I've now been in classes for three days, and so far it's going fantastic! I'm exhausted, of course, but I feel really good.
Today's Wordy Wednesday is going to be a bit different. I'll be sharing part of my recent YA contemporary project, WHAT IT TAKES TO DEAL. I'm going to post part of the first chapter as a before (from the first draft) and then as an after (the current edit). This way, I can demonstrate my editing process while also showing you some of my writing. Hope you enjoy it!
Keep in mind that this is still in the editing process, so it's totes not a final draft, at all.
“Mom!” I bellowed, sticking my head out my cracked bedroom door. The cracks were a lá little brother Jakkob. I’d only managed to cover up parts of them with posters of my favorite music group, Evanescence. The rest of the cracks, unfortunately, you could see perfectly well.
Yeah, don’t ask me why my parents decided to have another kid twelve and a half years after me. It wasn’t my idea, trust me.
Anyway, I stuck my head out the door, and looked around. My mom was no where near the hallway where my and Jakkob’s room sat. She didn’t seem to have heard me either.
“Mom!” I screamed.
“What, Suzanne?” she shouted back.
“Where are my skinny jeans?”
My mom was in the kitchen. I could tell by the direction her voice was coming from, just off the bedroom hall. Now that I was listening, I could also hear Jakkob, babbling some nonsense at her while she tried to make him breakfast.
“I put them in your dresser!” Mom called.
“No,” I scoffed. “Not those skinny jeans. I mean the black skinny jeans.”
“Oh,” Mom said. “They’re in the dryer with the darks load. I meant to take them out earlier, but I forgot.”
I sighed heavily. “Can I have them, please?”
“Sure. Just let me… give Jakkob his… juice… ungh.” The sound of Mom shoving Jacob into the high chair he was now getting much too big for echoed down the hall. “OK. Just a second.”
Her footsteps moved away, deeper into the kitchen, and then came back.
“Thanks,” I muttered as I took the jeans from my mom. Stripping out of my sweatpants and tank top, I got into the jeans, put on my favorite black shirt and (non-heeled) boots, and went to do my makeup in the bathroom. Mom wouldn’t let me anything makeup wise besides mascara and lip gloss. So I’d gotten the darkest, fullest mascara I could and the reddest lipgloss that didn’t make me look clownish. Mom didn’t like it, but she couldn’t protest her own rules.
After washing up and putting the makeup on, ignoring Jakkob babbling in the next room, I brushed my hair. It didn’t need anything else. My hair, stick straight and chocolate brown, was kept at about chin length. I hated it longer. It looked too girly that way.
Now prepared, I slung my messenger bag over my shoulder and slumped out to the breakfast table.
“Your bus comes in five minutes!” Mom said, as she removed Jakkob from the table. He squirmed, mashing Cheerios all over her face.
“I know,” I said, shoveling Lucky Charms in my mouth. I took a swig of orange juice, grabbed the banana from next to my plate, and walked out into the still-warm September air.
The walk to the stop wasn’t far, and it didn’t take long for the bus to show up. I ignored the dorky sixth grade dude from down the street and got on before he could make a move forward, noting that the other eighth grader down the street, Kelly, hadn’t shown. There was a cold going around.
I spent the ten minute bus ride listening to my iPod. Evanescence, Linkin Park, and 3 Doors Down were the soundtrack for my morning, this particular time anyway. I owned a huge amount of music, most of it along those lines, so I listened to different stuff every day. Of course, Evanescence was unavoidable.
I dismounted the bus at the school, walking out into the teenager-tainted air.
Ah. The sweet smell of success.
The building was ancient, probably thirty years old, and squat, an ugly blight on the surface of the man-carved land. I’d considered this school huge when I’d first started at the junior high, but now, partway into my eighth grade year, it looked cramped.
Charlotte and Micah, my two best friends, were waiting for me in our corner near the main entrance. When I approached, they both looked up, and their eyes lit.
“Suzanne!” Charlotte cried in her high, melodious voice. Charlotte was the epitome of innocence, with curly white-blond hair, slight baby fat, and searing blue eyes. No one could understand how we were friends. Charlotte believed in things like happiness and love. She wore dresses half the time. And I… well, you’ve probably gotten the picture. Still, Charlotte and I were closer than close. We’d been friends since junior high began for us both. I don’t know how it worked. My guess is we balanced each other out enough that we began feeling like two halves of a whole as soon as we met.
Micah flashed white teeth at me as I settled into my spot. Micah was, for lack of a better word, a nerd. He had black hair overgrown in the typical boy way, thin rectangular glasses, and syrupy brown eyes.. He would have been hot if he wasn’t so obsessed with computers. I was kinda glad he wasn’t normal enough to be hot. I couldn’t hang out with normal people. They made me want to barf.
“Did you finish the Pre-Algebra work last night? Charlotte pleaded with wide eyes. Micah let out a low laugh. He was already in Algebra, and acing it, of course.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I couldn’t figure out number 26.”
“The one with…” Charlotte made a frantic and vaguely illuminating gesture in the air.
“Yeah,” I guessed.
“Me either!” she cried.
“Let me see,” Micah groaned, guessing the inevitable outcome. He held his hand out, and Charlotte slapped her fat notebook into it.
“So,” Micah began, letting Charlotte scoot closer to him to see the page, “what you have to do is get this x by itself.”
“Not the y?”
“You could do y, but it’d be harder. See, to isolate x…”
Micah’s voice faded into the background, a calming drone, and I looked away, watching the others go by us. I felt a vague contempt for the majority of the other kids here - again, my aversion to normalcy. But there was one exception, and he was walking up to the just (finally) unlocked front door.
Nicholas Lewis was the ultimate of human existence. He was good-looking, with brown hair perfectly unkempt, pale green eyes, and a muscled stature. He was smart, the only popular kid in mostly Advanced classes, like Algebra. He was honest, and kind, and charismatic. He would seem to be the example of everything I hated, right? But he wasn’t normal. He was perfect.
As he joined the group now flooding inside, he cast grins, waves, and high-fives in every direction. A faint, uncontrolled smile crossed my lips. Then I was brought back to myself by the sound of Micah rising to his feet.
“Ready for it?”
“Oh,” I said, looking up. “Yeah.”
So after this lovely first draft, I did a number of edits, mostly deleting unnecessary content. Then, I decided to do a revamp of the novel, changing it from the weird contemporary/sci-fi/thriller mix I'd started with into contemporary.
That meant I needed to change the entire first scene, because it had been set up as an intro to the sci-fi/thriller sector of the book, which was now unnecessary. This was a hard process. I had to cut a lot of character and situational intro, which worried me, but it's important to share information as you go along, and not just dump it at the beginning.I also had (and still have) some concerns about making Suzanne's voice clear and relatable. Then I aged her up a year to boot!
But I've developed an intro that I think is pretty good.
The front doors of Arbor High swung open and my two best friends, Charlotte and Micah, walked out. They were talking to each other, leaned in so they could hear over the crowd. On sight, they were different from everyone else: Charlotte with her white-blond hair, blue eyes, and baby fat skipping along in a frilly lavender dress and Micah with his nerd-chic look, dark hair, and melty brown eyes, laptop tucked under his arm. The others gave them that automatic wide berth you see around people who don’t fit in.
Reverting from my usual scowl into a welcoming smile, I pulled my iPod earbuds out. Evanescence’s powerful tones turned tinny I pressed pause, my gaze steady on my friends. This, the way they stood out, was the reason I liked them. In a world full of ordinary, boring people, I chose to hang out with the weird ones. They were the ones who would actually make a difference in this crappy, one-size-fits-all, everything-is-standardized world someday.
You couldn’t fake that spark. I had it too, so I would know.
Charlotte and Micah came into earshot, discussing World War I. Charlotte had been having some trouble in history, so Micah was undoubtedly using his genius brain to try and explain things to her. I’d never met anyone else as ridiculously smart as he was.
“What took you so long?” I asked. “Did Ms. Dubai hold you back, Charlotte?”
Charlotte flushed, pretty pink all over. “Yes,” she said defensively. “I’m really struggling.”
“Yeah, I know.” I sighed. “You, Micah?”
“Extra credit for robotics.” He flapped an impatient hand at me. “Never mind that, I’m trying to explain this to Charlotte. We’ll get back to you in a second.”
I huffed, but turned away as they continued to discuss how, exactly, all these countries had decided war was the answer to their petty problems. A second later, I felt an instinctual twinge in my chest right before recognizing one of the figures sauntering by me through the crowd – Nicholas Lewis.
Flawlessly unkempt brown hair, pale green eyes, and great muscles only framed the beauty that was Nicholas. He was smart too, the only popular kid in mostly Advanced classes, as well as totally charismatic and straitlaced. From that description, most people would think him a stereotypical All-American Guy, but he had more to him. He, like me, was one of the few with real potential.
Hand on my hip, I turned back to my friends. “Are you done yet? Mom’ll be here to pick me up any minute.”
Charlotte and Micah looked at me. The latter gave a heavy sigh.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’re done.”
“I’ll text you later with any questions, Micah.” Charlotte shot a quick, apologetic glance in my direction. I just shook my head. Schoolwork was schoolwork, no avoiding that. “It’s all starting to make sense now! Thank you so much.”
“Yeah,” Micah repeated, more happily.
Charlotte faced me head-on. “You said at lunch you wanted to show us something.”
“Mmm-hmm.” I bent down to pull my notebook out of my black messenger bag. “It’s a new song. I wrote it a few weeks ago. Dad and I have been working on the guitar bits and I’ve been cleaning up the lyrics since then. I figured maybe I was ready to show you.”
I also didn’t show it to anybody. But then, my friends weren’t just anybody; that was the point of my being friends with them.
“So?” Micah held out a hand.
I bit my lip, then said all in a rush, “It’s not amazing, okay? I’m still working on it and it’s a little silly because it’s about, you know, him, but I thought maybe—“
“It’s fine.” Micah sighed.
Micah had patience for no one and nothing.
So I opened the notebook to the right page and handed it to him. Charlotte leaned over his shoulder and I watched as they read the lyrics to themselves.
I can’t describe the way you are.
I’m wordless when you come aro-ound me.
The whole world knows what you are,
That you’re stronger than reality.
You are shining,
A light inside the darkness of the world.
You are shining,
A sun with warmth that makes me co-ome to life.
There is no one else like you
With the power to make me see
You are shining
Shining bright enough to sa-a-ave me.
It went on like that for another verse, a bridge, and conclusion—standard song format. I had the guitar cues written at the bottom of the page where I’d worked them all out. I bit into my lip as my friends looked it over. Anxiety crunched my chest in its meaty hand.
“Not bad,” Micah finally said. A burst of relieved air escaped from my lungs, but he wasn’t done. “You’ve got some decent metaphorical resonance. It’s pretty surface, of course, but what can you do. Love songs are like that.”
He shrugged and I flushed, undecided on whether I should be angry, hurt, or what. I wanted my music to be meaningful.
“I love it,” Charlotte gushed. She moved back around to face me, her face glowing and one little hand resting on her chest. “It’s so romantic. I bet Nicholas would fall right in love with you if he heard it!”
Blushing, but appropriately sated by Charlotte’s silly praise, I snatched the notebook back from Micah. “Yeah, well.”
At that moment, a familiar gold minivan pulled up to the curb a couple of yards out. Mom waved at me through the window. I sighed and put my notebook back in my bag.
“Off to the Clinic,” I said to my friends. “See you tomorrow.”
“Bye,” they said, and I tromped through the weaving hoard of people up to the car.
Normally I’d be taking the bus home, safely tucked into the seat by myself with my iPod full of alt rock, but today my baby brother Jacob had an appointment at the Children’s Clinic—just some usual check-up. The high school was on the way to the Clinic from our house, so Mom had decided to pick me up.
Jacob babbled some nonsense at me as Mom raised her eyebrows. I focused on him instead of her as I swung into my seat, but I didn’t miss it when Mom glanced over my outfit. Her lips thinned. I was definitely about to get a lecture. I almost had this morning, but she’d been too busy with Jacob to stop me on my way to the bus.
I was wearing the only skirt I owned today, which really should have made her happy, seeing how much she wanted me to go for stupid girly things, but it was still too hardcore for her sensibilities: red, knee-length, with dark pleats all across it. I’d combined it with an artfully ripped black shirt, mesh finger gloves, and chains. Exactly my style. Exactly what she hated.
Steeling myself for the lecture, I shoved my bag under my seat.
Images via posterparty.com and lauriekutilportraits.com.