Monday, November 21, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - M. Brunner

Max Brunner
Middle Grade Fantasy

Chapter I: The Spit Wad

A ball of wet paper slapped the side of John’s face. He caught himself before falling out of his chair but was powerless to stop the hot blood that flooded his cheeks. Dice and his friends exploded with laughter. Cold saliva ran down his cheek and John swallowed hard to keep his lunch inside his stomach. The spit wad had caused him enough embarrassment for one day. He took a deep breath and remembered they wouldn’t be laughing much longer.

“I can’t wait to see your face w-w-when-“ John paused. He was stuttering again. It was so embarrassing.

Dice lowered his straw, “Can’t wait to what? You got something to say to me, f-f-f-freak?”

The students around them chuckled again. John clenched his fists but said nothing.

The boy seated behind Dice cracked his knuckles. “You want me to teach him a lesson?” He was big enough to be repeating seventh grade for the second time.

“Right after class,” Dice smiled. “But make sure we’re far from the school. I want to throw a few punches too.”

“Just what is so funny Mr. Menning?” asked their wrinkled teacher.

“Nothing, Ms. Jessup,” Dice replied as he fumbled to hide the straw shooter.

The woman marched toward him. “What is that you’re hiding over there? Craig, I want you to empty your pockets, right now.”

The bullies panicked and John couldn’t help but smile. Having Dice empty his pockets was a stroke of genius.

John leaned back, folded his arms, and made sure Dice could see him grinning. “You’re not getting away with it this time,” he teased.

Then it happened. Again.

“Dice, I’ll take it. Quick, give me the straw.” It was Rebecca, the girl that sat in front of Dice.

John’s smile disappeared. “Not you too,” He said. “Come on Becca, I thought w-we were friends.”

Dice smirked and slipped her the straw shooter in her hand.

“You think this will make you popular, that he’s going to be your friend now? He’s not your friend. He’s just using you, like he uses everybody else.”

The evidence disappeared just before their teacher made it to Dice’s desk. She quickly scanned the innocent items Dice had taken out of his pockets. “Is this it?” She sighed, “I have three more slides to go over and fifteen minutes to do it in, Craig.”

John wiped the remaining the saliva from his face, “H-H-He shot a spit wad at me.”

She spun on her heels and locked John in her sights. “Now how would you know who shot that at you, Mr. Davy?” She asked, glaring at him through a pair of glasses that would be too small if her eyes weren’t so beady. “You haven’t done anything but keep your nose in that book since you came through that door. Just because you are my brightest student does not excuse you from paying attention to my presentations.”

Suddenly she snatched the paperback out of his hands. “Just what is so captivating that you cannot seem to pay attention to my presentation?”

Ms. Jessup held the book away from her face so her old eyes could read the title but before she could get the letters focused Dice chimed in. “Another crazy book about UFOs or something,” he said, inciting a giggle from his classmates.

“T-The Hutchison Effect,” John said.

“The Hutchison Effect? I’ve never even heard of it.”

John shifted in his seat before lifting his deep brown eyes. “It, it’s about the Hutchison Effect and the Bermuda Triangle and how—”

“The Bermuda Triangle?” Ms. Jessup snickered. “Preposterous. I’ve lived on this island in ‘the Triangle’ for more than 35 years. I’ve seen more storms here than you’ve had birthdays and I have never seen anything out of the ordinary. Your time in class is far too precious to be wasted on something like this.”

“My dad told me hundreds of ships and planes have disappeared in the Triangle and even Christopher Columbus saw strange lights when he sailed through here. My dad saw—“

“Mr. Davy,” She interrupted, “We do not have time for this nonsense. The Bermuda Triangle is no different from anywhere else in the world and anyone who says otherwise should have his or her head examined. The laws of science are the same here as they are everywhere else.” She held John’s book in the air and spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. “I have studied science my entire life and I can tell you these kinds of books do not contain fact. They do not teach; they entertain. This book is full of idiotic theories by people with too much time on their hands too lazy to get real jobs. Reading things like this is a waste of your time and a waste of good paper. John, you are too bright to believe in this hocus pocus.”

“It’s not hocus pocus. You’ll see,” John said under his breath.

“What was that?” Ms. Jessup replied.

“N-N-Nothing.” John answered.

“Good. Now,” she said, “put that thing away and let’s get back to these slides and see if we can teach you some real science. I don’t know why on earth a bright boy like you would waste his time reading such a ridiculous book.”

“Because he’s just as nu-nu-nu-nuts as his old man,” Dice chuckled and it seemed to John the whole class laughed with him.

Sefi wasn’t laughing, however. “Knock it off, Dice.” she said slamming her fist into her brother’s arm.

She brushed her dark, pink-streaked hair away from her eyes to steal a glance at John. He caught her eyes for an instant but quickly turned away.

Ms. Jessup carried on with the rest of her slides and as his tormentors began again, John let out a quiet sigh. He was totally alone. It was like he had a disease and everyone was afraid if they came too close he would infect them. No one seemed to understand him. What made John feel even worse was that no one even tried anymore.

When the program ended for the day the children quickly crowded the exit, eager to leave the school behind them.

John stayed in his seat. If he left now Dice and his goons would be there to meet him.

The room was nearly empty when Sefi walked over to his desk. “Sorry about the spit wad. Dice can be a real jerk sometimes.”

John didn’t respond. He frowned at the cover of his textbook, waiting for her to leave. All he wanted was to be left alone. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially Dice’s sister.

The boy winced as she slammed her palm onto his desk, her skull-covered bracelets rattling menacingly.

“You know why he pushes you around?” she huffed. “Because he knows you won’t push back.”

Sefi stood in silence waiting for the boy to reply. When no answer came, she pushed his book to the floor and stormed out of the room.


  1. Much stronger. I think it was a wise choice to move back that part about Sam and the hat. You can get to Sam and the hat in a bit, but nicely done. You've got a good grasp of dialogue and group dynamics.

    I'd like to see more than "He was stuttering again. It was so embarrassing." -- dig a little harder on this part; really make us feel his frustration and embarrassment. Again, if this is important to you and to your character, don’t slough it off with a generic statement. His dialogue snapped us into his head. Then the next sentence pops you right back out. I’d do something along the lines of showing us how hard it is for his mouth and tongue to form the words, the catch, the way the blush feels hot and liquid up his face (and if any of these phrases are useful, help yourself). How do the botched words feel inside his mouth? Are they racing, like runners to a finish line? Are they wrestling in his throat? And I would check the rest of your work for “this” too. If you’re like me and you do it once, you’ll do it over and over again. Again, your dialogue is fine, but you lose the impetus when you switch to passive voice immediately after. Watch the word “it” (One of my problems in my own work)… “It” signals passivity, and deflects rhythm of your words a bit (not exactly a real detour, but more like stepping around something in your path – like you’re trying to avoid a kid’s toy underfoot). On the whole, this story is flowing better than your first attempt. Feels more immediate, and I feel like I have a better connection to the MC.

  2. I definitely like this revision better. The only thing that tripped me up was Rebecca taking the shooter. Whenever someone's gotten in trouble in class that I remember, and a teacher says "turn out your pockets" or whatever, the teacher's standing *right there.* So I don't know quite how this would have worked. Even if she's standing at the front of the classroom, how big is this classroom that she wouldn't have heard the conversations?

    Also (and this is a teeny point) when the big guy says "You want me to teach him a lesson?" I thought he was referring to Dice, like he was on John's side.

  3. This version seemed to carry the story forward better with action and dialogue. Overall, I liked it better. Also, I liked that you toned down the teacher and didn't make her quite such a hostile character. She feels more real to me.

    The thing that did bother me was that it seemed like the teacher would have to be absolutely deaf and blind to miss what was going on, because the way it's written now, the kids are loud and obvious with their behavior in the class. Maybe try to visualize yourself in the classroom and watch this scene the way it is right now? Classrooms aren't that big. Could the teacher really miss it if they were carrying on this conversation and laughing together openly?

    Just a thought about antagonists from Les Edgerton's book 'Hooked' which made me rethink my approach to bad guys. Les mentioned that the best villains aren't evil, but simply have a goal that is opposite that of the protagonist. If you make the opposite goal a good thing, that makes the story even better.

    He used the example of the movie 'The Fugitive.' Harrison Ford is trying to clear his name of something he didn't do. The antagonist is a law officer who believes in upholding the law, which is in opposition to Ford, but is a noble and right goal. Les said that if you make the antagonist too evil, you end up with Snidely Whiplash, which is what I had been doing. (I was frustrated by my unreal antagonists.)

    Coming back to Dice, I was wondering some things. Is he evil through and through? What motivates him to act the way that he does? Does the reader finally find out?

    : ) Looking forward to your next revision!

  4. Hi Max,

    I had the same problem along with the others. I wondered how big the classroom must be for the teacher not to see and hear what was going on with the exchange of the shooter. I guess you could give her a hearing aid along with the glasses, but usually a teacher of this much experience is going to know the trouble students and all their tricks.

    Why not have her outwit Dice, demand the shooter from Rebecca, and assign them both ASD? This will really make Dice even madder at John.

    But this revision is definitely an improvement. Just keep working with deepening your characters and taking every opportunity to show them through making their actions and dialogue as specific to them as possible.


  5. I agree with the comments above. I would definitely like a little more description of the stuttering and how it feels inside his head. Readers will definitely make a connection with him - maybe from personal experience or sympathy.
    I like the changes with the teacher too. She seems real now. About her missing what's going on, a suggestion is to have her step out of the room for a minute.

  6. First, my biggest compliment: I like John a LOT better in this version. In your past drafts I've been annoyed with him; he just seemed like too much of a wimp. In this version the way he tells his teacher what's going on and the way he whispers "it's not hocus pocus' under his breath give me the feeling that he does has potential as a hero. I love how Sefi at the end points out that he won't push back. This gives us the feeling that John wants to push back, but he's just not quite there yet, and I'd read this book just to see him grow and stand up for himself.

    I have a couple of the exact same critiques as before, so I won't repeat them in detail. See my previous post.

    - The setting is still extremely generic. If there are indeed in the bermuda triangle I want to see it. It doesn't have to be anything big, just enough so that he doesn't feel like an ordinary classroom.
    - You still don't introduce Sefi. She's brought in randomly without introduction, as if you've mentioned her before, but you didn't.

    Also, I don't like this line: “You think this will make you popular, that he’s going to be your friend now? He’s not your friend. He’s just using you, like he uses everybody else.” It just feels a little melodramatic, almost preachy. This sounds like something John would think, but not what he would actually say.

    All in all, you've done some great work, and I actually like your protag now. BTW, the characterization of the teacher was much better, too.

  7. This is so much better! John is fighting back (as best as he can) and the bully isn't completely getting it his own way. I'm not sure that all the dialog works yet (I agree with Elanor's point about "You think this will make you popular...?") but there's a dynamic going on which was missing from the earlier versions.

    I do feel that Dice is too black-and-white a villain - is it possible that John provokes him a little?

    I felt the pacing was much better and that the Bermuda Triangle was brought in at just the right point. Would still like to see Sefi integrated a little more in the proceedings, mind...

  8. Sorry if I got things mixed up... Not going on a lot of coffee here. :)


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