Sunday, October 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Chin Rev 1

Name: Shirlyn Chin
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: Weight of Your Legacy

Chapter 1


There is a short queue outside the prison clinic as usual, but today, the line is made up of correctional officers rather than sick or injured inmates. Jittery on nerves, I barely notice the difference. It isn’t until I have opened the clinic’s door that I stop myself belatedly and knock.
Inside the brightly lit office, Uncle looks up, a syringe in his hand and a frown already in place. “Michi?” he says, perplexed. He puts the syringe down. “Is something wrong?”
The CO sitting in a chair opposite from Uncle raises an eyebrow. He has his sleeve rolled up, ready for his flu inoculation shot. He smirks at the sight of me. “Harada!” he calls with false merriment. “Fancy seeing you here.” I know what Mike is thinking: come to see uncle dearest? Cute.
It is a long-running joke in the prison that Uncle – unsociable, quiet Uncle – had adopted me in a sudden fit of loneliness eleven years ago, only to realise later that the girl he adopted was as unsociable and quiet as him. A perfect match, they say, for a man who looks like he doesn’t know the first thing about being a father.
I narrow my eyes at Mike as a warning, and the twerp at least has the sense to listen. Nobody dares to piss off the doctor who is in charge of administering the quarterly government-mandated flu inoculation shots. When I first started working here at nineteen, I might have spread a rumour around prison that Uncle jabs people with extra force when he is pissed, which can render a person’s arm sore for the rest of the week. A factually true scenario, even if the possibility of Uncle being unprofessional is nil. The threat works well enough. My colleagues rarely make slights against Uncle’s awkward ways around people these days.
“Michi,” Uncle says more sternly. “Is something wrong?” he repeats.
My cheeks heat. “Nothing, Uncle,” I mumble. That’s the problem. I have barrelled to the clinic with such determination but, now that I am here, I don’t even know why I wanted to see Uncle so badly. Flustered, I thump the cup I am holding on Uncle’s table. “Just brought a cup of tea for you.”
“Thank you,” Uncle says automatically, but his eyes remain on me.  “Did you have your interview already?”
“No. I, uh.” I point to the door with a nervous finger. “I’m going there now.”
Uncle blinks once. “Oh.” Then what are you doing here?
Wishing I can get a ‘good luck’?
But Uncle is already turning back to Mike, picking up the syringe once more. “You better go then. It is impolite to be late.”
For a few seconds, I stand there, waiting for more, until Mike’s smirk turns my stomach enough that I turn to leave.  “Good luck, Harada!” Mike adds before I make it out the door. “I know you can’t wait to leave us to guard a maximum-security prison.”
Evidently, the COs lining outside hear the last remark. When I close the door, several of them shoots me dirty looks and mutters, “Yeah, good luck, Harada.”
I ignore them and proceed to the Warden’s office.
They think I’m a snob, I know, and my request for transfer only solidifies their opinion. A small part of me is proud that I’ve finally requested to transfer to Crestfield, that I am making some progress in Uncle and my plan, so I suppose they aren’t completely wrong. But most of the time, I don’t feel proud. I feel … desperate. Transferring to Crestfield doesn’t seem like a choice at all, not when failing to transfer to Crestfield is not an option.
Pausing outside the Warden’s office, I take a shuddering breath.  It could’ve been worse than enduring an interview, I remind myself. Much worse. The Warden will just be asking me about my life here, in Canada, not my life before. I am familiar with my life here. I can do this.
Raising a fist, I knock.
“Come in.” Warden Sanchez briefly glances at me as I enter. “Harada. Close the door.”
I do as instructed and make my way to the chair across from the Warden. It is a sparse office, no decorative tree or picture. The only focal point of the room is the Warden’s table, piled high with paperwork. Unsurprising, with the prison perpetually understaffed and the steadily increasing crime rate.
I keep my palms down, hoping the table separating us shield my trembling hands from view. My face, however, remains neutral, even as the Warden skewers me with his eyes, blunt and judgmental. One of the advantages of growing up with blunt and indifferent Uncle, I learn to perfect the same vacant expression when I view the world. It makes for a very good poker face. Blunt and judgmental is much easier to deal with. I wouldn’t be worrying if this weren’t the most important interview of my life – and otousan’s[1] life.
“I have skimmed through your transfer request,” the Warden begins, opening my thin file. “Your physical is decent, I suppose. But there are a few problems, as you can imagine.”
Here we go.
“Problems, sir?” I ask, all innocence.
“Your background, for one.”
“Did I miss something, sir?”
“You really don’t remember anything from when you were little? Before you ended up in Müller Home?”
A sharp, nauseating smell of toffees momentarily chokes me. Müller Home. Sometimes it is the toffees, sometimes it is the jeering, but whatever it is, I am always prepared. The onslaught is more familiar to me than any toy or residue of my childhood. If you see some perspiration dotting my forehead, it’s just the humidity.
My voice is steady as I continue. “I remember streets, having to find shelter, people pushing me.” Seeing utterly no response from the Warden, I throw in: “Some big kids chasing me with a switchblade.”
The Warden’s eyes flicker for a bit then, just a bit, but I know I’ve said the right thing to hit some compassion deep – way deep – down.
“Then, one day, I saw the … building.” The orphanage. “There were other kids there. The caretaker saw me, brought” – grabbed – “me in. She called the social workers.” I shrug. “Aside from that, everything’s hazy.”
That’s the good thing about claiming to be abandoned at birth. Not just an orphan but abandoned at birth. Nobody can ask you who your parents are without sounding like a major jerk. And even if a major jerk in an office asks you, you have no way of knowing. A clean slate. Perfect to create a new identity.   
“After two years at Müller Home, you were adopted by Dr. Harada,” Warden Sanchez reads. As if he doesn’t know Uncle already.
“Yes, sir. At age nine, sir.” That’s the official age Uncle and I settled for years ago.
“Any memory of that?”
Seeing a long grumpy face I’ve known my whole life at the threshold of Müller Home, acting the worst act in history of not knowing me. Truly, it was a miracle that the social worker let Uncle adopt me. If I were the one who interviewed Uncle, I wouldn’t have let him adopt a puppy let alone a human being. Don’t get me wrong; Uncle isn’t cruel. Uncle is just … not exactly the most compassionate person around.  
I frown as appropriate. “I remember hating Dr. Harada’s office, sir.”  


  1. Snappy dialogue! Gutsy MC! An intriguing yet dangerous setting!

    I love what you did with this revision. You reveal much more about the MC's background and her relationship to her Uncle without it feeling like an infodump.

    This made me snort-laugh: "When I first started working here at nineteen, I might have spread a rumour around prison that Uncle jabs people with extra force when he is pissed, which can render a person’s arm sore for the rest of the week."

    Now...suggestions! There are some unnecessary words that could be cut, such as:

    Uncle blinks once. --> Uncle blinks. (Usually we assume that someone blinks only once unless otherwise told.)

    Warden Sanchez briefly glances at me as I enter. --> Warden Sanches glances at me as I enter. (A glance is brief, so brief is redundant.)

    Evidently, the COs lining outside hear the last remark. --> get rid of the evidently

    I want to know more about Michi's reason for transferring to Crestfield! Revealing more information later may be your choice for this story, but if her reason raises the stakes or introduces more conflict in these first five pages, I'd love to be further sucked into this story.

    Good job!

    1. Hi Mayee,

      Thank you for the speedy reply once again. I'm glad you like this revision. I hope the new addition adds a sufficient amount of stakes to these first five pages. To be honest, I'm not completely happy with this revision myself; I can't shake the feeling that the stakes can be higher but I don't know how to raise it.

      Personally, I feel that Michi's reason for transferring to Crestfield is quite cliche, and it will lower the stakes rather than raise it, which is why I tease about it at the front and reveal the reason and the twist together. ... But perhaps I'm being a hardass again. Everybody keeps telling me I'm such a harsh critique on myself that I will think everything I write is cliche at one point or another.

      What do you think? Do you - as somebody that doesn't know my story at all - guess at Michi's reason?

    2. Off to read your revision! Can't wait.

      By the way, am I the only person who received an email from AYAP about formatting? So shocking. I thought I have been disqualified for wrong formatting - even though I didn't find any when I checked.

    3. In your original entry, I think you said that Michi wanted to be transferred to Crestfield to save Dr. Harada? If that's the case, I want to know why!

    4. Actually she wants to transfer to 'save' her father - save being a very relative term. Haha, I suppose this detail is akin to what you feel about your rib detail! My personal preference is to reveal it later, but if you cannot guess what it is, perhaps I should reveal it sooner ... hmm... I guess I will see what the others think. Thanks so much for getting back to me, Mayee!

  2. Hi there-

    I really liked a lot of things about this rewrite. I thought the relationships that we saw were clearer, and I liked getting a better feel for the prison she's at now.

    Here's some thoughts I had while reading:

    —I didn’t understand how the story about her Uncle jabbing extra hard could be both a factually true scenario and have the possibility of him acting unprofessionally be nil.

    —It’s odd that she says she doesn’t know why she’s there, but then she explains why: She wants him to say good luck. Also, it should be “Wishing I could get a ‘good luck’?

    —Repeat word in the sentence “turns my stomach enough that I turn to leave.”

    —Subject/verb agreement “several of them shoot me dirty looks and mutter,” although are they all muttering that same thing? Or does only one of them mutter that?

    —It should be “Uncle’s and my plan,” but I might suggest changing it to something like “the plan Uncle and I hatched years ago.”

    —I wouldn’t capitalize Warden since you are saying “the warden.”

    —Why does otousan have a footnote marker?

    —You mention that nine is the age they agreed on, but as a reader, I would like to know what age she actually was. Maybe say something like “That’s the official age Uncle and I settled on years ago—even though I was actually 7.” Or 13, or “even though we actually had no idea how old I was.”

    —Can you give the reader any idea why she needs this transfer? Like “Failing to transfer is not an option if I’m going to be able to save my dad’s life from the thugs at Crestfield” or whatever the stakes are?

    Good job!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Mary. With all the changes I had to make for this chapter - and the subsequent chapter- I didn't have the time to perfect it, so thanks for the pointers. The footnote marker is for the meaning, since Mayee felt that putting the meaning in a bracket directly behind the sentence breaks the flow.

  4. Hi everybody,

    Thank you for your previous feedback; I have taken everything to heart and made the necessary changes. Based on the first two feedback, I am advised specifically to reveal why Michi wants to transfer to Crestfield in these pages. Personally, I think the reason is a bit cliche so I would rather tease about it at the beginning and reveal the reason with a twist later.

    Also, when I am doing the revision, I can't help but feel that the stakes can be higher. I wreck my brain as to what other scene can I possibly write to put across the same information but I can't.

    I would love to hear your opinions about whether these pages deliver enough urgency and whether I should reveal the reason behind Michi's transfer immediately.

    Again, thank you so much for your feedback. It has been incredible having so many different yet equally insightful comments.

  5. Hi Shirlyn,

    Really great revision - you've put in a lot of thought and hard work! I feel we're much more in Michi's head now and thus more invested in her story. I like her voice and her little jabs of humor. I would take a look at the dialogue, though, and make sure the voices of all your characters are distinct. I second the catches Mary lists above. And I agree with the lack of urgency about the transfer. I think you can make the teasing more obvious without stating it out right if you don't want to. But how is she feeling? Is she sweating? Is her heart racing? If she's really nervous, there'd be a physical reaction for sure. Maybe she knocks something over with jittery hands or starts to tear up when she enters Uncle's office. If this is the day when he life could change, let us see that.

    Again, really great work!!


    1. Hi Christina,

      Thank you for the suggestions on how to elevate the urgency in this chapter. These are good points I will try to incorporate all of them. And thank you very much for giving the feedback such early on. I definitely need as much time as possible for this round of revision!


  6. Hi Shirlyn,

    I think that what everyone is getting at is that we need to have the story question within the first couple of paragraphs, and they are interpreting that as the reason behind the transfer.

    Let me be clearer and explain some things that I think are still missing in this otherwise GREAT revision.

    1) We need to have a sense of where the story is going. What are we going to learn if we invest the time in reading 300 plus pages? I REALLY recommend that you read Lisa Chron's WIRED FOR STORY as she sets out the neurological reasoning behind why people read books and connect to a story. She also lays out the blueprint for asking yourself the questions that will help you get to the story's emotional core. I feel like you are MUCH closer to that as I read this really solid revision, but as soon as I hear you say something like "the reason is a bit cliche" then I know that you have a lot more work to do. That tells me that you are manipulating your character for the sake of the story rather than letting the character's NEED and WANT drive the story forward.

    2) NEED and WANT. Those two things are what YOU really need to know and we need to have hinted for us in this beginning. They are what let us relate to the character and make us start connecting to her. We need to understand her goal, the thing she is trying to accomplish, and we need a hint at the emotional wound that she has been carrying all her life that makes her see the world in a broken way--this is the wound that will hold her back from achieving her goal and the thing that she will need to learn to overcome in the course of the story to help give the reader a satisfying conclusion.

    3) We need to understand the GENRE of this story. Right now, this reads like a contemporary novel, and you've pulled out the intriguing hints of a diverse culture as well. I'm not getting the science fiction elements, and I'm not getting a feeling of how YOUR world is different from the REAL world. We need to have that right up front. How is prison different in the future? What technology guards the prisoners? What kind of security does she encounter en route to the clinic? How does clinic look different from the clinics that readers might think of now? What form of flu are they vaccinating against? Don't give us lists or over-describe. Give us the one or two things that would MOST set read and imagined apart and ground us within your mental landscape. Help us see what you are seeing, and if you aren't seeing it as different then you need to go back and do some more world-building. You need to understand the differences in politics, the socio-economics, the technology, the religious beliefs, all the things that shaped your world to the place where it is in your story. WE, as readers, don't necessarily need to know all of that, but all those things lead to where your story is set right now and that will view how the reader perceives everything moving forward.


    1. 4) Can you heighten the conflict? She and Uncle hatched this plan. Presumably, Uncle knows the stakes. WE, the readers, need to know the stakes. What happens if she fails? We need to know that so that we can compare how she is reacting to the chance of failure to how we would react ourselves. We need to feel what she is feeling and we do that by having you invite us in. I love that Uncle is unemotional and that normally she is unemotional as well. But this time, she is feeling emotional--she's feeling nerves, she's feeling pressure (I assume), she's feeling like she needs to dig for courage and just once she wants Uncle to offer her emotional support. But he never has, he can't, and she walks away empty-handed and has to find her own courage. Okay, she can do that. But is it weak to wish that, just once, there was someone to shore her up? And how does THAT tie in to her goal, the reason she wants the transfer?

      Do you see? This revision is great. It's another LAYER in excavating the core of your story. Beginnings are like peeling an onion. We have to expose the flesh of the story until we, the reader, feel something. Until we connect. And for that connection to occur, you have to pare things down until you can offer us the emotional core.

      Don't worry. I really think you're almost there. Why? That's the question you have to keep asking yourself. Why does she want to do this? Why does she feel this way? And let us into the secret. SHOW us why all this matters. : )

      Eager to see the next revision!

    2. Hi Martina,

      I cannot thank you enough for this extensive explanation on how I can improve my pages. And thank you for phrasing it in such an encouraging manner. Often times, I dread receiving critique on my work, but I was actually very much looking forward to your and Christina’s comments.

      1) NEED AND WANT. Your comment on this have been invaluable. When I mentioned ‘cliché’ previously, I was thinking of Michi’s hope to break her father out of prison. I meant that it is a very cliché IDEA – for the readers, especially; there must be so many books out there about prison break. In fact, I will explain further down in Chapter 1 how the prison break was what Michi wanted when she was young but she herself ditched that idea when she grew up. I want to reveal this later on in the chapter. But your critique made me realise that Michi has other WANTs too. She also wants to find out why her father is in prison, (spoilers) why the police couldn’t tell her and her Uncle what crime her father committed etc. And those WANTs I can mention early on. I didn’t put enough distinctions between these different WANTs, I realise that now.

      2) GENRE. The more hardcore sci-fi parts actually come in at Chapter 4, but, again, you are right in that I can reveal more in the first chapter. Although, now that you mention, I have a concern. My novel doesn’t have high-tech video games or incredibly advanced robots or flying machines. I don’t want to introduce all these fancy elements because my aim is to create a futuristic world much like ours, only, in that world, the weapons used in wars have graduated to bio-weaponry. My personal aim for this novel is to bring awareness on the violence happening in this world. Does this still constitute sci-fi? I assumed that it is because of the advanced weaponry and the futuristic culture of relying heavily on vaccinations and medications etc.

    3. Once again, I think the classification is something that I would worry about later. But regardless of extent of technological differences, if the world is not THIS world, then you have to cue the reader into that right away. If your world is earth in the future, then we need to know that. If it's earth in a different timelines--alternate reality--then we need to be cued into that as well. Not by telling us in so many words, but by showing us the distinctions. And again, the transition to bio weapons doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens in response to a threat, to changes in government policies, to changes in ethics due to environmental reasons. So. I would strongly recommend constructing a timeline for yourself. This happened, so this happened, so this happened. For example, if this is earth in the future, world powers somehow managed to negotiate a nuclear treaty that resulted in the destruction of all weapons of mass destruction, but of course, that was naive because some countries held some back and others came up with alternate ways to destroy each other. This coupled with advances in genetic science like the Crispr gene editing tool enabled targeting of advanced bio weapons, but this required blah, blah, blah. The reason that I want you to take time to do this is because as you think through what happened and what was required politically, ethically, and scientifically for it to happen, you will discover what ELSE has changed in your world as a result of that. If there are bio weapons, that will effect everything from health care to prisoner identification to prison security to who is incarcerated and who runs things. Only you can figure out how, but all of it will point toward your theme, the universal question that you are asking. And hints of that have to appear in your book from day one. Does that make sense? Nothing happens in a vacuum, and unless your world is consistent, at some point readers are going to be left uncomfortable enough not to suspend disbelief (at best) or outright fatigued enough by inconsistencies to put the book down without finishing (at worst).

      Again, this isn't a huge rewrite this time around. It's a bit of brainstorming to deepen your concept and your world in a way that showcases your theme and then slivering in hints of that here and there while you simultaneously increase the tension and intrigue the reader with clues to the things to come!

      You've got this. Can't wait to see what you come up with!

      And I'm glad that Christina and I haven't scared you off. :D

    4. Hi Martina,

      Thank you for pointing out another good point. It probably isn't a huge rewrite for Chapter 1 but I am seeing a lot of rewrite for the subsequent chapters ... which is for the better! Haha. I will shelf the classification for later and focus on the story for now.

      P.S. Your mention of onion makes me think of this line from Castle: "Oh, so many layers to the Beckett onion." :)

  7. Hi Shirlyn,

    Great job with your revision!

    I feel like you provided everyone with a lot more insight into your protagonist's relationship with her uncle, especially the part where she says she wanted to hear him say good luck. I felt my heart pang for her there. I also love how you subtly hint at a plan they schemed together.

    While I really do like the opening scene, I'm wondering if there is a way for you to build more tension? I think maybe by identifying why she wants the transfer and how important it is that she gets it approved by the warden will help with this.

    Good luck and great job so far!!

    1. Hi Kaylynn,

      Thank you for the feedback. Building more tension is definitely my priority at this point. And thank you for letting me know where I did right. I'll know where to focus my attention now.


  8. Hi Shirlyn,

    I think that the changes you made in this revision were great. I like how you kind of eased us into the interview and introduced us to Uncle and some of her coworkers. It even adds another level of conflict in the way you show some of the coworkers resent that she is wanting to transfer to a maximum security prison. I like the fact that the interview is shorter, as well.

    I actually don't mind that you don't give the reason for the transfer. I think it's OK to leave a it a bit of a mystery at this point, but when you described the reason as being cliche, it seems to contradict the fact that this is the most important interview of her life for both herself and her father.

    There were also some things that were confusing to me:
    - I believe that "CO" stands for commanding officer in a military context, but Michi seems to interact with them as if they are her peers, which doesn't seem realistic. If "CO" means something else, I think it would be good for you to spell it out, at least in the first mention.
    - You use italics to show thoughts for people who are not the main character. Since this is being told from Michi's point of view, she shouldn't be able to know what other people are thinking, at least not the exact wording.
    - I think with this sentence " It could’ve been worse than enduring an interview, I remind myself.", you mean "could be worse", because the interview hasn't happened yet.
    - I don't understand what this means: "...acting the worst act in history of not knowing me." Are you trying to say that he's a bad actor because he's pretending not to know who she is? If so, this could be said more clearly.

    I think if you can smooth over some of the rough edges, you'll have a great opening!


    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for the feedback and listing down the things which confuse you; the list is a really great help.

      Just a point of clarification: when I mentioned cliché previously, I was thinking of Michi’s hope to break her father out of prison. I meant that it is a very cliché IDEA. In fact, I will explain further down in Chapter 1 how the prison break was what Michi wanted when she was young but she herself ditched that idea when she grew up. I want to reveal this later on in the chapter. After reading through numerous feedbacks, I realise Michi has other WANTs too. She also wants to find out why her father is in prison, (spoilers) why the police couldn’t tell her and her Uncle what crime her father committed etc. And those WANTs I can mention early on. I didn’t put enough distinctions between these different WANTs, I realise that now.

      Best of luck for your revision, Lisa!


  9. Hi Shirlyn,

    GREAT REVISION. You did an excellent job in clearing up a lot of the confusion I had reading your first five pages. I was able to follow along much more easily, and a lot of information felt clearer. Michi felt stronger and more of an actual protagonist in her story.

    Small nitpick: You introduce Mike as "The CO" (what is a CO? It might be a Canadian ranking that I'm not familiar with, and if so, you could probably ignore me since the novel is set in Canada!) but then Michi refers to him as Mike without any reference to knowing him. Maybe just rephrase it like, "Mike, the CO sitting in the chair...."

    I like the interaction with Uncle as well, but I still don't understand why Michi is calling herself abandoned at birth and then saying she knew Uncle her whole life, and she has a father. It's still not fully connecting in my mind so I'm struggling to understand this storyline. I liked that she added the context that she was "grabbed" by the Mueller House caretaker, implying she was held against her will, but why was she running through the streets? Was it war? Was she just a runaway? Was it part of her (and Uncle's) plan?

    The inner thoughts you added (like the fact that others think she's a snob) are wonderful details. Overall, an awesome job. :)

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you for the feedback.

      Firstly, CO just means correctional officer. I see the term shortened in this way so many times when I watch TV shows and research on ex-cons' interviews etc. that I thought everybody will naturally know what it is. I will put a marker to make it clearer.

      Regarding the very confusing backstory, it IS very confusing and I have been struggling to explain it better without turning it into an info-dump. Here's hoping I can do a better job in the next revision.

      Thank you for taking the time to critique.

      Kind regards,