Sunday, April 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Smith-Allen Rev 1

Name:  Rebecca Smith-Allen
Genre:  upper middle grade mystery with virtual reality elements
Title:  GAME ON!

Chapter 1
I stomped off the bus, weighed down by soul-crushing news and the long school day ahead of me. Aaron headed my way through the swarm of bodies, his shoulder-length black hair and ever-present smirk catching the attention of a pair of giggly girls.
That smirk was gonna disappear fast.
Aaron gave my shoulder a hello whack. “Dude, why so glum? Classes haven’t even started yet. Find your happy place.” He snorted.
Aaron thought he was hilarious.
“Dude, Worst. News. Ever.” I headed towards the unwelcoming doors of Thompson Junior High. No point in postponing the inevitable.
Aaron fell in step with me. “Let me guess.” The joker rubbed his chin, trying to look thoughtful. “Your mom’s on another health food kick and we’re gonna have to eat carrot sticks during our video game marathon tomorrow.”
I shoved his arm in frustration. “I’m serious.”
Aaron rubbed his chin some more. “Your sister got the new Just Dance and we’ll have to take turns on the Wii.”
“That would be bad,” I agreed. “This is worse.”
My twin sister, Maxine, walked into the school with her best friend and fellow study-a-holic, Mai. I shot the evil eye at the back of her head.
“I give up,” Aaron said.
“Maxine wanted a pat on the head for getting a 102 on the science quiz — every question right, plus extra credit. Ugh! Then Mom turns to me and says, ‘let’s see your quiz.’”
Aaron cringed. “How bad was it?”
“It was good for me!” I said. “I got a 68. That’s almost a C.”
Aaron shook his head. “My mom would kill me if I got a 68.”
“But this was science,” I pointed out. “And me. It was a miracle I didn’t fail with all the crazy stuff Hilliard asked. Label every part of a frog’s insides. What normal person can do that?”
“Your sister,” Aaron said. The duh didn’t come out of his mouth, but the eye roll implied it. “You can’t really blame Max for being happy, but…ouch.”
“Yeah. Mom flipped out and wants to help me with science tomorrow.” I made the air quotes for Mom’s key words. “So no video games until I’ve mastered frog guts.”
Tomorrow morning?” Aaron’s face twisted into a grimace. He shared my pain. Looking forward to our weekly video game marathons got me through school days. How could I survive the next seven hours knowing that my agenda for tomorrow was frog guts rather than victory in an epic virtual battle?
“Forget the video game marathon,” I said. “Forget taking down the Orc boss. Forget Doritos. Instead, I get to study for a quiz I’ve already bombed.”
“Well,” Aaron said, “look at the bright side.”
I huffed. “What’s that?”
Aaron shrugged. “Sorry, dude. No clue. Just trying to cheer you up.”
“Thanks a lot,” I grumbled, then yanked open the gray, steel door. Leaving the world of sunlight and fresh air behind me, I braced myself for another day of “improving my mind.”
Chapter 2
Two steps into the lobby, I froze. Aaron knocked into my back, followed my gaze to the center of the space, then grunted.
Mr. Hilliard, lover of anything sciency, and frog guts in particular, stood in the middle of the lobby. He’d traded his Harry Potter glasses for rock star shades. Black ones, with mirrored lenses and frames that wrapped around the sides. They didn’t go any better with his Einstein-like fro than his usual ones.
Hilliard held a second pair of sunglasses high overhead. He yelled something I couldn’t make out over the start-of-school-day chaos, but a crowd of kids stood listening to him. Max stared up with a confused expression on her face, which was particularly weird, since nothing at school ever confused her.
Rock star shades on my science teacher.
Confusion on the Teacher’s Pet’s face.
There was something odd going on.
“Yo!” called someone behind us. We were blocking the next busload of kids on their way in. I peeled my eyes off Hilliard and trudged toward homeroom. I didn’t make it far.
“Hey, Jared.” Brad walked up wearing sunglasses identical to Hilliard’s. He drew a small black case out of a bag slung over his shoulder and swept it across his smartphone, scanning the barcode. He selected my name, Jared Cooke, from a list of students, then handed me the case. “Try these.”
He repeated the process for Aaron.
“What?” Inside the case I found a pair those same sunglasses.
“Free trial of Game On! glasses,” Brad said. “Mr. H. says they’re the next big thing. The only catch is you’ve gotta fill out a feedback form on how you liked them at the end of the day." With a nod, he stepped past us.
The sunglasses looked cool. Normally I wouldn’t take fashion advice from my nerdy science teacher, but I slid them on. The frames fit snugly, like they were made for me.
“So?” I struck a pose, arms crossed over my chest, head cocked to one side, big attitude. “Do I look good?”
Aaron grinned. “Sure, dude. Cooler than Hilliard anyway." He slid on his own pair.
Aaron was the most chilled-out guy in the seventh grade and the sunglasses gave him this rebel-gamer look. Did they work with my short brown hair and freckles? Probably not. I was the brain of our video game duo. I couldn’t science, but killer plans for taking on a horde of bad-guy minions were right up my alley. Aaron would never get through the major battles without me.
I decided to fake Aaron-level cool, and we swaggered across the lobby.
I turned to find Hilliard, still surrounded by students, waving me his way. What have I done now?
“This can’t be good,” I told Aaron in a low voice.
“You can’t be in that much trouble. It’s too early. Good luck.” He shot me a salute before turning toward his homeroom.
I sucked in a breath and headed over to see whether discipline for some unknown offense or science torture awaited me.
Hilliard waved the crowd apart. He wore dress slacks and a sports coat with his signature bow tie. I imagined his look as a pre-algebra word problem. If you take one geek and add rad sunglasses, what do you get?
…Does not compute.
“When I was offered the opportunity to run a trial for Game On! glasses, I immediately thought of you, Jared,” Hilliard said.
“Me?” I blinked. “Why me?” Why would my science teacher spend one nanosecond thinking about me before or after fifth period? The thought was frightening.
Hilliard leaned back and let out a deep, throaty laugh. “You’ll see when the real fun starts at recess. In the meantime, help me out. Get your friends to try the glasses.” He handed me a big, lumpy bag just like Brad’s.
Then he pulled out a smartphone and tapped open an app. “You need to scan the barcode on each case and enter the student’s name.”
Whatever, I thought, reaching for the phone.
Hilliard didn’t let go and I glanced up. “Scan the barcode and enter the name or the game won’t work.”
“Game? The sunglasses are part of a game?” Could Hilliard have actually found something interesting? Kinda difficult to believe.
Max eyed Hilliard suspiciously from the other side of the crowd.
Well, that settled it. If my sister thought the sunglasses were bad news, I was all for them. “Scan and enter the name. Got it.” I took the phone.                                       


  1. Hey Rebecca,

    Loved what you did with the first paragraph, giggly girls really painted a picture.

    The joker rubbed his chin--took me out of the story a bit. I was thinking Batman even though it wasn't capitalized--I know that's probably just me, but that assumption might fit your target audience as well.

    The last line of chapter one was so good.

    "Did they work with my short brown hair and freckles?"--This line jumped out at me(As did a few more for similar reasons mostly his description of himself and others). As a former boy, it feels un-boyish to me. I know, not all boys are created equal, we are all unique snowflakes, but I just wanted to mention it. Low self esteem is good for building your MC, but the way the thought is framed seemed odd, IMO.

    Also, your MC's name is not mentioned until Chapter 2. Maybe have Aaron call him by name?

    Much more tension! I loved how you cut some fat. Great revision. This voice is really good.


  2. Hi Rebecca,
    I really like the revision.

    during our video game marathon tomorrow.” if you read the end online, it looks like a drawn out ellipsis - is that just a formatting error? because further down it's prominent.

    interesting setup at the end - i'm intrigued and want to know more.
    Best, Lana

  3. Hi Rebecca. Great job on the rewrite. Chapter 1 is much smoother now and the interaction between Jared and Aaron seems more natural. I like the addition in the opening paragraph of the giggly girls. Tells so much more about who Aaron is and how Jared perceives him.

    I agree with Jeff about the joker reference. It also brought me out thinking of The Joker.

    I was confused by the line “We were blocking the next busload of kids on their way in. I peeled my eyes off Hilliard and trudged toward homeroom.” I assume the main entrance to the school has double doors so it’s hard for me to picture two kids blocking the way entirely. Perhaps they are making it difficult for the next busload to get through?

    After Jared is handed the glasses, he states that he wouldn’t normally take fashion advice from a nerdy science teacher. He already knows that these are game glasses so I feel this line should be either come before he is given the glasses (the glasses Brad was scanning looked like the ones Mr. Hilliard was wearing) or taken out.

    I like the act of defiance against his sister in the last paragraph. Great insight into their relationship. Great job!


  4. Hi Rebecca!

    Wow, I really like this rewrite. You kept the voice and humor from the original version, and the second chapter in particular is a lot clearer to me now. Most of the suggestions I have are small, niggling little things, POV slips, and things that could be clearer.

    When Aaron first appears, I think it would be helpful to let the readers know who he is, call him "my bud Aaron" or "my best friend Aaron," something like that. Also, the giggling girls is a nice touch. Does Aaron acknowledge them in any way, wave or something?

    Referring to Aaron as "the joker" seemed unnecessary, as well as reminding us of the Batman villain. His humorous nature is shown by his behavior so telling us he's a joker seems kind of redundant.

    When you say "Two steps into the lobby, I froze. Aaron knocked into my back, followed my gaze to the center of the space, then grunted." If Aaron is behind Jared, how can he tell where Aaron's looking?

    In this section: "Aaron was the most chilled-out guy in the seventh grade and the sunglasses gave him this rebel-gamer look. Did they work with my short brown hair and freckles? Probably not. I was the brain of our video game duo. I couldn’t science, but killer plans for taking on a horde of bad-guy minions were right up my alley. Aaron would never get through the major battles without me."
    I would defer to Jeff's expertise if he doesn't think a middle school boy would think that way. It's always hard to get the physical description in when you write in first person. Does Jared look like his sister at all? Maybe that could be a way to squeeze in a bit of description.

    I also thought the bits about Jared being the brains at video gaming was a bit out of place. You could hold off delivering that information until we actually see them play, or you could also move it sooner, when Aaron is so dismayed that their marathon is cancelled.

    All in all, this is a fun story and I think you did a great job on the revision. It's much clearer and really catching my interest!


  5. Hey Rebecca~

    Really great rewrite. I like the way the story moves now. It feels like it's in motion, not stuck anywhere. And this very effectively lays the groundwork for the plot and I think it's be a great cliffhanger spot to end with. Excellent!

    I really only had one main comment. It gives me pause that such a kid would be worried about fashion. He's not good at school, right? Appears opposite of his sister? Or is he like Anthony Michael Hall in SIXTEEN CANDLES, maladjusted and nerdy, but thinks himself terribly fashionable? Either way, if you're going to mention fashion, or if he's going to be describing his own looks, it needs to be explained so it doesn't stop your reader, because for a first person POV, it seemed odd to me.

    Great job!


  6. Nice job smoothing out the first bit! And I'm super excited to get a bit more information at the end!!!

    Mostly what I'd say for this round is to look for places where you can tighten and smooth out your word usage. "I shoved his arm in frustration" is a good example. Shoving his friend's arm is already an expression of frustration, especially since we've already seen he's in a bad mood. Or take this line.

    “Game? The sunglasses are part of a game?” Could Hilliard have actually found something interesting? Kinda difficult to believe.

    "Could Hillard have actually found something interesting?" is a fantastic line, skeptical and doubtful and funny at the same time. And because of that, the line "kinda difficult to believe" after it isn't really necessary. In fact, having that follow up line diminishes the impact of the better sentence, if that makes sense. :)

    This is all small stuff, true, but this story is relying very hard on Jared's voice, (which is great by the way,) so you want to be extra sure that your writing snaps and sparkles. It's hard to be a writer sometimes because you want to make everything clear to your readers, and sometimes, at least for me, you get worried that you're not being clear. But you are! You have a lot of great stuff here. I would encourage you to read through, maybe out loud, and find the places where you're repeating yourself, or where something isn't flowing right. You're doing great so far. :)

    (also the line about the pre-algebra word problem is fantastic. I laughed.)

    Good luck!

    PS. In case you're still a bit unclear about what I was talking about last week (and I wouldn't blame you, I was kind of tired when I was trying to explain it, lol), I found an old post my friend wrote that might help make what I was trying to say clearer.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Rebecca, this is my favorite part of First Five Pages. I love seeing what authors do with all the feedback. Like those I've given feedback to in the past, you stepped it up and didn't disappoint. You did a phenomenal job on this rewrite.

    First all of the things I love! My favorite part is the explanation of the sunglasses. I can't wait until to find out what happens with the glasses during recess. I envision a Tron sort of thing happening, which is kind of cool as a reader. We can relate as adults and I imagine children would Oooo and ahhh over the idea of a virtual video game during recess.

    Now that you've explained the idea that the science teacher is getting everyone involved, it makes sens that he'd be out in the lobby of the school handing out the glasses. My only question is why? While I still get that he's into things that are science, I still don't know if I buy that he benefits from this specifically because you make him out to be an old dude with his Einstein hair. My boys loved their middle school science teacher because he was a young guy that played video games and the kids could relate to him. Could you make him "cooler" where the kids could relate to him and he can relate to the kids? Sort of like a grown up kid himself? Then the video game glasses would make more sense.

    Your fist line is better, but I think could use rewording. "Weighed down by soul-crushing news and (boring, miserable, lame, dumb) school day ahead of me, I stomped off of the bus."-Just an idea. Again much better than the last time.

    I am going to disagree with the comments a few have made about his perception about himself and his friends. I do have two high school kids, one freshman and the other a sophomore. Regardless what some may think, boys do compare themselves to others. My son has long hair because his best friend has long hair. He thinks his buddy is cool and he wants to be like him. My other son seriously needs a haircut because his hair is thick (like carpet thick) and wavy, but thinks he looks good with this hair. I think that sometimes girls' body image issues do take the forefront of discussion, but boys' body image does not take precedence because it's sort of taboo to talk about. I like that your MC compares himself to other boys and that he has an opinion by the way he looks. Of course he knows what he looks like, he sees himself in the mirror everyday when he combs his hair and brushes his teeth. Like all of us he makes an opinion of what he sees in the mirror. Grown men do the same thing. Not that I want to disregard any of the other comments, but I think it is important to keep that piece in your story because it is a real issue and I think your male readers will be able to relate to.

    At this point, I would love to read more if I were a reader, agent, editor, etc. I'm hooked and curious to see what happens next. Great job, Rebecca!

  8. I don't know if anyone will even see this since all the critiques are in, but THANK YOU! This is all so helpful. I appreciate both the thought that boys don't focus on how they and their friends look, and that they do and just don't talk about it. I loved that post on dialogue Miriam mentioned. And I'm fooling around with the game reveal to deal with the problem Linda mentioned. I'm trying some changes that I'm not sure about, and am really looking forward to the last round of critiques next week!