Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Middle Grade Are You Hooked? #14

TITLE: Geoffrey and the Flower Kingdom
GENRE: MG/Fantasy

Geoffrey Greene kept his head down and pretended that he couldn't hear Ms. Lark and Principal Barker talking on the other side of the door. He tried to focus on his scuffed-up sneakers, but his eyes kept wandering. He looked over the newly ripped holes in his jeans, his shirt that was caked in mud and the fresh scrapes on his pudgy knuckles.

"He never acts out like this. Getting into a fight is the last thing I'd expect out of Geoffrey," he heard Ms. Lark say. Her quiet voice was cut off by the thundering of Principal Barker.

"Well, bring him in and I'll ask him myself!"

Ms. Lark opened the door and gestured Geoffrey into the room with a thin, but warm, smile. Geoffrey watched his feet as he entered Principal Barker's office, too frightened to meet his eyes.

"Mr. Greene, your teacher tells me that you attacked three classmates at recess today. Is that true?" Principal Barker boomed. With the state he was in, Geoffrey couldn't deny it. He nodded his head once.

"And why is that?" Principal Barker shouted. Geoffrey shrugged and kicked his dangling feet.

"Geoffrey," Ms. Lark said kindly, "you can tell us. It's okay."

Geoffrey looked up at Ms. Lark with tears in his eyes.

"They were trying to ruin it," he said.

"Ruin what, boy?" Principal Barker asked. Geoffrey could only look at Ms. Lark as he answered. His eyes still watered, but his voice was serious and steady.

"The Flower Kingdom."


  1. Nicely done. It drew me in and I read to the last word. I wanted to know immediately why Geoffrey got into a fight, especially if Ms. Lark said it wasn't like him. I wanted to hear his explanation right along with the Principal.

    I didn't like two things. First, this line: "Geoffrey shrugged and kicked his dangling feet". It confused me. Who's dangling feet? Geoffrey's? Does it mean he's sitting down? It never mentions him sitting, so that was a bit of a jarring sentence.

    Also, Principal Barker says "Ruin what, boy?"-- By the feel of this we're in modern times. I don't like when 'boy' is used in fantasy novels, but especially in this one, it feels out of place. I can't imagine a principal -- nowadays -- actually saying that to a student. That, however, is more of my personal opinion.

    Otherwise I'm hooked and intrigued.

    Good job.

  2. I would read more.

    I agree with Lizzy -- the dangling feet is ... well ... dangling out there without a description. Also I initially thought Ms. Lark left the office. Maybe a bit of setting up the scene is in order here. Also, I'm thinking you could add a bit of tension with this scene if we get a bit more into Geoffrey's head. We see his appearance and Ms. Lark's surprise at him fight, but what is Geoffrey thinking? Is he terrified of the thundering principal? Has he ever been to the principal's office before? Is he afraid of what his parents will do? I think you could add more to his character here as well as add to the tension.

    And a last thought, do they have recess in middle grade? What is the age of your MC?

    You've got a solid start here. I want to know what this Flower Kingdom is.

  3. I like this. I think you should work on the dialogue tags. The Principal is thundering, booming and shouting and I really don't think you need to use all of these. Once you establish that he is yelling, we know he is still yelling unless you tell us otherwise.

    Also (and this is very minor) you should start a new paragraph when you switch to the MC's reaction. Otherwise, we assume you are still describing the character who was just speaking and that is confusing.

    Good luck!

  4. I like this so far! I already want to give Geoffrey a hug, so you're doing your job there. I get the sense that he's on the younger end of MG, so if that was your intention you got it across very well.

    I agree with the others about the dangling feet line, and in general I'd like a bit more interiority here. It's a great opportunity to show us more about Geoffrey by his reactions to the situation.

    I'd read on. Good work!

  5. This is a good opening, great stakes both proximate and hinting at what's to come. A few comments:

    Think about varying your sentence structure - almost every sentence begins with a name or pronoun.

    If this book is intended for boys, you might want to reconsider the name of the kingdom. Most boys I know wouldn't even try it if they think it's "girly" - no worries if flowers are a big part later on, I just think you'll lose a big part of your audience before they even give it a chance. Likewise, the tears in his eyes. Most boys his age (many girls for that matter) would fight their tears unless they are being manipulative.

    You do a nice job of showing Geoffrey's feelings in a couple of places, but then you tell the same thing. For example, "Geoffrey watched his feet as he entered Principal Barker's office." No need to add the frightened bit. Similarly, you could lose the sentence "With the state he was in..."

    I didn't find the principal believable. Disapproval - yes. Lecturing - yes. Threats of "consequences" - yes. Yelling...he would have already lost his job if he made a habit of it. His anger would be restrained with the "we are doing this for your own good" external text even if Geoffrey doesn't believe it for a second.

    You never need "he heard, saw, etc." unless there could be any confusion about whose POV the reader is following.

    I'd tighten up that first sentence, for example: "Geoffrey Greene kept his head down as Ms. Lark and Principal Barker talked in low, tight voices on the other side of the door." Your ability to show Geoffrey's emotions with his physicality is great - no need to muddy the waters with the pretending bit.

    Can you show Ms. Lark being kind rather than use the adverb?

  6. I too am intrigued by what this Flower Kingdom is all about. However, I do agree with the previous poster. If you are aiming at all for a boy MG market, you might want to give serious reconsideration to the Kingdom title. The moment I read this, I couldn't help but think that most every boy I know would scoff at it and not even give it a chance. No boy wants to admit enjoying a book about a "Flower Kingdom" in this day and age.

    Also, this MC comes across as a girl more than a boy in my head when I read it. I could perfectly imagine a little girl on the playground yelling at the boys to stay away from the Flower Kingdom...and then getting tears in her eyes when they tried to ruin it. I can't, however, see a little boy doing the same thing. But, that could just be me.

  7. I had sort of the same issue as Dennis. I didn't think Geoffrey read like a girl, but he did come off a bit too placid. He just takes everything. He doesn't have one defiant thought or action, and I guess I wanted him to be a bit more assertive. We know he has some fight in him, because he just took on three other boys. Perhaps show some of that spirit in the office.

    It's easily remedied (if you want to take it there) by simply adding some internal monologue and showing a more defiant action than staring at the floor.

    But the plot line is interesting. He's a boy interested in a flower kingdom, and to me, that says there has to be something cool going on there, and that's what pulls me in.

  8. Really liked this. The main things that tripped me up were also the dangling feet and the dialogue tags.

    Barbara makes a good point about being defiant too. I think if we got a better sense that he's willing to fight for the important things (even if he's normally not a fighter at all), it would work a little better.

    Great start!

  9. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing! I actually liked the contrite, subdued reaction of Geoffrey (looking at his shoes, dangling his feet). I liked the contrast between this and the fact that he had fought three other boys. I also loved the lasts line.

    Best of luck!

  10. As always, thank you everyone for your supportive and constructive comments! (Especially to Heather and all her great suggestions, wow!)

    To those who liked Geoffrey and those who didn't understand him, I'd like to thank you equally. In my head, Geoffrey is a very different sort of boy, so all of your reactions were what I had intended. All of his personality traits will be expressed through his telling of the story of The Flower Kingdom that exists solely in his imagination.

    While it seems I may have an MG character with a marketing problem, this is the story that's in my head. Perhaps I'm writing it specifically for those children and adults that wouldn't be ashamed of admitting they like it "in this day and age."

    Again, big thanks to the commenters and posters and good luck to everyone!


  11. My, what do we have here? Is this the work of an award winning writer? It sure seems that way. Your prose is impeccable; I love the flow; your verbiage is spot on, for a MG; your sentences are short and tactful... I am hooked.

    You managed to illustrate the MC's personality in so few words. Not sure boys will like the idea of another dude crying though, so you might want to alter that. Either way, I am a fan of this and I most certainly want another dose.

    More please! ^_^

  12. This is a personal thing, but I don't like first and last names that look so similar. But that's mostly 'cause Im dyslexic and it hurts my brain :)

    I think it would be stronger if you cut the second and third paragraphs and just went straight to Ms. Lark opening the door.

    Other than needing a little tightening (already mentioned by others, so I won't repeat), I really enjoyed reading this.