How to Be Eight by Tania McCartney
Wake at 5am.
Wake in a really fantastic mood even though you’ve had only four hours sleep because mum and dad threw a wild party in the back yard last night and they’re now in bed with their faces smooshed into the pillows, snoring like elephants. You know because you go in and check on them. Poke Dad’s face with your finger. He doesn’t move. Push the tip of your finger into his nose. He snorts. Bend down and pick up one of his stinky socks and hold it under his nose so it twitches and he starts to wriggle. Mum stirs. Skulk really quickly out of the room.
It’s still dark. Rummage around in the kitchen until you find the torch. Turn it on. Go to the hall mirror, stick the torch in your mouth and puff out your cheeks. Human face lamp. Use torch to ferret for crinkly packets in the pantry. Turn in horror as Big Sister appears in the darkness. Big Sister threatens to dob.
Run screaming into bedroom where snoring elephants turn into trumpeting elephants.
Time: 5.10am. Bad start to the new year.
Tania, I love the voice of your character. It’s very strong and his laconic humour comes across very well. It has a kind of Wimpy Kid feel to it.
If your character is eight, I was wondering if his voice sounded a bit old in parts like when he ‘rummages’ for his torch. I’m going to address this more in the comments on the title of the book.
I love the image of the human face lamp. It’s very vivid and very funny.
POINT OF VIEW
Things to think about.
Using ‘second person’ point of view talks to the reader, but makes it harder to get close to your character. Am wondering if this might be hard to sustain over a novel length piece. It also gives the impression that you are giving the reader a ‘lesson on how to do something’ rather than telling a story.
This point of view adds to the tension but it can also make it difficult to vary the pacing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it, just suggesting you keep these factors in mind.
While the strength of your character’s voice provides a great hook, the story actually starts off with quite a bit of information. You might want to think about a couple of things here. Is it relevant to tell the reader that the parents had a party last night? Is this necessary to the story. Is that fact going to hook a reader in?
I don’t think you need to say that your character knows what his parents looked like sleeping because he checked on them. The reader will know that he must have seen them to describe what they look like.
I’m wondering if you could start with something like:
It’s 5am and you’re standing in your boxers in parent’s room. Push the tip of your finger up Dad’s nose . He stops snoring like an elephant and snorts. Bend down and pick up one of his stinky socks and hold it under his nose so it twitches and he starts to wriggle.
Also, the other question I had about the start was I wanted to know why your character was doing this to Dad. Was it to stop him snoring, revenge for keeping him awake, some other reason? Otherwise it just seems like a random act. I’m wondering if most eight year old kids would just head to the pantry.
So if the scene with Dad doesn’t have relevance to the story, then you could go straight to the pantry scene. On the other hand, if you wish to keep this scene (and it is funny) then you need to show its relevance in the story – perhaps it was Dad’s snoring that woke him up. If there’s no reason, it seems unlikely that kid would risk waking parents when his real goal seems to be the pantry and food.
‘Big Sister threatens to dob’ is an example of where this kind of point of view tends to lead you into telling rather than showing. If you had dialogue here, For example, “I’m telling on you Bob, you thieving little rat,” this tells you that the main character is a boy and tells you something about his sister and their relationship.
Even though the voice is strong, you still need to make it clear to the reader at the start, the age and gender of the main character. Using their name is one way of getting this kind of information across.
How to Be Eight is a great title, but as I said earlier, I feel like the voice of the main character sounds a bit older than eight.
Also you mentioned to me that this book is written for readers aged 7-11. Readers generally like to read about kids a bit older than they are, so 10 or 11 year olds might be put off by an eight year old main character. (And I’m making an assumption here that this is where the title comes from). Seeing as your main character’s voice does sound older I’m wondering if you might consider changing the title to something like, ‘How to Be Ten’.
I really love the voice and the humour in this piece, and there’s loads of potential for a great fun story.
I hope you find these comments helpful.
If you have constructive suggestions for Tania, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.
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