Sunday, May 7, 2017

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - McDermott

Name: Arran McDermott
Genre: Young Adult paranormal
Title: Supra/normal

Supranormal (adj.)—beyond the range of the normal or scientifically explainable

Chapter One

When I first saw my name on the sheet telling me to report for a mandatory blood test, I was sure it had to be a mistake. The only reason they tested anyone was to decide whether you were normal, or a supra. If your blood came back positive as the latter, you were pretty much screwed.

I stood in the school hallway as the others kids passed back and forth, wishing I could reach through the glass and tear up the sheet. There were only two other names on it—both students several grades younger than me. We were supposed to get tested at birth, and again when we reached puberty. Somehow I had slipped through the cracks. Until now.

You see, having powers the average person could only dream of was no gift. If you had the cursed gene, your options were to run and hide or turn yourself in to the authorities. But I wasn’t scared of finding out the result. What scared me was everyone else learning what I already knew.

When I was twelve years old I discovered I wasn’t a norm. I didn’t know at the time where my powers came from. But since we never spoke my father's name at home—though my loser stepdad drifted in and out of our lives like an alcoholic wisp—I guessed he was a supra too. I had no memory of him, but his death soon after my birth broke my mother in a way she never recovered from.

That was the reason I never told her about my powers. By the time I was in my sophomore year at Kurtzberg High, I was your average don’t-stand-out-in-the-crowd girl. I only had one friend, Journey, and even her I kept at a careful distance. She didn't seem to notice how little I talked about myself as long as she had someone to discuss her weirdly erotic anime dreams with.

One of the few times I confided in her was about Steve Peterson. He was a star athlete in the same year as me, but that wasn’t why I liked him. No, my reasons were even shallower and they involved shaggy hair you wanted to run your fingers through, dreamy hazel eyes, chiseled cheekbones, and a nice smile. You get the idea.  The problem was, anyone who could make me get all wobbly kneed just by smiling was bad news. Not to mention dating wasn't my thing. That mushy crap would only cause problems down the road.

Despite my attempting to play it cool, Journey had caught on to my crush. During lunch that day, with my mind still reeling from the news of the test, she got me to spill the beans.

“Julie, he is cute, girl,” she said, in between chugging milk. “But he’s kinda weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“He never hangs out with anyone else for long. Even though he's popular—because of his looks, you know. And how he talks. All cool like.”

Whatever that meant. “Maybe he’s just shy.”

She pulled her glasses away from her dark brown eyes, giving me a dubious look. “Come on. Dude’s a basketball star, and he’s running for class president. Shy ain’t part of the package. I think he thinks he’s better than us. He’s a snob, you know?”

“Yeah, you’re right. I should totally ignore him.”

But there was no chance of that. I’d had crushes before. This was something else. I felt a connection to him, for some strange reason. It bugged the crap out of me.

However, it wasn’t Steve that I thought about that night, but the test I would have to take the next day. I tossed and turned for hours, while my two brothers snored loudly. We all had to share a bedroom in our tiny rundown apartment in the projects. Privacy was not part of my life.

I lay awake and thought about how all my good grades and efforts to stay out of trouble at school would soon count for nothing. Once the authorities found out what I was, they would send me off to a special prison or God knows where. I had read stories of it happening to others before.

It was because of the Great Supranormal War. I still remember sitting in a semi-circle in my first grade class as the teacher, Mrs. Green, had told us about it.

“Who can tell me what a supra is?” she asked, peering at the class over her spectacles. The sunlight coming in the window gave her thick hair a halo effect.

A boy raised his hand. “They’re superheroes, Mrs. Green. They can jump up buildings and knock people into space and shoot lasers out of their eyes.”

He mimed a laser hitting him. The whole class burst out laughing, me included.

“No,” Mrs. Green said, slamming a book down on her desk to silence the class. “They were not superheroes. Supras used their powers to wage war and kill innocent people. The cities of New York and Washington were destroyed. The world might have ended if one man hadn’t saved us. Can you tell me who that man was, class?”

The fact that a portrait of this man hung over her shoulder in the classroom was kind of a big hint. Still, it took some prompting before we answered in unison, “Supreme President Stevenson, Mrs. Green.”

“Yes,” she said, beaming. “The Supreme President discovered the supras’ weakness and defeated them. He rebuilt New York into the great city we now live in, New Rome, and made it our country’s capital. The Supreme President has kept us safe ever since. But there could still be supras somewhere out there.”

She brought up a slide on the screen behind her. It showed a war-torn city, the buildings reduced to rubble. Skeletal bodies lay in the streets, their flesh removed by some terrible power. Mrs. Green stared at us unflinchingly, obviously seeing nothing wrong with exposing young kids to this sight.

“This is what happens when supra are allowed to roam free. So never think they are heroes, children. If you ever see one you must report them to a teacher or an adult immediately. If another army of supras rises, the war will start over and we will lose everything.”

She stopped, letting the weight of her words sink into our young minds. Then she smiled. “Now who would like some milk and cookies?”

In the weeks to follow, we had learned more about the orchestrator of the war, Dr. Dalton. The worst supra of all, she could supposedly make people’s brains explode just by looking at them. She died in the final battle, but the mere mention of her name still struck fear into children, like our own personal boogeyman. It was a reminder of why we had to be vigilant.

Yeah, I was innocent enough back then to believe all that.

The morning of the test, I barely ate, while my brothers shoveled marshmallow cereal into their mouths. The kitchen was really more of an alcove next to the living room, and an iron girder running overhead made it seem even more cramped. I looked over at the sink piled up with dishes, and realized that probably wouldn’t get cleaned until I came home from school.


  1. I must say, I love the opening paragraph to your story. I was immediately sucked in and worried for this person.

    In the second paragraph, you build even more tension. Somehow, they slipped through the cracks. Perfect. Now she's going to get caught.

    In chapter three, you give me the answer to why having the blood test is a bad thing. Awesome. Tension builds a bit more. And you even ramp it up by saying the only option is to run or turn yourself into the authorities. So now I'm all charged up for a chase to take place, or something worse.

    Then it stops and back story takes over. Instead of telling me what her powers are, you tell me about her crush on a guy, her friend Journey, and how the world changed in a way that put anyone with super powers on a hit list. Even though I loved the part about Mrs. Green, I would have liked the child who asked the question to be the MC instead of someone else.

    What I wanted was more of that tension from the beginning three paragraphs. How the world came to be the way it is can come later, in my opinion of course. I want to feel the MC's fear of the impending blood test, and what she's going to do about it, since you told us the only options were to run or turn yourself in.

    My biggest question is why isn't she running? Why does she expect the dishes won't get cleaned until she gets home if she may never come home? That or you totally got me, and it's someone else who is going to end up in trouble.

  2. Arran,
    I like how you show where this is going right from the start.
    Paragraph 4 was confusing. It almost seemed like you were about to indicate that your MC inherited the supra thing from her step-dad. Maybe just tell us earlier in that paragraph that she never knew her real father? (minor)
    Loner from the projects dating a class president jock. It seems like that might deserve a more incredulous tone from the MC or Journey. How did that relationship come about? Maybe even just a hint.
    This situation would be absolutely terrifying. I feel like the stress could be emphasized instead of diluted by the talk of the boyfriend so early in this first chapter. It seems like he would be the furthest thing from her mind once she saw she'd be tested. Maybe Journey could be talking to her about him, but I would guess the MC's body would be tortured and sweating and her mind would be a million miles away.
    I really like the concept, but wonder if the reader, along with the MC, should be essentially getting smashed over the head with this terrifying situation right from the get go.

  3. Arran,
    Great opening paragraphs. We know what determines supernaturalness- blood, we know that some controlling power in this world mandates testing, and we know that if blood is positive- you're screwed. I love getting details without being given the details- like "past puberty." Okay, now I have an age range. I found the information about her home felt a little different in voice than the other parts. Additionally, the shift between the Dr. Dalton info and the morning the test felt abrupt. You could finish that paragraph that she would meet her boogey man tomorrow for the test. I want to know how she discovered she wasn't normal at 12- what happened, and how did she conceal her powers? I am thinking that since Steve is kind of weird and a loner, he is probably a supra too. That will be interesting to read- maybe they run together.
    Great start to what I am sure will be a great novel.

  4. This was very interesting. I enjoyed reading it and couldn't find too much to change. Best line: "weirdly erotic anime dreams" :D

    I would watch the backstory, though. I too have this issue of trying to explain too much too soon. Maybe spread it out a bit more to keep the flow of the story going. I got confused when it went from her standing in the hallway reading her name, to backstory, then she's at home in bed. And after that we're back into backstory with her in the 1st grade. It's an interesting scene but it took me out of the story a bit.

    I was a getting a bit of a "Snowpiercer" vibe from the 1st grade classroom scene and the Supreme President. Not a bad thing at all.

    You have a great opening and I would love to read more.
    Good luck!

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  6. This piece has a lot of style. Your protagonist has a great voice, and the milk and cookies line is priceless. But you need to start with a scene instead of a series of flashbacks. The first six paragraphs are basically one long info dump, and they overwhelm the reader with information instead of seducing them into the story. Let Julie see her name on the sheet and stare. Maybe have Journey come over to ask what's wrong. You don't need to spell out how serious the results of the blood test could be--tell us through Julie's sense of panic. Then have her go home and tell her mother and alcoholic stepfather. Don't tell your reader that Dad is dead, let them figure it out. Basically, expand, expand, expand.

    It's a great start. Keep working on it.

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  8. Hi Aaran,

    Wow. A LOT to love in this. Great voice, immediate tension, a rapid pace, and high stakes right off the bat. We know exactly where this story is headed in terms of genre and reader expectation--I get a Hunger Games meets X-men vibe--and readers would already be buckling in for a great adventure. As a reader, I'd be eager to keep reading.

    That said, there are a few things that I think you could tweak to good purpose.

    1) I'd love to know that she's a girl sooner. I loved the voice even more once I figured out that she was female, but it was a little bit unexpected because there's something subtly masculine about the voice. You can make that work for you, but I think you need to establish her gender sooner to use that to your advantage.

    2) Really consider whether you want to address the reader directly with things like, "You see . . ." It pulled me out of the story a bit, and I don't think that you need it. The voice works as intimate and fresh without it.

    3) While I like her interaction with Journey, and loved Journey as a character, I felt that the scene didn't fit in the place where you put it because you're dissipating the tension you've built instead of continuing to develop it. I do think you could make it work, but you have to integrate it somehow. If that scene was one in which Julie was totally distracted by the letter and trying to figure out what to do about it, and Journey attributed that distraction to Steve walking by with his entourage, for example, and then things developed from there . . . You might be able to pull it off. There are a thousand ways to skin that cat, but the key is that Julie has to be distracted. The key to anything when you're slivering in backstory is that you need to constantly ask yourself whether the reader really needs to know that information and whether they really need to know it at right that moment. Also, if you can show a character you're talking about--especially one as important as Steve promises to be--you're always going to engage the reader more.

    4) As a corollary to the above, while I like that Julie is cool under pressure, I don't buy that she would just go to the guillotine without at least trying to formulate a plan. She can go through all the reasons that running isn't an option, she can eliminate ways to fool the blood test, but she should *show* signs of fight early on--more critically, she needs to *show* signs of tension.

    5) The "info dump" that's been mentioned above in terms of the backstory is critical, but again, it doesn't have to be info dump at all. Just shift it to scene. Show us her mother, her stepfather. She could look for a photo of her dad, ask her mother about her father, whatever. The Hunger Games *was* actually criticized for having a slow first 50 pages by quite a few readers, but Suzanne Collins put us immediately into scene with textures and world building, action and relationships. More importantly, she showed us that Katniss had people that she was fighting for. That's a huge difference in setting her up as a character we want to root for. I'd really recommend seeing how you can shift the backstory into scene a little bit and develop that fight and tension. Go back and look at Divergent. That's a textbook structure, with the human connection and the stakes set out right off the bat, developing our character, then the whammy hits us. I wouldn't change the beginning, but I think that you actually have room to slow this down and build the writing a bit, develop the scenes.


  9. 6) I'd love to see some added worldbuilding in here. Right now, it could be any high school. And it's interesting that you mentioned HG in your comment above, because that's where my mind went as soon as you said New Rome. I'm not sure that you really want to go there that blatantly, but okay, if you're going to go, go. Show us the effect of President Snow/Stevenson has had on society.

    Bottom line--the single unifying comment behind all this: show us. Bring us deeper into the story with details, emotions, sights, smells, sounds. Show us how the world is different and how the character is engaged in that world. : ) That doesn't have to be an enormous change, sliver the worldbuilding into what you already have and shift some of the backstory into scene.

    Looking forward to the revision!

  10. HI!

    First of all I love the idea here and am totally into it! I think you have some great info here, it just needs a bit better organization and building out. As is I kept thinking (and don't shoot me) "Show don't tell!" But you have such GREAT stuff here, I want you to show us and draw us right into a specific scene. I felt like it jumped around a bit and I would love to see it start with her either getting the letter and her reaction OR waiting like she is, but not jumping back and around. Ground us and set us up.

    Also Martina beat me to it, but I really thought this was a guy until you said she was a girl much later. I couldn't really pinpoint why, but I felt like it was a guy's voice. So just bringing that up somehow earlier would be helpful.

    I can't wait to read the revision!! :D