I've mentioned a story I'm working on, a middle-grade novel about a sixth-grade thief (sorry, retrieval specialist) and how he bites off more than he can chew with a job and has to work with enemy, a sixth-grade girl detective who wants him caught. As I've been writing, I've realized the story is less about how they manage to make things right and more about the relationship between Jeremy (the thief) and Becca (the P.I.). Both these characters are outgoing, clever, and sarcastic, which has been making my job easy. Why? To show the relationship grow and change but still keep the elements of these two personalities, I get to write banter!
Jeremy and Becca are always trying to outsmart each other, and that doesn't stop when they team up. The fight continues with words so I got the chance to try my hand at witty jibes and insults. Here's a passage from my first draft so you can see what I mean, even if the material is still a little rougher than I'd like it to be:
The first thing Becca did when she opened the door was hold out her palm and say, “Hand it over.”
“Hand what over?”
“You know what. I can’t in good conscience allow you to keep it.”
“Can we at least talk strategy first?”
Becca hardened her jaw and practically shoved her hand in my face. I bet she was thinking about doing it literally.
I sighed. “Fine.” Reaching into my pocket, I dug out the twenty dollar bill and tossed in her waiting hand. “That belongs to me as payment for my services. Who’s the thief now?”
Becca smirked. “I don’t think taking it from a locker you broke into counts as legitimate payment. Come in; we have a lot to talk about.”
I followed her inside to her kitchen table, where we first struck our deal. There was a plate of cookies, two glasses, and a gallon of milk waiting in the center of the table.
I froze. “What is that?” I asked, pointing at the spread.
“Snacks,” Becca said. “Don’t they have them where you come from?”
“What did you do to them? Did you bake truth serum into the cookies? Is it in the milk?”
Becca rolled her eyes. I was beginning to notice that she did that a lot. “We have a lot to plan, and I thought we’d want something to eat. And if you want to meet the devious, truth-serum-lacing chef, look right over there.” She pointed to a garbage can where an empty store-bought cookie package lay crumpled.
“If it’s safe, you eat one.” I have to admit, I knew she hadn’t laced the cookies with anything. It was just too much fun to bug her about it.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Becca groaned. But she took a cookie and shoved it in her mouth.
I did the same, after making a big show out of examining the chips and sniffing the overall dessert. The cookies were pretty good.
“So, Phase One went pretty well,” Becca said.
“I guess,” I said. “At least I didn’t get caught.”
“Did you find the key?”
“I never trust you, Wilderson.”
“Will you let me finish my sentence? I was going to say, ‘Trust me, you would know if I found the key.’ You’d have it in your hand along with that twenty. Which belongs to me, by the way.”
“Yeah. And I paid a down payment on the Taj Mahal. I don’t trust you not to lie and keep the master key if you found it.”“If that were the case, you’d know I had the key because I wouldn’t be here eating processed cookie. I’d be off breaking into your locker.”
Don't think this is a book full of talking, though. This scene takes place after I show - not tell - Jeremy breaking into a locker and almost getting caught.
I kind of can't wait to go back through and up the crazy through this story. Make the banter more clever and funny, maybe raise the stakes a little higher, and add details about Jeremy's friends. One of them, Case, is a forger/football buff who will never play the game because he doesn't want to damage his sensitive hands. As for the rest of the characters...I want them to all be as quirky.
I'm almost all the way through the first draft of this novel. Middle grade books tend to be from 20,000 to 40,000 words long, and I'm already in that range. There's not much left to say before the story is over and the world is set right for my characters.
That is, until they need each other again. (Hint, hint.)