Sunday, February 2, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Fettig

Name: Becky Fettig
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Halo and the Boomerang Effect
When landing inside a Christmas tree, stay away from spiky pine needles. Halo rubbed the backside of her gown. Despite being smaller than a snowflake, she was painfully aware of that lesson.

Halo crossed her fingers and glanced through the white pine. Ornaments as familiar as the fingers on her hands hung on every branch. Nearby, a tin soldier saluted a plump snowman. Above, a reindeer reared on his back legs beside the gingerbread boy with blue icing buttons.

And great, golly, good cheer, the old twelve-point star topped the tree.

“Yes!” Halo punched the air. The pine needle under her boots shifted, tipping her backward. But a quick arm flapping recovered her balance.

Outside the tree, a brick fireplace covered one wall of the ginormous living room. Candles and Santa figurines filled the mantelpiece. And right smack in the middle stood a photo of dear Charles and Eloise Johnson—their wedding picture that had decorated the shelf ever since Halo’s first appearance. She blew a kiss.

For the tenth time Halo was home, zapped back inside the Johnson Christmas tree with the other tiny residents. She held a hand over her heart. “I pledge to protect my friends.”

As soon as she lowered her arm, a red blur whooshed past, narrowly missing her ear. Halo yanked a boomerang from her pocket and spun around. She enjoyed a game of catch as much as anyone. But since her back faced the pitcher, this toss was very unsportsmanlike.

“Lob another one.” Halo swung the boomerang like a baseball bat. “This time I’ll smack it back.”

She tapped the stick against her palm and waited for someone to jump out from their hiding spot. Near the middle of the branch a ballerina ornament swayed, as though someone leaned against it.

“Mystery person, show yourself.”


Holy burnt brownies. Unfriendliness wouldn’t do. Time to meet this puzzling Treeple.

Halo bounced off the pine needle, onto the branch, and sped along the tree limb. Once she neared the ballerina, she pivoted into a perfect cartwheel. But her foot slipped on a mushy glob. She fell on her back.

Heat beat a path across her face as she pushed her gown down over her legs. She threw her arms up, acting as if she meant to land like an upside-down turtle. “Ta da!”

No response. The space around the ballerina was empty.

A fruity smell floated in the air. Halo tugged her boot across her leg. Sticky juice oozed from a crushed strawberry stuck to the sole.

The fruit flinger must’ve been ready to throw again until Halo scared him off, dropping the strawberry as he ran away. But who’d be so careless to throw food and leave slippery pieces along the branch? Halo could’ve fallen off the tree. Or been speared by a pine needle.

Being the Village Protectress, she should warn her friends. But if this season unfolded like the others, nobody, except for Bell, would believe a twelve-year-old.

Near the tree’s top, a boy’s voice echoed through the air. “Halo…where are you?”


From the distance of his voice, Halo calculated he was four branches above and on the opposite side. She tucked the berry inside a pouch. Leon wouldn’t dare doubt her if she showed solid proof.

Nobody messed with Halo’s yearly pledge to protect her friends. She’d make sure no changes came to the peaceful village of Loblolly Pines.

Leon yelled, “Ready or not, here I come.”

Halo waved a hand across the front of her body. Glittery stars swirled about. Her gown morphed into green leggings, an emerald-colored vest, and a shirt-dress the color of a pickle. A sturdy belt wrapped her waist, equipped with a red pair of eyeglasses connected to a long stick and a sheath for the boomerang. Her white hair spun and twirled, forming two long braids.

She didn’t have time to play a game. The mysterious thrower might be ready to toss more berries.

But Halo knew the best places to hide.

Red and white striped boots replaced buckled shoes as Halo vaulted to her feet. She tucked a heart-shaped locket hanging from a silver chain inside her shirt and barreled to the end of the branch.

A candy cane nestled between two pinecones created a perfect hiding space. She leaped behind the striped stick.


Three branches above, a boy with hair the color of a chocolate bar trotted along a limb, shaking the needles. He jumped behind a race car ornament. As usual, Leon’s superb skill of guessing which way to move brought him closer.


Up and to the right, a tinsel string quivered. Halo stood still like a snowman. Was she close to the berry pitcher?

A nearby rustle kicked up pine scents. A crunch echoed to the left. She darted in that direction and ran smack into Leon hanging upside-down from an upper branch.

“Boo!” Leon pointed his fingers. “Gotcha.”

Halo pushed his hands away from her face. “How’d you find me so quick?”

“Those bells on your goofy boots.”

“Awww…sprinkledink. I forgot to silence them.”

“Plus your drab Robin Hood outfit is easy to spot.”

“Beats your puke-green leprechaun suit.” She brushed glitter off her vest and hid her smile. Their first-day clothing jokes always tickled her bones.

Leon swung and somersaulted in the air, landing beside her. With a sweeping wave, his clothes changed into his favorite white peasant shirt and tan suede pants. He glanced behind her.

“Wow. You gained weight.” He pointed at a silver ball ornament.

“What?” She grasped the stick on the eyeglasses, held them against her eyes, and leaned close to the mirrored surface. The ball’s curvature distorted her reflection, making her appear short and wide. “Very funny.”

“Fooled you.” Leon grinned, showing off his adorable dimple.

He studied her face, nodding as if he had found the answer to a riddle. “Something is different, though.”

“Not falling for that one again.” Halo cracked her knuckles and readjusted her belt.

Leon kept staring.

“Did I grow an extra eye?” she asked.

“You look great, Angel Girl.”

She loved it when he called her that, but his other words were wacky weird.

Leon also looked different this year. Gold highlights now streaked his curls. His face was thinner, more muscular, which emphasized his perfect nose. And holy ancient pine trees, he stood three heads taller!

“Stop joking.” Halo shook the pouch containing the smashed strawberry. “We need to talk before the introductions start.”

“Cool your icicles. Everyone’s still moving to the base.” Leon created a rag and polished the mirrored ornament with circular strokes.

As if on cue, six Treeples shimmied down the trunk. Two men, three women, and one child waved and continued their downward hike.

Leon blew on the ball and wiped off a smudge. “Told you.”

“We have a serious safety issue in the tree.” Halo tossed pouch toward Leon. “Look inside.”

He tugged the draw-strings open and lifted the crushed strawberry by its stem. “A fruit is a serious safety issue?” He shook the sticky mess. “Take this monster berry away from me. I’m scared.”

“But listen. Seconds after I landed someone threw one at my head. Then I slipped on that one, which was scary because I could’ve fallen off the tree.” She didn’t mention her unladylike tumble. “And get this. No one claimed the dirty deed. The branch was empty.”

“I saw a child carrying a basket of strawberries. He probably dropped one.”


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  2. Hi, Becky! I'm so excited to be here alongside you.

    I can tell you right from the start that I don't think I've ever read anything quite like this - which is fantastic. It's so unique and so darned cute that I wish we were still in December so I could squeeze all the holiday spirit out of your story!

    Halo is a cute and goofy yet determined protagonist. You do a good job of showing us her personality throughout, and also of describing her. I enjoyed her interaction with Leon. Everything from the characters to the dialogue to the environment really feel solidly middle-grade. You've done a nice job of writing to your audience.

    There are a few things that are a little fuzzier for me. We see Halo show up on a random day in December (is there particular day of the year she always appears? Where was she BEFORE she was there?) apparently to "protect her friends" (a specific goal, but a bit nebulous). And what does she worry she might have to protect them from? The stakes might be nice to know. She intimates she's had concerns before that nobody believed but Bell... what might happen to the treeples? What have been the past threats? This excerpt is really brimming with charm but lacking a little in urgency.

    Even though you do a really nice job of describing the inside of a Christmas tree, I almost want more! Because I will never get to see it from a treeples perspective, and I imagine it's so lovely in there with twinkling lights reflected off of frosted icicles and the smell of pine sap... go ahead and hit me with all of it!

    I'm also experiencing a bit of difficulty with Halo's size vs. other objects: if she's smaller than a snowflake, a strawberry would be, what? The size of a double-decker bus to her? She could almost live inside it! ...Unless treeples have their own tiny-sized food, I suppose. Maybe just be clearer on that.

    I definitely want to see where Halo is going and what she's facing - looking forward to watching the revisions of this very fun and unique piece!


    1. S.A.

      Thank you for all of your suggestions and kind encouragement!

      The size relation to human food is a good point. I will think on this. As you guessed, the berry I'm referring to in the story is a Treeple-sized berry, but I can see how that could be misunderstood.

      Your other points have me thinking on how to revise......thanks for that.

  3. Hi Becky,

    Great job with your first 5 pages! I loved the first sentence and paragraph which fascinated me right away, because how (and why) could one land inside a Christmas tree? It made me want to read on and find out more.

    I loved the cheerful and whimsical tone of the story, and the vivid descriptions which allowed me to imagine where the main character was and what her surroundings looked like. I enjoyed the Christmas theme that was sprinkled throughout the story, including phrases such as "small as a snowflake," "hair the colour of a chocolate bar," "still as a snowman," and "cool your icicles."

    Halo sounded like an intelligent and brave heroine who, despite her small size, took her role of being a village protector very seriously! I liked the hints that you dropped that indicated that she was a member of this community for a long time (the wedding picture and the familiar ornaments.)

    I was confused about why Halo transformed her clothing into what sounded like an elf outfit when she was hiding from Leon- was she trying to camouflage with the tree?

    I liked that there was an inkling of the inciting incident (a possible intruder in the village), although it sounded like Leon and the others might not believe her. So far it didn't seem too emergent of a threat to me (just a squashed berry) however perhaps the stakes would be made clearer later on in the novel.

    Overall these first 5 pages were a fun piece to read and full of imagination!

    1. Hi Sophie,

      Thank you for your comments :) You brought up some great questions/concerns for me to think over.

      The outfit change was simply a change out of a girly gown into what Halo feels comfortable in. But I can see how the chosen outfit resemble an elf which muddies things a bit, because Halo is not an elf.

      Thanks ever so much!

  4. Hi Becky,

    I’m the guest mentor this month. Thanks for sharing your pages! Oh how I adored this! It was so fun to read that I read it aloud a second time to my husband and we both loved it.

    You’ve done such a great job showing us Halo’s spunky yet heroic personality. She’s a determined, smart, and likeable main character right from the start, and the youthful voice is just spot on. I particularly loved the description of the Christmas tree and I felt like I could see it from the perspective of a tiny Treeple. I would love to hear more description of what it’s like living inside a tree and interacting with the ornaments.

    The description of the Johnsons felt warm and left me wanting to know more. Does Halo just appear out of thin air each year? Is it when they put up the tree? It says for the tenth year she was “home”, which makes me wonder where she spends the other 11 months of the year, and also why it has only been 10 years when she’s 12. I’m sure most of this is explained later in the story, but a small bit of explanation would help clear it up without slowing the story down.

    I was confused about the strawberry. Halo is described as being very small, but I’m unsure exactly how small. “Smaller than a snowflake” makes me picture perhaps someone half an inch tall, which would be extra tiny, but then the description of her climbing branches had me thinking she was about 2 inches tall. However, that would make a strawberry huge, like half her size, and she wouldn’t be able to put it into a pouch, unless it’s a tiny strawberry more proportionate to Treeple her size?

    I can’t wait to see your revisions and am eager to see what happens in the rest of the story!

    1. Hi Cheyenne,

      Thank you for your encouragement. And thanks for your suggestions.

      The age versus how many times Halo has appeared inside the tree is a stickler others have asked about. The simple answer is all Treeples are "born/awakened" at any range of age. Halo happened to be around age 12 when she first appeared BUT she has only come back ten times. I can easily fix this confusion by saying she has been in the tree 12 times. Ten was just my go to.

      I'll think on your other questions. Thanks!

  5. Hi Becky,

    I really love your character Halo. Your first line was amusing and cute which created an instant connection for me with the main character. I think you also do a great job with descriptions that are nice and subtle but reveal so much information about scene and character while using just a few words. You do an amazing job making me feel like a kid again with a story that is reminiscent of a Toy Story atmosphere.

    Although the characterization is strong, you kind of lose me with the plot for two main reasons. 1) I think that you introduce a lot of characters within the first five pages which dilutes the story in a way. It’s hard for me to keep up with so many characters moving up and down a pine tree. In my opinion, the more characters that you have/introduce right from the jump, the harder it is for me to make a one-on-one connection with each. Maybe think about which characters are absolutely essential in the first five pages (first chapter even) in order to keep the plot moving and the reader vested.

    The second reason I become lost is because I feel that there is a lack of tension and focus as the story progresses. I want to know what is at stake for Halo. Why do you choose to start the story here? What’s brewing in the storytelling that the reader needs to prepare for? There’s the mention of a mysterious Treeple who threw something past Halo, but nothing much deeper than that. Furthermore, it’s unclear to me whether this mysterious person was revealed during the introduction of the other many characters as the story progresses. For example, right when I am intrigued by who this said fruit slinger is, Leon is introduced and distracts me completely. He seems like a very important character as well, just as lively as Halo. Maybe, he deserves a more impactful intro at a latter point, while going deeper on this mysterious Treeple so that the reader can focus on the tension in the story’s plot.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Jide!

      I will think on your confusion on the amount of characters introduced. I name five, which may be too many.

      The tension/conflict will take some deep thinking and thanks for bringing this up. Life inside the tree is peaceful and uneventful so Halo is always looking for something exciting to go wrong. She makes mountains out of molehills, but with this mysterious Treeple, she MIGHT be on the right rack for once. But I totally get how that is not coming across. Hmmmmm. Much for me to think on. Thanks!!!!!

    2. Sorry I posted on the wrong comment above so I deleted and re-posted.

    3. Hey again Betty! I was just reading your response about how Halo makes mountains out of molehills and to possibly address the comments given, maybe have Leon say something of that effect back to her when she is telling him all that happened. That also helps the reader see that is part of her character. Hope that makes sense and is helpful? Cristy

    4. Good idea to mull over. Thanks, Cristy.

  7. Hi Becky! Like everyone else, I too, was completely charmed with your story. As it snowed here last night, the theme is fitting! Halo is a great name and she is strong protagonist, easy to identify with and one readers will want to learn more about. I love your description of the tree and how you helped give us the back story in a clever way. Throughout the story, you have fun descriptions and phrases that young people will enjoy. Since Halo was ‘zapped’ back into the tree and was in a lovely gown at the time, I wondered where she came from and if this ‘zapping’ incident interrupted her in the middle of a social event, elsewhere? Maybe have her reflect on the timing of things so we know where she has been – and since this is a tenth time returning, I am curious to find out why she is sent to this house each time. And of course, I am curious to know who does the ‘zapping’ and why the fates of these little people are controlled. Good questions to spark the readers interest! I love Halo’s spunk and openness to take on anything that comes her way. I was thinking that to build the suspense further, rather than having Leon call for her – maybe she could go behind one of the hiding spots and he jumps out at her. This would be a fun way to bring him into the ‘chase’ because of course, he isn’t the berry thrower. I sensed that both characters have undergone quite a bit of change since the last time they saw one another, and their relationship will be interesting to explore as the story goes on. I am keen to hear more.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Cristy. You gave me some good ideas to think over. :)

  8. Hi Becky,

    Thanks for sharing your pages with us.

    I'm intrigued by premise here. Creating a world within a Christmas tree seems like a lot of fun. I can tell a lot of original thinking went into your story and I think it could be a terrific read.

    The one thing that I really wonder about with your story is whether middle grade is the right level for it. As I was reading your pages, I was struck by how much they felt like they were from a chapter book. The style of your prose, the level of description, the wholesome nature of your characters and the lower-stakes fruit-based conflict you start off with, all seemed to be more suited to a chapter book. This definitely isn't a bad thing--it's simply a matter of how you position your work when you go out to agents. I could totally see the pages come to life with a talented illustrator complementing your words. Something to think about.

    As for the story itself, I definitely enjoyed it. There were, however, a few places where I was a bit confused and was pulled out of the narrative a bit to ponder the questions I had. For example:
    --Halos's size was confusing to me. How big is she? You mention smaller than a snowflake, but that would make her far too small to life a strawberry.
    --Who are the friends she pledges to protect? The other Treeple? The ornaments? The Johnsons?
    --Where is she when she's not in the tree? Does she exist at all when it's not the Christmas season?
    --Are Halo and the other Treeple linked to the family? The house the family lives in? The tree? One of the ornaments? What exactly calls them into being?
    Some of these questions are naturally going to arise when you have a setting that's inevitably going to be unfamiliar to people, but the fewer avoidably confusing moments you have, the more likely your readers will get hooked by the story fast.

    Bottom line, this is an intriguing set of pages and I think you could have a fantastic story here. You just need clarify a number of questions and figure out if what you're writing is really middle grade.


  9. Thank you for your suggestions. Hopefully, I have taken care of everyone’s questions about my story world in my second revision.

    As far as this sounding like a children’s story, I can perhaps understand that. I wanted to show Halo as a na├»ve, sheltered young girl who goes through a character growth so I may have done it too well, LOL. I know the story topics deals with deceit, bullying, and death, which to me are more in line with middle-grade, but I will think over your question. Thank you again.

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