Monday, November 5, 2012

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Merlin

Name: Ki-Wing Merlin
Genre: Middle Grade Mystery
Title: Weaving a Net Is Better than Praying for Fish at the Edge of the Water

Reena likes Tony Arias, so I’m keeping an eye on him.

“Sure, I can tail him!” I said when she asked me after school. Then I
jumped up, zipped my jacket and flipped its hood over my head. Behind
us, the metal double doors of our school banged open and another wave
of kids poured into the yard. Crouching low on one leg and splaying
the other, I grinned at Reena and raised a finger to my lips.

But she shrieked, “No!” and waved her hands in front of her face. “Get
up! Come on, Allie. You know that’s not what I mean.”

“Allen,” I corrected and stood slowly. I was about to fall anyway.

She rolled her eyes. “We’re too old to be acting like tomboys.” Reena
doesn’t usually count herself with me as a tomboy, so that was
generous of her actually.

But I insisted, “It’s my name.”

Still I smiled and sat down beside her on the brick wall. A sneaker
flew overhead and into an oak. Leaves shook down, mixing with those
kicked up by the skateboarders below. And Reena and I leaned into each
other, a kind of sideways hug. This was going to be the best year. I
was in a new school finally, and my best friend was here with me.

“Anyway, just watch Tony, okay?” she said. “I heard he takes the 17
bus. That’s your bus, right? Be sub- I mean, act normal.”

So I'm on a crowded Darlington City bus, riding home from school on
the first day of seventh grade. I’m squished in a row halfway to the
back, just in front of Tony and beside a ponytailed girl who can’t
stop bouncing. I’m squished because Ponytail’s supersized backpack
takes up most of her orange plastic seat and half of mine too. There’s
a faint sour smell, like maybe the baby screaming on his mother’s lap
across the aisle needs changing.

Still I’ve got a big grin on. Sure I climbed onto the bus and stole
straight to a window. I always do that. But Ponytail plopped down next
to me, and between when I peeked at the space in front of our seats
and started panicking that I was too late and wouldn’t fit anyway, I
remembered. I don’t need to hide. I’m supposed to be on this bus.

So now I’m grinning something silly.

“I’m Kate!” she shouts over the hubbub. Meanwhile she squashes down
her backpack and scoots closer. “Isn’t Booker T. even better than you
imagined?” Her long ponytail swings and whacks me square across the

Tony bursts into a laugh behind us. Kate gasps and turns, and her
ponytail smacks him too. Rubbing my eyes, I crack up. I double over,
grasping my sides, and I’m not even a little bit invisible. Kate’s
cheeks flush.

“I’m Allen,” I say and push back my bangs. Goodbye invisibility.

Then Tony juts his chin out at us and asks, “Why’d you come to Booker
T.?” and I know he doesn’t just mean are we brainy enough.

“Escape,” I blurt. “I got tired of lying.” I rush to get it all out.

My family moved to Darlington two years ago. It turned out our
neighborhood school wasn’t very good. I ended up registered at another
school with the address of a family friend. I’ve been lying about
addresses and hiding on buses since then. I didn’t care that Booker T.
was for smarty-pants.

I tell all that in one breath before I can chicken out. My fingers
itch to pull my hood over my head and I jam them under my legs. Kate
stares at me and chews her lower lip, but she’s nodding too. Really
she looks about to grab both my shoulders and lunge in for a hug, but
her backpack has crept by up and is in the way.

Tony’s eyes twinkle. “Sounds rough.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Would you believe how many times you have to give your
address in school?”

He starts rattling off the forms we filled out just today in orientation.

“And not just forms.” I shudder at the memory. “Did you have that map
unit last year in your schools?”

“Yes!” He leans forward. “Oh man, you had to do that for your fake address?”

“Yup. Draw a map from school to this house I’d never been in, count
the traffic lights and stops signs along the way, diagram the
alternate routes, sketch the important buildings….” I go on, listing
the tortures. Is telling this actually sort of… fun? “Did that unit
last forever?”

Kate’s eyes go wide. “So what did you do?”

“Well, I got pretty good at lying.” I grin. “But I don’t need to
anymore, right? Booker T.’s citywide!”

They laugh with me, and now I’m imagining other new experiences:
running to each others’ homes after dinner, hanging out on each
others’ front steps. Kate grabs my hand and squeezes it. I hesitate,
then squeeze back. We’re beaming, and she squeals, “This is going to
be the best year! I’m so excited!”

And that’s how I feel. My big secret is gone. This is going to be the
best year. No more hiding.

Thirty minutes later, I’m hiding. I’m hiding behind the dumpster at my
uncle’s store. My hands cover my face while Tony peers out looking for
the robed thief.


  1. Hi Ki-Wing,

    Nice writing! You've got a great mixture of action, dialogue, and narrative. Your words are descriptive and help me picture the scenes.

    I'm curious about something - is Reena new to this school also? Did they know each other before this school?

    You make a bit of a leap from the bus to hiding behind the dumpster. You lost me there. You may tie it together on page 6 so I'd read on to figure out the next scene.

    Good luck and happy writing!

  2. Hi Ki-Wing,

    I got such a feel for your protagonist in just the first couple paragraphs - and she is completely unique which is wonderful.

    While I understand the concept of the school opening its doors to be city-wide, I haven't gotten a real feel for the setting. Is this a big city? Small town? I was expecting clues in the "map assignment" part of the conversation but didn't quite get it.

    Great job jumping into the mystery so soon, it definitely has me hooked - however, I felt a little jostled to go from the school to the Uncle's shop so quickly. Is there a way I could get a hint that this shop is in existence and central to the character?

    I get such a sense of excitement and promise of a new start reading this. I feel like its a testament to your ability to write a strong voice.


  3. Hello!

    So first of all, you have developed a really interesting, engaging voice for Allen. But particularly in the first few paragraphs (which editors, agents, etc will really harp on), I was confused a few times:

    1. Allen doesn't initially come off as a girl; or rather, there's a lot of is she? isn't she? that just becomes distracting.
    2. Reena does not actually seem to LIKE Allen all that much.
    3. I don't understand the school-switching system that she has to lie about.

    I think you have to decide if Allen is someone who is hiding or a ham. With Reena (and most of the time) she sounds/acts/thinks like a loud, ostentatious young girl, but then she talks about having to hide and lie and these two ideas are directly at odds with each other. And I find the girl who has to hide so interesting--immediate internal conflict.

    Refining that strong voice even further is going to give you a very, very strong novel.

    Great start!

  4. Your writing is nice, it doesn't stand out and jump up and down, it hides behind the story which is a good thing. However, I am confused. I feel like you are jumping around too much. Is the bus a flashback? She's with Rena, then it's her first day on the bus but she's not with Rena... Can you make it linear? Maybe start on the bus because that's what really caught my attention. Then transition to the store smoother. I get what you're doing with the "hiding" thing, but it's too drastic. Can't wait to see the revision!

  5. Hi!
    I too was confused about how Allen/Allie knew Rena since she was to be new at this school. I really was drawn in by the characters until the hiding behind the dumpster part. I think there is probably more to the story that continues onto the next page, but maybe it can be included somewhere in the first five or saved for later on.
    I can't wait to read your revision!

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  7. hi! I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read and give me things to think about!

    For the revision, I'll focus on the tension between Allen's inherent enthusiasm and her past of having to hide. It's important to the story and important that I get it right (rather than confusing). (AC, this is the kind of address situation she had been in: )

    AC also pointed out that Reena didn't seem to like her. (thanks for noticing) Yes, the break in that relationship is important in the story too. It's the reason I open with the Reena scene, though it's short... so ends up feeling choppy, as Lisa noticed, because we jump to the bus so quickly? *sigh*. Let me think on this... right now, I want to stick with opening with Reena-Allen relationship. Maybe if I include at least a mention of Reena in the bus-scene (which chronologically follows the Reena scene; both are at the end of first day of 7th grade).

    Several of you mentioned the jump to the store and it causing confusion. I hear that.

    Again, thank you.

  8. Hi Ki-Wing,

    I really like Allen's voice and her character in the first few paragraphs. She's engaging, audacious, and intereting. I also like the sense of mystery you are building, but I agree with the others that it's a bit confusing as is. I've got a couple of points I'll get to in a minute, but I wanted to chime in on the Allen/Reena relationship. To me, that was part of what made the opening engaging--the sense that there was tension between them. We've all been in those kind of friendships, haven't we? Especially if they have recently moved to a new school and the two of them are all they have, but Reena is a bit more of a "fit-in" than Allen. That's a really fascinating premise for me, so if that's where you are going, I wonder if you can solve the problem by mentioning that Allen is aware of the problem? That she is glad to be able to do something for Reena? And that might make it clearer why she is so happy to have Kate be friendly? Maybe I'm misreading the direction of your character arc and your story, but I'm going to suggest that you might not need to change that aspect of the story all that much.

    Ultimately, that leads to my biggest problem with the story. I had a bit of an issue trying to decide where to focus my attention. The hiding issue is a great example. As a writer, I can delight in the way you'e used it as a bridge to link the three scenes. I can definitely see this running as a theme through the novel, and I see it in her character arc--but I agree that the character and the start of your arc don't match. In making her so engaging, you've developed a character who isn't used to hiding. You could make that work for you though--again, it depends on where you're going. Sometimes, and this is part of my new favorite word thanks to last night's #yalitchat -- I personally can be so full of awkwardsauce due to feeling out of my element that I become more audacious/obnoxious to compensate. If Allen is reveling in *not hiding* then you could make it all work.

    Overall, I don't see any of this as a problem with the structure. These may be minor tweaks that can be solved by starting of letting us know what Allen wants. What is her problem? What is her hidden need? Give us more of those internals. You've given her an immediate goal and that's great. She's a character who goes after what she wants, that's also great. Now just help us understand it a little better. Slow things down a bit, clue us in, and let us enjoy the ride that wonderful voice is taking us on!

    Can't wait to see where you go with this!



  9. I love your first sentence. Immediately establishes strong relationship dynamic without being too overt.

    It's a little disconcerting that it goes from present tense (first line) from past tense and then to present tense again. I'd consider cutting the semi-flashback with Reena and jumping straight to the bus.

    Great imagery with the bus and the backpacks, but I did wonder why they took a public bus home from school (I assume it was public because of the baby and the mother) rather than a regular school bus.

    I don't think you need to say "So I've got a big grin on" as well as "So now I'm grinning something silly." The conversation between the MC, Kate, and Tony seems a little unrealistic - I feel like the MC wouldn't jump to tell strangers about the lying-about-addresses thing, so it comes off as a device to give information to the reader.

    You've definitely built up a strong and interesting voice for your character. Good job!

    Sidenote - I'm so sorry for posting late. My home internet's been on the fritz ever since the hurricane, and apparently it ate my posts earlier.