Sunday, April 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Lott

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

First Five Pages

Connor Ellis squinted at the Law of Nations inscribed in golden letters over the red brick entrance of Hunter High.

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

Nice sentiment. In theory. But in practice?

Wind rippled the green National flag in front of the words. Connor flipped up his jacket collar against the cold, adjusted his glasses, and scanned the crowd of kids shuffling toward the school entrance. A few feet ahead, a senior, Max Anderson, shoved a smaller student to the ground. So much for Guardians protecting the Ungifted.

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

Connor flinched at the hissed phrase and stopped short. At his last school in California, he’d blown his cover by Telekinetically shoving a bully across the soccer field after she’d kicked an Ungifted water girl. By sheer luck no SAT phones snapped the video of the incident. No doubt a video showing a Guardian using a gift he shouldn’t have would have gone viral in about 8 seconds.

With a slow breath, Connor glared at the bully as he jerked the 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 school. Most teachers and APs stood close to the entrance, ushering students inside or directing air traffic into the parking lot, unable to see the trouble brewing.

Don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve almost made it an entire month under the radar…Again, he glanced to the front of the school. Come on, somebody look over here. Look over here...Connor’s hands itched but he forced himself to walk around Max and his victim. Don’t do anything. It’s too risky. There are too many people around. If you’re not careful you’re going to expose yourself again.

Max shook the Ungifted kid and Connor stopped. “Come on man, leave him alone.”

Green eyes narrowed in his direction. “Excuse me?”

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

“Doesn’t prove much that you can pick on a kid half your size. Just back off. You’re a Guardian, you’re supposed to be protecting people.”

“What, you’re the Guardian police or something?”

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

Connor rolled his eyes. Original. “Just let him get to class, man.”

Red flushed across the face of the boy who still hung in the air. Max sneered. “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 along with him, the bully took a step toward Connor. “Lower even than the Commissioner, here. Sure Ellis is a Guardian, but he lives with Mercy parents. Only junk-genes and mercy kids have to see the counselor once a month. How are those group meetings with all the other loser mercy kids? Cry about how much your real parents didn’t want you?”

“You’re going there? Seriously?” Gentle tremors shook the sidewalk. Connor forced out a slow breath. Keep it together. Stay calm. He’s not worth another retreat.

Max laughed, but didn’t seem to notice the shake. “Seriously. Now mind your own business, 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 school and his victim dropped. As the Guardian stumbled backward and let out a strangled grunt, the Ungifted kid fled. Connor focused on Max, hands open, palms up to guard his face.  

The bully regained his balance and glared at Connor. 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 or flinch of muscle. Connor blocked his attacks with a simple 360 defense. Sweat formed on Max’s red face and he charged like a bull.

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

Max jerked and arched his back, but even his Guardian strength couldn’t break Connor’s hold. “Get off me.”

Connor tightened his grip and asked again, this time more slowly, “Are. You. Done?”

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

Connor released Max’s wrists and took a step back, hands open in front of his face, ready for retaliation. Like injured, frightened animals, embarrassed bullies were always more likely to snap than retreat. The muscles in Max’s back expanded and contracted as tension wound through 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 the classroom wasn’t forbidden, there were, of course, 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. Quickly, he let his hand drop. Tension continued to tighten his jaw, but he managed to work up the semblance of a smile. Before Connor had the chance to wonder at his odd behavior, a voice came from behind.

“There a problem here, Anderson?”

Connor turned to face a bearded man he recognized from around school. 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 Instructor.

“No problem, Mr. Hagan. Just welcoming the new kid to Hunter High.” 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 to get to class.” He turned to one side and the group started to move. Max pushed Connor forward, but Mr. Hagan put up one hand, a wry grin still on his face. “Think I’ll have a word with Mr. Ellis, if that’s alright.”

Max’s smile jerked but managed to remain steadfastly in place. “Sure. No problem. See you later, mercy kid.”

The last phrase scraped past clenched teeth, an obvious warning. Max and his group headed toward the entryway, their mutters and irritation barely concealed.

Once out of earshot, the Shifter Instructor glanced down at Connor. “So you met the welcome committee. We need to swing for a new one, but there’ve been budget cuts.”

“They’re kind of a month late to the game, but it’s the thought that counts.” Connor snorted and started toward the school as well. “You could have a bake sale. My mom makes great cookies.”

“Good to know. Didn’t think many Guardians were into that kind of thing.”

“You’d be surprised. Baked goods are a great place to hide weapons or amo. Granted they have to be pretty small…


  1. Hi Courtney! So great to get the chance to finally read some of Guardians of the Ungifted!

    It's definitely a strong opening with a MC that's easy to relate to, and the situation too, even though it's set in such a different / unique world.

    In terms of constructive feedback, I was wondering why the story starts when Connor has already been there a month? There's more potential for conflict if he's still finding his feet & doesn't know who his allies are yet. If he has to prove himself to Mr Hagar, rather than already being pally, then it leaves a lingering sense of unresolved tension. Don't rush to resolve things too quickly and too easily. Tension = good.

    The fight was also resolved too easily for me. He wins without any trouble and without any repercussions (besides annoying Max, but if Connor can beat him easily then there's nothing for the reader to worry about). If it were me, I'd get Mr Hagar to intervene earlier and get him to remind him about his previous record. That way you can cut the backstory paragraph in the middle of the action (which pulls the reader out of the moment) & introduce tension with Mr Hagar. I'd keep the little hint in though (where he thinks to himself about how he doesn't want to expose himself again - it's nicely intriguing).

    Besides those thoughts, there were a couple of things I got confused by - the whole mercy kids & commissioner thing seems a bit too much to be trying to explain in the opening. I didn't quite get it, and it didn't seem to add to the scene, to me.

    Also the sentence that reads, 'Connor glared at the bully as he jerked the kid up by the collar'. I had to reread the section because I'd originally thought the 'he' referred to Connor, not the bully. You could just replace 'as he' with 'who' and that should clear it all up nicely.

    But that's it. Everything else works really well for me. Great stuff! I hope my thoughts help :)

  2. Thanks for your comments, Lorna! I

  3. Hi Courtney,

    You've immediately set up a world both different and yet similar - bullies and being bullied are common experiences (unfortunately) and many can relate. Connor standing up for the other kid immediately gets us to warm up to him.

    My question would be why didn't he continue to walk past? It appeared he'd resolved to do so the paragraph before, and then he didn't.

    Also, the reaction of Mr. Hagan (or lack thereof) to the situation it appears he's recognized and seen before feels out of character for a person of authority.

    Nitpicking, but that was really it. The story is off to a great start. The different categories of gifted people is exciting! Can't wait to read more.


  4. Just a few suggestions to consider along with my initial reaction:
    So much for Guardians protecting the Ungifted. -> change to next line and place in italics
    “Watch where you’re going, junk-genes,” Max hissed. (LOVE THIS LINE)
    Connor flinched and stopped short. (This shift to Connor is a bit confusing)
    Max shook the Ungifted kid and Connor stopped. “Come on man, leave him alone.”
    (this transition is a little awkward)
    he charged like a bull. -> Try to avoid similes when possible
    Connor tightened his grip and asked again, this time more slowly, “Are. You. Done?” -the periods between each word tell us “slowly” so I think you can lose the adverb and drop the phrase “this time more slowly”
    I’d have to agree with others that the situation seemed to diffuse too easily. Hagan knows there are issues, but completely lets it slide.
    The humor seems a little displaced at the end. You’ve built up tension with the fight, then it dissipates quickly and morphs into humor with, maybe, a not so subtle attempt at foreshadowing? Also, I don’t think joking around with a school instructor about hiding weapons in baked good would be the first place a student who didn’t know the instructor would go.

    Overall, I love this concept. It reminds me of Sky High (one of mine and my kids’ favorite movies). I’d definitely keep reading. So many ways this could go and all the different powers will make for a fun read. Probably my favorite from a very talented group.

  5. Courtney, this was kind of heart breaking! And I love that :) Bullies, like other comments have noted, are a great universal character and theme and I have to say it's kind of refreshing to see, right off the bat, our MC who presents as an under dog, so effectively shut the bully down in an impressive display of strength and restraint. I think the Bear teacher shows a bit of teachers being on the receiving end of some bullying as well, and I like adult/kid alliances. I was also confused by the sentence "...the bully as he jerked the kid up by his collar." Thought it was Conner. But stuff like that is easy to fix. Keep an eye on the exposition, some comments seemed confused by who was who and what was what, and I tend to agree - I followed but younger readers might get bogged down? I like this premise a lot, there are a million places for tension and conflict, and I am really interested to see why he must keep his talents secret, why he has to keep moving, and I LOVE the phrase "Mercy Kid" Kids who need parents are a special, beloved theme of mine, and in the context it has a ton of potential with the themes of inherent talent and what truly matters in humanity. Well done!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Jen! Super helpful. Need to figure out how to make it clear that even though Connor took Max down, the issue isn't resolved and this will definitely not be their last encounter. Maybe some more foreshadowing will help clear up what Tim and Lorna had issues with and I definitely need to clarify who is doing what.

  6. Your writing is great. This is a well-constructed scene, but I'm going to be the bad guy and ask a question. Is there anywhere else this could happen besides at school? I see so many YA novels begin there. It's okay if it can't, but if there's another place that could work, do it.

    I like the attention to detail, to what's going on internally as well as externally. I would rearrange and tighten for emphasis and flow.

    The flag, the words over the brick entrance, then the sounds (don't forget what Connor hears) that draws his attention to Max, shoving or picking up the kid.

    Instead of telling us the words are golden, then stating the words, then repeating that there are words, just condense all of that into one. Move us through things quicker. Also, I prefer it when writers let the reader feel the irony rather than having it pointed out to them--even by the main character. So I'd delete his internal though about how the Ungifted aren't protected in reality.

    When Max shoves the kid, use that as the dialogue tag and then have the sentence "So much for Guardians protecting the Ungifted." be his internal dialogue in italics. It will get the point across even better without all the glare.

    Unlike others, I actually like the paragraph about the last school, because it would cross his mind. But it would do so with less words, and you need to trust your reader to pick up on things and fill out the details later. It's a balancing act with the amount of information to give, but the general idea is to only give what is necessary.

    The hissed phrase made Connor flinch and stop short. He’d blown his California cover by Telekinetically shoving someone across the soccer field.

    Let us wonder why--and guess by his current actions that he was probably doing it for a good reason. The telling us isn't necessary. Then slip in another sentence in a page or two that lets us know that "helping Ungifted always gets him in trouble" or something like that. You can do better, knowing the story. Just an idea to spread out the telling while building his character and tension at the same time.

    Redundancies: just, even, seriously, bully
    You begin fifteen sentences with 'Connor.' Several with 'Max.' Try and vary your sentence structures.

    Cliche phrases like 'on fire, out of earshot, mind your own business, in the air, pecking order, good one' are okay once in a while but making unique phrases the way your character would say it will make your writing--and your character--fresh and new.

    Really looking forward to next week! I love the story!

    1. I was worried about having it start at school. Problem is that Connor doesn't go anywhere but there or home because he's trying to stay under the radar. Might have an idea to fix it though. I'll play with it :) Thank you for your advice and encouragement.

  7. Hello Courtney,

    Thank you for sharing your work with us today!

    Your scene has a good underlying structure and flow, and the writing is easy to follow, so well done! What I would focus on for this scene is big picture concept: setting, goals, and conflict.

    So, we meet Connor (whose name I'm a bit confused about bc it is different from the title?) in the opening scene, where he is starting at a new school. Does this mean he's moved to a new area? A new state/town? Is this a closed neighborhood of telekinetic people? How does it vary from where he was before?

    It's great to open with the moment of change in a character's journey--after all, the novel as a whole should be the story of the character trying to return to normal--but this scene doesn't distinguish itself. The school is not visually striking and the characters fit the standard molds (bully, junk genes/muggle), so it doesn't really inspire fresh images in the reader's mind. We want this scene to grab them hard with an interesting setting. If he's moved to a new area, he could theoretically encounter new students in any manner of town establishment (coffee shop, gas station, junk yard, library, path in the woods). Giving us a very specific setting will help hook the reader and keep them reading.

    The basic scene structure here does provide a conflict (save the cat, which is good!), but we are missing a little more emphasis on Connor's goals and how they are unique. This harkens back to where he was before this and what happened there (which we don't need spelled out, although it should feel very specific). Think about if you ran into someone on their first day of work or school--that person would be making comparisons and have specific goals for their day/week/year...and we need those specifics to become attached enough to Connor to keep reading. Also, ensure that this goal is in some way fresh. Wanting to avoid expulsion isn't a very interesting goal, so we need to understand something more about what makes it special. Is this his 14th school? Has he been thrown out that many times? Is this his last chance? What happens if he blows it? For reference, Victoria Schwab's THIS SAVAGE SONG opens with a female character in a similar situation.

    Once we understand Connor's specific goals, the conflict will be more compelling. We need Connor in danger of failing to meet his goal because of the conflict he's entering into. Plus, we need that conflict to again have a sense of freshness. How can you turn a stereotype on it's head and give us something unusual? How can this conflict be visually unique and surprising? What is one thing that could happen that no one would expect?

    Good luck with your revision. With some tweaks, this scene could be really compelling for readers. I look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

    My best,
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five mentor

    1. Thanks for your comments, Melanie! Need to figure out how to make it clear that he's not worried about expulsion, but getting caught by the government and why his last name is different than in the title. You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks again!