Sunday, October 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Kuder Rev 1

Name: Lisa Kuder
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Title: Dangerous Dreams
Chapter 1

Lan flipped the lock to the door of Uncle's home office and gently closed the door. Feeling light-headed and on the verge of passing out, she ran to the glass door and burst out onto the balcony, gulping in the cool, moist air that flowed off the San Francisco Bay. 

Collapsing onto a patio chair, she slowed her breathing until she had calmed herself enough to think straight. Even then, she was so flummoxed that it took her a few seconds to remember what was in the file folder clutched tightly in her hand—the folder that she had just stolen from Uncle’s office. But had she really stolen it if the documents in it were rightfully hers? 

Lan hadn't started out the day planning to go through Uncle’s filing cabinet. Ten minutes ago, she had been enjoying a cup of tea on the small balcony off the dining room of the luxury condo, watching the morning fog slowly drift westward as it played peek-a-boo with the sunlight that danced off the wind-swept waters of the Bay.  

Sitting out here, listening to the buzz of the city, and reveling in the soft breeze on her skin, the events of the past year seemed so distant and surreal. It was as if the girl who had left her rural Chinese village to live with her Uncle and Auntie in the US a year ago had been a completely different person from an alien planet.

She had been so idealistic back then, so full of dreams. Little did she know that she was heading for a life of washing, chopping, serving, and cleaning 12 hours a day at her uncle’s restaurant, punctuated by a half day off once every couple of weeks--the only bright spot in her otherwise mundane life. 

She definitely wasn't living the glamorous life of American school girls that were portrayed in the Chinese-dubbed VCR movies that she watched over and over on her family’s ancient TV set. Before coming to the US, she had spent many hours daydreaming about becoming the heroine of Mean Girls or Clueless as the cool, smart immigrant girl who would become best friends with Lindsay Lohan or Alicia Silverstone her first week at school. But that obviously wasn't going to happen any time soon, mostly because she had spent a grand total of zero days in school since she had arrived in San Francisco.

After half an hour of escape from reality, she noticed goosebumps forming on her bare arms that were exposed to the elements by her short-sleeved t-shirt.  So she went inside to get a sweater.

As she turned to head toward her room, a door in the hallway to the right of the kitchen caught her eye. It was the door to Uncle's forbidden home office, which she had been told repeatedly to stay away from. Not that she could get into it even if she wanted to – as far as she knew, he always locked the door when he left the room.

But now, for some reason, she couldn't keep her eyes off the door, as if some magnetic force was pulling her toward the office. She walked cautiously over to the door, afraid that somehow Uncle would sense that she had been in the vicinity of it. 

But Uncle was at work and Auntie was at the beauty salon. How could they possibly know? What would be the harm in just trying the doorknob? Of course it would be locked, and then she could go on enjoying the few delicious hours of freedom that she had left and put it out her mind.  

Her hand grasped the knob of the door to the office. She twisted it, and to her shock, the knob moved! She jumped back as if shocked by an electric current flowing through the doorknob. How could it not be locked? 

Lan stood there for a minute, thinking maybe it was a trap. Did Uncle purposely leave the office door open to see if she would disobey him? It seemed unlikely - he didn't seem to pay much attention to what she did. It was Auntie who was more obsessed with her following all the rules of the house. Then it dawned on her. Jing, the Chins’ housekeeper had been in earlier that morning. She was allowed to go in and clean the office, and she had probably forgotten to lock the door when she left.

Lan pushed the door gently forward and found herself standing in the doorway of a room full of sleek metal and glass that echoed the theme of the rest of the house.  A massive glass-topped desk commanded the room, balanced on top of curved metal crisscrossed legs, a high-tech office chair sitting at attention behind it. Two tall ebony filing cabinets flanked the window displaying a view of the city, and the wall to the left was lined ceiling-to-floor with glass bookshelves.

Lan shivered in both fear and anticipation. There was something thrilling about being somewhere she wasn't supposed to be. Her heart pounding, she ran a tentative hand across the smooth expanse of the desk. Like everything in the Chins' house, it looked very expensive. 

She knew she should turn around, leave the office and shut the door behind her. But she couldn't ignore the feeling that she was meant to be here. Why else would the door be unlocked the very same day she had felt undeniably drawn toward it?

Chapter 2

Henry heard his mom's voice drift up from downstairs to his second-story bedroom where he was working on Chemistry homework that was due the next day. He heard his name, but he couldn't make out anything else she was saying. 

He opened the door to his room and started down the stairs, happy for the excuse to take a break from his attempt to memorize formulas that refused to stick to his brain. 

His mom called out to him again. This time, he heard her loud and clear.

“Henry, there’s someone on the phone for you!” 


Confused, he stopped on the landing one-third the way down the stairs. No one ever called for him on the landline. There was no way this was good--he was pretty sure that the school was the only place that had his home number.

Dang! He should have studied more for the Geography test. He had probably flunked it, and now his teacher was calling his parents. The last couple of years, he had been successful in maintaining a fragile balance between the time spent honing his gaming skills and keeping up with his schoolwork. School had always been pretty easy for him. But one month into his Sophomore year at his academic magnet high school, it was obvious that he would have to work harder to keep his grades up so as to not jeopardize his carefully laid-out five-year plan.

By the time he slumped into the kitchen, he had convinced himself that Mrs. Mitchell had already told his mom about the test and that his teacher now wanted to scold him directly. So he was surprised by the look on his mom's face when he entered the room. Her forehead was scrunched up in an I'm-not-sure-what-to-think expression, rather than a red-faced-I'm-going-to-kill-Henry expression.


  1. Hey Lisa!

    I like how you added more concrete details about what got Lan into trouble. I miss the sense of urgency and danger that was present in the last revision, though. Maybe you can combine the sweet spots from both revisions so it contains the adrenaline from the first one while also grounding us in what caused the problem in the first place.

    Also, there might be too much of Lan's backstory here ("She had been so idealistic back then..." to the next paragraph ending in "San Francisco"). You can sprinkle it throughout the story later. I was taken out of the aftermath of her stealing her uncle's file and the juicy questions it raised (Why is the file important? What is in the file?). Jumping between scenes of the 1) balcony to the 2) backstory to the 3) office break-in could be jarring and confusing to some readers.

    I really enjoy the vision you have for your characters. Lan and Henry both intrigue me! Lan the underdog-immigrant and Henry the lazy genius both make compelling characters.

    Good job!

    1. Hi Mayee,

      Thanks for your feedback! I could definitely take out the backstory and try to put it elsewhere. I was trying to provide a little sense of Lan and how her life has changed in the past year. But if that interrupts the flow to much, I can definitely take it out.

      This part actually comes a year after the time period of my previous prologue. Lan and Henry's stories are happening at the same time, so that's why I had the prologue to give a hint about why she ended up coming to live with her uncle in the US. Anyway, I'll think about how I can make this part more suspenseful if I can - that was my purpose for having her escape the office at the beginning so that the tension was happening right up front.

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  3. Hi all,

    Thanks so much for your comments on my initial submission! As you can see, I've replaced the prologue with different first chapter and moved the previous first chapter to chapter 2.

    Just to give you a little context - this part of the story happens a year after my original prologue for Lan. This was originally a few chapters away, but I think this could be a good place to start. Henry and Lan's stories are happening at the same time, so in order to get in her backstory about why she came to live with her uncle in San Francisco, I'm using internal and regular dialog, along with flashbacks to fill the reader in on the story as it goes along.

    I would appreciate your feedback on whether you think that the backstory I have in chapter 1 belongs here or takes away too much from the action.


  4. Hi Lisa,

    —I think the concept of Lan being a trafficking victim/wage slave to her relatives is interesting and topical — several business owners around me have recently been arrested for doing this.

    —At first I was confused whether she had locked herself into the office or snuck out of it.

    —Is flummoxed the right word here as opposed to agitated? Is she actually confused/bewildered?

    —I liked the description of the sunlight on the balcony.

    —Glamorous life was/were subject/verb agreement.

    —Instead of describing where her Uncle’s doorway was in a complicated way, maybe just say what she thought as she walked past the door on the way to her room?

    —I like the idea of starting her story with her stealing the papers, but I’m not sure it should start with having stolen them and then jump back to just before stealing them. Perhaps start with her about to enter the office or already in it? You could still have her thinking about her situation while she looks for the documents. Then she could burst out of the office after she finds them? Just a thought!

    Good job!

  5. Hi Lisa,

    You have done such significant revision, so good job. Personally, as an overview, I feel that the pace for Chapter 1 and 2 (especially the cut-off point for Chapter 1) is better than your first submission. Based on your remark, I feel that you are concerned about this new starting point. I agree with Mayee that Chapter 1 lacks the urgency of your original submission, but it has nothing to do with your starting point at all. The scene in Chapter 1 feels like the right one, at least to me. It's the execution that is at fault here. I feel the urgency when I begin the chapter but the flashback throws me off completely. Both Mayee and Mary have voiced my opinion on how you can work on that, so let me just stress that this is the right scene. You are on the right track!

    Best regards,

  6. Hi Lisa,

    Great job on your newest revision! It definitely gives us more insight as to who Lan is.

    I like the initial tension you created with Lan on the balcony with the stolen folder, but I was lost a little bit from paragraph to paragraph. Lan's on the balcony clutching this seemingly important folder and then all of the sudden starts thinking about her old Chinese village. Then she starts thinking of school and how her life didn't pan out like Mean Girls or Clueless portrayed. I don't understand how this is relevant at this crucial moment. The tension is slowly waning as we delve into her thoughts, although I like the insight into her past life. Maybe you could switch this information around a bit to flow more and keep the tension?

    Great job revising and I know your next version is going to hit the nail on the head!!

  7. I just thought of something that I would like feedback on from those who haven't reviewed this revision yet - Do you think it would work start Chapter 1 with the prologue from my previous revision (where Lan is thinking that her life is over) then do a chapter break titled "One year later" and start with the scene on the balcony, then have her going into the office? I don't know if it would be "cheating" to just put the prologue into the first chapter or not.

    Anyway, if anyone has any ideas about this, please let me know.


    1. Hi Lisa,

      Will this scene (the prologue) appear in the body of the novel later? Are you thinking of putting the prologue in Chapter 1? Personally, I think your Chapter 1 is rather good. What is your concern here?


  8. Hi, Lisa!

    Lan! We have stakes, backstory, and a glimpse into her world. (I didn't mention it before, but the prior version read like she might have been in the past or a fantasy world, due to listening outside a window and not wanting to disturb the ground around her as she left.) You didn't give us all the secrets, but you gave us enough to know there is a secret without being overly coy. Excellent.

    My one critique here is that you start with Lan holding the folder, then she goes outside with it, then "ten minutes ago," she's outside for half an hour before she goes into the office to (presumably) get the folder. The timeline was somewhat confusing to me.

    I don't mind the backstory here, either. It does slow down the aha! moment of getting this folder, but I didn't really mind. Since we never do anything more with the folder in this chapter, however, it might be better to wait for her to get it until the end of the chapter, so we end on the tension of, WHAT IS IN IT!? but with the context of Uncle and Auntie and Lan's life hanging over us.

    Overall, I think you definitely tightened up these pages. And I love that I'm frustrated that the next chapter is about Henry because I'm hung up on what happened with Lan and want to keep reading about her! A good cliffhanger chapter to keep me turning the pages to see how it all connects. :)

  9. Hi Lisa!

    I love what you've done with this revision! You've created a great sense of caution and urgency as she walks into the forbidden office. It's really well done.

    I do agree with others that you should just start with her coming in to get her sweater, noticing the office door, and going into it. You could even expand Chapter 1 a bit to her finding the file folder, seeing what's in it, and running off with it out to the balcony. You can do all of that without revealing to the reader what's in it. Just give us her reaction and her running off, and I think that's a nice chapter end that will keep people reading.

    The backstory isn't horrible, though I don't think you need to call out specific shows or actresses here. And there's probably a cleaner way into the backstory. Like maybe she sees a group of school kids (in private school uniforms?) and thinks about how she used to dream of being one of them...etc. Maybe she sees her hands dry from the work she's doing, etc... You'll find what works with your story best. But there are plenty of ways in, and I don't think you need to cut it out completely, just clean it up a bit.

    Again, though, I was confronted with how slow and mundane Henry's story is when compared to Lan's. I wonder if there's a more exciting way into it? Like maybe he's waiting next to the phone because he knows he failed that test and he wants to answer before his parents do just in case it's his teacher calling? Use your thriller skills to map out the scene so maybe you can make even something mundane seem exciting. And maybe that'll add a bit of a comic element to break the tension from the Lan scene? (I'm obviously take all of this with a grain or two of salt.)

    Other than that, as you revise your final time, I'd encourage you to read aloud to catch any repetitive phrasing or sentence structures. And congrats on doing this work!


  10. Hi everyone,

    Thanks so much for your feedback! I will keep it all in mind when working on the next revision.