Sunday, September 20, 2015

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Wallace Revision 2 + Pitch

Name: Marie Wallace
Genre: YA - SciFi/Horror
Title: WEIRD

17 year old Evangeline Aster isn’t clever or pretty or brave, but she has a power. Evan can blow things up just by feeling sad. Or happy. Or any other normal human emotion. To keep everyone safe, all she has to do is keep her emotions in check.  Unfortunately, her dad has just died, her twin sister is a monster, and they’ve both been sent to boarding school in middle-of-nowhere Vermont. Nestled on top of Glastenbury, a dangerous mountain full of dark and twisted secrets, Aldebaran is no ordinary boarding school. Danger lurks around every mossy corner--the perfect triggers for Evan’s emotion-fueled-bomb. But the people at the Academy already know this. They’ve brought Evan to the mountain of nightmares on purpose, to take her power and turn it into a weapon that no one on Earth could ever survive.

My story is the stuff that bad movies are made from. 
Late last week and in the middle of a thunderstorm, an exhumed plot from cinema’s graveyard had come knocking, stealing away our father and sealing my fate.  
Boarding the woods...with my sister Morgen. The orphaned-teenage-girl-attends-creepy-school-movie-of-the-week, had officially become my life.
I almost cried. Almost. My tears still weighed heavy, stinging my insides, but I couldn’t let them trickle out. I wasn’t allowed to grieve. As my doctors had put it, feeling strong emotions are ‘inadvisable’ for someone with my condition. Especially while traveling on a six and a half hour flight. 
You see, I have superpowers.
Sort of. Stuff blows up when I get upset. Or pissed off. Or over the moon happy, although I can’t remember what that last one feels like. It’s more glamorous to call yourself superhuman than human-grenade. Honestly, my condition is a nightmare. It makes being a teenager impossible. 
The only thing protecting the rest of Flight 777 from me were the pharmaceuticals pumping through my veins.
Tears would have to wait.
The old Boeing finally touched down in Burlington Vermont. I picked the last bits of Nevada out from under my fingernails, having gotten up extra early that morning to throw dirt on my father’s coffin. As we waited for the plane to taxi-in, I felt the heat of Morgen’s face an inch from my own.  
“Quit it,” I mumbled.
“Just checking to see if you’re still breathing.” She sounded disappointed. Her face lingered as she studied my mouth. “Nice snore by the way.” 
“I wasn’t sleeping.”
I shoved the airline pillow between us, and pushed her off. Of all the things Morgen did to bother me, this creeped me out the most.
“If cats can steal a baby’s breath, imagine what I could do,” Morgen had once said. 
She was six.
I often wondered if my twin was trying to reabsorb me, ex utero.  
“Grab your backpack, Evan, we’re here.”
I couldn’t budge. I glanced at the happy faces flurrying about the cabin. They all had something to look forward to. Better yet, someone. I sighed and pushed up the window cover, but the layers of filth blotted out the view.
Double Ugh.
I released myself from the faded blue seat. The stiff belt buckles clanked to either side, but I couldn’t move. Instead, I let the cracked pleather pinch me into place a little while longer.
“Who’s picking us up again?” 
“I told you,” Morgen snapped, annoyed. “Aunt Daphne will be waiting for us at the gate-”     

“I still don’t understand how she’s our aunt.” 
“Shocking.” Morgen snorted. “She’s dad’s sister. They’re estranged. We’re staying with her tonight. Then we go to Aldebaran.”  
Aldebaran. Aldebaran Academy. Our new home sounded more like a mid-century insane asylum than a progressive institute for academia. The online site for Aunt Daphne’s alma mater reeked of nouveau riche preppies from all corners of New England. 
Blond kids in cardigans were not what I had in mind for my thirteenth year of school. 
Most kids our age chose what they studied during their transitional year. Engineering, politics, agriculture; whatever they could contribute to society, that’s what they’d do. Our futures were determined by our strengths. Mine would have been Astronomy, but after our dad died, guardianship was turned over to a Ms. Daphne Aster of Glastenbury Vermont. She got to call the shots now.
Morgen took the news surprisingly well. Expectant, even. Then again, Morgen’s strength was sex, so she’d adjust. I, on the other hand, had never heard of Aldebaran Academy. Or an Aunt Daphne, for that matter.
Three months. Three more months until I’m eighteen, and then I can do whatever the hell I want.
“Let’s go!” My twin snatched up the backpack, and plowed her way through the laggers, still struggling with the overhead.
“Dammit, Morgen.” I hopped up quickly to chase after her. “Sorry,” I mouthed, as I passed the indignant faces my sister just mowed down. 
Morgen stood at the end of the boarding bridge, twirling my bag by a loop at the top. She grinned and twisted the zipper, taunting me. 
“Give me the bag, Morgen.” I held out my hand. She knew my pills were in there.
Morgen barely shook her head. Her eyes narrowed, and her mouth twitched up at the corners.
My hand began to shake.  
Oh God, not here, not in the middle of a crowded airport. 
Watching me lose control was Morgen’s game of choice. Didn’t matter who got hurt. Morgen was beautiful and popular and ordinary. My curse was that shiny toy she could never have, but was determined to play with.    
Should’ve known. She waited the whole flight to do this.     

My sister would’ve never done this on the plane. Not with her own precious ass on the line. 
I needed another dose to stop this.
Morgen tilted her head, enjoying the show. She fished out my prescription, along with a bottle of aspirin. “Your last real dose was twelve hours ago.”
“Jesus, Morgen. What did you do?”
“Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing, what, thirty-seconds from now?” She stuffed the bottles back into her jacket.
“You switched my pills, are you insane? You could have blown up the plane--”  
People claim to see a metaphorical red when they’re angry.  I saw blue. Actual blue.
The blue flash zigzagged across my line of sight. I squeezed my eyes shut, trapping the light inside.
Don’t get mad, don’t get mad--
“Careful sweetie. You don’t want to give yourself a nosebleed, do you?”
“Give me my p-p-pills,” I stuttered, fighting against the rush of adrenaline. Wouldn’t be long now. We both knew what was coming next.
“I can’t,” Morgen grinned. “They’re back in Nevada. In the toilet.”  
I tightened my body, bracing for the inevitable.
Maybe no one will notice.
“Tick-tock, Leeny,” Morgen said. “Gotta let it out on something."
Morgen was pure evil.
I clenched my fists. Bright halos of light burst into my peripherals. They swallowed my sight, replacing my eyes with headlights. Electricity spread down my neck, sharpening the edges of my skin. Bathed in eerie blue light, my body creaked in objection. 
Distract yourself.
My eyes flew open. They settled on a young man kissing his lover near the magazines. His lips smoldered and bruised blue. 
They darted away, to a woman peddling roses from a beat-up satchel, but her flowers wilted.
I frantically scrambled my attention towards something I couldn’t hurt. Out of the giant window and onto the tarmac, the runway, the airplanes, all shimmered in a hot blue haze.
“No,” I gasped.
The mountains.
My gaze lifted to the shadowy outline of the distant Green Mountain Range. 
Focusing on the farthest peak, I slowly released the tension from my body. 
Too fast, and BOOM, I would detonate. 
The blue light burned as it passed through me. I winced at the sensation, at the hot chemical pain that seared another hole into my shirt. Not that clothes mattered. Things like fashion lost their meaning a long time ago. 
I sighed my relief when the blue cloud mushroomed off the distant peak and smothered the sun.
“That’s good, Leeny,” Morgen muttered over my shoulder. “Except for all the hikers you just barbecued.” She snickered into my ear. “You really should control that temper.”


  1. Hi Marie,
    This version is so much clearer on Evan’s who/what/when/where/why—great job clarifying those details! I know understand her “condition”—though you may want to give us readers at least a hint of how this type of power came to be? Your mention of doctors makes it sound medical, but it’s not realistic—so I’m left wondering about the source or cause as I read (and this wondering does pull me out of the world of the story a bit).

    Morgen is a bit more restrained here, which I prefer, though I still think it’s early in the story for a blatant reveal that she’s pure evil. Also, you say she is “beautiful and popular and ordinary”—this claim stopped me, as those who are beautiful and popular are not ordinary! Morgen just doesn’t have a power, but since you frame the superpower more as a medical problem, this interplay between them is a bit discordant for me.

    Pitch-wise, I like that you lay out the descriptions of Evan’s power clearly, but there’s too much “tell” for me here (her twin sister is a monster, the school is dangerous). You don’t have a lot of space in the pitch, but can you include at least one strong sensory image that will really pull in the reader? You have such a strong high concept here—strong, clear writing to hook the reader of this pitch will really mean you’ve got the whole package!

  2. Hi Marie,

    Really enjoyed this last revision! I love that you changed the diary for pills -- the scene felt so much more real, especially now that we know Evan has to take medicine to keep it all down. One line felt off, which was the one with "Morgen was pure evil" -- the reader already knows this. This telling bit is reinforcing something we already understood, so quite unnecessary.
    I can feel the stakes got a lot higher in this draft, as well as you tightening up the prose. Good job!

    The pitch is good as well, although I feel that you can plunge the reader a little deeper into the story -- get a better sense of Aldebaran academy as a whole, the scenery and such. You put things like "danger/lurking" to create an air of mystery, but in a query pitch it doesn't work so well -- you need to be clear on what you're including in your pitch, and make sure it's as strong as the sample pages you're sending along. Instead of being mysterious, try to evoke a more sensory and stronger image of the story, give us stakes and conflict and setting, instead of just leaving it in the air.

    Besides this, it's a great work! I'd really like to see your story on the shelves some day and read it whole (:

  3. Nice work bringing the narrative to a more concrete place. I can see where Evan is, where she’s been, who she’s with, etc. I feel instantly rooted in this story within the first few paragraphs and it makes it easy for me to believe and sympathize with Evan. I particularly like this line, “I picked the last bits of Nevada out from under my fingernails.” Great job.

    Your pitch feels a bit too clichéd. The narrative itself feels original and interesting, but the pitch talks about an orphan with an evil twin going to a creepy boarding school. Your story is so much more than this and I want to hear about it in the pitch, not just in the story. Bring in some concrete details that are only present in your story. Draw me in.

    The only big things in the story itself are in-line with J.J.’s comments. The medical element was a touch confusing when you’re talking about a “superpower”. I feel like this world needs to be either fleshed out with a detail about these types of powers being widely known and accepted or the doctor being a close friend that wouldn’t reveal Evan’s secret or something about Evan lying to the Doctor and sort of self medicating. Otherwise great revision.

  4. Query:
    I like where your story is going! What fun! Yay, Evil Academy. =)

    The big thing I’d want in a revision is a better sense of Evan’s goals. Her initial goal seems to be “keep everyone safe,” so that’s good. But then what? Once she figures out that the Aldebaran faculty are evil fiends, what does she have to do?

    I think I’d prefer to know how Evan feels about her power than the fact that she feels she isn’t special – unless of course the desire to be special ends up playing a big part.

    I definitely want more details on the Dangers of Aldebaran that can set Evan off. (You know, “the first time she found a dragon in the garden, she knew Aldebaran wouldn’t be relaxing.”)

    How does Morgen fit into the plot? The fact that she’s evil seems like scene dressing here, but I bet it’s more important than that.

    I think you can leave out her dad’s death. I put Cate’s mom’s death in mine initially because I thought I needed to show the inciting incident, but I’m pretty sure now that that’s wrong. In your case it seems like Arrival At Aldebaran is the important thing you need to show, and Dad Death is backstory.

    1st 5 Pages:

    I really, really like this revision! Lots of things are clearer, and it hangs together much better. Great job!

    J.J. mentioned that she’d like to know the source of Evan’s condition. My take on this is that I want to know how strange Evan’s superpowers are in this world (are there lots of XMen or is she the only one?). Just a sentence or phrase would do it.

    I love that she’s on drugs to manage her problem. Extremely helpful information, and that setup makes everything feel more realistic – from her lack of nervousness on the plane to her suddenly losing control in the airport.

    I’d like to know Evan’s current plan/expectations for the future, because you bring it up but don’t specify. It seems like she will not be able to study Astronomy anymore – does she know what she will be studying (and do the three months lost from her previous studies disqualify her from the Astronomy degree, or is going back to Astronomy part of “whatever the hell I want”)? Does she have a plan for a local doctor? Does Aunt Daphne know about her powers, and is Evan worried about that or not? Not all of this stuff absolutely has to be covered, but I’d like to get a hint of where Evan thinks she’s going so that I can see when her expectations are met and not met. It would also give the reader a better sense of Evan’s agency.

    Really good stuff!

  5. Your story has improved a lot and it is much more clear. the pitch seems to build up to the main conflict but then stops. I get that she wants to control her emotions just to live a normal life then a series of things get in the way. Then everything gets passive. She is sent to this school and dangers are around her and the school wants to use her. But what does she choose to do about all that? That's what left me hanging. Otherwise, great job.

  6. Your story has improved a lot and it is much more clear. the pitch seems to build up to the main conflict but then stops. I get that she wants to control her emotions just to live a normal life then a series of things get in the way. Then everything gets passive. She is sent to this school and dangers are around her and the school wants to use her. But what does she choose to do about all that? That's what left me hanging. Otherwise, great job.

  7. Wow, just wow! This revision is so much clearer. You've worked so hard over the last few weeks and it shows. I love the opening, now. It's concise, tells me a bit about the current world, and then gives me a quick peek inside the MC. I also like the flow into their new school and the situation with their aunt. And adding that little fact about her pills being inside her bag cleared up a ton for me about why she was getting so upset.

    My only issue is still Morgen. Why is she so evil? In this revision, you do mention that Morgen is beautiful, blah-blah...but also ordinary. Meaning she has no powers. So is she jealous (or whatever) and how does that make Evan feel? Does the fact that Morgen constantly tries to fire her up bother Evan seriously enough? These are just questions for you to think about. You might answer them as the story continues. Great job flushing all this out!

    The pitch: my first comment is to watch for repetitive words and weak verbs. Try different ones and then read again. Is there a strong feel, tone? Using the word monster to describe Morgen might be true, but I don't think it conveys what you want in a pitch. A vampire or a dragon can be monsters. And when you just mentioned in the sentence above that Evan has powers, calling Morgen a monster leads the reader to believe 'monster' means supernatural. (At least for me...) Try putting the fact of her father's death before the info about her sister. That might help conjure a better description of Morgen. Also - you could combine the first phrases to be more exact about what Evan is. That's very important and must come off strongly. My last comment is that the last sentence is almost anti-climactic. Don't tell the reader, so much as show them and leave them questioning what will happen. Allude to it, instead of coming out and telling them.

    I think this story is going to be awesome. Best of luck with it, and thanks for letting me read.

  8. Your pitch is really fun, Marie! I love the idea of a creepy boarding school in the middle of nowhere Vermont and a protagonist who blows things up with her emotions. That's definitely a dangerous power for a teenager to have :)

    You have a nice snarky voice and I definitely see the potential in this story, but I think you spend a lot of these pages explaining information to your reader. Not to sound like every writing teacher who ever existed, but I think you need to show rather than tell. I'm not saying that you don't need to establish who what where when why right off the bat, but I feel like there's a lot of explaining things that have happened here. An opening that would pop a bit more (and that has the potential to provide just as much information) would be us seeing the sisters arriving at the school. Get us right to the story and then trust your readers to be able to figure certain things out as we go. Part of the beauty (and challenge) of constructing a narrative is being able to choose the perfect moment to strategically release information. Questions to constantly have in the back of your mind are: What does my reader need to know? and When does my reader need to know it? Eventually, you'll get this to the point where you're releasing information so smoothly within the plot that your reader won't even be aware of the mechanics of it!

  9. Hi Danielle,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to give me feedback on my manuscript! And thank you to everyone in the group for taking this journey with me. I feel like I've gained so much from this workshop. Cheers! :)