Sunday, December 14, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Ungleich Rev 2

Name: Amanda Ungleich
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Unwritten

It’s the footsteps in my dream that tell me Nadu is coming. The sound of her feet on the hard wooden floor echoes in my head. I ignore it, fighting for a toehold in the story my brain has given me while I’ve been sleeping.

“Elsi, wake up.”  

The words collide with my dream just as warm hands grip my shoulders, startling me awake. 


My dream scatters, and I force my eyes open.  Nadu stands over me, her grey hair barely visible in the dark room. Sweet fate, not again. I rise up on my elbow and glance out the window. Darkness presses through the glass. There’s no telling how late it is.

“The Council needs you,” Nadu says.

I roll my eyes. Of course they do. Tossing back the covers, I stand and thrust my legs into the pants Nadu hands me. She doesn’t have to tell me to hurry like she does the others. I’m old enough to know we don’t have the privilege of extra time. And besides that, the disapproving glare and extra chores I suffered from Nadu the one time I didn’t move fast enough have kept me from lingering ever since.

I glance down the length of the room all ten female heralds share.  The rest are all still sleeping. Eleven boys are in the room across the hall. Twenty other people they could send, but instead this is my third interrupted night of sleep in recent weeks. I suppress a sigh, careful of Nadu’s presence. The cold from the wooden floor creeps into my bare feet that I quickly shove into boots.

I tiptoe past the other beds and grab my cloak. The braid I sleep in hangs loose and messy over my shoulder, and I suppress the twitch in my fingers to fix it. I follow Nadu to the door.

“Should I spare you the lecture on how to act?” Nadu flashes a cheeky grin.   

The newer heralds have to be reminded of protocol and how to act when called by the Council. You can hardly blame them. Everything is new when we come here, pulled from our families and lives as soon as our fate is known. I smile at Nadu. She’d never admit to it, but I’m her favorite. Mostly because I listen, even when she reminds me of what I already know. “I think I remember.”

I have been here for five years. Not the oldest herald, but I’ve been called to the Council more often than all the others put together. No use complaining about what I can’t control, even if it leaves me with little sleep. And it’s not like this isn’t worth it. The Council and the things they have me do are keeping our people alive. I bend down, kissing Nadu’s cheek. Her skin is old and wrinkled, and has been as long as I’ve known her. What was Nadu like before she was old? I can’t imagine her as anything but weathered. She holds the door open, and I step out into the darkness.

The woods are quiet, and I relish the stillness. The cold air nips at my cheeks. Spring has finally found us here in Ilan, but as usual, will be late in showing herself and forcing out the chill of winter that still lingers in the night air. At least the cold will help me wake up.

Darkness blankets the path as I weave through the forest. The huts I pass barely stand out, wedged in between trunks as though they sprouted from the trees themselves, those inside fast asleep behind the rough wooden doors of their homes. Fires dance here and there, the towering trees above me holding the heavy thickness of their scent close to the ground, as if they are unwilling to let anything out, even the smoke from our fires. Just another thing in Ilan I can’t escape.

No light comes from the Council building, but its rounded walls peek through an opening in the trees. I reach one of the outside doors and walk in without knocking. If the Council summons, it means they don’t want to waste time with politeness. I ease the door shut behind me. Wide steps lead down to the front of the room where the Council gathers around their table. All the chairs in the amphitheatre are empty, as they so often are these days, the Council instead meeting in hushed, frantic tones as they do now, seated before me. Candlelight bounces off their faces. The rest of the room lies bathed in darkness.

I stand and wait. Even if Nadu hadn’t trained me to be silent and ready, I think I would still tuck myself in the safety of the shadows. It’s amazing what you can see when people don’t think you’re paying attention. Soft murmurs bounce off the walls around me. The room has the feeling of secrets.

“Elsi Aker,” a voice says.

I step forward into the light on the stairway. “Yes.”   

“A story awaits in Galvanour.”  The voice is Rynn Lannard’s. There are twelve on the Council. He is not the oldest, but usually speaks for them. He is young, but not as young as me, and I wonder if he bears his responsibility with the same resolve and regret that I do. He stares at me for two breaths, his eyes full of the hope so many in Ilan have forgotten. “Can you find your way?”

I’ve never been there. But I can find it. “Yes.”

“Your seeker has been summoned. She’ll meet you at the gate.” He cocks his head, studying me. “Take a trainee with you.”

I nod, ever the obedient herald, then turn and leave.


Nadu has given me Marion as my trainee. She is young, just thirteen. Nadu wouldn’t let us put our pinky fingers through a portal before she has trained us for a solid year. Marion is capable, of course. It’s a brutal, but thorough training we heralds receive. Nadu sees to that. But heralds always start by going with someone more experienced. And as I’ve passed through about as many portals as I have actual doorways in the past couple of years, Nadu uses me to train the others rather frequently. And for whatever reason, Rynn insisted I take someone with me.

Marion’s dark hair is pulled back into a messy braid. I move and stand behind her, undoing the braid and doing it again, neater. Marion fidgets, and I smile down at her dark head bobbing in front of me. She hasn’t traveled to another world yet, and her excitement practically reverberates off her skin. I wonder when I lost that excitement, if I ever had it. Usually all I feel is anxious, and intent on my task. I finish the braid and drop Marion’s hair right as she nudges me.

“A seeker,” she whispers.

I look up to see our seeker coming toward us. Her hair is a mass of thick red waves that cascade down her shoulders, and her creamy face is dotted with freckles. Far from detracting, they only add to her beauty. She’s so pretty you would want to befriend her just for that reason, but her green eyes are so intense I bet she intimidates most she comes in contact with. She walks with an air and confidence some would say is cocky. If she is cocky, it’s deserved. Seekers have a gift, the rarest and most coveted. They find stories.


  1. Amanda - I love how you begin and end with "story". I'm so intrigued with what this all means! Your writing was great with the first post and you've tightened and improved with each revision! Great job! I don't have any suggestions with this one. Best of luck. I'd love to read this when it's out! :)

  2. This is a great revision and you should be really proud of yourself. It's much clearer and more arresting than your first submission. I honestly can't think of anything to add except good luck!

  3. What a beautiful job you’ve done with this revision. Your voice stands out more clearly and consistently. The nips, tucks, and streamlining make the story flow better. Love the endearing relationship between Elsi and Nadu. Thumbs up for the heightened sense of urgency and glimpse as to the council's purpose. Gorgeous brushstrokes to an intriguing story. Applause and congratulations for your hard work.

    I’m wondering aloud here, could the “waking up” at the beginning be traded for tension over the approaching footsteps to circumvent a cliché wake up opening?

    Two teeny little niggles:
    Elsi’s IM “Of course they do” - maybe toss us a little more understanding of why she would think that.
    I think you can cut: “Heralds always start by going…” since you’ve told us - “Nadu uses me to train…”

    Best of luck continuing your elegant beginning into a wonderful tale. Thank you for sharing your creativity.


  4. Amanda-

    Your first paragraph is so close, and so much better, but not quite there yet. I read it aloud and realized the problem (or my problem, anyway!). Too many words, and the first two words are “It’s” and “the” which are dull words. How about: “Footsteps in my dream tell me Nadu is coming.” This would start off with a more interesting word and eliminate the dreaded “that”. Also “fighting for a toehold in the story my brain has given me” is a bit of an awkward construction. I would rework and say good-bye to the word “toehold” which just doesn’t seem exactly right in this situation. My opinion. If you like it, keep it!

    I am finding it interesting that Elsi doesn’t see it as an honor to be chosen so often, above the other heralds. Better keep reading and find out more . . .

    “I suppress the twitch in my fingers” How? Does she put her hand in her pocket? Dig her fingernails into her palms?

    “I wonder if he bears his responsibility with the same resolve and regret that I do.” I really like this line. Very few words give an insight to both characters and in a way, bind them together.

    You have what appears to be a very unique idea here, and your writing is good, just need some polishing. But the story is itself is so engaging that I would keep reading. I hope to see it finished and on bookstore shelves someday! Best of luck.

  5. Amanda,

    First off: I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Just irresistible, great job.

    I'm going to feed off JennyC's comment for a moment here: She mentions 'I suppress the twitch in my fingers' and asks 'How?' That, right there is THE perfect example of showing vs. telling. You have TOLD us 'she suppressed the twitch in her fingers' Great, wonderful...but relatively unengaging and the reader will simply read the line and move right on by. Or you could have her 'put her hand in her pocket' or 'dig her fingernails into her palms' or any other ACTION and SHOW the same thing and the reader will be engaged, they'll feel the action rather than ignore the statement. Does that make sense? If you then go through your manuscript with that one VERY short paragraph of JennyC's in mind you'll see where you might have told other things that can and should be shown.

    Moving on...there aren't many comments I had on this since the story just pulled me right along so wonderfully, but I had a few:

    1) Much prefer this intro but actually wanted more. If her dream foretells being woken up you've introduced a new 'power' she might have which may or may not be something you want to do. If it is something that might come in handy later in the story than I LOVE beginning with it. If it's something you're never going to mention again then the reader will spend the entire book wondering when she's going to dream something that happens again. That's an important decision you'll need to grapple with if you keep this intro. If you decide against the new 'power' you could have her already up with insomnia or some other reason she woke up. Could the new spring weather have brought an annoying bird to her window or something that has her already up? Again, it's your choice but I would always warn against any kind of cliched opening as agents see TONS of cliches every day and if you can avoid them it'd be best.

    I glance down the length of the room all ten female heralds share. The rest are all still sleeping (uses the word 'all' twice)

    The newer heralds have to be reminded of protocol and how to act when called by the Council. (you just used 'how to act' and really this sentence doesn't need anything after 'protocol')

    Spring has finally found us here in Ilan, but as usual, will be late in showing herself and forcing out the chill of winter that still lingers in the night air. (long sentence, nothing is needed after 'herself')

    In one paragraph you use 'Council' 4 times. If possible to lose at least one of those (as the word is needed, like a name would be allowed to be overused for example, any time you can cut is good).

    Any time you can get rid of the word 'that' is also a good thing.

    Nadu has given me Marion as my trainee. (1. you just used the word 'trainee' and 2. 'Nadu has given me Marion to train' is a little more active)

    Yes, I realize these are pretty minor 'nits' but, to be honest, this is pretty damn close to wonderful and I just love it and can not wait to find out what happens next!!! I want to know desperately how the seekers find stories, what they do with them, why they need them! Fantastic creation of those three HUGE questions in the readers mind in a very quick 5 pages!

  6. One more additional comment on the opening: if you keep the new 'power' it might help to actually give us MORE of her dream...of her 'seeing'/'forecasting'

    Just a thought...

  7. Hi Peter,

    Thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement with this! It never ceases to amaze me how helpful it is to have outside eyes on my writing. This is so much stronger because of all the great feedback I've gotten these past two weeks.

    I went with the dream as an opening not so much for the dream itself but because Elsi does have a heightened sense of hearing (it's one of the reasons she was chosen as a herald). So having her hear Nadu while still asleep and wanting to ignore it shows that skill and how she's resigned to her role in her world. The keen sense of hearing definitely shows up throughout the story. She doesn't dream again, but I could easily add that. Her getting woken up in the middle of the night is an important element that's built on later in the story, and gosh darnit, I just couldn't figure out another place to start!

    Thanks again for all your help!

  8. Hi Amanda,
    You have done an excellent job establishing that this is a young adult fantasy, and giving us a sense of Elsi. The structure of the Council and her work as a Herald as are also well sketched in such a short amount of writing. I have a sense already of how the power structure there works, and you have done it in a short period of time. Elsi is a compelling lead character. I got a sense from your description of what things looked like very well. The voice and dialogue conveys "fantasy" without overdoing it.
    So I don't really have any thoughts about how to revise this! I'm sorry!
    My one small quibble, which is very small, is that starting a story with the main character waking up has been done a lot. You do give us a reason for starting the story there, but if there was a way to make the book start off with Elsi not being woken, do that.
    Otherwise, this is great! Thanks for letting me read this.

  9. Hi Ginger,

    Thanks so much for the amazing feedback! I definitely couldn't have gotten this where it is without the feedback and critique I've been given from others.

    I'll give a lot of thought to how else I might open without her waking up. That's the one thing I just can't seem to figure out.

    Thanks again!

  10. Amanda,
    You've done such a great job! I feel like your already-great story has gotten richer and deeper. I know you've struggled with how to avoid starting the story with waking up, but I guess I would just say to trust your instincts. The Hunger Games starts with waking up, too. Your writing is strong and the story is compelling. Go for it! And thanks for all your help with my story!