Sunday, October 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Kuder Rev 2

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


For Henry, a gaming-obsessed teenager, life is pretty awesome. He has just been offered his dream job--a sweet internship at a video game company. But when Henry finds a mysterious flash drive containing incriminating information about the company CFO, Mr. Chin, things start to get really complicated. 

For 16-year old Lan, life is definitely not awesome. She has managed to escape an arranged marriage to the meanest boy in her rural Chinese village by moving to San Francisco to living with her Uncle Chin where she is supposed to be attending school. Instead, she and all of the other kitchen workers in her uncle's restaurant are working 12-hour days without pay and have been cut off from all communication with their families in China. 

Lan has stumbled on some information that Chin has gone to great lengths to hide. She reaches out to Henry, hoping that he can help her and her coworkers gain their freedom. As they uncover more of Chin's secrets in their quest for truth, Henry learns the hard way that people are more important than video games, and Lan finds a new way to live out her dreams. 

Chapter 1

Lan hadn't started out the day planning to steal a folder from Uncle’s filing cabinet.

A half an hour 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 to reveal the sunlight as it danced off the wind-swept waters of the Bay. 

After she had finished her tea, she walked over to the balcony railing to watch the miniature people walking along The Embarcadero below. Pairs of walkers strode purposefully toward their goal of 10,000 daily steps, while tech workers hurried to their offices, carrying backpacks that held millions of dollar's-worth of ideas.

A growing cluster of children was starting to form at a bus stop right in the center of her view. It was hard to tell their age or gender from her tenth-floor perch, but she guessed that they ranged in age from about 8 to 16. The younger ones jostled and chased each other around, and the older ones stood solemnly staring at their phones as if the gadgets contained the very meaning of life.

After watching the kids for a few minutes, a sudden pang of longing took her by surprise and propelled her back away from the balcony railing. Those kids are waiting for a bus to take them to school. It wasn’t fair. She was supposed to be standing and waiting for the bus, flipping through the texts from her girlfriends on her phone, looking forward to the day with a mixture of excitement and dread. Would the cute boy that sat in front of her in Math class talk to her today? What grade would she get on the tough exam she had taken the day before?

 But there was no need to wonder about what she would be doing today. It would be the same thing she did every day—washing, chopping and serving 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.

A gust of bay wind reminded her that she had forgotten to bring a sweater outside.  She picked up her teacup with one hand and slid open the glass door leading to the condo’s open dining/living/kitchen with the other.

As she went into the kitchen to put her cup in the sink, she had the sense that something was off as she passed the hallway leading to Auntie and Uncle’s master bedroom. She came back out of the kitchen and looked down the hallway. That must be it. The door to Uncle’s forbidden home office was slightly ajar. It was strange—he always closed and locked it when he left the office.

Neither Uncle or Auntie was at home. He had left about an hour earlier for a breakfast meeting with his business partners, and she was out at an early morning yoga class. He must have forgotten to lock it before he left that morning.

What should she do? If he had left it open on purpose, he would know if she closed it. If he had accidentally left it and forgot about it, he might assume that she had broken into the office. Lan walked cautiously over to the door, afraid that somehow Uncle would sense that she was near it. She had been told repeatedly never to go into that office, and she had no desire to find out what would happen if she disobeyed.

Her hand grasped the knob of the door to the office, and she stood there for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Closing it and going on with her day would make the most sense. It was silly to think that Uncle had left it open on purpose. But she couldn’t shake the thought that she had been given an unexpected opportunity. Even just a peek into the office would give her the chance to learn more about her Uncle who, in spite of the fact that she had lived with him for the past year, she hardly knew anything about.

Lan pushed the door gently forward and found herself 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. One wall was lined ceiling-to-floor with glass bookshelves, and two sleek black armchairs faced the desk.

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 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 opened on one of the rare days that she was in the house alone?

Chapter 2

Henry had a foolproof five-year plan.

Years 1-2: Crush the next two years of high school by excelling at academics while simultaneously honing his gaming skills and coding skills. 

Year 3: Continue to get straight As during the first part of the year to gain early admission to Stanford. 

Year 4: Take a bunch of easy general ed classes his Freshmen year so that he could start development on his video game and spend a lot of time networking to identify potential business partners.

Year 5: Continue with as many easy general ed classes as he could get away with while putting the final touches his game and working with his co-founders on a business plan.

After his Sophomore year of college, he would take advantage of Stanford’s leave policy to “take a year off” to pitch to investors and gain the funding that he would need to launch 

Of course, he wouldn’t ever go back to finish his degree. What would be the point?

His plan was a good one, and he was sure he had thought of everything. Or at least that’s what he thought until he received a grade on the first test of his Sophomore year: C-.


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  2. Dear Lisa,

    Firstly, may I just say something: WHAT? THE DODGY CFO HAS THE SAME SURNAME AS ME?! WHAAAAAAT?! *deep breaths* [Haha, I wonder at your reaction when you saw my surname for the first time weeks ago. I definitely would've gotten all nerd-excited if somebody shares the same name as my character.]

    All right, now to the critique:

    Pitch: -
    The writing is punchy and smart. I like it. But as I read, a huge detail jumps out at me. Obviously, Lan and Henry's life are connected by this dodgy Chin, but if this Chin is a company's CFO - a very big video game company's CFO at that - how does he have time to run a restaurant too? Of course, I'm aware that he might be a silent partner or just an investor, but I don't think you will want an agent to pause and scratch his or her head. Maybe make it clearer about this Chin character - just the part he plays in the restaurant, nothing else.

    Pages: -

    Points that I like:
    - This revision reads much, much smoother. Personally, I think THIS is how you should start your book. You tell us about the character and what she does in a chronological order, easy to follow, and enough details to make us invest in Lan.

    - I LOVE Lan's dilemma about whether or not to close her uncle’s door. Such a simple action, but you’ve given us our first view of her uncle’s character in a very organic way.

    - The beginning of Henry’s chapter is also so much better. Not only do you make this so much more interesting, you also give us an impression of Henry’s easy-going character.

    Potential improvement:

    - This is a personal POV. Since you begin Lan’s chapter by saying that she is going to steal a file, I feel that the cut-off point isn’t exactly right. I would’ve forgotten all about the file after Henry’s chapter. Maybe put the scene where she steals in the file in this chapter?

    - Year 4: Take a … start developING

    - Year 5: Continue … touches TO his game

    Wow, this is such a solid revision, Lisa! I will give Henry – and you - an A+ if I could.

    1. Ha, ha - sorry about using your surname for my bad guy! It's nothing personal, really!

  3. Hey there,

    Your pitch contains the best things from your different revisions (like the deep contrast between Lan and Henry's situations) along with information that tells us more about the conflict. I especially love the last line--such a hook! It also shows the theme of your story.

    But one really big detail stuck out to me...Why is a company CFO running a restaurant on the side? Is it his passion? Is it a money laundering scheme? What was the public's reaction to a presumably successful, super rich CFO running such a restaurant? If he kept it hidden from the media-hungry

    I agree with Shirlyn that your cut-off point for Lan's POV could be improved. Maybe you can take out those scenes from her enjoying her tea, people-watching, and reminiscing? Although they're all very well-written scenes and gave me a clear image of her surroundings and info about Lan, I wanted to know more about the Lan stealing the file, the file's contents, and her reaction to it.

    1. Also, you need to include your book's word count in your pitch!

    2. Hi Mayee,

      Thanks - I was trying to create a cliff-hanger type of ending so that people would want to read on and find out what happens in the next Lan chapter, but I could probably end it at another place. I addressed the CFO question in a later post. And thanks for the reminder about the word count . I didn't know we were supposed to include it her.

  4. Hi there,

    I think the revisions improved the Lan intro. I liked the way you set the scene—it sprang to life for me. The actions were also in a better order.

    Regarding the Pitch:
    Lan’s description would read more clearly this way: “She has escaped an arranged marriage to a cruel boy in her rural Chinese village by moving to San Francisco, where she lives with her Uncle Chin and is supposed to be attending school.”

    The final sentence of the pitch tells too much of “lessons learned” and should really stop after stating the stakes. What will happen to Henry and Lan if they are discovered? Will Uncle/Mr. Chin kill them? Enslave them? Have them sent home to a horrible marriage?

    I agree strongly with the other commenter wondering why a tech CEO is enslaving people in a restaurant. It doesn’t make sense—he’s already rich and has too much to lose breaking the law.


    I would delete the paragraph that starts with “A growing cluster of children…” I think the stage has already been set and it starts to get boring. Perhaps replace, with something shorter, like “a school bus driving by triggered a sudden pang of longing. It wasn’t fair—she should be going to school, too.

    The description of the office was too long and detailed. Using a few key details to set the tone would be better.

    If you cut the paragraphs I mentioned, you could get more action into the first five pages, of her getting into the filing cabinets and expressing the desire to find her stolen passport/papers.

    I preferred the previous start to Henry’s chapter.

    Nitpicky comments:

    “Backpacks that held millions of dollar's-worth of ideas” would read more smoothly as “backpacks full of million-dollar ideas.”

    Missing a period at the end of “funding that he would need to launch.” 

    No need to capitalize freshman or sophomore year.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your comments! I wasn't sure about the last sentence and now I realize I should rethink it. Thanks for the comments about the pages as well. It's hard to get perspective sometimes when you are in the midst of writing, so I really appreciate your input!

  5. Hi all,

    I just want to address something about my pitch that seemed to trip up the prior commenters. Mr. Chin is the CFO of Video Maniacs, but it's a fairly small gaming company, and his relative is one of the founders who he's basically doing a favor for. So, although he is a prominent business owner, he's not a big shot tech executive. I'm realizing that I should probably take out the CFO reference in the pitch.

    Also, I apologize for any spelling or grammar mistakes. I was rushing to get this submitted on time, and I didn't really have time to proofread the pitch or the new beginning of Henry's chapter. I realize now that I should have just left out the Henry part and sent the revision of Lan's chapter for review.

    Anyway, thanks for your patience and I appreciate any feedback that you can provide.


  6. Pitch

    I think your pitch is very concise and gets the job done detailing your story well. The only critique I have is that it sounds middle grade and not like a thriller. I think by taking out some parts like (life is pretty awesome, meanest boy, etc.) and making them sound more current with how kids talk today, it would seem way more YA. It would also help to focus a bit more on your last paragraph and introduce us to the thriller aspect to your novel, because right now, I have no idea how this is a thriller, and I’d love to know!

    Is Mr. Chin and Uncle Chin the same person? If so, I think you should allude to that in your pitch. (If they are the same person, it seems strange to call your uncle by his last name instead of his first name.)


    Wow. Great job on these. It reads SO much more smoother than your last revisions, and I love where you take us in the beginning of the story to the bus stop and Lan wanting to be out there. Amazing job. I definitely get a better feel for Lan as a character and her feeling of loneliness. I’m just confused as to why she has to work in a kitchen when she lives in a nice apartment in San Francisco? Her uncle is clearly rich and his wife is taking a yoga class so they sound like they have money to spend. I’d love more insight about this in your first chapter.

    Great job!!

    1. Hi Kaylynn,

      Thanks for your feedback! I will try to work on giving the pitch more of a YA thriller feel.

      And yes, Uncle Chin and Mr. Chin are the same person. He is basically the connection between Henry and Lan. My understanding is that Chinese speakers use the surname after a family title, such as Uncle. But I'll double-check with a Chinese speaker.

      Yes, Lan's aunt and uncle are wealthy, and she is living with them in their luxury condo. But they are basically holding her prisoner - she isn't allowed to go anywhere except home and work. This is revealed in the following chapters.

  7. Hi Lisa,

    I really love the unique twist you've given this story. We see a lot of "intern finds incriminating information at his job" but the presence of Lan and her life really gives this that extra something special. It did, however, leave me wondering how the two were connected. How did she know Henry and how would she know he was someone she should reach out to?

    Great first line. You have a really strong voice with this, and it's clear the farther you read. However, I really wish we'd begun in the moment of her theft. We can learn the rest from her internal voice as she's in the midst of breaking into his filing cabinet or drawer. She can help us understand her frustration, how she's not allowed to pursue her life's path, how she was tricked into being Uncle's servant. How this is her one chance to maybe find a way out of it. The second chapter really pulls us in and immediately shows us the conflict we'll face, but the first chapter sets us up for conflict—only to drop back into the setup of the scene. Try to revise that and make the scene immediately active tone, and this will shine.

    Kaitlyn Johnson

    1. Thank you Kaitlyn! I really appreciate your feedback.

      Lan and Henry are connected through Mr./Uncle Chin. This part is revealed in a couple of chapters.

      I actually did start with her fleeing the office after stealing the folder, then backtracked to before she went into the office, and I got feedback that I should reorder it. Anyway, I think I need to play with it some more to get the right order of things. It kind of feels like putting puzzle pieces together!

  8. On the Pitch:

    So, the point of a pitch is to entice agents (and later editors) to request pages of the manuscript. To that end, you want to craft the pitch in such a way that you are presenting the main conflict in such a way that the agent is desperate to read the pages to find out what happens.

    You do a really great job of presenting who the main characters are and setting up the general story, but what I’m missing is the stakes for them. You kind of hint at them, but the main question I’m missing is “What big decision do they have to make?” and then the stakes: “What are the consequences (good and bad) of that decision?”

    Like, in the Henry section, you say, he finds “incriminating information” without telling us what it is even linked to and then say “things start to get really complicated,” which is also vague. What does that mean? Is it about money? Power? are human lives on the line? Without knowing the stakes, there’s no urgency for Henry or for the agent reading the pitch.

    The stakes for Lan are already higher, just because of her living arrangements, but when it comes to her uncle, we’re again left with vague language like “some information” and “more secrets.” You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) give us the big reveal here, but we do need to know what’s at stake. Because if his secret is that he cheats on his taxes that’s a lot less serious than if he’s engaging in human trafficking or building a bomb in his basement.

    My main suggestion is to fix the last sentence of the pitch to something like: As they uncover more of Chin's secrets in their quest for truth, Henry and Lan must decide whether to XXX, knowing Z is the consequence, or YYY, even if that means that W is on the line.

    On the pages:

    You did such a great job with this revision! I know you’ve been overtly contrasting Lan and Henry from the beginning, but this does it in a deliciously subtle way that I love. And you’re so good at writing suspense, I found myself holding my breath through the office scene with Lan. I also really like the new way you’re starting the Henry section. It’s dynamic and interesting and really gives us a sense of his character without being clich√© or overt about it. Well done!

    Just some quick notes. Watch out for tense shifts. For example: “Those kids are waiting for a bus to take them to school.” is present tense and should be past. And be careful about repetitive phrasing. You use “what should she do” and “to the office” a lot in the Lan section. Some small tweaks should improve the flow there.

    But my main problem with the Lan chapter is where it stops. I feel like you're maybe cutting it short so you can intro Henry in these five pages? But I hope as you revise, you'll lengthen the office scene to include her finding the file and stealing it and why. Ideally a first chapter would be at least five pages (if not longer) on its own, and this one feels cut needlessly short.

    On the second chapter, I think you could simplify his five-year plan, maybe? For example:

    Years 1-2: Crush the next two years of high school by excelling at academics while simultaneously honing his gaming skills and coding skills.

    Year 3: Use his amazing grades to gain early admission to Stanford.

    My suggestion really is to tighten up the language as much as possible, so it reads more like something a guy would write on a piece of paper.

    As always let me know if you have any questions. And good luck to you with this project!! I hope to see it someday on the shelves. :)

    Heather Petty

    1. Hi Heather,

      Thanks so much for your suggestions about including clearer stakes. I can definitely see now how it's missing.

      And I do agree about making Lan's first chapter longer. For most of the novel, each chapter is a separate scene, but I cut this one into two. I was trying to create a cliff-hanger at the end of it, but it doesn't seem like it was very effective.

      My main question for you would be: Most of my chapters are pretty short. Part of the reason is that I'm moving Lan and Henry's story forward in parallel, and I just found it hard to do with longer chapters. I also happen to like shorter chapters in books, especially when there is more than one POV. But if this will be an issue for YA readers, I should definitely rethink it. Any advice that you have on this would be greatly appreciated!

    2. It's not a huge deal, and there's no standard page count as far as I know. But I think that a chapter should always push the story forward in some way. A chapter can be two pages and do that. A chapter can be twenty pages and fail to do that.

      And I think what all of us were reacting to is that your chapter leaves off before it takes the step of pushing us into the actual story. We learn some things about her and her situation, but it doesn't introduce the actual story arc, which is the point of chapter 1, especially in a thriller.

      Does that help at all?