Monday, April 7, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Chiang

Name: Sylvia Chiang
Genre: Middle Grade
Title: Cross Ups

Chapter One

No one had beaten Jaden at Cross Ups IV since before Christmas. That was four months ago and he wasn’t planning to give up that record today.

Whoosh! Jaden back dashed Kaigo to avoid a fireball.

Kaigo was Jaden’s main. Most people didn’t like playing Kaigo, the dragon cross, because he was hard to master. Jaden had trained for months to pull off his timing-sensitive specials. Now he loved the power of summoning those moves that transformed Kaigo into his dragon side.

He also loved that Kaigo looked like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. His muscles were so huge they rippled through his black kung-fu uniform. Plus he had the most awesome projectile of all the characters in Cross Ups IV: instead of throwing fireballs, he breathed them. How cool was that?

As Kaigo, Jaden could own anyone he met on-line.


Well, almost anyone.

Holy crap! How did he hit me with that atomizer combo? I was blocking!

As soon as he was out of hitstun, Jaden played Kaigo’s dragon fire special.

What the?

Jaden dropped the combo when his opponent, the phoenix cross, disappeared briefly and reappeared behind Kaigo.

How’d he do that? Can Blaze teleport?

Jaden tried again, but he wasn’t fast enough. Blaze grabbed Kaigo, whipped him into the air and juggled him.

Aaahhh! I can’t get any moves in. This guy’s too fast.

Jaden pushed the back button to block the next string of atomizers, but Kaigo took the punishment. His health meter dropped to critical.

My super meter is full. Too bad I’m going to die from chip damage at this rate. Why isn’t my block working?

Kaigo breathed a fireball in his opponent’s face. Blaze jumped out of range and threw another atomizer.

I’m running out of life. I’ve got to make something happen soon.

Jaden worked his controller, trying for Kaigo’s biggest super.

Come on…

Panic made him do something he hadn’t done in ages – a total button mash.

Miraculously, Kaigo transformed into his dragon side and a grey cloud of smoke swirled like a tornado across the screen through his opponent. Jaden watched in shock as Blaze crumpled and his life meter dove. Now both opponents were one hit from defeat.

Jaden immediately played his bread and butter combo: two crouching light punches back to back, followed by dragon breath.


“Whaaaaaaat!?!” Behind Jaden, his friends screamed and jumped up from the leather couch.

Devesh pointed to the TV on the wall. “No way! You did not just do that!”

Hugh sprawled his hefty form onto the carpet at Jaden’s feet, bowing and chanting, “You are the master.”

Jaden remained frozen on the couch, mouth open, eyebrows raised. His straight black hair fell over his left eye. “Am I dreaming?” he asked softly, letting the controller drop to the floor. “No, seriously, am I asleep? Someone hit me now.”

Devesh and Hugh piled on top of their friend, pummelling him with good-natured jabs.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Hugh said, settling his glasses back in place. “That guy is unbeatable, Dude. I see Knight Rage online all the time, but I’ve never heard of anyone defeating him.”

“I’ve never seen that super.” Devesh helped Jaden up off the carpet.

“That’s because I’ve only ever hit it one time. The timing is crazy hard.”

“We’ve got to start streaming your battles. That was Godlike!” Devesh’s phone binged and he pulled it out of his pocket. “I gotta go. I was supposed to meet my dad 10 minutes ago. He just texted me from the car in all caps.” He grabbed his bag and sweater and walked backwards out of the living room.

“Hold up, I gotta go too, Dude. Think your dad will give me a ride?” Hugh grabbed his things and ran after Devesh, breathing hard by the time he got to the end of the hall.

“You live on the other side of town. Why you always asking me for a ride? Train your parents better.” Their voices trailed off until the door slammed shut behind them.

Jaden sat staring in disbelief at the TV screen, his arm muscles twitching as if he had physically done battle. On the screen, his avatar celebrated with fist pumps and high kicks. Kaigo’s win quote at the bottom of the screen read, “You need more confidence to beat me.”

It was 6:27. He was cutting it close still having the game on. His thumb was descending on the power button when a message popped up on the screen.


Players didn’t usually message after a fight, unless they were friends. Jaden hesitated then wrote back: THNX

Within seconds another message: 7HINK U C4N D0 1T 4G41N?

Could he? He had no idea how he’d pulled off that final move. But there was no way he was going to admit that. He typed: ANY TIME

4LR1GH7! B4TTL3 @ T0P T13RS 1N 2 W33KS & PR0V3 1T

Jaden hesitated, his thumbs rapidly tapping the controller. A real gaming tournament? He often watched footage of his favourite gamer, Yuudai Sato, playing at big events like the EVO Championship Series, but he’d never thought about actually going. It wasn’t an option.

He wrote back: NO THNX

Y N0T?

Jaden’s curiosity battled with the ticking clock. 6:30. His parents could be pulling into the driveway. Quickly he typed: WHO RU?

The answer seemed to take forever. When it finally came, it raised more questions than answers. R3G1ST3R & T3LL 3M KN1GHT R4G3 S3NT U – TH3Y’11 WA1V3 UR F33.

A key turned in the lock. Jaden went into his shut down routine, quickly powering off the TV and game console and sliding the controller under the cushion next to him. He flipped open his math book and tried to act bored, hoping his parents wouldn’t notice his shaking hands.

Knight Rage’s question pulsed in his mind.

Why not?

Chapter Two

Mr. Efram wrote on the blackboard at the start of math class: The Problem of the Day.

“Yeah,” Jaden whispered to Devesh and Hugh, “You have two parents who refuse to let you play any violent games, and one invitation to a way cool video game tournament. What do you do?”

The three boys formed a group as they had done daily since meeting each other in math on their first day at Layton Senior Public School.

“You have to go,” Devesh whispered back. “You can’t back out of a challenge. You think Yuudai Sato would back out of a challenge? If you want to be the best, you have to show everyone you can bring it.”

“Yeah, maybe if I build a time machine and skip ahead eight months to my thirteenth birthday,” Jaden dropped his head to his desk in despair. “I looked up the tournament on-line. Since Cross Ups IV is 13A, I’d need my parents to sign a consent form. That’s not going to happen.”

Mr. Efram finished writing on the board, ran his hand over his bald spot, and turned to the class. Like every day he pointed with his thumb to the poster of the Justice League on the wall showing the problem solving steps. “Remember - be a user of USAR. Understand, Strategize, Attack and Reflect.”

The problem of the day was: A wizard has counted 14 animal feet in his home. He only has werewolves and bats. What are all the possible combinations of werewolves and bats the wizard might have?


  1. I enjoyed this, although I’ll be honest, I don’t read much MG. Initially I wasn’t sure what was happening and at first thought this might be fantasy. I pictured some sort of fantasy sporting match, like quidditch. I looked up to see what you were calling the MS, but you just list MG. After reading, I assume this is Contemporary.

    It might be helpful to ground the reader in the world sooner; maybe mention a controller right away, and show the MC’s body action around his moves and conversation.

    Be careful with the exclamation points. If people are screaming, you don’t need both.

    The messages were interesting, but I’ll admit I found them hard to figure out in places.

    I enjoyed the conversation between the kids; you write nice dialogue. I laughed out loud at the “Train your parents better” comment; great job.

    Consider tightening a few places: i.e., when you say ‘was descending,’ you could easily use descended and combine they had to they’d.

    All the best with it!

  2. Hi Sylvia, Welcome to the workshop. It was a pleasure reading your pages.

    I will preface my first comment by saying I am not a videogame person. So, for me, the actual scene and description of the fight went on a bit too long. I was starting to lose interest. It's not that it isn't written well, because it is. But, it was just too much detail for my personal taste. I agree that you could probably ground the reader in this being a video game a bit more. Right now, you start with a description of Kaigo and in truth you lose me there already. I’d rather meet the actual friends than a long description of the video game characters. I wonder if you could have some interaction with his friends at the start before you go into the actual gaming part so we meet them and the scene is set for us first. This might go a long way toward grounding readers in the scene as well as giving them characters to latch onto, real characters as opposed to the videogame character. Again, this could just be my personal preference so I wanted to be honest about that but also felt it was worth mentioning and having you perhaps play with.

    In concert with this, I think you could punch up your first line and paragraph a bit as well. There's a lot of fun in here and your characters are great and their dialogue between each other is great. I hate waiting to have to get to that. That could be the thing that would really attract agents and readers to your writing, but if it's too buried, they might not get to it. In terms of your first line, you could play with something that is more active and feels less like telling.

    Jaden held the record longer than anyone—four months. Odds were he’d be beaten one day. But today was not that day.

    He pried the controller out of his best friend Devesh’s hand. On the couch next to him, Hugh said, “You’re playing XXX? That guy’s tough. Better bring your A game.”

    Then you could go into telling us a bit—but not as much about Kaigo, a short game fight scene, then proceed. Just a thought.

    I too had some trouble with the messages. I think they are too long in places. You could have one or two, then instead of writing the longer ones out, you could have Jaden reflect on what he’s reading so we don’t need to see it in the message form.

    Otherwise, I really like the way you have set this up. We get a hint of his parents, his friendships, who he is and a story question that is clearly going to evolve into more. Gave me a karate kid-ish vibe too. I think the age and tone of the boys is spot on.

    This is great and with some tweaks I think you have something terrific on your hands.

    Can’t wait to see what you do with it.

  3. Hi!

    You're off to a good start. Your descriptions are good and the story moves along well. I really like your characters, too! Great names. And the pacing is pretty good. The story moves along pretty quickly.

    I'm also wondering if you're starting in the right place. I'd like to know a little bit more about the characters and what's going on before you jump right into the video game.

    Even through I didn't completely understand what was going on in regards to the video game descriptions, the story did move along pretty well.

    I did find myself a little lost in the video game descriptions - but that could very well be because I don't play them at all. Still, I had to read through it a few times to try to understand what was going on.

    My biggest comments would be to tighten up the video game descriptions, and to maybe back the story up a bit so we get a little more background before jumping right into the video game.

    You're off to a great start, though!

  4. I liked these pages, despite the fact that I don't read very many middle grade books in this area.

    I agree with most of the previous commenters - diving right into video game descriptions might narrow the scene's appeal to only the readers who are familiar with them. I myself could more or less follow them, but I can see how they might be unclear to others. Also, the transition from Jaden's win to his friends' reactions feels sudden to me. You may want to experiment with the way you pull the reader in and out of the video-game world, and since this is contemporary, I would suggest that you place the setting firmly in the real world before continuing.

    You do a great job of setting up a clear-cut conflict in one pivotal scene. Even though the point of view is third person, Jaden's thoughts come through very nicely and the dialogue here is authentic and entertaining. The interactions among characters don't seem contrived, which is a major accomplishment. You capture the tone of the age group well, and this is a quality that will draw readers into your writing. It may even be a better idea to cut back on the video game descriptions in favor of a deeper introduction to Jaden's friends.

    To lend more urgency to the conflict you introduce, I would've liked to meet Jaden's parents, if only briefly. Getting an idea of their personalities would help define the stakes.

    As a side note: I was slightly confused by the capitalization of "Dude", but I am not certain as to whether this is standard.

    Other than the things outlined above, this looks like a strong start, and I can't wait to read your revisions!

  5. Fabulous voice. You've already given us so much insight on the boys even though you focused more on the game.

    1. Devesh seems like he'll be a lot of fun to write. The "train your parents better" had me laughing.
      I also questioned the reactions. You begin your first sentence telling the reader that Jaden refused to be beaten but when he does win, he and his buddies are amazed and in disbelief. Yes, I understand he was playing someone very good but he knew who he was playing when the story opens correct? Maybe I read it wrong as I'm not a gamer and had to read the first chapter twice to understand what was going on.
      I als

    2. Also* liked how you uped the tension

    3. Argh!
      *upped the tension with the time his parents came home. What if you started with that? And then, as one commenter mentioned, introduce us to his parents.
      You did a great job setting up the stakes and I think these three boys are going to be very entertaining so I'm eager to read more.

  6. I like this! I like the way you start in the middle of the fight too, lots of tension and story flow there.

    If you wanted too, you could ground it a bit more by showing us his friends cheering for him earlier or describing how the controller felt in his hands or something. And some of his internal dialogue could be given to his friends as well, if you wanted to punch up the real-life interactions.

    My main issue in the first chapter was with the vocabulary. Because this is a contemporary, you won't have quite as much leeway to use a lot of terms that your readers don't understand, especially right off the bat.

    Your video game terminology is great, and will contribute a lot to the story, but right now most of it doesn't have enough context to mean anything to your reader. Things like "super meter" and "chip damage" need more explanation, (I'm mildly gamer-literate, and I have no idea which of those means health.) And some terms (like back dashed) are kind of awkward and throw off the flow of the sentence.

    Also consider that by the time this book makes it's way into the world, gaming terms will probably have changed. I'd suggest streamlining a little, making sure that your terms are as classic--for want of a better word--as possible, and putting in enough context so that your readers can figure out the terms they don't understand.

    And to be honest, I'd lose the l33t speak entirely. It's distracting, hard to decipher and can very easily slide into sounding outdated.

    As for the rest, I like it. I'm on board with Jaden's dilemma, and curious to see where it goes. Can't wait to read the next draft!