Monday, March 5, 2012

8 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Wedgbrow

Sarah Wedgbrow
YA Contemporary

Until now, I’ve survived high school by being Invisible.  You know, blend in with the crowd, don’t speak to anyone, move out of the way if anyone gets too close.  Never make eye contact.  It’s a trick I learned last year as a freshman when Cliff Cower threatened to bash my face in for the hundredth time.  Like a good nerd, I was giving a tour of the school to William Blake—not the poet, the new kid—when Cliff huffed and puffed his way over to me.  He bent down and got in my face as I backed up against the lockers.  I squeezed my eyes shut, bracing for impact.  But after a few seconds nothing happened.  When I opened them, I heard Cliff’s distant laughter echoing as he rounded the corner into the stairwell.  It was then that I knew what I had done.  It was miraculous!  I had made myself Invisible.

The next time I saw Cliff, I wasn’t as quick with the Invisibility trick.  When I followed him off the school bus at the end of our street, he spun around.  His nostrils flared like a bull.  He said, “You think you’re better than me, don’t you?”

I couldn’t lie. 

That was the first time Cliff Cower really kicked my crumbs.  We were mortal enemies ever since my family moved to Ypsilanti—the “Brooklyn of Michigan”—when I was nine years old.  But Cliff had never touched me until last year.  And then he pretty much tormented me our entire freshman year to the complete ignorance of the neighborhood and the bus driver.  And I know what people might think.  And, yes, they’re probably right:  I’m much too good at being Invisible.

Until now. 

Everyone in fifth period lunch is on their feet, and they can all see me.  I’m the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy hair.  The girl who was previously Invisible.  At the other end of the lunchroom is Samantha Gross, smiling sweetly like I shouldn’t be bothered about it.  But she’s never had a milk carton explode over her head.  Just a guess.

“It was an accident,” she shouts from across the room.  Everyone is silent, waiting for my answer.  I think I heard a “Sorry” after that, but it could have been my imagination.   

An accident?  I guess that’s probable.  My lunch table is about eight steps away from the trash cans lining the wall, and there’s this huge pillar that I lean against for camouflage.  The same pillar that Samantha's milk carton smashed into. The same milk carton that should have smashed into me.  But if Cliff is Enemy Number 1, then Samantha is easily Enemy Number 2.

 It’s a semi-long history, Samantha Gross and I, which involves middle school marching band, specifically me tripping into her and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes.  I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since, but at one point in seventh grade, we were best friends.  For about a week.  We had necklaces and everything until she flushed her half down the toilet.

The janitor follows me with a mop as I slog down the hallway to the main office.  He’s catching up, so I walk quicker and listen to my jeans slap together at the ankles where most of the milk has ended up.  Thank you, Gravity. 

In the office, the home-perm queen of secretaries waddles over and tells me that I can wait for my mom to pick me up outside if I like.

Oh, I like.

Outside in the fresh air, I realize how bad I smell.  This sucks.  I decide I’m never going back to school again.

Too bad my dad doesn’t agree.  He sends me back the next morning, and like Groundhog Day, I’m repeating fifth period lunch.  In twenty-four hours it seems Samantha Gross’s popularity has skyrocketed.  She and her minions gather at their table across the cafeteria, waving their cartons at me, and I realize that my new plan for surviving high school is not to be Invisible, but to Dodge the Milk.  It’s times like this that I imagine what Mr. Miyagi would say to Daniel-san.  Well, he doesn’t say much at all in my imagination.  It’s Bruce Lee who does all the talking.  “Just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming.  Be flexible, wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”

Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me, I scope out the cafeteria for a spot where “accidents” are least likely to happen.  I pass through the lunch tables when I hear, “Jack!  Got Milk?”  My first instinct is to ignore it, but the voice is familiar.  I stop in front of William Blake’s table.  It’s the same William Blake who is not the poet, who I haven’t spoken to other than occasionally in English.  Most of the time, I try not to interact with him.  He witnessed one of my weakest moments last year—Cliff snarling in my face—and ignoring Will is part of being Invisible. 

So why is he talking to me now?  Why is he pointing to a seat across from him?  Surely he knows that’s Milk Suicide  

Will is alone at the table and I wonder where all of his jock friends have gone.  It didn’t take long for Will to become a celebrity around here.  He plays varsity for every sport offered, except for football.  Great Lakes boys are big, and Will is not so much.  But even if his friends make me intensely aware that I’m athletically challenged, having some extra people around would take the focus off me.  What does Will want? 

Suspiciously, I sit.  I slide my belongings onto the table.  Will smiles, and it hits me that his perfectly neat hair and sad blue eyes are only a fraction of his beauty.  I have, of course, noticed his Hollywood good-looks before.

He comments on my lunchbox.  “Chuck Norris?  Really?”

I can’t believe he recognizes The Norris.  I study his expression—slighty admiring, slightly amused—and mention, “My little sister made it for me.”  I try to sound like it wasn’t my idea in case he thinks it’s lame, but I would have cut, pasted, and shellacked that sucker if my sister wasn’t superior at craft-making things. 

Will’s eyes light up at the mention of my sister.  My heart squeezes tight as I realize now why he wants to chat.  Junewind is the hot freshman that every guy is lusting after this year.  It’s only been a few weeks since school started, and I’m already used to the trying-to-be-casual questions.  “June’s your sister?  Oh.  Well, tell her I said ‘Hi.’”  “Do you think she likes me?  Could you ask her?” 

Junewind doesn’t like this any better than I do.  Only this morning she was saying to me on the bus, “Why don’t they just ask me out themselves?”

Maybe she doesn’t know how intimidating hotness can be. 

I would have told Junewind all about Invisibility, but she’s obviously better equipped for social experiments than I am.  And even though Junewind’s name is as crazy as mine—Jack Li Hennesy—she embraces hers.  “A name’s a name,” she says and shrugs.  Not much fazes my little sister. 

So, it seems that today Will and I are eating lunch in (what our biology teacher would call) a symbiotic relationship.  Now that I’m welcome at his lunch table, I’ve got an extra set of eyes scanning for rogue milk cartons and he gets information about my little sister.

“So…Jack.”  Will’s voice is golden.  It makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve just had a giant gulp of hot chocolate that’s still fairly close to scalding, and my taste buds kind of burn off.  And then I think all day about how I’m not going to be able to taste anything until they regenerate.  It’s that golden.   

 “What are you doing this weekend?” he asks.

My heart unsqueezes.  “This weekend?  Catching up on the Monty Python movies I missed last weekend.”  I laugh to hide how nerdy I sound.

Will leans forward and lowers his voice.  “You like Monty Python?”

I lean in too.  “You’ve got no arms left!”

Will mocks seriousness, and an English accent.  He says, “Yes I have.  It’s only a flesh wound.”

My heart starts beating again.  I’ve just fallen in love with this guy.  We laugh for the first time together—crucial in any relationship—and then notice a few football players grabbing chairs at the other end of the table.  Will tenses up and changes the subject.


  1. I like your voice. And I can feel for the character. My suggestion is to slow down a bit. In the first five pages, you have introduced several different story lines here but not really getting into any of them. I would take one scene and go with it. An action one. Like the throwing of milk in the cafeteria. You can develop the other characters and story lines as you go. Thanks!

  2. I like this! I think it's got a great voice, and it's got a quirkiness to it that I love - especially with the names. The story does seem to veer off in a lot of different directions, and it might help to choose one scene and stick with that for a while. I almost feel like the first few paragraphs were meant to make me feel sorry for Jack in a kind of "o woe is me" way that I didn't relate to as much, though she does take the bullying in stride. What I REALLY related to, and when the story really grabbed my interest, is when Jack thinks that William Blake is only talking to her because of Junewind. So, I was slightly disappointed (in a pretty morbid way) when Jack started to find happiness/love with him. I wanted to see her disappointment stretched out a little more. It's hinted that she has a sort-of crush on him, and he's only talking to her because of her sister? Ouch.

    I also wanted to see more of an emotional reaction from Jack. Is she jealous of her sister? Is she protective of her and hate every boy that's interested in Junewind? What's the story there?

    Very interested in seeing how this continues! It feels like there are a lot of different directions this could go in, and I'm curious to see how things play out.

  3. I got hooked at the end, but I have to admit I was confused up until then.

    First - I thought the MC was a boy because of the bash my face in remark. Something about a boy hitting a girl turned me off. Call me old fashioned. Then I find out it's a girl and my mind went "okay..." but then I find out her name is Jack and my mind when "okay - huh?". My suggestion is to settle the gender of your MC right away - pony tail, necklace. Something that tells us in the first paragraph.

    Also - if she's invisible, then people wouldn't come up to her to ask questions about her sister. You need to be consistent.

    I like the comments about William Blake, not the poet. But why was she giving him a tour? More on that please. And I like how he switched gears when his buddies showed up. Very realistic.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I really like Jack's voice and I like the connection between her and Will, but I will echo what others have said before me. Beyond, you spend a lot of real estate on Cliff, and then you switch gears to have her run afowl of Samantha instead. And, as someone else said, the story didn't pick up for me until the relationship started with Will and she thought he was only asking because of Junewind.

    Here's the thing though. I love that she knows that Junewind is popular, but that she and her sister still have a great (evidently) relationship. THAT's different. And I liked her pleasant surprise when Will and she actually connected. But now I have a problem. They connected. I no longer have a reason to keep reading. Because the thing with the bullies? I didn't quite buy. They were too extreme. Also, a kid who wants to be invisible in high school isn't going to take a homemade Chuck Norris lunchbox, right? I love that quirkiness (although I am SOOOO not a Chuck Norris fan.)

    Overall, the invisibility seems like a gimmick, and it doesn't ring true if she has been being bullied like this. Maybe it's just the way you are handling it, so look at that carefully. What is realistic and likely in this situation? Right now, the bullying seems too extreme, and at the same time, too diffuse. If there is a relationship between the two bullies, it might be easier to grasp.

    Basically, pick your story line, pick your problem, and give us a sense of where we are going. There's a great character here -- and I LOVE Will!


  5. I love your character's voice, and enjoyed her internal monologue.
    I echo the comments above about wanting to know the relationship between Jack and June. Does she resent her sister? Love her?
    I also think the transition between the paragraph she talkes about invisibility and her standing with milk dripping from her head needs to be smoothened abit.
    Oh, and one thing I didn't get is, is invisibility like a gift? Or a way to blend with the crowd, be invisible? Will sounds like a wonderful character. :)

    Hope I was able to help. Happy writing and good luck!

  6. Thanks!! I really appreciate everyone's comments. For me, the beginnings are my favorite to write because that's the start of a story. But I think that first part of my chapter is for me as a writer and not quite for the reader. I'm going to work on it! Again, thank you!

  7. I really like your MC's voice! It carried me through. I liked her, even if she's a nerd or whatever. I like that she's not complaining about being a nobody, but using it to her advantange to survive HS. But that said, I felt like everything before "Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me" was in summary-mode. All in all, I agree with everyone else, especially Martina. I can't wait to see where you go with this :)

  8. I love the Chuck Norris reference. I teach high school English, and one of my classes has a repeated Chuck Norris joke going, so I love that Jack loves The Norris. I like your MC's voice as well. She's someone I would definitely stick with for a whole novel. I did feel like the beginning was a lot of info on her being invisible and almost would like to see that come in after mention of her sister. I love the conversation with Will, and having her question why he wants her to sit down already plants the seed that Jack is socially awkward, so maybe bring in the explanation of invisibility after we get to see her in action. Just a thought. As someone who is playing with exposition herself, I'm keeping an eye out for lots of info in one place. That being said, I love Jack's voice and all the nerdy stuff she likes because I love it all too!


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