Sunday, April 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Stoker

Name: K. Stoker
Genre: YA Science Fiction

Pickup for you.

My headphones buzzed with a message from my boss, Eiiji Minami. The message sounded through the automated voice of my handheld electropaper, or EP, and the voice sounded tired, but a little snarky. Or maybe that was just my current mood.

The stale air of Kyoto in the summer sagged against my skin. The early morning sun peaked out from behind the mountains, but the closeness of the buildings meant most of the street remained draped in shadow. Above me, marking the sky like giant kanji, were trails from airships headed to Osaka and Tokyo. Only a few weeks until the Oban Race and already the hotels were filling as spectators flocked to the bigger cities for the qualifying races. 

I flipped the switch for my hovers. My hovercycle, an outdated Shuriken 500z, lifted off the ground. Like a traditional motorcycle, the hovercycle had two wheels, but only used for backup when the electric battery ran out or the hovers failed for some reason. 

Job location sent to your maps, dear.

I shuddered. Even with the automated voice I could tell the messages had switched from Eiiji to his son Kosuke. That meant this wasn’t going to be a simple errand. Kosuke Minami hovered in the gray space between legal and illegal, and I knew the longer I worked for him the closer I was to sliding forever into the illegal category.

Across the narrow street my elderly neighbors nodded to me as the water from their potted plants ran down the street. The moisture seeped into the drains beneath the street and would eventually end in the Kamogawa River. A simple cycle, repeating forever. 

I let out a long sigh. Another pickup, another job. A simple cycle, repeating forever. I pulled in the clutch and let the engine rumble below me, imagining that somehow my bike could feed me its energy. I let out the clutch and the bike rocketed forward.

Minutes later, I stopped my bike at a stoplight and pulled out my EP to check the map. A bright red dot hovered over a warehouse just a few blocks south of where I was, east of the Kamogawa River.  I stuffed the thin device back in my pocket and tapped my fingers on the handlebars of my bike. Pedestrians shuffled across the crosswalk as multi-seater transcycles, speedcycles and a few hovercycles waited for the light to change. 

The light turned green and my bike surged forward. 

I pulled in the clutch with my left hand and closed the throttle with my right, pressing down on the gearshift with my left foot to bump it from first into second. I angled the front hovers of the bike as I turned toward the river. Using my right foot, I pushed off from the curb, hopping my bike off the black pavement and onto the uneven stone of the concrete path that led to the river.  My 500z jolted forward, skipping over the bumpy ground as the hover propulsion tried to find flat ground. 

I swerved around a pole, almost scraping my knee on the concrete wall that jutted out from beneath an overgrown bush.  I pushed off with my other foot, just keeping my balance as I jerked the front tire around the pile of trash bags the collectors hadn’t grabbed yet. Somewhere behind me the large waste-transcycle rumbled through the narrow streets, robotic arms reaching out to grab the color-coded bags.

My speed increased as I steered the bike down hill. The sounds of traffic faded and the morning sun glinted on the lazy river. A literal breath of fresh air. I inhaled slowly, trying to avoid ingesting the morning gnats. A few black dragonflies floated on the slow breeze, darting back and forth across the path in front of my hovercycle. Hissing cicadas hung on trees, singing the song of summer. As I headed downriver, the force of gravity and the speed of my bike pushed me faster and faster. For a moment, with the wind in my face and the bike engine vibrating underneath me, I felt free.

A few minutes later I parked my bike outside of the warehouse. The street was empty, just a few solitary vending machines standing as sentinels along the quiet street. An occasional bus or transcycle rattled down the street and from a few blocks over I could hear the glorious roar of a speedcycle engine. 

I pulled my EP out of my pocket. It was a simple hand-sized piece of electropaper that could receive and transmit simple wireless messages. Cheap, prone to breaking, like everything else I owned. From it Kosuke’s instructions glared out at me.

Before 8AM. Box labeled 56JJHL, bring to downtown office. Cameras in warehouse disabled.

I clicked off my hovers, letting my bike sink back down to the ground, bouncing slightly on the back up tires. I walked my bike to a small alleyway across from the warehouse, checking the street again to make sure it was deserted. The hovercycle stayed hidden in the narrow space between buildings as I casually walked to the vending machine near the large roll up door of the warehouse.

Standing in front of the vending machine, I pretended to examine the selection of coffees and energy drinks. Instead, I scanned the exterior of the concrete warehouse, wondering how exactly I was supposed to get in. A quick check at the rolling door revealed that it was locked, no surprises there. I stationed myself back in front of the vending machine and sent Kosuke a text.

Doors locked.

I selected the cheapest item in the vending machine, a small bottle of water, and had finished half of it before Kosuke texted me back.

Enter from the second floor. Window left open.

“What?” I said, looking back at the three story concrete building.

There were no windows facing the street. Next to the warehouse on one side was a construction site and on the other a doctor’s clinic, currently closed. The clinic had outside stairs that led to its second floor, hopefully next to the warehouse’s elusive window. 

I walked straight up the stairs, as if I had an appointment with the non-existent doctor. Sure enough the warehouse had a small window peaking out at the stairwell. From the top of the stairs, I could feel eyes on me, watching me, and I knew I had been here too long. I stolen dozens of items for Kosuke, and though I never knew what they were, I knew my chances of getting caught increased everyday. 

But Kosuke had said there were no cameras. I reached the top of the stairs and leaned across the railing to the window of the warehouse. With a gentle push the window swung open. At the sound of footsteps, I glanced back at the street. Just a woman walking her tiny dog. The fluffy animal wore a pink suit that matched the woman’s, but neither dog nor human looked up to where I was. Within minutes they had flounced away, probably off for a walk by the river. 

Heart pounding, I crawled over the stair railing and into to the now open window. Inside the dark warehouse I could make out piles of boxes. I checked the instructions on my phone again and then got to work. Ten minutes later I’d found the box, which was small enough to tuck into my shirt. 


  1. Hi. K.

    Love that this starts with a robbery. I've already interested in what happens next. I do think it might help to start a tiny bit later. It takes too many paragraphs for me to figure out what your MC is going to do. A thought might be to start at "Another pickup, another job. A simple cycle, repeating forever." I don't need to know that information in the first few paragraphs, yet.

    I also think that you could tighten up the motorcycle play by play. I love the description of the streets, but I think most people know the basics of riding a motorcycle (or at least it's not worth spending your precious few words so much on that).

    I'd like more of the MC's internal thoughts about going to out for another job. What does the MC think about the boss calling them "dear". Maybe in the transmission, the boss could call him or her by name so we get a clue about the MC?

    I like this story and feel like it's building to something super exciting and I'm intrigued! Great descriptions!

    Mary Jolley

  2. I also like starting with the theft. This is a great way to start with trouble. The main character is clearly conflicted about working for Kosuke and this helped me root for her even as she helps him steal. Could you give us a hint as to why she goes along with the theft? E.g., does he have something on her? Is Eiiji part of the thefts, or is that just Kosuke?

    You do a great job describing all of the action. I found all of this very clear and easy to follow. I loved "like giant kanji" - wonderful visual image. Your writing is very strong, and you're doing a great job setting the stage. Elements like the electronic paper and hovercycle help establish this nicely as near-future sci-fi.

    You do a great job too describing the riding of the hovercycle. (I ride a semi-automatic motorbike, and this all felt natural to me.) I agree that we may not need so much of this description right now. In particular, I think you could trim the section where the MC is riding to the warehouse.

    I love the contrast between the MC feeling trapped by her employers and feeling free on her hovercycle.

    Does the MC take any steps to conceal her identity at the warehouse? You could use something like this to show how she feels about Kosuke, does she trust him when he says there are no cameras, for example.

    I think this is already off to a strong start, and I want to read on.


  3. I like the MC internal conflict, stated as "I knew the longer I worked for him the closer I was to sliding forever into the illegal category." That draws me in the most. It creates many questions.

    My eyes gloss over when anyone talks about vehicles, etc., so I didn't want as much play-by-play of the bike. I actually got confused because hover sounds more like in the air, but it reads like the bike is on the ground.

    I also wanted to know more about the MC. Is it a he or she? Did I miss that? What is his/her motivation to keep this job? Are jobs hard to come by?

    I like the MC because they seem like an underdog type and I know they are not happy with the illegal activity. But I would need a more propelling reason to root for them because of the illegal activity. Someone sick at home, for example.

    I enjoyed the premise and would continue reading to learn more. Well done!


  4. Thanks everyone for the help! I recently redid my opening scene (by cutting out a long conversation with her neighbors) and I didn't realize I'd never mentioned the MC's name, oops!
    Also, I finally changed my goole profile, so hopefully that wasn't too confusing :)

  5. Hi K!

    Sorry I'm a little late with my comments but here are my thoughts on this first draft:

    I love the line about sliding into the illegal category forever, makes me really want to know what sort of activities she gets into. I also really liked the comparison between the MC and the river cycle. It's something that I connect well with.

    I felt it was a little heavy on the hovercycle information and riding it - I kind of skimmed over it actually - I really wanted to get to the action of the heist instead of reading about getting there.

    I am really curious about where this will go and who the MC is and would love to read more!

    Look forward to reading more!

  6. Hi Karie,

    I like the straight forward feel I get from the first quarter of the opening. (Can I just say 'airships' <3!) You have a little telling in the first few paragraphs. A bit of telling is okay when it's done to acclimate the reader into the world, etc... However, I don't think it's productive in the first part of an opening. Plus, it slows down the flow that you're creating nicely. For instance, you don't need to explain exactly what a hovercycle is in comparison to today's motorcycle just yet. That can come a little later. Just say she jumps on it. You've already clued the reader into the fact that this is a different world. They'll expect to read elements they don't fully understand as long as those elements are eventually explained.

    You've added subtle tension by simply mentioning that her boss's kid sways between the legal and the illegal. That's really nicely done.

    I found little things such as word choices repeating - sounding, stopped/stoplight, etc... These are extremely minor, but once changed can add a ton to your work. Another - places like the paragraph that starts with 'A few minutes later...' The placement of this phrase is directly after a paragraph of your MC driving around. It's kind of inferred that the character would eventually stop because that is his/her mission. You can leave wordage like that out. Also, I'm about halfway through reading and I just realized that I'm not sure if your MC is male or female. (Other than for the boss's kid using the word 'dear', which makes me think it's a female.) Maybe make that clearer earlier on. Although the writing is very nice, you also don't need to explain the mechanics of driving the hovercycle in as much detail as you have - left hand, right hand, etc...

    You do a nice job at taking the reader along your MC's journey to break into this building. I definitely want to know what happens next! Thank you for letting me read your work. Looking forward to your revisions.


  7. Hi Karie,
    Thank you so much for sharing this! I love a good sci-fi!
    I have to start off by saying that your talent for grounding readers in the setting is exquisite. Very nice job, especially in this genre.

    I think in the first few paragraphs, we get a sense of setting and also of a number of other characters. But some of it feels like a a lot of information overload. New setting, new tech, new people. I'd love to see some of that spread out over the next few paragraphs so that we aren't getting too bogged down with details to remember as readers. And instead, that we are learning more about the main character and what will connect us to him/her.

    The part about the plants seems like it might be theme connected somehow later. But right now it doesn't add anything to the story and seems a bit awkwardly placed there. I would consider moving it to later when it might be able to come into play more organically.

    I love the scene setting when the character is out in traffic. Very organic. Nicely done.

    One thing I would like to see more of is internal reactions from the character throughout. I have a lot of the actual actions. But what about internal reactions? I want to know more about the personality. And I don't feel I'm getting that up front in these pages. Is this an android? Because that's okay, too. There will still be enough something in the internal thoughts/reactions/emotions if there are any to bring forward and make this character seem relatable to the reader.

    Since there is so much talk about how the motorcycle-type vehicle works, perhaps spending some time connecting through the character's thoughts and feelings about the bike will be a good way to bring that forward. I just need more thoughts/feelings to come up a bit here. :)

    Also, something that could really increase the tension, is if we knew how the character felt/what the character thought about this package pickup. If they have feelings or thoughts of a tense nature, that will really bring in more story tension.

    Again, thank you for sharing. I think this is off to a good start, and I can't wait to see what you do with it.

    The first paragraph of this piece transports us directly into a futuristic world with a strong whiff of danger. The great use of detail serves to orient and gives us context. Our protag is a futuristic bike messenger with veiled emotions and a willingness for some minor larceny. The writing here is strong and confident. I strongly suspect some breadcrumbs have been laid down that will pay off later in the story. All that being said, what I wish to see more of is the protag—it must be deliberate that there is no obvious gender—but a glimpse or two behind the veil will humanize this piece and give us someone to care about. It’s only five pages, but you want us to care from page one! We admire clever descriptive phrases—but we care about people and how they feel. You’ve got a great start here. Can’t wait to see more. One suggestion—unless this is deliberate too—is to vary your sentence lengths. That will give you texture and an element of surprise to the reader. Good luck!