Monday, November 12, 2012

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Merlin Rev 1

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. "Ninja-style," I whispered. 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.

"It’s my name," I said. Still I smiled and sat down beside her on the brick wall. A sneaker flew overhead and crashed into the giant oak. Leaves shook down, mixing with those kicked up by the hacky sackers. Reena and I watched and 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!" Ponytail 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 face.

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 invisible. Kate’s cheeks flush.

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

Tony leans into our row, and right away I rack my brain. What would Reena want me to ask? Something about that actor she likes, Cody Lane? No, that’d probably embarrass her. A lot has been embarrassing her lately. Saturday it was my t-shirt. "It’s lime green!" she yelled. "It’s comfortable," I said and shrugged.

Finally I say to Tony, "You’re new to Booker T too, right?"

"Yup, certified smarty-pants." He puffs out his chest like there’s a medal pinned to his polo.

I laugh and Kate starts gushing about the computer labs we toured today. "What’s your favorite part of Booker T?" she asks when she’s done.

"Um, the computers were cool," I say and snap one of my jacket pockets.

Tony’s eyes shoot upwards, but he grins.

That's when I blurt, "Really, I got tired of lying."

Kate turns. "What do you mean?"

My fingers itch to pull my hood over my head and I have to jam them under my legs. But I spill it all.

Telling a long-held secret, it turns out, is like releasing an overfilled balloon you just untied. The opening’s all twisted at first, so the air spurts and the balloon zigs every which way. But eventually, everything settles. There’s a steady hiss and then the balloon lands.

Eventually, I get into a rhythm too.

I tell them how my family moved to Darlington two years ago. How it turned out the school in our neighborhood 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 ever since.

I tell all that in one breath. Kate chews her lower lip. Really she looks about to grab both my shoulders and lunge in for a hug. I lean back, because I’m more of a sideways hug kind of person. Still, it’s sweet.

Tony nods. "Sounds rough."

"Yeah," I say. "You wouldn’t 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.

"Not just forms." I shudder at a 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. "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 I’m already 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.


  1. Hi Ki-Weng,

    I love the revisions. I feel like it was much clearer. I could vividly see each action and the characters were all distinct. The comment about the protag's friend being embarrassed all the time was amazing! So much character development in short paragraph.

    The one thing that held me up was the switch from dialogue to exposition when the protag tells her secret. I like the balloon description a lot, but is it possible the story could come out in dialogue? Just a thought.

    Nice work!

  2. Hi Ki-Weng,

    I also like your revisions. Your balloon metaphor is really good.

    "Hacky sackers" threw me. Is that a term for skateboarders? If so, why not say skateboarders? I wonder if you could use a more MG word instead of hubbub or just say "noise from the bus" or "baby's cries" or whatever.

    This confused me a bit - "Saturday it was my t-shirt." How about
    "A lot has been embarrassing her lately--like the t-shirt I wore on Saturday."

    Good work and happy writing!

  3. Hi Ki-Weng,
    Your story is much clearer since your revisions. One place that still throws me is the t-shirt dialogue. If it is really important part of the story, expand on the explanation so that we know a little more. Maybe add a line that eludes to more embarrassment to come.

    I really enjoyed your balloon analogy. I really felt something about how Allen/Allie felt about telling the truth about herself.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Hi Ki-Wing,

    Really nice job. I think everyone else has covered the dialogue situation on the bus. I have just a few nits. The first suggestion is that while you did a lovely job with introducing Reena's embarrassment, I think you could still add a bigger hint of Allen's desire to please her in the initial scene. You've started to go there with the tomboy comment, but I'm wondering what she's feeling in that initial scene. Is she anxious to please Reena, relieved that maybe Reena isn't mad at her anymore, trying to make things up? Really think that through and give us some consistency. If she is aware that Reena is embarrassed by her, why does she choose to behave in a way that she knows will embarrass her friend? (NOT saying she wouldn't, just need some reaction when Reena reacts to her Ninja act.

    Second thing, I wonder if the flashback is necessary as a flashback? The change in tenses detract and potentially pulls the reader out, so I wonder if you have considered trying this in a linear narrative, either in past tense or in present. Past might actually work better because it would eliminate the need for the foreshadowing at the scene transitions.

    For example:

    Reena liked Tony Arias, so I agreed to keep an eye on him.

    "Sure, I can tail him!"

    etc. etc.

    Be sub- I mean, act normal." (and by the way, spell the "sub-" out here for clarity)

    So then I was on a crowded Darlington City bus . . .

    Or something along those lines.

    Or you could change the whole flashback into present tense.

    Great work!


  5. hi, Thank you all for the feedback! And Martina, thank you especially for hosting these workshops and for your careful and thoughtful readings. I've been learning from your comments on all the entries.

    :) ki-wing