Sunday, June 19, 2016

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Romero Rev 2

Name: Gabriela Romero
Genre: Ya Science Fantasy
Title: The Perfect Pairs


Philippa “Phil” Norwood has a touch hot enough to set things aflame—she’s got heat transfer powers. Her superhuman abilities are an accident, triggered by a mysterious chemical. But they come in handy at Silverback Academy, a school dominated by bullies and narcissists.

After becoming the target of Silverback’s queen bee, Phil quickly realizes that mastering her heat transfer is her only ticket to survival. She succeeds in overcoming the bullies, but in doing so, she ends up revealing herself to the school.

When the head of the school, Dr. McLaughlin, finds out about Phil’s condition, he forces her to go into testing. He knows of the chemicals’ immense dangers. Anyone can get powers, and many are willing to do anything to get their hands on them. But Phil isn’t keen on becoming a lab rat, and in her struggle against him, she shares the chemicals with her friends.

Phil gets caught in a struggle between Dr. McLaughlin and his former employee, Roman, who tricks her into thinking Dr. McLaughlin intents to profit off her. She's faced with choosing a side. Dr. McLaughlin and his research, or Roman and his dubious agenda. Problem is, the chemicals are a ticking bomb, and time is not in anyone’s favor.

I: Silverback Academy

“<i>Scan and transcribe Lorena’s notes.</i>”
The words were scratched on a post-it note in Dr. McLaughlin’s handwriting. The letters curly and thick. Philippa twisted the post-it note in her hand, her eyes transfixed on the flimsy, yellow material, but her mind was elsewhere. She had a plan. She had the post-it note, Dr. McLaughlin’s keycard, and a question fueling her wild scheme.


Why was her deceased mom’s name being brought up here at Silverback Academy, two-thousand miles away from home?


Her desk wobbled as someone brushed by it, snapping Phil out of her thoughts. She looked up and saw Renata passing by, who also purposely bumped Maxie on her way to the front. Renata swept her mane of curls from one shoulder to another while turning in her work to the teacher. As if she was telling the whole class, “Look how shiny they are! My natural, coiling, perfect curls.” She strolled back, smug eyes scanning a classroom awash in early noon light, and Phil turned away.

Renata’s antics couldn’t bother Phil today—she wouldn’t let it. She flipped the post-it note again, reading those words. The note had been a reminder, left on Dr. McLaughlin’s desk as part of his daily to-do list. Phil had snatched it the last she was in his office. She had seen the loop of the L to the O, had craned her neck to read the cursive, and her heart had given a jolt.

She knew it had to be her mom. Her dad was an old friend of Dr. McLaughlin’s. The family friendship was the only reason Phil was stuck at this insane school in the first place. It was too much of a coincidence not to be. But why did Dr. McLaughlin want to transcribe her mom’s notes? What notes?

The growing buzz of conversation shattered the classroom quiet piece by piece. It became the telltale the period was drawing to an end. Whispers stopped being whispers as seniors turned this way and that; chatting; joking; passing notes to friends. Phil watched her classmates talk to each other while a globe of loneliness traveled down her belly. It made her feel in the spotlight. As if she was the one saying, “Look at me! I’m the new kid and I’m the only one without someone to talk to!”

But no one cared for Phil. The few curious gazes were on Renata, who sat on the desk beside Phil’s.

Renata’s attention, in turn, was devoted solely to Maxie, in a scene that unfolded every time they had this class. “I can’t believe you told,” Renata told him, her Ts and Ys harsh with a Spanish accent.
The boy sitting to the other side of Renata, one of her friends, flicked a small crumpled paper at Maxie’s back, earning him sniggers from the spectators.

Phil took a deep breath and peeled her eyes away, back to her desk.

Renata went on, saying, “I don’t know. I can’t decide if you have balls of steel, or… no <i>huevos</i> at all.”

“He wants beef,” the person behind Renata added.

Phil pushed them out of her mind. She didn’t want to listen to Renata, nor think about Maxie. Empathizing with Maxie would only make her want to stop them; would only make her want to break Silverback’s golden rule.

She bent the post-it note and twirled it again, tugging at the depths of her mind for an answer. Her mom had been dead for years. How could—

“So what, is the requirement for the Dumpster Scholarship that you snitch on us?” Renata said, just loud enough the students in the vicinity could hear her, but not so loud as to pull the teacher’s attention to the back of the classroom. “I guess being in the McLaughs’ Ass-Kissing team is the only social alternative for someone that acts like they were raised by Barney,” she added, earning her stifled sniggers from her friends. <i>McLaughs</i> was a running gag within the student body. No one took Dr. McLaughlin seriously. His laissez faire management was probably the reason why everyone was so awful to each other all the time. So when Phil first heard the nickname, she wasn’t too surprised.

“Yeah, sure, join his little team, but I’m sure he likes his underage pets to be of the opposite gender, and you’re probably a little too <i>negrito</i> for his taste,” Renata added, finally, and her friends oohed and made hissing noises and murmured, “<i>burnt.</i>”

Phil went red in the face for Maxie. Her eyes flew to the front, hoping the teacher had caught a word of it, but the buzz of conversation was enough to muddle everything Renata had said. He was talking to someone at his desk, sitting in front of colorful handmade posters that simplified the U.S. Constitution and spoke of civil liberties.

 Phil forced herself to stare out the window. She couldn’t pick a fight—the period was almost over. The moment the bell rang she could spring out her desk and find out where those alleged notes were, and why they needed transcribing.
Past the glass the world was a lagoon of green and copper leaves. From the third floor, the classroom window hit just the right angle where Phil could see the topiary garden that separated the school building from the dorm buildings. The boys’ and girls’ dorms faced each other, at opposite ends, each fronted by a wide fountain and both surrounded in primped gardens and aesthetically placed trees. Silverback had a beautiful campus. It was everything Phil had expected of the north east, but its charm was lost in the people that terrorized its grounds.

Again, Renata’s words wrenched Phil from her musings, “No guys, chill, I don’t think I can burn him anymore than he already is.”
<i>Is she being serious?</i> Phil had to reel back her thoughts. She couldn’t intervene—

“He’s probably here so he could be the resident snitch. Like a little puppet McLaughs can use to get real-time proof that—”
“Dude, what’s your problem?” Phil blurted, unable to sit there any long and listen to one more breath of vile. To hell with the consequences.

Renata, the spectators, and even Maxie turned to her, expressions of shock capturing all their faces.

“No, it’s okay, Phil,” Maxie mumbled, waving his hand down as if to appease a kindergartener, “It doesn’t bother me, really.”
Renata didn’t falter for long. She straightened up, and with a smile said, “I’m sorry, who are you? I didn’t know a new student came in today.”

Her friends sniggered. Phil was new, but she wasn’t that new. Even if she could take back the slip of her tongue, Renata’s smile was an invitation. <i>Come at me</i>, it said.

To Maxie, Phil said, “It’s not okay, actually. I’m not gonna sit here and pretend anything this racist prick says is okay.” Then, with her heart thrumming so hard she heard it up her ears, she turned to Renata and added, “Just drop it, dude. We get it. He snitched on you. He pissed you off. But—from the shit you say I’d bet you had it coming. Can you just—you know, find better things to do?”

A small piece of paper flew in Phil’s direction, hitting her on the chest. More people sniggered around her—the number of curious gazes growing.

Renata sprang to her feet, eyes lighting up with excitement.

Phil stood up, too.


  1. Gabriela!

    I like your pitch! When you mentioned that Phil shares the chemicals with her friends, you never mentioned earlier in your pitch that she even MADE friends. Although this is just a pitch, I highly suggest making sure you check that each part of it coincides with each other, makes sense with what you’ve told so far, and that you add just enough intrigue to really set your story apart from the rest. Your story sounds fun and the concept is splendid!

    Some things (Reject as you see fit):

    1. “Scan and transcribe Lorena’s notes” is an interesting way to start out your story, considering what your pitch entailed. There was nothing mentioned in your pitch about Phil’s mom and what her role is in the story, yet she must have a BIG role if the entire story starts out with something to do with her. For example, if a reader were to read the back of your book for a synopsis but it does not clue in to anything to Lorena and then they choose to read your story, they’ll be confused on what the exact catalyst to your story is.
    2. I love the beginning. It’s such a badass yet simple way to start a story. However, the part where you wrote “but her mind was elsewhere…fueling her wild scheme” doesn’t make sense to me and also felt like skipping a vital step. Phil’s mind is elsewhere, yet we don’t know yet what she’s thinking until the next paragraph, yet we had jumped to her coming up with a scheme already. It’s like going back and forth and the chronology is messed up. I suggest keeping “but her mind was elsewhere” and then say “Why was her deceased mom’s name…Lorena” next to have the story make a bit more sense. Because this workshop is only 1250 words, if you want to keep this part “she had the post it note, dr…,” I think you should add it at the VERY END of your entire first chapter. That sentence just reads to me as finality and we are only starting the story.
    3. Regarding the scene between Phil and Renata, I have to commend you on really amping up the dialogue and erasing any typical mean girl dialogue between them. It was super good and I wanted to keep reading and see where it went. (The ending btw is SUPERB).
    4. When it says “The growing buzz of conversation shattered the classroom quiet piece by piece,” you never mentioned earlier that the classroom was quiet in the first place. I suggest adding that. I loved the descriptions of the students. It’s very high school. Love it. Also I really like Phil’s voice and tone. She’s very snarky and cynical but courageous and bold, I like her already.
    5. I don’t know, maybe this is just me, but I’d really like a sense of why no one cared for Phil. There’s nothing about Phil that makes her not ordinary, nothing you’ve mentioned in the beginning leading up to that sentence “But no one cared for Phil.” I’d like a bit more elaboration on who Phil is and a stronger grip on her character in the beginning in terms of how other students view her.

    6. BTW, loving that Phil calls out Renata’s racist BS, go girl! However, “Renata spang to her feet, eyes lighting up with excitement” kind of confused me. In this sentence “Renata, the spectators,…shock capturing all their faces” it seemed to me Renata is not happy at the moment, yet you used the word excitement to clue into how she is feeling. Maybe describe how despite the sneer on Renata’s lips, there was a visible dance in her eyes, as if she was ready to play this game with Phil…it’d really add some characterization and make Renata less of a Queen Bee but more of an actual threat.

    Overall, you have some good stuff here. I suggest rearranging things around, working on characterization, and connecting your beginning with some part in your pitch, or else it won’t make sense to your reader. Good luck on future revisions/drafts/edits and such.

    Whoop whoop,


  2. Hi Gabriela,

    I like the interplay between Phil's two conflicting sides, though I do agree with Teresa that when Phil's mom is never mentioned again, it makes me wonder what's so important about her notes. Is she the creator of this chemical that is giving Phil superpowers?

    I like your pitch, and the idea of two adults fighting over the destiny of this kid who takes matters into her own hands. It seems like it would be a cool book with a lot to say about responsibility and where you transition to adulthood and the adult realm of taking your actions into your own hands. I'm not entirely sure how the heat transfer stuff works in terms of the world and plot - Phil has to master her abilities in order to survive high school, but it's bad that she reveals herself to everyone? Does she need to control her powers, and tips over the edge when Renata goes too far?

    I like Phil, and I like Renata. I especially think that you've captured more of Phil's voice in this version, with great lines like, "It was everything Phil had expected of the north east, but its charm was lost in the people that terrorized its grounds."

    I think I'd like to see a little more from Maxie. What does he do while he's getting bullied? Play on his phone? Look at his hands? Turn bright red? What makes it impossible for Phil to ignore his mistreatment? Is it more that she wants to help Maxie, or hurt Renata? I think I'd engage even more with her internal struggle if I knew which aspect was bothering her.

    Once again, nicely done. I look forward to finding out what happens to Phil, and how she has to navigate the challenges that face her.

    Thanks for everything you've brought to this workshop, I've really gotten a lot out of it and I've enjoyed visiting Silverback Academy. Best of luck with the novel and everything else!

  3. Hi Gabriela,

    The first paragraph is SO MUCH STRONGER NOW. It makes me interested, and also makes me question what her wild scheme is in the first place - such intrigue! Great job!

    There are a couple of lines that I'm having trouble with throughout:
    1. "Phil watched her classmates talk to each other while a globe of loneliness travelled down her belly". I was really on board with this sentence until the globe 'traveled down'. I would more think that a globe would encase her? If anything just add 'globe travelled down TO her belly'
    2. "He wants beef" - I know what you're getting at here, but beef is usually something someone has with someone else or wants to have. In it's current iteration it draws me out of the story because it sounds awkward.
    3. "Phil stood up, too" - Renata springs to her feet and it's such a magnificent part of the story for Phil to really use her anger and shut Renata down but this line is rather lacklustre. This line is especially important if you're sending the first five pages to agents, and this needs to really end with a bang. Easy fix, but I thought I'd point it out. (Especially since the buildup is SO. WELL. DONE!)

    In regards to your pitch, I think that Phil's voice comes out really strongly, which is absolutely fantastic. I would avoid saying "mysterious chemical" though because it almost seems like a cop out. Even though Phil doesn't know what the chemical is, providing the reader of the pitch an idea of what it is might be more intriguing.

    Thanks so much for sharing your piece with us and commenting each week. Your feedback has been really helpful, and I've really enjoyed the workshop. I hope you have too. Good luck with your story, and with future revisions.


  4. Hi, Gabriela,

    You made a lot of smart choices with this revision. I have a better sense of Phil this time around and I like her a lot more--she's standing up for the underdog despite being very distracted by the revelation that her mom had some notes, and they're going to be transcribed. However, why is she so certain that these are her mom's notes? There could be more than one Lorena at her school. How about tacking on the first initial of her last name? That would seal the deal.

    I agree that I wanted to see more from Maxie here. But Renata was already stealing that scene, so it didn't bother me overly much that he wasn't as strongly characterized as she and Phil. Renata is horrible--much more than just a beautiful mean girl--and in fiction, the stronger the villain, the stronger the hero. By giving someone to really go up against, you've increased my interest in Phil.

    I thought you captured high school beautifully; what about giving the class something they're supposed to be doing, such as partnering up for a project, which would explain a bit of chaos in the room and the teacher's distraction? He seems to be floating around the periphery of the action.

    Regarding the pitch, I suggest you be more specific--in what way is Phil's superpower the key to her survival? This sounded a bit vague, as if the author hadn't worked it out yet, and that would be a red flag for me if were reading this as an editor.

    Good work! Congratulations and keep going!


  5. Hi, Gabriela!

    I think your revision is great. I noticed you added several references to place/setting, and I really think that adds a lot. Great work!

    I'm going to focus on your pitch, because I think it could still use a bit of polish. In short, I think your pitch says both too much and not enough. My personal rule of thumb is two paragraphs (three at most) for the pitch. The first paragraph should include who your protagonist is and what her wound and/or story conflict is. The second paragraph should include the life-or-death stakes, and the dilemma the character is facing. I feel like you have the dilemma and the protagonist covered, but I don't have a good sense of the stakes involved (what bad thing will happen if she chooses wrong?).

    Just as a jumping-off point, consider combining the first two paragraphs into one and tightening it up a bit (for example, deleting one of the two references to bullies), deleting the third paragraph entirely, and then adding a reference to Dr. McLaughlin at the beginning of the final paragraph. Then consider adding a sentence about who or what is at stake for Phil if she chooses the wrong side. I'd keep the last sentence, though! It's nice to end it with a teaser like that--makes the reader want to know more.

    Overall, great work! I've enjoyed reading the progression as you've edited your story. Good luck shopping it around, and thanks for sharing!

  6. Hey, Gabriela. First, I apologize for the late comment! I've been dealing with a bit of an emergency lately.

    I think this has improved so much in this workshop! I like the classroom atmosphere and the distance of the teacher--and how you've described how the characters are keeping the conversation quiet enough that the teacher doesn't pay attention. This seems realistic to me.

    The dialogue between Phil and Renata also reads much more realistically now, less scripted. In contrast to some other comments, I liked the "eyes lighting with excitement" line. It reveals a lot about Renata's character to me, that she likes conflict and that engaging with someone--Phil--is exactly what she wants. I mean, she has an audience. So even though Phil is calling her on her shit, Renata doesn't seemed threatened and gets to stay center stage.

    The pitch is good but it lost me a bit in the details. What I usually do in the pitch is try to come up with the main character, the goal, and the stakes with as little backstory as I can get away with to still make it make sense. I feel there's quite a bit of info in the pitch that we don't necessarily need, and in my opinion it is detracting from the reader understanding the story itself.

    Of course, feel free to toss any comments that don't resonate with you! I've enjoyed working with you, and I hope this book finds great success.

  7. This is a really compelling opening, in part because we have a wonderful character and great "save the cat" moment -- I was glad to see Phil stand up to Renata, who clearly has it coming.

    I do think that you may be trying to do too much at once here, though...I almost wonder if we need to see her find the thing (the post-it note, as you currently have it) that starts the mystery after this scene, as it felt like this scene was trying to be separately about two very different things at the same time, and so it might be a little frustrating to start on the very first page with jumping between the bullying plot line and the post-it note/mom mystery plot line every other paragraph.

    More than that, I was wondering if it isn't a bit of a leap of faith to see a post-it note with the name Lorena and immediately conclude, "IT COULD ONLY BE ABOUT MY MOM BECAUSE THE HEADMASTER KNOWS MY DAD." Surely he could know another Lorena besides her mother, who died years ago? It's not that she wouldn't be curious if it's possible, but her certainty seems extreme. As a result, it was a little hard to buy into that storyline in these opening pages.

    Some smaller notes"

    - Be careful about when you use sentence fragments -- for example, in the very opening: "The words were scratched on a post-it note in Dr. McLaughlin’s handwriting. The letters curly and thick." To my ear, this isn't a great place to exercise artistic license and do a sentence fragment: it should really either be made into one sentence or the second sentence needs a verb.

    - You describe the "flimsy, yellow material" of the post-it note. By material, don't you just mean paper? If so, call it what it is: paper.

    - There's a missing word (time) in this sentence: "Phil had snatched it the last she was in his office."

    Overall, great job with this -- I definitely felt Phil had depth and was a compelling character!