Sunday, May 6, 2012

1st 5 Page May Workshop - Haynes

M. Haynes
MG Contemporary

Chapter One

The Best Not-a-Bug Ever

            Today was the day I was going to find something extra big
and creepy. I knew it. First I’d figure out what it was, and then I’d
scare Mom with it.

            She’d scream for sure. She always did.

            I headed straight for my lucky bug finding spot under the
tall, prickly bushes at the end of the yard. Nothing under the first
one and just a worm under the second. The worm wasn’t big enough to
scare anybody, not even Mom.

      My right thumb started twitching, and that’s when I knew there
was going to be something under the third bush. My bug-finding
feelings were never wrong. When I lifted up the lowest branches, I saw
something laying in the dirt. It looked like a balled up muddy sock.
Then it moved.

            I scrunched down and slid the top half of my body under
the bush. Prickles scratched and poked my back through my soccer
jersey. I didn’t care.

            I inched closer until I could tell it definitely wasn’t a
muddy sock. It was a jumble of brown and tannish splotches. When I
held my breath to listen, whatever it was made a sound like my dad
snoring only a million times quieter. Then it lifted its head, and I
spied a black nose about the size of the nail on my thumb and the
floppiest ears I’d ever seen. A puppy!

            A puppy in my backyard. Like it picked me.

            I reached out and touched one of its ears. It was so soft,
but then I remembered watching a show last year about baby animals. I
couldn’t remember if you should touch them or shouldn’t touch them. So
I pulled my hand back and just looked at him. He turned his head and
made a different noise, one that sounded like crying. Why was he
crying? Was he hurt or sick or sad?

            “I’ll be right back,” I told the puppy. “I promise.” I
scooted back out from under the bush.

            I needed help. And after that, I needed something else. A plan.

            I’d been asking for a dog for as long as I could remember,
and since I was turning ten in 18 days, that was a long time. Every
time I asked, Mom said no. She never even had a reason – just no.

            I took one step toward the fence between my backyard and
my best friend Katy’s, then stopped. Because even though it was
definitely a ‘tell your best friend first’ thing, Katy was visiting
her grandparents and she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow.

            My brain finally sent the right answer – the perfect
person to help. I ran around to the front of the house and across the
street. My feet were flying. I took the steps to the front door in one
leap and fell on the doorbell, accidentally ringing it three times. I
hopped from one foot to the other until the door opened kind of hard.

            Not the person I needed to see.

            “Hi, Mrs. Lucas,” I said, remembering my manners for once.
“Is Dr. Lucas home?”

            “Hello, Nate,” she said. Mrs. Lucas stood there and looked
at me – from my black always sticking up hair to my soccer cleats that
still had clumps of grass and dirt in them from the game that morning.
She reached out and pulled a few leaves from my hair.

            “He’s not home yet. Is something wrong?” she asked.

            Mrs. Lucas called my mom if she saw me riding my bike no
handed with my eyes closed (just for a few seconds). And every
Halloween, she let me know with only a look that I took more candy
from the bowl than I should have. I thought she might secretly hate
kids. I didn’t want to tell her, but since Dr. Lucas wasn’t home, I
had to.

            “Well, I was looking for bugs in my backyard and, well,
the biggest and grossest ones are usually under the prickly bushes in
the back…”

            Mrs. Lucas just kept looking at me and listening. So I
took a deep breath and kept going.

            “I found a puppy. A teeny tiny puppy. And it’s under the
bush. It’s so cute. It’s kind of brown and tan and it has really
floppy ears, and - ”

            “A puppy?” Mrs. Lucas leaned around the door and grabbed
something that looked like an old fashioned doctor’s bag. “Was its
mother nearby?”

            I shrugged. “I didn’t see a mom – or any other puppies.
Just that one. And it kind of started crying.”

            “Did you show your mom?” asked Mrs. Lucas as she stepped
and I jumped off the porch.

            “Uh, no.”

            Mrs. Lucas gave me one of those ‘you took too much candy’ looks.

            “Every time I ask for a pet she says no. But this one must
want to be mine since he’s in our yard and everything. So I need a
plan to get her to say yes,” I said. “I thought Dr. Lucas could help
since he’s an animal doctor and everything.”

            I ran out of breath from talking and sort of trotting to
keep up with Mrs. Lucas.

            When I started to swerve toward the gate to the backyard,
Mrs. Lucas put her hand on my shoulder and steered me to the front
door instead. She rang the bell and waited, perfectly still. I stood
next to her, not still at all. I bounced on the balls of my feet and
popped my knuckles.

            Mom opened the door and smiled at Mrs. Lucas until she saw
me standing next to her. Then the smile slid right off her face. “Oh
Grace, did Nate do something wrong?”

            “Not at all. He did something exactly right,” said Mrs.
Lucas. “Nate found a puppy in your backyard and came looking for Andy.
Andy’s not home, so I came.”

            “A puppy? In our backyard?” Mom finally looked at me. She
still wasn’t smiling.

            “Yep. Under the prickly bushes in the back. Mom, you have
to see it. It’s tiny and it has a little black nose and floppy ears.
Can I keep it? Can I?”

            I felt Mrs. Lucas’s hand on my shoulder again. She said,
“Let’s all go around back and take a look, okay? Then we’ll see what
needs to happen next.”

            Mom and Mrs. Lucas followed me to the bush. Even though
she was wearing white pants, Mrs. Lucas got down on her belly and slid
under the bush next to me. I pointed to the spot where one of the
puppy’s floppy ears was spread out on the ground. He yawned and
stretched out his front paw until it was almost touching my hand.

            I looked at Mrs. Lucas and she nodded. I reached out the
tiniest bit until my finger was up against his paw. It was so soft and

            He was supposed to be mine. I knew it. A hoping feeling
started inside of me and got bigger and bigger until I thought it
might explode out of my belly button.

            “He’s just a baby,” said Mrs. Lucas in a softer voice than
her regular one. “If his mom doesn’t come back, he’ll need to be taken
care of.”

            I turned my head and said, “Mom, Mrs. Lucas said if the
puppy’s mom doesn’t come back, I’ll need to take care of him.”

            Mom crouched down, looked at me and sighed a sigh like
when I got mud on my church pants. “That’s not what she said. She said
someone will have to take care of him.”

            She was going to say no even though this puppy picked me.
I looked down at the ground hard so Mrs. Lucas couldn’t see I was
trying not to cry.

            The puppy lifted his paw and put it on top of my pinky,
almost like he was holding my hand. I rested my chin on my other arm
and just watched him and listened. He was making a snuffling noise
that would’ve been funny if I hadn’t felt so rotten.


  1. Your writing is excellent and this is a great start. I really like how I instantly get a feel for the mc and what he wants (and can't have).

    My main comment is that I feel Mrs. Lucas hijacked the story. It is suddenly her choices that are moving the narrative forward. I'm always a tad concerned when adults take up so much space. Just in these 5 pages, I don't see the need for her at all - she's not driving the conflict between Nate and his mom. I don't know where you're going with the story of course, but I think it would be so much better if Nate really did go to Katy, or just went to beg his mom on his own. That would be 100% believable - but not so much that he would even go to Mrs. Lucas' husband unless they were already in cahoots to get Nate a puppy.

    I couldn't quite buy the worry about not touching a baby animal. A kid like Nate would pick up a lost puppy if it wasn't snarling. He doesn't seem like a worrywart about disease or the like. Seems like he'd just pick it up and take it with him.

    I doubt the mc would tell Mrs. Lucas about the bug hunting. I also have a hard time believing he'd pour out his heart to her about wanting a dog.

    Looking forward to your revision!

  2. Oh, I want Nate to have this puppy so bad! You have really established a great character here. Nice subtle way to drop in his age early.

    I got caught up when Nate described how Mrs. Lucas looked at his "always sticking up hair" and his dirty soccer cleats. I don't know if a 10 year old boy would think about himself this way. You could keep us more in his head by having him smooth his hair down before he knocks on the door because Mrs. Lucas always says something about it.

    When Nate told her that he always wanted a puppy, I was thinking "Shh! You're going to blow it!" So yeah, it didn't seem so realistic to me either.

    I didn't feel the same way about the fact that he didn't pick the puppy up. I work with kids in this age range, and I swear that the one thing that sticks in their brains from watching animal shows is to never touch baby animals! I thought it was very believable.

    Love it and would definitely keep reading!

  3. You got me with the adorable puppy and the kid who wants it. AWWWWWWW. I like that your MC reads his age. He seems like the kind of kid that would take the puppy inside and try to hide it or something. I'm not sure he'd leave it there unattended until he got the neighbor. If he decided he needed help from the vet because he was trying to hide it and he was really worried it was sick or something then maybe...

    As to your structure itself, I noticed that there were many paragraphs starting with "I" which is easy to do in first person. Go through and look at how you use sentence structure and express your MC's thoughts. Try to vary it. I think that will make an already strong voice much stronger.

    Can't wait to see the revision.

  4. I don't read as much MG as I do YA, but I feel like this voice in this was a tad young for MG (though it seemed to get a little "older" as the excerpt went on).

    Nine also seems a bit young for a protagonist in a MG book (I'm used to main characters being more in the eleven to thirteen range). Perhaps this would fit more as a chapter book? But again, I'm not as well-versed in MG, so I could be wrong!

    I enjoyed the characterization of Mrs. Lucas through Nate's eyes. And of course, I am all for puppies (and sympathize with Nate's longing for one!) :)

  5. Hi!

    I like the voice in this, but it is a very low MG. Kat's right about that. Kids that age tend to be willing to read about characters their own age but not characters younger than they are, so you are aging yourself down to the near bottom of the MG spectrum.

    That said, it's clear your mc is a character--and a unique character at that. I might suggest opening here:

    My bug-finding feelings were never wrong. My right thumb started twitching, and that’s when I knew there
    was going to be something under the third bush (descibe location). When I lifted up the lowest branches, I saw
    something lying in the dirt. It looked like a balled up muddy sock.
    Then it moved.

    If you begin with the character and action instead of with the other, I suspect kids will give the character a little more attention. Once you have us hooked, it's easier to go back and develop your intriguing mother dynamic.

    I would also love a little more instant recognition that the thing curled up under the bush isn't a bug.Give us that and describe how it is different from a bug.

    I love the idea that your mc thinks the puppy picked him! Nate is adorable.



  6. Love the first line, and the rest of that paragraph doesn’t disappoint. However I frowned at wanting to scare the mother – I know that’s a perfectly innocent thing for a little kid to do but it still made me wonder if the MC was a brat, and whether I was going to like them.

    Haha I love the character’s unique thumb-twitch, and the sock moving revelation is brilliantly gross! (Until it becomes a puppy, of course).

    Love the way you gave the age through the character’s voice, however I agree that he wouldn't describe his hair or clothes so negatively. I like the suggestion about him flattening it because she complains all the time.

    Mrs. Lucas called my mom if she saw me riding my bike no
    handed with my eyes closed (just for a few seconds). This line was a little clumsy because I didn’t know whether it was going into a recollection or it was just a general statement.

    Overall the writing is gorgeous, the characterisation beautiful, and I absolutely loved it. Great job!


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)