Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Feedback: Pushing Your Idea to New Heights


With Huntley Fitzpatrick at
Eight Cousins Books
where we googley-eyed a lot of covers.
 
Hey all! I had an amazing time at Eight Cousins Books on the Cape, and Bunch of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard last weekend, and somehow a whole 'nother week has gone by. . .

This week, I finally finished my rewrite/overhaul of my manuscript. Now, I've started reading through it trying to figure out if it's good or if it's total crap.

As I've said before, yes, the chasm of not-knowing is that wide. We get too close to the point where only time, and a few sets of more objective eyes, will start to tell.

As I was finishing up the revision this week, I got this great post from this week's guest author/feedbacker, Nova Ren Suma. Honestly, it took my breath away a bit, and made me want to go back in, and try to push my writing more, once again. A thousand sighs when that happens, but, man, do I learn a lot from other authors.

Lovely and pensive Nova Ren.
So, if you don't know Nova Ren Suma for some reason, you should. She is the author of the YA novels Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone. We're not only literary agency "sisters" both with Dystal & Goderich, but we're publishing house sisters now, too: her new novel, TheWalls Around Us, comes out March 2015 from Algonquin YR. Already, I'm hearing some pretty awesome buzz around it. So please add her earlier books, and especially WALLS to your must-read lists! 

So, here you go, you lucky ducks. Here's Nova:

Last week you got some great advice here on Friday Feedback on beginnings, and now I’m here to trip you up and ask, So you have an awesome first few pages… Great! But what comes next?

Some of us (not naming names… though her initials are NRS) have been known to spend weeks, even months, polishing up that novel opening, getting it just so and just right, only to discover that we’ve lost momentum and aren’t exactly sure where our story should go next. This is often the moment when it feels so easy to give up… To set the novel aside… To see what’s on TV or who’s saying what on Twitter…

But wait.

Maybe what you need to do is push your idea to new heights—and by that I mean, sometimes the most excitement moments of writing come when you get creative and do something shocking. When you raise the stakes.

Here’s an example: 

When I was writing the very first exploratory draft of my novel Imaginary Girls, all I knew at first was that it would start with two sisters at a party at a reservoir in the middle of the night. I had a lot of dramatic happenings I knew would threaten their close relationship, but there wasn’t any BIG, WORTHY moment coming at them head-on that would shake things up.

I was writing a scene in which the older sister, Ruby, dared the young sister, Chloe, to swim across the reservoir in the night.

I lost myself when Chloe was swimming. There was backstory I wanted to insert. There was scene description I got carried away with writing. There were memories. There were pieces to Chloe’s character that I wanted to subtly introduce. There was a lot, and for quite a while she was treading water while I wrote my way through them.

Then it occurred to me: Wouldn’t this scene be way more interesting if something active HAPPENED, like, right now?

But what?

Something mysterious.

Something shocking.

Something that would turn this scene—and this story—on its head.

That’s how, on a whim, I decided to have Chloe swim into a dead body.

Everything changed about the story from that moment, through this sudden experiment. It opened new doors. It gave new possibilities. It offered mystery. And it gave me the chance to really raise the stakes and make some exciting, promising story choices.

So here’s my advice to you when you find yourself treading water in your story, not sure where to go next:

  • ·       Make something active happen to throw your character off-course
  • ·       Raise the stakes of your story
  • ·      Give yourself the opportunity to make interesting choices
  • ·       Surprise your character and surprise your readers…
  • ·       And you may just surprise yourself


If you want to see what happened with that dead body in the water, you can go read the first chapter of ImaginaryGirls, which was published in 2011. But if you want to see me working through that very same problem in a brand-new piece of fiction, because it's Friday Feedback, now you have your chance.

Here’s an excerpt from a project I’m working on in which I decided to raise the stakes in a scene—possibly with a fantastical twist—and then see where that might take me.

So what do you think? Don’t forget the rules: What works? What doesn't, if something doesn't? And… imagining this comes some ways into the story, would this keep you reading? 

(And, when you're posting your excerpts please remember NO MORE THAN 5 paragraphs if they're short, no more than 3 paragraphs if they're long!)

   
I hand over my set of keys, and it’s when my cousin Misha is walking away, descending the rows of bleachers, that I discover this thought inside me. It’s a bad, unbuttoned thought. I want something to keep her from getting to the car.
I guess I simply want Misha to stumble on the bleachers and drop my keys so I can take them back, maybe fall in the dirt and mess up her cheer uniform. That’s not what happens.
It’s a coincidence, I decide, that the wind comes right then. But is it?
A wild, whipping howl grows in force and slams straight into the bleachers, jolting the entire structure. The weather reports had given an all-clear before the game, but they must’ve gotten it wrong. A storm must have been coming, because it’s roaring all around us now. It’s directly overhead.
There’s a burst of rain, gushing down on us and then leaving us dry as quickly as it came, but that’s nothing. It’s the continued battering of wind. The wind that overtakes the field behind the high school, threatening to raise the bleachers from the ground and transport them with us clinging into Lake Erie.
The wind swirls, and I swear it seems to be centering itself around my cousin in her dark red cheer skirt. It’s like an animal, the way it comes for her. Like it wants to devour her.
I watch as she’s taken, lifted from the bleachers into the swirling sky.
She’s forced up from the bottom as if her teammates have her feet, but there are no teammates to spot her and there’s nothing under her feet. She climbs into the air, held by nothing, her arms out grabbing nothing, the nothing flapping and slapping at her clothes, trouncing her hair.
The bleachers are far below her now, the flashing 0 of the home team’s score at level with her bright blond head. She writhes in the wind, and then straightens. She’s suspended, her body frozen, her eyes on me.
I find myself moving toward her, my arms reaching up and out for her, but my fingers can only graze the toe of one white sneaker. Then they can’t even latch on to that, because she’s lifted beyond the reach of my fingers, into the rattling, shuddering roar at the heart of the windstorm.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. Or wait—have I?
I have. 
_____

Nova and I will both be here around 11 EST this morning, and not before, so please don't worry if we're not here until then.
And, as for the ARC drawing last week for Amy's A Matter of Heart, I forgot (see, finishing manuscript), so I promise, I'll go back and do it this week (and announce it midweek!).  Happy writing!

- Nova & gae

114 comments:

  1. Kristina PaustianJuly 18, 2014 at 4:40 AM

    She pushed back her chair and stood up, going over to the screen door to look out over the yard leading to the house. The lawn stretched lush and green up to the gardens that surrounded the house, with wildflowers and roses tangling amongst the shrubs and bushes. She made an effort to begin closing the windows, but paused as the phone began to ring. She hesitated a moment, wondering if she should just let the machine pick up, but then picked it up and answered.

    “Kasni?” a somewhat familiar male voice responded to her greeting. Her heart beat faster at the sound of his voice, but no, it couldn’t be, not after all of this time.

    “Garan?” she questioned softly, “Garan Karl?”

    “Kasni, I’m in trouble. Can you help me?”

    “What is it? What has happened?”

    “They put me in rehab. I’m going crazy here. I need to get out of here or I’ll lose my mind.”

    “Garan, if you are in rehab it’s because it is what is best for you. I don’t want to interfere with that.”

    “Kasni, I thought you would understand how this is. You are the only one who ever understood me.” His voice relayed his desperation, and sounded nothing like the confident Garan of old.

    “ I don’t know about that, Garan. I’ve never understood drug use.”

    “You would’ve never done this to me. Come and get me!” Suddenly the call was terminated and she was left listening to the dial tone. She had no intention of getting involved with him again, especially in this situation. But the afternoon had suddenly changed, the sunshine darkened somehow, and her comfortable life disturbed from this call out of the past. Perhaps that was what she deserved for dabbling in the past in her writing.

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  2. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 18, 2014 at 4:42 AM

    Gae ~ No worries about arriving later. You and Kate have us trained pretty well. :)

    Nova ~ I will be adding your books to my TRB list. This excerpt is pretty powerful and engaging. Your MC is just almost as shocked as her cousin, but not quite. It makes me want to keep going. Love it! One sentence caught me up: "The wind that overtakes the field behind the high school, threatening to raise the bleachers from the ground and transport them with us clinging into Lake Erie." I stumbled over this because it's a little awkward. Just my two cents. I will definitely be using your advice in my writing. Thank you.

    Here's my excerpt. It's Chapter One, Scene One (first part omitted for brevity). It's mostly dialogue, so I hope it's not too long.

    Lily moved to her seat at the table. Momma placed a bowl of cold cereal in front of her and a cup of milk. Lily took a spoonful of cereal, swallowed, and shivered again.

    "Why is everything so cold, Momma? Did the man forget the coal?"

    Momma sat down across from her, glancing up to her for a second before looking away. "No, the coal man did not forget us. I told him not to come."

    "But why?" Lily remembered the last time this happened, and pushed the image away.

    Momma finally looked at her. "We have to leave, Lily. I can't find work, so we have to leave."

    Lily looked around, noticing the suitcase by the door. They had so few possessions now that they could fit them all into one bag.

    "Oh. Is our new apartment bigger? Or prettier?" She lifted more cereal to her mouth.

    "We're not going to another apartment."

    Now Lily was confused. "But where will we live?"

    Momma's fingers twisted around each other, as if in a wrestling match. "Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt have agreed to take you in. Mrs. Schmidt could use your help with her little ones, and your school is much closer so you won't have to walk as far." Her voiced trailed off.

    Lily considered this for a moment. The Schmidts lived in her old apartment building. It would be nice to be back there again. All the apartments are big, and bright and airy. Still, they are only big enough for one family.

    "But how will we all fit in there? Where will you and I sleep?"

    Momma's hands continued their ugly fight with each other, and now her body begain to fidget as well. "It's just you, Lily. They're only taking you. I'm not coming."

    This news hit her in the chest and stomach at the same time. She dropped her spoon into her barely touched cereal. Her forehead creased in confusion. "You're not coming? Why?"

    "Because there's no room." Momma stood up and began bustling around the tiny room, wiping down the mini counter that was already clean, void of any evidence they had ever lived there. "Finish you breakfast. We need to get going."

    "But where are you going, Momma?" Lily was very near tears, but she fought them back.

    "I told you. I need to look for work."

    "I know Momma. But where will you live?"

    Momma turned toward her. She was beautiful, but these last few months had taken their toll. She had dark circles under here eyes, and her skin had lost its glow. Even her auburn hair was dull. "I'm not sure."

    The silence settled like a heavy, dark cloud around them. After a moment, Lily quietly picked up her bowl and cup and walked them over to the sink. "I'll wash them. You get dressed." Momma said quietly.

    "Ok, Momma." Lily looked into her mother's face and saw the sadness that she felt in her own heart. She'd learned not to ask too many questions. She didn't want to make things difficult for anyone. She turned and went back to the sleeping area to do as she was told.

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  3. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 18, 2014 at 4:51 AM

    Lots of tension here! I'm eager to read more. One quick edit: "She made an effort to begin closing the windows..." How about: "She made an effort to close the windows.." Gets the meaning across without as many words.

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  4. Good Morning! Thank you again for doing this! I was thrown a curveball this week when I learned that some of the Cambridge city sports camps are boys only. So I ran with it and a new character was born.


    Ace went back to flipping through his book, but peeked over the cover at Penelope. “I know you, don’t I?”

    Penelope froze. She didn’t want to be known these days. Her latest ambition was to figure out how to be invisible.

    “Don’t you play basketball?” Ace pressed.

    Penelope shrugged, “I guess.”

    “I saw you play this year, you’re great,” Ace said with even more interest. Penelope could feel Leena’s staring on both of them. Sitting up straighter, she sized up Ace. He was short, but most of the boys in her class were shorter than her, girls too. Penelope figured she would have to stop growing one day.

    “I tried out out for the school intramural, but didn’t make the cut. I’m doing the summer sports camp, are you?”

    She made a face. “Basketball is boys only for my age for the city summer camps. I usually go away, but not this year.”

    “Wait, they won’t let you play over the summer? That’s stupid.” Ace stared at her.

    “It’s not that I can’t play, but the basketball city clubs are for boys only. So I have to play on my own.”

    “Let me know if you want to practice, you’re great.” Ace went back to looking at his books, trying hard to not look up.

    Penelope thought about this. She was getting itchy feet, she needed to move. “What are you doing now? I don’t live far.”

    Jumping up out of his chair, “I just have to call my dad first.”

    “You can call from my place.” Penelope and Ace gathered up their books to check out. It wasn’t until they were on Aberdeen Ave did Penelope realize that Leena should never have been in the library. She should have been on her way to camp with Gen.

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  5. Formatting is going awry as I try to copy and paste here. Sorry if it's a disaster.




    Mrs. O’Reilly’s kindergarten class returned from the field trip to the goat farm at 2:33. Mrs. O’Reilly was exhausted. One of her students had repeatedly attempted to ride a goat. Two students had played an enthusiastic game of Throw the Goat Poop. One of her volunteer chaperones had continually whined about the smell of the goats. The smallest kindergartner, Alice Stone, had broken out in a rash. Mrs. O’Reilly had been teaching for twenty-four years. Long enough to know when she needed to take a break. She clapped, “One-Two-Three! Eyes on me!”

    All together the kindergartners chanted, “One-Two! Eyes on you!”

    “We have had a very exciting day, friends. We only have a few minutes left of our school day, so I am going to allow you to enjoy fifteen minutes of quiet free play before we pack up. Your voices must remain at an Indoor Level.” The children cheered, immediately breaking the Indoor Level. Mrs. O’Reilly held up two fingers in a V to remind the kindergartners that she would remove free play privileges if they were too rowdy. They were silent immediately and waited dismissal to play. Mrs. O’Reilly smiled. It was June and her kindergartners were well trained.

    The assistant teacher, Miss Helen, took the lid off the
    sand table and brought out the bin of dinosaurs. Alice Stone returned from the nurse’s office. Everything was running
    smoothly.


    That was when the screaming began. Mrs. O’Reilly was at the sand table in a flash. “Children! Stop that at-,” Mrs. O’Reilly stopped mid-sentence. In the sand table was a horrifyingly large spider. Worse, it was spewing tiny spiders that were climbing onto its back and into the sand as the children screamed.

    Mrs. O’Reilly, fearless in the face of snakes, goats, and hyperactive children, was terrified of spiders. She had nightmares where spiders crawled out of students’ ears and mouths. The miracle of wolf spider birth sent kind Mrs. O’Reilly over the edge. She gasped, clutched her chest, and collapsed to the floor, her head hitting the edge of the sand table as she went down.

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  6. Break my heart! I love this as a beginning with the counter "clean, void of any evidence they had ever lived there." It's a new beginning, but not one anyone wants. Love to hear more!

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  7. Rebecca-
    I love that your last line throws in what we should worry about, when we're distracted by Penelope's excitement for basketball and playing with Ace. I also want to know why Penelope wants to be invisible. (My first thought was that she was masquerading as a boy for camp purposes. I'm glad you're not going that route.)

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  8. Wendy-
    I love how the distress and stress of Lily and her mother is coming through. Lily's voice - needing the obvious restated (why aren't you coming? where will you live?) - feels authentic for a younger child (could be my daughter's age of 7).


    You might want to consider the words Lily uses when she looks at her mother. It feels more sophisticated - or insightful? than the other language used.

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  9. Yes - I agree! That's a beautiful line.

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  10. Hi Nova,

    I love how the surprise took over the book, even the cover Imaginary Girls. I think I'll put that in my TBR now! It's a great cover by the way. I also find your scene intriguing. The discovery of unknown powers combined with "our bad, unbuttoned thoughts," coming to life is very interesting.

    Here's part one of the many scenes that I realized I needed after I read my first supposedly completed draft. It seemed I was in a rush to finish and missed half the story. I like the idea of writing scenes that come to mind and then placing them later. Thanks for that ah ha moment, Lynda Mullaly Hunt!

    The noise in the trees was louder too. There was the gurgling of the creek and therustling of leaves being in the breeze. Adam turned off the flashlight and walked away, when his foot caught. He tripped into the brush, sounding like he was bringing the forest down with him.

    Suddenly, a small, round, white object, glowing slightly in the moonlight, erupted with a squawk from below him, seemingly floating
    erratically along the creek side.

    “Camera!” Adam yelled from the bush. “Camera!”

    I took off, branches breaking under my feet and snapped random
    photos, hoping to capture one of the escaping object. The bright light of the flash was blinding. My eyes had no time to adjust. My foot caught something hard and while hurtling down all I managed to think was, ‘Camera. Save the camera.” Time slowed as I twisted myself, holding the camera high in the air, just before landing butt first in the creek. Luckily, it was neither deep nor wide. My body
    was in the creek and my head firmly planted in the mud bank on the other side.

    “Need a hand?” Adam smirked after wrangling out of
    the bush.

    “I don’t think you’re much better.”

    “Did you get a picture?”

    “How would I know? Do you think mini low-flying spaceship? Did you hear it though?” A thought was percolating in my mind. “I swear it
    sounded chicken-like.”

    “I couldn’t hear anything with all the sound you were making!”

    Me! You were the one..” I paused. “You know, we have a
    bigger problem than that right now. In fact, we have two.”

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  11. To be honest, she might be more mature than we are today. They were certainly faced with more. Would you have a single mother in an apartment in 1918? When I read it, it sounded very now.

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  12. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 18, 2014 at 6:17 AM

    It's possible that a single mother would have a small apartment. Dad died a few months earlier, and Mom is trying to hold things together.They moved from their family apartment to a studio, but she's run out of money... Yes, I would agree about Lily being more mature. A later scene certainly shows that. I'm already thinking about a re-write of this scene.

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  13. Nova-

    I love this piece. I especially find the images of Misha flying through the air, your narrator reaching for her foot and the whirling power of the storm, intriguing and powerful. And the narrator questioning herself and clearly responsible, yet denying her involvement, is incredibly engaging and exciting.

    As the narrator leads us into the excitement with her description of handing over her keys, wishing her cousin would trip, I'm not sure the voice is quite right yet. Maybe a little too self conscious? But if I had read it in context where the narrator's voice is similar, I don't think it would be a problem.


    I'm feeling kind of out of line, but for practice, I did a quick edit of those two tiny bits. I hope it's not rude of me. My own writing is rebelling this morning... And I am so excited to read this novel when it's published.
    ___

    I hand over my keys, but as my cousin Misha descends through the bleachers, I discover the dark thought inside me. It’s a bad, unbuttoned thought. I want something to prevent her from getting to the car.

    I guess I want Misha to stumble on the bleachers and drop my keys through the tiers so I can take them back, or maybe fall in the dirt and mess up her cheer uniform. That’s not what happens.

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  14. Well don't stop there! Keep going!


    Sorry, I got caught up in the X-Files moment. Very curious about your low flying chicken UFO. Also, my butt feels wet.

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  15. This is so much fun! The drama or kindergarten with all its joys and the reality of kids who mean no when them say no. I like that we know the type of spider. I'm sure you have researched or have had experience with that kind. I wouldn't mind more detail on the spider and the birth, since that is the horrifying scene and I hope Mrs. O'Reilly makes it!

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  16. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs on their bellies and then carry their babies on their backs for their first week or so. Cool, huh? Right after I decided what kind of spider it should be, I found one in my yard with an egg sac on her belly. Wolf spiders also hunt actively, rather than by spinning webs. I'd love to find youtube action of their babies hatching!

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  17. Oh, man. Now I'm all sad. Youtube is full of videos and comments from people killing wolf spiders and their babies.

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  18. That's so much fun! I love when life gives us a peek at what we are currently discovering!

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  19. It felt as though the natural world was affirming my novel. :)

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  20. I love the idea of raising the stakes! I know we're supposed to throw a lot our characters but it's not always that easy so this is a great reminder. The piece you shared totally has me hooked, I'm wondering if the wind is a power the narrator has and so curious to see what happens next. It reminds me a bit of the Labyrinth...just the idea of wanting something horrible to happen to someone and then it does. I think you a great feeling of spooky-surprise in this scene.

    My piece is from something new I'm working on, it's from a completely rough 1st draft. :)

    ***********

    I don’t have time for this. I can’t let anyone, let alone Julian Ramirez, see me break down. I turn to go but he grabs my wrist and pulls me to him, enveloping me. A wave of emotions crashes over me, my chest heaves and I gasp for air. I melt into him. It’s been so long since I’ve cried and even longer since someone held me.

    “I’m sorry,” I manage through sniffles once I’m able to calm my breathing. He still has his arms wrapped around me. He’s strong, with broad shoulders and a solid chest. It feels nice and I’m not ready for it to end but I push away all the same.

    “Are you okay?” he peers at me, his face scrunched into a frown.

    I swipe at tears on my face. “Um, yeah,” I mumble. “I’m fine.”

    I start walking back to my bike.

    “Yeah?” He calls after me, “You don’t seem fine.”

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  21. Wow, Gae I love the "curve ball" of her being lifting from the bleaches. I love that is patient most of all. It isn't that she is whisked away. You give me, as the reader, an opportunity to look around. I get to use my eyes with my imagination. And, of course, I want to keep going because so many things can happen here. I am hooked in the ancient question, "what happens next???"

    What did not work for me was the line "There’s a burst of rain, gushing down on us and then leaving us dry as quickly as it came, but that’s nothing." I'm confused. Rain gushed then left you dry.



    I am wondering, as you re-read it, do you feel a particular flow or rhythm once she is lifted into the air. The writing feels very different there (in a good way) from the lead in with the rain and the wind. I find myself lost in the story once she is airborne.

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  22. Same story I posted last Friday (with the figs). YA Historical/Sci-Fi. Different scene. Background: a "padrone" was often a despicable middleman in a contract labor system involving immigrants. It means "boss" in Italian. The truck driving away is taking the husband and sons away from the females in the family for good. My story takes place in 1918 Italy.



    Eyeing each female slow and deliberate, the padrone walked up to the oldest daughter. She was sixteen, I knew her from church. She is dark-skinned like her mother. He nodded to a guard who gripped her by the arms from behind and wrenched them hard. She stifled tears as the padrone ran his nose along her neck and plunged himself into her hair. He inhaled with deep satisfaction and said behind that dark-brown sneer, “No, the girls will work out for me just fine.”

    As the trucked bounced over the rough ground up onto the smoother road, one of her brothers yelled through his tears, “We will send for you!”

    The padrone fixed himself in front of the wife. His large hands had sharp, thick nails. He placed a hand against each of her daughters' faces. All I could think was that this could be me. Those girls are my age. I know them. This could be me. My heart rapped against my throat so hard I was making involuntary noises and covered my mouth with both hands. The padrone tilted his head, and said to the mother, “You know you’ll never leave here, yes?” He inched into her, forcing her to back up closer to the thin, gravelly edge that slid far down into the sea.

    She spit in his face.

    Still, he did not blink or flinch, but his hands squashed the faces of her daughters so that their eyes, cheeks, nose, and mouth wrinkled into knots. Trembling they wriggled in his grasp, but he latched onto them as if he had talons. Behind, him, the truck throttled around the bend and disappeared.

    With the spit glistening in his eye said with complete peace, “Take the daughters to my estate.”

    And then he raised his boot into the mother’s chest, and kicked.

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  23. Hey, Kristina, happy to be back to the tension between Garan and Kasni! As Wendy says, that's what works! You've got such a great conflict going here... I'm going to do a superspeed flash edit because you have a lot of repetition (I know it's just a draft and you might pick that up all on your own, but it's a great oppty for me to be "illustrative," so I will. Watch phrases like "began to _____" or "started to____" when the action can just take place because it becomes more passive than active for the reader. Also watch words like Suddenly especially when used a lot because by definition almost something sudden should be rare. This one is a hard one for me too, but quite often when I finally pull them out, I'm okay with them gone. So for example, you have suddenly twice in the same para, over twice in the same para, here twice in the same para, "pick up" in the same para. etc. By taking them out and making your voice more active, you really get a pop in your already existing and wonderful conflict:

    She pushed back her chair and stood up, walked to the screen door to look out over the yard leading to the house. The lawn stretched lush and green up to the gardens that surrounded the house, with wildflowers and roses tangling amongst the shrubs and bushes. She made an effort to close windows, but paused as the phone rang. She wondered if she should just let the machine pick up, but then answered.

    “Kasni?” a somewhat familiar male voice responded to her greeting. Her heart beat faster at the sound of his voice, but no, it couldn’t be, not after all of this time.

    “Garan? Garan Karl?”

    “Kasni, I’m in trouble. Can you help me?”

    “What is it? What has happened?”

    “They put me in rehab. I’m going crazy here. I need to get out or I’ll lose my mind.”

    “Garan, if you are in rehab it’s because it's what is best for you. I don’t want to interfere with that.”

    “Kasni, I thought you would understand how this is. You are the only one who ever understood me.” His voice was desperate and sounded nothing like the confident Garan of old.

    “ I don’t know about that, Garan. I’ve never understood drug use.”

    “You would never have done this to me. Come and get me!” Suddenly, the call was terminated and she was left listening to the dial tone. She had no intention of getting involved with him again, especially in this situation. But the afternoon had changed now, the sunshine darkened somehow, and her comfortable life disturbed from this call from the past. Perhaps that was what she deserved for dabbling in the past with her writing.

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  24. Jen V.,


    What works for me, as a reader, is that this narrator seems like an emotional mess in this moment: shes's attracted to this guy, ready to cry about something else, attentive to the fact that he has a fine bod. LOL she's a wonderful basket case right now.


    Nothing "doesn't work"...and yes, I would read more to see what Julian McDreamy had to say before she rides off on her bike.

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  25. This is the beginning of a story I've been working on for kids around the age of 10 or so.
    -----------------
    You can always find me hanging with my friends. Well, quite
    honestly that’s because “hanging” is the only thing I ever do. I never get to go to the mall or anywhere else for that matter.

    That’s because all I CAN do is hang...here...on this wall...with the portraits and things that surround me. My name is Mirror Mirror. Perhaps you've heard of me? They wrote a very famous fairy tale all about me. Well it wasn't ALL about me...but it should have been.

    I haven’t always been a mirror, you know. Once upon a time....Wait. I think I feel a fairy tale coming on. Well, anyway. Once upon a time....in a kingdom far, far away....hmmm.... that sounds familiar, too.

    Anyway, back before I was known as Mirror Mirror, my name
    was Ali. Ali Kazam. My friends all called me Al. I was the wisest wizard in all the land. Well, okay, maybe not THE wisest, but ONE of
    the wisest anyway. (Boy, telling this story is certainly not helping my ego).

    One day, I was going about minding my own business when I
    heard a loud trumpet, and a messenger from the Queen appeared at my door. The Queen had summoned me to the castle. It seems that one of the local oracles had told the Queen her fortune, and it had been in the form of a riddle. The Queen had heard of my reputation. Being very wise, I’m not normally worried about brain challenges, but this Queen was one of the most powerful beings in
    the whole world. The Queen had called a few of my wizard friends to the castle before, and they were never heard from again. Rumors went around that they had been framed for something, but I had no idea that that meant LITERALLY, and that one day I would find myself hanging next to them on a wall.

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  26. Nova, your excerpt is so intriguing. That last line gets me wondering about what happened before. I especially liked the line "It's a bad, unbuttoned thought" since it seems to me that it reveals a lot about character, that she would even use that phrase. One thing I wondered about is what the narrator is doing during the freak wind event, besides watching it happen, She seems a little detached from it.

    Here's a surprising event that happened to my main character:

    To avoid his house, I decide to take Whisper a different way. Besides, it’s probably a good idea for her to get to know the neighborhood in case she runs away again. Which she shouldn’t,since I always triple check that I’ve attached her leash to the right part of her collar.

    A plastic bag drifts across the sidewalk. Whisper leaps back, winding around my legs. I have to spin to get us untangled.

    “Chill out, girl.”

    It takes some coaxing to get her going again.

    When we round the corner, we come face to face with a giant. It’s black and shaggy and not on a leash.

    The black monster stops in front of us, filling the sidewalk. Its tail is stiff, the fur on the back of its neck standing on end. Whisper freezes, her tail stiff too.

    Backing slowly, I tug on her leash. “Let’s go, Whisper.”

    I can practically feel the monster dog’s hot breath on my arm. Slobber oozes from its huge mouth. Why won’t Whisper come?
    I can’t pick her up. I’d have to put my arm right in front of those gleaming teeth. But she won’t leave.

    For the first time since she moved in with us, Whisper makes a sound. A low cat-like hiss.

    The monster returns her growl with a deep warning rumble. Any second, Whisper’s going to be torn into pieces. My arms are as heavy as soggy towels. I can’t. I…Oh no. It’s starting. Heart-racing, breath-sucking panic. My muscles quiver. I’m going to throw up.

    Whisper stands her ground, baring her teeth. Why did she pick now to become brave?

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  27. I noticed some wonkie formatting issues...please ignore where the line breaks aren't correct.

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  28. Wendy, this is just lovely and heartbreaking... I know you're still revising, and there are places where if, you just scale back the tiniest bit on the characters' physical "business" it will really be tight and shine. For example only, here:

    Momma's hands continued their ugly fight with each other, and now her body began to fidget as well. "It's just you, Lily. They're only taking you. I'm not coming."

    This news hit her in the chest and stomach at the same time. She dropped her spoon into her barely touched cereal. Her forehead creased in confusion. "You're not coming? Why?"


    ... could be, this (fyi, "ugly fight" made me picture her hands punching at one another, so I suggested wrestle):

    Momma's hands continued their wrestle and her body began to fidget as well. "It's just you, Lily. They're only taking you. I'm not coming."

    This news hit Lily in the chest and stomach at the same time. She dropped her spoon, her forehead creased in confusion. "You're not coming? Why?"


    Food for thought...

    Also, in this next para, since you're writing in past, I think you can sub out are for were and have the tense shift feel less distracting:

    Lily considered this for a moment. The Schmidts lived in her old apartment building. It would be nice to be back there again. All the apartments were big, and bright and airy. Still, they were only big enough for one family.

    Keep going! You truly capture great emotion here!

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  29. Andrea,

    What works for me (and I am not sure I am reading it correctly) is that I have a smile on my face over the little dog's personality. Love the entangled leash and the use of the word "monster" gives me a charming feel to it. I don't picture the dog with fangs and blazing eyes from hell...I picture a big dog. Maybe a big dumb dog. The scene is charming for me more than tense if that makes sense. Yes, I want to see this little guy stand tall and I want to read on.

    The only blip that "doesn't work for me" is "the monster dog’s hot breath"...something in my (dyslexic) brain wants to twist this into a MONSTER HOT DOG.

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  30. What works for me is the despair. It is subtle and it hums in the background throughout the piece. I love the little moments (eating the cereal...the child being very aware of the truths around her...). Also, one particular line was really nice when you wrote that the news hit her chest and stomach at the same time. Awesome.


    Nothing did not work for me...and I would read on.

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  31. Yes, agree! beautiful line!

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  32. For what it's worth, the language/voice wasn't an issue for me... it's such a stilted painful moment, I just felt everyone was limiting/measuring words......

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  33. Rebecca, I really like this piece. I love the sweet rapport between the kids you seem to effortlessly (skillfully) set up! This sentence popped me out and needs to be looked at again: Penelope could feel Leena’s staring on both of them.

    Good stuff! Keep going!

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  34. Good morning, everyone! Thank you so much for having me as a guest author for Friday Feedback, Gae! I'm excited to be here... and especially excited to dig in to everyone's excerpts...

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  35. What a disturbing, dramatic (in a good way) scene! The moments that work the best for me are when we are close in on the narrator’s thoughts and feelings and witnessing of this terrible scene. There is something very affecting about these lines: “All I could think was that this could be me. Those girls are my age. I know them. This could be me.” This is where my heart pounds the most and I find myself the most engaged and connected to what’s happening.

    There are places, as this moves in, where I think this could be even stronger if we stay with the narrator and see this through her eyes: “With the spit glistening in his eye... And then he raised his boot...” Here I feel like we are closer to the POV of the padrone and I want to be with the narrator as we were before. Those lines are so stark, so visual, and I think if we were there with the narrator as witness through this, it could be even stronger than it is now, even more powerful.

    And YES, I would keep reading. I’m worried for the girls, and I’m worried for the narrator. Thank you so much for sharing this, Brian! Your novel—historical and at the same time sci-fi in Italy in 1918??—sounds different and so very fascinating.

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  36. Oh, Julian Ramirez—I like how he is called out at the start of this, how your narrator does not want to break down in front of him, ESPECIALLY him.

    There’s something about these lines (“A wave of emotions crashes over me, my chest heaves and I gasp for air. I melt into him. It’s been so long since I’ve cried and even longer since someone held me.”) that sound more romantic than painful—and I’m not sure if that’s your intention. Or if it is... maybe the shift comes too soon here. Maybe it’s the melting into him, and perhaps we should feel the pain more before that happens, even a single phrase would do it. I do want to understand what’s wrong and why the narrator is breaking down, just a hint, though of course I know this is only a small taste of the story so I may be missing something that came just before!

    I like where you leave us, how the narrator turns to go... and he calls out, not wanting this moment to end. I believe in their connection, and I think if I understood more what happened to make your narrator break, I would be even more hooked and want him to call out and get your narrator to stay.

    A line I especially love because of all the conflicting emotions is this one: “It feels nice and I’m not ready for it to end, but I push away all the same.”

    I hope you keep going with this first draft, Jen! Thank you so much for sharing a piece here.

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  37. Mystery and a hint of humor! I was amused at the idea of this being a mini low-flying spaceship possibly... that sounded like a chicken. A chicken! Funny. That was my favorite detail. And I enjoy the dynamic between Adam and the narrator, bumbling through the forest together but clearly on a mission—this sounds like an engaging, UFO-laced (I hope!) adventure story.


    When Adam yelled “Camera!” at first, I thought that the small round white object WAS the camera... like a camera following them? I figured it out soon after, but it was a slightly jarring moment and I had to read back to get my bearings. I also think there could be some expanded visuals while they’re chasing the object and before your narrator falls in the creek, a line or two in the heat of that frenzied chase to keep up the excitement before stopping so soon.

    I would totally keep reading because now I am so curious how those photos turned out. What WAS that object??!!

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Ms. Cole! (And for saying you’ll put IG in your TBR... thank you and I do hope you like it.)

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  38. I find myself laughing at everything that went awry on this field trip: riding the goat, Throw the Goat Poop. (I could have stayed there a while too.) And I like how you set up that everything is fine, everything was running smoothly UNTIL the screaming begins. Great transition there.

    At first I was disappointed that it was only a spider... and THEN you have the great turn where Mrs. O’Reilly collapses and hits the edge of the sand table as she goes down. What will happen next? I would keep reading to find out.

    I do find myself not sure who to focus on in this story... I think it’s Mrs. O’Reilly, but then I do begin to question, and if she’s knocked out, who then? And I think you have a great opportunity here to really bring us in to Mrs. O’Reilly’s debilitating fear of spiders and SHOW us how horrifying large and disgusting it is even beyond telling us. And the spiders’ birth—another opportunity there. (I’m shuddering just thinking of the possibilities here.)

    What a fun story, Terry! (And no formatting disasters!) Keep going... what will become of all the children with their teacher out for the count?!

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  39. I connect immediately to Penelope when she reacts to Ace asking if he knows her. I really like these lines: “She didn’t want to be known these days. Her latest ambition was to figure out how to be invisible.” I also like when you say about her “She was getting itchy feet, she needed to move.” These little hints tell me she will be a great character to follow. And it sounds like the real-life complication that girls can’t go to these camps offered up a great story opportunity!

    I was surprised when Penelope invited Ace over right then, and I wasn’t sure I understood what shifted there for her. She wanted to be invisible, so why is she so willing to hang out with Ace? I’d love to see more into that moment there, what makes her say that. It almost seems a tad too easy.

    (I’m also not sure of the Leena significance, but I’m sure readers who have some set-up will see that resonate more!)

    Penelope intrigues me as a character, and I like when her personality slips in. I would read in the hopes of seeing even more of her! I like her a lot already.

    Thank you so much for showing us this piece, Rebecca!

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  40. Whoa. I’ve seen the set-up of having to leave a place suddenly as the opening for a novel, yes, but this raises the stakes so much more when you have Momma say that Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt will take Lily in. This makes it different. And Lily’s reaction is so sad... my heart hurts for her.

    That is one thing I do wonder from this, though (note: I don’t know how old Lily is supposed to be, but she reads young, so maybe this isn’t an issue): But she seems so slow to really GET this. Finally when the news hits her, I’m surprised she didn’t get a small hint before (maybe she was ignoring it... maybe part of her knew something was really wrong here, but she didn’t want to face it yet?).

    This is heartbreaking: “She'd learned not to ask too many questions. She didn't want to make things difficult for anyone. She turned and went back to the sleeping area to do as she was told.” I do wish Lily was a touch more aware, but I realize that you could be building this as the moment when she does become aware, and the world crumbles around her. I want to be in close with Lily and really feel this moment as it comes over her, as she goes and does what she is told.

    I would keep reading. This hooks me and I think it’s a strong choice of plot for a novel opening. I’m so worried for both Lily and her mother and am not sure what will happen next. Thank you for sharing it, Wendy! I hope you keep going with this novel!

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  41. Nova, that's a great point. A chance to up the drama even more by us seeing the information dawn on Lily a little and then full impact. Like she doesn't want to believe what she's hearing...

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  42. Nova, I loved those same two lines!

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  43. There are these little hints that something is awry from this opening—how she is making an effort to close all the windows—and I like how you gracefully slip that in. (I would love even a hint or two more in that paragraph before the phone rings.) And there are these wonderful hints of mystery, of something not right—how it couldn’t be him, not after all this time. There is a lot unsaid here and left to be uncovered and it intrigues me. Why is she closing all the windows? What is her past with this person, and why of all people does he call her? What happened to him and why is the call cut off?

    One thing I would suggest is to take a look at the dialogue in the phone call section—there are some places where it doesn’t seem as natural, and might pull a reader out.

    But here you leave us in this scene with something about dabbling in writing... and how it could have caused Garan to call. WHY, and what does her writing have to do with this? Very mysterious and I would turn the page to find answers.

    Thank you for sharing this, Kristina... and leaving us with so much intriguing mystery!

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  44. Agree with everyone's assessment of the humor this piece packs -- telling you something very good about that! That opening para is too funny. I also agree with Nova that something gets very "telly" vs. "showy" as you go on, which is tough to ssee because often doing the scene through dialogue, which you do, is a great route to avoid that issue. And yet here:

    “We have had a very exciting day, friends. We only have a few minutes left of our school day, so I am going to allow you to enjoy fifteen minutes of quiet free play before we pack up. Your voices must remain at an Indoor Level.” The children cheered, immediately breaking the Indoor Level. Mrs. O’Reilly held up two fingers in a V to remind the kindergartners that she would remove free play privileges if they were too rowdy. They were silent immediately and waited dismissal to play. Mrs. O’Reilly smiled. It was June and her kindergartners were well trained.

    The assistant teacher, Miss Helen, took the lid off the
    sand table and brought out the bin of dinosaurs. Alice Stone returned from the nurse’s office. Everything was running
    smoothly.

    ... even though you do quite a bit of this through dialogue... it's mostly monologue and feels like a ticking off of items of scene setting rather than an active engaging way to go... so play with it a bit, maybe breaking it up a bit with the children chiming in and their actions. I also think if you name the children and start to give them personalities (which will be automatically done by their early actions... eg. is "Freddy" the goat poop thrower? and "Alice" the goat rider? A great oppty to build character (the whiny teacher too). Then you can do some more in the paragraphs I'm talking about: quickly messing with it:

    “We have had a very exciting day, friends. We only have a few minutes left of our school day, so I am going to allow you some quiet free play but your voices must remain at an Indoor Level.”
    Freddy led the cheers with a very non-Indoor "Woohoo," and the others followed.


    Mrs. O’Reilly held up two fingers to remind the kindergartners that she would remove free play privileges if they continued to be too rowdy.

    Alice cupped her hand over Freddy's mouth and the rest were silenced immediately ...

    blah, blah, blah. See how it comes to life even more if you start building personalities? At least I hope so.


    Great stuff! Keep Going!

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  45. Nova, It's so great to see you here. For anyone who hasn't discovered your writing yet: I first stumbled across Nova online a few years back and have loved the powerful voice in everything she's written, from her books to her blogs on writers residencies and more. Thanks for being with us today.

    It was great to read your excerpt. It has a great quality, halfway between clearly and natural feeling details, and a supernatural curiosity. It leaves a reader curious about what happened to provoke this emotion in the MC, as well as about what will happen next.

    * * *
    This is a great exercise, today. With early drafts, I'm always conscious of "explaining" motivation. In mine, there is a crisis about two missing men: the uncle and father of a young boy, and his mother's frustration over feeling helpless to get answers. It's been interesting to play with the little boy's perspective, to get to the stakes involved. In this, he has misunderstood the secrets being kept from him.
    ---

    Sometimes one of his mother's friends stopped to visit. They spoke in a way that worried Liam that something odd had happened to him that only they could see, so that he snuck from the room and stood on the teeth-brushing stool in the bathroom to stare at his reflection, turning his face side to side to check thoroughly. There was nothing but the same head that looked back at him from all the pictures
    framed around the house. Grey eyes, ears that stood slightly out, monkey-round skull and hair that curled up while others’ laid flat.

    It was his mother, he knew, even then, they guessed was injured. Like the bird they’d found with the broken wing. The first one they’d had to bury after it wouldn’t eat. It was that voice friends used, the
    same one his mother had used with him, preparing him to know the bird might not live.

    He developed trouble breathing, then, each time after the visiting people left. His mouth clapping open and closed like a fish on a dock. Gasp air, gasp air. It wasn’t his mother, he was sure: he could see all of her and knew she had no broken wing. It was himself: clearly he was the one broken, the one they stooped over low, their voices rising to that impossible key to say how sweet he was, so much like his father’s picture, so clever. He must be the one who would die.

    He thought of the inside of the earth where he’d buried the bird. Would it be soft or would it be cold? Would water drip through? Would roots tickle? And he would scream in horror that terrorized his
    mother, and she would hold him, crying, sobbing, rocking and patting his back and apologizing over and over. “I’m so sorry, Liam. I’m so sorry. I tried. I tried. How could I have lost?”

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  46. It's so interesting to take the point of view of an inanimate object. Love the humor! I wonder what's going to happen next.

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  47. So interesting that this takes place in the past. I also felt that it was taking place in the present. It just shows how some themes are universal.

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  48. Such an emotional piece! Thanks for sharing. I definitely want to keep reading.

    One thing I noticed about this line "Lily was very near tears, but she fought them back" is to maybe show her tears, instead of telling us (e.g. Lily's lip trembled as she held back tears). But that's a refinement that can come later. The main thing is that you've got the emotion and story to intrigue a reader.

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  49. This is so very funny! I teach kindergarten so I can really relate to Mrs. O'Reilly! (except for the fear of spiders part).


    I don't really have any suggestions for you except to keep writing!

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  50. Elissa, I think you've really gotten into the little boy's perspective by having him thinking about what all the visiting people mean.

    One line confused me a little: They spoke in a way that worried Liam that something odd had happened to him that only they could see, I had to re-read it a couple of times. Maybe that's just me or maybe the repeated word "that" is throwing me off.

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  51. Thanks for your feedback. I'm glad you liked the relationship between Hannah and Adam. That seems to be growing and I'm hoping their dialogue sounds like a bickering brother & sister pair. I think the camera & details come out more in the entire scene...three to five paragraphs is limiting.

    If anyone has time, but I'm certainly not expecting anyone too, I'd love feedback on the whole scene. http://morningmusing.weebly.com/morning-musing/learning-with-teacherswrite-scene-writing



    Thanks again. I truly appreciate your time and expertise.


    Stefanie

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  52. If there was a "like" button, I'd click it for your comment. Hope your butt feels better soon!

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  53. This is a very emotional scene, but you don't overdo it at all. I love how Lily keeps trying to make the best of bad news--even as it successively gets worse, she keeps trying to find something positive or at least to soldier on, and I think that reveals a lot about who she is. It also hints at a history of stiff-upper-lipping it. It seems that she and her mom are both being strong for each other, doing the best they can with a terribly difficult situation. Looking forward to reading more.

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  54. Wow, thank you for saying that and for the great intro! It’s wonderful to find you here and get to read a taste of your writing!

    There is so much to love here, and so much that draws me in: I love how he is putting pieces together and trying to understand what is going on through this confusing haze of the adult world where no one will tell him anything. You handle this so deftly, and there is so much left unsaid so gracefully that I find myself admiring. The way you make his reaction physical here says so much: “He developed trouble breathing, then, each time after the visiting people left. His mouth clapping open and closed like a fish on a dock. Gasp air, gasp air.” And the writing just gets stronger and stronger: “It was himself: clearly he was the one broken, the one they stooped over low, their voices rising to that impossible key to say how sweet he was, so much like his father’s picture, so clever. He must be the one who would die.” I actually could keep pasting lines in here. This is so powerful, so well-written.

    One thing I would say is that I’m not a fan of characters looking into a mirror to describe themselves, I’ll admit. It’s a pet peeve for a lot of readers too, so I wonder, do you need this moment? Could he go into the bathroom to inspect himself, his body, another way without doing that mirror thing? I’d hate for there to be any single moment of weakness in a passage this good.

    Hope this is helpful, and oh yes would I keep reading!

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  55. Thanks so much for the feedback!

    I really love how you give us the surprising moment as they round the corner—I appreciate so much how it’s not obvious at first and the reader is left to put the pieces together: “When we round the corner, we come face to face with a giant. It’s black and shaggy and not on a leash.” Really great lines there. There is also a good turn when your character feels “it” starting again, this sense that this has happened before, and that this is the worst possible moment for it to happen again.

    My only questions are those of logistics. The monster dog is right in front of them, and then they start backing up, but your narrator can still feel its hot breath on his/her arm, so it feels very close again? Maybe take a look at that part and envision the scene and mark it out a bit more of us—or don’t have them be able to back up yet, to show they are stuck in such close proximity with a terrifying giant dog (aaah!).

    Thank you for sharing a surprising moment with us! How perfect!

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  56. I am enjoying this unexpected POV from Mirror Mirror—and it makes me smile, thinking of this mirror being the storyteller here. (What opportunities you have here—all the things a mirror would see and witness that a human narrator might not, especially if not everyone knows that Mirror Mirror isn’t just a normal mirror and a wizard in disguise.) A fun choice for story for young readers.

    One thing I do wonder is if the conversational language, going in and out with the ellipses and the misdirections might be more effective if pulled back a bit? The aside about “once upon a time” took me out somewhat because I wanted to stay in THIS time with this story, and I was amused enough without it. That’s a good thing!

    A tiny question: But I wondered, when Mirror Mirror is summoned to the castle. Can Mirror Mirror WALK? Or does being summoned mean he will be carried there by the guards? Just curious!



    Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Shirley!

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  57. Thank you so much for the feedback. I have a question about this scene. Although it is a pivotal scene, the main importance of it is that the spider causes Mrs. O'R's panic attack. And since my hero (Owen) put the spider in the sand table for safe keeping till he could transfer it to a safer home, he is held responsible for Mrs. O'R's injury. Should I still develop it? I love your edit of having Alice shutting up Freddy, and I absolutely think it brings the scene to life - but no one but Mrs. O'R will ever be mentioned again. Is that too many characters to introduce casually never to be seen again?

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  58. That's a great question and the answer is, yes, it can be! That's what makes it hard to read excerpts OUT of context -- although the advice can still be helpful at other points (names bring an immediacy and color to the scene). I would say for now, Terry, as in most cases here, you just let the advice wash over and keep moving forward! Does that answer your question?

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  59. I'm just going to "ditto" Nova's comments! Fun stuff! Keep going!

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  60. Yes it does. Of course I liked your edit enough to go back and retouch that scene with names, but I'll worry about which is better later.


    Again THANK YOU!

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  61. btw, this reminds me how much I love the description "bad, unbuttoned thought." God, I love that.

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  62. Absolutely. Nova, if you don't use that in the final manuscript I won't speak to you again.

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  63. Nova makes great and astute comments, Jen! I'm easier. I just love your writing and I'm loving hearing your voice but a less sweet tone in this piece. Keep going. That is all.

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  64. Brian, I don't think we've formally "met" but I've been so touched and impressed with how much you've contributed here, and how thoughtful your feedback is, the past two weeks! I have some non-newbies that do the same, but I'm used to their awesome contributions. So, thank you. A pleasure to have you at Friday Feedback!

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  65. Really nice of you to say. Thank you. I've received really thoughtful feedback as well. It is a wonderful experience.

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  66. Brian, Nova gives great advice. I, too, found this so disturbing and compelling and you do a great job with making us feel that through your descriptions. The switch in tense in this sentence confused me: She is dark-skinned like her mother. and given the padrone's sharp nails, i was wondering if squeezing the poor girls' faces like that would draw blood. Gah, I hope not, but it was running through my brain. Keep going, Brian. Hope you save the girls! ;0

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  67. I love when I have guest authors who do all the hard work for me! Everything Nova says, Shirley! A fun piece with lots of wit that seems ripe with creativity! Keep going!

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  68. What Nova said. Keep going!

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  69. Actually, he is telling what led up to his being turned into the mirror the day he was summoned to the castle. It's a bit of a flashback to set the rest of the story up. I didn't want to post too much of it. I did worry a bit about the conversational tone, but I wanted him to come across with a bit of an attitude. Thanks for the feedback.

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  70. Elissa, first of all, people are going to hate me if I fawn over the sheer quality of your writing anymore than I already do. Just some incredible imagery and sentences here. Also, as Nova pointed out, a few minor bumps, but you'll get to them as you revise... namely the one she pointed out. I have to say, Nova is exactly right about the "common wisdom" on mirrors, but I don't share the peevishness... in fact, I'm guilty of letting Francesca look in a mirror in The Summer of Letting Go to inspect herself and share what she sees - as I think teens especially do. But the bottom line is that people look in the mirror and assess every day and for me, it's more an issue, if that happens organically, as I feel it does in this piece, and shares some physical sense of a character well in that way, or feels forced in which case I don't like it: Joe look in the mirror and sighed over his spiky black hair which at least offset his bright blue eyes, would be an example of feeling forced to serve a purpose vs. organic, which I do think you've accomplished here. Having said all that, some readers will automatically take issue when the mirror is there. ;)

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  71. Andrea, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I think you're right: in shortening this to post as an excerpt, I did a quick edit on that sentence and added one of those repeating 'thats', and it's awkward. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  72. Replying to both you and Gae, it's funny about the mirror thing -- it stood out to me as I was posting it, for exactly the 'hackneyed' reason you both mention. I read for a national magazine 1 season, which was long enough for me to get how repetitious certain devices are, and therefore respect the peeves.
    The description is a repetition of the little boy's mention of his 'monkey head' from somewhere else, so the mirror part didn't stand out to me in the draft, but one of the good things with sharing a short piece is you notice things like that more in excerpt. It's easy enough to just say he went to the bathroom and checked himself out without mentioning a mirror at all.
    More than anything, it means a lot to get encouragement from you two, as this WIP is new enough that it hasn't had beta readers -- and it would be good to think it's getting close. Thanks so much!

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  73. I hope it is clear that I meant it's LESS of an issue for me if it happens organically... O.O

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  74. Nova,

    I would definitely read on and I look forward to reading your work! This is from my current WIP, three years in the making. Also, it's very rough:

    I watch Jordan scramble around the intricate tunnels, slides, and ladders that connect the various sections of the playground equipment; I catch another glimpse of the boy I noticed earlier. He has dark brown hair that has soft curls framing his face. Why does he seem so familiar to me? I start to scan my mental rolodex containing the faces of younger siblings of my friends, of my cousins, of anyone who may resemble this kid—nothing surfaces.

    I shrug my shoulders and return my attention back to Jordan who is completely enthralled by spider web of the jungle gym she is currently playing on.

    A moment later, a flash of memory causes my chest to tighten and I find it difficult to breathe. As my pulse picks up speed, I feel light headed as I feel a light breeze flow over my skin causing the prickly sensation of goose bumps. Thankfully, there is a bench directly behind me and I stumble backwards to sit down. The playground spins around me so I close my eyes, hoping when I open them the spinning has stopped. I open my eyes moments later relieved to see everything is stationary once again, but I still feel woozy and unfocused. I close my eyes again and take a few deep breaths. I try to hang on to the memory, but I can’t. I open my eyes and it’s gone.

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  75. Thanks! Good advice. :)

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  76. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 18, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    Ditto!

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  77. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 18, 2014 at 4:24 PM

    I definitely need to flesh this out a bit more. (I have a self-imposed deadline of Friday, so this was a rough scene). I agree she should be more aware. They've had to do this before, when Lily's dad died a few months earlier. And I do need to make her sound older because she's supposed to be around 13. Thank you for your feedback.

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  78. Hi all. This is my first Friday Feedback. In fact, this is the first time I have commented, although I have been doing the prompts. I am still catching up on everyone's posts . . . SO much wonderful writing, and what a great discussion! How neat to have such a writing community!

    So, here is my excerpt. With the exception of my prologue, it is the first three paragraphs of the novel I am working on. I am worried that I am getting wordy and putting in too many details, even as I am trying to build the world of my characters. It is a medieval fantasy, directed at YA. Thanks!
    *******************************************************

    I wasn’t allowed in the throne room until I was 7. That was also the year I was first allowed to start wearing the gowns, including smaller versions of my mother’s gowns-of-state. They were heavy - woven
    with gold threads, and embedded with small pearls and bits of crystallized glass. The first time the dressmakers wrestled me into a bodice, I remember that feeling - the pull on the shoulders, the stiffness of raising my arms, the weight of a thousand eyes staring at me. At the first fitting, the dress smelled heavily of the chest it had been stored in, and they sewed packets of dried flowers and herbs into the undersides of the skirt. I tried the best I could to remain patient and stand still, and as it was, Nurse Katherine
    had to dismiss me, telling the dressmakers to finish using the mannequin made in my size.

    The day I was to enter the throne room, and stand behind my
    mother, they had also put on a small tiara of glittering glass, studded with fresh flowers. My mother wanted me to be
    approachable, she had said, not quite the queen yet. My maid had dressed my hair with hot pieces of iron, so loose curls floated past my cheeks - still too chubby to be taken seriously. I glanced down, knowing that I didn’t fill the gown, but ready to act the part.

    “Nervous, princess?” A man’s voice echoed from behind me, and I tried to whip my head around, before remembering my small tiara. I
    felt it tilt, and I shoved at it, while at the same time, frowning.

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  79. Ugh. The formatting didn't really work out. You get the idea though!

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  80. I think this is a good opening line—and I like the juxtaposition of the idea of this little seven-year-old girl and what I imagine to be a giant, glorious throne room that would dwarf her. She feels important at first, and I’m not sure why until we get to the piece that she is the “not quite the queen yet.” I love that line, especially thinking of a tiny seven-year-old in an elaborate gown.

    The details are very vivid, and really bring the gown to life, but I do wonder: We start with the idea of the throne room, then move into the details of the dress fitting, should we stay with one or the other? Then we return to the throne room again in the second paragraph and I wonder if you want that idea in your first paragraph perhaps instead, and then tell us some of the details of the dressing later. I find myself wanting to be in scene first, and then let the details wash over me, so perhaps some reordering and rethinking what the first focus here is could help?

    I’m very curious to know what will happen to this tiny princess—and so many more things, about her future, about her kingdom, even about the man asking if she’s nervous. This opening makes me curious and pulls me in!

    Thank you so much for sharing your opening paragraphs with us, Meghann. Hope these comments are helpful!

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  81. When we get close in on Everett and get his reaction to Jamison wanting to hang out with him, it’s really connects me with your character (and I only just met him, this being the first piece I’ve read of this!). I really enjoy the language here, there’s a great rhythm to your lines (for ex: “He wanted to know about me. How I was doing. How I was handling the changes” and “but I wasn't quite sure what the game was. Or what position I was supposed to play. Or what team I was on.”) Great characterization and use of voice here. I’m very much with your character and feel myself in his skin.

    There was one place that took me out and didn’t feel so much like the smooth-working Everett voice below that I think is working so well: It was the line “What was such a superior athlete doing flipping burgers?” I’m not sure why, but it feels almost too self-conscious or not exactly what he would say... probably the use of the word superior. The voice that comes later is so much stronger that it makes me be picky about such a tiny thing!

    I’m curious about Everett, “the kid beneath the helmet, pads, and jersey”—and why he quit the team. I think readers who like sports stories will be especially drawn to this character.

    Thanks for sharing your paragraphs, Greg! Best of luck with your project.

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  82. Nearly didn't post today--I'm just feeling so...frustrated right now--with my writing (and lack thereof). Anyway, another bit from my WIP. I'm really torn and thinking I might need to tell this story from 2 different characters POV. Thanks for reading it and I appreciate any feedback.




    The near constant worry that I mostly manage to keep pushed to the back of my mind tugs at me now making it harder to breathe. Sometimes the weight of it is just so heavy that I can’t hardly bear it; breathing through the worry. And now, despite beauty of this beautiful spring day I am suddenly left low and worn and weary.

    It happens just like that. One second you’re whistling a happy tune feeling just fine and the next you’re looking at the unsmiling face of a mean old man filled to the gills with cheap gin and bitter frustration.

    When you live with a drunk, and when that drunk is your daddy, you learn a second language. A language without any words. A language of signals that give clues to the madness around you. Clues to what level that madness has descended at any given time. If you’re one of the lucky ones, this keeps you safe; mostly. If you’re one of the lucky ones.

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  83. Whoa. You’re leaving me very curious about the mysterious dark-haired boy that seemed to cause your narrator to have a serious panic attack—flooded with a memory that seems very frightening somehow, traumatic. Who is he! And why is she so struck by the memory of him? The reaction is so sudden, so from out of nowhere, that it’s a very sit-up-and-pay-attention moment. Suspenseful!

    I think you could work to make that feeling of panic as the memory overcomes your narrator even stronger than it is by taking a look at the language in the third paragraph especially—sometimes it feels wordy, repeating things or using extra-long phrases. You could try editing it down a tad and cutting any unnecessary words there—you may find that it brings you even closer to that heart-pounding moment you’re seeking.

    Of course I would keep reading. I need to know who that dark-haired boy is and what the buried memory might be!

    Thank you for sharing this taste with us, Micki!

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  84. My favorite part about this poem is the end, that great last line you have here: “Is it true this book is free?” It’s something we here take for granted so often, that libraries let you take home and borrow books for free, that to see it through these fresh eyes of someone who is new, who doesn’t know... well, it holds so much power. I really love that.

    I’m not sure though about the line playing off this narrator’s possible accent (is “want me to find a book” wrong grammatically on purpose, or just a mistake?), and also the use of liiiiiberrrrian. I honestly don’t know if any of that is needed. It’s clear this is told from the POV of someone not from this country, and that comes through wonderfully in the idea and in I cannot choose / I cannot afford / I cannot. And again, the beauty of the way this ends. You have it all there and it’s working.

    Thank you for sharing this, Mitchell!

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  85. The third paragraph here is where all the magic is for me! I mean, man, what a line: “When you live with a drunk, and when that drunk is your daddy, you learn a second language.” (That would be a great opening line to the scene or chapter, by the way.) We get so deep in there with us, feeling what your narrator is feeling and what it’s like to live with this father, and also getting a great sense of voice. The repetition at the end of this paragraph works so well for me... There’s a sadness I sense from it, but not just that. There’s also so much resentment, so much anger. I get so much from this paragraph, as you can probably tell!

    What works less well for me is the first paragraph here—maybe it’s too distant, too generic, even. It’s about being hard to breathe, which could be about anything from any character’s perspective. This could belong to anybody. There aren’t enough specifics to hang on to there... but oh wow it’s when you work those in (filled to the gills with cheap gin and frustration, for example) that this really shines. I would suggest writing toward THOSE moments. They hold such power.

    I hope this is helpful, Sonja, and I wish you all the best with your novel, however many POVs you decide to include!

    p.s. Sorry to hear you’re frustrated! I hope you have a better day tomorrow.

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  86. Hello, everyone! I think I got all the excerpts that I were posted here during the day Friday and up to 10pm (Gae, if I missed any, please tell me!), and it was such a pleasure to get a peek at your writing.


    Thank you, too, for the feedback on my own excerpt! Mine is from a novel I shelved that I’m not sure what to do with... and maybe this feedback will push me to do something...


    I’m wishing everyone the best of luck with their novels... and have fun with Teachers Write this summer. You are in wonderful hands! I’m on book deadline, so I’ll be stepping away to write tomorrow/Saturday and I don't think I'll have a chance to check in, but it was great to spend the day here today. Signing off, and thank you again for having me, Gae!



    If anyone wants to find me, I'm on Twitter at @novaren!

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  87. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I appreciate your feedback and your good thoughts!

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  88. Nova,
    Thank you so much for the feedback. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your words, and I agree that there is some adjusting with the charcterization of "superior athlete". I treasure the direction you offered, and especially your generosity in offering it.

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  89. What's funny, Micki, is that before I even read Nova's comment, I had copied this para with my cursor:

    A moment later, a flash of memory causes my chest to tighten and I find it difficult to breathe. As my pulse picks up speed, I feel light headed as I feel a light breeze flow over my skin causing the prickly sensation of goose bumps. Thankfully, there is a bench directly behind me and I stumble backwards to sit down.

    What comes to mind if this makes any sense is that it feels self conscious rather than authentic... the description is almost too careful so that we read it rather than feel it... start playing with it like this:

    A memory flashes through my head and my chest tightens making it hard to breathe. I get light headed and clammy, and the breeze that kicks up makes goose bumps prickle on my skin.I stumble backwards saved by a bench from tumbling to the ground...



    notice the active vs passive... this isn't right or perfect either but it's about the sort of stilted words "causes" vs. it directly happening.


    When you do that, the essence of this very intriguing scene will shine!

    Keep going. My first mss took 5 years, so you're good! ;)

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  90. I agree with every word Nova types. And, Greg, could you be a nicer guy? Keep going. I can feel the real emotion behind this piece/story(?) you are writing.

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  91. Meghann, first, Welcome to Friday Feedback!!! :D Second, I can't really do better than Nova has done... I agree that you do an amazing job of not only describing the dress, but making me wish I could see it, feel it, smell the dried flowers... just LOVE the details... and the tiny queen. So, yes, play with what Nova suggests, and keep going!

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  92. Thank you, Nova!! good luck with deadline.

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  93. Thank you both for your feedback. It was spot on and such an improvement. Also, I'm gonna hire you as my editor some day, Gae.

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  94. Greg-

    I love how you are giving us Everett's struggle to figure out who he is without football. Although I agree with the Nova's critique about the wording on 'superior' - I think that the attitude behind the wording is really insightful to Everett's inner conflict.


    Your dialogue is terrific, it feels authentic and relaxed.


    I'm looking forward to more. I want to know who Everett finds within.

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  95. Kristina PaustianJuly 19, 2014 at 4:22 AM

    Thanks Gae for the edit. I see those little glitches now that you point them out. I never would have noticed! I appreciate your help.

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  96. Kristina PaustianJuly 19, 2014 at 4:23 AM

    My daughter, also a writer, has been telling me the same thing about my dialogue writing. She appreciates your comments! Thanks for your helpful and kind words.

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  97. Kristina PaustianJuly 19, 2014 at 4:24 AM

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Wendy. I appreciate your feedback.

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  98. Nova-
    I am so hopeful that I will get to read what happens in your excerpted novel. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

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  99. Thanks Gae! Always glad to know if I'm making an emotional connection through the writing.

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  100. Hi Greg, The pieces you've shared from this story have been wonderful! You have a character with depth here. I love the last paragraph. I can identify with the excitement of finally being seen and recognized as "me". I remember that from high school. It rings true.

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  101. Nova,

    I am late to the party because I have been at a training all week. I hope you will still be checking in today. I am definitely wowed by your excerpt. That is a crazy thing! I have a suggestion to take out the sentence, "It’s a coincidence, I decide, that the wind comes right then. But is it?" Just let the wind come. Of course you may have a reason for that sentence that I don't know about.

    I am posting a scene in which my character thinks she sees a ghost, but is it?

    Harmony looks up to me, releases my hand, and kneels right
    down on the hard wood floor in the middle of the aisle. She doesn’t use a kneeler. I wonder if she’s ever even been in a church. Her wet t-shirt drips on the floor forming a
    puddle around her. She holds her hands
    together and bows her head.

    “I never been in a church before. Where’s God?” Harmony asks lifting her eyes
    up and looking around.

    “He’s up there,” I say pointing toward the altar and the
    large hanging crucifix.

    “Is he dead?”

    “Well, yes, that’s Jesus dead on the cross, but God is alive
    in our hearts.”

    “So he’s in here?” Harmony points to her chest.

    “And here too,” I say.

    I look up to see the nun draped in black walking in front of
    the altar. She stops and acknowledges
    the cross with a kneeling bow.

    I clutch Harmony’s shirt.
    “You see her?”

    “See who?” Harmony’s
    voice echoes in the small chapel.

    “Up there, kneeling at the altar.” I point and as I do, the nun is no longer
    there. Did she disappear into thin
    air? Is she really just a ghost? I lean down to help Harmony up and turn to
    leave.

    “Let’s
    go. I’m getting cold,” I say. What is causing the chill on my spine is more
    than the drying rain. I am scared. Why do I see the nun and Harmony
    doesn’t? Did she know we were
    there? Momma told me the nuns left years
    ago when the school closed. So why is
    this nun still here? And why doesn’t she
    speak?

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  102. I love that last line too, Linda, and echo Nova's positives! I'm intrigued by the rest and have some of the same questions as Nova did. Keep going.

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  103. Sonja/Nova, what is so amazing and sometimes so relieving and good about this is, before I read Nova's comment, I once again had the same reaction. I got to that third paragraph and was like, ahhhh, here's where Sonja's (painful) magic is happening. It may be the case that you just need to keep "writing into" this thing... don't go back and try to fix. Write forward. It may take you the writing through the stilted, forced stuff to get to the more organic magic. I know that happens to me. And it seems like you are well headed there. So keep going!

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  104. Sorry to say, Margaret, i think you missed t.he Nova window... i do tell my guest authors they don't have to be here past Friday. It's really a whole entire day's commitment on Friday, especially early in the summer, so...

    at any rate, as always, your excerpt is beautifully written and intriguing. You do such a nice job creating this scene and the feeling behind it. Great work.

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  105. Thank you for taking the time to offer specific feedback. Your words are always uplifting and helpful. I'm glad to see my characters connect with discerning readers such as yourself. It helps me feel I am on the right track!

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  106. Terry,
    I am so grateful for the feedback. When I write, I try to remember to "shout my words to the wind, regardless if anyone is listening". Yet the input of others is helpful, especially when authors and teachers are offering insightful critiques and positive support. The entire #TeachersWrite experience has been an overwhelming blessing, and I'm trying hard to soak it all in - the ideas; the relationships being built; and the techniques for helping the kids identify their own writing voice and finding the courage to share it with the world. I couldn't ever adequately compensate Kate, Gae, Jo, Jen, all their guest authors, and all the teachers offering commentary for the blessings they have given the rest of us.

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  107. Nova,
    In all my excitement to share my response to your challenge, I didn't take time to respond to your excerpt.
    First, I love the visual of an "unbuttoned thought". It was tantalizing, and slowly revealed in layers throughout your piece. I am grateful that many of my own thoughts remain hidden, because sometimes crazy things seep into my brain. (No, I don't dwell on them or act on them, so no need to alert the authorities.)
    Your character seems to intuit that her darker thoughts have the power to be executed, and she is growing to relish this ability. I'm hooked, as long as I don't have to come into any direct contact with her.

    Thank you for the vulnerability to share with us, and to ask for our feedback. You rock!

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  108. Just a little insert here - I think it is awesome when you fawn over some of the writing on TW. Hopefully we are all cheering each other on, and I know I am blown away by the quality of writing I see by my educational peers. I'm even more taken aback by their courage to share their voice publicly, knowing that it petrifies so many of us to bare our souls through our writing.

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  109. Jen,
    First off, I love this piece. As a guy, it invites me into the world of a female's viewpoint. In reality, married for 23 years, and a father of two girls, I confess to still not understanding that world. But at least I know that I don't know. And that helps me accept whatever comes my way.
    So next I hope to understnd why she pushed away. Because I'm as lost as Julian, wondering why she is leaving when she seemed to respond positivley to the embrace.
    Your writing, in just a few short lines, has totally captured me. (Would a free slurpee suffice for you to share more of your story?) ;)

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  110. Terry,

    I totally didn't see this coming! From flying goat poop to baby spiders emerging en masse...yikers! This is fun, and yet I so hope the delightful Mrs. O'Reilly recovers, both for her sake and for her kiddos! I. Want. More. =)

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  111. Greg-
    Thank you so much. I was just muttering to myself, "Comparison is the thief of joy." You lose sight of your own writing gifts sometimes, and feedback is so incredibly encouraging and helpful. I agree a million times that I can't thank all our mentors and teachers on Teachers Write nearly enough.


    I was invited to join another kid lit online summer workshop, and I'm finding myself intimidated simply by the quantity of other people and how many other people they know. I had no idea crowds would intimidate in online as well as in real life.


    I'm grateful that this group isn't overwhelmingly large. I am starting to follow everyone's projects and now I feel invested in their stories too.

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