Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Broken? #7

TITLE: Little Things
GENRE: Middle Grade

Ellie is thirteen and has recently discovered miniature toy-like people perfect down to the last detail on a nearby sidewalk. She doesn't know who puts them there or why, but she is the only one who can see them. After she discovers an old woman placing them, Ellie begins to have dreams. She is an independent, strong girl. I want to be sure these dream sequences fit her voice and/or age.


Everything was black. Not just the color, but the feel and smell. Amidst musty, dense, dark clouds, billions of small white particles streamed from her fingertips. They flowed away from her like she had always imagined electrons and protons behaving. She experimented wiggling her fingers up and down and they formed into rippling waves of motion streaming off into the blackness. She looked down where her body might be, but there was nothing to see. She just was .

It didn't feel like a dream exactly. It was too real. There was newness to it. More like she was in an untouched place that felt somehow familiar. All of her focus was on the particles coming from the edges of her. She concentrated on following the streams. At first it was overwhelming. All of her, her entire self, whatever that meant was just flowing outward. Then she found if she focused on one finger, she could jump on board as if on a river and follow it outwards. That was the only way she could categorize it--a goal--something somehow worth seeking. Then she was pulled forward quickly into the other "place."

Then she was sitting up in her bed, disoriented, staring at her poster of the Seattle Sounders soccer team, and trying to make sense of what had just happened.

She got a glass of water to shake off the weird feeling. On the way to the kitchen, she noticed her dad asleep on the couch. A scene from Josey Wales bathed him in creepy, glowing flashes of light. She turned off the television, covered her dad with a blanket, and went back to bed.

* * *

It was Sunday and Ellie had the streets to herself. Last night's experience left her unsettled. After waking up that morning she realized she had forgotten her language arts at school. They had a big root word project next week and a ride to school sounded good after her strange dreams. The wind blew newly fallen yellow and red leaves around the tires of her bike. She hoped the school was unlocked on the weekend.

A couple of men rummaged around a dumpster as she whisked by a 9th Street alley. A garbage truck beeped its warning, its yellow flashers lighting up the street.

* * *

Ellie pulled up to a red light at the next intersection. Flamingo. The woman from the park with a scarf over her hair, stood next to a pretty woman in a form-fitting green dress. Both were waiting to cross the street. Ellie smelled a mix of expensive-smelling perfume with a faint odor of mothballs. Seconds later a mini-van pulled up next to Ellie's bike and idled, adding exhaust to the air. The cab driver tapped the steering wheel to the beat of some Reggae, and a cigarette dangled from his lip.


  1. I think the language is entirely appropriate. :)

    I feel a little bit like there is a lot of scenic description here, though. It's nice and well-written, but not tied to the tantalizing sequence at the beginning. It distances us a bit from the confusion or mystery of that not-a-dream. Is there some way to tie that trip to the school to the dream, or the feeling she had? Maybe something about that feeling that she has carried over into the "real" world?

  2. I think the voice is fine for a 13-year-old girl, but would a 9- or 10-year old reader understand "electrons and protons"? You might want to use a less scientific analogy to describe the particles.

    The dream is intriguing, but the second paragraph got very abstract. Again, I wonder if this would be over the heads of readers at the younger end of MG. It might work better if you focus less on what Ellie thinks and more on what she does in the dream, how she moves around.

    I agree with Charlotte that the acton the following morning should be tied into the dream somehow. Maybe this is the place for Ellie to think about how real the dream felt.

    Finally, a minor quibble: when she is at the intersection, would she really be able to smell the perfume and moth balls on women standing on the sidewalk? It was a nice description, I just don't know if it's realistic.

  3. Hi, Your story is very intriging and sounds like a fun read. I love your descriptions!

    I agree with the other suggestions.
    Tie the dream to the mornings actions. Maybe something she sees while riding to the intersection could remind her of something else in the dream.

    I love "She just was." Very dramatic.
    Watch the word "then" in the third paragraph.

    Nice work!

  4. I like the sense of awe and ethereal feel of the dream. But I didn’t quite understand “Then she found if she focused on one finger, she could jump on board as if on a river and follow it outwards. That was the only way she could categorize it--a goal--something somehow worth seeking.” I can’t really visualize what’s happening here and it pulled me out of the story. Is her body still in the shape of a body and just obscured by the blackness, or is her body a part of the blackness? If the latter, mentioning a specific finger throws me off b/c how would she know it’s coming from her finger if everything is black?

    The scenes the next day are so short, I wonder if it’s even worth having them. Maybe combine them and add more visuals to beef up what she’s thinking/feeling. Nothing really happens in them so I’m not sure that they add anything to the story as they are.

  5. The first thing I wonder is whether your MC is an appropriate age for your premise. I'm not sure what will happen in your story, but a thirteen-year-old is in 8th grade. Your beginning story description seems more fitting for a 10-year-old. I'll claim some amount of experience for this comment since I have both a 13-year-old and 10-year-old, and I'm very involved with selecting books for them. And I read many of the same books since I'm writing a MG novel. Perhaps your story is more mature than the description sounds?

    I think that your writing is solid. This section just reads more like a first draft. I have the urge to tighten it by deleting some sentences and extra adjectives. For example, "musty, dense, dark . . . white particles," has a lot going on. "She experimented . . . into the darkness" could become "She wiggled her fingers, causing the white particles to ripple (or stream if you prefer) away from her. The two sentences, "All of her focus . . ." and "She concentrated on following . . ." say the same thing. "She got a glass . . ." and "on the way to the kitchen" should be combined. The info is not interesting enough to split into two sentences.

    Do we need to know about the men and the dumpster? Is it significant to the story? Otherwise, it seems superfluous.

    "Ellie smelled . . . expensive-smelling" - two smells in a sentence. Change the first one to 'noticed.'

    Is there a specific reason that she notices all of the people at the red light? I would think that her dream would pop back into her head as she waits, not notice random people.

  6. The imagery in the dream sequence is fine, and I would say so is the voice. My only issue with that (although I am loathe to say what ten-year-olds will and won't get) is talk of electrons and protons, which while thirteen year-olds will have encountered, any younger MG readers probably won't have. It's not bad for kids to encounter new stuff, but it might be worth thinking on.

    So the dream, for me, was all fine. It's the little snippet scenes afterwards I don't really get. Nothing seems to be happening, and while your focus on odd details is certainly continuing the 'weird' vibe, I don't really get the purpose of these very short little scenes. Is there some way of combining them and then moving on with the story? Or perhaps having more going on while she works through her problems with the dream?

    All in all, a good fit for MG. You might want to tidy up some of your sentences a bit (there are a few commas missing, for example) and certainly look at whether those little scenes are working. Otherwise, this is a very interesting excerpt. I'm interested in your story from this and the lead-in, so you're doing something right. :)

  7. Great feedback everyone. I'm new to this blog and you're an impressive bunch. Thanks for taking the time to write. There's already a bunch of quality feedback to sift through.

  8. I found this selection (and your premise) intriguing... although I think you're right to worry about voice. In spots, I found myself wondering if a 13-y-o would note those particular things in that way (e.g., the form-fitting green dress, the expensive-smelling perfume with a faint odor of mothballs). (Do people still use mothballs?!)

    I also wondered why she might imagine the school would be unlocked on the weekend (if this story is current day, with all the security restrictions, this didn't seem plausible).

    You might consider -- as other commenters have suggested -- whether the story is really about a girl who finds miniature people on the sidewalk (a cool idea and appropriate for MG) or whether the story is more about Ellie's journey through teenage-hood (perhaps less appropriate for MG). I would say the voice you have now, to me, sounds on the older end.

    You have some beautiful sentences in here and the writing is strong. When you find that consistent voice, whether it's Ellie at age 13 with her protons and neutrons, or a younger girl with "young" thoughts and voice (and probably less description), the selection will be that much stronger. Nice job!

  9. From reading the first two paragraphs, I thought the MC was some science nerd because of the sentences "dark clouds, billions of small white particles", "electrons and protons behaving", "experimented wiggling", "all of her focus was on the particles..."

    Then later I read that she "forgot her language arts" at school so this threw me off even though it was only a dream for the MC.

    I agree with the other commenters about tightening your prose and delete any extra adjectives.

    Last year, an agent recommended me to read Ingrid Law's Savvy to study the author's writing from a girl's POV in 1st person who is about to turn 13 years old.

    If you haven't read it yet, that'll give you some ideas on how to tweak the MC's voice.

    Good luck!

  10. I like your imagery, I'm just not sure if it all works. What stuck with me first was the mention of feel and smell being black. Would the inside of a cloud be black, or just dark?

    As others pointed out, I would remove the mention of protons and electrons for MG.

    I also liked the "She just was." Nice!

    The following paragraph was confusing, and could be tightened up (note another's comment about "then"). I couldn't figure out what she was actually doing.

    You need a better transition into the next paragraph. On my first read I didn't realize she had just woken up.

    I liked the scene bathing the father "in creepy, glowing flashes of light."

    When I was in middle school (called intermediate school 'way back then), no one would have *ever* chosen to go to school on the weekend. Not even for an important project. If you need her to be at school for the subsequent scenes to make sense, maybe give her a play rehearsal or sports practice?

    In the last paragraph, I agree with someone's comment about being able to smell people on the sidewalk. It didn't ring true for me. And the word Flamingo seemed random. Was that the name of the woman from the park?

    You've got an interesting start. I'd enjoy reading more about this MC and her story.