Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Scott Rev 2

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

The girl’s pale hand grazed flames but was not burned. Her green eyes were as electric as the storm raging outside. The rain’s steel-drum beat assaulted the windows of SimTech, but I had stopped noticing the terrible San Francisco weather and 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 which mirrored the downpour outside. Shadows of droplets fell 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 an ad for a video game, but the artificial intelligence that powered that game made it one of the most important products mega-genius Wesley Sims had ever developed.

Sims never did anything that wasn’t revolutionary. Even 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.

Oh well, I was there and the game was waiting for me. Who cared how it happened? 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? Should I dare to think you’re excited about this?” 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. Okay, maybe. And don’t call me Nathaniel.” I tried to raise one eyebrow in the condescending way only she could manage.

Min’s black hair was a glossy sheet that fell over new glasses that veiled her scary black eyes. She had near-perfect vision, so the glasses were probably for one of the bets she loved to make. She smelled normal at least, like coconuts.

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

Min gave up her awkward position and shook her arm. “The glasses are a dare that’ll get me twenty bucks from the new AV kid. The hair is because I bathe in Crisco and faerie blood.”

“Doesn’t this noob know better than to bet against Min the Mighty?”

She punched me in the arm. “Don’t call me Min!”

“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, they’re nuts. It looks so real. Like real real.” Her eyes bugged out with anticipation. “Man, I’m so excited, and I’m so gonna beat you like always.”

“You hardly ever beat me.”

“Fifty percent of the time. You know it.” She side-eyed me, but there was a little smirk lurking at the corner of her mouth.

“Fine. I’ll give you that.” I nodded.

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’d been stalking news of the project for months, but I’d never asked him about it. I’d never begged for this chance to see the pure magic of new code.

The clipped march of expensive dress shoes announced my father’s arrival, activated our shiny techno adventure. 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, 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.

I stopped the tiny feeling of gratitude to Hal I had subconsciously allowed. It was time to game, and it felt as if thisgame waited for me like a living thing.

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. I like the changes you’ve incorporated in the manuscript and think it reads really well. In fact, I have nothing but nitpiks.

    The weather in the first paragraph still bothers me and I hate to mention it again, just that it’s first paragraph. That he’s noticing it and the people in such detail when he says they were uninteresting and he’s focused on the girl on the screen. Maybe drop some of the whether details of crowd details down to when Min comes in…dripping wet? Through the crowd?

    When Min talks about the glasses you could trim it to “The glasses will get me twenty…” b/c you’ve added in above that it’s probably a dare.
    It looks like you need a space between this and game in the second to last paragraph.

    I think he can just brush his fingers through his hair. “One set” sounds a little odd.

    “There was only silence” seems odd also b/c we know Dad’s shoes clicked on the way over, so they are clicking on the way back. “No one spoke…” ?

    Sorry, super nitpicky, but like I said, I liked it. I’d definitely read about what happens in the game!

    Good luck with the manuscript!

  2. Nice revision, Rachel. While you've smoothed out some issues, I concur with Rebecca's notes, above, regarding things like weather, glasses, clicking heels. You're great at writing metaphor and lovely language and the trick is to know when to pull back in service of pacing, character and plot. E.g., the short pp in the final third of the chapter, which includes "clipped march" & "shiny dress shoes" & "activated...techno-adventure." All individually strong and evocative but too much packed into such a tight paragraph, making it feel a bit overwritten. That said, you've got a fascinating opening, the start of a strong concept and you're a very good writer. At this point, I'd push forward, writing in a good 100 pages or so until you've really fleshed out your characters, etc. Then, go back to this and do a bit more tightening--maybe you can spread some of those cool metaphors out into later chapters. Congrats on a terrific start and I look forward to hearing how this ms progresses! -- Stasia

    1. Hi Stasia! Thank you for the feedback :-)

      At this point, I have a complete manuscript that's been revised a few times, but now I feel like I need to dissect every line as I have in this workshop!

    2. Hi Rachel! I WISH I had time to read this whole ms--it's such an intriguing start. Since this workshop only addresses First Fives, it's hard to guess how the plot and pacing carry forward but I am willing to venture (based on the quality of the start) that you've got a solid ms at this point. Years before I sold my first novel, I went back and forth with an awesome editor over a fantasy ms which I now realize was a bit overwritten (it never did sell). I had to learn that lesson of "kill your darlings" and make sure that every line I wrote was in service of the story and not the writing itself. I guess that could also be translated into the notion of honing voice. So, I guess I'd say, put on your "math geek" classes and go over the ms very clinically, checking for things like doubling-up on adverbs, trios of metaphors, and dialogue that is clever but doesn't move the plot forward. Try to keep a bit of distance (maybe just leave the ms alone for a couple of weeks since you've just been agonizing over, like, 1200 words for a month!) and do a very strategic revision. Save it under a new name, just in case this technique doesn't work well for you. Then, reread it yourself (and, hopefully, have a beta reader or two do the same) and see what you've got. It's not pretty, but sometimes the less writerly, more scientific revision is just what you need to give something that final polish. BEST OF LUCK! - S

  3. These pages are still really good, and honestly, I can't think of much to add. I still wish there was a bit less animosity toward the dad, especially because his dad doesn't seem like a bad guy. Maybe if dad said something in a harsh tone I'd understand Nate's feelings toward him.

    Other than that, beautifully done!

  4. Hi Rachel,

    This is beautiful writing. With that comes the dreaded cutting of too much description. I think you could cut a lot of the describing words here and still keep the voice and flow of the story. I would even go as far as suggesting your first sentence be changed, maybe switch the sentences around a bit and see how that works. I do like the beginning but I think you could give us a better intro.

    The dialogue is great, punchy and smooth.

    Other than that I think this is great and with small changes should be as shiny as a new penny.

    Great work, good luck.


  5. Dear Rachel,

    Thank you for sharing these pages with us!

    As an agent, the genre we present to editors is really important. I’d stick with just YA here, and let editors judge for themselves. Some are afraid of the “science fiction” label, and would rather call it something else. Sometimes it’s better to be more general. And they’ll quickly see that it’s contemporary.

    Your title is good - congratulations, because we are close to running out on fabulous single word zingers for YA titles! Seriously, we brainstorm words like this all the time.

    Please use a comma in the all-important first line (“grazed flames, but was not burned.”) It’s more powerful that way. I’m not sure I understand the “as they watched water streams like news ticker tapes” bit. I don’t want to be confused in the first paragraph. The next paragraph is a bit clunky to me, too. It doesn’t flow easily.

    Note details, i.e. that Nathaniel has spoken fewer than ten sentences to Hal this month - but then it’s rare that he’s “rendered speechless”, which seems to contradict what you said before it.

    I like your humor with “Or lack of complex carbohydrates”, and would like to see more of that use of humor throughout - have fun with it!

    I’d like some sense of what his relationship with Min is - is it romantic? Or best gaming friends?

    There is a lot of description of the setting, the rain, Min, the sound of various footsteps. We could use a bit less description and a bit more narrative of who these characters are, so we are invested in them from the very first pages.

    Good luck!

  6. Personally, I love it. This is the kind of book I'd love to pick up and read. Great revisions. Great characters. Great set up. By all means fix things that are confusing to others, but I think it reads much cleaner now, so great work. Not sure there's much more I can add!

  7. Hi Rachel,

    I didn't have much in the way of suggestions last time, and I have even less now. I think this is a very smooth read, and your dialogue, in particular, is really strong. Intriguing premise, quirky characters, good writing: with an opening like this, I would definitely read on!

    Best of luck,