

    Gads, my fingers are shaking.


    I need a freaking beer now.

    And some safety goggles.

    - Eric

  15. That's some serious improvement there, well done :)

    Also the sort of prose that makes me want to put my hands up to my eyes to make sure they're both still there!

  16. Oh my gosh. First of all, your second excerpt was SO good that I was holding my hand over my own eyes, truly feeling your character's pain. (I also have a huge fear of losing an eye, so this really grabbed me.) Wow. You can write, that's for sure.

    Your first excerpt... well, I have binders full of stories that look like that. It's all part of the writing process. :)

  17. Crimey, the more mortified we are with our earlier work, the more progress we've made. It's a good way of looking at it!

    Eric W. Trant, I'm sorry I've traumatized you. I'll refrain from writing any posts about spiders if I can help it. I didn't meant to create a room 101.

    Hampshireflyer, it was freaking me out as I wrote it. And I'll probably have to freak myself out more as I continue writing this manuscript!

    Shelley Sly, you're too kind. At least now I'm not writing stories like that first one!

    As for the new piece, I'm grossed out by the research I still have to do.

  18. I like that! It really pulled me in :)

    It's fun to look back and see how far we've come. I've learned a lot in the past year as well!

  19. Hi! How very brave and generous of you to share your progress in writing. Thank you!

    The scissor thing, uh. But you definitely left me wanting to read more. ;)

    I've read your guest post at Olive's blog. I sympathize with you and wish you all the luck! Also, thanks for the follow back at Randomities. :)

  20. Thank you for sharing this with us. I love the opening for NAKED EYE. It is definitely chilling and full of suspense. I got visceral pains just reading it. Great job!

  21. The scissor thing really caught my attention! I need to know why? how? an eye, really?

    It's taken me so long to distinguish between show and tell. Now I can finally catch myself at times. You're doing great at it, and the second excerpt is def better.

  22. Your new and improved opening is incredible! loved it!

  23. Yes, another journey begins - isn't it exciting? Good luck!

  24. Wow, what a difference! I love the first paragraph in the revision. It grabbed (and held) my attention. And eep! well done!

  25. How fun to see your writing grow! I agree, Naked Eye is very compelling. Sending good writing vibes your way :-)

  26. Wonderful Theresa! Attention grabbing!

  27. I love your opening. One suggestion though:

    >> You know how adults are always warning children not to run with scissors because they could lose an eye and to stop tipping back their chairs back because they could crack open their skulls? I’ve never cracked open my skull from tipping back a desk chair, but three years ago, I ran with scissors and lost an eye. <<

    Delete the "You know?" sentence and justy start with "I've never". The question doesn't need to be asked (because you know the answer) and so there's a lot more impact if you just state the situation.

  28. Jemi, it's good to hear you've learned a lot this year.

    Mariblaser, I liked Olive's guest post on your blog.

    Thanks for the nice words and wishes.

    Sandy Shin, sorry about the visceral pains! Glad you liked the excerpt.

    Aubrie, it's hard to tell from the excerpt but it's going to be fantasy.

    You must've come a long way too because I saw a lot of show in your WIP.

  29. Elle Strauss, thank you!

    Susan Fields, thanks. I'm excited!

    Bossy Betty, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm freaking everyone out a little.

    Shannon, I'm glad it grabbed your attention. As you can tell from my first attempt, I had NO idea how to do that four years ago.

  30. Portia, thank you for the good writing vibes!

    Ann, thank you!

    India, thanks for the suggestion. I think one of the critiquers recommended a similar change. I'll look at your idea along with theirs.

  31. It was fun to read the first draft compared to the second. The second one really is wonderful. But, the first one was necessary too, don't you think?

  32. Missed Periods, you're right. I had to start somewhere with very little knowledge about the craft of writing.