Monday, February 6, 2012

11 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Braden

Name: Ann Braden
Title: Sciencetastic SuperGirls
Genre: MG Mystery

On the whiteboard, the large block letters spelling MR. TROLP slant toward the floor at what’s got to be a 40° angle. I haven’t seen that kind of downward drift since the substitute who only walked on her tiptoes, and that time my graph and I were dead on about predicting how loud the class would get. Looking at the angle of those letters, I’m sure we’ll make it to art-teacher-comes-up-from-the-classroom-below-us-to-deliver-a-lecture territory again. I’ve got to get the graph out. If only Mr. Trolp weren’t leaning across the lectern, staring right at me.

His eyebrows are twitching. “You never know who’s going to be out to get you in life.”

Really? This is how he’s starting class? It’s not even worth taking the graph out. Even Carly McDonald could tell you the art teacher’s going to show up.

“You’ve got to stay on your toes. Always looking behind you.”

OK. He’s even loonier than the tiptoe lady, and she spent half the class talking about leprechauns. Look at someone else, Mr. Trolp. I get it. I’ll be on my toes. I’ll even wear high heels. Look at someone else, so they can benefit from this juicy morsel of very-important-advice-instead-of-actually-having-English-class.

“It could happen anytime – next Tuesday, for example – when you think everything is going fine.”

Jeff Harkiss tips back in his chair, his hat perched on top of his head, so he can claim he’s not actually wearing it. “Just start the DVD, dude.”

There’s always a first time to agree with Jeff Harkiss.

Mr. Trolp sticks his jaw out like a cow and opens the DVD case on the front table. Finally. But then he’s back to the lectern, staring me down again, the DVD around his finger like it’s been taken hostage. “It’s like dark energy.”

Right. Even Jeff Harkiss puts all four legs of his chair on the floor for this one.

“You think you know what the universe is like, and then BAM!” Mr. Trolp smacks the lectern. “You find out most of it is made up of this invisible stuff that we didn’t even know existed. And while that stuff has been forcing the universe to expand faster and faster, you’ve just been sitting around, twiddling your thumbs.”

Ben Michelson looks up from his drawing. “Like the Big Bang?”

Mr. Trolp at last turns away from me to fix his stare on Ben. “More like the Big Rip.”

“Except,” I mutter under my breath, “for the fact that the universe has somehow managed to go for 13.75 billion years without ripping apart.” The man’s making it up like a wackadoodle.

“Except,” Mr. Trolp says loudly, looking back at me.

Damn it.

“Except dark energy didn’t exist for the first 4 billion years.” He lowers his voice, and his mouth turns up in a sneer. “But since then it’s been popping into existence pretty damn fast. You don’t end up as 73% of the universe without a fight.”

I look down at my desk where long ago someone had tried to carve out IDK but gave up halfway through the K. Seventy-three percent. That’s like thinking you know what the earth’s like and then finding out there’s this little thing called oceans. How have I not heard of this stuff? Sixty-seven meetings of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, two freakin’ physicists for parents, and it hasn’t come up once? I dig my pencil into the groove of the D in the desk. Whatever. There’s no chance it’s true because this guy’s clueless. Everyone knows energy doesn’t just pop into existence. But no way am I going to be the one to explain to him how E=MC2 applies to the conservation of energy – not with the way he keeps staring at me and twitching like a chicken.

I look at the clock. One hour and thirty-seven minutes until the next Sciencetastic SuperGirls meeting. I sure know what I’m going to propose for today’s agenda.

When I look back up front, the DVD has been rescued from its hostage situation and has been inserted into the safety of the DVD player. Mr. Trolp turns out the lights and settles down at Mrs. Hamshaw’s computer. Because after thoroughly freaking people out, it’s always good to check your e-mail.

* * *
Maddy puts on as solemn a face as you can have when you’ve got a pink pen stuck behind your ear. “As president of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, I hereby call the Sciencetastic SuperGirls to order. Now for the oath.”

The four of us, sitting around our corner table in the deserted cafeteria, repeat together: “I will pursue the truth that is science, and I will not be distracted by the boys in that other, way lame science club.” We all put the appropriate emphasis on “way.”

“OK, SuperGirls.” Maddy says, “Let’s get to business. Caroline, what’s on our agenda?” Since Caroline has just popped an entire mini doughnut into her mouth, she slides a piece of paper over to Maddy. I bite my tongue as Maddy looks it over, tapping the pink pen against her temple. If I can keep from interrupting protocol, Maddy with her two million club rules tucked in her backpack will be a whole lot happier.

Maddy’s pink pen migrates to her mouth. “Tessa, how’s ‘Assignment: Get Dry Ice’ coming along?”

Tessa takes a bite of her snackycake and shakes her head. “It’s a no go. Too expensive if you include shipping. We only have $13.75 in our budget.”

Maddy mutters “snazzifrass Swedish fish” under her breath and draws a pink box around ‘Acquire dry ice.’

“Anyway,” Tessa continues, “I still don’t see why we don’t first do my question about how to make a fireball with common household cleaners. If we’re going to go dangerous, we might as well go big.”

“And it’s free,” Maddy says, nodding. “That okay with you, Caroline? The dry ice was originally your question.”

Caroline nods as the last mini doughnut disappears into her mouth. She’s the type who can eat a dozen Twinkies a day and still not gain a pound.

Maddy looks at me. “Sound good to you, Julia?”

The opening I’ve been waiting for. I look at each of them. “Something’s come up. Something we need to look into.”

“Whatever it is, we can do it after the fireball,” Tessa says. “Everything’s more fun when your eyebrows have been singed off.”

I swallow. “It needs to happen now.” Why am I so worked up about this? “Even if it’s just to check online to make sure it’s not true.”

Caroline takes out her phone. “What is it? I’ll pull up Wikipedia.”

“Dark energy.”

Tessa squints at me. “What, like witches and stuff? What’s gotten into you, Jules? And come on, people. If we’re going to get into black magic stuff, we better have a fireball ready to go first.”

“It’s not witches,” I say. “It’s like space and the universe...astrophysics stuff.”

Maddy writes ‘Dark Energy’ down on the agenda. Somehow it seems less intimidating when it’s in pink. “What do you know about it?”

“Just what Mr. Trolp said at the beginning of our English class today–”

Maddy looks up from the curlicue doodle forming around the words. “Wait Mr. Trolpalump told you about this? The Trolpmeister?"


  1. I really like the voice in this. It's unique and funny, which I think works well for the overall tone of the piece. I also like that you're not afraid to introduce the more intellectual concepts of the novel early on. However, I wonder if the opening is gripping enough to hook a reader. You introduce a concept here, the Scientastic SuperGirls, and they obviously have adventures of a kind since they're looking for dry ice. Does that stuff get them into trouble? Could you open with something like that? an experiment or something to really intrigue us?

  2. Hi! Thanks for sharing this. I love the voice. This is what I expect based on the beginning: That Mr. Trolp figures prominently in some way. That the dark energy thing is the major focal point of the mystery they delve into. If that's true, then great! If not, you may have to adjust where you begin.

    I like the concept of the science club for girls. That's a great premise. Love the motto. Love the line about pink ink being less intimidating. I wonder if you could eliminate some of the telling when introducing the girls and show us only. Things like her biting her lip not to break protocol is great, but you don't have to necessarily clarify that "If I can keep from interrupting protocol, Maddy with her two million club rules tucked in her backpack will be a whole lot happier." Can you make that flow a bit easier without having to say it all?

    The info in the opening about her graph and the subs might be a bit confusing. You might want to have her actually use the graph to predict something and stuff it away hastily so the sub doesn't see. Just a thought. See how others react to that. Also be careful because the while the voice is wonderful, Julia comes across as a tad stuck up. I think that should be easy to smooth over though.

  3. I like the voice too. I too think that dark energy is being set up as an important part of the story.

    I also like the introduction of some of her classmates, but I kept waiting for someone to say her name. I thought that might help me get into her character a little more. Possibly just a one liner of the sub asking her name.

    The ending sentence of the first section is great. I did feel that the first section ended rather suddenly.

    Great idea for the science club. And the fact that they are doing interesting, and possibly a bit dangerous, experiments will interest a lot of readers.

  4. The first paragraph was a little hard to sink into. I'm wondering if a teacher's name and the slant of his words and the teacher's before him is really where you want to start. The dark energy and warning is probably a better bet.

    Once I sunk into the story, a few paragraphs in, I was captured by your voice. The humor is fantastic and I love the science aspect. It keeps your story unique and fresh.

    I agree with Lisa that some of the sentences read a little on the long side, which can muddle your point. Also, Halli recommended adding your main character's name. That's an important one.

    Overall, good job. I can't wait to see what this turns into next week.

  5. I'm not a big MG reader, but I could definitely get into this. I will have to agree with the comments above about the first paragraph. I was confused what Julia was talking about. She predicts a how loud the class will get based on slants? I realize it's to hint at Julia's fascination with science, but I didn't really get it.

    I think if you figured out a different way to start, the rest of that scene might be a little tighter and energetic.

    Other than that, it's a great start.

  6. Hi Ann,

    I LOVE the voice. Love it. And (especially since I have a story about dark energy), I adore the concept. The voice did feel a wee bit older than MG, so keep that in mind a little bit. I am with Lisa, I was with you through the first scene, but based on it, I expect that the teacher isn't actually a teacher at all but is in some way delivering a warning--and that set up is very MG--that dark energy will in some way, on Tuesday, crash into her life. I'm intrigued by the possibility that she will end up wondering at some point whether had she poked her nose into things with the science club that would end up being true, and that question delights me. That said, I would like to see Mr. Trolp go out with more of an oomph in that first scene. Offer one more line seemingly directed at your mc, if he has been trying to deliver a warning. Something to make that clearer and deliver a bigger hook and pay off for the scene.

    I agree with the others that I would love to see her, if not do the graph on Mr. Trolp, then at least get back a graph from a previous situation to consolidate this fun aspect of her personality and make it seem like less of a device and more of a concrete.

    I love the science club. Love it.

    In general, I'd follow this mc just about anywhere, but I'd like a clearer sense of where she is going. Hope that makes sense!



  7. Like everyone else, I really love the voice. However, I thought that it was a tad inconsistent--Julia seemed a bit older in the first section than in the section with her friends. Maybe that's just me though? I too was kind of confused at the beginning with the graphs/angles. Also, how does Maddy know Mr. Trolp/have a nickname for him if he's a sub? Can't wait to read more!

  8. Thank you all so much for your comments! You've given me such great stuff to think about!

  9. I agree with everyone who's commented about the great voice you have going, and that, IMO, is the hardest thing to get right. So you've definitely won the battle here. I also agree about the confusion with the charts, though I LOVE the imagery of his name slanting down and what that means. I also love that the art teacher from the classroom below has to come up and restore order from time to time.

    Plot-wise, I think you could start with a bit more of a bang. Mr. Trolp fizzles for me a little at the end of his scene. The protagonist seems to think he's insane, so I keep waiting for him to do something insane, like pull a unicycle out of thin air and then jump out the window. But he just sort of...becomes a substitute teacher. If you want to have him settle into being a normal teacher at the end of the scene, consider showing him snapping out of it in some way.

    (By the way, all my critique is pretty nit-picky, because really, IMO, this is a very solid beginning.)

    I love the fireball thing. I TOTALLY agree it's the better option. One thing I noticed is the comment that Maddy could eat whatever and not gain a pound. That sounds more YA to me than MG. Not sure MG-age characters are too futzed about weight gain. Also, you have MG Mystery as the genre, but it sounds like you're setting up a sci-fi story with the dark energy and the seemingly portentious warnings from Mr. Trolp.

    Great start, though. Looking forward to seeing your next iteration!

  10. Hi Ann,
    Thanks for sharing this. I, too, LOVE the voice. Your main character is sassy, observant, and funny, which makes for a great MG read.

    The graph is an interesting character quirk, but since your mc never spells out what she's graphing, I found it confusing enough to be distracting. I was also a little confused by the names--I wasn't sure who Carly McDonald was, wasn't certain of the main character's name, and when the club meets, you introduce multiple girls in such a short space that I found it hard to keep them straight.

    Nevertheless, I really enjoyed that scene when the club first gets together. You have a gift for dialog and humor, and this scene is where your writing really shines, so much so that I wonder if it might be a better place to start your story. The incident with Mr. Trolp is weird and intriguing, but starting with it places a lot of internal dialog in the opening pages. Although your main character has a funny, snarky voice, (and I love the art-teacher-comes-up-from-the-classroom bit, too!), she doesn't gain my sympathy until I see her interacting with her friends. That's when I really start getting interested in your story.

    I know some of your commenters suggested that the voice felt a little old for MG, but I think it works--it reminds me a bit of Ally Carter's writing (I'd Tell You I Loved You But Then I'd Have to Kill You), which is on the older end of MG. I did wonder, though, whether this should be categorized as science fiction or fantasy rather than mystery--the "dark matter" had a definite other-worldly feel to it :).

    Thanks for sharing--great submission!

  11. I love the voice of your mc. She's so quirky and fun. Love that. So far I'm caught up, but I agree that you've committed yourself to following up on having the teacher and the dark energy play largely in what's coming up.

    Suggestion for tightening it up—try reading it out loud.

    So far I love it. (I have a soft spot for physicists and sci-fi-ish mysteries.)


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