It’s time for a story development post. This week I am switching to a different story, a superhero/science fiction tale designed for middle graders (ages 8 to 12). My hope is that teens and adults will enjoy it as well.
As you read, take note of the elements of a story opening I mentioned in this post. I labeled a few of the instances within the text.
- Grab the reader’s attention with a hook beginning
- Raise questions that the reader wants answered
- Provide a goal for the protagonist
- Show the protagonist’s qualities and flaws
- Set the physical scene with only essential details
- Begin building a bridge to the back story
- Establish a feeling that a crisis of some sort is coming
- Complete the journey toward the initial goal by showing success or failure
The only element that is missing is #8, because I haven’t included that part of the story yet. You will see it in a future excerpt.
I hope you also notice the appeal to younger readers as well as a more science-fiction, comic-book feel than I have in my other stories.
If you wish, leave a comment to let me know how well you think this opening fulfills these elements. I welcome any suggestions.
Wanted – A Superhero to Save the World
How Can You Have a Secret Identity
When You Share a Bedroom with Your Sister?
Shooting my sister with an experimental gun might be dangerous, but it was for her own good. (#1 – Hook) Yet, how could a reputable scientist like me use a new invention on a human guinea pig without permission? That wouldn’t be right.
I looked out our bedroom window at the darkened alley (#5 – Scene setting). Danger lurked in the city of Nirvana, and I was already late for midnight patrol. Informants whispered about a possible robbery in my own neighborhood, maybe even tonight. In a world of crime and crooked cops, even a kid like me had to do his part to keep justice alive.
Still, I waited. One shadowy villain had recently been watching my apartment from the alley below, and if he or any other villains discovered that I and Archimedes, the kid superhero (#2 – Raise questions), were one and the same, Mom and my sister would be vulnerable. (#7 – Impending crisis) I had to protect them first (#4 – Protagonist quality and #3 – A goal), which meant that I had to be guinea pig.
Sitting at my desk chair, I aimed a grocery-checkout scanner at my forehead. Of course no sane person wants to be a test target, but with my measly allowance I couldn’t afford paid volunteers. No big deal. If the gun fried my brain, then maybe I’d just become a normal little goofball like my sister instead of … well, instead of what I am.
A cool breeze stirred the curtains of our second-floor apartment’s window. Easy access to our room was a safety hazard, of course, but I always closed the window when I went to bed or out on patrol, and streetlamps outside could take the place of a nightlight, though my mother insisted that we leave a glowing blue fairy princess light plugged into an outlet. She’s always been a worrier.
I glanced toward my sister, asleep in bed. Who could guess if she would wake up during my experiment? When it was time for school, she could sleep through an atomic blast, but whenever I tried to sneak ice cream at midnight (#4 – Protagonist flaw), she always showed up in her Tigger slippers with a big spoon in her hand. I swear those slippers turn her into a Ninja.
I pulled the scanner’s trigger. A bright light flashed for a split second, and the scanner beeped. I blinked. I could still see. I could think. My brain must have survived.
Exhaling, I looked again at my sister. She slept on, oblivious.
Perfect. I turned the scanner around and read the tiny screen. Edward (Eddie) Hertz. Male. 12 years old. Caucasian. Brown Hair. Brown Eyes. Last reported height – 4 feet, 7 inches. Last reported weight – 75 pounds.
I frowned. Still a shrimp, no matter how much I exercised (#4 – Protagonist flaw). That would change … if only I could get the guts to try out the invention in my closet. (#2 – Raise questions)
At least the scanner worked perfectly. With my birth date in the record, the processor would automatically update my age as time passed, but if anything else changed, I would have to alter the data myself.
I touched my forehead. Obviously the data liquid had penetrated the cells and left a marker under my skin. Time would tell if it would prove to be permanent, but, for now, it looked like another success.
The bigger test was next. I sat gently on my sister’s bed. My head bumped her toy dragon suspended by a string from the ceiling. Covered with feathers she had plucked from a bluebird that splatted against our window, the dragon carried a tiny female humanoid made out of marshmallows, toothpicks, and yarn—a fairy princess, but I could never remember the ugly thing’s name. Anyway, I aimed the scanner at my sister’s forehead. It had taken all day to figure out how to get the data into her skin, but offering to paint her face with sparkle makeup worked like a charm.
Holding my breath, I pulled the trigger. The scanner flashed and beeped. Again I read the screen. Samantha (Sam) Hertz. Female. 8 years old. Caucasian. Brown Hair. Hazel Eyes. Last reported height – 4 feet, 2 inches. Last reported weight – 55 pounds.
Yes! Now if Sam were ever kidnapped, I could track the marker and identify her no matter how much a villain might change her appearance.
Smiling, I touched the “A” emblem on the front of my shirt. Archimedes had succeeded once again.
I breathed the name in a whisper. “Archimedes.” I had chosen that name for several reasons. For one, he was among the greatest scientists of old, but the main reason is simply that it was a Greek name, just like the name of the most amazing guy on the planet—Damocles. (#2 – Raise questions)
I looked at a framed photo on my desk, an autographed picture of Damocles I won in an art contest. I drew a comic strip of him rescuing my mother from a burning building, and I sent it in to join probably ten thousand drawings scrawled by other hero worshipers. And I won! Of course he probably didn’t judge the drawings himself, and the autograph might have been stamped on the photo by an assistant, but maybe, just maybe, the assistant told Damocles the winner’s name. If “Eddie Hertz” passed into his ears at some point, that would have been enough for me. (#6 – Build bridge to the back story)
A rattling hum drifted through the open window. Strange. It sounded like a motor of some kind. It slowly increased in volume as if a machine were warming up.
I laid the scanner on my desk and fastened my gadgets belt around my waist—spool lines, hologram projector, glass cutter, suction cups, gloves, laser pen, and other stuff. Everything was ready, except that my solar-powered laser pen needed a charge. But how could I turn on a light without waking Sam? I spotted the nightlight next to the desk. It wouldn’t provide much juice, but it should be enough for one patrol.
Crouching, I set the pen’s butt end against the bulb. As the nightlight dimmed, the red LED power meter on the pen’s side slowly increased—5%, 8%, 10%.
The bulb popped, shattering the glass. I staggered back and landed with a whump on Sam’s bed. My head smacked the dragon again and sent it swaying back and forth inches in front of my face.
“What are you doing, Eddie?” Sam squinted at me from her pillow. Remnants of sparkle paint glittered on her face.
I hid the laser pen. “Just checking on you.”
“To make sure I’m asleep?” She sat up and halted the fairy’s arcing ride. “We’re all out of ice cream. Mom says we can’t afford it till next paycheck.”
I brushed a sparkle from her cheek. “Can’t a brother be concerned for his sister’s welfare?”
“You can’t fool me.” One eye closed halfway. “You have a strawberry Poptart crumb on your lips. If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t be sneaking those into our room.”
I swiped the crumb away with my sleeve. “You’re not that allergic to strawberries.”
“Am so.” She laid a hand against her forehead and put on her I’m-so-dramatic expression. “Alas! If I even breathe the vapors, I am likely to swoon.”
“Give me a break. When Mom made strawberry shortcake last week you licked the spoon … and the bowl … and the baking tin.”
“You should talk. You snuck food in here three nights in a row.”
“Mom never said I couldn’t.” I shrugged. “I’ve been working out a lot. I get hungry at night.”
“And you’re wearing that costume.” She regained her suspicious stare. “Are you going out again?”
“Going out? What are you talking about?”
“I’ve seen you. Night before last and the night before that.”
“What are you? Some kind of spy camera?” I got up from the bed and walked to my closet, stealthily sliding my laser pen back to my belt. Now I had to get my mask without Sam noticing. “And it’s not a costume. I just modified an Alabama jersey.”
“Take me with you, at least this once, or I’m telling.”
I spun toward her. “You can’t! Mephisto’s gang would kill you! He’s a mass murderer.”
“He’s a mass murderer,” she said in a mocking tone. “You made him up just to scare me.”
The hum outside grew louder. I had to get out there to see what was going on. “I made up Mephisto’s name, but he’s real. Everyone in town is calling him that. He even calls himself Mephisto now.”
She crossed her arms in front. “I don’t believe in him.”
“Right.” I touched the dragon and made it sway again. “But you believe in fairy princesses.”
“Because they’re real. I see them—”
“You see them in the mirror when there’s a full moon. I know. You’ve told me a thousand times.” I pushed her down to the pillow and pulled the cover up to her chin. “There’s no full moon tonight, fairy princess, so go back to sleep.”
“If you don’t take me with you …” Sam slid out of bed and marched past me toward my closet. “I’ll show Mom what you’re working on in there.”
“No!” I leaped ahead of her and blocked the door. “The closet is off-limits. You keep quiet, and I’ll get you another Princess Quirky book.”
She stomped her foot. “Princess Queenie.”
“Whatever.” I reached into the closet and grabbed my mask. At this point it didn’t really matter what she saw. “I tell you what. If you prove you can keep my patrols a secret, then I’ll tell you an even bigger secret when I get back.”
“At least a hint now, or I won’t believe you.” She set a fist on her hip. I knew that stance. Stubborn. I had to throw her a bone, something harmless. But what?
A gunshot pierced the silence, then another. Not too unusual for our neighborhood, but Mom might still check on us. I had to hurry. “Listen. When I get back, I’ll tell you what I’m working on in the closet. If Mom comes in, pretend to be asleep. Got it?”
Sporting a victory smile, she nodded.
“Don’t get smug.” I tousled her hair. Why? Partly because I liked her. Mostly because it annoyed her. “Now go to sleep.”
Categories: Story Development