1.05.2007

HH Com Rd 2 - #5 (92)

Hook here


I, Steven Morgan Carter, being able to read and write, would like to give my stuff away if I die. After what happened this morning, I had to be sure the right things would be done, just in case.

My little brother, Justin, can have any of my toys he wants. Mom can have my clothes and pictures. Dad can have my video games. Andy, my best friend and the only one who understands Doorstep, can have him. And the red wagon we pull him around in. Pieter can have his checker board back, even though he’s been dead for five hundred years. I’ll tell you how to find him in a minute. ***

Everything started this morning. Dad was working on the computer and Mom was helping Justin with a school project. So I grabbed a donut and ran out the door. I cut across two yards to reach Andy’s house. His house is the smallest one on our street, and usually pretty messy. Not from Andy though. Mostly from his Dad. He doesn’t cut the grass or take out the trash, so his mom has to do everything.

I knocked on the back door and went in. I think Andy’s Dad must’ve been working. He’s a policeman. Sometimes he works double shifts.

“Andy’s upstairs. Would you like something to eat?” Andy’s mom asked. Even if someone didn’t know it, they’d guess that she’s a nurse. She’s always trying to take care of things.

“No thanks, Mrs. Turner.” I ran upstairs to Andy’s room. The whole house can look like a bomb exploded with papers and bottles everywhere, but Andy’s room is different. He cleans his own room. Puts everything he owns in piles or containers. He doesn’t like posters on the walls. He likes to hang up class pictures. I would too if I looked as good as him. He may be on the short side, but he’s got nice blonde hair. A lot of girls in Miss Donnelly’s class giggle when they’re around him.

Andy was sitting on the floor when I walked in. He had a bunch of tools spread out around him. He’s been collecting this stuff since the second grade.

“Let’s go to the old Kruger house!” I said. I hadn’t been there since school started a month ago. This would be just the break I needed from Miss Donnelly. She’s always inking up my work, and I can hardly read anything she writes. Going to the Kruger house would make me forget about school.

“But I just got these new screwdrivers.” Andy was busy sorting them. Sometimes I call him Handy. Handy Andy. He’s my best friend. He’s good at fixing things, reading books, picking noses, and scratching butts. His own, that is.

“Come on! You can do that later.” I said.

Andy looked at his Deluxe Micronic Steel Screwdriver Set then looked at me. “Okay. Just give me a sec.” He put everything away nice and neat and then we ran out the house.

We had to cross over two corn fields and one long patch of woods to get to the Kruger house. No-one’s lived there for a long time. It’s falling apart all over the place. Each time we go there, it looks worse and worse.

“You sure it’s not haunted?” Andy said when we got there. He always says that.

“Yeah, right. You gotta stop believing the older kids.” High schoolers think they can scare us. And I really wanted to see inside the house this time.

“We come here all the time. It’s time to go in. Let’s go.” I looked at the doorway and then at Andy. Andy’s afraid of ghosts, and deep-down he believes the high-schoolers.

“You first.” Andy said.

This was my cue. So I started pointing back and forth. “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo. My mother stepped all over your mother’s toe. If she kicks you, let her go. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo!”

“You’re ‘It’!” Andy shouted.

“All right.” I rolled my eyes. If Andy hadn’t been my best friend, he would’ve been bordering on the weenie category.

The Kruger house had a small porch. There were vines hanging off everywhere-the roof, the floor, the posts. They looked like creepy green spiderwebs. Big, rotting holes covered the wooden floor.

The door was brown, with gray peeling paint. It was half open. That was the tempting part. If it had been all the way closed, we never would have gone in.

*** notice how that sly little sentence just slides in and leaves you wanting more? You've almost forgotten it but it's there, in your brain, whispering "read on, read on".

My only quibble with this is that I don't think boys notice appearance in a way that "nice blond hair" indicates. Most boys I know who are that age (a very very small number in fact) seem to judge how "tough" they each are. I'm not even sure they know the word blond, let alone nice.

This is one of the hardest things about writing kids books in first person--getting not just the voice, but the actual words right.

I'd read on though; diction is important but I can fix that if I had to.

26 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

I liked this a lot, but suggest you call the house anything but Kruger, seeing as that's straight out of Nightmare on Elmstreet and its numerous sequels.

That line MS liked? I liked it too. But don't keep us waiting too long.

Anonymous said...

I love this. Definitely would read on. Good job, author!

overdog said...

"Pieter can have his checker board back, even though he’s been dead for five hundred years. I’ll tell you how to find him in a minute. ***"

It's the sentence about Pieter that makes me want to read on. The "I'll tell you how to find him" sentence is kind of a klunker, pounds me over the head with it. But that's a quibble. I do like this one. Brings back memories of my own adventures, except for Pieter. I want to know about him.

Anonymous said...

Two comments:

The business about Andy's tool kit is an obvious set-up. Work it into the action somehow.

Immediately following that--and coming straight out of the blue--you have: “Let’s go to the old Kruger house!” That's another set-up.

Open with some action that involves these things. Maybe a dare: "If I win I get your new tool kit. If I lose, I'll walk through the front door of the Kruger house." Anything to avoid stopping the action while you set the stage.

Otherwise, pretty good, and a really engaging hook.

Good luck,

j.c.

I Said said...

Good structure, good voice, nice sense of impending adventure. I'd read on.

takoda said...

thank you, Miss Snark, for the insights! You are absolutely right about the blonde hair bit; my husband said the same after I sent this! I will be checking ruthlessly for the 10 year-old voice--thanks again!!

thank you writtenwyrdd about the name of the house--I didn't remember it came from Elm Street. Will have to think of a new scary name. How about the "Snark House?"

thanks you to the writer who suggested edits about the tool box--I love your suggestions!!

Thanks to overdog for what is not a quibble. If you took the time to comment, I will definitely take your input seriously!!

Pieter is Pieter Bruegel, a Flemish artist from the 1500s. I'm in London now, in transit with my family, and just saw my very first Bruegel painting at the National Gallery of Art. It's not his best piece (IMHO!) but hey, what a great opportunity!

Thank you again, Miss Snark!!

Cheers, Chris

Anonymous said...

“Yeah, right. You gotta stop believing the older kids.” High schoolers think they can scare us. And I really wanted to see inside the house this time.

This is where I had a big problem with the diction. Try something like:

"Yeah, right. You gotta stop believing those high school dorks."

(If not 'dorks' then some similar derogatory term.)

Anonymous said...

I disagree with overdog about "I'll tell you how to find him in a minute". That worked for me.

LindaBudz said...

Nice job, Chris! Glad to see Miss S liked it! Some good suggestions here ... especially j.c.'s! Nothing much to add, just wanted to say congratulations!!!

ObiDonWan said...

Yeah, reads like it was written by a female. Too much description--you spotted the blond hair thing.
Also, I'm tired, Tired, TIRED of kids rushing to get into old houses that may be haunted. Way old. Better would be, I think, having a genuinely non-ghost reason to go into the house.

Sherryl said...

I liked this - but it feels a little wordy. Other people have made suggestions about trimming or rewriting the tools stuff, and I'd agree. A little too much set-up for me, and a little more pace needed. I did wonder about the main character being ten. That means your readership is going to be 7-10 usually. So is this middle grade, or a chapter book? A chapter book would definitely need to be pacier.

Kiki said...

I liked it for the most part. It had a nice flow to it. Except for the gratuitous scenes around Andy's house. They didn't add much.

I love the opening with the will, but I'd want faster pacing throughout, at least for the first few chapters.

But once you clean up the voice and the boys' inherent idiosyncrasies (at the moment, they make too much sense and act too mature), it's going to be a fantastic book.

Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

The hook was the best of the lot. The pages I'm disappointed with. It feels that the boy is younger than 10, too childish. My daughter is six and she sounds more mature than this.

Heterosexual boys (me remembering being one, not that I stopped being heterosexual but I kind of stopped being a boy a while ago) care about appearances a great deal. They don't usually verbalize it though and figuring out why a boy is attractive to girls is beyond them.

So, unless Steven's gay and it's important to the story, it will be something like that:
------------------
He likes to hang up class pictures. I would too if I were him. I have no idea what they see in him but a lot of girls in Miss Donnelly’s class giggle when they’re around him and look through me like I'm the glass door to the cafeteria.
------------------
But of course if Andy's looks are not important to the story I would cross out the sentence.

A Paperback Writer said...

Breugel? That's interesting. I'll be interested in reading more.
I'm afraid I agree with overdog; I believe that "I'll tell you how to find him in a minute" breaks the rhythm.
I hope you ignore obidonwan's sexist remarks. Plenty of boys talk a lot, but you do need to talk like a 10-year-old if that's the age of the narrator.
I liked this.

McKoala said...

I wondered if you needed the set up at Andy's house? I was drifting off hearing about his mom and dad. Could you get them straight to the house? If not, I like jc's suggestion.

I'm with overdog on the 'I'll tell you how to find him in a minute' sentence. It's the five hundred years one that's pulled me. Looks like we're outnumbered on this one, though, and Miss S likes it, so I'd keep it if I were you!

Overall I like it though. I love Brueghel.

MWT said...

For me, "I'll tell you how to find him in a minute." is the second punch of a one-two with the "even though he's been dead for five hundred years" line. My vote is that you leave it exactly the way it is.

Why? The "dead for five hundred years" line by itself is intriguing, but it doesn't have the same sense of immediacy without the second line. The second line is what strongly suggests that Steven Morgan Carter is actively talking to some guy who died 500 years ago, and can indeed just casually "find him in a minute" to give him a checkerboard. It's what leads me to wonder "how can that be?" and to therefore keep reading.

Anonymous said...

I don't think obidonwan's remarks were "sexist," I also think it reads like it was written by a woman, not a 10-year-old boy. It's a matter of what is called out by the narrator, how they're described, and the attitudes behind the descriptions. Try more action and a little less background, especially re: things like Andy's house.

But I like the dead 500 years bit and would keep going a while to see if that pops up again. Best of luck.

jeanne said...

Funny, I always thought Chris, the author, was a man. I saw the post about the hook on SCBWI. Perceptions are squiggly things, aren't they?

I love this. I teach fifth graders. They are not tired of rushing into old houses or prowling weird places they think might be haunted. There's a family cemetery near the elementary school that gets their sporadic attention, especially around Halloween.

Shannon said...

I too thought that it moved a little too slowly in the house scenes. There could be a bit of mention about the neatness (or lack thereof) of the house, but only once. You mention it when he's walking over there and then again when he enters his friend's room.

Although the voice falters in a couple of places, I thought the line "He’s good at fixing things, reading books, picking noses, and scratching butts. His own, that is." was dead-on 10-year-old-boy. I've taught this age and it fits perfectly. It even made me laugh out loud!

writtenwyrdd said...

"I'll tell you in a minute" is important because that's the hook; the bit about him being dead is more like the bait. Without saying that line, the reader doesn't know that having a dead guy in a will is unusual--we assume fantasy rules and just suspend disbelief for a bit. That assumption takes some of the punch from the experience.

Or that's my opinion.

takoda said...

Thanks again for all of the comments! I wish we could post more chapters, that would be quite fun and informative!

To me, it's hard getting the balance between character development and plot build-up in the beginning. I mean, if you don't care who the MC is, do you really care about the adventure he's going on? I think only for so long. But you need to care about the characters in order to root for them overcoming their obstacles.

And the bit about the 'boy' voice. I think I really do have that down throughout my ms, but there may be occasional lapses which I hope to weed out. However, I believe that writing MGs for boy readers is important. I have 2 sons, and they are reading Junie B. stuff right now. They don't like Hardy Boys. We haven't tried Captain Underpants yet. Where is the selection for 8-12 year old boys, I ask. Other than Jerry Spinnelli.

Anyway, this is a great experience!

Chris (tine or topher, depending on my mood).

Anonymous said...

Yo - Hey, how cool is this? Had to laugh at the thought of Stephen being gay. Such assumptions. And to quote an old Seinfeld eppisode "Not that it matters anyway."
The range of boy voices at age 10 is far and wide. Stay true to your characters and just make sure what comes out of their mouths is "their words" and not yours. As long as you do that, you'll be fine. And again, I feel really strongly about this - I DON'T THINK YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE IS GOING TO ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SEXUAL ORIENTATION.

Word -

Xopher said...

I like the "in a minute" line just as it is. If it's not going to be in this chapter, it should say "later" instead, though!

Why SHOULDN'T Steven be gay? I certainly was aware of other boys' hair at that age. That doesn't have to be in the book, but it can be your authorial subtext (what I call the "Bob file" material, as in "As you know, Bob..." -- that is, things you don't want to include, because this is for middle-grade readers, but you can have in your mind that this character is going to grow up to be gay).

Or not. It's your book.

If you don't, I agree that "nice blond hair" needs to go.

Steve Prosapio said...

Great job author!

I disagree about the description of the parents and felt that was done fantastically. There is one line that REALLY bothers me.

"Sometimes I call him Handy. Handy Andy. He’s my best friend."
(then you go on to tell us how he fixes things)

The line "He's my best friend." is about as out of place as a seal at a baseball game. Plus, it makes the narrator sound at best, immature and at worst, retarded. It's obvious he's his best friend...and later there is a line that says something of "if he weren't my best friend" - leave that one but CUT this one.

Little things mean a lot.

This looks like a cool character and a potentially good story.

Twill said...

Can't say whether "nice blond hair" has to go, but it is distracting. What is wrong with the narrator's hair that makes him assign that as the reason? Hair isn't usually top on a boy's list of things to obsess about.

Overall, very nice voice. Looking forward to you finding a publisher.

takoda said...

Based on all of the comments, I've revised my first page to include:


Did I say Andy is my best friend? No? Okay then. I'll say it. He's my best friend. The bestest friend. He's the only one I know with luscious blonde hair and blue eyes. I get lost in those eyes.

My Handy Andy and me are going on an adventure. It's to a spooky ghost house. We made a plan about the scary parts. It has a couple of secret signals. If Andy is scared, he'll pick his nose and scratch his butt. If I'm scared, I'll gaze into his dreamy eyes.

Did I tell you we're looking for Pieter? If not, I'll tell you in a minute. Then I'll tell you more about my best friend, Handy Andy.




(grin)