Saturday, October 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Chin

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

Chapter 1
I eye my file, then back at Warden Sanchez’s face. Somehow, the Warden manages to shape his face into such criticism that the thin file on the table looks almost laughably insignificant. 
It could’ve been worse than enduring an interview, I remind myself. Much worse.
“Your physical is …” The Warden taps-taps-taps on the table. Here we go, point one. “It’s decent, I suppose. Your background check though.” Point two. The Warden harrumphs now. “Your background check isn’t satisfactory, as you can imagine.”
He skewers me with his eyes, blunt and judgmental. The next questions will be the trickiest, for obvious reasons; and for a brief second, my confidence falters under the pressure. Should I look the Warden in the eyes when I answer? Does it convey that I’m confident or lying?
Outwardly, I remain cool, the sweat in my palms conveniently shielded from view in my sitting position, palms down on my thighs. One of the advantages of growing up with someone who is blunt and indifferent, you learn to perfect the same vacant expression when you 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 isn’t the most important interview of my life – and otousan’s life [‘otousan’ meaning: father].
“Sir?” I ask, all innocence.
“You really don’t remember anything from when you were little? Before you ended up in Müller Home?”
Müller Home. My stomach churns at the nauseating smell of toffees. 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 a few perspirations 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.
“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 ask you, you have no way of knowing. Perfect solution. 
“After two years at Müller Home, you were adopted by Dr. Harada,” Warden Sanchez reads. As if he doesn’t know that already.
“Yes, sir. At age nine, sir.” That’s the official age Uncle and I have 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.
I frown as appropriate. “I hate Dr. Harada’s office, sir.”
Warden Sanchez cracks a sarcastic smile. “I can imagine,” he says, moving his left arm to demonstrate his point. He is wearing a long-sleeved shirt, so his bicep is covered, but I bet there is a bandage covering his recent flu vaccination. It is the quarterly ‘jabbing day’ at the prison. Uncle will be in a good mood.
“The doctor says it’s possible that you don’t remember much before being adopted,” the Warden says, sounding disappointed. “Not Dr. Harada. Another doctor. Something about being too young, frontal lobes haven’t fully developed and whatnot.”
I absorb this new information. They have taken the time to check my story. Meaning, they are taking this – me – seriously. Does this mean I pass point two?
He looks down at my paperwork some more. “Why do you want to transfer?”
I sigh inwardly. Point three.
“I just want a change, sir.”
 “Change?” he repeats.
I can almost hear his thoughts: boys want change, girls want stability. It really would’ve been easier if I am a man.
“Yes, sir. I want to learn more. Gather new experience.”
“Not to follow someone else?”
My frown is genuine this time. “Sir?”
“Maybe someone in particular?”
“I’m not following, sir.”
“I noticed Walsh is also requesting to transfer.”
Yup. Called it.
“I don’t know, sir,” I say, straight-faced. “Maybe he’s following me.”
Warden Sanchez bursts out laughing. “Well, well. Won’t that be something? I’ll have to ask Walsh about it.”
I refrain from saying: you do that, sir. Good to know sexism is still healthy and thriving in society.
The Warden sighs. “Have to be honest with you, Harada.”
“Crestfield is a federal prison. You only studied until Grade 11. They need a minimum of Grade 12.”
Point four. This is one that I know I have no hope of passing, since the government only covers our education until Grade 11. I would’ve gladly gone to college in the next province, I was offered the scholarship after all, but I couldn’t have been certain, absolutely certain, that otousan can be safe during the meantime, that he won’t be shanked or die of infectious disease in prison. And anyway, Keag had turned down his scholarship too. He said he needed to start working to help out his parents, so we had applied to the training academy together.
“Do you have any plans to further your studies?” Warden Sanchez goes on.
“Yes.”  Someday, far, far away. After I have my answers.
“Good, then guarding a maximum-security prison isn’t completely out of the book for you,” the Warden says, closing my file with finality. “And you are only twenty.”
This detail again. If my request for transfer gets rejected because of my age, this one’s on Uncle.
After the interview, I walk out of the Warden’s office. Waiting in the hallway, flexing his left arm uncomfortably, stands none other than my six-foot-one best friend whom the Warden accused me of transferring my job for. With deep-green eyes inherited from his Irish father, jet-black hair inherited from his Chinese mother, and a brain as sharp as his tongue, Keaghan Walsh is considered by many as the perfect specimen. My heart trips when I look at him, it never fails to, but with all that I have kept from him, my heart always trips with guilt and nothing else.
Hearing the door closes, Keag glances over and smiles when he sees me. I tell myself to glare. It is easiest to hide tears behind a well-delivered glare.


  1. The good: The action all flowed very nicely. Your choice of verbs (ex: "skewers me with his eyes" instead of a plain "looks at me") is skillful and paints a vivid image and sets a sharp mood for your story.

    Your dialogue didn't fall into the pitfalls of repeated "XX said" and "XY said" like some aspiring authors' extended conversations. It remained dynamic (by describing the actions of the characters throughout the dialogue, like "my frown is genuine this time", you revealed more information about your characters and their situations), while still being clear on who was speaking.

    As for pointers, just keep in mind that a YA protagonist is usually at most eighteen years old, so instead of making her twenty, you can age her down a little. (Sites like were really helpful when I was deciding on an appropriate age for my protagonist.)

    The translation of otousan really jumped out at me. There may be a more elegant way of introducing its meaning.

    Some of your words are hyperlinked and italicized (Muller and indifferent), and I don't know if you did that intentionally, but it may confuse future agents you pitch this to. I would get rid of the italics for indifferent, because even when it is emphasized, it being italicized doesn't add much to the story.

    I read the hyperlinked site for Muller. If that wikipedia page relates to your story, you could weave it in so the information would be more accessible and your agents wouldn't have to do extra work for the information.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hello Mayee,

      Thank you very much for the detailed (and speedy!) reply.

      Firstly, regarding the age of my protagonist, I realise that it is a problem, but for the sake of the story, she absolutely must be eighteen and above. I researched on this and some agents commented that 'new adult' (which is technically the category my book will fall into based on my character's age alone) is more suitable for contemporary and/ or romance, and that, if my story is more about coming-of-age (which it is), then I should categorise it as YA rather than adult. I made a note in my QL explaining this, but it does read rather clunky and out-of-nowhere. I am open to suggestions and corrections about whether my research is correct - but I really cannot change her age; the story doesn't allow it.

      Secondly, the Muller isn't supposed to be hyperlinked! I don't know why but a hyperlink appeared when I pasted it in the email. I only notice it now when I go back and check on it. Terribly sorry for the confusion!

      Again, thank you for the reply. I look forward to reading and commenting on yours! :)

  2. Everybody, as Mayee has kindly pointed out to me, please note that the hyperlink is accidental, so please ignore them. I'm sorry for the inconvenience.

  3. Overall, I think you have created an interesting scenario. As I understand it, it’s a girl interviewing to get a job after living in an orphanage and also after being adopted by a doctor she calls Uncle, right?

    But I found some elements confusing. You’re probably planning to explain them later, but I don’t know how confused you want your reader to be. Like why was she in an orphanage if she has a "father"? Or is Otousan not her father? Also, should otousan be capitalized if she is using it as his name/title? And who is the indifferent person raising her, the Uncle/Dr. Harada? Or someone else, like the orphanage minders?

    At the end, it was a little info dumpy about Keaghan’s appearance. Perhaps at first just mention he’s tall, sharp-tongued and considered a catch by everyone? Add the rest in as details later.

    Briefly define Muller instead of linking. Or just say “the orphanage I’ve lived in since…”

    I would say “I learned” instead of “you learn” to keep the reader inside the story.

    The language usage was evocative and lyrical, but there were a few problems with verb tense and awkward constructions. I made some suggestions for the version I think is better below

    —“Outwardly, I remain cool, my sweaty palms conveniently shielded from view down on my thighs.”

    —Don’t pluralize perspiration. Just “the perspiration dotting my forehead…”

    —“I wouldn’t be worrying if this weren’t the most…”

    —“If a major jerk in an office asks you”

    —“That’s the official age Uncle and I settled on years ago.” (Not super clear if Dr. Harada is the same as Uncle or if you like him).

    —“Easier if I were a man”

    —“Wouldn’t that be something”

    —“that otusan would be safe, that he wouldn’t be shanked”

    —“Hearing the door close”

    1. Hello Mary,

      Thank you for the comment. Please note that the hyperlink is an accident. I apologise for the inconvenience.

  4. Hi Shirlyn,

    After reading this, I'm very intrigued by your main character. I think that you did a good job of revealing some of her background during the course of the interview, rather than just having her tell it. You hinted at why she is interviewing for this job, but you've left some mystery that will have readers wanting to find out more.

    I also like the way that you reveal things about the warden in the way that he is talking to the main character. You reveal who he is with his actions and facial expressions rather than through a dry descriptive list of what he looks like.

    For me, there were some elements that were a little too confusing, though. For example, I think three different men were mentioned - Dr. Harada, otousan, and Uncle. To me, that was too many father-figure type people at once - unless maybe Dr. Harada was also the Uncle, in which case I think you should make that more clear. Also, the warden already knew that she had only completed grade 11 from her records so why did he go through the interview with her at all?

    Also, I saw your comments about why you don't want to make this New Adult, but I almost feel as if the characters age should be older. She's 20 years old and it seems like she's already been working at a prison for a couple of years. It seems unlikely to me that a woman that young would be working in a men's prison, but I suppose it's possible. Since this is Science Fiction, maybe this is taking place in a future time period in which this would be normal. If so, it would be good to have a hint of the genre at the beginning of the novel to clue your readers into that.

    1. Dear Lisa,

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment and thank you for addressing the age issue! I agree with you. At first, I actually started writing my characters as twenty three years old, but the more I wrote, the more concerned I was that they are too old to be considered YA even though the coming-of-age part is so integral to the story. It will be more logical to put her as twenty-three years old at least.

      I would love to hear more advice on this from anybody - if it is possible.

      P.S. Yes, Uncle is Dr. Harada. I will try to make it more clear.

  5. Hi Shirlyn,

    You do a great job of informing your readers of your main character's troubled past while still progressing the story. One particular line I loved was when the Mueller house reminded her of the smell of toffees. You really bring us into your world quickly and seamlessly, which is hard to do in the first five pages.

    I would like to know more about the warden’s covered bicep and how the protagonist knows he just had a recent flu vaccination. Maybe an extra detail here could be provided, but I'm sure you'll explain later.

    The first time you mention Keag, I would also provide his last name. I had to go back and make sure this was the same character you were referring to earlier.

    I don’t understand why she’s glaring at her best friend and why he’s smiling at her. Maybe she’s trying to act like they’re not close to trick the warden and let them both transfer to the new jail? It also sounds like she hasn’t told Keag about her secrets, so I’m wondering why he wants a transfer at the same time she does? Perhaps an extra sentence here would help clarify.

    Great job!

    1. Hello Kaylynn,

      Thank you very much for the feedback. I will try to make the inoculation shot and Keaghan's situation clearer, if possible. A lot of the details are actually slowly woven in after the 1250 words since I feel that there is already a lot of details here. I am struggling to keep the balance between keeping some information so that there isn't information overload and explaining enough to avoid confusion, so these pointers are incredibly helpful! I'm afraid I won't be explaining why Keaghan wants to transfer at the same time Michi does until Chapter 2. It IS explained, though.

      Also, I don't know if you have read the comments above but I am struggling to fix an age for my main characters. A logical age for both of them are 23 years old, but this story is so much about coming-of-age that I believe it should be YA. Do you have any advice/ feedback regarding that?

    2. Hi Sirlyn,

      I understand more details come later and we can only fit so much information in 1250 words - I'm struggling with the same thing myself at the moment! I think that's definitely okay if you wait until later to explain Keaghan's transfer, although I'm dying to know now!

      Hmmm. Age is tricky, but if you're YA I feel like the oldest you can go up to is 18, and even that is pushing it. You could have her lie about her being older, but have her secretly be 18/17 years old? Maybe she has a scar on her face that makes her look older or something?

      P.S. Don't forget to comment on my story - I value your opinion and want it!!

  6. Hi Shirlyn!

    I had to re-read certain parts of this as I got confused easily. There's a lot of backstory and several characters introduced within these first five pages, which was a lot to mentally juggle. To start, you introduce otousan, but then you start talking about Uncle. I thought they were the same person at first.

    Secondly, you talk about how your character remembers Mueller House, but then from the narrative, it sounds as though she went there under the pretense of not having parents. Does she? Why did her Uncle pretend not to know her? Did she pretend not to know him? Is he really her uncle? Was this all part of some kind of plan?

    It sounds like the main plot of your book is that your character (I don't recall seeing her first name--maybe try to slip that in with the Warden's dialog?) wants a position to guard a prison where her father is being held, but we don't get any sense of the danger otousan is in, or why she needs this position, and what happens if she doesn't get it (he gets shanked? Maybe it's just me, but that concern reads a little flippant in that, it's kind of the expected joke that you'll get shanked in prison. So I didn't read it as a serious concern she had.) Also, her reactions to Uncle are all fairly negative, so is he helping her or hindering her?

    As I said, it's a lot of backstory to read in five pages, and I'm not suggesting you detail everything upfront. But maybe clarify in a few places, or focus on the interview portion and keep the Keag introduction for another scene? I think part of the issue is that you're providing backstory via an interview, so the Warden has to ask specific questions so you can give the reader specific information, which doesn't always feel natural; and then the interview is over pretty quickly.

    Also, as the previous poster says, I didn't know Keag and Walsh were the same person. From the way she reacts to the Warden mentioning Walsh, I would not have guessed they were best friends.

    Finally, the Warden thinks she's 20, but she's not? So how old is she? My first reaction was that 20 is too old for YA.


    I loved that Mueller House invoked the smell of toffee; it was a beautiful, gut-punch reaction. I'm intrigued by the idea of this girl wanting to be a prison guard, and definitely want to know more about her world. I'm also a sucker for secret crushes on best friends. I'm also very curious about otousan and why he's in prison!

    1. Hello Mary,

      Thank you very much for your feedback. There are so many problems you've raised that I've never realised – the detail about being shanked especially; I thought it is a serious enough worry by itself. I will certainly work on your suggestions. There is an issue I'm hoping you can help me with:

      The age is my biggest concern. As I’ve posted previously, my characters will ideally be 23 years old. I’ve read up on this and agents mentioned that writers can classify their novels as YA (instead of NA or adult) if this is a coming-of-age story – which mine is. In fact, aside from the age, this novel reads so much like a YA that I feel uncomfortable putting it as an adult novel. But for the sake of the story, Keaghan and Michi need to be at least 20 years old. Can you advice me on what to do?

    2. This interview is meant to introduce the most basic of information and hint that Michi - I will try to work her name in more; I put her name at the top of the page (it is her POV) thinking that it is enough - is up to something fishy. The interview is meant to be finished quickly. Your questions about what is Michi up to and why is she in an orphanage are all the questions I want the readers to be asking themselves. But your later comments have me worried that it is less interesting and more confusing. I will work on clarifying some things. Looking forward to your feedback on my revision next week!

    3. Hey Shirlyn!

      Re: the shanked thing - it is definitely a concern in jail, I think it's just the word choice that made me think it was more flippant. So maybe if you just rephrase it to demonstrate the threat (like, "he could be murdered...") to remove the word shanked? But that's just my one opinion!

      As far as your characters' ages, 20 is too old for YA. If they have to be that age, the story would be NA as there can be coming of age stories there, too! If you feel your book reads more YA, I would seriously suggest finding a way to age Michi down to at least 18. There are always exceptions to this, but in my experience, those are made (rarely) by authors with previous publication credentials behind them, not debuts. :)

  7. Hi Shirlyn,

    There isn't much more for me to say that hasn't been mentioned in the comments above. I am equally curious about the situation you've set up and definitely drawn in by the details you've shared. I did have to read a few times to make sure I had all the details straight though, so maybe making a pass for clarity. There's quite a bit of telling here, though I do really like how you tease out specifics through the dialogue, but at times the transitions between inner monologue, memory and dialogue are not as smooth as they could be. I would encourage you to approach revisions as if you are the reader looking at this for the first time. What looks confusing and can be tightened up? It's easy to be too close to something as the author and not realize the reader doesn't know what we have planned in our heads. A great beginning though!


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Christina,

      Thank you very much for your feedback. You are right that I have been too close to the project. I have polished these first five pages so many times; imagine my surprise when there are these many issues pointed out to me - and just within these first few pages alone! It is incredible how much I've learned.

      P.S. I'm not sure if you have read one of the concerns pointed out to me above regarding the age limit. Do you have any advice regarding that front? I'm tempted to write my character as twenty-three years old but I don't know if anybody will consider it as YA. But this is such a coming-of-age story that it doesn't read like an adult novel at all. If I stick with twenty or twenty one, do you think I can consider it as YA?

    3. I would argue that there are plenty of coming-of-age stories that sit on the adult fiction shelves. I think if your character is truly 23, write her as 23. Don't worry about the placement. I would also say that sci-fi has good crossover in reader age, so even on an adult shelf, teens would still likely find it.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Hi Christina, thank you so much for getting back to me. This issue has been weighing heavily on my mind. After much thought, I think I have managed to find a way to keep her in the 20 and 21 bracket so I will still categorise it as YA at the moment. But I will start researching on agents that offer rep for both adult and YA fiction too after seeing Martina's remark. Thank you thank you for taking the time to get back to me. It's really great having you and Martina as my mentors.

      Hope you have a wonderful weekend! :)

  8. Hi,

    A really original story premise! I’m intrigued by the idea that she’s been pretending that her incarcerated father died — presumably for a very long time. I’m also curious as to how old she really is, because the hint you threw out there is fascinating, You drew the information out in trickles, telling us a lot about her in these first five pages while simultaneously setting up a lot of interesting questions to draw us in and make us want to continue reading, You definitely accomplished that, so great job there. Your story is in place, and your characters are great. You are solid with providing the unique and interesting details that bring them to life and elevate them beyond the run of the mill. That’s a huge hurdle behind you.

    My only real comment, and it will seem big, but it really isn’t, is that I think you need to rewrite this with a draft that puts more action in here. You may even be starting in the wrong place. She’s sitting, there’s no movement, and even though there is conflict, it’s not as overt as it could be given the level of the story. I would suggest, at the very least, having her moving through the prison to the wardens office, rehearsing her strategy, focusing on her goal. Get the story question out in the first paragraph, or as close thereafter as you possibly can. Get some of the grounding out of the way and give us a unique sense of place. Perhaps she wonders how far away she is from her father as she walks, how many years, how many feet, has he been shanked yet? Is he in danger even as she sits down for the job interview? Maybe that thought lends urgency to her footsteps. Now with that kind of grounding, when the warden asks her specific questions, we can SEE her lying. And you don’t have to stop the action. Show her fighting for her life. Show her trying to impress the warden. Show her sticking to the cover story that’s been carefully concocted. Or something to help break down the five pages of static setting, There are infinite ways to accomplish that—I’m simply suggesting on option as an example to make it easier to see.

    Again, this isn’t about your character or your story, I think you’ve knocked both of those out of the park. It’s anout deciding what the reader absolutely has to know, why they need to know it, and when and how to best present that information in a way that makes the information delivery active and full of conflicts, both external and internal. :)

    Eager to see the revision!


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Martina,

      Thank you very much for your feedback. Your compliments have made my day.

      Wow, I have never thought to introduce all these information in another way. This interview was the first scene that came to me during the infancy of this manuscript, but you are absolutely right. I've always felt that the stakes I imagine in my head are higher somehow, compared to what I have written. I guess in my rush to get this interview scene over and proceed to the next scene - which, in my opinion, is the highlight of the first chapter - I overlook the importance of this scene. I will try to work on it. Thank you for this suggestion!

      P.S. I'm not sure if you have seen the issue I've had regarding my characters' age. Do you have any advice on that?

  9. There are plenty of YA novels with 18 year old protagonists. It would be simpler if she could be seventeen, but I don't think it's a non-starter aging her to eighteen. Then again, I'm an author, not an editor who has to answer to an acquisition board or an agent who is trying to decide whether the sale for this book will be economically viable relative to the time she/he will need to spend to successfully get it to market without burning through editors who count on her to reliably provide marketable material. Which means that you will face a harder journey to publication than you might otherwise.

    If you really need to make her eighteen (and again, I got the impression that she isn't actually eighteen but that that's somehow the cover story that she and her uncle concocted? Am I wrong there?), then I would suggest that you are extra careful in making sure that her goals are up front and clearly relatable to a YA audience in this opening scene. A quest to get information from her father, the references to school, the reflection on her care history, those all relate very well, IMO, and the voice read YA. I would, also, pay extra attention (at least for the last round that the agent sees) in making sure that your grammar and syntax as solid. There's no point in worrying about sentence level changes until you get the scene down solidly, but you might try Grammarly or Pro Writing Aid to see what they can pick up when you think that you've done everything you can with it. Pro Writing Aid goes beyond grammar and spelling and will also flag echoes (I did notice a few in your opening) as well as a host of readability issues. It's no substitute for a human editor, obviously, but for a writer working to polish a piece, it's a great tool to highlight potential issues. Again, don't worry about any of that, though, until you've got the piece flowing well. Given the age issue, this opening is even more important.

    Sorry to be blunt, but that's the truth. It comes down to how much work is required to get a book to the store shelves and how well it can be anticipated to do once it is available to be purchased by readers. A fresh premise with a relatable, diverse character that already has the makings of a kick-butt heroine has a lot of potential--but you have to deliver on the pacing, conflict, unique setting, and story question.

  10. Ah! Just saw the convo with Christina and realized that she is 23. In that case, I'm going to say that it might eventually be shelved as adult, but I wouldn't worry about that for the moment. Simply write the book in a way that is true to the character and the story, and an agent will sort it out later. I'd suggest eventually including agents who rep both adult and YA on your submission list so that it's an easier approach.

    1. Hi Martina, thank you so much for getting back to me. Searching for agents who rep both adult and YA is a brilliant tip; I will definitely do that. As for the story itself, however, I have found a way to keep Michi in the 20 and 21 bracket so I will still categorise it as YA at the moment.

      Again, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to reply me. Hope you have a wonderful weekend! :)