Monday, October 20, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Comeau Rev 2

Name: Janel Comeau
Genre: MG Adventure/Sci Fi
Title: The Girl Who Was Ordinary, Until She Wasn't

There was absolutely nothing special about Jane.

Jane Hale was as ordinary as could be, from her mouse-brown hair to the toes of her sensible shoes. She never took home an A+ from school, never scored the winning goal, never went to the big parties and never even tried to disobey her parents. Of course, the Hales were always there, from her not-so-terrible two’s, right up to her not-so-troublesome teenage years, reminding her of what a special little girl she was. Mr. and Mrs. Hale beamed and coaxed and fussed, and they always claimed to take pride in their daughter’s overwhelmingly dull life.
They lied.
For years, Mr. and Mrs. Hale fought off tears of boredom every time they thought about Jane. And so they tried desperately to change their daughter’s ways. They signed her up for music lessons (she played a mediocre piano), bought her exotic pets (she turned out to be allergic) and even enrolled her in private school (the addition of a school uniform had only made her more difficult to locate in a crowd). It was no use. Jane’s blandness defied them year after year.
But this year was going to be different.
At precisely 8:00 AM on the morning of September the 4th, Jane’s bedroom door swung open and Jane skidded out into the hallway, tugging at her pleated skirt and pulling up her mismatched socks. Can’t be late, she thought to herself as she raced across the purple hardwood floor and headed for the stairs. Oh no, oh, no, oh no. She thundered down the steps, deftly dodging the stone gargoyles and plastic flamingoes her parents had placed there for decoration. I can’t be late on my first day of high school.
Still huffing and puffing, Jane leapt off the bottom stair and slid to a stop in the family kitchen.
“Exactly on time, as usual. That’s our predictable daughter,” Jane’s mother sighed.
Mrs. Hale stood by the stove in a Victorian ball gown and powered orange wig, flipping something that looked uncomfortably like a bright green pancake. Mr. Hale was already seated at the table in a top hat and a pair of overalls, with his round face buried in the folds of a newspaper; Jane quietly slipped into the chair beside his.      
“Ready for school?” he asked, turning his eyes back to a rather fascinating article about bank robberies.
“Yes,” she replied. Jane rarely offered up any more information than was necessary. Some girls her age might have gushed about the cute boys they were going to meet; others might have griped that eyeliner didn’t come in a shade dark enough to match their souls. Not Jane. Her mother fought back a sigh.
“Jane, darling, we need to have a word about your outfit.” Mrs. Hale bit her lip.
“Why?” Jane looked down at the crisp blouse and maroon blazer that made up the uniform of her new school. It wouldn’t have been her first choice of colour, but the thought of wearing exactly the same thing as everyone else filled her with quiet joy. “This is what they told me to wear. Did I get a stain on it somewhere?”
“Oh, no, darling, don’t be silly; you’re not nearly exciting enough for that.” Mrs. Hale flipped off the stove and slid a green pancake onto Jane’s plate, “It’s just that we’ve transferred you to another school.”
Jane dropped her forkful of lawn-coloured breakfast. “What?”
“Yes, you’re enrolled in Snicket High School now. It’s a public school, dear. Oh, and you’ll be taking the bus there, I forgot to mention that.”
“What? Why would you do that to me? You didn’t even tell me!” Jane pushed her plate away and stared at her mother, open-mouthed. She was breathing much too quickly; in, out, in, out, in, out. Maybe they’re kidding, she thought desperately. Even they wouldn’t do something like that without telling me. It’s got to be a joke.
“We wanted it to be a surprise, darling! You’ll have much more fun at public school than at some stuffy old private school,” Mrs. Hale explained.
This was a lie.
Jane’s parents believed that high school was a prime opportunity for personal growth, tacky haircuts and life-long emotional wounding. To that end, they’d quietly enrolled their daughter at Snicket High School, a large public institution across town that boasted the fifth worst test scores in the region. Snicket High was noisy, crowded and exactly 7.6 kilometres from the Hale home, ensuring that Jane would have to take the bus to and from school for maximum trauma.
Mr. and Mrs. Hale were pleased. Jane was not.
“But Mom, I’m not even dressed for… you didn’t even tell me… I have to go change!” Jane sprung up from her seat and turned for the stairs; she couldn’t bear the shame of being the only one at school in a uniform. But Mrs. Hale grabbed her wrist and gently pulled her back down into her seat.
“Oh, I don’t think you have time for that, dear. There’s a little something else that your father and I need to discuss with you.”
Whatever her parents had to say, Jane was almost certain she wouldn’t like it. She started to get up from the table, mumbling about forgetting to brush her teeth, but her mother pulled her back down again.
“Look at me for a moment.”  Mrs. Hale gently held Jane’s chin in her palm. “You know your father and I have been very patient with you all these years. We’ve dedicated an unreasonable amount of time and money to solving your little problem.”
Jane sighed. She was average, but she wasn’t stupid; she knew all too well where this conversation was going. “Problem? Mom, I don’t have a problem. I’ve never failed a class, never been in trouble at school, never stolen anything–”
“Stealing! Oh, that would be a wonderful start, don’t you think?” Mrs. Hale actually clapped her hands.
“Stealing. Very good,” mumbled Mr. Hale from behind his paper, and turned the page to a rather fascinating article about kidnapping.
“You can’t be serious.” Jane gaped at her mother.
“Oh, but of course I’m serious! Do you remember the time we smuggled that hyena into the country for you? Or when we signed you up for crocodile wrestling lessons? Or that time we dyed your hair blue?”
Jane shuddered. Oh, yes, she did remember.
“We didn’t do that for our benefit; it was all for your own good! We want what’s best for you, Jane. And we want what’s best for ourselves, too.”
This was precisely the 287th time that Jane had been subjected to this conversation, but it was the very first time that either of the Hale parents had ever mentioned their own interests. Jane was almost certain that this was a bad sign.
“What do you mean?”
“Jane, your father and I aren’t immortal; someday, we’re not going to be around to take care of you. Or to take care of our fortune.”
“Fortune?” At no point in Jane’s fifteen years of life had there been talk of any fortune. She looked around the kitchen, taking in the five-year-old stove, fifteen-year-old microwave, and two-hundred-and-thirty-seven-year-old suit of armor propped against the pantry door. My parents have got to be messing with me this time, she decided. There’s no way we’re rich.
“Yes, yes.” Mrs. Hale waved her hand, brushing off Jane’s doubts that a fabulously wealthy couple would choose to live in a cluttered split-level.


  1. I think you've done a marvelous job with this! I still love the quirky tone and I like Jane. :D Just go over for typos and look for extra words you don't need like "almost" certain can probably be certain. Best of luck to you!!!

  2. Wonderful job Janel! I know if I picked this up I would keep reading. It is funny and interesting and the story problem is clear and unique. There are two things I think you could work on. At the beginning you say that the Hales fuss about their daughter, but at the end we learn Jane has had to endure this conversation 287 times. I know you’ve changed the direction here, just make sure it’s consistent. I still think you could add a bit more internalization from Jane, too. Let us know what she’s thinking when her mom is flipping that green pancake.

    This paragraph is also a great place to add more of Jane:

    Yes,” she replied. Jane rarely offered up any more information than was necessary. Some girls her age might have gushed about the cute boys they were going to meet; others might have griped that eyeliner didn’t come in a shade dark enough to match their souls. Not Jane. Her mother fought back a sigh.

    Here is a chance for Jane to think about how different she is from her parents, and why she doesn’t offer anything up.

    Good luck with this story, I really enjoyed reading it!

  3. I really like the tone of these pages. Piggybacking off the previous comment, I didn't feel I got a good sense of Jane's character, so I definitely agree with a bit more internalization. But I liked Jane as a character, and empathized with her.

    I was a little bit confused about her parents motives for not telling her they've switched her school, not letting her change out of her uniform, and why they (possibly) seem to be okay with her stealing. I was also confused about her mother at the stove in a Victorian ball gown. Perhaps a little more internalization for Jane or explanation would help clarify.

  4. I enjoy that we now know that Jane's normalcy has been an ongoing issue that her parents have talked to her about, but like Erin said opening with her parents telling her how special she is and the 287th time they have had a conversation about her being too normal is confusing. I also agree with Erin about wanting hear Jane's thoughts on things. I am curious what she thinks of her parents. Does she despise there weirdness and her normalcy a rebellion? It seems to me you know these characters very well and their internal thoughts, and they are hinted at, but I would like to here more of Jane's inner monologue.
    All in all, super fun, super quirky story and I am sure Jane is in for some interesting times. You leave me wondering what is next, and really that's one of the most important aspects in an opening.

  5. This is much better as far as not jumping too fast/too far into the "new heir" and/or divorcing Jane business - starting off with the idea of a fortune (which seems so ridiculous to Jane) is plenty to get the mystery going, especially at the beginning. So where is this fortune, and why have they kept it a secret from Jane? I'm definitely interested in finding out. There are a few hints, though, that they have some money beyond what their home choice might indicate, just the effort/money put into making Jane more interesting (exotic pets, private school) but maybe not so much that a fortune would be obvious. Well, I don't know how much a 200+ year old suit of armor goes for these days, but that probably isn't cheap, either. I'm rambling here, but just thinking that there are some clues that Jane should have picked up on that her parents have some money somewhere - but maybe the amount of this fortune could be mentioned, so it could be something absolutely unbelievable even in spite of these few expenses they've been able to handle. Also - so Jane could freak out at the possibility of having responsibility for said fortune.

    I like the repetition of "they lied/that was a lie" - it stood out for me in a good way. I don't suppose this continues for the rest of the book, but it wouldn't hurt.

    So, I'm ready to see where this, and Jane, is going, and what her parents think is "best for ourselves." Lots to like here, and lots to look forward to.

  6. Hi Janel--

    I'm unfortunately behind on a deadline this week and am unable to comment in detail, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing your work and wish you the best of luck :)

  7. Hi Janel,
    This reads much smoother and you have worked out a bunch of the kinks. I will also agree with the above comments, they do spring the change of high school on her too late. But...I laughed out loud throughout, and this is my third time through, so I say cheers to your sense of humor and I love the quirkiness of the parents. Make sure they remain in costume, it is perfect.