Sunday, October 18, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Wokshop - Bryan Revision 2

Name: Patrick J. Bryan
Genre: Middle Grade: Speculative Fiction/Adventure
Title: The Brothers Kincaid and the Quantum Crystal


The Brothers Kincaid and the Quantum Crystal is a completed middle-grade adventure running approximately 67k words in length. The story could be described as having a Spiderwick meets Star Trek feel. I believe this book would find a place in the libraries of readers who enjoy The Sisters Grimm, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Artemis Fowl.

Nathan Kincaid stands transfixed at the edge of an empty field. A sphere of blazing light rips through the air in front of him. He watches as a group of ghostly figures materialize. His younger brother Hank prepares to help Nathan answer the one question that nags at him most. Is he crazy or is there something extraordinary going on in his mind?

Treated as an outcast for as long as he can remember, Nathan hopes that once his family moves to the eccentric town of Faraday Falls he can leave behind his branding as a spacey misfit find the answers he seeks. But instead of support from the tech-savvy community, Nathan finds a madman, Hugo Helsingborg, who wants to exploit Nathan's unique ability in his personal quest to collect powerful objects from throughout the galaxy.

Working with their new friend, genius inventor Addelaide Grace at their side, the brothers Kincaid use their wits and nerve to unravel the mysteries of the Helsingborg’s Quantum Crystal while evading hordes of crocodogs, armies of mandroids, and giant sand-vipers.

Second Revision

A spark of blue light caught Nathan’s attention. It started small as it always did. The light flared and demanded his focus. He stopped walking; it became difficult to move when part of his world vanished. Everything but the light melted away and the sphere of dazzling color expanded before him like a supernova until it stopped and the world beyond came slowly into focus.

“Are you seeing it now,” asked Hank, Nathan’s younger brother.

Nathan tilted his head, his body rigid and his stare fixed. He stood at the edge of the dirt lot that was the Kincaid family backyard. Weeds of varying heights spotted the landscape. When they were flowering, they almost seemed pretty. Though Nathan wasn’t here to look at weeds. He was staring far out into the treeless landscape. A wasteland that was once farm. Now there was nothing for anyone to see but weeds and dirt. Anyone except Nathan Kincaid.

“There is something. It’s almost in focus.” Nathan remained frozen, spellbound, staring into what seemed empty space, but not to him.

“Are the ghosts back?” Hank glanced at the empty lot and back to his brother. Nathan didn’t turn to look at him, he continued to lock his gaze somewhere toward the middle of the field.

“There are people now. At least I think they’re people,” Nathan replied.

“Nate?” Hank’s voice trailed off to a whisper. “When you see these other places, and the people, do you ever see mom?” Nathan dropped his head before he spoke. He tried not to snap at Hank. While he was nearly as tall as Nathan and acted fairly mature for a nine-year-old, he was after all just a kid. Nathan pictured tears welling up in his little brother’s eyes.

“I’ve told you Hank, they're not ghosts,” said Nathan with a hint of frustration.

“I know,” said Hank with an affirming nod. “I just wish...” There was silence between the brothers as Nathan gazed through the tear in space hovering before him. Hank sniffled then pulled the sketch pad out of his pack and flopped down into the dirt.

“So these people, what are they doing?  Do you think they can see you? Tell me everything, I’m ready to sketch,” said Hank.

“You mean doodle,” said Nathan with a smile.

“Hey, my drawings are better than yours.” Hank kicked dust in Nathan’s direction.

About twenty feet from where he stood a sphere of blue light cut through Nathan’s field of vision. It hovered just above the ground; a hole about as large as a movie screen. The edges were so bright he couldn’t look directly at them.  Then bit by bit people appeared in the center of this hole in space.

“It’s almost in focus now. When it’s all clear, I need you to help me with the spectral camera.”

“I have it here but I don’t know if it’s gonna work,” said Hank. He pulled a jumbled mess of wires soldered to tiny circuit boards, harvested from old computers and digital cameras, from his pack. A massive camera lens stuck out from one side of the wiry bird nest.

“Just hand it to me when I tell you. Ok?”

Nathan let out a deep breath and tugged the ends of his blue scarf. It was once his mother’s. The three crescent moons embroidered at one end were part of story she used to read.  As he played with the scarf in his fingers he remained spellbound on the specters in front of him.

“You know what this thing looks like Nate? I think if a computer and a telescope had a baby, and the baby had a dirty diaper, this is what the diaper would look like.”

Nathan threw a weak punch in Hank’s general direction.

“There, I can see it all now. Hand me the spectral camera.” Nathan set the nest of wires on his head and pulled the camera lens over one eye. He flipped a small red toggle switch on the side of the lens and a high pitched whirring sound radiated from the gadget.

Having these visions scared him. They scared him because sometimes he saw terrible images; creatures and nightmarish landscapes. But what scared him more was not knowing if he was sick, if he was insane, or if these visions were real. If he could capture an image he would know it was real. And if it was real he would know he wasn’t going nuts.

“You better get out some colorful pens, Hank. These guys are like human-sized birds with long cloaks. And I think they’re gardening.”

At first glance Nathan recoiled, unprepared to see the bare scaly legs that bent in the wrong direction.  He gradually became enchanted by their peaceful movement and flashes of plumage. The long robes of the birdmen hid most of their features. Yet as they moved, flashes of a leg or arm became visible; an arm covered in short colorful feathers. The curve of a beak stuck out from under their straw hats; as wide as umbrellas. Yet their faces were hidden.

“These guys are amazing Hank. But what they're doing is odd. They have these cutting tools and are shaping tall bushes, like sculptures.  The shapes are incredible.”

“What kind of shapes? Do any look like animals? I want them to make one that looks like a whale.” Hank screwed up his face for a moment and continued. “But not the ones with teeth, they seem mean. The ones with those big filters for catching shrimp.”

“You mean the baleen whales?”

“Yeah, baleen. What a weird word. Are they making baleen whale shapes?”

“No. The sculptures curve and spiral, they point in weird directions. You know what they remind me of? Bowers. Do you remember that nature show we watched with the birds building fancy houses of sticks to attract their mates? They decorated them with colored flower petals, shells, and trash. That’s what these guys could be. But sort of strange human-like alien birdmen instead of actual birds.”

“Cool,” said Hank as he scribbled feverishly in his vision journal. Whenever Nathan would let him in on what he saw during a vision, which wasn't that often, Hank would turn it into art and record the details Nathan would narrate. Today Nathan hoped to capture an image of his own, one that would prove he wasn’t crazy.

“You have to tell me more about the Bowerbird-men. All the particulars,” said Hank. He liked saying particulars and mimicked a British accent whenever he spoke the word.  Nathan fixated on the image that only he could see. His eyes darted around, tracking the activity. Hank watched Nathan and glanced to the empty field between scribbles, hoping for something interesting to appear.

“Whoa. There’s something new. Animals,” said Nathan.

“Animal sculptures?” asked Hank.

“No, these are actual animals. Their bodies are like tigers but they have pointed tails, pointed like spears. And they’re massive. Bigger than the Bowerbird-men. I’m not sure if they’re pets or guards. They seem different than the Bowers, darker, threatening.”

“I wish I could see them too,” said Hank.  Nathan’s face contorted.  His expression soured and he shut his eyes.  He slouched forward and shook his head from side to side.

“Why do you say that Hank? You know how everyone treats me. You don’t want that do you?”

Hank stopped drawing feathers and looked up at Nathan, then back to his book. He thought of the taunts Nathan endured. People who saw him staring at nothing, sometimes shouting in fear or trying to speak to people who weren't there. Freaky Nate, is what they called him.

“No, I guess not. But what you see sounds so amazing sometimes and this place is, well, not.”

Nathan tuned his attention back to the otherworld. While he adjusted the camera lens an electronic beep pierced his focus. The memory card was almost full, he thought. Altering his focus back to the Bowerbird-men, he found them working with a rhythm.  Their garden structures were separated by tens of feet, yet the men moved in synchrony, as if they were dancing.  Nathan imagined they were hearing music and trimming the shrubbery to the beat of a tune. Watching their movements, he could almost hear the rhythm of the song.  It calmed him. He continued to narrate the image to Hank who began adding red spotted mushrooms to his sketch and a twisted wood arch extending over one bower structure.

A final long beep came from the camera. “The memory card is full. Here, rewind and take a look. Tell me what you see.” Nathan was hopeful. He removed the nest of wires and camera parts from his head and handed it to Hank. Hank set down his pad and focused on the small screen attached to the side of the home-made camera helmet. He frowned.

“Well?” asked Nathan.

“Sorry Nate. It’s just the field. Dead grass and sky. Nothing.” Hank tugged his right ear; a sure sign he was upset. He believed in his brother and wanted to be like him, even if it meant being a freak too.

Nathan let out two forceful sighs before he ignored the failed equipment and continued describing the vision to Hank as if he wasn’t completely devastated.


  1. Hey Patrick,

    Thanks for posting your query. Here are a few suggestions to tighten it up. Overall, I need to feel more of a threat and conflict:

    Dear agent,

    Your agent profile says that you are a fan of action-packed middle grade adventures. With that in mind, I’d like to query you with The Brothers Kincaid and the Quantum Crystal, a 67,000-word middle-grade novel.

    I think you need to start with your second paragraph.

    Treated as an outcast for as long as he can remember, TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Nathan HAS THE ABILITY TO…

    BUT WHEN HIS FAMILY MOVES TO XXXXXXX, he hopes to leave the name-calling and teasing behind.

    Instead, he and his little brother find something entirely different.

    Nathan finds a madman, Hugo Helsingborg, who wants to exploit Nathan's unique ability in his personal quest to collect powerful objects from throughout the galaxy.

    Working with their new friend, genius inventor Addelaide Grace at their side, the brothers Kincaid use their wits and nerve to unravel the mysteries of the Helsingborg’s Quantum Crystal while evading hordes of crocodogs, armies of mandroids, and giant sand-vipers.


    I've been pitching the book as Spiderwick meets Star Trek, and believe it will find a home with fans of The Sisters Grimm, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Artemis Fowl.

    Thank you for considering my request for representation.

    Good luck with this, Patrick. I think you have a fun story. Keep revising. I hope you have a good critique group!

  2. Thank you Ronald. This is excellent. I have allowed the "pitch" to become muddled with re-writes and attempts to revise based on a few comments. Your critique is what I have been looking for all along. Getting this sort of specific feedback is invaluable.

    1. Just wanted to add that I brought home Hoodoo today. I immediately read the first chapter. It's excellent. Though I'll probably have to wait to finish it as my son snagged it and will be reading it tonight.

  3. This is Erin posting for Saba:

    Great job starting your story by placing us straight into the action! It’s an intriguing opening. But at the end of the day, I feel your voice and prose is a little bit on the ornate side, especially for Middle Grade. I like that you use a lot of detail, but I think you may have used too much of it. I suggest you focus a little more on bringing out Nathan’s frustration and emotional state. More in the vein of the paragraph beginning with “Having these visions scared him.” That’s where I connected to Nathan the most, whereas previously (and afterwards) it was all just too much detail about the vision and not enough about who Nathan is and why I should care about him.

    Similarly, I think you could also work on bringing out the relationship dynamics between Nathan and Hank, just to make your story more interesting. I just don’t get much of a sense of how close (or not) they are, how similar or different they are (other than the fact that Nathan sees things and Hank doesn’t). Because I’m personally drawn to more character driven stories, I find it difficult to be drawn into story where I don’t get enough of a sense of what makes the main characters stand out, especially in relation to one another.

    A minor point:

    “Nathan let out two forceful sighs”

    This image didn’t feel very organic — it’s hard to imagine anyone sighing two separate sighs naturally. Just a thought.

    A note re: your pitch: I think you can skip the paragraph about Nathan standing in the field entirely. Just get to what the premise of the story is (the next paragraph does this nicely), and be more specific about what it is that makes Nathan unique and special. And the only other thing that’s really missing is what the stakes are: are there any? Is there a conflict? Because right now, it seems as though your story is about the Brothers Kincaid + genius inventor friend Addelaide Grace having adventures. What happens if they don’t unravel the mystery of the Quantum Crystal? Making that clear will help make your pitch more urgent and interesting, on the whole.

    Of course, my views are super subjective, so I wouldn’t take anything I say here as Gospel necessarily. Another agent, even at my own agency, could feel entirely differently about this sample. But you’re already on the right track, just by virtue of putting your work out there — keep workshopping this (and your future) projects, and I have no doubt that you will continue to improve your writing craft.

    I hope this helped!

    My best,

  4. Patrick,

    You've done a lot of nice work with this piece. The opening paragraph is definitely more engaging, which is great.

    I'd like to see more emotion being shown instead of told. For instance, we're told the images Nathan sees scare him, yet we don't feel it. Have you ever heard of the Emotion Thesaurus? I swear by that book by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. You choose the emotion you're trying to convey, and it gives you ideas for how to show that emotion.

    I do feel as if this is a lot of words that describe what he sees without actually having something spark the story. It's a lot of cool details, for sure, but I'd almost like to see them discover something on the camera. Something unusual that would cause us to read on. Know what I mean?

    I was thrown off when we hop from Nathan's head to Hank's. I think we'd connect so much more with the character if we were only in one head, and deep into their pov.

    As for the pitch, I'd move that first paragraph to the end. I'd get to the story first.

    Overall you have an imaginative story with cute characters I know we'd want to root for. You've put a lot of hard work into this piece, and you should be proud of your progress. Good job!

    1. Hi Julie

      Thank you for looking over this opening and providing some great suggestions. I haven't used the emotion thesaurus yet, but it popped up on my radar recently and i will be getting one for sure.

      If you ever get a chance to look back at this and address this question, it would be incredibly helpful, it deals with character pov.

      I wrote this story with a omniscient narrator, yet I do focus primarily on Nathan Kincaid and it can seem as if the story is third person limited at times. I need, and want, to go back and forth between the brothers and Hugo Helsingborg (their nemesis), and occasionally the core of friends that form around Nathan.

      If you could give me a specific example in this section of the story where the voice becomes confusing, it would really help me identify the specific problem and try to remedy the issue throughout the manuscript.

      Thank you agin for your help.


  5. Hi Patrick,

    Your revision is great. I did think the query needed some revising, all of ours do :).

    The second paragraph of your query read like I was starting the book itself and not actually reading a query letter. So I was confused for a minute. I was missing the hook. The rest of it was intriguing and made me want to know more about this guy trying to exploit his ability.

    Great job!

    1. Thank you Alicia for all of your comments and suggestions. I know my query is muddled right now. I have revised and re-written several times, taking bits and pieces of advice from several sources and feel it is just a mishmash requiring a complete overdo. Ronald's specific suggestions above are exactly what I have been missing and hope to get this new version will be nearly complete.
      Thanks again and good luck with your project.


  6. Hi Patrick,

    Great job. I feel like your details and overall story have improved with each revision.

    Pitch: I felt like you could start with the second paragraph. The first paragraph feels like it's the start of your story. I like the idea of the mentor who is going to help them.

    Revision: Your writing and descriptions are really good. I like Julie's advice about seeing something that will immediately draw us in--maybe something mysterious so the reader just has to keep reading to find out what it was. Other than that, I think you've done a great job! Good luck! --Emily

  7. Hi Patrick!


    I think your query captures the theme of your story really well - I really like the part about Nathan trying to find the answers he seeks. The only recommendation I can make is maybe simplifying it a little and not mentioning so many characters - maybe consider leaving out the part about Addelaide unless she's integral to the story? Also, I'd maybe consider embellishing a little about what the Quantum Crystal is. You mention it briefly at the end of the pitch, but it seems like it's a big part of the story, since it's part of the title.


    I think you've done a great job with your revision. I really love what you did with the opening paragraph - I think it's beautifully written and really encapsulates the overall eeriness of the story/setting. The descriptions are really well-done - the third paragraph really sticks out to me, I just love the description of the weeds. I also think you've done a good job about the fleshing out the relationship between Hank and Nate - Nate's reaction to Hank's question about their mother is a great addition. My only recommendation is maybe explaining what a spectral camera is - I think it would help readers understand if you quickly mentioned that it's something people use to capture images of ghosts, etc.

    Overall, I really like what you've done here! Great work!


  8. Hi Patrick,

    I love the new character names in your pitch, and the idea of a cross-galaxy adventure with a genius inventor to stop a mad scientist. The idea of collecting powerful objects is fun, too.

    In your first paragraph of the story, for some reason I kept tripping up. I think it is because I expected a contrast between “starting small” and “flaring,” or maybe it was the repetition of “light,” but it just didn’t seem smooth. Maybe if you said “IT started small, as it always did. THEN it flared . . .” But maybe that’s just me.

    “. . . staring into what seemed empty space, but not to him.” This also seems off. We’re in his POV as far as we know, so saying it seemed empty space implies that it seems empty to him. Then we’re told, “but not to him.” Maybe if you said, “what seemed empty space to everyone but him”?

    The POV changes are still a little jarring, I think because it’s not evident right off the bat that there is an omniscient narrator POV.

    I think you’ve done a really good job differentiating your two characters and making them both likable. I’d love to accompany them on a great adventure, and I hope I get to see more of them someday!