Sunday, April 12, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Ellie Rev 1

Name: Ellie
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wicked and the Dark

Caetlin had expected to find her brother's dead body. She hadn't expected to find nothing at all. She had steadied her furiously beating heart as she rounded each corner, bracing herself for what would be there. It wasn’t like she wanted to find a body, but Jax had been missing after his patrol for far too long—even for him.

Jax liked to play tricks on his sisters, but he never disappeared on a patrol for longer than it took to scare whoever’s turn it was after his. He was serious enough about protecting their patrons that he wouldn’t pull a trick that would get in the way.

A frown tugged at Caetlin’s mouth behind her metal mask. Something was definitely wrong. She didn’t want to jump to conclusions and scare Eloise and Peony, only to have their brother pop up later. Jax wasn’t just their older brother—he was their leader, the family’s first born, the strongest of them all. Caetlin refused to believe he could have been killed by a Shadeu or a rival guard.

-No. Don't think like that. He could just be wounded, overwhelmed, or hiding; trapped...Maybe he fell asleep somewhere… Caetlin thought, trying to justify her brother missing for so long without as much as a note.

"Damn you, Jax." Caetlin growled into the tunnel's dark crevices, the words muffled behind her face mask.

Her watch began two hours ago and she'd already checked the closest tunnels and territories under their protection. Jax should have met her under the family’s estate and been back in bed, but instead he was missing and Caetlin’s nerves were on edge.

Not a single Shadeu, the flesh eaters that lived below ground, or opposing cabal member had been spotted the whole time she’d been on watch. It wasn't rare, but it wasn’t common either. There were nights when she had killed ten shadow lurkers in a single section, and other nights when there were none in any sectors—at least ones under the Three Bells, her cabal's protection.

Still; there was something going on, her instincts were going crazy and her heart refused to stop pumping a frantic rhythm against her ribs. The air felt electrified with lurking eyes, watching her as she crept through the stone underground corridors.

She was in the far south of the city, close to their home, kicking up black ash and dust as  her watch time crept to a close and she searched for Jax.  Her younger sister, Peony’s, watch would be next, then followed by her older sister, Eloise’s. Their parents had been up in Nahljie for a month, looking into some orchards, so they wouldn’t be of any help.

The sound of shuffling feet broke the silence. A sound that would usually be soft and light echoed like grating chains. The scraping crawled through the dark tunnels, over the cobblestones and rocky walls, right under Caetlin’s skin. No one would make such a ruckus while traveling underground unless they wanted to be heard—or dead.

Jax. Caetlin thought; hope soared in her chest. She sprinted around the corner, saw a shadowy human figure and stopped short.

A young man shambled towards her, slumped; holding the side of his stomach. All the hope in Caetlin’s chest crashed to her toes. The person in front of her wasn't Jax, he was a member of another cabal. He seemed to be around her age, maybe eighteen or so. Tall; then again, most people are taller than her five foot-almost two-inches. But he was still much shorter and leaner than her brother.

Caetlin’s hand hovered over the dagger at her side as her eyes skimmed over his weapons; two swords at his back and three daggers at his sides.

The stranger was dressed in a black and grey tunic, with a hood and matching pants. His face was covered by a metal mask, but she couldn’t make out the design on it with his head flopped onto his chest.

He lurched towards her, his hand going out. Instinctively, Caetlin palmed her dagger hilt and shifted her feet to root herself. “Who are you?” She demanded. Did he get wounded fighting Jax?Or was it a Shadeu?

The cabal guard didn’t say anything before he collapsed forward and crumpled to the ground.

Caetlin watched him for a few moments, noting how his back moved slowly and shallowly as he breathed. He was unconscious, not dead—at least not yet.

Usually the protocol for this type of situation would be to leave him there to be found by either a lurking Shadeu or—hopefully for the person—one of their own cabal members. But he wasn’t in his own section; he was in hers, which made it her cabal’s problem. She couldn’t just leave him as bait to draw Shadeu into their territory; they’d have a swarm of them in, and then it would be her problem.

With a muffled string of curses, Caetlin stalked over to a broken stone pillar with their seal etched on it, and pulled open a hidden rock door. Inside the small hole was a wire. She tugged it three times and replaced the rock.

The contact mechanism would ring a bell on the map, alerting the house. After the bell rang, it would stay lifted on the map, so they would know which bell had rung, until someone pushed it back down.

Eloise and Peony would be there within ten minutes. Peony wouldn’t mind as much, since her shift started after Caetlin’s, at one, but Eloise always had the early morning route from three thirty until sunrise, and wouldn’t get as much rest now. But they would both want to know about Jax and the mysterious loner.

While she waited for Eloise and Peony to show up, Caetlin crouched over the fallen boy. He was outfitted in typical cabal style; dark clothing with a hood, leather armor for his front and back, fingerless gloves. Shining metal armor overlapped each plate up his arms and legs. She pushed him over onto his back. His metal mask covered his lower face, delicately designed like a beast’s jaw clamping down and bearing its teeth.

Caetlin let a small smile lift her lips. Snarling jaws and sharp teeth were very popular mask decorations in the cabal, especially for men who wanted to look more menacing than they actually were.

“Huh.” There was one thing missing that all cabal members wore: His crest; the insignia of the cabal he was a member of— usually worn with pride on the chest or somewhere else easily seen— was nowhere to be found. Was this boy a loner? Someone without a Cabal? He didn’t look like a tunnephile; one of the rich and bored who came down into the tunnels for fun during the day.

There was a tuft of dark brown hair covering one of his eyes. Caetlin’s fingers itched to push it out of the way. She wondered for a second if he was handsome, if maybe she knew him somehow from a party or ball, but disregarded the thought. Wondering if everyone she met in the city was a member of a cabal would just make her paranoid.

“What happened?” Eloise’s voice vibrated through her mask, making it rough and indecipherable. She landed on the rocky ground next to Caetlin with the grace of a dancer. A thin blond braid escaped her hood and she quickly tucked it back inside.

11 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Hi, Ellie. Great job on the rewrite; the telling has been greatly reduced, making the story much more immediate. A couple of notes…

    *No. Don't think like that. He could just be wounded, overwhelmed, or hiding; trapped...Maybe he fell asleep somewhere… Caetlin thought, trying to justify her brother missing for so long without as much as a note.* That last line is telling what youv’e already beautifully shown. I would cut it and her the ellipse lead right into her exclamation, showing the reader how frustrated and frightened she is.

    *Her watch began two hours ago and she'd already checked the closest tunnels and territories under their protection. Jax should have met her under the family’s estate and been back in bed, but instead he was missing and Caetlin’s nerves were on edge.* This feels a little redundant; you’ve already shown very well both the seriousness of Jax’s disappearance and Caetlin’s emotional state. You can include the two-hour time reference in the paragraph that follows, but otherwise I would cut this paragraph and keep the pace moving forward.

    *Their parents had been up in Nahljie for a month, looking into some orchards, so they wouldn’t be of any help.* This is telling, but it’s good information for the reader to know, so I suggest rephrasing. Instead, have Caetlin’s mind jump to her parents in Nahljie, walking through an orchard they were considering purchasing, and Caetlin interrupting their trip to tell them that Jax is missing. Something like this will show that her parents are out of town, that she doesn’t want to scare them unnecessarily, and reinforces Caetlin’s emotional state—all without pulling the reader out of the story.

    * Jax. Caetlin thought; hope soared in her chest.* No need to have Caetlin think anything. “Hope soared in her chest” will tell the reader what she hopes the footsteps will reveal. Consider cutting that first part.

    * “What happened?” Eloise’s voice vibrated through her mask,* This seemed a little abrupt, since it doesn’t seem possible that anyone would be able to sneak up on Caetlin in the tunnels, particularly when her nerves are on edge. I think she needs to hear the approach and spin around before noticing that it’s her sister.

    Great job on the rewrite so far. Keep it up! I’ll talk to you next week.

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    1. Thanks for the critique! And great suggestions! I'll implement them in my next revision :) Can't wait!

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  3. Hi Ellie,

    I’m still not sure about that opening paragraph. I think the first sentence is a great attention grabber, but it's kind of let down by the the second, which deflates the tension. What if you cut off the first too sentences, and move the remaining ones into present tense? So:

    "Caetlin steadied her furiously beating heart as she rounded each corner, bracing herself for what would be there. It wasn’t like she wanted to find a body, but Jax had been missing after his patrol for far too long—even for him."

    Now she’s actively looking, and we’re holding our breath with her in case she finds that body.

    After that first paragraph it flows much more smoothly this draft. I like the details and worldbuilding. The knowledge that she has been to balls, that there are rich people who come to the tunnels, and that it’s unusual not to have a cabal . . . those facts are all conveyed smoothly as the story move along.

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    1. Thanks for the comment and critique! You might be on to something with the opening, I just adored that opening line so much, I've grown attached to it. But in the end, I guess we have to learn to kill our darlings...

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  4. Hi Ellie,

    Great job with this revision! I am eager to see what happens, and where this world is.

    I would suggest not starting with Jax, like others have suggested. Since we don’t find him, she seems insensitive to be wondering if the new stranger is cute. She would alert her sisters to his location, and get right back to looking for her brother.

    Secondly, I would suggest that you cut mercilessly. Keep the focus on the danger, and weave in your world as you go. You provide too much information in these pages, which slows the narrative.

    I’d cut all of this:
    No. Don't think like that. He could just be wounded, overwhelmed, or hiding; trapped...Maybe he fell asleep somewhere… Caetlin thought, trying to justify her brother missing for so long without as much as a note.

    "Damn you, Jax." Caetlin growled into the tunnel's dark crevices, the words muffled behind her face mask.

    Her watch began two hours ago and she'd already checked the closest tunnels and territories under their protection. Jax should have met her under the family’s estate and been back in bed, but instead he was missing and Caetlin’s nerves were on edge.

    You already set the stage – we know she’s nervous, we know why. This is just repetitive, and as such I started to glaze over it – not want you want, especially on these important first 5 pages

    Are the Shadeu shadow lurkers? Do they need two different names? It’s confusing.

    I’d also cut this:
    She was in the far south of the city, close to their home, kicking up black ash and dust as her watch time crept to a close and she searched for Jax. Her younger sister, Peony’s, watch would be next, then followed by her older sister, Eloise’s. Their parents had been up in Nahljie for a month, looking into some orchards, so they wouldn’t be of any help.

    We don’t need all of this information right now. Keep the focus on her looking for Jax, and the danger that she feels is approaching..

    This confused me -- Usually the protocol for this type of situation would be to leave him there to be found by either a lurking Shadeu or—hopefully for the person—one of their own cabal members. But he wasn’t in his own section; he was in hers, which made it her cabal’s problem – if it is protocol it suggests it happens sometimes, and the usual course of action is for her to leave him – as you stated. But then you say it is her cabal’s problem. I would suggest you pick one or the other – when this happens it’s her problem, or when this happens she should leave him, but she breaks protocol.

    I’d also cut this - The contact mechanism would ring a bell on the map, alerting the house. After the bell rang, it would stay lifted on the map, so they would know which bell had rung, until someone pushed it back down. – just say alerting them to our location. I’d also cut the sisters shifts – information we don’t need right now, that just slows the pace.

    I love this premise, it is unusual and exciting. I think if you cut mercilessly, and focus on the suspense and danger you’ll be in great shape!

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    1. Thanks so much! I'll be sure to cut my darlings mercilessly for the next revision! :)

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  5. I liked the rewrite. The only place where I really stumbled when reading was the following: " There was one thing missing that all cabal members wore: His crest; the insignia of the cabal he was a member of— usually worn with pride on the chest or somewhere else easily seen— was nowhere to be found." I think that could be rewritten to be two or three sentences that flowed better.

    I agree with the comment that we don't really need to know about the order of her sisters' shifts.

    When Eloise gets the signal, she asks "What happened?" If the signal is more like an alarm, which is what I thought, I would recommend her response be a little less casual and more immediate. Like, "What's wrong?" or "What happened?" Maybe she arrives with a weapon unsheathed or something to indicate she was ready to handle trouble. If the signal is for any old thing, then we might want to know that. Looking good!

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  6. Hi! I'm SO sorry I missed commenting last week. :( I really enjoyed reading this and like the darker fantasy elements and the promise of zombies that are potentially different from the usual.

    The toughest part of fantasy is finding that right balance of world building since the reader knows nothing at the outset and yet can easily be overwhelmed. Try to remember that you're writing from your MC's perspective. She wouldn't *think* an explanation of her own world she's familiar with to herself just for our benefit. You have to find another way to show us. Think about whether the info is necessary for her and also necessary for the reader in order not to be confused. Some of the comments above have some great specific examples.

    I'm curious to find out more about the world she's protecting and why the identities are secret! The fact that she might know this boy from a party was interesting. She seems ready to kill so why hesitate with this kid? That stopped me. It sounded up until that point that was her answer to anyone she ran into other than her brother.

    Looking forward to next week's revision.

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  7. Hi Ellie,

    Great job on the rewrite. This piece is coming along nicely!

    Just a few things:

    I think your opening line could be stronger if you merged it with the second sentence. Having one long sentence there would take out the choppiness of two short sentences.

    I'm not sure about the second paragraph. You've established a good sense of urgency in your first paragraph and the second paragraph undermines that.

    If you're going to say that her words were muffled by her face mask, I don't think you need to mention that she frowned behind her face mask a few paragraphs earlier.

    There are a few places where you accidentally shift into present tense (for example "few people are taller..." instead of "few people were taller..."). Watch out for that in your revisions.

    For me, there was a bit too much information about the world in the first five pages. I absolutely love wordbuilding, but I prefer it to be spread out because I find that too much information at once can overwhelm me and I won't remember it as well. I also found that the worldbuilding took away some of the urgency from the piece.

    I hope that's helpful! Can't wait to see how it comes along for next week!

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  8. Ellie,
    This is a spooky place you've created and it's great. The strongest parts are the ones where you suggest and imply instead of telling. It's gets stronger toward the end when you start to mention the city above. You mention it and a few tantalizing points about it, but you don't just come out and say "Here's exactly what the city is". You leave a little mystery in there while slowly mixing in a few clues: I know there's a city above, I know they have parties, I know there's people above so rich that they risk their lives in these tunnels for fun. The best part is that you didn't come out and say "There's a city above full of rich people who have parties." You explained that they have parties by having her not want to kill someone she may have met at one of the parties. A much more engaging approach.

    Flip side of the coin for example is the alarm system. It's an interesting idea but the mystery got sucked out of it with the explanation:

    Inside the small hole was a wire. She tugged it three times and replaced the rock.

    The contact mechanism would ring a bell on the map, alerting the house. After the bell rang, it would stay lifted on the map, so they would know which bell had rung, until someone pushed it back down.

    Eloise and Peony would be there within ten minutes.

    The entire middle paragraph, while descriptive, momentarily takes the element of danger away while I learn the mechanics of the alarm system. Leave a little mystery. Magic tricks lose their magic when you see the rabbit up the sleeve.

    You have a great story so far. It's got me curious whats going on in that city and why they have these tunnels of death below them. I need five more pages :)

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