Season 2, Episode 9: Abby’s First Chapter Feedback

In this episode

Abby brainstorms more of her book’s great literary character cameos – should Babar the elephant make an appearance? She says it’s going to be challenging to balance these great cameos with the story, but it’s one of the most fun parts of world building. 

Last week, Abby wanted to rewrite some of her initial chapters in third person (as opposed to first person) in order to compare and contrast them and really decide which perspective best suited her story.  Abby landed on 3rd person, and you can take a look at her first chapter at the end of the show notes.

Because Abby’s a former teacher, and this is a MG book after all, there’s some teaching in this book too. The goal of the character cameos and how these characters influence the story is designed to get kids excited about books, about literature, about these characters that they might want to go pick up a book about after they’re through with this one.

Abby and Kemlo discuss skipping ahead in time – which strategies work, and which fall flat? Kemlo recommends skipping long summations—you’re going to lose the interest of the reader unless things are very brief and to the point. A few cues to get the point across usually will suffice. 

The important thing when imparting information to the reader, and in an effort to avoid the dreaded info-dump, is showing your reader why this information matters. How’s the character using it to inform their decisions? Make some connections to the info and use it to move the story forward. 

 Finally, we talk about Abby’s protagonist’s motivations both as a middle schooler and the daughter of an (unbenknowst to her) book character. What’s driving her decisions as a middle schooler? Acceptance, of course, in the midst of dealing with the weird dynamics of having your father head up a magical library, but who hasn’t been embarrassed by their weird parents, right? Who hasn’t wanted to fit in in middle school, who lamented their own awkwardness, who struggled to make friends? These are the kind of concepts that are going to connect readers with Abby’s story.

Here’s the first paragraph of Abby’s Chapter 1— with feedback— as promised in the intro.

Chapter One

TK QUOTE *filming of new reality tv show to start, starring royals as commoners Pudding on Heirs, a new show starring Bookland royalty in common jobs. (1)


Bernadette Thorpe’s whole life has always felt like a party to which she didn’t get invited. The first day of middle school was no exception. She walked through the hall on the first day of school and realized that something happened over the summer that changed everyone. (2)

Everyone except her. (3)

She (4) got the sideways eye from a group of girls. (5) Every one of them had hot pink hair. The only pink thing Bernadette had was her lunchbox.

One of the girls looked down at the pastel plastic box in Bernadette’s hands. She elbowed another girl and nodded at it. They both started to laugh in the same high-pitched cackle. Bernadette’s cheeks flushed hot pink like the girls’ hair, (6) and she thought, note to self: (7) I guess it’s ok to have pink hair, but not pink lunchboxes. 

She hid her lunch behind her back as she passed the group of laughing girls.

Kemlo’s Feedback:

 (1) LOL, this name is hilarious! Love it!

(2) Reads a bit choppy. To smooth this out a little, what if you were to break it into two lines: "She walked through the hall on the first day of school and realized something had happened over the summer. Everyone had changed." Then the next line would echo this thought in a nice way, too!

(3) I really want to know if this is an entirely new school for Bernadette, with a different group of kids from the previous year, because otherwise it seems like she'd know at least a few of the people there. Actually . . . she MUST know some of them because otherwise she wouldn't be able to tell that "everyone had changed." 

(4) Right before this, I'd like to get a glimpse of Bernadette's "game plan" so she won't seem quite so passive. Give her some agency. For example, assuming she and Claire have already had their falling out (they have, right?), and Bernadette knows they both have to go to this school (right?), is she nervous about running into Claire? Maybe looking around so she can try to avoid her? (I would be.) Or she could be trying to fulfill a promise to herself that she'll make a new friend this year, so she's looking around for someone who might fill that role. That could be when she spots the pinkheads and asks herself if they'd fit the bill (nope). Then I can see her deciding to postpone her make-a-friend goal and making a beeline for her first class so she can get there as quickly as possible. But by that point you will have already shown what's at stake for her: she wants to be accepted, to have a friend.

What feels slightly "off" to me is having B enter the school without any thought about what she's expecting to do or find there.

(5) For example, instead of a generic "group of girls," what if these were girls Bernadette had known prior to this? She might remember something about them that would make the sudden change to pink hair especially baffling to her. And if they're just strangers, she might have less incentive to care about them, more reason to look around for someone else, maybe someone she knows, for reassurance that not everyone has changed. Just a thought.

(6) Says that the girls' hair was flushing pink (rather than dyed). I think what you mean is "...cheeks flushed a shade of pink as bright as the girls' hair" or something like that?

(7) Redundant—don't need both . . . or either, actually. Suggest just showing the thought: I guess it's OK to have pink hair...

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