Sunday, April 16, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Riley Rev 2

Name: Lorna Riley
Title: Locusts
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller

Locusts are ravaging the earth. Only America is immune, so far. Science-prodigy Nila is close to finding the answer, but MonoGlobal have other plans. Stopping her is their number 1 priority.

17-year-old Bostonian Nila is all set. Having won a prestigious science award for her research, she is just about to join her mother working for MonoGlobal, finishing her father’s work on a new pesticide to defeat the locusts. But plagued by her father’s suicide, Nila defies her mother and drops out. Searching for a new purpose, she comes face to face with the horrors of the animal testing lab at MonoGlobal and joins an animal rights group. But when they break in to set the animals free, a mutant swarm of locusts is unleashed. Nila discovers this was MonoGlobal’s plan all along – to cripple America’s economy and monopolize all global markets. Nila must work with her mother to complete her father’s work, defeat MonoGlobal, and save America from the mutant swarm.

Revision 2:

I am my father’s daughter. That’s what people tell me.

It’s supposed to make me feel… something.

But all I feel as I sit here, waiting for the curtains to go up, is the bright white of the stage lights bearing down on me, scorching the air that I breathe. Burning me up from the inside out.

I throw a quick glance over towards the wings. Mom told me to turn my palm pad off, but I switched it to manual instead. As subtly as I can, I rest my hand on my lap, palm up, and swipe through to my second skin controls, adjusting the temperature. A cool wave covers my body, and I start to breathe easier.

A burst of laughter makes me look up. The three other finalists are lined up next to me, and Lucinda’s sideways in her chair, hanging off Leo’s every word. They’re all smiles and teeth. Ready to take a chunk out of each other to make sure they win.

Hope. Desperation. Murderous determination, even. It’s burning in their eyes.

They need it.

The Harvard scholarship. The prestige of being The International Young Scientist of the Year.

All of it.
“May the best man win.” Leo leans over and grins, flashing his sparkling white teeth. As perfect as the rest of him. Not a single blond hair out of place.

It makes me want vomit on his polished brown brogues.

“So that’ll be Qiu, then?”


I don’t say anything, refusing to rise to his feigned ignorance.

“Oh, you mean head-brace boy?” He looks over his shoulder at Qiu, who’s sat at the end, doing his best to pretend he hasn’t heard every word. But I can see the red heat surging up his neck. Leo clutches his chest, with a pained expression. “I’m hurt. So hurt, right now.”

“Don’t. Tempt. Me.”

“Nila!” Mom calls from the wings and hurries over. Then, lowering her voice, though not quite enough, she says, “Ignore him. He’s not worth it!”

“Yes, Mom.”

She raises her eyebrows at my tone, but before she can jump down my throat, Professor Albright claps his hands. “Right ladies and gentlemen, shall we get started?”

Mom turns to leave, but then she hesitates, looking down at my hands. “Stop that.”

“Your fingers. Stop twiddling.” I sit on my hands and start chewing the inside of my cheek instead. Mom shakes her head. “Honestly, you’ve nothing to worry about. You aced the presentation. Everyone was completely blown away. Including the competition.”

The corner of my mouth twitches. If only she knew what I did to make that possible. But today she’s not let me out of her sight for one second. I can’t take it.

The professor clears his throat. Everyone’s waiting.


I nod at the professor, and she turns around all smiles.

“So sorry.”
As Mom leaves, Professor Albright steps up to the podium. The curtains go back, and a burst of enthusiastic applause breaks the silence. “Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2069 International Young Scientist of the Year Awards.

“I trust you have all enjoyed perusing the displays provided by our four finalists. Some impressive work, I’m sure you agree. Indeed, all of us at the university feel truly honored to have hosted some of the world’s brightest minds here today, from as far afield as Asia, Europe, and South America.”

Someone in the audience coughs. A few people clap politely. And I resist the urge to bury my head in my hands. I know he’s trying to make a point, but seriously? Mom and I moved from Lima five years ago. Qiu’s from Houston. But I’ll give him Lucinda. She’s from London. Though, from the look on her face, she’s not so happy about being called European.

They always said the fencing along the English Channel was just to keep the locusts out, but everyone knows it’s for the people trying to escape them too. We’ve all seen the global news reports. The food camps. The gaunt faces staring blankly through the fences.

Scientific research isn’t exactly the most pressing concern for most.
“However, I’m pleased to say, a winner has been chosen! And so, without further ado, I will hand you over to our sponsor! Lara Simmonds of MonoGlobal!”

Sitting up straight, I glance at the others and mimic their smile. Eager. Enthusiastic. Pleased.

Whoops and cheers explode from the crowd as Ms Simmonds joins us on stage. I overheard Leo calling her Annie the other day. I didn’t get it at first. Now it makes perfect sense. The way she walks, even the movement of her head, it’s rigid. Synthesized. The Annie HumAndriod™ 6 that cleans our apartment block is more believably human than her.

Even when it broke down in our living room.

A shudder travels the full length of my body, and I turn my air conditioning down a notch.

As she leans towards the microphone, the clapping stops. “Thank you, Peter. Everyone.”
Holding her hands out, she turns to make eye contact with the four of us on stage. “Each one of our finalists is a winner in their own category. Facing tough competition in each of their respective fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, all their projects blew the judges away with their insight and originality.”

When her eyes rest on me, I sit up even straighter. Smile a little wider. Eager. Enthusiastic.

Please don’t let it be me.
Turning back to the audience, she addresses them all again. “And, yet, the judges’ final decision was unwaveringly unanimous.”

She pauses.

The auditorium is swallowed up by silence.

I can’t breathe.

“And the winner is…”

Shaking my head, I try to remember what Brooke would say. What would she tell me to do?

Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
Forget everything else.

But I can’t.

I can’t do this anymore.

“…Nila Montoya.”
The crowd bursts into ecstatic applause, but I feel as though I’ve been dumped in a vat of glycerol. The sound is a muffled rumble as I try to stand, but my body feels so heavy.

Nothing responds the way it should.
Somehow, I make my way to the podium. Ms Simmonds hands me the glass trophy, and I clutch it to my chest to mask the trembling of my hands.

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to hand this award to you, Nila. Your research into novel ways to bind DNA-modulating molecules to their target sites… I can’t tell you how much you take after your father.”

I stumble back. Almost falling.

But supportive hands catch me from behind.

“Didn’t you know? I visited him not long before he died, hoping he would join us at MonoGlobal. Such a shame. He would have been a real an asset.”

She seems to be lost in her own world for a moment as she shakes her head. “He had such a brilliant mind. Exactly like you. So many ideas literally bubbling out of his head. He would have been so gratified to see you following in his footsteps…”

Her mouth is moving, but I can’t hear the words she’s saying. I just stare back at her.

But it’s not her face I see anymore.

It’s his. Papa. Terrible pustules erupting all over his face. Mom shaking him, trying to wake him up. Screaming at me to get out.

An empty phial in his limp hand.


  1. Oh my goodness, I LOVE the addition of the "like my/her father" refrain. This really ties a lot of things together. The dialogue is really smooth and I think lines up a little better and has more context than it did before (especially love the Annie Humanoid part). Great revisions. I also can feel the sense of place a lot better now. You've left me with good questions that make me want to keep reading. There are a few things that could possibly be clarified more, like Nila's second skin, but this might come later in the MS and it wouldn't be something I'd be bothered by having to wait for.

    The final bit where she's flashing back to her father's death is also super powerful. It makes my SUPER suspicious of Ms. Simmons, particularly since her face and words are what jar the memory into Nila's head. I love it. Great revision :)


    1. Great! Thanks, Courtney! Very glad you're suspicious of Ms Simmonds :)

  2. Great job cutting out the small bits of excess wording. It's tough to find many faults. I wonder if there is something less cliche than MonoGlobal for a company title? It seems a bit too obvious and sounds like 100 other big, evil conglomerate names used in movies and books. That would be my only critique.

    The locust concept is solid and gives you a Bible tie in if you are going that direction.
    The pitches offer clear and compelling stakes

    1. Thanks Tim! Yes, I'v e been through a few different versions of the company name. None of them have felt quite right yet. I'll get there in the end, hopefully!

  3. I'll comment on the Pitch first:
    -I think you need to work that first line into the rest. It's odd to introduce Nila again after you've already mentioned her here. You're also giving the antagonist's goal away here and you need to focus on hers if this is her story.
    -I find her goal a little vague. What does "searching for a new purpose" mean and how will we know when she meets it? Also, this goal should be incited by something that happens in THIS story and not something in her past (although the past can certainly contribute to it). What happens to change her direction here? Is it winning the award or something that happens at the lab (ie, the animal testing)?

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Holly. Yes, you're right. I find it really hard to summarise everything. There are a few cumulative reasons as to why she makes her change, & I was trying to streamline everything. I shall take another look at it, thank you.

  4. Now for the revision:
    -I really like the new first line! It makes it personal and sets up her conflict well.
    -How loud are she and Leo talking? With a big stage and a full auditorium, they would have to be screaming for Qui and her mother to hear. Also, I think it needs to be obvious that her mother is whispering to her. Otherwise, what she says is really rude in front of the other kids.
    -I would like more detail about Ms. Simmonds (like what she is wearing). You're setting up the image of MonoGlobal with her so I think this is important. I like the robotic details but want a bit more.
    -I still don't understand if Ms. Simmonds is talking to her privately about her father or if she's saying this all in the microphone.
    -Finally, why does she stumble? It's not clear what's so shocking to her about Ms. Simmonds knowing her father. If she stumbles at the mention of his name, you need to show us that in her thoughts.


    1. Thanks so much Holly, really useful.
      - So glad you like it :)
      - I can always have them all milling around on stage before the curtains come up. Her mum isn't being intentionally rude exactly, but she says it as she sees it. Plus she thinks Leo is an arrogant so and so. She doesn't see the harm in knocking him down a peg or two, & bolster Nila's confidence in the process.
      - I did have more of a physical description of Ms Simmonds, but cut it out when I added the robotic detail - worrying it was a bit too much - but I can easily put some of it back in again.
      - I can clarify it some more, sorry! Do you think it's a bit too rude of her to mention it to everyone? She's deliberately trying to push Nila's buttons & bring out any latent memories of her father's death. But maybe she can be more subtle about it.
      - I can do a bit more to clarify this too. It's totally to do with her father, the mention of his name, and she hadn't realised that Ms Simmonds had ever met him.

      Thanks again for all your input. It's really appreciated :)

  5. Comments on pitch:

    I've noticed it mentioned in previous comments that you could attempt to work the first line into the rest of your pitch, but quite honestly, I feel as though you would be fine removing it all together. You mention the swarm at the end of your second paragraph which voids out the first mention of it (and I feel like it's stronger in your second paragraph). So in my opinion, you can just cut the entire first portion of the pitch and still purvey the ideas like you already are in the second paragraph.

    Overall I really enjoyed the pitch. It was concise, and didn't feel at all overwhelming. You briefly covered important aspects of the story, which gave me a nice sense of what I can expect from the story. Just need to make sure not to repeat yourself as you're trying to pitch the story, as you've done with the opening section and later mentions throughout the second paragraph.

    Comments on pages:

    First of all, I just want to say that I really enjoyed your opening pages. I do have a few things I want to discuss, and just make note of. I was happy to see that you mentioned Nila's name early on. This might seem like a simple thing, but you will be surprised how many times I get through the first page of a manuscript and have no clue what the main characters name is. You also introduce her in a great way too. I love how you have the inner dialogue leading up to her mother shouting her name. It's a nice way to strengthen the character.

    I like the somewhat eerie introduction to Ms. Simmonds too. She gives off a strange vibe, which I can only assume means she will be an important character throughout the story considering her connection to MonoGlobal, and the comments she makes to Nila about her father.

    I like the way the first five pages end. It's a strong point, with a lot of emotion. I can't help but wonder though, if this could somehow be moved to the first page of the manuscript. If she has her flashback, and gets brought back to reality by her mom yelling at her, instead of having the inner dialogue (although like I mentioned earlier, that is still a great way to open it). I just feel like it might be worth trying the opening to the story with the flashback to her fathers suicide, and then being brought back to reality moments before her name is called. I feel like this could also add more impact to the comments made by Ms. Simmonds as Nila accepts the trophy.

    Overall though I would say you have a really strong set of opening pages. I would urge you to try playing around with the idea of moving up the flashback scene to the opening moments of the manuscript, and seeing how that works. I feel like it will add a little more wow factor right off the bat, and you can expand on that when you have Ms. Simmonds making her comments. And just adjust Nila's reaction accordingly since you would have already used the flashback.

    - Justin Wells (connect with me on Twitter at @Justin_941)

  6. Thanks so much for your feedback, Justin. I'll definitely cut the first paragraph in the pitch & shift the flashback scene up to the opening. I've really enjoyed taking on everyone's suggestions from the workshop - it's been intense, but my MS is definitely much stronger for it!

  7. Hi Lorna,

    From the opening line to the ending visuals, I love the additional information about her father. You can see the thread running through the story and it pulls me in further.

    I don't think I have a problem with anything, so I'll just make a (totally optional) suggestion:

    For the section involving her mother and the other kids on stage, you have an opportunity to add even more discomfort. Embarrassment at her mother talking just a smidge too loud, at coming on the stage out of the wings in the first place - the kids could even get in on it by cracking a few jokes under their breath.

    It's just something to add another layer to you opening story. As a whole, I loved it. Well done again!

    1. Thanks so much, Kwame! You're absolutely right about needing to ramp up the discomfort in that moment - it's there in my head, but not on the page, as yet! Much appreciated :)

  8. Congratulations and great job, Lorna!

    1. Thanks Tim! I still can't quite believe it! The standard was very high from everyone. I'm sure Justin didn't find it easy to choose.