Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #15: NPC: Non-Player Character

Name: Katherine Toran

Twitter: @bookgirl_kt

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Title: NPC: Non-Player Character

35-word Pitch: Natalie Peijing Cai joins a virtual reality game for money to save her family. But why is she a non-player character?

First 500 words:

I’m not proud of it, but late at night after everyone had left the virtual reality center, I snuck back in. A thousand excuses sat easy on my lips as I stood before the white door, fumbling with my key: I forgot my cell phone; I accidentally walked out with the check-in clipboard; I thought I saw a light and just went in to turn it off like a good employee. Admittedly, if anyone caught me inside a VR capsule, I had no idea what I would say.
Turning on the lights might get me caught, so I brought a flashlight. Once inside, I let the beam of light trail across the concrete floor, white-grey walls, and the receptionist’s desk in the middle. Finding another key on the ring, I opened the door to the capsule room.
The ceiling was high, my flashlight lighting up exposed pipes and beams overhead. The building used to be some kind of warehouse, before its conversion into UC Berkeley’s new virtual reality center. Six hundred dentist-style horizontal chairs covered by glass capsules were packed together in twenty rows.
Keeping the flashlight tucked under my arm, I fiddled with the control panel and got the glass capsule to slide open. After placing the shiny silver helmet over my head, I settled myself inside, lying back on the reclining chair and wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my wrist. There were buttons on the chair’s arm to close the capsule from the inside. It was possible to operate a VR capsule alone, although not recommended by Cederstorm Inc.: they disclaimed all liability in the event of a fire or other accident during a VR trance, please hand over your first born child and your immortal soul to their lawyers after you’ve finished signing the waiver.
I pressed my back against the hard seat cushion. The helmet covered my face and a screen fell in front of my eyes.
My solitary voice sounded weak and embarrassed as I spoke into the deserted building: “Activate the Game.”
#
Lights flashed across my vision, reds and greens, combined with a high-pitched humming noise, to place me in a trance. I shuddered when my vision went black.
With a sudden jolt, I was no longer lying on a hard chair with a helmet covering my face. I floated in a dark, empty abyss. My head spun from the lack of objects around me to orient myself. Hands! Where were my hands?
A voice spoke in my ear: young, female, soothing, and discomfortingly close. “Your retinal scan indicates that you are a new player. Please enter your payment information.”
I recited the code my college had given me. Each Berkeley freshman gets one free character. As a student employee at the Haines Virtual Reality Center, you don’t know how many times I’ve had people banging on their capsules because they can’t remember their code.
“Welcome to the Game. Please snap your fingers to activate your menu.” 

REVISION:

Pitch: The total immersion virtual fantasy world of Valhalla is under attack by a virus. Unknown to the players, the evil NPC isn’t a computer program but instead a girl trying to save her impoverished family.

I’m not proud of it, but late at night after everyone had left the virtual reality center, I snuck back in. A thousand excuses sat easy on my lips as I slid my key in: I forgot my cell phone; I accidentally walked out with the check-in clipboard; I thought I saw a light and went in to turn it off like a good employee. Admittedly, if anyone caught me inside a VR capsule, I had no idea what I would say.
Turning on the lights might get me caught, so I brought a flashlight. Once inside, I let the beam of light trail across the concrete floor, white-grey walls, and the receptionist’s desk in the middle. Finding another key on the ring, I opened the door to the capsule room. The ceiling was high, my flashlight lighting up exposed pipes and beams overhead. Six hundred dentist-style horizontal chairs covered by glass capsules were packed together in twenty rows.
Keeping the flashlight tucked under my arm, I fiddled with the control panel and got the glass capsule to slide open. I placed the shiny silver helmet over my head and settled myself inside, lying back on the reclining chair. The blood pressure cuff around my wrist would alert the machine if I started moving while in the trance state. There were buttons on the chair’s arm to close the capsule from the inside. It was possible to operate a VR capsule alone, although not recommended by Cederstorm Inc.: the company disclaimed all liability in the event of a fire or other accident during a VR trance. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to hand over my first-born child and my immortal soul somewhere in that fifty-page waiver.
I pressed my back against the hard seat cushion. The helmet covered my face and a screen fell in front of my eyes.
My solitary voice sounded weak and embarrassed as I spoke into the deserted building: “Activate the Game.”
#
Lights flashed across my vision, reds and greens, combined with a high-pitched humming noise, to place me in a trance. I shuddered when my vision went black.
With a sudden jolt, I was no longer lying on a hard chair with a helmet covering my face. I floated in a dark, empty abyss. My head spun from the lack of objects around me to orient myself. Hands! Where were my hands?
A voice spoke in my ear: young, female, soothing, and discomfortingly close. “Your retinal scan indicates that you are a new player. Please enter your payment information.”
Though I’d known total immersion virtual reality would feel like being transported to another world, I hadn’t been prepared for it to feel quite this real. I sucked in deep, shuddering breaths until my heart rate slowed. Then I recited the code my college had given me. Each Berkeley freshman gets one free character. As a student employee at the Haines Virtual Reality Center, my main job is dealing with people banging on their capsules because they can’t remember their code.

“Welcome to the Game. Please snap your fingers to activate your menu.”

12 comments:

  1. 1. Great first line! Great voice in the first paragraph, I’m hooked as from line 1.
    2. Since I don’t know what a non-player character is, the pitch lost me in the last sentence.
    3. I would cut this description:The ceiling was high, my flashlight lighting up exposed pipes and beams overhead. The building used to be some kind of warehouse, before its conversion into
    4. I love this line:
    .: they disclaimed all liability in the event of a fire or other accident during a VR trance, please hand over your first born child and your immortal soul to their lawyers after you’ve finished signing the waiver.

    Well done, I’d read this.
    Looking forward to seeing revisions

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  2. Pitch: Nice pitch, though the stakes seem a little low. (She's a NPC? So what? It's just a game. Or IS it?) Maybe it's just me, but all of the YA sci-fi books I've read (and there's not a lot, so I'm no expert) had some sort of grand conspiracy or world-destroying plot. The only similar book I can think of is FOR THE WIN by Corey Doctorow, but that deals more with socioeconomic themes, the human condition, and more litfic stuff, which might be what you're going for. I don't know. Also, about the title, and I'm not sure about this, but I always thought NPC referred to non-play*able* character, not non-player character as you have.

    500 words:
    things I noticed:

    "UC Berkeley’s new virtual reality center"--Why are they putting a VR center in a college? And for that matter, giving every student a free pass to play? Do they *want* their students playing video games all day? And at such a competitive college too. (I can't imagine the parents being too happy about this.) Unless this is educational somehow, I would much more expect it to be off campus, or somewhere that's meant for fun, not learning.

    "wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my wrist"--I'm not sure why they would need a blood pressure cuff on a VR machine.

    "first born"--"first-born"

    "With a sudden jolt, I was no longer lying on a hard chair with a helmet covering my face. I floated in a dark, empty abyss. My head spun from the lack of objects around me to orient myself. Hands! Where were my hands?"--now I'm wondering how the VR system works. Since a screen is mentioned, I assumed that it was similar to current VR goggles. But now I'm wondering if it's somehow messing with the brain. Because even if VR can manipulate the sense of sight and touch (as with current technology), I don't think it would feel *that* real.

    "Each Berkeley freshman gets one free character."--so is this how the payment system works? Do they pay per character, as opposed to time spent playing?

    Final thoughts: This is an interesting premise, and though the writing didn't exactly grab me from the start, it's good, solid writing that gets the job done. A few more revisions and you should be good to go. Good luck!

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  3. Hello!

    Loved that you started off with a bit of mystery! I did want to know why she snuck back in - maybe just a phrase or something that indicates why.

    I do think you can combine this para:

    "
    The ceiling was high, my flashlight lighting up exposed pipes and beams overhead. The building used to be some kind of warehouse, before its conversion into UC Berkeley’s new virtual reality center. Six hundred dentist-style horizontal chairs covered by glass capsules were packed together in twenty rows."

    It's extraneous description in the beginning, especially because of the action going on.

    Otherwise, cool start!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gonna focus just on your pitch:

    It may sound hypocritical, but in your case I don't think you need the full name. Even if you're trying to show diversity, it's better to use those words to give Natalie some personality. i.e. Seventeen-year-old super-nerd Natalie.

    Also, avoid the rhetorical question. It's never as strong as it feels like it should be. You're better off laying out what it means to be an NPC. Is she stuck with a repeating script? Limited options? can't leave town? Does she only have a list of event reactions available to her and she has to creatively use those to accomplish her goals?

    I understand the urge to use the rhetorical question, it is strong in all of us when we start pitching, but use the puzzle of the scenario to raise questions in the reader, don't raise the questions themselves.

    Hope this helps some!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey Katherine!

    Hmmm.... Interesting. Seems like you've got a sturdy plot here from the pitch but it does leave me a bit confused. What is a non character player? What does that mean? She's just floating in the game? Maybe cut the non player thingy out of the pitch to give us a better sense of the situation of the story and let the phrase remain in the title.
    As for the first 500 words.... The opening line is awesome. If you chopped it down to minimal as possible, it will be even more awesome then it already is. I could relate to your character in this short section with the part where she admits she won't know what to say if she's caught even though she has a million ideas and excuses.
    For critiquing.... The only thing that caught my eye was selling your firstborn and soul and signing a waiver.... That had me double-checking my second read through the sentence. I couldn't tell if i was literal or sarcastic or how it even fit into everything. I'd suggest tightening it up or cutting the line out completely or putting it some where else.
    I would maybe hint at what she's doing since all we get is she's a paid gamer that's checking something despite it being closing hours? The wording and flow of the scene is awesome but I think you should explain or hint at why she can't do this during working hours, why she works as a gamer, why there's a school for the game, and what she's looking for.
    Hope this helps and can't wait to read the revision!
    -Bethany (#12 and co-host)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is really interesting! I definitely want to read more. I agree with the others that I would like to know why a non-player is significant. Also agreed that you should lose the rhetorical statement at the end of the pitch, it would be more impactful without it.

    You've done a great job establishing the setting, I really got a feel for the virtual reality center which is impressive given the short amount of time you had to establish your story.

    There are a just few things I would ditch/change. I would delete "you don’t know how many times I’ve had people banging on their capsules because they can’t remember their code." You've already established the fact that she works at the center, and this feels like extraneous information that distracts the reader from the stakes.

    Instead of "After placing the shiny silver helmet over my head," I would say "I placed the shiny silver helmet over my head..."

    and in "Activate the Game.” game doesn't need to be capitalized.

    All in all, this is great, good luck!!



    ReplyDelete
  7. Charis M. EllisonJune 30, 2016 at 10:21 PM

    Interesting pitch!

    I really like your first 500 words--it's a really interesting concept, and your character has a strong voice. I'd love to see her voice come through a little more, as it does in the first line, and that great line about the liability waiver.
    Compressing the descriptions a bit would speed things up, getting us into the VR pod sooner--just saying 'warehouse' gives a full picture, I think, without pipes etc. (unless there's a reason for her to be looking at the ceiling that's revealed later?).
    I have so many questions--why is this VR center at Berkeley? if she works there why is she a new player? This is really a strong start and I'm very intrigued!

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  8. HI. I like your idea however I don't think your pitch does it justice. I would also loose teh full name, use teh first and add a descriptor...I also think teh Berley angle is interesting - maybe it's a test VR centre and not all students are able to play...why is she chosen..what does this mean.. I think it would be more intriguing this way. I would like to connect to the MC more...can you add more about her..how she reacts to being part of this etc. I want to be on this VR journey with her and worry for her etc. I would try to start with action so the reader is hooked from teh get go. Maybe she starts in teh capsule or witnesses something has gone wrong with another student. Great first draft and idea

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  9. Hi, Katherine! Though I'm not a SciFi fan, I do read them occasionally.

    Pitch: SciFi genre are the hardest to pitch especially if you've got something not from real life. Same goes for NPC, until you read the title again. And don't add rhetorical question in anything you're sending to agents. They hate it, in queries, in pitches. Search for #querytip to learn what agents hate to find in queries and pitches.

    500 words: The first few paragraphs were superbly written. But this sentence made me read and reread it three times to comprehend:

    "they disclaimed all liability in the event of a fire or other accident during a VR trance, please hand over your first born child and your immortal soul to their lawyers after you’ve finished signing the waiver."

    If you're directly quoting the disclaimer as the company did, why is there a "they" there? If it's a sarcastic thought by your MC, why is there a "you" there? I'm lost in this sentence.

    Why is there a blood pressure cuff? To stimulate adrenaline or to know if the pressure is too much for the players to handle and thus stop the game? Do tell, since we aren't acquainted with the game.

    SciFi and fantasy are hard to properly and ideally describe in first pages and pitches. So keep working. Best of luck with revision!

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  10. Hi!!

    Remember that all crits are subjective and that you are welcome to use or dismiss mine as you see fit for your story! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Pitch: It's a general rule not to end a pitch with a question. You also have more words to work with strengthen your stakes. Otherwise, I love the premise.

    First 500 is good as well. You take us right into your MC's head and into her world almost flawlessly. I got a little tripped up though, and it's not your fault. You may want to check out the Game of Lives trilogy by James Dashner to make sure there's not TOO many jargon similarities. That series also has a Game with VR capsules (though I think he calls it something other than capsule) but I can tell that the stories are different enough that you won't have to worry too much.

    The line about people forgetting their codes made me laugh out loud.

    I'd like a little more sense of suspense and excitement. She's not supposed to be doing this. This is dangerous. She's planned it all out. Etc, etc. I feel like if you strengthen this, you'll have a mentor snagging pitchwars entry.

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  11. Charis M. EllisonJuly 4, 2016 at 9:43 PM

    Your revisions are great! I think your new pitch is really good and gives a much clearer picture of the overall story (based on my limited knowledge of course :P) The new opening is a lot smoother and feels faster to me, like we're really getting into the story quickly, which is good! Great job :D

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  12. I don't see much change in the 500 words, so I'll focus on the revised pitch. I like the new one much better, though the stakes still don't seem as high as I was expecting. (What happens if the virus takes over/wins? Are the players trapped/hurt in some way? Or do they just not get to play the game?). I'm also not entirely sure of the connection between a virus and an NPC controlled by an actual human. One is an inanimate piece of code, the other is simply an avatar controlled by a person in the real world. Unless the people are somehow mistaking her for a virus, I don't see how she could be an *actual* virus. But still, this sounds like an interesting story, even for someone like me who doesn't normally read a lot of sci-fi. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete