Sunday, November 1, 2015

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Roberts

Name: Jessica Roberts
Genre: New Adult Romance

In most of my classes at Princeton I make it a point to never sit next to the same person more than twice. But in Smarts 101 class, Dan Harris likes to copy my notes, and I like that he’s not very social. So the arrangement works.
“Let’s have a bit of fun before class ends,” Professor Bell says excitedly from the front of the stadium-styled classroom. His eyes twinkle, just like they always do at some point during the hour. It makes me want to smile. Obviously, teaching Smarts 101 is the highlight of his life.
“We have fifteen minutes,” he continues. “Perfect!” He shuffles through his notes until he finds what he’s looking for.
Fifteen minutes… I look down at my desk and let my bobbed, choppy, dyed black hair fall over my face, masking myself from a hundred classmates for another fifteen minutes. It’s not the first or twenty-first time I’ve wished I wasn’t in this class. But Smarts 101 is a required course for all freshmen who are non-Smarts, or “Commoners” as the average person is called, so I had no choice in the matter. Spring semester ends in a couple weeks, I remind myself. I can stay invisible in this class for two more weeks.
“Okay,” Professor Bell says with a grin. “You all know how I love brain teasers. I have two quick ones for you. Teaser number one: How many students do we have in this class? Don’t answer out loud, just glance around the room quickly and make an educated guess.”
Professor Bell paces impatiently as students survey the room. A few lift off their seats to get a better view. Not me. I stay sitting, unnoticed in the corner on the last row, doing everything I can to not draw attention to myself. Thankfully, that usually means doing nothing.
“Okay, teaser number two,” Professor Bell continues. “Which of these two sentences is most correct: Seven and five isthirteen or seven and five are thirteen? Now write down an answer to only one of the two brainteasers given.”
“Yo, Jennifer,” Dan says from my left. I turn toward him with a pen outstretched. “Ha, thanks.” He takes the pen from me.
For a moment I am calmed by the quiet commotion of rustling papers and scribbling pens. But the reprieve doesn’t last and the noise quickly dies. Taking a deep breath, I silently reach in my backpack and tear off a corner of loose paper to write down my answer.
“Okay,” Bell says. “Raise your hand if you wrote the word ‘neither’ or something to that effect.”
It looks as if every student in the class raises their hand.
“Yes.” Bell chuckles in satisfaction. “As suspected. And your answer is obviously correct. The sum of seven and five is twelve, not thirteen, so the question as it refers to grammar is irrelevant.
“Now, if you had a brain like theirs, you would have written something very different. Anyone have a guess as to what theywould have written?” The class quiets as Bell hastily looks around to see if he has any takers. “They, class, would have written the number ninety-five. Anyone want to take a stab at why?”
A girl seven rows down from me raises her hand. Her name is Ashley Watkins. I don’t know her, but I’ve noticed she’s always happy. I like that about her. Under different circumstances—as in, if I had different parents—we might have been good friends. But there’s no sense wishing for things I’ll never have, as much as I waste time doing so.
“Yes, Miss Watkins?” Bell acknowledges.
“Ninety-five is the number of students in this class. They would have written down the answer to your first question about how many students are in this class.”
“Yes,” Bell eagerly responds. “When it was time to write down an answer, the majority of you, if not all of you, chose to answer the second question; the one you knew the answer to. By raise of hands, did any of you choose to answer the first one instead, the one on the number of students in this class?”
No hands rise and Bell chuckles again. “Now, as some of you may vaguely remember, the first day of class I mentioned that we had ninety-five students in this class. It would have taken seconds for them to call up that information from that first day, milliseconds, in fact. Essentially, to them both questions would have been easy. Where all of you wrote off the more difficult brainteaser, because of their nearly perfect memories, Smarts would have had no reason to.
“However, it actually boils down to something much more basic. Simply put, first questions are the logical ones to answer first. And Smarts are logical to the core.
“Which brings us to a few last details about them to prepare you for your spring term exam.” Bell continues pacing the room as he begins counting off a list on his fingers. “One, all Smarts have the abnormality on chromosome six in their DNA, which is how we now know that Einstein, Hitler, and Mozart were Smarts. We also know that the rare abnormality can be present in the offspring of both Smarts and Commoners, as well as mixed parents. However, for some unknown reason, it’s rare for two Smart parents to be able to have children at all.”
I inch further down in my seat, feeling a little exposed and a lot like the oddball statistics say I am.
“So basically, what we need to remember is that all of them are products of a genetic defect?” Mara Jones pipes in, as she so often does, with one of her off-color comments.
A few students laugh, the same few who laugh every time a bit of bashing goes on in class. It can’t be helped, I remind myself as I hamper the idea of yelling out, “Don’t talk about my parents like that!” After all, who isn’t a little uncomfortable with differences? This is a class of all Commoners. And some Commoners are pretty narrow-minded.
“Yes,” Bell responds. “That’s correct. An abnormal chromosome ultimately differentiates them.”
I’m surprised this is all he says. He can get slightly defensive sometimes. No, defensive isn’t the right word. Passionate. Admiring. Obsessive. Yeah, that sounds more accurate. It’s also why I’ve grown to like him so much. He’s endearingly fanatic.
“But it’s a genetic defect I wouldn’t mind having,” he cuts off my thoughts with a snort.
Instead of laughing like I want to, I look at the clock. Five more minutes.
“Okay, we’re running out of time. Our last item of business today…” Bell walks toward the middle of the room and stops front and center by the microphone podium. He lifts his hands and clasps them together, resting his elbows on the stand. “Because this class is all about Smarts, I want to address the current rumors that are circulating around campus here at Princeton.” Since he rarely uses the microphone, his magnified voice seems to carry more weight as it booms through the air and echoes off the walls. “I am here to assure you that although the possibilities are indeed threatening and could pose a very real danger to everyone, Smarts are not out to get us. They aren’t secluding themselves in secret hillsides and valleys and forming little hidden societies as the rumors go. We can and will coexist in peace with them as we always have.”


  1. Hi Jessica--excited to work with you this month! I too, am writing New Adult, so I'm excited to see another NA author! :)

    First reaction: I wish I had the book blurb so I could know a little more about this story! I'm intrigued and a little confused all at the same time. I also love Jennifer's voice in this story and want to know more about her!

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. The reason I'm confused is around the Smart's and the Commoners--which makes this a bit challenging for the first 5 pages because (a) you don't want to info dump and (b) it might not be the best place to put the details to begin with. But this is what also makes it intriguing...what makes someone Smart and what makes someone a Commoner? And if Jennifer fitting the profile or not based on the line about her parents? I do have to say that the brain teaser in class is a great way to introduce the complexity behind someone who is Smart and someone who is a Commoner. Is it possible for you to toss out another nugget or two that can help us start to put the pieces together?

    2. I'm curious as to why Jennifer wants to blend into the woodwork so badly. Why doesn't she want to be noticed? Is it because of her genetic make up? Is she so unique she's basically under a microscope?

    3. With my comment above, I have to wonder if that is the better place to start your chapter? Right now, I don't know if the opening line is the best choice. I'm confident it has relevance in later pages, but it doesn't seem to fit.

    4. When Jennifer said at the beginning that Professor Bell's "eyes twinkled" I didn't think much of it. But considering she (a) is hiding in the corner and (b) commented that a classmate was 7 rows away--how would she see that from the distance? Is he on a giant screen projected to everyone? Just curious. I think you can show his excitement in other ways: bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet...giant smile and animated get the idea.

    5. The last paragraph definitely has me hooked. What's the deal with the Smart people? What is it that has people scared?

    There are a lot of questions in your first five pages! A lot to dig through to wrap your head around. My encouragement: please don't shy away from that--I think that is what will make this story so cool to read and get lost in! :)

  2. Hi Jessica,

    I think you do a great job of showing us Jennifer’s personality! I want to keep reading to find out why she thinks she is a statistical oddball. My guess is that it has something to do with her parents :)

    Does Dan Harris play a role in other parts of the story? Introducing him at the very beginning suggests to me that he is someone I should remember for later, but I could be wrong. I wish I had more pages to find out!!

    While reading, I had issues setting the initial scene (though I'm sure it comes together as the story progresses!) Is this a future Princeton? Or an alternate version of Princeton with people split into Smarts/Commoners?

    In the first pages, I was mostly confused trying to figure out the Commoner/Smart dynamic. A little more information worked into the beginning could be helpful, but I agree with Kelley that it’s challenging to introduce information without info dumping. (Info dumping is something I’m guilty of again and again :) ) Is there a way to provide more information about the Smarts/Commoners without the Professor listing off their characteristics (for example, the part about Smart/Commoner offspring)?

  3. Hi Jessica,
    I am so thrilled to be able to work with you during this November workshop. As fresh eyes to your lovely words, I wrote down what came to my mind as I read. Please use or discard any of my thoughts as you find fit to enhance your story. ;D

    First, great opening paragraph. I really felt you showed us your MC Jennifer's personality; She's smart but doesn't care and she likes people not to notice her. And I felt strong as a reader of where Jennifer was; she was a student in class. Also, you blossomed curiosity for the reader as to what Class Smarts 101 is about.

    By Paragraph 2-5: I really liked the scene you are creating in Jennifer's attitude towards the class--she wants out and finds the class as an annoyance. But yet Jennifer wants to smile when she sees Prof. Bell's usual twinkle of passion for the class. I am beginning to think she likes Prof. Bell? But then the last sentence of this paragraph 2 it is written: Obviously, teaching Smarts 101 is the highlight of his life.--is this supposed to be sarcastic or admiration? I was left uncertain of this.

    -1/3 down around paragraph 10: you dropped the Professor and began using Bell. This made me, as a reader, stop and pull me out of the story trying to figure out who this was. It was only for a brief breath before I realized it was the Professor. But I thought you may like to know this, for at the time I was really getting into the whole brain teaser and your great dialogue but then the sudden name change made be stop reading, to think of who is bell? And by default halted the momentum/pacing of the great story you were creating.

    -I was really intrigued by the Smarts/Commoners. Great touch of scientific explanations. It felt real to me. Like this could happen... but as you gave examples of past SMARTS; Einstein, Hitler, Mozart… this gave me a feeling that this class must be a study of the brain and the ability of higher intelligence. But then… I read the last paragraph and low and behold, DANGER! I loved the dire edge of pandemonium, bubbling at the surface on campus but at the same time, all my idea of what this class was changed. It felt like a different story to me but I really liked the new twist.

    That last paragraph is awesome. It said so much. SMARTS are dangerous and I am thinking now that Jennifer may be a SMART undercover? (I wish I knew more of your story, sorry if I am totally off on your storyline) But, if so does this create a dangerous situation for Jennifer? If my assumptions are correct, that SMARTS are dangerous and this class 101 is a real necessary class for survival, then I would have loved to have been introduced to this amazing impending danger of Smarts-detail earlier. Maybe somehow feed this detail earlier like starting from Paragraph 5--of the real threat and necessity for the class to learn to outsmart the SMARTS.

    I really enjoyed reading your first five pages. It has a very cool idea. I can’t wait to read again.

    Thank you. Devyn

  4. Jessica-

    You've got an interesting concept here! It's refreshing to see something different in the New Adult genre and you've laid it out in these first five pages in a way that made me curious to know more.

    I admit I was a little confused initially. Is the story set in a future time? Or is it set in an alternate society? The backstory/info about Smarts and their DNA are great details but at this point, I think you have to set the story first before diving into such details so it doesn’t come off as info-dumpy. Give us some background before any particulars.

    I like the way you start off and describe a personality quirk of the main character. As the reader, I find Jennifer easy to connect to which is awesome. Your characterization of how she wants to blend in and go unnoticed and also how she’s feeling a little impatient about the class is on point. You’ve dropped hints about her parents and it explains much about her.

    As for Professor Bell, I liked his teaser questions and how it gave perspective on Smarts vs. Commoners. Very clever. The dropping of Professor in several dialogue tags did throw me off just a little though. How Jennifer describes him as passionate and all that is nice but I can’t quite envision him in my head- is he old? Middle aged? Quite young? Maybe some physical description could be added.

    Overall, a promising first five pages, with lots of intrigue and a unique idea! Looking forward to reading again.

  5. Jessica,

    SUPER intriguing start to this story! I'm already completely fascinated by this world and dying to know more. I will admit that it took me quite a long time to realize that this was set in the future (presumably? Not alternate world?). My initial reaction went like this: "Smarts class? At Princeton? Aren't they all smart? Is this a real class? Why does the guy next to her seem kind of dumb? This is Princeton...OH!!! Okay." That's too long, I think, even if I am a bit slow. :)

    I have one suggestion: would the school still be called Princeton if both Smarts and Commoners are attending? Maybe try a variation on the name Princeton (like "Princeton Lesser", etc.) to jar the reader RIGHT off the bat, and make us realize that there's something different about this world in the very first sentence.

    I do like that you lead with her not wanting to sit next to the same person twice. That's odd - a perfect tease to start the book with. But I want a little bit more in the way of answers in these first pages too. Can you hint a little bit more as to why she's so determined not to make friends? Why go to college at all if she doesn't want to interact with people?

    My last note is to be a little cautious of dumping all the exposition on poor Professor Bell. I LOVE his brainteasers. I did wonder if he's a Commoner too, and that's why he pulls Smarts 101 duty - maybe something for Jessica to note. But towards the end, when he mentions the conflict in such a "nothing to see here!" way, it set off my exposition alarm. I wonder if there's a more organic way to put that in. Maybe somebody raises their hand and asks the question in a joking way? Or Jessica looks out the window and sees something that reminds her of the rumors? Just something to break it up so that ALL the worldbuilding information isn't coming from the same source.

    Great start and I can't wait to see where you take it!

  6. Jessica, thanks for submitting your fist five pages. You are definitely skilled as a writer. Your prose flows nicely, and comes across as assured and confident.

    A few questions. Why is this New Adult? Is it just because of the characters’ ages? Or is there something else here that will put it in that category?

    I have to say, as well as it’s written, I feel as if I’m reading a very popular concept that has done before: kids born and divided into groups, marking their social status. I wonder what else you will bring to this concept, which, I’m afraid is very crowded and may have fallen out of favor.

    That might be a conversation for another time, though, as this is not about market viability, but your writing itself, which I do like.

    Perhaps start with Dan Harris likes to copy my notes. The way it reads now is a little quiet.

    I’d lose the description of the bobbed, choppy, dyed-black hair. Have it come about more naturally somewhere else.

    There’s a lot of dialogue right now. Is there a way to slow it down a little and get inside your MC’s head a little first? Is this the best scene to start your story?

    Your writing is good, and I hope I have given you some things to think about.