Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #19: Ascending

Name: Ashlyn (@AshlynWriting)
Genre: Science Fiction
Title: Lambda Ascending
35-word Pitch: At Epsilon Labs, heroes aren't born—they're made. Fifteen-year-old David is Crown City’s most popular hero and Epsilon Labs’ finest artificial human, whether he wants to be or not.
 First 500 words:

“Nice kitty.” The tree scratches against my skin, but it won’t hurt me. Almost nothing does. “Come here, Mister Sprinkles.” Mister Sprinkles hisses, his eyes practically glowing in the dark. He bats a paw at me. 
I grit my teeth, and growl at the dumb animal. “Look, I think we know each other pretty well by now Mister S.” The mangy cat hisses again. 
This is humiliating. A normal teenage boy clinging to a branch is bad enough, but me? “Okay fine,” I say with a huff, “Mister Sprinkles it is. I just thought we were past all that and nicknames would be fine. Look, we know each other well enough that you don't have to be frightened of me.” I glance at Mrs. Benson down below. It doesn’t look like she’s listening to us, well me. “I don't want to be here anymore than you do.”
“Is everything okay up there, Sigma?”
My eye twitches at the name. “Don't worry, everything is under control,” I call, then turn back to my so-called mission. “Okay, Mister Sprinkles, this is your last chance. The easy way, or the hard way. Your choice.”
Of course, the dumb cat chooses the hard way. He always does. The branch is thick enough to support my weight as I crawl closer toward him, but it still wobbles with each movement. Flying ticks off the stupid thing off even more. With every scoot comes another hiss. Why Mrs. Benson cares so much about such a mean cat, I’ll never know. My job would certainly be easier if I cared whether or not the cat made it indoors for the night.
Just as I’m about to wrap my hands around him, Mister Sprinkles’ paw lashes out at me. His claws rake across my ungloved hand. He doesn’t break my skin. He doesn’t hurt me. It feels uncomfortable and weird, like when your leg is half asleep.
Super skin is way better than regular skin. Not that I know the difference.
I yank him from the branch he’s clinging to, and leap the ten feet down to Mrs. Benson with her little monster wriggling in my grip. “Here you go.” I shove Mister Sprinkles into her arms, and launch myself into the sky. I may have to be here, but I don’t have to stick around.
Yeah right. I’m supposed to. It’s what the customer would want. Crown City’s tax dollars’ at work.
Maybe I should take the longer route home so I can avoid pictures of Epsilon Corporation’s billboards that star my face. Or worse, the new Sigma movie poster. Geez, those things are so embarrassing.
Unfortunately, there’s a new Epsilon one on my route. Awesome. In it, I’m holding some new computer thing. I can’t fight my grimace. I look so lame. I think they airbrushed my skin, because it does not shine like that. They didn’t retouch my goggles much. My red suit looks like plastic, and the sigma insignia could be glowing.


  1. I love the premise here, but I feel like the unique features of your story and character get buried under the mundane cat interactions. If you get to the interaction with the human a little quicker, I think it will be less confusing.

    Watch the logic--how does Sigma know what a leg half asleep feels like if he doesn't know the difference between super skin and regular skin?

    I loved the line about the airbrushed skin, but "I can't fight my grimace" sounds awkward.

  2. Hi Ashlyn,

    first, AMAZING Pitch!!! I love this premise and kinda want to read it all. Like, right now.

    You mention a tree and it scratching, but what part? I love the subtle hints about the character being unique, but right now, I feel we aren't grounded enough for the like "normal boys, but me?" to hold much water. It might work better if you move it sometime after you mention him maybe flying to get the cat.
    I'd also like to see a hint or two more about why the cat's a mission and what his supervisor is doing since she's obviously not listening, let alone paying attention much.

    "It feels uncomfortable and weird, like when your leg is half asleep." is kinda telling. Is there any way to show or at least flesh this out more?

    "and launch myself into the sky. I may have to be here, but I don’t have to stick around." is an extremely abrupt switch, throwing the reading out.

    The line about the movie, does it focus on him or are there other Sigma, because you hint about there being others, but right now, that's all we know his name to be, so it sounds like he's the lead character.

    The lines about helping a costumer kinda make sense but also don't. We understand he's helping the cat lady, but then he just leaves. How's she a costumer and is it normal for him to do things like get cats down or is this just a menial task that got in the way of something more important? (also, now that I think of it, this beginning is a touch bit too much like the incredible's opening with Mr. Incredible and the cat "squeaker." But it's not too much of a resemblance to need a overhaul)

    When he says, I don't look like that, maybe hint at what's different. My arms aren't that big or my eyes aren't that teal. A quiet hint that shows what's different without pulling the "mc looking in the mirror to describe themselves"

    This has good voice, and again, I love the concept!
    Hope this helps! :D

  3. Great pitch! Your concept has me interested already.

    You start off with dialogue, but no tag to tell me who's talking. It can be inferred, but I think you should be more clear since this is your very first sentence.

    I loved the MC's voice and humor. "Okay, Mister Sprinkles, this is your last chance" is a great line.

    "My job would certainly be easier" --> I think the word you're looking for is "more pleasant" or "more worthwhile."

    The opening does a great job of setting the scene without telling me too much. You mention Mrs. Benson is a customer, which tells me a lot without you having to explain the hero system right away. Good job!

  4. From the pitch it sounds like an intriguing read!

    I love this image of a mean cat with a name like Mr. Sprinkles. I instantly thought about cats I have encountered that were like this.

    I think your first line could be stronger, though. Consider rearranging the opening and starting with, "This is humiliating. A normal teenage boy clinging to a branch is bad enough, but me?" I think those two lines would make a strong start. It instantly would have the reader's attention and wanting to know what is going on. Don't cut what you wrote, but think about rearranging some of it.

    (These are just my suggestions. I am only reading a snippet of your MS, so if it doesn't fit with your vision of the overall work or if it just doesn't feel right to you, I understand.) :)

  5. Great job starting in scene. You give a strong feel for the MCs voice, the humor, and paint a vivid mental picture. I laughed out loud at his conversation with the cat. If you decide to tighten up the cat interactions, I think you can cut the line that starts, "Look, we know each other..." without losing much.

    These lines could be flipped around: "I shove Mister Sprinkles into her arms, and launch myself into the sky. I may have to be here, but I don’t have to stick around." so it starts with "I may have to be here, but I don't have to stick around. I shove Mr. Sprinkles..."

    Overall, I really liked this! I already feel attached to the character and I'm so intrigued to know why a super-human teen boy is in charge on mundane tasks like saving cranky cats. Love it!

  6. Hello there! I’m jumping in. Most of my comments are line-edits. I hope you find this helpful! Let me know if you have questions.

    Your voice is very relatable. Other than some grammar things that are all so fixable (watch the comma usage), I enjoyed your first 500 and would want to read more.

    Your Pitch:

    The first line hooks me right away. But what I’d like to hear next about 15 yo David is what he must do, what stands in his way, and what happens if he fails. Otherwise, these two sentences sound like the beginning (albeit, an awesome beginning) of a QL…thus, not fully achieving all the elements needed in a pitch (my own pitch definitely does not do these things).

    Your First 500:

    Suggestion: Remove “against” here, so that it is: “Nice kitty.” The tree scratches my skin…
    Suggestion: Slay the adverb in the first paragraph (and as much as possible throughout your MS…practically – delete it!

    Delete the comma here: “I grit my teeth and growl at the dumb animal.”

    This makes him sound a little full of himself, but that might be your intent: “A normal teenage boy clinging to a branch is bad enough, but me?”

    The opening lines have a lot of dialogue of the MC talking out loud. Most people don’t talk to themselves out loud like this. Maybe to animals…but I think some of this might work better if you switch it to his internal dialogue.

    Suggestion: Delete “down” here – I glance at Mrs. Benson below. A lot of folks insert “up” and “down” and “out” in places where it becomes redundant. As in this example, you can remove it.

    This is telling: “It doesn’t look like she’s listening to us, well me.” Can you show us what she’s doing instead? Is she knitting? Playing on her phone? Making eyes at the cute gardener?

    “Of course” is filler. Suggest you delete it here: “Of course, the dumb cat chooses the hard way.” Also, “chooses the hard way,” is also telling. Can you show us how he chooses the hard way? Does he creep further onto the branch’s edge?

    “Closer toward” is redundant. Suggestion: “…thick enough to support my weight as I crawl toward him.” Plus, if he’s on a branch he’s probably not crawling. Maybe, shimmying? Inching?

    I’m confused by this line: “Flying ticks off the stupid thing off even more.” What is “thing” referring to? The tree? The cat? I think if you identify what “thing” is it will be clearer.

    To “scoot” means you move along the ground on your backside. I don’t think that’s what Sigma is doing on the branch. Again, inching or shimmying would work better, I think.

    Another adverb to delete: “certainly.”
    You can delete the comma after “clinging to” and add one after Mrs. Benson: “I yank him from the branch he’s clinging to and leap the ten feet down to Mrs. Benson, with her little monster wriggling in my grip.

    Another comma to delete after “into her arms”: “…I shove Mister Sprinkles into her arms and launch myself into the sky.”

    Some questions about the section below: if he can fly, why is he climbing a tree? Why not be Superman and float up to the cat? When you say you may have to be here, where is here? Can you add some specificity? And isn’t being “here” the same as “sticking around…here?” A little confusing.

    From this point forward, though, it reads smoothly and is well written!

    Thanks for sharing,

  7. Hi Ashlyn,

    Your concept is so fun! I've heard superhero stories are a hard sell, so I think it's smart to classify this as SF and have the AI aspect to it.

    Pitch: The wording is great and hooky, but I don't get a sense of what his conflict leads to, and what he may be forced to do in the story.

    500 Words:
    I love the interaction with the cat, it seems like the perfect way to introduce a reluctant superhero with such a clichéd need for rescue. (And Mr. Sprinkles is the best name!) I think you can give us more sensory details about him being in the tree when the scene begins. The mention of it scratching his skin isn't quite enough – he could simply be leaning against it. We need to know he's up in the tree and where the tree bark is scraping his skin.

    The next reference to the cat scratching his skin also needs a bit of clarity, IMO. My first thought was how would an AI know what having a leg fall asleep feels like? Uncomfortable and weird could be replaced with something like a pins-and-needles reference, or maybe something more technical that would address how he was made. The cat doesn't break the skin, but would his equivalent of blood still rush to the surface of his artificial skin?

    Crown City's tax dollars' don't need the apostrophe at the end of dollars – there's no possession there.

    Finally, I find some of the description of the billboards a little confusing. Maybe you could do something like:

    "If I take the longer route home, I can avoid the ten-foot tall pictures of my face on Epsilon Corporation’s billboards. Or worse, the new Sigma movie poster. Geez, those things are so embarrassing.

    Unfortunately, there’s a new billboard on my route. Awesome. In it, I’m holding some new computer thing."

    I hope this helps some!

    Julie (#3)

  8. Hello! Thank you so much for entering #YayYA!!

    Pitch: Pretty good, but I'd like to see what David really wants. What does he want as opposed to what's expected of him? A classic YA set up but with a new story.

    First 500: LOL this reminds me of the Incredibles, actually. To start, a lot of agents don't like starting with dialogue. Give us a good first line about how dumb he feels.

    What you do have here is a good, legit voice. I'd like a little more sense of movement as he's flying and where he is on the tree, etc. There's also some grammatical details the others have already pointed out. I will say, though, that I would consider lowering David's age and making this MG. From what I have here, it smacks of a good adventure story.

    That said, definitely enjoyable and a lot of potential!

  9. Hi!!

    I LOVE the voice in this. I love the premise of this. It made me think of a book I read for college about a superhero sidekick that had a similar feel and pace to it, and I honestly loved ever second of reading it. I can tell this will have that flow.

    To make it stronger? Tighten it up. The cat interaction is funny, but it goes on for too long. I wanna learn more about him and WHY he has to rescue Mr Sprinkles. There was something interesting starting with him looking at the poster and I wanted more of that.

    Otherwise great work!!! :D

  10. There's a lot of humor in this opening, and a good intro into who the main character is and what he does--and the fact he doesn't want to be doing it. It sets up the conflict of him not wanting to be a super hero quickly. I can't think of any ways to improve it! Great writing and great execution!

    -Katherine (#17)