Friday, December 2, 2011

#39 MG: Cryptogram Chaos

TITLE: Cryptogram Chaos

12-year-old computer whiz Cody Reynolds leaves his loner existence to help two classmates create a virtual reality game. Players (and readers) solve cryptograms to move ahead in the game where they can do all the things they can’t in real life. But fun and excitement turn to fear and suspense when Cody secretly sells the code to Eamon Wiley, manager at a local game company, and Wiley takes control of the game for his own evil ends. It’s up to Cody to save the gamers, including his classmates Nicole and Kerry, who are trapped in the game.

The lights in the lab dimmed. The flat screen embedded in the wall glowed blue, and then yellow letters appeared: NVR ULTRA ZX10_OCEANCAVEDESERT.

Mr. Gifford handed the headpiece to me. “Want to give it a try, Cody?” His face lit up, like he couldn’t wait for me to say yes.

And I wasn’t about to say no. “Sure!“ My voice squeaked. I sounded like a dork, but I didn’t care. I took the headpiece from him. It weighed about as much as a birthday card. Two crisscrossed, thin plastic ribs connected four sensors.

“You won’t get the full effect since it’s not programmed for a specific game,” Gifford said. “But you’ll get an idea of its capability.”

I glanced at my brother. He was putting on a headpiece, too. He gave me a weird smile—mysterious but excited. What were these guys so amped about?

Copying Brad, I put the headpiece on with the red sensor resting on my forehead, two white ones on either side of my head and another white one pressed against the back. Other than that, I didn’t feel a thing. Maybe it wasn’t programmed right. I was about to take it off and let Gifford check it when my body jolted as if I’d stuck my tongue on a hundred-volt battery.

The lab vanished. I stood on a beach. Seagulls screeched. Waves crashed onto the shore and splashed around my legs.


  1. I love the interactive idea - a way for readers to solve puzzles and be part of the story. And this intrigues me: both the idea and the writing. The voice is great and I'm fascinated to see where this goes. Good job and good luck!

  2. I like this, but you should probably tweak your logline wording to sound more current on gaming technology. "Virtual Reality" is a pretty old concept, and I'm guessing there are a lot more phrases that would sound up to date.

    The actual text is great-- I'd read on!

  3. I understand Annonymous' comment but you can probably solve that with some easy tweaks. I love the use of technology, very fun! I think I'd really enjoy this book.

  4. I love this idea!

    For your logline, I suggest getting rid of "But fun and excitement turn to fear and suspense", because Cody's the protagonist and if he's the one who's changed the game, it shouldn't come as a surprise.

    I'd suggest giving us motive for Cody's actions.

    "But when Eamon Wiley, manager at a local game company, offers Cody _____ in exchange for the code..."

    Do you see what I mean? I really want to know why Cody stole the code, otherwise you've turned me off his character.

    Good luck! I hope I'll be able to plug this book to my students one day :)

  5. I like the excerpt -- well written. I like that your MC has to save his friends. Sounds like something my son would like to read! I'd read on to find out what happens. Good luck!

  6. This sounds like a novel that would hook a lot of gamer kids (and there are lots out there!). I thought it was well-written; the only hiccup for me came when Cody asked "What were these guys so amped about?" He himself has just come across as excited--"wasn't about to say no," and with a squeaky (and I presume 'amped') voice.

    But you certainly get into the action quickly, and that's great. Good luck!

  7. I really liked this too. My only concern was already stated, why Cody would secretly sell the.code when two of his friends were trapped in the game. Good excerpt though, I like how he's whisked into the game so quickly

  8. I don't read (or write MG) so my comments might be way off... But I wondered about some of the word choices for a MG protag.
    --his face lit up
    --weighed as much as a birthday card
    --mysterious but excited

    As an adult reader, though, I was drawn in. Love the concept and writing, and would read on. Makes me want to look at more stories in this genre.

  9. I also liked the excerpt and I think this would hook lots of boys! And I know they are always looking for good "boy books". I thought you could have gotten to the action a little sooner. And you could trim some unnecessary words/sentences. "His face lit up like he couldn't wait for me to say yes." and "And I wasn't about to say no."

    "Mr. Gifford handed the headpiece to me, anxious" would let you get rid of that other sentence entirely, and you don't need the second sentence at all I don't think. Each word should count at this point, directing us to who these people are and what's coming.

    Good luck!

  10. This was really different, and it sounds like it could be really fun! I'm not sure how much trouble the gamers could be in from selling the code to someone at a game company. What sort of evil ends is he after that he can accomplish with a cryptogram game? And how are the friends trapped in the game? Physically trapped?

    The technology sounded a little dated somehow--maybe the "Ultra" in the coding. Also, Cody was really keen on the game but then wasn't sure why Brad and Mr. Gifford were excited, which confused me.

    Otherwise, very neat idea! I love the idea of the cryptograms and I hope they'll be used as puzzles in the manuscript!

  11. I'm thinking maybe it isn't quite clear whether Cody is excited about this game, or unsure, or afraid of it. His squeak could be about fear instead of excitement, which would explain why he wonders why the other two are so excited.

    That's the only quibble I have with it, and I might not have noticed if I hadn't read the above comments. The voice is strong, we have a good opening scene, and I'm interested in where the story's going. Dying to know what could motivate him to sell the game! I sense an interesting subplot....

    Logline: It’s a long pitch, which seems to be torn between explaining the cryptogram/game format and the traditional plot pitch. Which wins the day here? Are you push the envelope, in terms of format, or just using it as a set piece in a traditional narrative?

    Line notes: I’m not sure I can tell how much knowledge or experience Cody has with the game/virtual reality. You show that he is excited and eager, but then when he wonders “what were these guys so amped about?” I felt that maybe he was either skeptical or blasĂ©. Not sure I see a point of view emerging yet.

    Overall: Maybe this is me being less tech-savvy than I should be, but I'm not sure how cryptograms and game coding/virtual reality go together. I think of cryptograms as word puzzles, like a crossword. How do they translate into virtual reality games?
    Aside from that non sequitur for me, I do see that fiction with technology aspects, especially when it can be interactive, is the leading edge for publishing, where books are evolving into new ways of telling stories, as through apps and active links and other ways of engaging readers. I will be interested to see how you take advantage of this idea.

  13. So cute! I go 150! (If I dare...)

  14. Agreed, Tamar. Darn it.


  16. I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to comment. Your critiques are very helpful. Good luck to all of you, too!!