Sunday, March 20, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Barnes Rev 2

Name:  Joel Barnes
Title:  The Zipper
Genre:  Middle Grade Fantasy
For more than 65 million years there had never been a living T.rex sighted on Earth.  Until now.  Kelly and Kevin Thomas have no idea how it showed up in their back yard.  Nor do they know why it left behind a tiny dinosaur named Patch.  Or why extinct-for-millions-of-years dinosaurs have begun invading their woods, attacking Patch and threatening their lives.  As they search for an explanation, they learn that their mother has been captured and held for ransom.
Determined to find their mom, Kelly and Kevin set out with Patch on an improbable rescue mission:  two defenseless teenagers and a miniature dinosaur plunging headlong into a menacing Cretaceous forest 65 million years in the past.  Along the way they discover they’re destined for an even higher purpose—saving mankind from a plot to wipe out the human race and restore the dinosaurs' dominance over earth.  They're the only ones who can stop the plot.  But first they must save their mom—and themselves.
Lost and scared, with lethal enemies a heartbeat away and a pack of ruthless raptors steadily closing in, they face the realization that their mission—as well as their lives—may soon be lost.
The pre-dawn blackness loomed far scarier than Kelly had expected.  A few widely scattered stars dotted the dark sky; the sliver of a quarter moon hung low in the horizon.   Menacing silhouettes—trees, bushes, a chain link fence—closed in around her.
Kelly glanced back at the house where a faint light glowed through the kitchen window.  As soon as her mom had left for work, she’d slipped out the back door.  Her mom couldn’t know.  She would never have given Kelly permission to head out into the woods at this hour.  So she hadn’t asked.
A shiver of fright shot through her stomach.  Kelly hesitated, wondering why she’d ever left her bedroom.   She fumbled with the camera slung around her neck.  The photography contest.  Capturing a portfolio of pre-dawn pictures would give her a shot at the first place prize, a to-die-for Nikon camera. 
She’d better get going.  She pulled a piece of watermelon bubblegum out of the back pocket of her shorts, shoved it into her mouth and hurried away from the house.
Kelly’s pencil-thin shadow stretched out beside her as she covered the hundred feet of patchy grass separating the shadowy house from a white storage barn.  Her ears found the sounds of the Florida night—the shrill chirping of crickets, the eerie screech of a wood owl, the distant croaking of a frog—creepy.  She passed the storage barn, and her feet met the narrow path leading into the dense woods that surrounded the house.
She had traveled this same path hundreds of times, but never before alone in the dark.  Her heart raced as a canopy of leaves closed over her and the sky faded from view.  She wished she had her flashlight.
Her fears multiplied as she ventured deeper into the thick darkness.  Dried leaves crunched beneath each tentative step.  Low hanging branches whipped across her face, stinging her cheeks.  She wrinkled her nose at the pungent odor of decaying leaves.
She reached a temporary break in the tunnel of darkness when the path curved into a small grove of short trees.  When her gaze shifted upward to welcome the glimmer of moonlight that penetrated onto the path, her sneakers caught on the rough edges of an exposed root.  Her hands shot out as she tumbled onto the path.
Her anger boiling up, she kicked the root.  She jerked the black Marlins baseball cap off her head and slammed it against the ground.
She could have been asleep in her bed, safe and comfortable like any normal twelve-year-old.  But no, normal wasn’t good enough for Kelly Thomas.  She had to crawl out of bed at the insane hour of 5:15.  And why?  To be scared out of her socks? To fall flat on her face? 
Hands shaking, she ran her fingers through her hair.  Could she go on, this frustrated and this scared, with the woods ahead looming so dark?  But, the contest.  Without the pictures she could kiss any hope of winning that camera good-bye.  No, she couldn’t leave the woods empty-handed.  She had no other choice but to suck it up and go get the shots.  This was no time for a pity party.
She walked on, determined that neither fear nor darkness would stop her from taking those pictures.
Her fears walked with her as the path twisted beneath a canopy of interlacing limbs.  To her relief, a couple hundred yards into the woods, she reached her destination, a dense thicket of short bushes intermingled with tightly-bunched saplings. 
Ahead of her stretched a sizeable clearing filled with thick clumps of grass, the grazing grounds of the white-tailed deer. She’d stopped just far enough away from the clearing so the shutter click wouldn’t spook the deer.  Adjusting the camera for the low-light conditions, she bumped up the f-stop value and the ISO setting. 
Kelly found a branch where she could stabilize her camera and made certain she had an unobstructed view of the clearing. Then she sank onto her knees and tucked herself in tightly behind the bushes.  Settled in, she crammed another wad of watermelon gum into her mouth and waited in the silence of the clearing and the darkness of the woods for dawn to arrive.
Soon Kelly noticed a tiny red glimmer hanging just over the tree-tops.  Its jagged edges gradually expanded until the sun’s first light began to penetrate the woods, sending shimmering rays reflecting off the gathered dew.  The sunlight revealed six or seven white-tailed deer grazing in the clearing.  Kelly quaked with excitement and her fingers shook as she raised the camera to snap her first photograph.
First she zoomed in on a large buck with light brown fur, surprised at the size of its antlers. Steady in your hands.  Click.  Her focus shifting to a doe, she was careful to lock in the white patches of fur covering its throat and underbelly.  Click.  A thrill shot through her when a fawn scrambled up on spindly legs from its hiding place in the grass.  Framing the shot, she captured its huge, soft eyes and the white spots that dotted the reddish brown fur.
The buck shattered the tranquility of the moment when it whipped its head around and snorted, shaking its antlers and stomping its hooves.  Then, raising its pointed tail, the white underside flashing in the dim light, it bolted into the woods and out of sight, the rest of the herd streaking close behind.  She frantically snapped in burst mode, realizing she’d probably get nothing for her trouble but blurry backsides.  Great!  Her prime-time photo op had just evaporated like the morning mist.
Kelly lowered her camera, her hopes of capturing any more deer dashed.  As she began previewing her pictures, a rustling in the foliage caught her attention.  She peered across the clearing in the direction of the noise.  Tree limbs were bending and then splintering with loud snaps and with cracks that sounded like rifle shots.
A blast of wind surged across the clearing.  A split second later a huge shape exploded out of the trees.  Kelly gasped as an immense creature materialized near the edge of the clearing, shaking the ground and stealing her breath.             
Kelly found herself staring at a beast that stood taller than a house and stretched out half as long.  The behemoth crouched on two powerful legs as thick as tree trunks.  Her gaze locked in on the huge teeth and the flesh-ripping claws.  Her shocked mind reeled in disbelief, reluctant to accept what her eyes clearly saw.  Across the clearing stood a T. rex.  As in Tyrannosaurus rex. The most feared predator to ever walk the earth.
But T. rex had been extinct for millions of years.  Millions of years.  Kelly knew one couldn’t possibly be standing in the clearing near her home in Florida.  Yet somehow it was.  The stubby arms.  The stiff, pointed tail.  The huge head bearing four-foot-long jaws packed with massive bone-crushing teeth.  There could be no doubt.
Her hands trembling, her jaws chomping the watermelon gum so hard her teeth hurt, Kelly instinctively raised her camera. As the T. rex whipped its head from side to side, scanning the clearing, she repeatedly snapped its picture.
Then its gaze turned her way.  She shrank back when the fierce eyes stared across the clearing toward the bushes that concealed her.  With a stab of terror, Kelly was sure it had seen her.  Any second it could head her way to investigate.


  1. I really love that she takes T-Rex's picture at the end! That is a great way to show her character (and it was very about a great wildlife shot!). I like that you mention the mother already went to work. For such a young person, not mentioning the parents seemed like an omission. I also noticed you added some photography-ese, and I thought it did reinforce Kelly's knowledge and interest in photography. Basically: well done!

    Regarding the pitch: since you say the mom gets kidnapped, I'm glad you now mention her in your opening. It might be nice to know how Kelly feels about her. Also, it sounds like maybe the woods in her backyard is a portal of some sort to the past? If so, has she ever had a sense that the woods held secrets or were otherwise mysterious? (Wondering why she never encountered time travel before this when playing back there, for instance.) Just still would like to know a little more about this world. Otherwise, this is a very nice opening. Good luck!

  2. The pitch sounds pretty good. If this is middle grade you might want to let the agent know the age of your characters. I think it's also best to just focus on Kelly, as that is who we get to know in the first five pages.

    So how old is Kelly? She seems older than eleven or twelve to me, which is prime middle grade. Here's an example of how it could go:

    When twelve-year-old photographer Kelly takes a picture of an actual T Rex in the forest, the world she knows spins out of control.

    It seems that the dinosaurs are back. And they want something.


    When her mother mysteriously disappears, Kelly sets out with her brother Kevin and a baby dinosaur named Patch to find out XXXXX but first they have to make their way through a menacing Cretaceous forest 65 million years in the past.

    That's not great, but you get the idea.

    Here's a link to some query letters that got requested by agents and then went on to become books:

    Good luck. It's been fun reading this and I think you have made some real improvements!

  3. I loved this new opening! With just a few small changes you've massively improved it. I like the mention of her mum, and I LOVE that she takes pictures of the T-Rex! Such a small thing but really captures her character.

    As for the pitch, I was actually really surprised when Kevin was mentioned - it's not clear from your opening that there will be another viewpoint character. Maybe you could change it just a little bit to focus more on Kelly, or mention Kevin (even in just a small way) in the opening?

    Well done, and good luck!

  4. Hi Joel,
    I think the opening to your pitch is strong. Overall it needs a bit of a polish to smooth it out.

    There were a couple of things that jarred as I read: Presumably they named the dinosaur patch? Or can it talk?
    Are the dinos the ones holding her to ransom? Or is there another antagonist not included here? The same with the plot to take over the world - is this the dinos or someone else?

    It's a good revision. I like that you talk about her Mum, and that she sets up the shot. And her taking the picture of the t-rex is a brilliant addition, and actually feels like that's what's meant to happen. What else would a girl obsessed with photographing animals do?

    Good luck.

  5. Hi Joel,

    I think your pitch is pretty good. How old is Kelly? In the pitch you say “teenagers,” and while her voice could probably go that old, I was thinking 11-12 was your range. I was confused, though, about Patch because in the pitch it makes it sound like Patch is already a member of Kelly’s family and known to her, which doesn’t fit the first five pages. I also think you might want to reverse the last two paragraphs of the pitch, because it putters out in effectiveness the way you have it now.

    The second to last paragraph ending is catchy and shows the stakes; but the “Lost and scared, with lethal enemies a heartbeat away and a pack of ruthless raptors steadily closing in, they face the realization that their mission—as well as their lives—may soon be lost” doesn’t really fit at the very end and reads as extra words. I think if you integrated this somewhere back in the pitch earlier, it would flow better.

    The five pages are a great change from the very beginning. We really get a sense of Kelly, her familiarity with the camera and photography that shows her passion, and that she’s spunky and brave.

    Great job!

  6. Hi Joel,

    Thanks for sharing your pitch! I agree that it needs to specify the protagonist's age, as that is a key factor for agents or interns scanning queries. They want projects that are distinctly positioned for either MG or YA these days. 11-12 is solidly MG.

    I also was surprised to hear about Kevin...if there is a second main character, he will need to appear in the opening, or we will need to understand how he comes into play later. Are there two POVs in the book? Alternating chapters? If Kevin doesn't have a POV, then the story should center on Kelly.

    Good luck!

    Melanie Conklin

  7. I love where the pages leave off now--a perfect way to get someone to want to read more!

    I think right now you can focus on polishing the writing, with the goal of letting the characters' actions do the work. In some cases, you've got an emotion described (e.g., "anger boiling up") but then you describe actions that SHOW the exact same thing (more effectively, even), so it ends up feeling redundant. I think you only need to describe something in abstract (like the buck shattering the tranquility) if it's not immediately shown through action. Also be careful of the bodily sensations--things shoot through Kelly twice, she quakes and her hands shake in the same short sentence, etc. You've got really solid action description and sometimes you just need to trust that it will do its job!

    As for the pitch, I second what others suggest regarding age and at least a mention of Kevin in the first pages. But also, I think that final paragraph actually steals from the impact of the final lines in the second paragraph. I suggest integrating mention of raptors into the second para and deleting the current final para to allow the second one to do its thing. It's already clear things are dire (which seems to be the sole goal of the current third paragraph, to further show how dire things are), you set up stakes, and then you indicate what they have to do. I don't think you need much else! Nicely done!

  8. I love that this is a nefarious plot involving dinosaurs. That got my attention.

    But in this pitch, you give us the stakes but without any clues about the context of your world. Is it a world just like ours but where dinosaurs have been showing up? Do the dinosaurs talk?

    Are Kelly and Kevin just regular kids? Rather than give a broad overview, I think you might zoom in and give more concrete details.

    And the mother has been captured? By dinosaurs? By people? Are the dinosaurs good or bad? Is Patch ok because he’s small but the other dinosaurs are dangerous?

    For a middle grade audience, I would pare down your sentences considerably, and take a close look at your word choice, with middle grade readers in mind.

    The stakes didn’t entirely make sense to me. I had trouble understanding why Kelly was doing something she found so frightening for a photography contest? Why does she have to shoot at night?

    “Hands shaking, she ran her fingers through her hair. Could she go on, this frustrated and this scared, with the woods ahead looming so dark? But, the contest. Without the pictures she could kiss any hope of winning that camera good-bye. No, she couldn’t leave the woods empty-handed. She had no other choice but to suck it up and go get the shots. This was no time for a pity party.”: This paragraph seems a little forced to me. We already know that she’s scared. Rather than repeat what you’ve said before, you might explain why this place at this time was crucial for her. She wanted a specific photograph and was willing to risk anything to get it.

    Her anger “boils up,” her fears “multiplied,” “a shiver of fright shot through her stomach,” “her fears walked with her,” “a thrill shot through her”… “Her shocked mind reeled in disbelief, reluctant to accept what her eyes clearly saw”: Be careful of over-explaining and repeating language.