Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Middle Grade Are You Hooked? #15

TITLE: Ungifted
GENRE: Middle-grade science fantasy

Dwyth focused and a part of his mind extended toward the giant lizard a few feet in front of him. Like a finger, he poked at the creature's brain.

Come on, you big stupid lizard - let me in!

Two hundred and fifty pounds of tough yellow skin and muscle - all of which stood perfectly still - stared back at him. It wasn't having it.

No surprise there. But there was no way Dwyth was giving up. Not this time. Of all times, not this time.
Come on, come on...

He tried to tighten his mind's extension, make it firmer so it could pierce through the thing's brain. Like he'd been trained to do and had been trying to do to animals' brains his whole life.

But it didn't get any bigger or more rigid. Dwyth grunted in anguish, his hope sinking fast, but he continued to concentrate as hard as he could.

After a minute he felt Zeph's Influence give a tug, and the beast slithered up to Zeph, who tenderly stroked its head. He'd been inside the beast's head from the start of the test, making sure it didn't run wild in Dwyth's hut. It felt like all Dwyth's hopes and dreams had been pulled away from him, too.

"I think that'll do, Dwyth," Zeph said softly.

"No - wait," Dwyth said. "Give me another chance. I swear, I got it this time."

Pity eked from Zeph's eyes.


  1. I think this has potential. I feel bad for Dwyth (although I'm not sure that feeling bad for the protagonist makes me want to follow him for long, so I hope he'll triumph soon. Or at least be funny and brave about his struggles.) I am concerned that including the phrase "it didn't get any bigger or more rigid" in a book aimed at twelve year olds is going to lead to fits of giggling. Also, I don't think "eked" is the right word.

    Overall, I'd give it another page to see where it goes and to see what you mean by "science fantasy."

  2. Based on the premise you've set up, I'd keep reading. Only two suggestions. The opening line tripped me up a bit. Perhaps something like this would be clearer?

    "Dwyth focused on the giant lizard a few feet in front of him. A part of his mind extended toward it like a finger and he poked at the creature's brain."

    Also, I'm not sure what you're trying to convey with the last line, as "eke" means "to stretch supplies or support oneself with difficulty." Other than that, great start!

  3. I really like the tension in this. Lots of comments below because I see great potential here.

    My main trouble is that there are several places where I'm confused. I don't need to know everything, but I should understand what is going on in the moment.

    1. "a part of his mind" can you find another way to say this? I had visions of his brain extending out like a pseudopod and didn't understand the psi connection until a few sentences in.
    2. This is clearly some kind of test, but I really had to pull that out of context and I didn't get it until the end - I think it would help to be more explicit somewhere around the fourth paragraph.
    3. Zeph's presence was a big surprise - I would have wanted to know about him sooner - initially, I had no idea who this person might be - could have been an enemy/friend/great aunt
    4. "it didn't get any bigger or more rigid" ??? the lizard? the part of his brain? the lizard's crest? Is this hinting at matter transformation?
    5. I'd like to have an idea of Zeph's age - I thought he might be an adult with the reference to his hut.
    6. I could use more clarity that Zeph had never performed this feat successfully, despite having trained for it - I was confused whether he had or hadn't.
    7. Not sure how pity can eke out of an eye.

    Minor quibbles - in all three three paragraphs you indicate the lizard is big, a bit repetitious - perhaps just delete the word "big" in the second one. Also, is there some reason the mc wouldn't know the gender of the lizard? Word repeat with head (Zeph strokes, then inside head - might be a good opportunity to give a better pic - ex. stroked the bony ridges over the beast's eyes)

  4. Interesting. I would read more to find out more about this world and what will happen.

    You've already received some great suggestions. I had to reread your opening a couple times to get it. This is a great way to start of story, but it is quite out of the ordinary, so you need to make sure it is clear. Vincent Kale's suggested opening helps add clarity. ["Dwyth focused on the giant lizard a few feet in front of him. A part of his mind extended toward it like a finger and he poked at the creature's brain."]

    Overall I think you can cut extra words and redundant descriptions (as other mentioned. For example: But there was no way Dwyth was giving up. / No way would Dwyth give up today.

    6th para "it" is confusing. I guessed you meant the brain of the giant lizard.
    And yeah, I was surprised at the intervention of Zeph. I was pulled out of the story when he suddenly showed up. It might add more tension and ground the reader if you set things up a bit more. Maybe at the edge of his concentration on the lizards brain, he feels the tug of Zeph, controlling the beast in case Dwth can't. He didn't want his hut destroyed (again).

    Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like an interesting premise, and I would like to see the "science fantasy" play out.

  5. The idea has hooked me. The writing could be clearer. You might set the scene in the beginning. It seemed he was alone because no one else was mentioned, and I had the impression he was outside because he's with a big lizard. Let us know who's there and where they are. Maybe describe the hut?

    The mind probe could be explained better. It's described as almost something physical with form and shape, but it's thought you're describing, so perhaps find another way to describe it. Perhaps as some kind of energy?

    You've repeated yourself in a few places, and since it's Dwyth's POV, you might use he/him rather than his name because he wouldn't think of himself by name.

    I really like the premise. Keep working at it!

  6. This is intriguing. I didn't have any trouble following what was happening until the paragraph with Zeph. For me, it wasn't Zeph's appearance so much as the reference to "the beast" that made me confused. For a moment I imagined that Zeph was a beast. I didn't immediately connect the beast with the lizard, because you haven't referred to the lizard as a "beast" before then and, yanno, this is SFF so anything's possible. I think someone else had a great suggestion to introduce Zeph sooner. If you do that, you can also up the stakes by letting the reader know that Dwyth needs to succeed in front of this other person. You could also consider adding in some indication of who Zeph is: a teacher? a parent? an elder? That would help ground the relationship between Zeph and Dwyth. All best!

  7. This is a great start and I'm definitely intrigued enough that I'd read on. You've already got some great advice, much of which I agree with.

    One issue for me was that I didn't understand what he was trying to make the lizard do. Jump? Turn green? Speak? I think that informs other parts of the story and I was definitely curious!

  8. I'd definitely read on. I like that Dwyth is trying so hard. I'm curious to see what the main plot/tension becomes.

    I like the names too. They're unique without being hard to pronounce. I think that, plus the little details like the lizard and the hut, make me interested in what this world is like.

  9. I liked it all. I'd keep reading, even though the "eke" thing did trip me up a bit. Apart from the fact that I don't think it's the right word, something about the sound of an eye having something eke from it kind of grosses me out.

  10. Overall this is a good start. It seems like an important incident in Dwyth's life and something is actually happening. He's not just sitting around thinking about things.

    But there are a few minor issues with your writing that I think need to be fixed before this will be ready to query. I've mentioned them below:

    "Like a finger, he poked at the creature's brain." - The way this sentence is constructed, you are describing Dwyth as being like a finger, when I think you mean his mind. I would get rid of 'Like a finger' altogether, as I feel the verb poked gets this feeling across.

    "It wasn't having it." - You use the same word in a short space, which isn't a good idea, particularly as in this case 'it' refers to two different things. I would replace the first 'it' with 'The lizard', or something similar. You also have a problem with 'it' a few paragraphs down, where you say 'But it didn't get any bigger or rigid". This is the start of a new paragraph and on first reading, I thought you meant the lizard. I had to read it a second time to realise you meant Dwyth's mind.

    I feel like "give a tug" is a phrase that weakens your verb. Can you rewrite this sentence so "tug" stands alone and stronger?

    "Eked" means to ration something or struggle to make a living. I don't think it's the right verb to use in your last section.

    One structural issue, I felt like the introduction of Zeph and the hut felt too sudden. I scanned the comments above and I can see others felt the same. Because Dwyth is trying to get inside the brain of a lizard, I'm picturing him outside. Perhaps you could insert a few words earlier to show that we are in a hut, even if you want to amp up the tension by not mentioning Zeph at first.

  11. I'd probably keep reading another page or so, as this is a decent beginning. However, like the other posters pointed out, your use of the word "eke" is not correct. I've actually never heard of this verb but according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means "make up for the deficiencies of" or "to make money last." I'd definitely remove that sentence.

  12. The structure of conflict is in place here, but I'd go back and re-examine the lines to make sure they stand out. Try reading the first few pages out loud and stop to revise any passages or lines where you could be more clear or give a more tangible image.

    I'd keep reading for at least a little while, myself.