Sunday, June 16, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Butler Rev 2

Name: Susan Butler
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Title: George Meets Middle School


GEORGE MEETS MIDDLE SCHOOL is the humorous and heartfelt tale of an autistic boy’s journey into middle school.
George Wilson is notoriously misunderstood. He doesn’t understand social cues or sarcasm, making him an easy target for bullies. That’s why he’s so excited when he meets Adam on the bus. George feels like he has finally found someone who accepts him for who he is, quirks and all.

George believes his new best friend has a learning disability, but Adam won’t hear of it. George wants to help, but his interference causes a rift in their friendship that may never be repaired and George’s already precarious world begins to crumble.

6th Grade

The first day of school is always tough. The first day of middle school, well, there aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe everything I felt. My insides were doing roller coaster loops. Actually, that’s a pretty good way to describe my first year of middle school. Lots of ups and downs. Even some twists and turns. The first part of the year seems to drag on forever, but it’s over before you know it.

My mom’s a teacher, so she’s always bugging me to write more. She bought me this journal so I could put my feelings on paper. It has a cool looking tiger on the front. I love all animals, so that was a dirty trick on Mom’s part. She knew I couldn’t help but love it.

Mom says middle school is a fundamental part of child development. I’m pretty sure that’s just an adult way of saying it sucks. For me, sixth grade was terrifying and exciting at the same time. Middle school meant a new school where no one knew who I was. For someone like me, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was a chance at a fresh start. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they were at my last school.

In fifth grade, I was the socially awkward kid, a.k.a. the weirdo. The kid people moved to the other side of the hall to avoid. Truthfully, it’s been happening most of my life. I’m autistic, which means I don’t think like most people. My brain is wired differently. Most people don’t understand what it means to be autistic. Not even my teachers. I get in trouble a lot. I’ve gotten used to being in detention. I don’t even mind it. It’s really quiet in detention and usually there’s only one or two other kids around. I treat detention kids like bees. They don’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

Sixth grade started out full of potential. It was a brand new beginning. I didn’t have many friends in fifth grade. I’ve never had a best-friend before. I’ve never been to a sleepover and I don’t get invited to hang out at other kids’ houses. But this year was different. I met Adam on the first day. He and I really hit it off. Adam didn’t seem to mind that I was autistic. I thought I had finally found a best-friend. Then I had to go and screw it all up, like I always do. I better start at the beginning.

The Halls

“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, yet you can’t help but do it anyway?”

“Actually, yeah.”
“It happens to me all the time. Sometimes I get the most overwhelming urge to say something and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t hold it in. The words come spewing out of my mouth like lava. My volcano mouth usually lands me in detention.”

“I got detention a lot last year, too. Mr. Watkins and I were pretty close by the end of the year.”

“Really? What were your offenses?”

“Mostly being late to class. Speaking of which, I gotta go.” He held up two fingers like bunny ears as he turned to leave.

“Okay. It’s really loud in here, don’t you think?”

I guess he didn’t hear me over all the noise. I watched him disappear into the crowd, his red backpack bouncing onto his denim jacket vest. It was an interesting wardrobe choice to say the least. Why would anyone wear a jacket with no sleeves? I forgot to ask him where the English hallway is located. This looks like the history wing. That would explain the world maps plastered all over the classroom walls. I suppose I can ask someone else. I approached a girl wearing a navy pleated skirt under a white blouse. I counted six buttons, not counting the top one that was left open and two for each sleeve. She looked like she had just transferred from Carlton Prep, the fancy private school on the other side of town.

“Hello. I’m George.”

“Aren’t you that Aspie kid?” She looked at me like I was a cockroach she would squish if she wasn’t afraid to mess up her shoes. I guess maybe she wasn’t a transfer. Or else, word got around fast in middle school.

“No. I’m George.” I watched as she flipped her long red hair over her shoulder and clicked her navy pumps on the hard-tiled floor as she walked away. Click-clack, click-clack. I counted twelve steps until I could no longer distinguish her footsteps amid the thousands of feet padding through the halls. I wondered exactly how many feet there were. There are six hundred forty students attending Sydney Holmes Middle School this year. I know because I asked the guidance counselor this morning. That would mean twelve hundred eighty feet assuming everyone showed up for the first day, no extra students registered at the last minute and there were no amputees among the student body. And that didn’t account for the seventy-five teachers and thirty-two other staff members.

My thoughts drifted away from my calculations and back to the Aspie comment. 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. The dingy cinder-block walls are as bleak as my expectations.

I’m not looking forward to another round of educators. 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.

“Are there any classes other than history on this hallway?”

“Nope. That’s why it’s called the history hallway.” The boy flashed a toothy grin at me and ran his fingers through the shaggy brown hair covering his bony shoulders. I wondered when he had last washed it.

“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. By the way, how often do you wash your hair?”

“Yeah, totally. Documentaries are the coolest.” He ignored my hair question. I wonder why he keeps rolling his eyes. Was it something I said? Oh well. At least he’s still standing here, even though he’s currently staring at his checkered Converse. I resisted the urge to count the squares on his feet and attempted to keep the conversation alive.


  1. Hi Susan,

    I'm really liking the extra inner dialogue bits of George, it does feel like it grounds the narration more and gives a great insight into the way George's thoughts work. I'm not sure about the opening bit with the journal though, especially when we go in to a more "in the moment" tense in the next bit.

    I think your pitch is great, but I'd probably leave off the first sentence (let publishers tell you if they find it humorous and heartfelt)

    A few little things:
    “Mostly being late to class. Speaking of which, I gotta go.” He held up two fingers like bunny ears as he turned to leave. - I think you need to say who he is. I got a bit confused.
    the shaggy brown hair covering his bony shoulders. - this made me think he had hairy shoulders (an amusing mental image)

    Also I loved the line about how many feet there were assuming there were no amputees, made me laugh out loud.

  2. This is much better. The inner dialogue breaks up the long conversations and really brings us close to George and the way he thinks. I don't think the journal at the beginning works though. It's all telling, and we see almost exactly what it is he tells us in that section through his interactions in the hallway. Maybe save that information and drop it into the internal dialogue at a time where it might be appropriate for George to think about his old school and his experience there.

    In terms of the pitch, I'd lose the first line. It's not up to you to tell the reader that the book is humorous and heartfelt. That's up to the reader to decide. Plus, the rest of the pitch gives us the information that George is different, so you don't need to tell us.

    1. Kate,
      Thanks so much for your comments. I agree, the first line of the pitch reads more like a book cover. I thought I would try the journal, but I'm not sure about it yet either. Maybe I can use it elsewhere. It was just a way to give some background and tell the readers what the plot will be.

  3. Hi Susan! Great job as you revise! Just a couple thoughts on the pitch and revision ...


    * Does he meet Adam on the bus or school? It seems in the next section they are talking in the hallway, not the bus.
    * What is precarious about George's world?
    * "quirks" threw me off a bit. Felt adult/external.


    * I like the structure changes so it's not so much external dialogue! I think it flows much better.
    * For some reason the voice sounded older/more adult to me this time. I'm not sure why, or if it's even important as I know this voice is very specific, but there were a few instances that bumped me out (things like "aka").

    Otherwise great job!!

  4. Oh also a quick note ... for the journal is this the end of his 6th grade year looking back? That part confused me a little. I couldn't tell if this was going to be a journal as he went along or a journal of reflection.

  5. So, I added the journal as a way to show the readers what the main plot is going to be. Going forward, the chapters are written as they are happening so I will definitely have to find a format that works and stick with it. George and Adam meet on the bus in the afternoon. I thought about moving it to the morning or the hallway. He meets a kid who remembers him from 4th grade and has returned for 6th. This was to show a character who had a new perspective, but after their short conversation, calls George weird and walks away. I wanted him to feel rejected by his peers until he meets Adam on the bus. This doesn't happen though, until several chapters in, so I am struggling with the best way to give the readers a sense of the plot sooner. Thank you for all your comments.

  6. Hi Susan! It's great to finally see the pitch and know what the premise is about. I don't know if you've thought about comparative titles for your novel yet, but I'm curious to see what they'd be!

    It's interesting that you used the journal to foreshadow the plot, but I'm not sure it adds anything that couldn't be added sparingly throughout the novel. And, as Kate mentions, everything in the journal is immediately established during The Halls segment. I think it'd almost be better if you didn't foreshadow the plot; if you let it come to us unexpectedly, as I'm sure the friendship with Adam was to George. Agents who'll read your query will know where you're going, but a reader should be surprised. :)

    Great work!

  7. Thanks, Kim. I have already been revising based on everyone's comments about the journal.

  8. Hi Susan. It was really good to finally read the pitch and see what your story was going to be. A really interesting idea and one I'd like to give a go.

    On the pages, I agree with not needing the journal part. I think what you have done with the structure and breaking up the dialogue works really well and you don't really need it.

    I have really enjoyed reading your writing and seeing it develop. It has such a unique and distinct style it really stood out.

    Good luck for the future.

    1. Thank you. I am glad to have found this workshop. The comments have been really helpful and I have enjoyed reading your story as well.

  9. Hi Susan! This is such a great start! I especially love the voice.

    Reading your initial pages, I felt that the overview/prologue in the beginning isn’t needed. It’s a lot of “telling” and background information that the reader doesn’t need upfront. Let them discover it on their own!

    Then in the first scene, I struggled to gain my footing a bit as the reader. I loved the dialogue, but I wasn’t quite sure who George was talking to initially. I thought perhaps Adam, but from the pitch it sounds like they meet on the bus? I would just clarify that.

    This initial scene in the hall has some really great parts—I love the dialogue and the way we get to enter George’s mind (I especially liked the description, ““Click-clack, click-clack. I counted twelve steps until I could no longer distinguish her footsteps amid the thousands of feet padding through the halls”) but overall I felt that it could benefit from some motion. George doesn’t feel like an active participant in the scene. Mostly we are getting his description of what is going on around him which makes him feel passive. Especially since it sounds like he is looking for his English classroom.

    And then finally, one last small point on the pitch. I always believe that short and sweet is best, but I do think there is a little room to expand here. It sounds like something specific happens to make George thinks his friend has a learning disability? Or a few things? If that’s the case, I’d include a tiny bit more on that front. Right now, the pitch is leaping from George meeting Adam to George potentially losing him as a best friend and it feels like a step is missing.

    Overall though, excellent job!

  10. Thanks so much, Kristy for your comments!