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Excerpt from "Donuts, Ice-Skating, and a Whole Lot of Jesus"

Sunlight blazed into my room. For being halfway through the winter months, it sure was still very sunny. With the ice covering everything from sidewalks to lamposts, the rays would reflect off of the shiny surfaces too, creating a blinding golden light. A yawn erupted from my chest, and I stretched my wool pajama-clad arms above my head. Unlike many people, I was a morning person. Waking up with the sunrise just felt right. Once awake, I normally read a chapter of the Bible on my chaise, or part of my devotional. Today, however, I felt too stressed to do much of anything. A giant Algebra test was coming, which I had completely dismissed from my brain during the weekend. That meant that I hadn't studied - at all. I quickly sent up a flare-prayer - what I called a fast yet meaningful and super-important prayer - asking for guidance during this day. That, and to help me be able to better deal with my family. Things weren't going the best. Yes, yesterday morning had been my fault, and my father had actually been pretty nice to me in the afternoon, but the evening? Pure torture. It hurt me to see my parents not doing anything to praise the Lord on a Sunday.
Washing my face and hair took only a few minutes. Some of my friends had an hour-long routine that they completed each day before they left for school - showering, blow-drying their hair, finding the perfect outfit, and then, of course, makeup. I, on the other hand, simply ran a wet comb down my locks and scrubbed my face and teeth clean. Clothes? I didn't care much about fashion. Ducking into my roomy walk-in closet, I selected a pair of comfy jeans and a giant sweater. Fuzzy Ugg boots would finish off the cozy, wintery look - and leave me nice and toasty all day.
My hair hung in soft waves from the braid that I always slept in. It was practically out of habit that I braided my hair each night - my hands working quickly behind my head as I hit the pillow. Now that it was wet and style-a-ble, I twisted a front section behind my ear and into a fluffy French Twist. I pinned it in place and dashed out the door, hurrying towards the kitchen. My mother, being the way that she is, had already prepared a nice, warm bowl of oatmeal for me. Most kids my age absolutely detest oatmeal. Me? I really enjoy it. The boxed stuff I can't stand - it tastes like old, wet cardboard. My mother's homemade kind, however, was delicious. The soft oatmeal flakes mixed with a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon was pure happiness in a bowl.
The bus was beginning to roll past my house. I shrieked, not having realized the time. Now it was too late. Shoving my feet into my favorite Uggs, I snatched my light blue-and-white striped backpack from the counter where I laid it every night, and scrambled out the French double-doors. My arms waved frantically at the bus, trying to signal the driver to slow down. Eventually he did, giving me a cross look to signify that he wasn't okay with me missing the bus more than once. It's not that I've done it a lot. Well, to be fair, I missed it on Friday…and Monday…and two Thursdays ago I had to walk to school because the bus driver forgot about me. Or, more, I forgot about the bus.
So maybe he did have a right to be upset.
I reached the school without any more big events occuring, thankfully. Laura had saved me a seat on the bus, being her normal sweet self. We had discussed the morning events - of course, she had seen my mad dash to the school bus - who could have missed it? I was sure that Christopher and the rest of my friends who took the bus would never let me forget that one.
Social Studies class, Language Arts class, and Science class went by without any struggle. They were the first three classes that I had to attend. Lunch followed them, allowing me a break in the already-hectic day. Laura and a few of my other friends saved a table for me. They all had brought bagged lunches that day to beat the lunch crowd. I, however, had seemed to missed the memo about bringing a brown bag lunch - and a long line awaited me. I waved to my friends, and nodded towards the line. They understood my signaling, and smiled sympathetically. It seemed especially busy today - or maybe it was just my somewhat-dismal mood. Hopefully I would cheer up soon.
For being so busy and crazy-crowded, the line moved at an incredibly fast speed. In only a few mere minutes, I was standing in front of a glass case filled with three kinds of pasta. Selecting a macaroni and cheese plate, I hurried down the rest of the line. Carrot sticks and a chocolate milk filled the rest of my plate, and a small, mouth-watering brownie finished off the lunch.
“Why weren't you at church last night?” questioned Leah Johnson, one of my other best friends. While the question in itself may have seemed rude, her calm and sweet voice told me otherwise - she was concerned about why I didn't come.
“Oh, didn't Chris tell you?” I asked back. “My parents wouldn't let me come, because I kind of forgot to help out in my dad's donut shop in the morning, and didn't get my Science project done in time. But I'm hoping to come next week - and get my parents to come, too.” All of my friends knew about the struggle that I was going through between myself and my non-Christian parents.
A collective “Ohh” was heard, and I smiled. It was nice that they understood.
Talk of the Algebra test coming up dominated the conversation. Soon, our table was overflowing with more than just Laura, Leah, Stephanie Cross, and me - Christopher and his friends joined us for the last twenty minutes of lunch as well.
“Discussing math, huh?” asked Christopher. The unhappy and disgusted looks on our faces let him know that the conclusion he had come to was very much so correct. I bit down on a carrot stick, crunching loudly.
“I don't quite understand why they make us take midterms,” I spoke. However, due to the mouthful of food, it sounded more like “I downt qwite undewstwand why thawy mawke uws tawke mudtuwms,”, which made everyone burst into laughter. People sitting at tables nearby gave us perplexed glances, but we didn't mind - it wasn't the first time we had been classified as being weird, and it certainly wouldn't be the last!
“Yes, Mackenzie. I wonwew whyw,” mimicked Tom Clancy, Chris's skateboarding friend. I rolled my eyes, but fully enjoyed every second of it. I was so glad to be blessed with amazing friends like these. Ones who could lift me from the worst of moods. Ones who supported me no matter what. Ones who made me feel better about myself, who helped me when I needed help, who…
I then realized that if I was going to continue blubbering inside over what amazing people God had put into my life, I would probably break down crying in front of the whole school. Pulling myself together, I placed a giant grin on my face. This time, though, it was genuine. Unlike before, I was now totally and truly happy.
The last several minutes of lunch flew past, and the screeching bell rang, letting us know that it was time to get to class.
“Where're you headed?” asked Laura, hooking her arm through mine.
“Algebra,” I groaned, holding up my class assignment list for her to see. She laughed, obviously enjoying my discontentment over math. “Gee, thanks,” I added, smiling.
“I'm off to physics,” my brainiac friend explained. She was offered the opportunity to jump ahead a few levels in Science - she was now taking advanced High-School level courses. And Laura was only in 8th grade!
“It's still a mystery to me why you want to do more science,” I joked. Laura grinned, her bright braces flashing.
“Why wouldn't I want to? See ya,” she called over her shoulder, turning to head the other direction.
Our town's Middle School and High School are actually connected, unlike many other middle and high schools. The reason for the connection is most likely because there are a lot of super smart kids here who take advanced courses while they're in middle school. It also gives students who have learning disabilities the ability to jump from HS classes to MS classes whenever they need to.
Sending up a flare prayer, I hurried down the packed corridor to find my Algebra classroom. As usual, the students were there before our teacher. Mr. Hammer always seemed to arrive a bit late - while it worried us at first, it would now worry us if he didn't show up late! Please let this midterm go well, I prayed. My parents would not approve if I received a grade lower than a B on a test - but, to be fair, neither would I. Grades were very important to me, because I wanted to get into a good college when I was older - not simply a community college, but a Christian college. Unfortunately, Christian colleges were very expensive, and I doubted that my parents would help much with the costs if they knew which college I hoped to attend.
Finally, Mr. Hammar appeared in the room. He looked frazzled, with his curly mass of brown hair frizzing to a maximum afro-size, and his glasses askew. Nothing out of the ordinary, though.
“Okay, class. Today is the midterm, as you all should know,” he emphasized. “You will be given exactly one hour and fifteen minutes to complete the entire test. There will be no cheating, no…” he continued on to explain the many rules that our school had about testing. We had all heard them before, of course - the same rules applied from grade school up until high school - or, that is, so I heard from Alexis.
“…And your time begins now!”
Pencils immediately began to scratch on paper. Calculators were whipped out of backpacks, and the scent of erasers filled the room. As always, there was that one person who used a pen, even though Mr. Hammer had strictly prohibited pen usage. That would earn them an instant F - if Mr. Hammer noticed, that is.
Amazingly, the mathematical concepts that I'd learned during the first semester stuck with me. Thank you, God, I prayed, letting out a quiet sigh of relief. However, the second-to-last problem, which was worth almost a fourth of the test grade, had me stumped.
For the very first time, I wondered what would happen if I just snuck a quick peek at the test paper that the student in front of me was working on. After all, Alexis seemed to be the set example as to how I should act. Biting my lip, I pushed the idea back and forth in my head. It wouldn't really be cheating - would it? Who's to say that I didn't just accidently see it? Or maybe…maybe I could use it to double-check my own answer.
“Five more minutes,” came Mr. Hammer's voice.
Taking a deep breath, I leaned forward ever so slightly. By tilting my head just a small degree to the left, I could see past Mark Andrew's shoulder, and view his test paper. After all, everyone was always saying that he was a genius. Maybe it was time for him to share the talent. Surprisingly, after I had found the answer, I didn't feel so bad. Maybe cheating wasn't as bad as it's made to seem, I thought.
“Time's up. Turn your tests over, and pass them to the front.”
I silently turned over my test papers, pondering as to if I had really done the right thing. Oh well, it was too late to change it now. I handed my papers up to the person in front of me - Mark Andrews. Guilt hit me hard. It was then that I realized that I should never have cheated. What had I done?

Critique appreciated!

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100+ posts

Excerpt from "Donuts, Ice-Skating, and a Whole Lot of Jesus"

This is a pretty good start to a story- you've managed to get the setting, characters and conflict down already, which are generally the three main things you need to introduce in a first chapter. You've also given us a pretty unique main character, my only complaints with her would be that she could do with a few more obvious flaws however I haven't seen the full story so I don't know if any might come into play later. The rest of the cast seem ok however I feel like you introduced a few too many characters at once without giving us enough details to differentiate them- this problem, however, is linked to my main critique for the piece.
My main critique would be with the pacing- we quickly skim through the events and get most of the main details just told to us. for example:
A yawn erupted from my chest, and I stretched my wool pajama-clad arms above my head. Unlike many people, I was a morning person. Waking up with the sunrise just felt right. Once awake, I normally read a chapter of the Bible on my chaise, or part of my devotional. Today, however, I felt too stressed to do much of anything. A giant Algebra test was coming, which I had completely dismissed from my brain during the weekend. That meant that I hadn't studied - at all.
While we're given a lot of information about the character, the reader is mostly just told it- the reader will be a lot more engaged if you let them figure these things out for themselves.
This might be a better few sentences:
I yawned, my whole body stretching as the early morning light weaved through my soft woollen pyjamas. Shifting into various positions, I slowly eased myself awake and glanced over to my chaise, looking at the bible perched on top of it-. Not today, I told myself, we've got bigger things to worry about. I dragged my eyes away from the bible and looked at my calendar in the hopes that, somehow, it wasn't today. I pulled myself out of bed;
no amount of staring would change the fact that we had an algebra test today- an algebra test I hadn't studied for. At all.
Do you see how in my re-write of that section we feel more like we're experiencing things with the main character, rather than learning the events from the main character? It engages you into the story more and makes you visualise the characters and events a lot better. Maybe, to start with, you could try applying this specifically in the bus scene, during the lunch conversation and during the cheating part of the exam? Make sure to really describe what's going on in detail, even the little things like what people are eating and when of how things are arranged on a desk- don't get too focused in little details, but remember to immerse the reader in the world you've created.

*Drinks ketchup*
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