Sunday, April 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Lott Rev 1

Name: Courtney Lott
Genre: Young Adult: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Title: Guard of the Ungifted: The Flight of Connor Gray

Drones buzzed over the white roof of the Avon Counseling Center and Connor ducked his head. Though his glasses projected a fake image if viewed by these electronic spies, they still might malfunction. Not worth the risk. As he waited for the hum to fade, Connor squinted at the golden words on the squat sign near the front steps.

    ...No Gift shall be elevated above the rest… 

When the drones passed, Connor flipped up his jacket collar against the cold and scanned the crowd of kids shuffling toward the entrance. A few feet ahead, a group from his school pushed their way down the sidewalk. Their leader, Max Anderson, shoved an Ungifted boy out of his way. The kid hit the ground with a loud oof.

“Watch where you’re going, junk-genes,” Max said.

Connor flinched at the hissed phrase. So much for Guardian protecting the Ungifted...Leave it alone. Don’t call attention to yourself. In California, he’d blown his cover by Telekinetically shoving someone across the soccer field. His mom would kill him if they had to move again this soon.

With a slow breath, Connor glared at Max as the bully jerked the Ungifted kid up by his collar. The tips of his shoes swung inches from the concrete. Every muscle in Connor’s arms shook, vibrating the concrete beneath him. Another breath and the Telekinetic tremors ebbed.

Don’t call attention to yourself. Connor clenched both hands in his jacket pockets and scanned the crowd near the front of the center. Traffic-bots stood close to the entrance, ushering kids and small handfuls of adults inside and directing air traffic. Counselors would all be inside by now. 

Don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve almost made it an entire month under the radar…This time he glanced down the sidewalk for a Counselor.Come on, somebody, anybody...Connor’s hands itched but he forced himself to walk around Max and his victim. Don’t do anything. It’s too risky. Too many people around. Too many drones. If you’re not careful you’re going to expose yourself again. 

Max shook the Ungifted kid. 

Connor threw one last glance at the entrance, then pivoted to face Max and his crew. “Leave him alone, man.”
Green eyes narrowed in his direction. Max sneered. “Excuse me?”

A group of other Gifted kids hovered around Max. Some wore aviator goggles over windswept hair; others tossed baseball-sized fireballs between their hands. 

Fists still buried in his jacket pockets, Connor flexed his fingers. “Back off. You’re a Guardian, you’re supposed to be protecting people.”

“What, you the Guardian police?”

“Good one, Max,” a scrawny Pyrotech said.

Connor rolled his eyes. Original. “Whatever. Let him go, man.”

Max smirked. “Just reminding him of the pecking order. Guardians at the top, junk-genes on bottom, even lower than Animal Shifters.” Jerking the Ungifted boy by the shirt collar, the bully took a step toward Connor. “Lower even than Guardian Police, here. Sure Ellis is a Guardian, but his parents gave him up. Lives with Mercy parents now. Only junk-genes and mercy kids have to see the counselor once a month. How are those group meetings? Cry about how much your real parents didn’t want you?” 

“You’re going there?” The sidewalk vibrated and Connor forced out a breath. Keep it together. He’s not worth another retreat. 

Max laughed, but didn’t seem to notice the shake. “Gonna do something about it, mercy kid?”

Connor burst forward. The heel of one hand connected with the bully’s face. The crack of Max’s jaw bounced off the walls of the Counseling Center and his victim dropped. As the Guardian stumbled backward and let out a grunt, the Ungifted kid fled. Palms up, hands open Connor focused on Max.  

The bully regained his balance and glared. One hand curled into a fist. When he swung, Connor ducked and threw out a hand to block him. The back of Max’s fist slid along his palm and off to one side. Max drove punches forward: right, left, right, left, duck. He moved slower than he should, giving away every move with each rotation of his shoulders. Connor blocked his attacks with a simple defense. Sweat formed on Max’s red face and he charged.

Connor caught his wrist and twisted until he’d pinned it behind the bully’s back. In one continuous motion, he spun Max to face his friends, a shield against attack. They scowled, but didn’t try to rescue their leader. Connor kept his voice low. “You done?”

Max jerked and arched his back. “Get off me.”

Tightening his grip, Connor asked again, “Are. You. Done?”

The bully strained; then growled. “I’m done.”

Connor released Max and took a step back, hands open in front of his face, ready for retaliation. Tension wound through Max’s back and down both arms all the way to clenched fists. No one from his group moved; their smiles had melted into tight-lipped glares. Any second they might launch a ball of fire or telekinetically propelled object in his direction. While using gifts outside of school wasn’t forbidden, there were rules. A Pyrotech setting one of their classmates on fire, for instance, was highly frowned upon.

In a flinch of muscle, Max wheeled around, one fist pulled back for a blow. He froze mid-swing. His hand dropped. Tension continued to tighten his jaw, but he managed to work up the semblance of a smile. A voice came from behind.
“Problem here, Anderson?”

Connor turned to face a bearded man he recognized from around the center. Apart from the bowtie and messenger bag, he wore a lanyard with his picture in a plastic pocket. Next to the outline of a bear, his name was written across the bottom: Mr. Hagan, Bear Shifter Counselor.

“No problem, Mr. Hagan. Just welcoming the new kid to Avon.” Max gripped one of Connor’s shoulders. “Never too late for that, right?”

Mr. Hagan lifted a brow. “That’s so nice of you, but I think it’s time for Connor to get inside.” He turned and the group started to move. Max pushed Connor forward, but Mr. Hagan put up one hand, a wry grin on his face. “Think I’ll have a word with Mr. Ellis, if that’s alright.”

Max’s smile jerked but didn’t fall. His fingers dug into Connor’s shoulder. “Sure. No problem. See you later, mercy kid.”
The last phrase scraped past clenched teeth, an obvious warning. Max and his group headed down the sidewalk away from the counseling center, their mutters and irritation barely concealed.

The Shifter glanced down at Connor. “So you met the welcome committee. Need to swing for a new one, but the city’s had budget cuts.”

“It’s the thought that counts.” Connor snorted and started toward the center. “You could have a bake sale. My mom makes great cookies.”

“Didn’t think many Guardians were into that kind of thing,” Mr. Hagan said.

“Baked goods are a great place to hide weapons or amo. Granted they have to be pretty small. My mom’s bullet bundt cake is awesome...” As they weaved between Security-bots directing flying cars, Connor tugged his collar aside for the ID scanner at the door. 

A blue light swept over his gifting tattoo and modified ID chip. As usual, Connor held his breath before the robotic voice greeted him.
Welcome ConnorEllis.  

Ellis. Good. The last chip update worked.

A wave of cold air billowed up around them, carrying with it the smell of Council mandated snack. Connor always brought his own. Nutribars didn’t sit well, ever.


  1. Hey Courtney! Loving the new tension with the addition of the drones! The only thing I could say about that was it felt like a lot to take in with the information about the glasses as well. Maybe just have another sentence about the drones (have them scanning people as they go by, so we can see their function in action), then have Connor check his glasses are working (rather than just thinking that they might not be).

    Another thing I thought was that you could shift the 'Leave it alone... move again this soon" section down to below the next para and delete the first "Don't call attention to yourself." That way you're breaking his thoughts up nicely with the action.

    I still think there would be more tension if Max and Connor didn't know each other. Max can still call Connor a Mercy Kid as an insult without knowing for sure he is - he can make an assumption based on the direction he's heading. Then when he sees he's touched a nerve, he can wind him up more about it with the crying line. And throw the ungifted kid to one side saying that even he's higher up the pecking order than mercy kids. Not even their own parents wanted them... That way it comes out in a more natural way.

    And, I know I've said it before, & you're completely entitled to disagree with me, but I do still think Connor wins the fight too easily, & I don't think the teacher should take Connor's side. They were both fighting. And Connor was winning. They should both get a ticking off.

    But, like I said, it's your book!

    I hope my comments are useful :)


    1. Thanks Lorna! I'll have to think a lot about Connor winning. Part of it is that his winning creates later tension and makes things worse, but I can see how it lets the foot off the gas too much.

      Thanks again! You've given me a lot to think about!

    2. It's not easy, is it! I'm not saying I think he should lose, just that they should either be interrupted or that it should be a lot harder. Say, like Marty vs Biff in Back to the Future. Buff is clearly stronger, but Marty is plucky, skilled & clever, so he wins out. That kind of thing.

  2. I really like the addition of drones, we are firmly in this world from the get-go now, and it's starting to move along though I would consider tightening the dialogue more? Exchanging more action for words. You're skilled at dialogue it's just a lot and so much is conveyed through the fight and watching the ungifted kid get bullied, and this may be unpopular but I still love that Conner wins handily! I think it sets up humiliation for Max so well, introduces us to Conner's ability and strength and how, when motivated, he is a bit of a bad ass. I do agree it might be more exciting if they don't know each other but potato potahto, I love this start! Well done!

  3. Hi Courtney,

    Something about reluctant hero stories always pulls me in. They don't want to help, helping equals attention, and attention equals more conflict for them. Connor embodies that in his waiting until the last minute to get involved. And when he gets involved, he does it well!

    As others have mentioned, the dialogue is the only part that could be massaged a bit. If you have a smart phone, I like to put the screen reader on and just listen. Or, record yourself reading the lines and see if that helps. I do that (not nearly enough) and it helps.

    Great revision, and I can't wait for the whole thing!

    1. Thanks Kwame! I will do that. I've always struggled with dialogue.

  4. I like the opener although "and Connor ducked his head" feels like a throw in or a separate thought.
    Maybe - "Connor ducked his head as the drones buzzed over the white roof of the Avon Counseling Center."
    Also, I was a little confused. Is he trying to avoid the drones or hide his powers? What would malfunction - the drones or the glasses?

    The ellipses seem unnecessary. It seems like everyone is pausing which also makes me pause as a reader and take away from the flow.

    If the MC is worried about exposing himself to the drones, wouldn't the other kids be as well? Meaning one wouldn't be tossing fireballs between his hands.

    It's pretty clear Max is a bully, you might consider not calling him "the bully" all the time. Feels like telling when you've already done a fantastic job of showing.

    I think it's "ammo" not "amo"

    Definitely do a great job of building tension. Why is he worried about the drones, his chip, and the security bot? That's enough to keep folks reading.
    This one looks like it will be a bunch of fun with guardians, junk-genes, and mercy kids. Fantastic job!

    1. Thanks Tim! Need to figure out how to make it clear that some people have a gift, other people don't, and Connor is the only one with multiple. I think my revision will fix it, but I'll let you decide next week :D Thanks for the commentes!

    2. Multiple? That ratchets the coolness factor!

  5. So much more intriguing opening! It's like a whole new world we're seeing, richer and unique. Really great revision!

    "Though his glasses projected a fake image if viewed by these electronic spies, they still might malfunction."

    This line was confusing. Partly because we're just getting our bearings, but also because it took me a while to figure out that the drones were the 'electronic spies' that the glasses hid him from. And also, the 'they' refers back to the electronic spies, so you need to make it clear that it's the glasses that might malfunction.
    I'd use the word spy to describe the drones in the first line. Who isn't intrigued by spies. And even more by someone hiding from spies. This is a great hook. Nice job.

    "Don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve almost made it an entire month under the radar…This time he glanced down the sidewalk for a Counselor.Come on, somebody, anybody...Connor’s hands itched but he forced himself to walk around Max and his victim. Don’t do anything. It’s too risky. Too many people around. Too many drones. If you’re not careful you’re going to expose yourself again."

    In this paragraph, there's a little too much internalization for me. I'd cut out a couple phrases like the drones we've already seen twice, so we know they're there. We already know he's afraid of exposing himself.

    "Max shook the Ungifted kid."

    You've repeated that the kid is Ungifted three times now. I'd drop the adjective at least one of these times. You did such a good job with the scene and giving us memorable things to hang onto, we remember this detail.

    "Connor rolled his eyes. Original. “Whatever. Let him go, man.”"

    Try not to add the 'man' too much. It begins to sound comical.

    Commented about the word 'bully' last week and still think you should avoid it. At least only use it once if you think it's necessary.

    Overall, I'm hooked! I think you have so many great elements of a unique story and world and also pulled off the universal connection with the reader. Excellent first five!

    See you next week--Heather

    1. Thanks for your comments, Heather! I'm on it!