Sunday, January 19, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Hansen Rev 2

Name: Star Lane writing as RS Hansen
Genre: Middle Grade Science-Fiction
Title: A Nerf Herder’s Guide to Physics

Thirteen-year-old Star Wars super-fan, Michael has just moved to the only place more desolate than Tatooine during a sandstorm—Tucson, AZ. But even that isn’t the worst thing in his life right now.
His late father’s scientific rival is planning to publish an article completely trashing his dad’s unfinished physics theory. Michael can’t let his dad’s legacy be destroyed by some scientist from the dark side. He only has a few weeks to finish what his father started and write an epic statement to publish alongside the article.
But before he can tackle that he has a few things he needs to take care of, including:
·         Figuring out why he keeps dreaming about a door. 
·         Getting that annoying kid from his new school to stop bugging him about joining the astronomy club.
·         Oh, and rescue his BFF from a parallel universe that looks like planet Dagobah. If he fails, they’ll both be trapped forever, and his dad’s legacy will be nothing more than a speck of dust in the asteroid belt formerly known as Alderaan. 
A NERF HERDER’S GUIDE TO PHYSICS is an upper middle-grade sci-fi novel complete at 51,000 words.

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.
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. I’m not even sure I can call it a dream anymore because sometimes I’m not even asleep.
It’s not 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. 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. That can’t happen. I need to get this under control or I’ll never make the deadline.
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 has never been 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 reasons why Mom is still home.
Unless. Ugh, Mr. Anderson, my biology teacher, probably called to complain about my space-out episode yesterday. I need to think of something and fast. If she finds out about my dream, it’s only a matter of time before my mission is blown too.
“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. Yes, the worry is strong with this Mom.
The toast pops-up and she circles back to pull out the slices.
I plop down at the kitchen table. Oh no! My laptop is still sitting out 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 all 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. Whatever, I get it. It’s not like I expected us to stay best friends when we live fifteen-hundred miles apart.
“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. I—” She sets her mug down and looks at me straight on. “I just don’t want you to start isolating yourself again.”
“I’m fine.” 
I get a sigh and the fine-is-not-an-acceptable-answer look.
“Really, it’s no big deal, Mom. 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, you’re spe…” 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 to nothing 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.


  1. Hi Star,
    I found your pitch unique in a good way. I really like how you get into a thirteen year old boy’s head in both the pitch and pages.
    I can’t say I’m picking up anything in the pages that needs changing. The tensions creeps in unexpectedly at the end, and that’s really nice.
    All the best with this great story! I’d like to know when it’s published.

  2. Hi Star,

    I enjoyed your pitch - I like how you were able to maintain your voice and was surprised at what lies ahead of Michael.

    I was confused if Michael was some kind of prodigy or genius. If not, how does he think he would be able to finish his dad's physics research? While I think the dad angle is interesting, it's hiding the most exciting part of your story, the BFF locked in a parallel universe. I wonder if you could rework it so that plays a stronger role.

    You have a lot of great SW references, but I wonder if 4 is too much for a 200 word pitch. I wouldn't want your story to be swallowed up by SW and I don't think you need all of them.

    Throughout the process, you've really tightened up and clarified your pages. The only thing I saw were some moments of repetition where the paragraph would be stronger without. For example:

    "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."

    I don't think you need the second sentence because it just keeps us from getting to the cool part.

    Last, isn't a white marble door without the gray veins just a white door? Curious minds want to know!

    Thanks for sharing your pages. You have a great voice and an intriguing story. Good luck!

    1. Thank you Gina! I think I need to go back to the drawing board with my pitch. Michael wants to defend his father, but he is no super genius and will ultimately fail at that (which ties into his arc). Thank you for your help!

  3. Hi Star,

    Thank you for sharing and letting me read your words. Here are my thoughts:

    Pitch: intriguing! I personally like all the Star Wars references; they feel spot on.
    I know you're trying to set the stage for the central conflict of your story but I'm wondering if too much of the focus is on the dad's situation. I want to know more about Michael's situation. I felt like the most intriguing aspect of your pitch was the parallel universe bit and the missing BFF.

    Pages: I like your revisions. I especially like the way you lead into the part about the worst dream. It flows and builds nicely. One thing that stuck out for me, though, was that the worst dream ever was about nothing. I didn't notice it the first couple of times but to me, there might be a way to make the worst dream ever seem, I don't know, worse?
    I like how you added in a recollection on how Michael tried to navigate the door drama previously (by beating on it). It really put me into the scene and helped me visualize it more.
    In your last paragraph, you mention a lot of numbers: 8 pinpricks of light, 4 here, 3 there. The Van Gogh imagery is a nice touch but the description afterwards kind of took me away from the scene a bit.

    Nice work over all. I definitely think you are on to something with this story. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for all your help Michael. I appreciate the feedback and will be completely revising my pitch!

  4. Hi Star,
    I really like your pitch, and feel it's a story I can get absorbed in to.

    Regarding the pitch there is a lot going on in it. I was a little confused with which part is the his biggest issue. From your pages I thought it would be the BFF, but here it seems like you put more emphasis on his father's article.

    I have no changes to your pages. They flow nicely and his actions are clear. I really enjoyed them.

    Thanks for sharing. All the best!

    1. Thank you Kristin! I will be revising my pitch so the emphasis is not on his father's article.

  5. Hi Star,

    Nicely done on the revisions. Things are really coming together and the stakes are clear right off the bat.

    As for the pitch, I really like it. I think you've gotten Michael's voice in there, which is nice. My concern is you've got 2 really big external conflicts--saving Dad's legacy, which seems to be primary from the pitch, and saving Ophelia, which seems primary on the page. Are they related? I hope so, because if not, that could be confusing to the reader and also a LOT of tackle as a writer. Just something to chew on. But overall, I'm intrigued and I think this sounds like something young readers would snap up.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Hi Christina,

      The two are related and I guess I need to show that in the pitch. The dad's legacy thing is just what Michael "wants" but will ultimately fail at it. Thanks for the feedback!

  6. From Karly Caszera:

    Thank you for being brave and sharing your work. Reading critiques about your work is never easy so I appreciate you opening yourself to different ideas. Don’t forget that advice given is always subjective. These are edits that I think would help your work though someone else or you may completely disagree. Pursue the path that’s true to you as the author and your work.

    Your Pitch:

    Is there a way for you to connect the core portion of your story together? You don’t necessarily need to tell us all these tidbits (we can omit the astronomy portion). When I see all these elements in your pitch, it just feels disjointed with no connection together. Is the door he’s dreaming about have something to do with his father’s physics theory? And then you can easily tie that into his missing bff. Lead us with an overarching adventure/obstacle Michael that will leave us hungry for the sample pages.

    I like that the tension is heightened immediately with Ophelia being stuck within one of his door awake-dreams. That’s fantastic. What I’m missing from these beginning pages is a real sense of voice. The narration is youthful but I have yet to really find Michael’s voice and endear myself to him to be excited about this door revealing his missing best friend and then continuing the journey with him.

    I’m also curious how Michael, a thirteen-year-old, has the experience or intelligence to finish his father’s physics theory. There is no inclination in the pitch that he’s a child genius nor do the sample pages give him credibility to being able to complete this large endeavor. So if that’s the case, should the pitch focus primarily on the physics theory and the father’s arch-rival? Or is the story primarily about the parallel universe and his best friend?

    Thank you again for sharing your work. Good luck on your writing career.

  7. Thank you for the feedback, Karly. I completely understand your concern with the pitch and will make heavy revisions. Michael wants to defend his father, but he is no super genius and will ultimately fail at that (which ties into his arc). The main plot is his journey to save his BFF, which will tie into his father's theory.

    I will also take another look at my pages to infuse more of Michael throughout.

    Thank you again!

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