Sunday, February 16, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Li Rev 2

Name: Sophie Li
Genre: Young Adult Mystery Sci-Fi
Title: Children of the Sun


Meredith Zhao kicks butt at math olympiads, wins Rubik’s cube competitions, and loves ramen. But she has a secret: she is a Deviant, a genetic mutant who sets things on fire. While snooping around the Deviant Investigation Unit where her adoptive father Rio works, Meredith stumbles upon notes left behind by a former detective: the unresolved case of three young women who died of unknown cause.
Behind Rio’s back, Meredith delves into the mystery. She discovers the reason why the files collected dust underneath a desk for months: a conspiracy that oppresses the lives of Deviants around the world. Meredith must make the difficult choice to save her kind, even if it means turning her back on the people she cherishes.
CHILDREN OF THE SUN is a 85,000-word young adult mystery with elements of science fiction, but at heart it is a coming of age tale about self-love in the face of adversity. This manuscript is written as a standalone novel with series potential. It combines the grittiness of Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song and the chilling suspense of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.


Sprawled on the open lawn, Meredith pressed the telephone receiver to her ear, static crackling through the cord like bacon in a frying pan. She frowned and laid the receiver onto the grass beside the tangle of wires and circuits. Two huge metal antennae reached high into the sky, though nothing was coming through. Her homemade radio didn’t work after all.

She flopped onto her back on the grass beside a bulging backpack. Blowing a frizzy red strand out of her face, she stared into the blue sky. Think, think.

Meredith rummaged in her backpack to take out a half-eaten sandwich carefully labelled “Tuesday lunch.” She unravelled the saran wrap and took a bite. With her free hand, she fiddled with her homespun contraption, checking the connections between the wires, the phone cord and the diodes.

There. A piece of loose tape where the alligator lead connected to the coil. She pressed the tape down, resealing the connection.

The crackle of radio static streamed from the phone receiver, this time much louder.

Ecstatic, Meredith picked up the landline receiver and placed it to her ear. Words interspersed between the hiss of static.

“… code five… foot five… ten…”

Her heart leaped as she gathered the circuit board under her arm and jumped onto her feet. She paced around the park in search for a location with a better signal, her backpack and sandwich long forgotten. Interwoven between static and the rustle of autumn leaves were the threads of a stern conversation.

“… confirmed Deviant activity...”

“Go ahead.”

“… One-oh-five Oak Street.”

Oak Street. That was just two blocks away.

Meredith glanced up. Above the tree line of the residential neighbourhood rose a plume of smoke. Right where Oak Street would be.
The corners of her mouth flicked up into a grin at the thought. Deviants! They said! Life was going to get so much more interesting. She dashed towards the scene of the crime.

Adrenaline surged through her veins. She took off towards the old Kensington neighbourhood. As she drew closer, a grey haze obscured her vision. Through the screen of smoke was an outline of an old home. Flashes of flame burst from within charred black walls. Smoke entered her mouth and nostrils and she broke into a cough.

Meredith slowed to a stop in front of the burning home. The signal from her makeshift radio had gone dead, a steady stream of static.

A family scurried out the front entrance of the house, chased by the flames. A woman tried to go back in before her partner pulled her back.

A soft whimper and a hacking cough caught Meredith’s attention. She twisted around to look in the other direction. At the back of the house and on the second floor balcony, a boy squeezed himself against the railings, his body veiled in smoke. He was huddled in a tight ball, scared and crying. He was eleven or twelve, several years younger than her.

Her heart pounded fast in her head, her breaths laboured and short, Meredith looked to the direction of the sirens. But the street in front of the house was still empty, only pale pink and blue lights flashing in the grey haze. The first responders hadn’t come yet.

Meredith stood frozen to the spot. She hadn’t thought that she’d arrive before the firefighters.

She should just wait and leave it to the professionals.

But if the boy was one of them, then the professionals wouldn’t help him.

But she could.

Meredith scanned the back entrance, sealed by a wall of fire and smoke. Her eyes travelled from the balcony to a tree branch that extended into the backyard over the metal fence. It hovered just above the balcony, high enough that it hadn’t yet caught in flames, thick enough to support her weight.

If anything went wrong, it was game over.

Before she could overthink, Meredith ditched her radio on the dirt ground and ran towards the fence. Her fingers and the tips of her sneakers hooked onto the metal fence links. She scrambled up to the top, then grabbed the branch and hauled herself up.

Straddling the tree branch, Meredith shimmied towards the balcony and the boy. Her heart dropped to her stomach when the branch bent downward with her weight.

“Hey-“ With the smoke, Meredith broke out in a coughing fit. She clung tight with her hands to stabilize herself.

The boy turned to look at her with wide, tearful eyes. Despite being surrounded by fire, his skin caked by dust and debris, there were no burns on his exposed arms.

“Get onto the railing, then grab onto my hand.” She reached out towards him.

For a moment, doubt flickered in the boy’s eyes. Then he climbed onto the railing. The metal bars buckled and melted in his palms that glowed red like burning embers. Her hands brushed his.

The base of the balcony crumbled and collapsed. Meredith reached out, grabbing his hand just as he fell. The boy screamed. Gravity dragged them both downward. Meredith hugged the branch with her other arm and legs. The boy dangled in mid-air from her hand. The tree branch bent and cracked under their combined weight.

“It’s burning!” the boy cried.

Meredith twisted around. Higher up, the windswept leaves caught flame, the fire racing down the branches and trunk. The air around them was a thick haze, making her eyes sting.

Crack. The branch was about to snap.

Her heartbeat thrummed in her ears. They were both going to fall, unless the smoke suffocated them first.

“Hey, M. I got him.” A familiar voice came from down below.

An older man ran underneath the tree. He wore a police vest, handgun and taser strapped at his waist. His eyes were furrowed, his frown lines more prominent than ever. His arms lifted towards the sky, ready to catch.

Relief swept over Meredith at the sight of Rio. She let go of the boy. He fell straight into the older man’s arms.

The tree branch creaked and swayed with the sudden release of weight. Another sharp crack.

Meredith struck the ground with a loud thunk. Pain ripped through her shoulder and arm on the side that she fell. She curled up in a ball on the ground, coughing up smoke.

“Meredith!” Footsteps rushed towards her. She opened her eyes to see Rio kneeling beside her with worry in his eyes.

“I’m okay,” she said between hacking coughs as she pushed herself up.

“We need to get the paramedics to look at you.” Rio patted her shoulders, sides and arms. “You might have broken something. Here get on.”

He turned around to offer a piggyback. Meredith groaned. “I’m fine. Look I can walk.”

She got onto her feet, resisting the urge to wince from the pain at her side. How embarrassing would that be? A fifteen-year old carried like a child.

The small boy cowered at the edge of the yard, his hands tucked behind him as if to hide his flame-ridden palms.

“You okay?” Meredith said. When she scanned him up and down, he didn’t seem to be hurt.

But the small boy took two steps back, his eyes glancing away in fear. Rio approached him, a jingle of metal as he unclipped a pair of child-sized handcuffs from his gear belt.


  1. Hi Sophie,

    So here we are…our final revision.

    I like how you changed up your first paragraph to show Meredith fiddling with the radio and thinking about it not working in the last sentence. Make this flow better.

    Then the rest of your story I flew through it. This revision is so good developmentally that I didn’t hesitate in the reading. The excitement is high now and Meredith’s personality is well drawn out. True hero.

    I still would like for her to think about Rio as her adoptive father as I wanted to know this connection since it’s obvious that she knows him.

    Nice revision here, Sophie. I don’t have any more suggestions on how to make it better, it’s that good.


    What…Meredith is a deviant? That’s a big, cool surprise. I like the idea of her seeing notes about a closed case, but I don’t think the use of a colon works in your last sentence. Perhaps just use a word instead, “detailing or highlighting.”

    Your next paragraph nicely sets up her goal and stakes. I’m not sure what or who is going to stop her so that might be nice to add. Sure, there’s a conspiracy but WHO is that exactly? Who are the people she cherishes? Specify so we can care. And again, the use of the colon is not correct. An em dash would work.

    Nice pitch overall.

    I have enjoyed working with you. Your story has come so far and is very good. Thank you for helping me on mine.

    1. Thank you so much Becky! I appreciate your pointer regarding the colon and I will fix this in the query. You are right that the second paragraph in the query could be a bit more specific.
      It's been wonderful working with you too. I've learned a lot from your feedback :)

  2. Hey Sophie,

    Thanks for all your feedback on my work! It has been cool working together. 😊

    Wow! I need tips on how to do a pitch! Yours was exciting and had the big reveal to us that Meredith is a Deviant who sets things on fire, which makes it fit that she would be drawn to a fire in the opening scene. I’m wondering if you could say: Without Rio’s knowledge… as the last sentence of that paragraph says, ‘turning her back…’? I also love that you highlighted which other books are similar to yours. Well done! I’m in! 😊

    I had two weird grammar things for your pitch and honestly can’t say that your way is incorrect but it seemed to me it should say, ‘died of unknown causes’ and I felt like there should be a comma after the author name, and before the title of their book. Love the theme being about self-love in the face of adversity – a fitting theme for the times!

    I see you took out the details about the book and other items in her back-pack – that made the text tighter and kept us invested in the mystery of what she was hoping to hear through her makeshift radio. I also like that you attended to the sandwich et al, as being forgotten as she became excited at the prospect of what she was hearing on her radio. Small grammar check: Deviants, they said!

    I like that we dive right into the scene in front of the house and the boy huddled up makes us pull harder for him. I like how you let the reader know the firefighters wouldn’t help the boy if he were ‘one of them’ – seems much clearer in this version as a stand-alone sentence. More impactful this way! But because of that, I would suggest putting the sentence above it with the previous paragraph. This sentence really sets up the tension in the story of an us vs. them. I like it!

    The sentence that begins with, ‘Hey-‘, doesn’t require you to tell us that the smoke caused her to cough, so it would be okay to just say, ‘Meredith broke out into a coughing fit.’ I like how you told us her age in a natural way in the text. Because it is here, you don’t even need the mention above – you can just say the boy was around 12. LOVE the whole revision to the final scene with more excitement around her saving the boy and then the handcuffs coming out for the boy, when she is just like him, but nobody knows!! Wow! Well done!

    Thank you for sharing your words with us – such an exciting and tantalizing opening! Congratulations!


    1. Thank you Cristy! I appreciate all of your thoughtful pointers and I will fix these in the next draft.
      It's been wonderful working with you too :) Thank you for all the great feedback!

  3. Sophie,

    I really like your pitch. I think it does a great job hooking the reader without giving away too much details about the story. One part of the pitch that was a bit of a stretch to me was Meredith’s motivation for diving into the unknown abandoned files in the first place. It seems like she didn’t discover that the case was related to Deviants until after further investigation so I’m a bit lost as to what caught her eye about the case in the first place. Is she just naturally snoopy and couldn’t resist herself? Does she aspire to become a detective herself and that’s why she looks at her stepdad’s old cases? I would love to see a little bit more insight into her motivation within the pitch.

    In terms of the revision, I appreciate the improvement in flow and consistency. I just have a few tidbits for you to consider. We now know from the pitch that Meredith is a Deviant herself, but from the first five pages, it’s not clear if she knows this about herself already. In this last revision, you kind of hint at it when she saves the little boy’s life. For me, if she is aware that she is a Deviant, I would expect it to come up a lot more explicitly within the first few pages. How does she feel about being a Deviant? Is this why she built the radio? If she isn’t aware yet, then ignore my questions above. But if that’s the case, then this line doesn’t quite make sense to me, “But if the boy was one of them, then the professionals wouldn’t help him. But she could.” I am not sure what would stand her out from the professionals other than being a Deviant herself, which means she’d already be aware. I think making this a lot clearer could add to the reader’s connection to Meredith.

    The other small point I want to mention is around this line, “Meredith stood frozen to the spot. She hadn’t thought that she’d arrive before the firefighters. She should just wait and leave it to the professionals.” If I’m not mistaken, this is a new addition. In the former drafts, I got the impression that Meredith was a rebel, a sort of firecracker who went off and did what she wanted without debating the consequences. The aforementioned line takes a lot of that edge away from Meredith as a character in my opinion. I’m not sure how you are hoping for Meredith to come across to the reader, but thought I’d mention in it just in case.

    Really enjoyed seeing how all of your hard work has improved the story over these last few weeks. Would love to read more of the story as well!

    1. Hello Jide! Thank you for the suggestions! You're right that Meredith's intention could be a bit more clear in the query. I'll still have to figure out how exactly to fit this in.
      You've offered two great pieces of feedback regarding the beginning of the novel. I will work out how to address this in the manuscript!
      It's been great meeting you through this workshop and exchanging our thoughts. I'd be up for exchanging drafts one day as well!

  4. Pitch:
    This is a very well written pitch! Every line feels like it needs to be there, and gives us essential information about the protagonist, the conflict or the stakes. I also love the calling out of themes: "a coming of age tale about self-love in the face of adversity.” A few nit-picky things: for the last sentence of the first paragraph, consider revising to either, "three young women who died of unknown causes,” or “three young women who died of an unknown cause.” And for the first sentence of the third paragraph, consider revising to, “...but at its heart it is a coming of age…”

    Something else to consider: I know you mention in the pitch that this is YA but there were things about the pages—both the voice and the point of view (third person vs. first person)--which felt more like middle grade to me. Depending on the content, it might make sense to try to age the manuscript down.

    Opening Pages:
    There is some strong prose in these pages and the scene with the fire has a great sense of tension. I also loved the dialogue at the end. Great job! One thing I’m always asking is, do we need every sentence, every word? With that in mind, I have a few suggestions:
    I’m not sure if we need all of the material about her sitting on the grass and pulling out a sandwich. Consider revising to: "Her homemade radio didn’t work after all. Think, think. She fiddled with the homespun contraption, checking the connections between the wires, the phone cord and the diodes."
    I also don’t think we need the lines, "Ecstatic, Meredith picked up the landline receiver and placed it to her ear. Words interspersed between the hiss of static.” Or the line, "The corners of her mouth flicked up into a grin at the thought.”
    Likewise, I’m not sure if we need, "They said!”
    I also don’t think we need, "Adrenaline surged through her veins”—it’s already clear from the surrounding text that she’s excited, so this feels a bit extraneous.

    And then my only other suggestion has to do with the following paragraph:
    "At the back of the house and on the second floor balcony, a boy squeezed himself against the railings, his body veiled in smoke. He was huddled in a tight ball, scared and crying. He was eleven or twelve, several years younger than her.” Would she be able to see him well enough to be able to identify his age? Or even to see that he is a boy? I was also thinking that, if she is that close to the house, perhaps it might make sense for her to have some type of interaction with the family—I think that it could further ground her in the scene, which is always a good thing.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thank you so much for your detailed feedback! I appreciate it very much. You bring up a good point that the voice sounds more MG than YA. After reading my opening pages again, I definitely see where you are coming from. In thinking about the big picture of my novel, I feel that the plot and themes are more consistent with YA, however in this case I might have to change the tone of the opening pages to sound more YA rather than MG. I will take this away and think about how best to approach this in my manuscript. Thank you!

      You're absolutely right that the prose could be tightened a bit in the opening pages. I think it's a great idea to have Meredith have an interaction with the child's family somewhere in this scene. I will work on this as well.

      Thank you again for your thoughtful feedback!


  5. Wow! Great work, Sophie. You clearly took in the feedback and made thoughtful, well-chosen edits which continue to move your work forward. The pitch is solid and well-rounded.
    Your rework is strong and the comments above point to polishing elements in smart ways. One are not noted above that I might develop further: The Rescued Boy. While the scene is exciting and compelling, the boy is not mentioned in your pitch. So, I worry that he is just in there to represent Deviants and to show Meredith in a heroic light. Is this it? Or is he more important? Does he give/teach Meredith anything that she carries with her? I wonder if, in the pitch, you might SHOW (instead of tell) that Rio is anti-Deviant in some way by saying something like "When she witnesses Rio arrest a young deviant boy, she realize she must decide between her kind -- and the people she loves." (something like that -- you get the idea). The pitch and these pages are your big audition for agents/publishers and the tighter, stronger, more compelling they are as a unit, the better your chances are of getting your story noticed.
    That said, I think you've learned and honed a great deal this month. Bravo to you! I think the best, most efficient use of the coming weeks would be to take what you've learned and discussed and continue through your novel, honing the remaining 84,995 pages (lol) to the same sheen as these. Onward! And best of luck, Stasia

    1. Thank you Stasia! I really appreciate your feedback throughout the past few weeks. I've definitely learned a lot from you. I will take your suggestions as well as the other comments from this workshop and work on incorporating them into the rest of my novel :) Thank you!

  6. Hi Sophie,

    Congrats on all your hard work this month! I love this story and hope to see it on a bookshelf one day.

    This is a pretty great pitch and I can’t find anything substantial I’d tell you to change about it. And I can’t believe SHE’S a Deviant! Ahhh! This makes it even more exciting, and I definitely get the feel of this being a sci-fi and a coming of age tale. However, since you compared it to Victoria Schwab and E Lockhart, it makes me realize that the prose sounds more on the MG side, or maybe young-YA? Instead of a more gritty older YA like those two authors imply. As I read the pages again, it does feel more MG to me, although I can’t really put my finger on why. I would consider maybe changing this to MG, or finding ways to age up Meredith’s voice and internal thoughts to make her feel older.

    1. Thank you Cheyanne! Your feedback means a lot to me. I definitely learned a lot from you throughout the past few weeks!
      You're not the only one who mentioned that this manuscript has a MG feel, so I will definitely take this back with me. This novel does get a bit darker later on so I think it is more suitable for a YA audience, however like you said I think I would have rework the tone of the opening pages to be more consistent with a YA tone. Thank you so much!

  7. Sophie Li! I am so impressed with you this week! Let's talk about it.

    The first and third paragraphs of your pitch are -- to me, at least -- spectacular. You really show off voice/tone/character in the first paragraph, and give a really strong feeling for your theme and solid comps in the final paragraph. I was sort of blown away, to be honest. The only downside is that it left less room for that middle paragraph, the job of which is to describe your plot. As a result, your plot felt a little ambiguous to me: a conspiracy, a difficult choice, and some people she cares about come off as hazy and insubstantial. If you could be more specific, that would punch up the tension. I know now that Rio is ready to arrest Deviants -- even little kids. Does he know his adopted daughter is a Deviant? Do they have some agreement about who she'd tell/what she does that she'll be breaking, bringing them finally face-to-face? What's her difficult choice, exactly? ...I hope this helps you flesh out that middle paragraph, but you still really knocked it out of the park with the rest, in my opinion.

    Again, impressed. Your pages have changed and improved significantly from the first version, so I can really see how much work you put into them. This version of Meredith is so much cooler, so much more agentive, and so much more sympathetic than the one we started with. I love the lines:

    She should just wait and leave it to the professionals.
    But if the boy was one of them, then the professionals wouldn’t help him.
    But SHE could.

    We know she's the only one who's going to step up and help this little boy, and watching her put her life at risk to do it makes her a strong, likable character.

    I really don't have much criticism for you this time -- others have pointed out some minor details I agree would tighten things up just a bit but overall it's looking good. The one thing I wonder is whether Rio would be quite so calm when he finds his adoptive daughter hanging for her life from a branch, smothered in smoke, with a Deviant hanging from her. His response is:

    "Hey, M. I got him."

    Very casual. Calls her by her nickname. No sense of intensity or urgency. Just, you know. "I got him. It's all good." ; ) Maybe just look at that moment a bit, because he responds in a more appropriate manner when he catches up to her on the ground ("you might have broken something!" etc.).

    It's been great watching your work evolve and getting all your helpful feedback. Best of luck to you in all your future writing endeavors, and feel free to keep in touch if you like! =)


    Behind Rio’s back, Meredith delves into the mystery. She discovers the reason why the files collected dust underneath a desk for months: a conspiracy that oppresses the lives of Deviants around the world. Meredith must make the difficult choice to save her kind, even if it means turning her back on the people she cherishes.

    1. Hello S.A.!
      Thank you so much for your feedback. I think you are right about the pitch. The second paragraph does sound a bit vague and flimsy. I am working on revising it as we speak haha.
      You have a good point about Rio seeming pretty calm when he saw her on the tree. It makes sense for him to panic a bit I think :)
      Thank you for all your pointers throughout the workshop. It's been great working with you. Best wishes for you in your writing endeavours as well!