Sunday, June 17, 2018

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Stryker Rev 2

Name: Elisa Stryker
Genre: Young Adult Science Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Hiromi is determined to find a vaccine for the Konadai virus before more people turn into tentacle-tongued mutants. Armed with knowledge as a virology intern, she convinces her childhood friend Kenji into going to their island city’s ruins with her, hoping that his fire-magic abilities will keep them safe while she collects infected tissue samples.

Discovering their mutual friend is bitten but showing no signs of infection, Hiromi considers he’s immune and could be the miracle they need. Then, she realizes extracting the cure could cost their friend his life. Hiromi and Kenji struggle with the decision of sacrificing their friend to save thousands or surrendering a chance for a cure.


Then again, I’m sure the gods said the same thing about us.

The intercom emits a loud beep, snapping me from my thoughts. A calm, almost robotic voice pages one of the many doctors. My lab is isolated on the sixth floor, away from the coughing patients and scurrying medical staff. I prefer it this way. Cultivating a cure for the virus ravaging our island requires me to tuck away the reality of the disease’s horror in my mind, rather than watching people die from it—especially those I know.

The door swings open and Dr. Anette Hanshaw strolls in, focused on the tablet she’s carrying, with a manila folder tucked under her arm.

As I straighten myself in my chair, she drops the file onto my desk; another unwelcome addition to the ever-growing mountain of assigned labor. My chest tightens as I glance down at the stack of pages.

“Here are some paper files since you refuse to use tablets.” Anette’s unbuttoned lab coat reveals a red silk blouse, its color in stark contrast to her dark skin.

Paper doesn’t require power to operate.

I didn’t sign up for the mentorship to be buried under mundane work. I’m here to be a virologist, not a secretary.

Blowing my bangs out of my face, I shove the papers aside and grab my notebook from the drawer. I tap a pen against my lips and let out a long breath, none of my stress exhaled with it.

“Five patients diagnosed with the Konadai Virus were pronounced dead by the time I left the cafeteria.” Anette slides into her chair and pulls on a pair of gloves before filing through a box of microscope slides. “The families didn’t bother to show up.”

Most families don’t.

The time from infection to death is an average of four hours. People would rather stay at home than watch their loved ones suffer.

Paramedics bring people here to die. Every vaccine we create becomes useless within weeks thanks to the virus’ genetic makeup constantly changing. I’ve been an intern for five months and seen three vaccines fail.

I glance at the next page in the notebook. As the infection rate increases, the overall life expectancy drops. When I was born, teens working in the medical field was rare. Now, it’s expected. It’s one of the reasons Monanie Academy first opened. Once I turned fifteen, I joined the virology program. The motto was Join the Future of Caara Island.

My father always wanted me to give back to the community, to help as much as possible. Here I am, two years latertrying to make him proud.

“Are you going over last week’s notes?” Anette asks, staring into the microscope.

I’m far past last week’s anything.

“Hiromi?” Her voice is stern.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What have you learned so far?”

“Nothing I didn’t already know,” I mumble.

Anette glares at me, but it’s true. The project she assigned is old news. I learned most of it during the first year in the academy.

“Ma’am, we both know the disease makes little sense. It’s been sixty years since scientists accidentally created the virus—”

“I asked what you’ve learned.”

I sigh, flipping back a few pages. “The airborne strain is aggressive, affecting those with…um…weaker immune systems. Especially infants and the elderly.”

The words cling to my throat.

My father knew all this, and he still got sick.

Anette nods, turning back to the microscope. “Good. We need to keep all this in mind when experimenting with the infected tissue samples.”

It’s hard not to keep it in mind. Out of everything I’ve learned, one lesson stands out: tampering with our DNA and mahou leads to flesh-hungry mutants. Or as some call them, Konadai. The gods created us with the gifts of mental manipulation, fire, lightning, and energy but failed to give earlier scientists enough intelligence to not use mahou with experiments.

I scribble a few lines of data into my notebook, underlining we humans are idiots.

The analyzer beeps, flashing little sparks of light over the small screen. A cutesy melody plays to get our attention. Some of the other researchers think it’s a nice way to brighten the outcome. To me, it’s the tune of defeat.

A list of results riddled with red marks shoots out of the front of the machine.

Sitting in her desk chair, Anette glides over to the glass-topped table. One of the plastic wheels clicks as it spins. She groans through clenched teeth and looks over her shoulder at me, shaking her head.

Another failed test.

“Do we have any more virus samples?”

Before I can speak, Anette pushes away from the analyzer toward the three-foot-tall, sterilized freezer. She swings open the door and a cold fog swirls out, dissipating into the warm air as she leans down.

“No, that was the last batch we had. We should have some of the first and second stage samples left over.”

Anette closes the freezer door, tapping her fingers on the side. She removes the blue latex gloves and scratches at the hairnet covering her short corkscrew curled hair.

“No, Hiromi.” She says my name like I’m the one who burned through all the samples. “I need full-blown Konadai infection samples. We’ll work on the first stage next week.”

“Right, sorry.” I bite my lip to keep from saying anything more, but we should work on the first stage now. If we can slow down the virus’ progression, we might save lives—or at least allow people to live a bit longer than four hours.

But what do I know? My current assignment is to study the stack of cell cultures for abnormities, not question my mentor. Pay attention to the calendar, she’ll say if I utter a word against her schedule. I’m the professional. You’re my intern. She kindly reminds me of who I am so much, I can recite her little speech word for word. I’d rather gouge my eyes out with forceps.

“I need you to transfer the papers I handed you into digital format,” Anette says.

I nod, knowing she’s not looking at me.

Do this. Do that.

One thing I’ve learned is to stay in my place. According to Anette, that place is following her around with a notebook and a smile. She treats me as if I'm some uneducated volunteer. She knows I’m proficient in the common viruses, such as the flu, unlike the other teens in training who are only now learning the cure for the common cold.

Someone knocks.

Anette, without looking up, motions for me to answer it.

I move away from the desk and open the door. Another researcher stands in the sterile hallway with her frizzy orange hair pulled up into a messy bun. Dark circles under her bloodshot eyes make her appear much older.

“Two men and a child arrived moments ago. She…the little girl looked like my niece before she died.” The cup of coffee in her shaking hand almost spills.

My fingers dig into the doorframe. The Konadai Virus claimed three more victims and we’re years away from finding a cure.

Anette joins me at the door.


  1. I'll start with the pitch. The first paragraph is good though the second sentence could probably be tightened. The second paragraph though could be tightened a lot, for example: 'When her friend survives a bite unharmed, she realizes finding a cure for millions may require killing him.'

    It might heighten the stakes even more if this person is her love or her sister rather than just a friend.

    I think you've improved on the amount of exposition from the earlier version. I'd still suggest introducing the concept of Mahou more naturally. I think the ending ups the drama from what you had before, though it might be even tenser if this was a relative of Hiromi's so her pain is directly in play.

    Good luck with your writing.

  2. I like your pitch. It’s to the point, and the stakes are clear. I’d work on finding even more ways to tighten, but I think it’s very close!

    In your pages, I think overall, the content is good and the writing is tight.

    Adding that she’s trying to make her father proud helps us learn more about her character and hints at her relationship with her father.

    It must be me, but I still don’t completely understand the paragraph about mahou. Sorry.

    I like that we get a bit more of the story with new content at the end. However, that second-to-last line seems a bit repetitive, so it’s kind of a throw away.

    It’s definitely an intriguing concept, and you’ve made some good revisions in the workshop. Good luck!

  3. Elisa, this just keeps getting better...tighter and richer. Good work with these revisions! I care about Hiromi -- she has clear stakes and pain and frustration from the set up and that makes me want to follow her through her story. I agree that the pitch could be tighter, have the same energy as the writing itself. Look for places to infuse the same sense of urgency into the pitch as your writing shows. It's been a pleasure to read your work -- best of luck with submitting it!

  4. Elisa!

    This revision is so much tighter! And I love that Hiromi's voice is back. I think you're really doing a great job here! One liiiiiiitle thing I want to bring up again is that I don't know how to picture her in my brain as I read because nothing in these first pages gives away her gender, so I'd suggest putting that in there somewhere. Even something simple as Anette calling her "young lady" or something. ;)

    Okay. I'd like to talk about the pitch a bit. :)

    First of all, this is my kind of story. I love the culture it's set in. I love the idea behind it. I love the mingling of sci-fi and fantasy. All of it.

    Let's break it down a bit, shall we? :)

    Seventeen-year-old Hiromi is determined to find a vaccine for the Konadai virus before more people turn into tentacle-tongued mutants. (this is great in that it is very specific and shows a main goal right away. Awesome. I'd like a pinch more information--I thought they were dying. Do they die and come back as these monsters? Then maybe say that. It really ups the stakes.) Armed with knowledge as a virology intern, she convinces her childhood friend Kenji into going to their island city’s ruins with her, hoping that his fire-magic abilities will keep them safe while she collects infected tissue samples. (wonderfully specific again. I love it.)

    Discovering their mutual friend is bitten but showing no signs of infection, Hiromi considers he’s immune and could be the miracle they need. Then, she realizes extracting the cure could cost their friend his life. Hiromi and Kenji struggle with the decision of sacrificing their friend to save thousands or surrendering a chance for a cure. (first of all, the stakes are great here. I do have a suggestion though. Can we get a bit more of an idea of attachment of this friend? What's the friend's name? Has the friend been helping them thus far? How good of a friend? All of that information could pull more emotional turmoil into this. If we know it's Kenji's best friend, or that this friend is afraid to die, or something. I mean you can always take it out if you don't like it.

    And one more thing. Why is Hiromi doing this? Just to save everyone? or is there something personal at stake? Or something personal that makes her want to help everyone? Maybe add in a sentence about the why behind her very noble quest.)

    That's it! The pitch gets down to the needed information in a succinct, specific way that packs a lot of punch. See if one or two of my suggested details will add more to the emotional stakes. :) It's been fun working with you! Best of luck!


  5. I agree with some of the earlier comments that it might be nice to get more descriptions about our main character. I often find myself doing the same since my own characters are so vivid in my mind that I find myself not sharing as much as I'd like to. Also, what is her purpose in the lab? She seems resigned to the situation but yet she's still there.

    I'm still a little lost about mahou and would like to know more about it. I think it'd be great if you expanded more so we could have a better sense of this world.

    With the pitch, I like the first paragraph but I felt myself getting lost. Maybe share a little bit more on why it could cost him his life if the sentence before states he's not showing any signs of infection.

    Love reading your work and I wish you luck as you continue!

  6. Thanks everyone! I suppose explaining myself wouldn't do much good if it doesn't come through on the pages, but I feel I need to say something.

    She doesn't use mahou, neither does Anette, which is why I can't really "show it" right now. She does, however, have mahou like everyone else. They're all born with it (the god's gift), but they can choose to use it or not. Since she's a scientist and mixing mahou and experiments is what got them into this situation, she decided to never use her gift (the paragraph about mahou, the gods, and science). Her powers come up later on as she can sense how people feel but it doesn't go further than that.

    But I do appreciate all the feedback you all have given during this workshop! Thanks again

  7. From Danielle:

    You have a truly excellent voice! I'm impressed and I find your writing compelling from a technical perspective. That said, I think the opening pages are a little too focused on the science aspect of the story rather than the human. Both are important, but it is the human connection--the character motives and personality, etc. that will draw the reader in. It is clear to me that you know your character well and that she does have a personality so I think this is just a matter of needing to rebalance. This is the hardest thing for any author to do in SFF so definitely don't think you're alone in this! Ideally, the opening pages in SFF will seamlessly introduce character, conflict, stakes, and world--that's no easy feat.

    I'd love to understand your character and her motives a little more before you start getting too deep in the DNA/scientist/virus explanation. There's time to introduce that more deeply once you've hooked me. Clearly her father is a big part of her motivation so consider how to introduce this a little more powerfully. Are we coming up on the anniversary of his death, which is bringing him to mind more often? Has she just learned something new that would have helped him? Did another patient who reminded her of her father just die? Try to make the opening a little more visceral so your readers are fully invested by the time you get more into the technical explanations. And let those explanations unfold organically as they become relevant to the plot rather than front-loading the narrative with them to get the explanation out of the way. I caught sight of your comment about mahou and I think that is the perfect example of an explanation you can put on the back burner for now. It isn't relevant yet so we don't need to know. All we need to understand right now is that this virus is a man made problem--the rest will follow as it needs to.

    I'm also a little bit confused about why she is being asked to work on an outdated assignment, especially when she is already up to speed.

    This is a strong pitch that clearly lays out the stakes of the story. However, I am wondering how people contract the virus. You refer to a bite. Is this a zombie narrative? And why is your protagonist, an intern, the hero of this story? She can't be the most qualified person available so what makes her the only person in her world who can solve this problem? I'd like to know that from the pitch as well. Thanks for sharing!

    -Danielle Burby