Saturday, October 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Kuder

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


My life is over.

Lan leaned against the cracked concrete wall outside her house, having lost all power to move or even think.

My life is over.

The thought careened around the corners of her mind, demanding attention. It changed colors, then shapes, then it multiplied until there was no room in her brain for anything else.

My life is over.

A chair scraped along the floor inside the house, and she heard the grunt of an eight months pregnant lady rising to clear the dishes from the table. Soon, her father would be starting toward the door to go back to his work in the fields.

Fear of being discovered overrode her despair as she bolted from her hiding place, making sure not to disturb any twigs on the dry ground as she scrambled to the back of the house toward the road leading to the village center.

It didn't matter where she was going, she just had to get away. She couldn't talk to her parents right now. Not after what she had just heard. As she walked along the dusty village road, her feet formed small clouds of dust with each step and her school bag bounced gently off her back. 

Had her bag always been this heavy? Had she always been this slow? It was as if she had gained 100 pounds and 50 years in the last five minutes. Her once carefree youth had been snatched away in an instant.


This is the best day of my life!

Henry somehow made it up the stairs to his room, though he didn't remember how he got there. He threw his backpack on the floor and got undressed, replacing his khakis with shorts and his button-down shirt with a t-shirt.  He tossed the discarded clothes on his bed, planning to deal with them later. Most likely, they would end up on the floor and may or may not migrate to the clothes hamper at some point in the next few days. 

In daze, he flung himself down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling as the corners of his mouth slowly tugged upward into a huge, stupid grin--the kind of grin he that he would see on the occasional dork walking through the hallways at school who thought he was “in love” with some dumb girl. 

But today, Henry's bliss had nothing to do with a girl. Today, Henry was on a date with destiny. Today, all of his hard work had finally paid off. Everyone said that he was too obsessed, that he was wasting his time. Today, he had proved all the haters wrong. 

He heard footsteps in the hallway. His mother was home from the club and would soon be heading to his room to talk to him about what happened this afternoon. To preempt the inevitable lecture from her about leaving his clothes laying around, he grabbed his pants and shirt, opened the top of the hamper and threw them in. 

As the hamper gently thunked shut, a small black rectangular object lying on the carpet next to the hamper caught Henry's eye. He picked it up. It looked like a USB flash drive, and at first, he thought it was one of his. But this one had a red button on it to eject the drive from the casing, and he was pretty sure he didn't have one that looked like this. 

Where in the heck did it come from?

Chapter 1

Henry heard his mom's voice drift up from downstairs to his second-story bedroom where 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. The low rumble in his stomach was telling him that it must be dinner time, but unfortunately, the clock on his computer said otherwise. It was 4:45, too early for dinner.

Henry opened his bedroom door and asked his mom to repeat herself. What??  It sounded like she said someone was on the phone for him, it couldn't be right. No one ever called him on the home phone.

He was grateful for the distraction from trying to memorize formulas that refused to stick to his brain, so he started down the stairs to investigate. Wait a minute. He stopped on the landing one-third the way down the stairs. If someone really had called for him on the landline, it couldn't be about anything 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 Mrs. Mitchell 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.

He slumped down the rest of the stairs toward the kitchen, having 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.

When she saw Henry, she put a hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. "Henry, a Venkat Singhal is on the phone for you. I don't know what he wants. If he tries to sell you something, just hang up on him."

Venkat Singhal? The name sounded vaguely familiar, but it definitely wasn't one of his teachers.

He took the phone from his mother, "Hello?" he said. 

"Is this Henry?" answered a male voice with a clipped, slightly British accent. 

"Yes," said Henry tentatively, not sure if he should admit to it or not. 

"Well Henry," said the man, "I am Venkat Singhal, a partner at the venture capital firm Haines, Singhal and Berry. Or HSB, as we are commonly known."

Now Henry knew where he had heard the name. Venkat Singhal was a partner at the HSB, the venture capital firm. One of the start-ups they had funded just had a wildly successful IPO, and the name of the company had been all over the news in recent days. 

"My understanding is that you are the current high scorer in the game, Urban Menace, which was created by a company that we are looking into funding--Video Maniacs."

"Ummmm yeah, I think I am," Henry replied, wondering how in the heck Mr. Singhal knew this while simultaneously wishing he could think of something more intelligent to say. 

"Well, I am happy to tell you that the founders of the Video Maniacs are currently in the area to meet with HSB We are considering funding their expansion into the US market. From your game registration records, they discovered that you lived in this area, and they have requested the honor of meeting you," said Mr. Singhal.

Henry was sure his head was going to explode. The founders of Video Maniacs, the creator of the sickest video game ever wanted to meet him? Was he being punked? 


  1. Hello Lisa!

    I loved the beginning of your first five pages--it hooked me right from the start. The repeated "my life is over"s communicated the sense of urgency and panic Lan must have felt, and your descriptions of her thought processes and actions were exquisite. I especially liked "The thought careened around the corners of her mind, demanding attention. It changed colors, then shapes, then it multiplied until there was no room in her brain for anything else." It truly highlights a worried, mile-a-minute mind. The ending gave me Ready Player One vibes.

    Although the contrast of Lan and Henry's situations drew me in (my life is over v. this is the best day of my life was nicely juxtaposed), I have slightly mixed feelings about Lan's part. I know I just said that Lan's conflict grabbed my attention, but she doesn't appear for the rest of the five pages. I don't know how much longer it would take for her to appear, so maybe you can show something about Lan that immediately links her to Henry besides the contrast between Lan's danger and Henry's contentment.

    Why is Lan running away? Who is she running away from? For example, if it is a HSB agent, you could include a few words about that, so when agents/future readers reach Henry's phone conversation with Venkat, they would realize the true direness of both Henry and Lan's positions. HSB is not all what it appears to be!

    Wishing you the best of luck,

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Mayee! I appreciate that you shared your frustration about not hearing more about Lan. Unfortunately, the 5 page cut off came at an awkward place. Lan and Henry are both protagonists in the story and every other chapter, I swap out the POV. I'm going to think about how I can maybe rearrange things to make the beginning more effective.

  2. Dear Lisa,

    I absolutely love your writing. It is snappy and pack the suspense that, I think, is especially important in a thriller. (Although, some disclosure: I actually don't read much thriller; I hope my comment can still be helpful though.)

    First, I'd like to suggest perhaps putting in a 'prologue' prior to Lan? When I start reading, I assumed that it is Chapter 1 and my head gets a bit dizzy at the abrupt cut-off point. It will be no problem at all if this is a prologue since a prologue is meant to entice and draw the readers in.

    Secondly, I agree with Mayee that I am looking forward to reading Lan's perspective again. I don't know if some shifting of events is possible or more disclosure on what Lan is experiencing is possible without jeapordising the story.

    Lastly, just a gentle suggestion:
    "My understanding is that you are the current high scorer in the game, Urban Menace, which was created by a company that we are looking into funding--Video Maniacs." Maybe separate it into two sentences? But feel free to ignore if you don't agree. Writing is highly subjective after all.

    Looking forward to your revision. I have thoroughly enjoyed your first submission.

    Best regards,

    1. Thank you Shirlyn! The parts with Henry and Lan are actually a prologue, but I've heard that it's not good to label something as a prologue because sometimes people think of it as boring background information. It's meant to be an introduction to the main characters to get the reader interested in their stories and wondering what comes next. But I'm going to think about how I can rearrange things to make it less confusing.

  3. So I like all three beginnings as separate elements, so good job on creating three different beginnings that draw the reader into the story!

    But as the first five pages of a novel, I found them confusing. If the first two are different perspectives of a prologue, I might just leave them out. Thriller prologues often jump into the past or future to show you a murder or chase scene to give the reader a peek into the mood the novel is hoping to achieve later, even though the story has to start slower. If the prologue is just two other slowish starts, I would simply start at the third beginning, or your current chapter 1. Or perhaps there is a way to tie them together in a more clear way?

    Within Chapter 1, once Venkat Singhal is introduced, his full name is repeated several times in short succession. I would rewrite to eliminate some of these. Like maybe his mom could just say “some guy named Van-Cat?” and then he could just say “The name sounded familiar” without repeating it.

    Also, Venkat introduces himself as "I am Venkat Singhal, a partner at the venture capital firm Haines, Singhal and Berry. Or HSB, as we are commonly known.” Then you almost immediately repeat the same information “Venkat Singhal was a partner at the HSB, the venture capital firm.” The reader already knows that. So just skip from “Now Henry knew where he had heard the name.” to “One of the startups HSB had funded…”

    Sounds like an interesting scenario, kind of like Armada by Ernest Cline.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Mary! I'm going to rethink my arrangement of the first couple of pages. I wanted the prologue to reflect the POV of both of my main characters, but if it's goo confusing to people, it's not worth it. I'll also work on making the interaction with Venkat Singhal a little smoother.

  4. Hi Lisa,

    I think you have a very strong prologue. I’m already dying to know why Lan’s life is over. I know you’ve received comments about including more information about her situation, but since it is just the prologue, I preferred that you left it out and aren’t telling us. It makes me want to read more and find out!

    I love the dichotomy between Henry and Lan. Henry is having the best day ever, and Lan sounds like she’s hit rock bottom. I’m also very curious to know more about this USB flask drive thing he’s discovered. Great opening!

    I’m interested to see how this turns into a thriller. I think most kids picking up the book will want maybe a bit more off the back. Perhaps there is a way to make Lan’s part even more suspenseful (without revealing too much)?Henry’s part is just so lighthearted at the moment.

    Great job!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Kaylynn! I'm glad that you are intrigued to find out about Lan's situation because that's what I'm going for! I see what you mean about the thriller aspect being a little bit lacking, but part of what I'm going for is to show the contrast between Lan's perilous situation and Henry's normal life - which is about to get a lot more exciting once he meets Lan. :)

  5. Hi Lisa!

    So, I was all in at the start of Lan's narrative. I liked the staccato rhythm you had going with her "My life is over" versus her actions. But then you never elaborated on why her life was over, and what she had just heard. So the whole scene kind of felt like a cheat. Same with Henry's. I loved the juxtaposition of their two narratives, but as a reader, I want to know why it's the worst day or the best day. I like not always knowing the full story and I recommend your characters keep a few secrets, but in this case, they're withholding the plot.

    We then go to chapter one, which threw me off: we'd already been introduced to Henry; it was just a prologue? I'd suggest cutting it completely, as it didn't offer us any information, and seems to have no bearing on Henry in chapter one, as he seems to be in a different scene and a different mood.

    (As a nitpicky sidenote, if you choose to keep the prologue, USB drives are so prevalent, his reaction to finding one felt a little too staged. Sure, it might not be his, but would that warrant such a lengthy commentary? I'd probably dump it in a drawer thinking I'd dropped it. I certainly wouldn't realize it wasn't mine because it had a button on it. But again, nitpicky!)

    So onto chapter one: As someone who breezed through school but then had to learn how to study in college, I liked that Henry had to work at his new magnet school. I also like that he deduced a call on the landline had to be from school since no one else would know it. That's fun.

    The first few paragraphs felt very stilted, however, as they were all narrated from an outside voice, specifically the, "What? It sounded like she said...." If you just include the dialog exchange itself, rather than summarizing it, I think it would flow much nicer; or maybe shorten this part so we get into Henry's thought process (re: it must be school calling) and the actual phone call quicker.

    Venkat Singhal introduces himself and as being from a "venture capital firm," but then Henry repeats the exact same information to himself, even the "venture capital firm" comment. I'd cut Henry's and maybe change it to where he's seen Venkat or HSB before, like on some chat network or a blog. You know, keep it hip to the teens these days by referencing something they're more likely to keep abreast of, as opposed to the ambiguous "news." ;)

    I like that this feels a bit READY PLAYER ONE, but it also hints at maybe a portal world with Lan's intro. Is she in the virtual world? Is the virtual world actually a real world being exploited by a mega-corporation for profit? I'm intrigued either way!

    1. Thanks Mary! I think at this point, I've decided to get rid of Henry's part of the prologue, as it seems to add more confusion than value to the story. Regarding the mystery of Lan's situation, I'm keeping it that way on purpose for the first part of the story. She is meant to be a bit of an enigma to Henry when he meets her and I want to keep the reader wondering about her as well.

      Another part of it is that there is a lot of backstory about her that I need to try to fit in without resorting to a bunch of flashbacks. If you have any ideas about how to do this well, I would love to hear them! Lan's prologue takes place a year in the past, and from Chapter 1 on, Lan and Henry are on the same timeline, and I switch back and forth between their POVs.

      Thanks for the feedback on Henry's chapter as well - I'll work in making that smoother.

      I think it's hilarious that so many commenters this to Ready Player One because the story really doesn't have much to do with video games or virtual reality other than the fact that Henry's obsessed with them and that's what gets him involved with the video game company. :)

  6. Hi Lisa!

    First, what I can tell of the concept seems intriguing. I like the idea of his video games obsession turning into something that looks promising but might be less than safe down the line. (I'm assuming, because this is a thriller.) I also loved the vibrancy of Henry's character. He doesn't do much on the page so far, but the sections with him have a lot of energy, which is great for a thriller protagonist.

    The writing in the Lan paragraphs really made me look forward to what you'll do later on the in the story. It's very strong, stronger by far than the rest of it. In just a few sentences you made me invest in Lan and desperate to know more about her and what she overheard.

    BUT... and I'm going to preface this next part with: I hate prologues. (All prologues, not just yours.) Most of the time, I find they are lazy and unnecessary. Lazy, in that they are used to either feed background info to the reader or to drum up intrigue to cover up for a boring first chapter. And Unnecessary, in that a good 90+% of the time, you can cut the prologue completely and the story still stands.

    Here, the Lan and Henry prologue scenes read as both to me. As much as I love the Lan part, if you're not going to start with her scene expanded to a first chapter, then you're using a snippet of her to cover for the fact that the Henry-led first chapter of your book is slow and draggy.

    And it is a little slow right now. I'm not sure you're starting the book in the right place, if I'm honest. And I think if you come up with a more intriguing way to start, you'll more easily be able to give up on the prologue bits. In addition, I think you've got much too much exposition and mundane interiority, and some of it goes off voice. For example, "migrate to the clothes hamper" is something a mom would say, not something a teen boy would even think about. And “her once carefree youth” is way out of voice (unless Lan really is 50).

    The exposition/interiority problem also leads to a lot of what I call Author Intrusion. This is where you are feeding information to the reader by having your character think it or overhear it, but it's really obvious that you're feeding us info, because it doesn't read very naturally on the page.

    The Venkat Singhal part is a perfect example of that. First, you have your character basically repeat word for word Venkat's introduction of himself. And second, why would a 15-year-old know anything about a venture capitalist? I know you say it's been "all over the news," but really that kind of info is only on CNBC, and kids don't pay attention to that stuff unless it's for a report or something. It's much more natural for Henry to NOT know who this guy is, and only be excited by his connection to the gaming company.

    My challenge to you is to look for ways to make the info read more subtly and naturally to the characters you have and also to make sure that information is necessary for the reader to know this early on.

    And finally, I'd really encourage you to clean up your copy before you submit again. You're missing a few words here and there, like it should be "In A daze," not "In daze." To help with that, I'd suggest you read it aloud carefully to help you find repeated info, repeated phrasing, (such as "as she bolted" and "as she scrambled" in the same sentence), and any missing words or awkward phrasing.

    Good luck to you in your revision! I really am looking forward to see what you do with this one (and hopefully getting to read more into chapter 1)!

    Let me know if you have any questions!

    First Five Mentor

  7. Hi Heather,

    Thanks so much for your feedback! I know that prologues are controversial and I didn't have one with the first few drafts of the beginning of the book. The problem is that Lan's story starts a year before Henry's, but I am switching back between their POVs during the novel, and I wanted to have them in the same time period while I'm doing that. Originally, I had Lan tell her backstory through flashbacks, but too many flashbacks seemed unnatural, so I settled on hinting at her backstory in the prologue as well as making her circumstances somewhat mysterious because part of the plot is Henry trying to figure out what her deal is and trying to figure out whether or not to help her or not.

    Anyway, I definitely know that I want to get rid of Henry's prologue now, but I'm going to have to think about whether I can do anything else with Lan's.

    And thanks for your comments about Henry's chapter. I will work on making it more interesting.