Sunday, January 11, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Scott Rev 1

Name: Rachel Scott
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Science Fiction
Title: Virtuality

The girl’s pale hand grazed over flames but was not burned. Her green eyes were electric like the storm outside, its steel-drum beat of rain assaulting the windows of SimTech. Despite the San Francisco weather, I barely noticed the people in the lobby as they watched water streams like news ticker tapes. They were uninteresting. It was the girl inhabiting the giant screen who captured my attention, those strange eyes taunting me with a silent,Didn’t know a few pixels would alter the course of your existence, did you, Nate Walker?

At least, that’s what I imagined she’d say, if she were real. Her silver dress and icy blonde hair fluttered in the fire that appeared to consume the screen. The reflective surface mirrored the downpour outside, shadows of droplets falling in straight rows like calculations. There would be a lot of numbers forming her on that screen. No flesh and blood, just heartless binary.

The image zoomed to frame her eyes, and words appeared beneath them. Cognitus is born. It was just a video game she advertised, but the artificial intelligence that powered it made it one of the most important products mega-genius Wesley Sims had ever developed.

Sims never did anything that wasn’t revolutionary. Just standing there, in his glass and steel powerhouse, intimidated me. I was just a student who never would have scored an invitation to test the game if my father weren’t Sims’ right-hand man. Vote Hal Walker, dad of the year. He’s for nepotism.

A rush of January wind chilled me as the doors swung open. A chrome handle banged something from the force. Min had arrived, barely on time as usual. I waited for her from my spot below the girl. No, the ad for the game.

The clunk of Min’s worn motorcycle boots paused near the front desk where she was delayed by security. She swore in Korean before darting over to me.

“Is that a spark of humanity in your baby blues, Nathaniel?” Min-Ji Kim flung one arm over my shoulders, which was dumb, because she was a lot shorter than me, and it made her stand on her toes.

“Never. And don’t call me Nathaniel.” I glanced at my friend, trying to raise one eyebrow in the condescending way only she could manage.

Min’s black hair was a glossy sheet that fell over glasses which were clearly new and thick as the heel of her boots. “Not my fault Nate should be short for something. It’s unnatural. Like someone named Bill who’s just Bill and not William.”

“There are plenty of guys named just Bill.”

“That doesn’t prove my point.” She gave up her awkward position to cross her arms.

Min had near-perfect vision in her scary black eyes, so the glasses were just for show. She smelled normal at least, like coconuts.

“By the way…” I turned fully towards her. “Your glasses are stupid, and your hair is super shiny. It’s mismatched.”

Min stuck out her tongue. “The glasses are a dare that’ll get me twenty bucks from Chauncey, which I want because his name is Chauncey. The hair is because I bathe in Crisco and faerie blood.”

“They look like hipster glasses. Or Waldo, maybe. Where’s Waldo. Where’s Min…it should be a comic.”

She punched me in the arm. “Don’t call me Min! It’s my version of Nathaniel.”

“But your name is Min! We’ve been through this before.”

“It’s Min-Ji. You’re the only person I let get away with plain Min.”

“You’re not letting me get away with it,” I whispered like it was a secret.


“Yes, that is what Nate is short for.” I was phasing out though, fixating on the screen again, and Min followed my gaze.

“If that’s an example of the graphics, this is nuts.” Her eyes bugged out with anticipation.

I nodded. Probably. It’d be just ten more minutes, or fifteen, before I saw the game for myself, the world behind the silver girl’s unnerving eyes. It was hard not knowing exactly when so I could count down and occupy myself with the quantification of seconds.

My father would meet us soon. Maybe there’d been no real conversation between us since my mother’s death seven years ago, and maybe our relationship was beyond repair, but still…Hal didn’t have to arrange for me and Min to be the first game testers who weren’t SimTech employees. I never asked him for it, even though I’d been stalking news of the project for months. This was pure magic, this techno adventure activated by the clipped march of expensive dress shoes announcing my father’s arrival. Right on schedule.

“Good, you’re here.” Hal checked his watch after the fact. Weirdo.

Min answered, because she could talk to Hal freely, unlike me. “Yep, responsible testers we are. So responsible, so adult.”

Hal smiled at her. Everyone always smiled at her. “Course you are. You won’t have much time in the game, I’m afraid, but since this wasn’t a planned session, it was the best I could do.” He spun back the way he entered and took a few sharp steps.

I analyzed my father’s strange behavior. It didn’t seem to be fake. It didn’t seem like bribery for attention or acknowledgement of his greatness, but why was he being so…nice?

I cleared my throat. I’d spoken less than ten sentences to Hal this month, so I could spare one. “Thanks.”

He faltered, but recovered quickly and didn’t glance back. “It’s nothing. I know how much you like this sort of thing.”

When Hal had mentioned he could get me a testing session, it might have been one of the few times I’d been rendered speechless. I’d nodded and maybe even smiled, and I hadn’t even had to ask about Min. Her inclusion was a result of a carefully-crafted formula: fifty percent assumption, fifty percent Nate never goes anywhere without her anyway.

He’d worked in SimTech’s artificial intelligence division for years, since before Mom’s death, but I thought that had involved robots that could replace humans. Something about the space station, too. He never shut up about that, but Hal Walker was a proud man who liked to remind me how I had to keep going no matter what, and how I’d never get anywhere if I couldn’t move on. Like grief had an expiration date.

I’d been ten years old when one-third of my family vanished off the face of the earth. Hal lost his wife, but had promptly replaced her with Bridget, my shallow hag of a stepmother, just a year later. At least I got Liza out of that unholy union, my five-year-old half-sister, but apart from her, everything had been ruined like some ancient civilization that sunk to the bottom of the sea.

I stopped the tiny feeling of gratitude to Hal I had subconsciously allowed. Instead, the game.

I brushed one set of fingers through my hair, flooded by the urgency of new. This game was the first break I’d felt in my tedious existence in such a long time. I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was depression. Or lack of complex carbohydrates. There was only silence then as we followed Hal across the lobby. I stole one last look at the girl before we got whisked away in a glass elevator like Willy Wonka.


  1. Lovely work, Rachel. This is stronger, tighter and much easier to follow. I especially like the two italicized thought bits: "Never knew a few pixels..." (though I suspect it's a few thousand or something?) and "Vote Hal Walker..." had an ironic humor that, for me, really hit the mark in building Nate into a charmingly relatable mc. Things get a little bit weaker in the middle. I think Min's entrance could still be stronger (and, generally, shorter in terms of word count)--maybe I find it a bit disruptive because the flow of the opening PPs is strong. I'm wondering if some imagery connection between the virtual girl's eyes and Min's eyes and/or eyes-behind-glasses might help? Is the whole name/nickname exchange important later? If not, though it's lively dialogue and leads to some fun punnery, you might need to axe it b/c it feels a little bit distracting, too. As I reread this, I'm realizing that most of what we learn about Min is visual (hair, glasses) and aggressive (chill wind before entrance, thick boots) but we don't know anything about how SHE feels about the imminent viewing of the game. Is she doing it for Nate or actually excited? Why? Who is the bigger gamer? A little bit of this information--showing the Nate-Min connection instead of just telling us they're great friends-- would, I think, flesh out this opening even more completely. Finally, four PP preceding the final PP feel a bit like info-dump. Suddenly we learn about dead mom, grief, Dad's job, half-sister, hag stepmom. While all of these things are important, perhaps we don't need them all right here. You can also give us some data without fleshing it out. Maybe, that Nate can half-forgive his dad for all the shit he's dumped onto his life the last X years because he at least got his half-sister out of it? We can learn about dead mom, stepmom, etc. gradually.
    I'm giving you this feedback because you did a fantastic job in your first revision and I think this work is well within your reach. I am excited to see what you do next. All best and happy writing this week!

  2. I continue to find your story premise very interesting, more so with the additional info on Nate’s relationship with his father and Nate’s distrust of the favor of getting him a spot to try the game.

    In your first paragraph, I like the description of the girl and the change so the reader knows she’s on the screen. The thing that knocks me out of the story is that he’s so focused on her he hardly notices the other people in the building…but that he sees what they are doing, watching the weather. If he hardly notices the people, I think you need to get the weather point in a different way.

    On “the reflective surface,” does that mean he can see the rain reflected through the image of the girl? It sounded like that, but I wan’t quite sure. Maybe “shadows of the droplets falling in straight rows from her icy blond hair down her silvery dress.” I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but something to make it clear. There’s something interesting in the image of rain reflecting on the image of the fire too…

    After the “He’s for nepotism.” I wondered how Nate felt about it. It sounds like he’s mocking his father for pulling strings, but he did it for Nate. Nate didn’t turn down the invite to test the game. What does that say about Nate? Maybe you explore this later in the story. (There’s only so much you can get in on the first 5 pages!)

    I love “the girl. No, the ad for the game.” He’s already thinking of the avatar as a real person. Foreshadowing? I’m very interested in seeing where that goes.

    “Is that a spark of humanity in your baby blues,” throws me out of the story. If he was feeling sorry for her difficulty with security, or going over to help or something it would make sense. But where does come from? I think it is very telling about his personality – he’s ignoring all the humans in the room and focused on the avatar. But is there a better way to fit it in?

    “The hair is because I bathe in Crisco and faerie blood.” Love it!

    “Idiot.” “Yes, that is what Nate is short for.” Love it!

    “If that’s an example of the graphics, this is nuts.” I still don’t get this. Are they more detail than normal, more realistic, creative in some way? What’s so good about them?
    I also love the analysis of his dad’s favor. It says a lot about their relationship that he’s suspicious of his dad doing something nice for him.

    After the last sentence of dialogue from Nate’s father, it feels like there’s a lot of back story tossed in. I wonder if you could break it up some. Put in some here…and move some back after more action or dialogue.

    I hope some of these thoughts help! Good luck! Rebecca

  3. Hi! Great revision! Nice work. :D Still really enjoy this. I'm going to be a little more "picky" this week because I think that's the next natural stage. Those first two sentences make the first paragraph better, but there's still something wrong with the flow: "The girl’s pale hand grazed over flames but was not burned. Her green eyes were electric like the storm outside, its steel-drum beat of rain assaulting the windows of SimTech" I think it's something as simple as changing "over' to "the" and the second sentence being separated into two? You're talking about her eyes, compare them to the storm but the rest is about the storm not the eyes. Does that even make sense? Sorry if it was confusing. It's such a slight thing, and unfortunately I can only say that often times simplification is best.

    I absolutely love the line (last time too) about the dad checking his watch after, weirdo. :D Had to mention that. Great characterization and fun.

    Still love Min.

    Nice to add a touch of backstory about the dad and his family situation. His sister makes him even more likable which is awesome!

    Two more little spots where I felt that flow problem.

    One: " I never asked him for it, even though I’d been stalking news of the project for months. This was pure magic, this techno adventure activated by the clipped march of expensive dress shoes announcing my father’s arrival. Right on schedule."
    The majority of the paragraph is going back to why the father invited them, but then switches rather suddenly to the present. Maybe just starting a new paragraph with his dad's shoes indicating the sound of the magic beginning. But you know, better! LOL

    Two: "Instead, the game."
    Simply add something like, Instead, it was time to focus on the game. Just to clarify. My two cents.

    Seriously though, I really enjoyed this and look forward to where you go from here.

  4. Hi Rachel,

    This is so good!

    No flesh and blood, just heartless binary. – Great line.

    Vote Hal Walker, dad of the year. He’s for nepotism. – I agree that this comes off as Nate being annoyed or something about being there, but he did accept. Maybe change this a bit, something like: Vote Hal Walker, dad of the year. Or just today is more like it. – Something to show us there is a separation, but that he will accept any attention his dad is willing to give. If that’s where your leading the character.

    The little things I noticed are what’s been commented on already. I am very interested in this. There is backstory within the first pages. I know how difficult it is to hold back on too much at once. But I think streamlining the middle like mentioned would bring this up to a polish.

    Look forward to where this goes. - Shannon

  5. Hi Rachel,

    I think this is a terrific opening. I especially like your second paragraph! I have very little to offer in terms of suggestions, but here goes:

    The third line in the third paragraph feels a little clunky. Maybe "It may have been just a video game" and cut "she advertised"?

    The fifth paragraph, I love the last few lines, but maybe "No, not girl. The ad for the game." ??

    Love Min's hair as a "glossy sheet" -- maybe "that fell over NEW glasses" and cut the "clearly new and" ??

    The paragraph that starts "I nodded," the "Probably" -- I wasn't sure what that was referring to. But I love "the world behind the silver girl's unnerving eyes"!

    From the "I analyzed my father's" paragraph, I'm really questioning his father's motivation and whether the brilliant Wesley Sims has roped him into inviting Nate to do something potentially dangerous . . . .

    The only part of this that read awkwardly for me was the paragraph that started "He'd worked" and the one that followed it. I did like learning about the sister, but maybe another way?

    I really enjoyed this and am looking forward to next week's!


    P.S. Anyone else think that Brent Kagon is going to be Wesley Sims when he grows up?

  6. Well done, Rachel. The added information fleshes out the story more clearly, however I wonder whether all of the information about Nate's mother's death and the resultant step-family is necessary in these first five pages. I also don't understand what is the purpose of the interaction between Min and Nate? If there is no reason for all the emphasis on nicknames/shortened names, perhaps you can delete it. I would rather see you give the reader an inkling of what the relationship is between these two. This is an innovative story premise, you've done a great job of introducing the reader to a relatable character and I am interested in seeing where this story leads. So kudos to you. The writing could be tightened up somewhat. I think if you read your story out loud to yourself, you'll understand what I am getting at. I also was thinking that you might rearrange your first paragraph to begin with "Despite the San Francisco weather, I barely noticed the people in the lobby. They were uninteresting. It was the girl inhabiting the giant screen who captured my attention. The girl whose hand grazed over flames but remained unscathed and whose green eyes flashed electric like the storm outside. Those strange eyes taunted me with a silent......Walker?" Just a suggestion. Good work overall, Virginia

  7. I'm so sorry I'm late!

    Rachel, your opening pages were already super good, and now they're better. Nice and tight with plenty of mood and attitude. All the great things I'd said in the earlier post still apply--really nice writing and pacing.

    I'd just add a bit of caution: I want to like Nate, and sometimes when he's talking about his dad he seems a bit on the verge of bratty. Yes, he lost his mom, but his dad also lost his wife. So just be super careful about that. In the earlier version, I understood the distance between them, but not dislike.

    Otherwise, really well done!

  8. Brent Kagan is totally Wesley Sims :-) There's some weird writerly synergy happening here, Rebecca!