Sunday, October 13, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Franz Rev 1

Name: Jason Franz
Genre: Middle Grade Sci-Fi
Title: Attention Authors of Earth
Word Count: 58,000

The frightened surface-dwellers of the ruined planet watched helplessly as the Deathlorian’s Dreadnought climbed higher into the atmosphere. Light glistened off the commander’s metallic skin as he laughed. They had only three rotations to consider his offer before he returned, either to rule their world, or--

I draw a dark line up the middle of my page as the tires of the writers’ conference bus dip into, like, the nintey-thousandth pothole since leaving California. It’s hard enough writing over the roar of conversation engine noise bouncing off the curved walls but if this keeps up, this story will end up like all the others—unfinished. Mom, her stupid boyfriend, my teachers, and, worst of all, Kristy Kruz, will be right about me. 

I tap the clicky top of my pen against my chin. Now, what does the dreadnought look like? I close my eyes like I’m in history class and deconstruct a bunch of different ships from my favorite movies in my head, and put them back together as something new. When I open my eyes, a ship with long tentacles, glowing with orange energy, follows outside the bus. The whips are attached to a metal disc that looks like an upside-down plate. Round, red windows wrap around it like glaring eyes. On top of that disc is a light-green dome I can’t see into. It looks like a flying jellyfish…and nothing like the ship I’d actually imagined. It won’t go away until it’s written down. I lean up against my porthole-style window, smoosh my brown, curly pigtails against the cold glass, put pen to paper, and...

Another pothole sends my notebook tumbling from my knees. It ricochets off my black boots, and slides behind me. Crap! This is the longest I’ve stuck with a story. I’ve gotta find it. The polished floor shakes beneath me as I crawl under my seat. I reach past other passengers' shoes, (and one pair of slippers). I avoid the tissue smeared with what I tell myself is a half-eaten Baby Ruth bar. I’m centimeters from my notebook’s brown hardcover when it’s plucked from the floor. 

My heart beats faster than the U.S.S. Enterprise’s warp drive. What if whoever picked it up reads it and hates it? What’ll they think when they see all the stories I've started but failed to finish? What if they don’t return it? The worst keeps flying through my head until a sheepish, stuttering voice cuts through my fear. “D-did a Paige Turner l-lose a uh…” there’s a quick clearing of the throat before the sentence concludes, “n-notebook?” 

I wrote my name on the inside of the cover. They’re gonna read it, they’re gonna hate it. I gotta get it. I hit my head on the underside of my seat as I back out and pop up. The boy holding my notebook wears a blue plaid shirt that I’m kinda jealous of. He might be my age, but I can’t tell because he’s trying to shrink himself as much as he can, keeping his arms pinned to his side and his head down.   

“That’s me,” I say softly like I’m trying to get a baby deer or squirrel to eat from my hand.  

The boy scoots out of his seat, keeping his head tilted toward the floor like he’s afraid it’ll split and swallow him if he’s looking. His dirty-blonde hair stays draped in front of his eyes as he drums his fingers against the notebook cover without a word. Kinda creepy. “Thanks?” I say, when I can’t take the awkwardness anymore.

The boy chuckles, clears his throat, and chuckles again. “Ok, well, i-it was n-nice talking t-to you. Y-you’re off to a g-good start. Bye.” He places my notebook on my backpack even though I’m reaching for it, then scuttles back to his seat. 

I’m ‘off to a good start’? He did read! I should feel violated. I should also get back to work. But no one’s ever told me that. Who is this guy? He moves the hair away from right eye so he can monitor the other passengers and meets my gaze. The green eye gets real big then he sinks out of view.

Awwww! He’s not creepy, he’s shy! I rise, tie my black and grey plaid top around my waist so as to display my Tribbles Ate My Homework T-shirt, and head for his seat. He’s hunkered down in it like a WWII fox hole. “Hi, can I sit next to you?” He freezes with this Jurassic Park, don’t move, she can’t see me if I don’t move, expression. I don’t wait for him to say yes before helping myself to the empty space. “I guess you already know my name, what’s yours?”

His lips are tight as he chews nervously on the inside of his cheek. FINALLY he clears his throat, and all the words come out in one nervous, garbled mess, “Iumthoughtyouwere…umwriting.”

“Wow, long name. Is it Klingon?”

A hint of a smile slowly spreads across his face, followed by a string of words that resemble an intelligible sentence. “I th-thought y-you were, wr-writing.”

“I was, but I’m not used to people being supportive of my writing, and it was nice to hear something nice. I figured more of that might help.”

The boy’s shoulders relax and his breaths become longer and slower, as opposed to the quick, bunny-like puffs from before. “I’m Wilbur,” he says. “Wells. But, s-since my, d-dad owning a uh—a junk y-yard, most p-people c-call me Scrap.”

“Most people? You mean your friends?”

“Ha! N-no—definitely n-not friends.”

I give Scrap a sympathetic frown. I know what it’s like to be an outsider. When I first started writing about galaxies far, far away, I’d act out my stories. Mom didn’t know what to do with me so she took me to a psychologist. When Kristy Kruz found out, she spread a rumor that I was seeing a “crazy doctor” because I’d been abducted by aliens, or delivered to Earth by aliens (depending on the version you heard). “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t b-be,” Scrap says. “I build st-stuff outta scrap p-parts too, s-so I k-kinda l-like it.” 

“What kinds of things do you build?” 

He moves the hair away from his eyes completely. “All kinds of the things.”  

“If you want, I’ll be the first friend to call ya Scrap.”

He’s smiling so big it makes me smile. “A-alright. B-by th-the way, n-nice glasses. The g-green l-looks n-nice on y-you.” He turns completely away from me, looking out his window. “Oh wow! I think we’re close.”

I cock my head in confusion as the bus starts going down a hill. “That can’t be right. We only left California an hour ago—how can we be in Michigan already?” 

“We are g-going to a sci-fi wr-writer’s conference, m-maybe we t-traveled at l-light speed.” He says with a grin. “E-either way, there it, um…is.” 

Beyond Scrap, through the bare trees, and snow sits Lake Superior. It’s this big, cold-blue thing that stretches to the horizon and beyond. Being from California I should be used to a body of water that big, but there’s something different about the look of the water here. It’s darker, more menacing, with patches of brownish red near the shore, either clay deposits, or sandbars, or both. 

I slip around in my seat as the bus evens out, swings around another corner, and the lake disappears behind the trees, hills, and run-down, cottages. 


  1. I think this new beginning is great. It flows a lot nicer than the old one, and gives us character voice much earlier on. I do miss a little of the tension that revolved around finishing a piece (there was more of it in the last version, I believe). I wonder if you took too much of that out?

    "Who is this guy? He moves the hair away from right eye so he can monitor the other passengers and meets my gaze. The green eye gets real big then he sinks out of view." -- clunky paragraph here, just look at it again.

    The only other thing I really have any insight into is that I'm not sure enough time passes between when the note book is lost to when he picks it up, for him to have read anything? I wonder if you don't need to drag out the moment where it disappears and she can't see it longer, or at least give a bigger impression of time passing in that moment so its believable that he could have read some of her stuff.

    I also wonder, as a writer, I know the weird feeling of having someone read your stuff for the first time, and I wonder if you couldn't dig a little deeper about how your MC is feeling about that. There is one line, but I wouldn't be against a line or two more on the topic.

  2. Hey Jason!

    Your second revision is a lot clearer and easier to read than your first, kudos for taking everyone’s advice so well!

    Here is what I’ve found:
    For some reason, I think the thing I’m struggling with the most here is the part about saying “that’s me” softly and describing it as to trying to get a baby deer or squirrel to eat. I get there needs to be an analogy there, but I think there’s more potential in you! Another idea could be to try this: “That’s me,” I say softly, trying not to frighten the skittish boy.” Or something along the lines of this…

    I also think having a character present with an impediment or disability of sort is on point with the inclusivity movement we’re seeing in schools and society. This character can certainly give a voice or even provide comfort to your readers that may have their own struggles. It reminds me much of characters such as Elide in the Throne of Glass series with a physical impediment, or of Zofia in Gilded Wolves that struggles with a form of autism. I think there could be something really amazing here with that character. Specifically, I think you could weave in some more of your MC’s feelings about someone reading her unpolished work (as we all know to be terrifying and unnerving) and relate her feelings to Scrap in a way of him comforting her perhaps---acknowledging that we all have our struggles and fears but what matters most is how well we walk through the fire sort of thing…If that makes any kind of sense!

    Hope this helps! Looking forward to the next revision!


  3. First of all, thank you Jason for the feedback last week! I incorporated everyone's comments into the rewrite.

    Ok, so, I really liked last week's start. This felt very different, starting with the different font to show your MC writing in her notebook, rather than dreaming out the bus window, but you still show the MC is really creative. I wanted a tad bit more description of the commander. Is his metallic skin silver? Gold? I know your MC is envisioning this, like images on a TV screen, and I wanted to see a bit more of that.

    In the second graph, "I draw a dark line up the middle of my page as the tires of the writer's conference bus dip into…" I'm not a big fan of "as" unless the chain of causality is absolutely without question correct. Thus, the "I draw" before the tires dipping into the potholes implies, to me, that your MC was not happy with what they'd drawn and was in the process of making a big mark through it when the bus hits the pothole. If you turn it into two sentences and reverse the order, the causality is clearly established. "The writer's conference bus dips… I draw a…" I also wasn't sure about the verb, draw, but I don't have a good alternative to suggest, either. Drawing has a deliberate, premeditated connotation, in my mind. Isn't it more like the hand jerks, or is jostled, by the tires dipping? Maybe play with the verb until you find one your MC would use there.

    The parenthesis in paragraph 4 work just as well without, so consider editing them out. At the beginning of paragraph 6, "I wrote my name on the inside of the cover." Ok, so now I’m dying to know, and you don't tell me, what's your MC's name? It's such a tease! I loved that your MC is worried about what others think of their writing, and knowing your MC's name will help me empathize with them.

    Paragraph 10 uses a few words that sounded "adult," versus MG, but let others weigh in on these, too. The words "violated" and "work" in the first two sentences of that paragraph gave it an overall mature feel. Same goes for the phrase, further down, "being supportive." That one's really tricky, as I know families use it now (we do, anyway), but then the next line of dialogue, "I figured more of that might help," again was an adult construction. I wondered if you could use, for MG purposes, something like "I wanna hear more" or something like it -- maybe in your MC's distinctive voice?

    I loved Kristy Kruz's name. For whatever reason (and maybe this just dates me), as I read it I conjured an image of Krusty the Clown trying to kill Bart. Perfect image to invoke there, with the bully's name.

    When the boy says, "The g-green l-looks n-nice on y-you." That's HUGE for a 11-13-year-old boy. Is it like it escapes without him thinking of what he's saying? Does his face get hot or his ears red or his eyes bulge or something? I wasn’t sure the next line, "He turns completely away from me, looking out his window." conveyed the embarrassment he's feeling, if you want the reader to get that he's embarrassed. He may just be clueless, too. Point is, I wasn't sure.

    And finally, another "as" causality with the last line, "I slip around in my seat as…" It would be fine, but then the bus does two things and the lake disappears and the feel created by the text (all the words on the page) is one of time passing, stretching, lengthening instead of instantaneous, which is what I think you're going for here. Maybe just make it two sentences? One super short, the other longer, and juxtapose them?

    Please, please keep the tentacled spaceship! I'm a huge SF/F fan, and I think it foreshadows what's your MC is going to encounter, right? I LOVE it and your MC's imagination. I can't wait to read the next submission!

  4. Hey Jason, this is a great revision! (Sorry, I missed your question in the comments last week, by the way...) I think others have done a good job talking about just a bit of clunkiness that often shows itself in a big revise. I think you'll be able to clean that stuff up pretty easily.

    I'm going to add something that occurs to me as something you should maybe test and maybe not even use... I love your MC's voice (as I mentioned last week). Such a sharp perspective. But the prose the MC writes is comparatively tame. What if you just blew out that first paragraph? Went way over the top to establish the MC (and MG) voice harder? I think you'd be able to do the blow out with some crazy comparison language...

    The Deathlorien's Dreadnought climbed into the atmosphere like a spastic a toaster in a phoenix being could lay it on thick with the commander's metallic business, too.

    I'm just thinking about a reader opening up the book, reading that first paragraph and shouting, what in the heck is this craziness??? and then it drops into the MC on the bus having just been bounced, grounding the reader again.

    It's super enjoyable.

  5. I had a couple of thoughts that haven't already been mentioned. The first one is that I'd like to know a bit more about Kristy Kruz sooner instead of her name being mentioned in the beginning. I'm wondering who she is and why the mc is talking about her right away. I sort of got hung up on it until she was mentioned later. Maybe give more context right away or leave it until later.
    One thing that I have to mention because my son suffers from speech articulation disorder and stuttering please do research on how this should be written properly. Stuttering isn't usually something someone does because they are shy. Stammering here and there maybe could be a character trait for someone who is shy but stuttering is a disorder and should be written properly.
    I found this article here that I thought would help:

  6. I just wrote my response and then Blogger ate it. Oh well.

    I like that we get to know your character is a girl by describing her with pigtails. I don't remember if that was in your first draft. Also good that we get to know her friend. I think they'll be an interesting duo with lots of fun adventures to come.

    I wonder what they will be.

    I don't have any quibbles. As I said before, you're definitely a writer. You have a natural voice and your rhythm with words is spot on. I wanted to keep reading, and that is what you want kids, and more importantly, agents and editors to do.

    I think you're on the right track. Just stay in that imaginative kid zone and keep going!