Sunday, March 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Schunemann Rev 1

Name: Lisa Schunemann
Genre: YA fantasy

Drei kept her eyes downcast as thick fingers bit into the flesh of her chin. The sour combination sweat and spices overpowered her nose as the captain leaned in close, turning her face to each side and back. She focused on the damp floors of the hull beneath his weathered boots.

A rough thumb brushed the painful spot on her cheek. “Who bruised her up?”

“Like that when we brought everyone on board,” the skin runner said.

The captain grunted and jerked her face up. Damp fingers pried open her lips and he glanced at her teeth.

She kept her jaw clenched, deftly kept the lock pick under the back of her tongue. She fought the small temptation to kick out, but let him pass. The satisfaction wouldn’t be worth the guaranteed gag and bag on her head. She remembered that lesson from the last job.

The captain spat a wad of chew at her bare feet, his gaze calculating. He seemed disappointed when she didn’t flinch or cry when the glob slid down her leg. Drei knew what he saw – her cut feet, torn pants and stained shirt showing a bony shoulder.

“You tell your men to keep your hands off the merchandise, you hear me?” said the captain. “Shut your mouth and log her down. Sloppy records when we pull into Ceissames will reduce my cut.”

The skin runner scowled, the log book and ink point in his hands. “We didn’t touch her none—”

He cowered when the captain raised a fist in his direction.

“I’m not taking disrespect from the likes of you.” His yell caused a ripple of fresh tears and cowers amongst the row of chained bodies. “This is my ship. You filth should be grateful I let you hide your merchandise in my hold.”

The ship swayed on the water, causing boards to creak as they rubbed against each other. The sound mingled amidst the soft crying. A single oil lamp swayed from the low-hung ceiling, but the scant light was better than the pit where the rest of the human cargo was stashed.

Drei dared to glance out one of the small port holes. Anticipation churned in her stomach. How much time did she have? Two days had passed since she’d stashed herself on the merchant’s ship, lying in wait until the rest of her own crew caught up. It should have only been one day, tops, but a nasty squall had hit the area after entering Faulto Passage. Waiting around for an entire day hadn’t been in her plans.

Her stomach twisted, but not from anticipation this time. She remembered being stuck in the smuggler hold, crammed against bodies stinking of urine and fear while the storm raged outside. But if that was what it took to make money on the job… she’d gone through worse.

“Girl, young. Mark her as sixteen, it’s the best number. Five and a half feet.”

Drei blinked, refocusing her attention on the captain. He’d moved closer, circling slowly.

He continued, “Skinny as a birch rod. But pretty.”

“Earmark her for the brothels?” the runner asked.

“Maybe. Lotus likes the darker-skinned ones on her roster. But that bruise better fade by the time we pull into shore,” the captain growled. “And who chopped her hair off? Nobody wants a girl with hair like a boy.”

If he only knew the real reason why her hair was cut close to her ears. She liked her hair short, trimmed close to her head. Made it easier to clean the blood and mess out of, at the end of the day. The only problem was that it hid nothing. For this to work, playing the mole, she couldn’t let her anger, her contempt show in her face or eyes.

Slaves bartered and shuffled across the Skettion Sea didn’t resemble anything but beaten baggage; no emotions, other than fear, would work.

She forced her lips to quiver, gave a breathy squeak at the rough hands roaming over her hips and chest. It was inside, down in her soul that she raged in the cold places. But like a good little girl, she stood still.

“Well, if any of them don’t want her, she’ll do housework. A firm household can beat the fight out of her—eh!” The captain hauled her hands to eye level and glared. “Damaged goods. Her little finger is clean chopped off.”

She forced her muscles to go limp. The finger and a small portion of flesh from her right hand were missing, a fierce webbing of scars marring her skin. Lighter than her burnt brown coloring, they stood out and drew the eye. She missed her glove at these moments.

He spat again, this time hitting her shoulder.

The runner leaned closer and scrunched his nose. “No good for the brothels, then. No customer wants to pay for that hand to touch him.”

“You’d be surprised,” the captain said, squeezing the bones of Drei’s hand, hard.

He wanted a reaction? She met his leering eyes with a deadened face.

The captain pushed her down with a harsh shove. The iron shackles jerked against her wrists and ankles as she hit the bench. Squeezed between two other slaves, there wasn’t enough room to breathe. The dampness of the wood seeped into her thighs, through the threadbare pants. Her eyes remained downcast, fixed on the slimy floor beneath her toes. Worn down by the feet of hundreds, probably thousands, of others like her, even the runners slipped on the surface in their boots. They caught themselves against the barrels, boxes, and stacks cluttering the sides of the ship.

Greasy hair and fair skin burned from the sun, he threaded the chain through the shackles. His dirty shirt gaped near the waist and the handle of a knife peeked out for a moment. Drei’s fingers twitched in response at the sight of the polished wood. Nice piece. She made a mental note of it, of all the weapons hidden on bodies in the small space.

He locked her in place and moved on. The next captive, a young boy, was yanked to his feet. The process continued, each soul catalogued, priced, and guarded closely. Just like they were the same as the lifeless items crowded between the low ceiling and walls. Then Drei’s group would be forced back down to the dark pit of the bilge and the other human cargo brought up.

She swallowed hard and the pick poked sharply against her tongue. If the attack went off before she had to go back down there, it’d be a blessing.

Smuggler vessels needed to be fast, but with enough space for storing wares of legitimate jobs while hiding the illegal ones below in storage units. Living people sat in the disgusting darkness below the wood under her heels.

She tried her best to avoid inhaling through her nose. The metal screen of the cargo hatch was bolted tight, the crew not bothering to open it even after the storm had passed. Drei glanced at it longingly. The air was stifling in the hull, breezes from the islands unable to weave their way through wood and resin. The lack of circulation made the sweet scent of vomit almost unbearable.

An elbow nudged her side.

She locked gazes with the man on her left. Though disheveled and bruised, his eyes weren’t like the others, glazed over with resignation. The dark orbs had fight in them, same as the cheeky grin.


  1. Hi Lisa,
    I like the changes you've made to this. The opening works better than the dialogue did, and the disconnect between Drei's thoughts and her fighting against her captors has been fixed. I really like the addition of the lock pick in her mouth and the new character.

    Some things that could be smoothed out. When talking about her hair it feels like you are repeating things twice ("...her hair was cut close to her ears. She liked her hair short, trimmed close to her head."). Also, I like the fact that she can't use her hair to hide facial expressions but I had to read it twice to get your meaning, probably because some of it is in the next paragraph.

    Because you've got rid of her fighting back, the sentence about a household beating the fight out of her comes out of the blue.

    She forced her muscles to go limp, I wasn't sure why or in response to what. Did him noticing her finger make her tense up?

    I like the thing about the glove. Couldn't she have kept her gloves? Or maybe they already took them from her? Or perhaps it wouldn't have fit with her disguise?

    Finally, I'm intrigued by this new character. But the way you've described him with dark orbs and grinning instantly made me think of someone who's unbalanced rather than roguish. I found it implausible that someone would be gleeful in this situation unless they were either a)unbalanced or b)also has some sort of agenda like Drei. If that's not the vibe you're going for it might need tweaking.

    Good luck with the revisions this week!

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Nice job on the revisions. The opening is lots more focused on the setting. I feel much more like I’m actually on the ship. Your description of the conditions on the ship is outstanding.

    The characters are also more accurately drawn. Having Drei exhibit self-control seems much more in character with her posing as a frightened captive. Adding the lock pick is a nice detail that helps us believe she can carry out her mission. The ship captain now speaks more like the reader would expect and seems more captain-like, more in charge, for example, when the skin runner cowers at him.

    The only things I’d like more of would be details about what type of ship this is and in what time period the story takes place.

    You drop lots of details that clue us in for an upcoming battle, one which I think will be fun to see. Great job!


  3. Hi! I also like the changes. This remains a very intriguing opening! I love the part about the lock pick beneath her tongue and the missing pinky finger! I also like the ending when she meets this man, who seems interesting. I thought it was possible she wasn't the only mole on board? Either way, I assume he'll play an intriguing role.

    I think you worked out the records/language thing very well. Drei has definitely got a big operation planned, which is cool.

    I must say: this guy keeps spitting on her! It's so gross. Is he doing this to everyone? Is she looking forward to getting him back when she reunites with her crew? Or is she going to have to drop it in order to proceed with some other mission? I don't know if you want to hint at what her plans are, but she's going through **a lot** to hide out on this nasty boat. I wonder if she has any fantasies about seeking revenge on this guy. Or will she just wish she could take revenge on him? (Just curious b/c she seems accustomed to violence!) Also, it might let us know what she has in mind. Is she a savor to slaves? Or did she just happen upon this merchant ship and belatedly discover it was a slave ship? Is she a profiteer of some sort (she mentions money)? If she is, does being on a slave ship make her want to help these people (or not)? I'd like to know more about her and her intentions in this regard. (Again, she's going through quite an ordeal to blend in...why? What does it say about her character?)

    This is small, but it confused me a little bit: You mention "her" crew (obviously not slaves). But toward the end, you lump her with the other slaves (i.e., Worn down by the feet of hundreds, probably thousands, of others like her). Is this just an oversight? The feet doing the wearing are the feet of slaves. Does that mean she was once one? I think if she's an outsider, you might want to be sure to refer to the slaves as "them" and her crew as "us/me/we." Again, that will also hint to the reader what her relationship is to slaves and slave ships.

    These are just some thoughts! I'm totally intrigued. Also, I had no problem with the setting this time:)

  4. Ok, this is already so much better. Great job on this revision. I appreciate that you took the advice of axing the dialogue opener. This is much more riveting. this opening now sets the tone right away, and we sympathize with your main character.

    The lock pin under her tongue? Awesome. The guy at the end with fight in his eyes? Excellent.

    Some small things to review/consider:

    Drei has a "small temptation" to hurt the guy. Was it really small? Perhaps just cut the word "small" and it would read better.

    "...let him pass." At first I thought this meant for him to pass her by. But I think you mean that she'd let him go without her lashing out at him? Maybe it would work better with "let the opportunity pass." Just an idea to add clarity.

    "...muscles went limp." When I first read that, I thought she'd collapsed on the floor. I'm not sure of a way to make that better. Forced her muscles to relax? And why does she need to do that? So she doesn't seem primed for a fight?

    The greasy hair guy kind of came out of nowhere and at first I was thrown. I had to go back and read that again. Who is "he?" What are some physical characteristics that would help us? Perhaps you can say something like "Greasy hair and fair skin burned from the sun, (an old man) (a young boy) (a drunk sailer) (whatever his characteristic is) threaded the chain through the shackles."

    That's all I've got! Nice job.

  5. Wow, this is really good!

    I agree with everyone else: that small addition of the lock pick somehow makes it a million times better!

    And the scene-setting is so good.

    I wonder if you want put in a line or two explaining her mission. Maybe not the whole thing, but maybe just why she's putting herself through this ordeal? Not too much, just a little hint of what the REAL stakes for this mission are.

    The "beating the fight out of her" bit doesn't quite make sense now that you have Drei pretending to be meek.

    You describe some things a couple of times, so you could trim those down a bit!

    I like the addition of the new guy at the end, he's intriguing, but I think you might need just a little more description of who/what he is, and why he's nudging her and grinning!

    GREAT job, seriously.

  6. You've made some excellent strategic changes here! Love that lock pick--it instantly shows us she's crafty and dangerous without you having to tell us. Thinking about this as a partial or the only pages included with a query, I'd recommend you focus on trimming as much as you can in terms of the repetition mentioned by other commenters. For example, the two mentions of her stomach doing various things in response to her surroundings and situation, the two times she forces herself to do things, the paragraph about her hair. The best part about cutting--if you can trim just a little more, we get a sentence or two more with this intriguing dude who has entered the scene!

    Others have mentioned the need to delete the sentence about beating the fight out of her, but there was one other place where I thought she was a little inconsistent--she'd intentionally shown fear and whimpered as someone ran his hands over her body, but a second later she purposefully doesn't cower when the captain looks for that fear. It's difficult to understand why she'd be defiant there.

    Go through this super-carefully in terms of word choice and such, too, because it's really strong and you don't want to pull a reader out of the excellent story (for example, "cower" is not a noun; it's an intransitive verb, and something would mingle with another thing, not amidst it). See how I'm nitpicking? It's because I think you've addressed the bigger stuff.

    Great work!

  7. Great revisions! Love the lock pin under her tongue, too. That little addition tells reader so much about this scene. I really like this opening to this story and am very intrigued about what's happening here. I read through all the suggestions you already have before commenting. Many I agreed with, some I didn't notice but they were great catches by the other critiquers above. So I won't repeat them. I think if you tighten, make her intentions clearer, and add a few more details as mentioned above this will be a killer opening. Also, you might want to add some of her internal thoughts so we can get a feel of her emotions during this scene.

    Sorry I was late to the party. I had a family issue I had to deal with the last few days. And sorry that all I have to say is "me too." Because all the comments above really will add to your opening. So good!