Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Cortazar Rev 2

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

I never put much thought into the lives of orphans. Now, that worry has led me to leave today and find the source of our ruin. I watch from our kitchen doorway and wait for the rise and fall of my mothers’ chest. She’s weakened since we fled here. I see the thin fabric of her blouse swell. “Time to go.”  I step to the mantle, leave a note tucked inside her glove and ease myself out the door. A blast of winter air tangles my hair in its talons as I step through.  I pause and think this may be the last time I cross this threshold.  Hidden under my mothers’ long wool coat is a blunt knife, dried meat and a water sack. “I’m sorry mom, this is the only way.”

I pass through the clapboard houses set in rows like gravestones. Almost a year has passed since I first saw this abandoned gypsy village from my father’s pick up. My mother insisted we hide here. “It’s a sacred place,” she said. “I don’t know why, I just know it will protect us.” I wasn’t so sure. “You were born near these mountains. Anything that pure is worth believing in,” she insisted. I was wary, but with no other options it’s where we settled.

Not much has changed except for smoke churning from chimneys and new graves in the cemetery. I reach Finn’s house, stop and crouch to the bottom of his door where I slip a note under the worn wood. Colorful chips of paint echo what I imagine used to be a place of celebration and living. The silence of its walls makes me think of his parents. He’s all that’s left of his family, except for mom and me. His parents didn’t make it to safety the day the Throne came. A lot of people didn’t. My family fled without a second thought, leaving everything behind. Finn was cutting our grass the day we heard our country was under siege by an unnatural race of people. My father had to drag him away, there was no time to search for anyone. He eventually gave in. He wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

From what I know, the Throne is gaining control of everything. I’ve seen their hold over the living through the memories of a sparrow. A gift, mom calls it. Though I’ve come to disagree. Nowadays it feels like a curse. They murder or maim anyone who doesn’t pledge allegiance to them and receive a mark inside their wrists. It’s young girls they seek the most. Girls who’ve aged sixteen years. Girls like me. I suppose they think we’ll go willingly and beg for salvation. But I’m not a begging kind of girl. They’ll have to try and take me, I dare them.

That darkness seeds from the woman at their helm, they call her Elin. It’s her that searches for the girls, to find one girl. Her words are what prompted my purpose today. “Find her,” she said to one of her legion. “Look for the divine Auspice, it comes in the form of a sparrow. It will lead you to the girl.” “She’s a sentient, and our only way back to our kingdom.”  I knew then, weeks ago when the sparrow came to me. But I waited. Fear mostly. But I decided if I can find her, maybe I can kill her. Or at least keep them from coming here. Somehow. I won’t be her prey. She will be mine.

No one is in sight as I walk along the uneven paths leading to the stone wall surrounding our village. I see only shadows peeking from behind clouded windows. I look back to see if mom is following. Nothing but rows of depressed shacks, tattered clothes grey with age hanging to dry and the mountain behind us. I think fear of the Throne more than the winter chill keeps the people here shut in. Most know the paper thin walls won’t hold off their legion. We just don’t say it out loud.

I see a raven’s shadow glide away from the timber. The ground is littered with their ink stained feathers, our one 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 it fall’s dead at my feet.

The ravens, we realized a while back, are seekers for the Throne. Their ploy, controlling the minds of predators.  But this one won’t be returning to their keep. He won’t be giving us away today.

“Another one down.” I say. “Countless more 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. It’s his watch and he left a note on my door to meet him. I expect he has a birthday gift for me. He’s a good friend, lately I think he hopes for something more.

“How many is that today O’Leary?” I shout.

“I’ve lost count.” “Hey.” There’s a change in his voice now, it’s soft, almost tender. I immediately look away.

“Noelle,” he says.

A person could get lost in his grey eyes. His dark hair and pale skin make them seem to glow. A strapping young man, some of the elder women call him. His beauty seems out of place in this ugliness. He’s been different lately. Smitten is what mom says. Though I don’t know if it’s out of kindness or desperation. Maybe he just wants to hold onto something other than misery

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. I look up to him and a pang of guilt cuts my thoughts short.

“Happy birthday, your grace.” 

I roll my eyes.

“Thanks.” I say and roll my eyes. “You coming down soon?”

“Maybe you should come up here. I could let down my hair for you to climb up—.”

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

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


“I know, I know. Boundaries,”  his voice sounds deflated.

“See you in a while?” I ask and look up to him. Though I know I won’t. It’s better he doesn’t know. 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. 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 as I walk away.

Farther across the courtyard are my brother and father. I see their graves through a rusted iron gate. Frost, our surname, carved in wood at the base of an angels’ robes. They hunted deer and tapped for fresh water on the mountain behind of our village. A pack of wolves attacked them both. They made it to the village, but infection is what killed them in the end. The water they searched for came trickling out the next day. They still took care of us even in death.


  1. I had trouble with your first sentence this week. Orphans bring up a lot of emotion, but I don’t feel like this is tied in closely enough to what comes after it. If you want to focus on saving the orphans could she see orphans from the village in front of her, doing something that a parent would normally be doing? Or could this be tied to her friend who has been orphaned. Or, going another direction, since you want to focus on what your MC is about to do, can you put a different spin on the first sentence and make it about her? “I never pictured myself as a hero, but I was about to leave to find the source of our ruin.” I guess I think your first few sentences have to be really tightly connected so the reader is drawn in quickly.

    In that paragraph, I like the image of her mom as she leaves and her line of dialogue. I was also interested in the new info on her purpose. It sounds like she’s a “chosen one” and the Throne will eventually come for her. She wants to take them on, and that will make for lots of action and adventure.

    The first couple pages still feel heavy with back story. Could some be moved to later pages?

    I didn’t get the connection between, “you were born near these mountains.” And “anything that pure is worth believing in.”

    “receive their mark” threw me b/c it’s passive. The Throne gives the mark, but sentence is structured so that the people need to do something. I think if you changed receive to accept or another more active word it would work better. In that same paragraph, the “they” in “It’s young girls they seek” is confusing. You mean the Throne, but it sounds like the people.

    Good luck with your manuscript! Rebecca

  2. Hi Shannon!

    I admit that I felt more connected to your previous opening paragraphs. I really liked the context of "it's young girls they seek" because it's so creepy, and the implication of this new opening is that the narrator might now be an orphan which is immediately changed from the mention of her mother. I also thought her mother was dead in previous versions, so I may have missed something there.

    I love the line about the clapboard house in rows like gravestones. The use of "gypsy" takes me out of your fantasy world since it's so rooted in European mythos. Could you use "nomad" or "peasant"?

    In the paragraph about visiting Finn's house, the line, "He's all that's left of his family, except for mom and me," implies that they are related (we know that's not true from previous versions).

    The line, "That darkness seeds from the woman at their helm" is a little confusing and awkward. Maybe something like, "They call her Elin, the woman at the Throne's helm who seeds its darkness." I think it's also, "SHE that searches" rather than "HER that searches." Further in the paragraph, Elin's quotes are jumbled together. They should be on separate lines and combined into one set of quotations.

    I'm realizing now that her name isn't said until almost the end. Could you have her mother whisper it in the first couple paragraphs?

    I really like the new death method for the father and brother! That sounds terrible, I know :-)

    Overall, I get a better understanding of the situation and politics, and what the Throne is and how it functions, but I think there is still some confusing mythology to clarify.

  3. Hmmmm.... I really love that you're willing to experiment with so many different openings, but I'm still seeing some of the same basic issues of pacing and voice that I did with the last one. My advice would be to pick the opening that resonates most with you and then work on polishing and smoothing it.

    Trust your audience. Fantasy readers don't need a ton of information up front, you can simply mention things and move on, as long as you expand on it later. Plant us in the character's body, tell us how it feels to be in her skin. (How the uneven path feels under her feet, for example.)

    The Finn bits are where your voice is really shining, in my opinion. That's where we get invested in the character, and where things really start to have some kind of context. That kind of scene is what we need more of, if that makes sense.

    (Also Finn is adorable and I totally ship it.)

    Good luck! Don't give up, I think you've got some great material here, you just need to dig in more and make it shine.

  4. Dear Shannon,

    Thanks so much for sharing your work!

    I love your first sentence, and the entire first paragraph. You put us right into the tension and action! We are worried for her mother. (Even though we don’t even know who “she” is.) We know they fled something or someone. We know the weather is harsh. You’ve accomplished a lot here - fabulous job.

    Picky - please add commas wherever your breath pauses when you read your work out loud. (I’m a stickler for commas!)

    I absolutely love your use of details to show your world. “Colorful chips of paint echo what I imagine used to be a place of celebration and living.” Perfect!

    Finn’s story of being saved by her father is heartbreaking and effective.

    We all love tough girls. “But I’m not a begging kind of girl.” “I won’t be her prey. She will be mine.” This is the kind of main character who sells a lot of books!

    I’m missing something. Noelle leaves a note at Finn’s house. Then she sees Finn because he left a note on HER door? Confused.

    Their flirtation works for me! Again, great details. And ending with the story of the water is very poignant. I really enjoyed this opening, Shannon. Nice work!

    Good luck

  5. I think you can start from "I watch from our kitchen doorway." You never come back to the orphan thing and with all the new world info we are wrapped in it feels more confusing than intriguing. But that's my two-cents!

    I like the change and the fierce determination of your MC. I like how you explain more about how the Throne came and what she's doing and why. Great set up. I also like the addition of the pick up truck since I did not picture that kind of technology at all! Helpful world building.

    Careful about integrating the old with the new. I think a few simple words/details with Finn need to be smoothed over. E.g., how many is that today? Isn't he wondering what she's doing out tonight sneaking around?

    Overall I think this is really strong. I like what you have here and I'd definitely be interested in reading on.

  6. Hi Shannon,

    I'm having a hard time reviewing this, because as much as I thought this opening was very good, my heart was with your prior revision.

    There was a lot to like here, too, though. I thought the cemetery references were especially good (the houses lined up like gravestones, the new graves, and then later, the actual graves of her father and brother). I thought you did a great job of using these to set the mood. I also liked the pick-up truck reference since in the prior versions, I hadn't imagined this world as being so close to our own. That really changed my perspective on the story.

    I'd like to understand a little more about what prompts her to leave home right now to find Elin. Is it because she's now at the age where she'll be taken? Or because something had happened to make her think they are no longer safe there? Why now? I do like that she's clearly a girl on a mission. I'm rooting for her! (Finn, too -- I think you have some really great characters!)

    Best of luck with this!