Sunday, September 20, 2015

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Adrian Revision 2 + pitch

Name: Dottie Adrian
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Title: Ratman's Revenge


Twelve-year-old Cody and his dog, Sandy, venture into the creepy woods
for the first time and discover a city hidden deep underground. With
crystal caves to explore and new friends who have awesome abilities
like reading minds and blending in with nature, it’s the perfect place
for Cody to escape his too-busy divorced parents.

Then Cody learns the Detectors, the underground people who warn the
city of natural disasters and invading beasts, are disappearing. For
no-talent Cody, becoming a hero could be his ticket to feeling like he
belongs, so he searches for the missing people. Instead, he finds
Ratman---a man-sized rat with mind control abilities and an annoying
habit of turning invisible. But Cody is the only one who ever sees the
freaky fur-face.

As Cody searches for clues, Ratman attacks Cody both mentally and
physically. Cody becomes convinced there’s a real man behind the rat
illusion and he has something to do with the missing Detectors.

Cody realizes it’s up to him to hunt down Ratman in time to save the
Detectors and the city from whatever disaster that whiskered weirdo is
plotting---or at least before Ratman’s next attack actually kills him.

First Five Pages:

Mom’s warning blared in my head. I mean it, Cody, she’d said a
bazillion times. It’s too dangerous. Gangs and drug addicts hang out
in those woods. I don’t care what the other boys do, I don’t ever want
you to go in there. Promise me, Cody.

I shaded my eyes with my hands and stared at the woods along the back
of the dog park. The leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million
green fingers were reaching out, begging me to come inside.

Okay, so maybe I did promise, but that was ages ago. Besides, my
friends would be so jealous if I went into the woods without them.

Sandy, my golden retriever, ran up with a tennis ball in her mouth. I
grabbed the slimy ball and tossed it for the seventeenth time that
morning. She raced after it with her ears flapping.

Sweat dripped down my face and I wiped it with my t-shirt. Oh man,
while I melted to death here, my friends were probably swimming in
that freeze-your-toes-off lake at camp right now---lucky turds. The
only water I’d get to swim in this summer was in the bathtub. Dang
Matt and Zach for going off to camp---and for a whole month.

Sandy ran back with the ball and dropped it at my feet. I knelt and
hugged her. “You’d never bail on me, would you, girl. You’re my best
friend in the whole universe.” She licked my nose. Yeah, she agreed
with me.

Suddenly, Sandy turned and raced off toward the woods, barking. I ran
after her. “Sandy, wait! No!”

When mowed grass turned to tall weeds at the edge of the park she
stopped, but she kept staring at the trees, barking. We’d never been
this close to the woods before. I caught up and knelt beside her.
“What is it, girl?”

A boy with long black hair stood just inside the woods, staring at me.
Whoa. Where’d he come from? I waved but he turned and disappeared
between the trees. “Hey, wait!” He was long gone.

I petted Sandy and stared into the woods. That boy looked normal to
me. Maybe Mom made up that stuff about killers and druggies. How would
she know what’s in there anyway? Maybe there are tons of kids riding
on bike trails or swimming in a pond. Or chasing Bigfoot! Something.

“You know, Sandy, I bet Mom and Dad wouldn’t care if I go in there.
I’m almost a teenager now. And they’ve been too busy dating other
people since the divorce to go on picnics or go camping with me.” I
nodded. “Yeah. If they think I’m old enough to be on my own all the
time, then I’m old enough to go into the woods. Right Sandy?”

She licked my nose. Yes!

I stood and dusted off my shorts.

Sunlight streamed between the trees and dotted the shady ground. One
ray of light pointed right at my feet, daring me to come closer.

“You’re on,” I said to the woods. “C’mon, Sandy. Let’s go find that boy.”

I pushed low-hanging branches out of the way as we marched in,
crunching through the dry brush. A warm breeze brushed across my face
and Sandy bobbed her nose at all the new smells. Birds squawked
overhead and hidden bugs made grinding noises like monsters waiting to

Oh man, this was gonna be awesome.

Weeds swiped my bare legs, some reaching as high as Sandy’s head, and
she’s tall. She’s not as tall as a purebred golden retriever because
she’s a mix of who-knows-what like me. My mom is Native American but
Dad’s plain-old mix-of-everything American. I’ve got Mom’s tanned skin
but I’ve got Dad’s floppy brown hair, so I’m a mix of everything just
like Sandy.

Sandy sniffed a dozen tree trunks then stopped to pee. When her pee
break turned into a poop break I looked around. No bike trails, no
pond, and no kids. But I wasn’t giving up. That boy was in here

Sandy finished her stinky brown deposit (that’s what Mom calls it) and
we pushed on, dodging around a prickly bush.

Clack! Clack! Clack! A brown blur zipped down a tree and two squirrels
hit the ground running. Sandy bolted after them.

“Sandy, no!” This time, she didn’t stop.

I took off, racing between the trees. Bushes scraped my legs. Ow!
Branches smacked my face. Ow! Ow! I followed the sound of her barking,
but it was getting farther away every second. “Sandy, wait for me!”

The heat sucked the air right out of my chest, and my side cramped
with a sharp pain. I raced on, deeper into the woods, jumping over
fallen logs and ducking under low branches. “Sandy!”

Sweat dripped down and stung my eyes. Finally, I stopped and doubled
over, panting. When the stitch in my side let up, I stood and spun in
a circle. There was no sign of Sandy, and no kids either. I was lost
in the middle of the woods while Sandy ran around playing with
squirrels. Great. My friends would crack up laughing over that.

Deep in the woods, only a few streaks of light poked through the tops
of the trees. Shadows surrounded me like zombies in a horror movie.
And this time, the birds and bugs were quiet. Spooky quiet.

This wasn’t so cool anymore. My stomach tensed and gas rose up in my
throat. I gulped it down then picked a direction and started walking.

Footsteps crunched behind me and I whipped around. “Who’s there?” No
one---just the trees.

Maybe that boy was hiding from me. Or maybe Mom’s killer gangs were
about to jump out.

Crunch. Crunch.

All the hair on my arms stood up and I took off running. “Saaannnndy!”

Woof, woof.

“I’m coming, girl!” I raced up and found her with her front paws on a
tree trunk, staring up at the leaves. Her tail wagged so I figured
she’d found the squirrels. I grabbed her leash from my pocket and
hooked it on her collar. “C’mon, Sandy. Let’s get out of here.”

She stayed with her paws on the tree so I looked up. Halfway up the
tree, a group of leaves shook, but there wasn’t any breeze. Something
was up there---something much bigger than a squirrel.

A giant blob wiggled in the branches, blending with the leaves like a
chameleon. But the outline of it was as big as I was. Then glowing
green eyes blinked at me.

Whoa. I jerked back and fell on my butt. A shiver raced down my back
as if an ice monster ran its icy claws down my skin. I couldn’t take
my eyes off the blob as I scrambled to my feet and pulled on Sandy’s
leash. “C’mon, Sandy, let’s go.” She didn’t move. “Sandy, please!”

She stared up at that thing as if she was in a trance. Was that freaky
monster melting her brain? Would it turn us into tree monsters, too?
Jittery waves of panic raced through me. “Sandy, let’s get out of

Thump! The leafy blob landed on the ground next to the tree. It looked
like a tree branch standing there with brown wooden legs and arms, and
flickering leaves all over.

Okay, maybe the sun fried my brain or the heat melted my eyes.
Something. This had to be just my imagination.

Then that tree branch shuffled toward me.


  1. Hi Dottie,
    I really like your pitch—I think the tone is very consistent with middle grade, and you describe the world and tell what Cody’s mission is. I love the fun phrase “whiskered weirdo”!

    For the pages, the way you have Mom’s warnings written stops me. Could you italicize the lines of his mom talking maybe? Although, I still really think you need a stronger hook.

    I really think you need to start with the blob.

    What if you started with a bit of in medias res magic, with the line, “A giant blob wiggled in the branches, blending with the leaves like a
    chameleon…Then glowing green eyes blinked at me”

    Then you can go back and share the background: Cody’s out with Sandy, his mom warned him not to go into the woods, and his friends are away from the summer. These pieces of info are all important, but none are as powerful as the creature—so I’d say start from the strongest point!

    Also, and this is just an idea, what if some hint of the Ratman showed up in these pages? He’s the titular character, he’s the main antagonist—I think he needs to be at least hinted at here…could there be a local legend of a hairy homeless man who lives in those woods? Maybe instead of warning him of druggies, Cody’s mom has always warned him to stay away from the Ratman? Maybe the local legend has its roots in the fantastical reality that Cody is about to discover? (and speaking from experience, you probably don’t want to even mention drugs in an MG ;)

    1. Thank you so much for the comment! I do have mom's words in italics in the story but it doesn't come through in formatting for this workshop.

      Also, no one on the surface knows about Ratman because they don't know about the underground world. But I will certainly consider some kind of hint of him earlier on. I did have an older version that started with him.
      Thanks again for the great comments!

  2. Hi Dottie,

    Yes, your pitch is great and on point - there's nothing to comment on it except that I feel it's really a well-constructed pitch.

    And I agree with JJ, there still isn't a strong hook on your story, so any reader might not pick it up right away. I was really compelled to learn more about the Ratman coming from your pitch, and I didn't really see that the story was heading in that direction for the first 5 pages of it.
    This draft also has a lot of more noise and onomatopoeia, which I'm not sure is something you entirely intended and it also slows down the pace of the story. Outside that, good job!

  3. Hi Dottie,

    My thoughts are all pretty much in line with what J.J. and Laura said.

    Strong pitch. You’ve introduced some interesting elements there that will be great to explore as the story goes on.

    The opening is still in need of a stronger pull but you’re getting there! It’s much better that the first draft, keep working on it.

    Thanks for letting me read your work :-)

  4. Hi Dottie, I think this has come a long way. I like your new opening. There are several instances where you have really improved. Here are a few things that gave me pause:

    Okay, so maybe I did promise, but that was ages ago. Besides, my
    friends would be so jealous if I went into the woods without them.

    Why would his friends be jealous of him going in the woods? This is something kids do every day, right? Why would it be so special for him to do it when they're away at camp?

    Suddenly, Sandy turned and raced off toward the woods, barking. I ran after her. “Sandy, wait! No!”

    How about simply: "Sandy's ears perked up." Instead of Suddenly, Sandy turned and raced off toward the woods, barking. It is much more declarative and tense.

    When mowed grass turned to tall weeds at the edge of the park she stopped, but she kept staring at the trees, barking.
    This is passive and a little awkward. It's telling, when we all know we need to be "showing."

    Perhaps: Sandy stopped at the edge of the woods. She sniffed the ground...

    A boy with long black hair stood just inside the woods, staring at me.
    Whoa. Where’d he come from? I waved but he turned and disappeared
    between the trees. “Hey, wait!” He was long gone.

    Perhaps: "Hey wait!" I cried out. But he only turned and disappeared into the woods.

    There are a few changes in tense you'll want to be more aware of. Your story is in first person, past tense, but now and then you jump into first person present tense. Here's an example:

    How would she know what’s in there anyway? Maybe there are tons of kids riding
    on bike trails or swimming in a pond. Or chasing Bigfoot!
    That should be Maybe there were tons of kids...

    Here's another:
    Sandy finished her stinky brown deposit (that’s what Mom calls it) and
    we pushed on, dodging around a prickly bush.

    That should be: That's what Mom called it.

    As for your pitch, it sounds like a really fun inventive story. Finding an underground city and kids with supernatural abilities sounds pretty amazing, but it's kind of glossed over in your pitch. Perhaps this will get you to a better start:

    Twelve-year-old Cody is feeling neglected in the midst of his parent's messy divorce, but when he and his faithful golden retriever Sandy venture into the nearby woods, his whole world changes.

    He discovers the Detectors, a secret society of kids with supernatural powers who protect the city from natural disasters...

  5. I published before I was finished!

    Anyway, I think this could be a really fun adventure story for kids. Keep working at it. You have talent. Don't rush. Take your time. Share with critique partners.

    It was a pleasure to read, Dottie.

    Good luck!

  6. I agree with the other commenters – very strong pitch!

    I really like the addition of Cody’s emotional spur (his parents’ divorce) in this draft! It gives us more insight into Cody and makes us feel something for him right off the bat. I’d love to see even more emotion from him, in fact, around being left behind by not just his friends, but his parents. Does that make him angry? Sad? Desperate? Showing some intense emotion here would be a fantastic hook and also give an obvious motivation for going into the dangerous woods. Maybe Cody is staring at the woods in the first paragraph with the express purpose of disobeying his mom, because she’s hurt his feelings; and then all he needs is a tiny nudge to actually do it.

    I wonder if the adventure ends up enabling Cody to deal with his emotions around his parents’ divorce? I hope so, and in that case I want to really advocate for starting with those emotions.

    I also like the addition of details on the biological components he’s gotten from each parent, since that works nicely with his thinking about their divorce.

    I wonder if you can amp up the tension in the woods by cutting to the chase more quickly. What if, instead of wandering around peeing and chasing squirrels, Sandy gets the scent of the blob as soon as they enter the woods and just takes off after it?

    This draft is much better in my opinion because it gives us (emotional) reasons to care about Cody, and makes him sympathetic. Good work!

  7. Hi Dottie,

    Your pitch is so much fun - I love the Ratman!
    Definitely think this concept is solid. This is just a personal opinion, but I wonder if the woods should be described more as ‘forbidden’ than ‘creepy’ in the opening pitch sentence. Then the reader is set up with higher stakes when Cody risks himself and his dog by entering the one place he should never go.
    As for your first five, I agree with J. J. that you should have some mention of Ratman - as the local crazy, or the dangerous legend, and that’s why no one should enter the woods. I almost wonder if you should lead in with the Ratman legend as your hook.
    The divorce aspect is a nice touch - a lot of kids can and will want to relate to Cody more because of this.
    As for the rest of your pages, I think you’ve done a great job in your rewrites. I’ve really enjoyed your story.
    I hope to see Ratman’s Revenge in the future! :)

  8. Hi Dottie,

    Seems like a very exciting adventure story. It makes me think a bit about The Nutcracker, though I'm pretty sure your rat is a bit more of a big bad!

    My feeling is that you should try to play around with your tone and atmosphere a bit. From your pitch, I'm thinking that this is going to be a fairly dark middle grade, but the tone you've chosen for the moment of entry is fairly light and conversational. Yes, his mom is scolding him, but he isn't taking her seriously. The trees are beckoning him in, in fact. I'd love to hear more about how dark and scary the woods are. Something that hints at what is to come.

    I would also caution you against starting with a mother's warning at the beginning of a middle grade--especially in an adventure. It has the potential to come off as a bit moralistic or as the beginning of a lesson book, which isn't really in fashion right now. It's okay for your protagonist to just go on an adventure. There are definitely also other ways that you can get the point across that he isn't making a great decision! Basically, in middle grade, kids rule the day and they get themselves into and out of trouble (often with little to no adult involvement). You want to avoid an opening that appears to be setting up a cautionary tale. Good luck to you!

  9. Hey Dottie,

    After teaching 5th grade for over a decade, I can tell you the kids would eat this story up. The pitch had me itching to add this to my "must read aloud" books list. You've really hit that middle grade audience. The world unfolding in the forest is very intriguing and would pull them right in.

    There are so many great notes in the comments already to go on, I don't want to lay a bunch more on you. Some of the comments I've made on earlier drafts, I'd reiterate.

    If I had to pick a single focus it would be to plop us more quickly into the woods. Get the adrenaline pumping from the get go. Jump into the action and feather in the great details and characters tells you've got going. I agree with Danielle not to focus on the mother's words as your lead. Middle graders like to feel the pull of their growing autonomy and invincibility. Tap into that.

    I second the idea above that it would be cool to have some foreshadowing of Ratman in the opening somehow if he's going to be so pivotal.

    Have a blast with your world building and Cody's great adventure. Thanks so much for putting your work out there. Best of the best on your journey.