First Page Feedback: Scooter Saves the World

Copies of Lorin and Brenda's feedback are available for download in the Resources for Writers section under Extras. 

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Scooter Saves the World by Anne P. 

Original:

 On a normal day in Miss Serena’s classroom, you might see kids constructing rocket ships that really flew. Or writing poetry the way Shakespeare did, in iambic pentameter. You might see them  designing floor plans of museums and airports or conducting chemistry experiments. You would definitely see kids who were interested, thinking, learning.

But today was not a normal day and I’m afraid to say that everything went straight into the toilet, to use what I believe is a common human expression.

First of all, Miss Serena wasn’t even there. She had taken a rare day off to help the flood victims in nearby Bobcat City, Montana.

“That’s my Act of Empathy,” she told her class on Friday before she left. “When I come back, be prepared to tell me yours!”

She was in high spirits, but on Monday morning, her students were not. The school’s sweet and harmless substitute teacher, Miss Mildred, suddenly came down with a little-known but terrible disease. So terrible, in fact, that the doctors said she would never teach again.

In her place, the Pine Valley School was forced to bring in its substitute-for-the-substitute teacher, the despised Mr. Grubsnatch. The class groaned when it heard the news.

On a normal day, Miss Serena would have started Monday morning with Circle Time on her big rug in the corner. It was unusual for a sixth grade teacher to have Circle Time, but Miss Serena had unusual ideas.  “Sitting in a circle encourages open discussion,” she told her students. “It gives every student an equal right to speak."

 

Brenda's Feedback

On a normal day in Miss Serena’s classroom, you might see kids constructing rocket ships that really flew. Or writing poetry the way Shakespeare did, in iambic pentameter. [Could you make this activity even more creative?]You might see them designing floor plans [Drawing them or designing through some other medium?] of museums and airports or conducting chemistry experiments. [What sort of experiments? Specifics are always more effective.] You would definitely see kids who were interested, thinking, learning. [I really like the contrast of your opening, especially since we’re beginning the story on a day when ‘everything went straight into the toilet,’ but, for greater impact, I would compress the above into one really compelling sentence depicting a couple of completely unexpected and interesting activities, things even a little more outside the envelope than above, and then round out the opening paragraph with the sentence below.]

But today was not a normal day, and I’m afraid to say meaning that everything went straight into the toilet, to use what I believe is a common human expression.

First of all, Miss Serena wasn’t even there. She had taken took a rare day off to help the flood victims in nearby Bobcat City, Montana.

“That’s my Act of Empathy,” she told her class on Friday before she left. “When I come back, be prepared to tell me yours!” [Is our narrator part of her class? I’m not quite feeling grounded in a specific perspective.]

She was in high spirits, but on Monday morning, her students were not. The school’s sweet and harmless substitute teacher, Miss Mildred, suddenly came down with a little-known but terrible disease. So terrible, in fact, that the doctors said she would never teach again. [Are we supposed to suspect any sort of oddness or foul play for something so drastic to have happened? If so, you might punch up the language a bit to create questions. You could use mysteriously instead of suddenly, for example, and say the ‘bewildered’ doctors said she would never teach again.]

In her place, the Pine Valley School was forced to bring in its substitute-for-the-substitute teacher, the despised Mr. Grubsnatch. The class groaned when it heard the news. [Again, I’m having a bit of difficulty honing in on whose story we’re experiencing here. Though I believe we started in first person, we’ve slipped in a more omniscient viewpoint, which is a bit confusing as well as distancing.]

On a normal day, Miss Serena would have started Monday morning with Circle Time on her big rug in the corner. It wasThough unusual for a sixth grade teacher to have Circle Time, but Miss Serena had unusual ideas. “Sitting in a circle encourages open discussion,” she told her students. “It gives every student an equal right to speak.”

Thank you so much for submitting your first page, Anne. Immediately, I have a sense that the world we’re entering is far different from what exists in ‘normal’ classrooms and schools. And even though we’ve just met Miss Serena, already sounds like a teacher I’d have wanted when I was in sixth grade! So, nice job on both counts!

For me, the first area to focus as you strengthen the manuscript is that of voice and viewpoint. As written, the perspective is unclear and relatively distant. Though I really like the little snippet of character I get in the ‘straight into the toilet’ line, that personality seems to fade away, leaving us with more of a group perspective, an overview of events. So, even though the situation may be compelling, I’m not yet being pulled into the world by an engaging and singular POV.

I also gave you some suggestions for intensifying the language a bit, as well as for working in the unexpected. Readers love to be surprised, to feel as though they’re about to read something unlike anything they’ve read before, and dynamic language full of concrete details and unanticipated twists accomplishes that task beautifully. Think about what truly sets this teacher, this world and this story apart, and then try to make your expression reflect those unique qualities.

I hope that helps! Thank you so much for sharing your first page with us.

-- Brenda