Sunday, June 2, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Butler

Name: Susan Butler
Genre: Contemporary
Title: George
“Hello. I’m George. You’re a neurotypical. I’m not. Mom says I’m not supposed to call people NTs because they might get mad. But sometimes it’s difficult to be good. I feel like I have a natural tendency for mischief. Do you ever get into trouble for something but you can’t help but do it anyway?
I don’t like it when people call me an Aspie, but that’s never stopped anyone before, not even my teachers. Aspie is short for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Someone like me. In case you didn’t know, Asperger’s is a form of autism. Aspie is probably the nicest thing people call me. It would be inappropriate to repeat all of the other names.
I’m twelve. Well, almost. But, what’s a couple of months when you are in middle school? I would like to have high hopes for this place, but Sydney Holmes Middle School doesn’t seem like the greatest place for an exemplary education. Especially if this year’s lineup is anything like the teachers I had last year. They always got mad at me when I corrected them. Like it was my fault they weren’t prepared.  
I hope we learn a lot in history this year. It’s my favorite subject. But I get really irritated when everyone in my class believes the textbooks tell you the whole story. You’d think they could take the time to watch a documentary or two on the History Channel.
I like science almost as much as history. I’m not a fan of the abstract sciences, like quantum physics, but I love animals, so biology and anatomy are more my preference. I get along better with animals than people for the most part. Did you know there are 8.7 million different species of animals? It’s difficult to believe, am I right? Reptiles are my favorite, despite the fact that my mom hates them. She won’t let me get a python, even though the 8th grade science teacher has one. I hear she brings it to school every year on the last day and her students get to take turns holding it. I can’t wait for 8th grade. I tried pleading and begging so Mom would agree to let me have a snake, but none of my charms worked on her. She said, “No way!” She couldn’t stand to see the baby mice get eaten by the snake. I told her snakes only eat once a month and the mice come freeze-dried, but even that didn’t change her mind.
I packed my lunch today because I don’t know what they will serve in the cafeteria but it is bound to be healthy and tasteless. I prefer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My mom is allergic to peanuts. Not deathly allergic or anything, they just give her a rash. But she still makes me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes. Sometimes she decides that I need to be more mature and she tells me to pack my own lunch. I hate when she gets like that. Does your mom also lecture you about responsibility? I prefer to spend my time crafting houses in Minecraft rather than doing menial tasks like packing my lunch or folding my laundry.
I play a lot of video games, but Minecraft is probably my favorite. Did you know the creepers were created accidentally? The creator was trying to create pigs, but he messed up the coding and ended up creating monsters instead. He decided the monsters looked pretty cool so he kept them and named them creepers.”
“Dude, you’re so weird.”
“Weird is a very broad generalization. Hey, where are you going? I never even caught your name.”
I probably shouldn’t have started with the neurotypical comment. I really hope I’m not late for my first class now. It would suck to be late on the first day of sixth grade.
“I have a little brother. He’s eight years old. But as far as anyone can tell, he’s two. He’s a total turd bucket. He’s always hitting me or smacking me with a nerf sword or something as equally annoying. He says it’s a game and he just wants to play, but he’s a liar. Obviously, I have no choice but to hit him back. Then I get in trouble because he’s a rat. He always runs to Mom and Dad when I do something, even if it’s not my fault. Yeah, okay. Sometimes I rat him out, too. But, I have to. He set a precedent.
Sometimes, Luke isn’t so bad. His whole name is Lucas Michael Wilson but I doubt he can spell that. Michael is my dad’s name. We call my brother Luke for short, like the Jedi. Well, to be honest, when he’s annoying me, I call him jerkface. And that’s most of the time. We are big fans of Star Wars in my family, except for Mom. She’s lame like that. The old episodes are the best. Dad calls them classics. They made them in reverse order because they hadn’t invented the technology yet to do them in chronological order.
Everyone says I look more like my mom and Luke looks like my dad, but I don’t see it. I think he looks like an alien, green eyes and all. I’m so glad I have blue eyes like Dad. I know Luke thinks his short brown hair looks just like mine. I told him not to get a crew cut just because I did, but little brothers never listen.  
I don’t understand how Luke doesn’t get sent to the principal’s office every day. He never listens. But somehow he has his teachers convinced that he is a perfect little angel. When I say angel, I mean like the modern day version, a fat little kid with wings, even though that’s called a cherub and cherubs are the offspring of angels and humans. Most people don’t know that angels aren’t all innocent, especially not the ones that fell. Anyway, Luke’s not either version. He’s just an annoying little brother. Thank goodness my parents only had two children. Anymore would be a nightmare.
On rare occasions he’s not so bad, like when he’s sleeping. Unless he’s sleeping on me. Sometimes he does that in the car when we are on a really long outing. He has to bring his blanket and pillow with him every time he goes on an overnight trip. I mean seriously, he is such an infant.”
“George, this is English class. I won’t tolerate that kind of language again.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And when I asked for you to tell me something about your family, that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Donovan. May we talk in private?”
“Of course, George. Class, read over your syllabus.”
“It’s difficult for me to read people sometimes. I can’t always pick up on visual cues like neurotypicals can. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to use that word, neurotypical. I can’t always pick up on visual cues like non-Aspies can. I hate that word, Aspie, but I guess I’ve heard it so much it’s sort of started to stick. Aspie makes me feel like a snowboarder in Colorado. Or a new breed of dog. Sometimes, I would give anything to be normal.”
“Are any of us really “normal”? We all have our little idiosyncrasies, George. Without them, life would be pretty boring.”

“That’s a thoughtful observation, Mrs. Donovan.”


  1. Hi Susan - it's certainly a different choice to write without any actions. I struggled a little to follow it when Mrs Donovan's voice entered and I wonder if it's sustainable over a whole book?

    I am guessing either yourself or someone you know is neurodiverse and we definitely need more of those voices in our writing. Have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? If not, I highly recommend. I think it captures the voice of its main character without him specifically saying he's on the autism spectrum.

    I'm not 100% sure what the drive of the story is yet, is it something to do with George's comment about being "normal"? Or is it him wanting to fit in and make friends at Middle School?

    1. KD, The idea is for the readers to get into George's head. My son has Asperger's and a lot of what happens to George was inspired by him. I haven't read the book you mentioned, but thank! I would love to check it out. George's main focus is making friends and sustaining them, which is the cause of later conflict. Thanks for your comments!

  2. I found the viewpoint of the character an interesting choice and made it stand out from the crowd.

    This said, I found it tricky to decide if this was an inner monologue or, as I think, the character speaking in class. Perhaps there could be more signposting of this, possible with some more dialogue from Mrs Dovovan?

    The voice and style of George was very readable and I was able to get an interesting image of the character. Interested to see how the story would develop.

  3. Thank you Prentis for your comments. The idea is George is talking to other characters throughout the book. I could try and add more dialogue to make it clearer. Thanks for the suggestion.

    1. I think that would really help. I like the idea of the conversation and you get the tone and flow of George's mind through this way and a bit more dialogue/ interaction from other characters would help structure it more clearly. Looking forward to reading the redraft.

  4. Hi Susan! It’s nice to be in this workshop with you.

    I adore books (especially MG) that brings the narrative voice up close. You do a good job helping us understand George in a more thoughtful manner.

    There are a couple times when I couldn’t figure out whether George was literally speaking or if he was narrating the story. I realized halfway through that he was speaking to someone. I think the best way to clean this up is to break apart his monologue with actions and scene setting. Because without them, it’s hard for a reader to tell what’s going on. Have him say the first paragraph, then pause and take stock on his surroundings. Who is he with? Where is he? What time of day is it? Having all dialogue makes it a challenge to not only get into the story, but to stay in.

    I also got confused when the name “Luke” appeared. I had assumed this was a narrative transition, going from George to Luke, but as I pressed on, it turned out George was still narrating.

    I liked George saying, “I probably shouldn’t have started with the neurotypical comment.” You should definitely keep that, in my opinion. However, the punch of that comment loses its impact (at least, for me) because there was so much chunky narration before it, I nearly forgot he had called the readers NTs. I’d suggest breaking apart some of the paragraphs into smaller pieces, or cutting a couple sentences to make George’s initial narration shorter, or maybe even bringing this dialogue closer to the beginning.

    You do such a great job at grasping someone with autism’s flow of thought. I’ve known someone with Asperger’s and the bombardment of facts/statements speaks true to how they stream information. I do worry that perhaps there’s too many statements here, which might lose a reader’s attention and interest. I’m conflicted because how George narrates is so accurate, but at the same time, it might be difficult for someone else to read.

    Can’t wait to see where this goes!

  5. I really like the voice here and getting right into the head of someone whose mind works in a very different way. But like others have mentioned, such long blocks of dialogue make it difficult to know if George is actually talking to someone else or just inside his own head. Breaking up the dialogue to show the setting or the way the other people around react to this flood of words would add to the sense of "otherness" that George clearly feels.

    While this is a striking way to open a book, I'm not sure I'd be able to read 300 pages or so of non-stop dialogue without any action or respite. Even scripts break up the dialogue every now and then for stage directions...

  6. HI Susan,

    Thanks for submitting your pages. I like this. George’s stream of consciousness speech is thrilling to read. I would imagine this is a reflection of his Asperger's. I don’t know a whole lot about thew subject, unfortunately.

    The only area where I could see improvement is to give the reader a little room to breathe between passages. Here’s an example. When the teacher says:
    “Of course, George. Class, read over your syllabus.”

    We need a break before George starts speaking again. We need to describe the room they’re in, what the teacher looks like, etc. More descriptive details. The narrator voice can do this without losing George’s pov. The narration can be just as dry and declarative as George himself:
    The teacher walked to the blackboard. Her shoes clicked on the floor. Some kids snickered in the background. Right now, the story is missing these details and those details are what help a reader fall into the story. Do you see where I’m coming from? We need this to let the story breathe.

    That aside, this is really good and I’d like to see more. Also, the title “George,” is also the name of an award-winning middle grade book by Alex Gino. You may want to think of another title. The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night time is another defining book on the subject that is not children's literature but should be read.

  7. Thank you! Several people suggested adding more descriptions but I was struggling with the "how" without breaking the concept of George's POV. Thanks for giving examples.

  8. Susan,
    Thank you for submitting!

    I really enjoyed reading this character as I think it gives a glance into a voice many people are unaware of and would do well to understand.

    Like the other commenters, I found it a little difficult to follow once we got to the "Luke" section. It wasn't until the teacher actually interrupted that I understood the scene. My assumption before that was either that he was still talking to himself or the child from the first section. I think there can definitely be a way to segue through the monologues - whether it's adding in the the narration or even italicizing the new setting/situation as an internal dialogue.

    Best of luck!

  9. Thank you for reading! I'm hoping the edits I'm working on will make things a little clearer.