Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Being the Queen
GENRE: Middle Grade

As a superpower, invisibility is overrated, I thought, dodging a pair of eighth-grade boys in the under-lit hallway. When you’re invisible, you could get stampeded to death and no one would notice.
Not that I had a superpower or anything. I was just trying to survive getting to my first assembly of the year. I squeezed past a group of girls chatting in the middle of the hallway and took a deep breath.
I felt a little like I was drowning, swallowed up in a wash of bodies and noise. My swim teacher told me that everyone thinks drowning is noisy, full of splashing and cries for help. But that’s just Hollywood’s version. In real life, drowning is silent, almost invisible. One minute you’re treading water and then you’re gone.

That’s what invisibility feels like. That’s what junior high feels like, some days.

I shook myself, a swimmer heaving out of water onto land. I wasn’t going to think like this, not this year. This year was going to be different.

I stepped out of the stream of students and closed my eyes, desperate for the tiny lift I got by imagining myself somewhere else—somewhen else. I pictured myself as a knight, all golden and glittering. In my mind, I saw the bright arc of my sword as I saluted my king before riding off to fight dragons. The tight feeling in my chest eased.

Someone giggled beside me. My eyes flew open. Two girls stood near me, whispering and pointing. At me.

13 comments:

Katherine said...

Very well done. I think you really tapped into the feeling of a lot of middle-school kids-that feeling of wanting to have the floor open up and swallow you. I would read on.

Carmen said...

Great beginning. You can't go wrong referencing superpowers and I think you really captured the feeling.

The only suggestion I would have is to take out where you said "a swimmer heaving out of water onto land." Only because then there are multiple references to swimmers, streams, etc.

Good luck!

onehand said...

Sorry to offer an opinion that contradicts the one above but I wonder - how central is the theme of invisibility to your story?

The extract ends with the narrator being laughed at: something we can easily identify with but it means that the narrator is not invisible. Just regarded as strange.

Which is the bigger problem for the narrator: being invisible or being treated as The Weird Kid?

I liked the comparison to drowning. If the invisibility theme isn't going to be developed, how about starting like this?

"My swim teacher told me that people think* drowning is noisy, full of splashing and cries for help. But that’s just Hollywood’s version. In real life, drowning is silent, almost invisible. One minute you’re treading water and then you’re gone.

"That’s what junior high feels like, some days."

Then on to the information that it's the first assembly of the year and that this year is going to be different.

I hope it will be!

* Not "everyone thinks" since the teacher clearly doesn't think so.

Rebecca said...

Just wanted to say that I completely adore this line...

"That’s what invisibility feels like. That’s what junior high feels like, some days."

So true. So true.

Nice job!

Joy said...

I really liked the opening of this one. Superpowers are a great hook. I also think you accurately captured what it feels like to be a middle schooler.

Happy Dolphin said...

I like the voice because it sounds pitch-perfect. The entire set-up makes me want to read more because it captures a moment in time that everyone can relate to. So, it transports us back to a time and place in our own lives. Nicely done. There is some really compelling writing. The description of drowing is excellent as is the "swallowed up in a wash of bodies and noise" phrase. This is a narrator I would want to go along with for a long while. The problems I have with the excerpt are the invisibility references. The first line referencing a superpower is confusing because I instantly think - ok he HAS a superpower. But he does not so in the space of a few seconds I had to do a mental 180. Second, there is a contradiction inherent in the writing. Invisibilty is good because when you are humiliated you wish (as someone said) the floor would swallow you? Or, invisibility is bad because no one knows you are alive - like junior high? I think the narrator has to have a definite POV - either he wishes he were invisible so he could avoid all the embarrassment or he laments the fact that he feels invisible except during those times of humiliation. But, I would definitely read on to see where the MC would take me.

librarygiraffe said...

I read the excerpt and was immediately transported back to junior high. I like the reference to drowning. (I love the line "One minute you're treading water and then you're gone."). On the other hand, it seems like the analogies are going in too many directions. Unless your narrator is on the swim team, or very into swimming, there might be too much focus on water related analogies, and the other analogies are kind of dissimilar, (invisibility super powers and a knight). Does the narrator want to be invisible? Does she think she is invisible but actually isn't? I think you do a great job with the voice and the tone, and I know this is a very short excerpt, but I have no idea where it's going from here.

A.J. said...

For the second time in this Secret Agent contest, I am going to "second" what Rebecca said. Loved the line about "That's what junior high feels like." I teach middle school, and that is how a lot of the kids feel!

One thought--most junior highs are really called middle schools now. Junior high is considered an outdated term for an education concept that is different from today's "middle school" approach.

librarygiraffe said...

I also work in education - and our district and the surrounding districts still have junior highs instead of middle schools. I don't know if there is a way to see nationally which term is used more.

Layla Messner said...

I really like the voice here. I think you could strengthen it a lot with a little trimming. You have three images (super heroes, drowning, knights) and I think one or two would do. I agree with the others who enjoyed the "drowning/invisibility/middle school" bit. I think that's pure gold and recommend starting with it. Something like this, say?

"People think drowning is noisy, full of splashing and cries for help. But that’s just Hollywood’s version. In real life, drowning is silent, almost invisible. One minute you’re treading water and then you’re gone.

That’s what invisibility feels like. That’s what junior high feels like, some days."

And then just continue from there as you have it.

Good work and good luck :)

C. P. said...

The writing here is well done, and you definitely have the voice down, but there's a lot of time spent describing the feeling of being awkward/invisible. I think you could convey that while moving forward. Like at the end, when two girls are staring. That would be a good time to throw out a comparison.

Barbara said...

I thought there were too many concepts here for an opening. You've got the invisibility, which may or may not be real, you've got the swimming comparisons, you've got the daydreaming about being a knight, so, for me, I wasn't sure which direction you might be taking this.

The main idea seems to be feeling awkward in school, but it's a bit overshadowed by all those other things. Perpas just use one of those concepts in your opening so it's not so cluttered (whichever will be the most relevant to the plot)

Also, I've always thought MG was basically 4th to 6th grade. Is junior high too old for this age group?

Secret Agent said...

I absolutely enjoyed this...a nice and quick upsetting of expectations about the main character maybe having a superpower, an awfully sad but smart observation about the invisibility of drowning and the invisibility of junior high life...this feels honest and smart and patient in its character development. The "somewhen" line was a bit too cute for me--broke me out of the read a bit--but the "not TOO much, just enough" fantasy about the knight and the sword felt perfectly authentic. I dig it!