Sunday, January 12, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Hansen Rev 1

Name: Star Lane writing as RS Hansen
Genre: Middle Grade Science-Fiction
Title: A Nerf Herder’s Guide to Physics
The best dream I ever had was when I was nine years old. I remember being at the beach, but that’s not what made the dream so cool. What made it cool was that I was lifting the one and only Millennium Falcon out of the ocean. It was like that scene in Empire Strikes Back where Luke was trying to lift the x-wing out of the swamp. Only, I actually did it.
I don’t remember much more than that, because who the heck really remembers much about their dreams? The Millennium Falcon was enough though.
The worst dream I ever had was last night. And the night before that, and the night before that, and the night before that… Oh, and in biology class yesterday and during seventh-grade lunch period the day before. Anyway, you get the point.
It wasn’t a nightmare or anything. That isn’t what makes this dream bad. What makes it the absolute worst dream in the history of dreams is nothing.
The dream is a big pile of nothing. Me standing in nothing until a stupid door to nothing appears and does nothing.
And I keep. Having. The dream.
I can’t get rid of the dang thing. And now it’s started to follow me around during the day, jabbing me like an annoying Ewok with a spear. An Ewok that threatens to blow the roof off my rebel mission to save dad’s work.
My hand runs along painted brick as I creep out of my bedroom and inch down the hallway into our living-slash-dining-slash-kitchen room. I’m pretty sure Mom hasn’t left for work yet. Which isn’t a good sign because she wouldn’t skip a shift at the hospital unless something was up. And something being up is never a good thing.
 Mom is standing in front of the toaster. Thankfully, she has her work scrubs on. So, whatever it is, couldn’t be that bad. Not like roof blowing bad. There could be a million and one things that Mom’s worried about. It probably has nothing to do with my dream.
That’s unless Mr. Anderson, my biology teacher, called to complain about my space-out episode yesterday.
“Hey, do you have a late shift today?”
She turns around. Her scrubs are worn at the seams from constant washing and wearing, they make her look exhausted. That, and those dark circles under her eyes. “Good morning to you too, Michael. They didn’t need me yet. I thought maybe we could talk a little before you leave for school.”
“Um, Okay.” Talk? Great. That’s basically mom-speak for something’s wrong. Sounds like the worry is strong with this Mom.
The toast pops-up and she turns back to pull out the slices.
I plop down at the kitchen table. Oh no! My laptop is still sitting on the table from last night. I quickly swipe it into my backpack before she turns around with two plates of toast. One buttered and the other with that prickly pear jelly she’s been obsessed with since we moved. 
She sets a plate in front of me and sits down on the other side of our tiny two-person table with hers. I take a huge bite, almost a quarter of the slice. If my mouth is full, there’s no way I’ll be able to answer any questions about anything.
But she doesn’t speak, just takes a bite of her toast, followed by a sip of her coffee.
“So,” she finally says.
Here it comes. I take another bite, pretty much finishing off the entire piece of toast.
“Have you heard from Ophelia yet?”
I chew slowly and shake my head. Is that what she’s worried about? It was stupid of me to tell Mom that I hadn’t received an email from my best friend in weeks.
Ophelia never responded to my last one, she just dropped off the face of the earth. I didn’t even get a “happy birthday” last Wednesday. Not that I care. I mean, I get it. We couldn’t stay best friends forever when I live fifteen-hundred miles away.
“I’m sure she’s just busy or something.” Maybe Mom will buy that, even if I don’t.
“Yes, probably.” Mom takes another sip of coffee, then bites her lip. “But I’m still concerned about you. You haven’t made any friends in Tucson. I’m barely home. You’re spending too much time alone.”
“I’m fine.” 
I get a sigh and the fine-is-not-an-acceptable-answer look.
“Really, I don’t mind. School has been keeping me busy.” Well, maybe not school, but close enough. I stuff the final bit of toast into my mouth, pretending to savor this last salty bite. Then, I feel a familiar tingle on the back of my neck.
“Michael, I just…” Mom’s voice fades out. Her lips are still moving but I can’t hear her words.
No! Please. Not now. Not in front of Mom. I quickly swallow and cross my arms in front of me, digging my fingers into my ribs until it hurts. Maybe if I concentrate on the pain, it will go away. But the blackness starts to frame my vision. My pulse quickens, I take a shaky breath to slow it down.
That doesn’t work.
Pretty soon, the fake-wood table and sand-colored cabinets of our kitchen stretch out, then whirl around like water draining out of a tub until it completely empties and I'm in the black abyss of my dream. Then, as always, the door appears.
The door is white and smooth. It looks like the marble counters in our old house, but without the veins of gray running through it. I walk up to it and reach for the silver c-shaped handle, even though I know it will be locked.
From my experience during biology class I know that I'm not passed out. I'm probably just sitting at the table across from Mom, and as Mr. Anderson put it, “staring off into space.”
How did I come out of the dream yesterday? I do remember beating on the door. I try that. I pull at the handle. Thud—thud—thud. Pound some more.
Then a quiet voice calls out. I press my ear against the door’s cool surface.
“Michael?” It’s a yell, muffled by the thick stone. “Michael!” A little louder this time, and I recognize it.
My heart pounds harder, I almost choke on her name. “Ophelia!” I call back.
“Where are you?”
“Here, I’m here!” But then the door disappears. None of this has ever happened before.
Where the door once stood, is a swirl of blue. Not just a single shade of blue, but a ton of hues, from the darkest ebony-like shade to one that almost glows. They spin together in a fusion of color that looks strange, but also familiar—like a van Gogh painting. Then eight pinpricks of light burst through. The lights are scattered randomly across the blue swirl. Four of them form a small curve, above that, another three are unevenly spaced in a diagonal line, with the last thrown to the side. I'm waiting for them to morph into a word or form some sort of shape, but they stay in their odd dot-to-dot pattern.
And then the light from the kitchen begins to seep back into my vision. The dream is over. I frantically blink the rest of it away.
Mom is staring at me like she’s waiting for me to answer a question. Has she noticed?


  1. Hi Star,
    WOW! What a transformation. I immediately got straight into the story.
    I think you may want to remove the dream explanation in the beginning rather than saying it was about nothing. The details at the kitchen table explain it better. The first sentence is nice, but I wouldn’t say it’s nothing. Maybe a void or vacuum, or something like that?
    “What makes it the absolute worst dream in the history of dreams is nothing.
    The dream is a big pile of nothing. Me standing in nothing until a stupid door to nothing appears and does nothing.”

    In this sentence: If my mouth is full, there’s no way I’ll be able to answer any questions about anything. I would remove the last 2 words. Just felt a bit clumsy.

    That’s it. Very well done.

    1. Thank you so much Carryn! I'll take a look at those sentences again.

  2. I love the new opening here, which puts me straight into a strong identification with your main character. You have the voice and tone exactly right for the character's age, I think. That's not always easy to do.
    I do also have a better sense of the story and situation without too much explaining, which is great. There are still some questions which bothered me slightly in the way information opens out in the kitchen scene. Why is Mom so interested? It feels like something you've done to open the information, but doesn't feel quite character consistent. Or perhaps this is deliberate and there will be a reveal around this? Even so, I think you might take more time to establish it.
    All in all, this feels like the beginning of a very engaging story.
    I wish you the best of luck with it

    1. Thanks! This helps a lot. The convo with mom is deliberate, but I think I can change a few things to show a little more about her motivations.

  3. What a great job! It was clearer and I really enjoyed the voice. The only part that I stumbled on is when he's talking about his mother, "It probably has nothing to do with my dream." You explain why after this, but when I reached this sentence I was thinking Mom already knew about the dreams.
    Otherwise I think it's great! Good luck

    1. Thank you Kristin! I take another look and rearrange that.

  4. Hi Star,

    Nice revision. It was clearer and still retained your great voice:)

    I'm curious how Ophelia knew it was Michael on the other side of the door when he hadn't said anything yet, just banging.

    At the end when he comes out of the dream, I would love a bit more on the feeling he has coming out of one of these. Is he sweaty? Does he have to remember to unclench? These things would help me be more in the moment with him and see what an impact this is having on his life. Right now he quickly comes out of the dream with no after-effects.

    Great job!

  5. Hi Star,

    Nice job on your revisions. It feels improved and more impactful than your first version - and I liked your first version!

    You have a great first line there. And I like the whole "best dream/worst dream" sequence. I do, however, agree with the previous comment about "nothing." I like what you're trying to do - I would definitely keep it. Maybe there's a way to rephrase it?

    Being a Star Wars fan, I really dig all the references and allusions. Just curious: is this something that you continue throughout the story?

    The mention of the laptop/research feels important. Maybe there's a point after that initial mention where you can drop another tidbit about what he's researching and what he's found? I'm guessing he was researching about his dreams and if so, it might add to the tension if you foreshadow something about what he found out. Just a thought.

    Again, great job. I look forward to seeing you pitch. Good luck!


    1. Thank you Michael! Star Wars is a consistent theme throughout the book. Michael is a big fan. I will take a look at those other areas to rework.

  6. Hi Star,

    What an impressive revision! Here were my thoughts reading through:

    - Breaking the forth wall can be tricky, but I definitely don't mind it here. Be sure you're doing it consistently throughout the whole novel though.
    - I have a much better sense of the dream now, awesome work. I'm torn about if you need the good dream description at all though. Coming right out of the gate with this weird nothingness dream could be really powerful, but I love the Star Wars references too.
    - I did want more of an emotional reaction to this continuous dream though. He is mad? Anxious? Curious?
    - On that same note, what was the emotional reaction to having the dream at school? I would think he would at the very least be embarrassed by it and perhaps be nervous about Mom bringing it up, then surprised when she doesn't.
    - I'm also torn on the conversation with Mom about Ophelia. Would it make more sense to introduce her to the reader for the first time in the dream and Michael can be shocked, since he hasn't heard from her in a long time, is relieved to see her, scared, weirded out, etc. The convo with Mom could still happen there but maybe she does bring up spacing out at school, the teacher's call, asks if he's stressed, and then he goes into the dream?

    Really nice work here, though. I love seeing when our writers thoughtfully consider the feedback given and incorporate it in meaningful ways.


    1. Thank you Christina. I will go through and see if I can add a few more bits that make Michael's feelings and reactions clear. The part where Mom brings up Ophelia is deliberate and comes into play a little later on in the story. But perhaps I can rework it a bit.

  7. Hi Star,

    Fantastic job with your revisions! I'm digging this version much more. It feels like it gets us right into the meat of things much more quickly. And while I originally liked the idea of Michael drawing owls on himself, I realized after reading this revision that I didn't miss it at all!

    Foregrounding Michael's Star Wars nerdiness right away is a great way to give us a glimpse of his character without having to talk directly to it.

    A couple of things I'd suggest for the next round:

    1) You should definitely make it clear that the "worst dream I ever had" happened when M was awake. And that it can come at any time, anywhere, with no warning.

    2) I feel like Michael's thoughts about Ophelia may not be urgent enough. Maybe he, and not his mom, should be actively worrying about what's happened to her. Especially if, for example, she dropped off the face of the earth right in the middle of an email back-and-forth about a topic they share a passion for. (Perhaps something Star Wars related?) I think if he's concerned about her, hearing her behind the door where he can't get to her will have that much more impact for the reader.

    3) I'm not sure you need to have Mom asking M about Ophelia. That can be his internal worry and Mom can be used here to introduce some other concern or element of Michael's character. As it stands, it feels like a wasted opportunity that could shed light on M's relationship with his mother or explain why there's no dad in the picture or something else that will provide the reader with more backstory in a natural, unforced way.

    Overall, very nice job, though! I can't wait to see the next round!

    All best,

  8. Thank you Rob! I think I need to add a bit more to help the reader understand both Michael's and Mom's motivations in the conversation. Bringing up Ophelia is deliberate and will come into play a little later in the story.

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