Monday, January 12, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Cortazar Rev 1

Name: Shannon Cortazar
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Silhouette

It’s young girls they seek. Which is unfortunate for me, being sixteen. But the Throne shows no favoritism at least, they take everyone they find. Thinning the herd I guess you could say. I’ve seen their control over the living through the memories of a sparrow. A gift, my mother calls it. Though I wouldn’t go that far. Nowadays it feels more like a curse, one of the darkest kind. 

I don’t dare share everything I’ve learned with my village. The hollow eyes and shuffled footsteps of the families here carry enough burdens as it is. Sometimes, some things are better left unknown.

Shivers ripple across my skin just thinking about the Throne’s legion. I look to the barren woods past the wall separating us from the wild and wonder just how long it will be before they find us. I imagine it will be soon. We’re just waiting I suppose, hiding out in the open. It’s not what I would call acceptance of the inevitable. I think most people here are just tired of living. But I’ll take this over the alternative. At least here I’m not a puppet of a merciless rule. Allegiance to the Throne is resolute. Death comes to those who resist. A slow, painful kind of death. Like a festering disease.  

“I will not be afraid.” I murmur to myself. But who am I kidding.

I see a raven’s shadow glide away from the timber. The ground is littered with his brethren’s ink stained feathers, our only triumph against the Throne. My eyes follow the trail of plumage across the pocked earth and I hear a break in the air above me.

The dull thwack of an arrow pierces the foul creatures’ flesh and I watch it fall dead at my feet.

The ravens, we realized a while back, are seekers for the Throne. My hatred for them is boundless. Controlling the minds of a bird of prey was a calculated decision. But this one won’t be returning to their keep. He won’t be giving us away today or any other day.

“Another one down.” I say to myself. “Thousands to go.”

I turn and see an archer high in the watchtower, lowering his bow. The grin on his face is enough to lighten my mood. Finn, my friend, though he’s more like family. It’s his tower watch and the reason I stand so close to the edge of safety. It’s my birthday and he left a note on my door to meet him in the village circle. I expect he has a gift for me. Though he’s already given me a gift I can’t hold in my hand, his gift of friendship lies untethered in my heart.

“How many is that today O’Leary?” I yell up to the tower.

“I’ve lost count.” He shouts in his scratchy voice. “Hey.” He yells down to me. There’s a change in his voice now, it’s soft, almost tender. I immediately look away.

“Noelle.” he says.

I draw my eyes up to his steel grey stare, his dark tousled hair and pale skin make his eyes seem to glow. A strapping young man, some of the elder women call him. He is. His beauty seems out of place in this ugliness. I’ve told him that much. He’s returned the sentiment, though I don’t know if it’s out of kindness or desperation. Maybe he just wants to hold onto something other than misery.

Goosebumps spread up my arms, and a flutter in my chest makes my breath hitch. The way he says my name makes me think of velvet, the soft flow and warmth of it. Its beauty would be wasted on my pale lifeless skin, even on my best days. I look up to him and a pang of guilt cuts my thoughts short.

 “Happy birthday, your grace.”  he says.

He thinks he’s funny. I roll my eyes, figured him wrong today. At least he’s unpredictable.

I shake my head. He’s been saying that ever since the day we met. We were six or seven when I snagged a rabbit with a slingshot I found hidden in a fallen tree. It was Finn’s, and he chased me when it was discovered that I was the culprit who took it. He didn’t catch me, I used to run, fast. The next day he found the sling on his doorstep, I had returned it later that night. My mother was overjoyed about the rabbit, that I had taken the slingshot, not so much. I was expected to confess my thievery. When I did, he laughed and I stomped away. Ever since then, we’ve been inseparable. Some ties know no bounds.

“Thanks.” I say. “You coming down soon?”

“Maybe you should come up here.” he says. “There’s room for two you know. I could let down my hair for you to climb up—.”

“Ha ha. You know that’s not a good idea.” I say.

“You’re probably right. I’d be too distracted by your beauty.” he says resting his elbows on the tower rail.

“Finn--.” I say and lower my head.

“I know, I know. Boundaries.” he says. His voice sounds deflated.

“See you in a while?” I ask and look up to him. I wait for him to answer. But he just looks at me. Not an angry or pleading look. One that says, I won’t falter. His hooded eyes caress my skin, I didn’t know I could have this kind of feeling. I have to tear my eyes away from his. I won’t, no, can’t cling to something that will bring both of us heartache. I’m not that strong.

“Yeah, see you in a while.” he says and I walk away.

Farther across the courtyard are my brother and father. I see their graves through a rusted iron gate. Frost, our surname, is carved at the base of an angels robes. They died in the mountain cocooning the back of our village. A cave in crushed them to death just inside the entrance. We buried what we could last year, the water they searched for came trickling out the next day. They still took care of us even in death.

The sky is ten shades of overcast today. The cliffs and towers of the clouds have just started to release their fill. Behind me I hear someone shout from my village about soup. I take note that it’s ready but continue toward the wall. I blink silver glinted snowflakes away and see a sparrow’s silhouette struggling through the cold still air. It was the spring of my seventh year when I first spotted him. Every few months for the past nine years he’s returned to me. I don’t know why we have this bond, but because of it I’ve learned what our world has succumbed to.

The Throne came in the spring almost a year ago today. It was as quick as falling asleep. The mid afternoon sun cast their shadows and they appeared. Their beauty is what caught people off guard, they’re cunning. At first, they were portrayed as some kind of miracle. But their true purpose revealed itself soon after. They’re making their way through our lands, claiming everything in sight as their own. A dark magic lies in them, and humans are the object of its wrath.


  1. Wow! You get congrats for bravery b/c this is a big change. Good job trying something different!

    I like the fact that your new first paragraph makes things very personal for your mc. They seek young girls and she’s solidly in that category. But I found moving to seeing things through the memory of a sparrow an abrupt change from finding out about the Throne and that they want girls. I think the story would unfold more smoothly if you follow with either how the Throne was evil or what happened to the girls and how your MC feels about it before introducing something as surprising as seeing the memories of a sparrow.

    “His beauty seems out of place in this ugliness.” Seems like the perfect place to put in some description of their environment and living conditions.

    I feel like you are getting a bunch of back-story out in these pages, but I’d love some action. I don’t mean action like an attack, but just that in a community as desperate as hers is, isn’t there something that she should be helping with? It seems like she’s just standing around thinking about a bunch of different things. If there was some action, I think it would feel more cohesive. Walking by the grave of her father and her brother would feel like a pain that she feels every day rather than something insderted to create sympathy for your mc.

    I think you have so many interesting pieces here, hitting on them as your mc is trying to accomplish something would, for me, feel more authentic.

    I hope that helps! Rebecca

  2. Awesome! I really enjoyed this and love the addition (or is it just the mention) of her power with the sparrow. Very cool. Also dig the forbidden love and how you went a little further there. Love how she sees her dad and brother, then you say it's their graves. Nice moment. Sad.

    Be careful of lines like this: "Some ties know no bounds." it's cliche and you already showed it well enough in the paragraph. Don't be lazy by telling too much or using expressions. Your writing is beautiful so use it! :D Make everything your own unique voice and hers.

    Still need a bit more about the Throne. So they aren't human? What are they? Can you show us through a memory of her interaction with the sparrow? Even if it's a momentary glimpse? Can you say how the others die?

    The first paragraph is great, but then you take away a little of the personal danger to her when you say they want young girls, but they'll take anyone. Maybe the other way around? Something like: The Throne seeks everyone. No one is safe, but they want young girls like me more than anything. Any hint why?

    Can't wait to read again!

  3. Hi Shannon!

    Ooh, you used that great line first! I love it. It sets up so much atmosphere and creep-factor of it, and the "thinning the heard" phrase.

    I wonder if you combined a few sentences in the first paragraph if it wouldn't help clarify some things, like, "It's young girls they seek. I am sixteen, unfortunately. The Throne shows no favoritism, takes everyone they find, but who they want is the girls. Thinning the herd, I guess you could say. I've seen their control through the memories of a sparrow, a gift my mother calls it. I wouldn't go that far. It feels more like a curse now, of the darkest kind."

    P2 is great.

    P3 can be condensed a little, I think, though the context is helpful and adds more creepiness!

    The raven scene is so much better. The last line of the "hatred" paragraph could end at, "He won't be giving us away today" rather than the "or any other day" phrase. To me, it adds more impact to end it earlier.

    The line, "Though he's already given me a gift I can't hold in my hand, his gift of friendship lies untethered in my heart," reads REALLY romance novel to me. Since this is YA, it might just be too "much" for the genre, and the use of untethered is a bit ambiguous. Does it mean that the friendship isn't grounded in her emotions or that it has free reign unlike other things? I think I know which you were going for, but it's just "off" somehow.

    Some of the new expansion on Noelle's background are a little too reminiscent of The Hunger Games now. She catches game in a clandestine way, she runs around in the woods, she has a male childhood friend that's probably more, who enabled her to run around in the woods...there's nothing wrong with it, but it might be too wrapped up with Katniss to make this work stand out.

    In the same vein, there is also a bit of A Game of Thrones here, with the cold and living by a wall that keeps things out, and a name like Frost (akin to Snow). I don't know how important this is (or if it's important at all), but you might want to differentiate things more.

    Also, more Hunger Games with the father being killed in a cave-in (Katniss' father in the mine). Can you kill him and the brother in another way?

    The last paragraph has some great stuff. I like the comparison of the Throne's arrival to "falling asleep," just like freezing to death where you barely notice it. I wonder if you could use this as the second paragraph? I think it could flow smoothly and explain more right off the bat.

  4. Hello everyone and thank you so much for your comments. I was afraid this comparison might happen about the hunger games and game of thrones. Id written this story years ago and set it aside. But nonetheless I will have to change some things to make those a unique part of the pages. The story actually continues into a whole other world, book of revelations meets the iron king basically. But, adapt and overcome. I appreciate all the feedback and will be off to revise again. Most likely another unique beginning will have to be written. Im grateful that im getting this feedback, its just what I need to push forward.

  5. You have some really lovely language here! And it's great that you're willing to revise so much.

    Honestly, I have to disagree with some of the others. I wouldn't worry at this stage about if you have elements similar to other books. What's going to set your book apart most is your voice and the power and flow of your words. Minor things can be tweaked later, but if I were you, I'd concentrate on making my writing as good as it can be before I start fussing over that.

    Like I said, some really awesome turns of phrase and language usage here! And you're doing a great job of letting us see the character more instead of throwing information. But it does come off a bit choppy in spots. Try reading it out loud if you can, that is something that always helps me.

    You've definitely started to integrate the worldbuilding and the action more and I would encourage you to continue to try and do that even more, especially in the first scenes of your book. Information works best when connected to something else the reader can see and feel.

    You're doing a great job. Keep it up!

  6. Hi Shannon,

    I love your revisions. Your language is beautiful, and as I was reading the submission to critique, I ended up mostly making hearts next to the paragraphs!

    My suggestions are minor.

    I'd cut "being sixteen" from paragraph one. I don't think you need it right here, and it slowed things down for me. And maybe change "everyone" to "every girl"? I love the part about the sparrow, and also how her mom refers to the communication as a gift, which ties in so well with the reference to Finn's gift to come. Maybe consider replacing the last two lines with something like "I used to agree with her, back when my sparrow saw so much that was beautiful. Now, though, he only sees darkness, and my 'gift' feels more like a curse." It might get it right upfront how much change she's lived through.

    I loved the addition of paragraph two. I think it tells us a lot about her, and the villagers.

    Super picky, but paragraph three has a lot of "just"s. Also, at the end of the paragraph, you talk about how death comes to those who resist the Throne, and how Noelle's glad that's not her, but it really seems like it is. It confused me a little.

    I love your descriptions like the "ink-stained feathers"!

    Your dialogue is great! I did notice that you often use a period before the dialogue tag instead of a comma.

    I love how the way Finn says her name makes her think of velvet. I wondered about how she had experienced velvet, though, and thought you could add something like:

    "I used to wear velvet. Now, its beauty would be wasted on my pale lifeless skin, even on my best days. And even if we could get our hands on any. I look up to Finn and a pang of guilt cuts my thoughts short."

    Why does she feel guilty? And how (two paragraphs down) is Finn unpredictable? You say in the line after that he's been saying what he said since they met, which seemed predictable. I ended up going back and rereading to try to work it out.

    I loved the part about Noelle's father and brother. Really great!

    I love that the Thorne came "as quick as falling asleep." That whole last paragraph was excellent. Maybe add "that way" after "they're cunning," though. For some reason, I originally read it like "and their cunning," even though it wasn't spelled that way.

    But all those things are very minor, especially in light of the fact that you give us a really good feel for Noelle's stakes and have created a main character who is very likable and interesting. Great opening!


  7. Dear Shannon, This is a good revision. One that adds more depth to the story and illustrates the setting better. Although I really like the very first line, the following sentences in the first paragraph are confusing to me. I also feel that the first paragraph is a bit too slow. Except for the first sentence, your first paragraph doesn't really grab me. Is where you begin your story the right time for your story to begin? Something I read once: "I don't believe the story should begin when things are quiet, when nothing's happening, when things are much the same as they have always been." Perhaps think about changing your opening. Dropping the reader right into some action scene, begin the story with some conflict. In this way, your opening scene will be more exciting and really draw the reader in. You have done a great job of showing the reader who Noelle is and what the conflict is but all of this information is done through too much telling and not enough showing. Let me see Noelle through her actions not just through her telling me about what has happened in the past. I also would like you to consider cutting down on the number of adjectives you use. One sentence in particular: "I draw my eyes up to his steel grey stare, his dark tousled hair and pale skin...." Make your nouns and verbs stronger and you don't need to use so many helper words. Great job. Look forward to the next iteration. Virginia

  8. You're doing a good job, Shannon, and kudos to you for being willing to listen and try to new things with your story!

    In the first paragraph when you write "they take everyone they find" - do you mean they take all the girls? Certain age girls? Be more specific to help the reader ground themselves more quickly into this world. I was also confused by the first paragraph in general and the opening two paragraphs felt a bit choppy. Do not despair! Most writers play with getting their opening write forever! And by the time you've finished the first full draft it will probably change again.

    Second paragraph: "I don't share everything I've learned". What has she learned and where has she learned it? From the sparrows? How does that work? At this point its too confusing and we don't know that she has any magical abilities.

    I like the dialogue between Noelle and Finn - can we learn more about them in this opening interaction? Can the dialogue be pushed to introduce their fears, convey new information, a plan, etc? Use it to work for the story.

    Third paragraph: "But I'll take this over the alternative" - define "this" more. Is she referring to the acceptance of the inevitable, or the tired of living?

    Finally, the last 3 paragraphs after her exchange with Finn are all back-story and "telling." Try to move forward with what Noelle does next (action, moving the plot forward) and weave this information in over the next few pages.

    A small thing that's easily fixed, but in sentences with dialogue, there shouldn't be a period after the dialogue and before "I say" or "he says". All the periods should be commas because its all the same sentence. I think I counted 11 instances of this.

    I agree with Miriam about not worrying that this is a mash-up of Game of Thrones and Hunger Games. Just write the story you want to write. It will be different enough because it's YOUR story. :-)

    Can't wait to see what you do this weekend with it!

  9. "write" in my second paragraph should be "right". LOL.