Saturday, December 4, 2010


GENRE: Middle Grade

When seventh-grader Tom Sullivan's growth plan (think green drinks and medieval torture racks) is plastered all over the school by tough guy Willowby, Tom snaps and embarks on a scheme to take the bully down. But reversing his shocking transformation from nice to nasty requires the thing he fears the most--a face-to-face showdown with Willowby.

When my Social Studies teacher told us to line up by height, he had no particular reason, no evil purpose. He had no idea that it would change everything about seventh grade for me.

A groan passed through the class like 'the wave' cheer on the bleachers. Mr. Johnson ignored us.

"Line up, please," he said again.

Pete Willowby stood up and pumped his fist into the air. "First in line, boys, ye-ah."

It was no surprise to anyone that Pete was first in line. He had been the tallest kid in our class for the past year. This year I noticed he even had a couple hairs on his lip. The thing was that Pete and I used to be friends. Pete lived next door to me. I'd known him since kindergarten, when we walked to school together every day. Me, Pete, and his dog, Sadie did everything together. Pete and I used to look each other in the eye then. But all that changed last year when he got taller and forgot about me. He got new friends. Taller ones. And nobody called him "Pete" anymore; it was "Willowby" now.

Rachel Toggles stood up next in line to Willowby. She had straight brown hair that she kept in two braids by her ears. Today I noticed a zit on her chin and I think she was wearing a bra too. I looked up to her...literally. Willowby made a farting noise with his armpit and grinned in Rachel's direction.


  1. The voice sounds like an older version of Tom telling the story. Is that intentional? Otherwise, I can relate to this as I was always the shortest in class until high school, so I'm sure lots of kids will too.

  2. The voice and premise grabbed me right away. I'm interested to see how the conflict plays out.

    A minor (and somewhat unquantifiable) quibble though: I found this a bit wordy. There are sections of the excerpt which drag, especially the blocky last paragraph. Try eliminate any unnecessary words.

  3. How does the main character know that the Social Studies teacher had no evil purpose? You might need a "probably" here so we can tell this is an assumption, not a fact. Also, lining up by height usually starts with the shortest, not the tallest. Maybe you need to tell us why it's tallest first so we understand why Pete is first. Otherwise, it does sound like a mean thing for a teacher to do.

  4. The logline could be a bit clearer. How does he transform? Why does he want to change back? What makes him nasty?

    The excerpt was too talky for me, too much explanation. For example, if everyone already knows Willowby will be first in line, why do you have to say it? His actions and dialogue make it clear. Perhaps consider more showing than telling. And this is all about other people. What's you MC thinking and doing?

  5. I agree that for an MG novel, the opening page is too wordy. Middle schoolers have shockingly short attention spans and there isn't enough action here to justify all of this detailed exposition. The voice also seems pretty old for MG, and we could use more internal monologue from the MC.

    In conclusion, your writing is solid and I enjoy it, I'm just not confident it would appeal to an MG audience.

  6. Loved the first paragraph. And I think tallest to shortest is normal (I'm a teacher). But I do agree that we need to see more of what the MC is thinking here, or responding to, or noticing. Get the reader into the action quicker. Does he realize immediately that he will be last? Does everyone else too? I imagine he would - he knows every day where he fits. In 1st person you've got to keep us right there in his head.

  7. I like the idea. It's wonderfully straightforward (always a problem with my stories). The voice is nice, too. I'm just not suer about 7th grade - is that still MG?

    Also, a lot if this is backstory. You might want to spread it out a bit more and add some action.

  8. I like the premise of the story and I think it's something a lot of kids will be able to relate to. I feel bad for Tom right off in this scene.

    However, I do agree that some tightening of the larger paragraphs wouldn't hurt.

    What is Tom's body language as the other's stand up?

  9. Logline:
    -This doesn't sound like enough to carry a novel--the boy becomes mean and fights the bully? Maybe emphasize a more emotional journey in contrast with the physical one.

    Line comments:
    -Nice opening!
    -The voice feels off in the description of Pete--more telling than showing, and all backstory.

    -The voice of this one feel off--it sounds like an older adult telling a kid's story, rather than a kid telling his own story, if that makes sense.

  10. Funny- I like it.

    And we always lined up tall to short, mortifying the shorties.

  11. I like it, but I think you need to give your MC a more distinctive and MG voice. I also wonder whether your ex-best friend being mean to you because you're short is enough to hang a whole novel on.

  12. As I read the logline I was hooked by the idea. I agree with others, though, that you need to expose more of Tom's character arc.

    In the excerpt I like the scene you've created...very middle school. However, we need to be more inside Tom's head. Some of the backstory can come later, but surely he's having an emotional, if not physical, reaction to the teacher's request. What does he see when he looks at the teacher (did Tom think the teacher was nice at first, but then sees something in his face that changes his mind? Or maybe he watches the teacher to see if he really is that clueless about making kids line up). Then, as Pete is being show-offy, what is Tom doing? How is he feeling (does he fade to the other side of the room? hide behind another kid)?

    You get the idea. Good luck!

  13. It's nice, though it feels more young-YA for a 7th grade story--both in age of the character, and in voice--than middle grade. Perhaps he should be in 6th grade, to accommodate the most important plot element, the height thing and standing up to a bully? These feel more middle-grade in concept than YA. You're straddling a line here that's a tough marketing area due to the split between MG and YA in bookstores: where would it be shelved? Would its target readers find it there?

    The names Pete and Tom feel dated--like the names of the parents of this generation, not this generation. That makes a subtle difference.

    But otherwise, I like the premise, and the voice (though it does feel YA) is nice. I'd like to see more inner conflict from the character about what's happening in the excerpt, though.