Sunday, April 17, 2016

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Smith-Allen Rev 2

Name:  Rebecca Smith-Allen
Genre:  upper middle grade mystery with virtual reality elements
Title:  GAME ON!
Twelve-year-old Jared lives for video games. Science?  Not so much. So when he walks into school to find Mr. Hilliard, his geeky science teacher, handing out sunglasses, he’s suspicious. Turns out, the sunglasses run a virtual reality game that will let everyone appear as their favorite avatar over lunch. Mr. Hilliard hopes it will get kids like Jared excited about STEM. But the game is more than the teacher bargained for. Virtual skirmishes with fireballs and lightsabers take over the halls and classrooms as well as the playground, turning the school into a giant video game mash-up.
This game is Jared’s dream come true. With his skill, he can top the leader board. But his sister, Maxine, weights on his conscience. Maxine’s a bookworm, not a gamer. Her straight-A report card won’t help her fend off the ninjas and space marines. Jared turns down an epic battle to find her and get her somewhere safe. But Maxine won’t hide. She’s searching for a way to shut the game down and she expects Jared’s help. When people attacked in the game start vanishing, Jared’s faced with an impossible decision:  get his game on, or help his sister take down the Best. Game. Ever. 
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.” He 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. “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. “Jared, 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 the torture of school days. How could I survive the next seven hours knowing 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, I braced myself for another day of “improving my mind.”

Chapter 2
Two steps into the lobby, I froze. Aaron knocked into my shoulder, 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. The next busload was on their way in and we were causing a traffic jam. 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.
In the case I found a pair those same sunglasses. I don’t normally take fashion advice from my nerdy science teacher. Looking at Brad, I shrugged. “Why?”
“Free trial of this new brand of sunglasses,” 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.
Weird. But the glasses looked cool so 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. Better than Hilliard anyway." He slid on his own pair.
Good thing the giggling girls were gone. Aaron never encouraged them, but trendy sunglasses on top his usual look just might get him mobbed.
Me? I never had that problem. My superpower was killer plans for taking on a horde of bad-guy minions. Not many girls went for that.
I faked 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-related torment 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 these sunglasses, 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?
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.”
Hilliard smiled at me again. “I knew I could count on you, Jared.”


  1. I think I'm in love with your pitch. I'd ask it to marry me but, you know, that would just be weird.
    I’ll be honest. I liked your opening from the very start, and it just keeps getting better. I really like how you tweaked Jared’s internal dialogue. It feels more authentic to me. In the last revision you cut fat, in this one you polish things up. It’s shining. I always want to be honest and offer up any critique I can (I know how they help me). I also like to either go first or not read any other comments until I'm done. I don't want to be influenced by any one else's insight. The problem is, I can't find anything to be critical about. Maybe some one else can. Great job!

    1. "I think I'm in love with your pitch. I'd ask it to marry me but, you know, that would just be weird."
      LOL! Thank you! No worries that you don't have any suggestions b/c I sent it to my CP's and they have seen this story through the good, the bad and the ugly and are picking in apart. Ya gotta love cp's!

  2. Hi Rebecca,
    really liked your revision! loved the "does not compute" line.
    I think Ch 1 is really short. Are all your chapters this short? I was just wondering...perhaps they are..
    Also, Brad was mentioned without any intro. It seemed like he just appeared and I wasn't sure if he was a friend or just a fellow student.
    Other than that, I thought you did a great job!
    Cheers, Lana

  3. Thanks, Lana. I was being super-conservative on words trying "cut the fat" but maybe I've overcut on the part where Brad enters!

  4. Hi Rebecca. I like your pitch and I think you’ve done a great job setting up the first five pages to be in line with your story idea. Even though there were a few wonderful surprises in the pitch, I was already anticipating the concept. Great job!

    Just a nitpicky thing in your pitch, the line “But his sister, Maxine, weights on his conscience,” the t should come out of weights to be weighs on his conscience.

    I think your revisions have made the story smoother and the characters have really come to life. I love the additions of “My superpower was killer plans for taking on a horde of bad-guy minions. Not many girls went for that.” So cute. And the line after “I faked Aaron-level cool, and we swaggered across the lobby.” I can totally see this. Fantastic.

    My only lingering question is where did all of the frog guts go? I loved all the lines with frog guts. Maybe I’m just weird but they made me smile as did your story.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, Linda, especially that nitpick. Ooops! I think the frog guts are still there. Maybe you skimmed b/c those parts didn't change? I'll check though. Definitely don't want to lose the frog guts!

  6. Ugh, I wrote an entire comment and it vanished. Let's see if I can recap it.

    1. Awesome job on revisions! It's definitely tighter and I love Jared's voice.

    2. I love the pitch too! Especially Jared's concern for Maxine, the fact that she's not hiding, and that they're going to have to work together.

    3. The one thing that did trip me up was that I'm not sure WHY Jared is worried about Maxine. Is he worried she's going to get knocked over or trampled by a light saber battle? Wouldn't she be able to hole up in a classroom? I would think the teachers would have an option for students who didn't want to play, especially if they're trying--and failing--to keep control of the game. I love that he's worried about her and I love the way you wrote it, I'm just not sure I understand why.

    To sum up: You did awesome and I'm actually disappointed I can't read your book. Good luck!

    1. Thanks! My cp's asked the same thing about why Jared's worried about Maxine. I'm working on it! I really appreciate your help through this workshop. It's wonderful!

  7. This is cute! It reads well for a middle grade. The characters are likable and are fitting for middle school boys. Also interesting that his twin sister is the school genius and teacher's pet. That should make for some juicy conflict, also internal reflection/growth for Jared. I did have a question about some of the text seeming to get lost near the end of Chapter 1; there are some dashes in place of what looks like missing words. Just wanted to point that out. Otherwise I think you're on track for a cool middle grade manuscript!

    1. Thanks! And oops! Sorry about those weird spots. Someone mentioned them before and I thought the ellipses were just showing up oddly, but it does look like some formatting took out a few words the post. :(

  8. This is cute! It reads well for a middle grade. The characters are likable and are fitting for middle school boys. Also interesting that his twin sister is the school genius and teacher's pet. That should make for some juicy conflict, also internal reflection/growth for Jared. I did have a question about some of the text seeming to get lost near the end of Chapter 1; there are some dashes in place of what looks like missing words. Just wanted to point that out. Otherwise I think you're on track for a cool middle grade manuscript!

  9. Hi Rebecca!

    This is a really awesome revision. Jared's personality shines through, and you did a great job trimming the fat, as others have noted. And your pitch makes me very curious about Maxine's POV, since Jared's depiction of her so far is so one-sided. As someone who was good at school, with no video game chops at all, I feel her pain.

    Honestly, I think you've done a great job with this and don't really have any suggestions at this point. Maybe a little bit more setting at the beginning, since I didn't really have an image until they enter the lobby. But otherwise I think it's very well done and I think the story will make for a great Middle Grade read!


  10. This is just great. I want to read on, and know so many kids who would love anything game related. I love the pitch, too. You have all the elements of good middle grade.

    I feel like you could work on Jared's self-esteem even more, in terms of what it's like for him to finally have his teacher paying attention to him. Wouldn't it be a big deal that this teacher even knows he likes to game? That even though Jared is failing, he's been chosen to do something this cool? Then later when he's supposed to shut it down, it will be really clear how heartbreaking that would be. That would help your story, I think.

    Anyway, you're off to a great start. Awesome revising!

    1. Thanks Estelle and Kim! I appreciate all the feedback from this workshop. My fist pages have gotten so much better! And thanks for your thoughts on how to keep improving these pages!