Sunday, June 5, 2016

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Tran

Name: Teresa Tran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Fortox

Imara believed there were three types of dawn.

The first dawn came when twilight just began, the perpetual blanket of darkness touched again by a hazy cascade of purples and blues. The catalyst to Imara’s race against time, as if the day was already running and she was panting, panting, panting to catch up, all the while trying not to trip on her own two feet.

The second shade of dawn was a shy pale light peeking through the folds of the Cyan sea and a sky full of stars, a sudden flare of energy and brightness that shined over the entire world of Realiswefn as if saying I am coming. Prepare for me.

And lastly, though she told no one, the third shade of dawn and Imara’s personal favorite was the one that bathed the world in orange light, with soft strokes of yellow, gold and red, where it blended with the jungles that wrapped its’ vines across the realm. It somehow always made Imara feel restless and alive like she had better spit out words before they got caught in her throat or accomplish something grand and spectacular. Possibilities became more than just possible. They became tangible.

Leaning on one side of a black stone arch, Imara barely registered the wind that rustled her dark locs and her midnight cloak, making the fabric billow behind her. She was standing at the highest point of a citadel carved from one of the many tall mountains that surrounded her people’s lands. Where windows should have been, the arches that gave the fortress its’ structure framed out to open space. Imara reminded herself that it was okay to indulge once in a while as she looked to see the world laid out before her, where the finishing layers of dawn transitioned to a luminous morning.

As Compeer, Imara could choose to leave the safety of the citadel at any time, venturing out beyond the looming, impenetrable walls built by the Fortoxes, where the sun’s rays and the blessings the Emerald gave to the world of Realiswefn were evident and abundant. She closed her eyes, basking in the warm comfort of the sun and wished she could stay atop of the world like this forever. When she reopened her eyes, more ranges of mountains laid in the far distance, low instead of high, cutting through gray fog. Purely there as a precaution. To her right boasted a bright sapphire sea hiding an underwater merchant city, and to her left was a huge green field littered with secret gems and hermit clans. And beyond that, well, Imara would have to possess the ability to fly to see it all.

There was so much to do and so little time. If Imara had her way, she would shed her cloak and leave for the nearest town where responsibility did not exist and adventure awaited. But it was the letter that she received two days ago on her desk, sent by a thrust of wind through the fortress that was her home and when opened, propelled purple dust everywhere, that kept her from fleeing.

To the Compeer of the Fortoxes, my most kind greeting,

Because you know and I know that the Fortoxes have never been one to be forward. Or to bother participating with the rest of Realiswefn. But let me not mistaken your people’s idleness as an ample version of generosity. I believe there is more you and your people can offer. I seek your assistance with an issue. It cannot wait until the next letter that I will no doubt send to plead my people’s case. If you have any care for the world that you live in, that you are part of, meet me in two days’ time. You know where the wind is harsher and the dust is thinner.

Queen Kepi of the Violets, the people of air

The Violets are such dramatics, Imara thought. After she’d read the letter, she considered her options. One: she could ignore the plea written so plainly in bold black ink. Two: she could send a letter back, one made of shadows and reeking of death, just for pure entertainment. Imara would beg to see the kind of reaction that would produce. Or three: she could go see for herself what all the fuss was about.

But it had been eighteen years since the other leaders of Realiswefn had seen her. Eighteen years since any citizen or wielder had witnessed a Fortox in person. It was to Imara’s advantage that it stayed that way. However, the letter asked for the Fortoxes’ assistance in a timely issue, something that was worth all the trouble to try to reel out the Compeer of the Fortoxes after all this time. Though that didn’t mean Imara forgot all the times the leader of the Emeralds sent her fake jewels to persuade to come out or the moments when she thought she saw incoming tsunami storms powered by the Cyan sea from the stints she took, standing at the top of the citadel. From the lovely Merchant Prince no doubt. And who could forget the time the Aethers’ Commander had sent her a teasing photograph that flashed in her eyes. Literally. Imara had been partially blind for at least a week.

This letter could be no different. Another desperate attempt to yank Imara out from the depths of the shadows and to come out into the light, where all of Realiswefn could see what they had been kept away from for eighteen years. They hadn’t missed much, though. She had hardly changed, except the fact that she was older and wiser. Her people, on the other hand, were living in quiet bliss. That did not mean they were unprepared or ignorant in the manner of defense. While the rest of Realiswefn were gifted by the Emerald with abilities to bend light, air, water, earth and fire to their every whim or cursed with no talents over the elements whatsoever, the Big Gem had blessed the Fortoxes with a different sort of arsenal. Or rather tasked.

Imara flexed her hand, a ring gleaming on one of her long fingers, the black band a shade darker than her skin. Etched into the band, was a symbol of two hands covered in shadows outstretched from a gray mountain. A reminder. A promise.

She had tucked the letter the Violet Queen had sent her into the inner pockets of her cloak, and now standing at the top of the citadel, Imara knew she had no other choice. While the world thought the Fortoxes had disappeared entirely, Imara had kept her network of warriors and spies tightly spread among Realiswefn. It would be sooner than later before the rest of the waking population began to realize the truth and unravel all that she had worked for. All the secrets she kept hidden.

Looking back one last time at her land, her home, Imara felt a coil of unease in her stomach. And yet, there it was, beneath the fear, a thrill of anticipation.

I am coming. Prepare for me.

With a roll of her shoulders, her shadow began to writhe and expand before it wrapped its’ entirety around her body, blending in with her cloak and Imara disappeared. Not a slice of darkness left behind.


  1. You have an interesting conflict here, with a hidden part of the world that suddenly has to come out and engage. I like the promise of conflict that it brings.

    At the same time, I think there's too much exposition. You've clearly got a good handle on your world and its political relations, and I love the idea of all these rulers pranking each other with fake gems and trick photography. But what will hook me into reading the story is having a good sense of who Imara is, and a good grip on a conflict that she has to face right now. Some dialogue might help with that - if the Violets sent a messenger, for example, it could break up the description, show us a conflict and show Imara's character with less introspection. Here I get a hint towards a greater conflict, but the lesser conflict - whether to see what's up with the Violets - has already been solved. It takes a lot of the tension out of the story.

    The world intrigues me, and I think you have a cool setup. Maybe if you bring a little bit of action to the forefront it will make the world stand out even more.

    1. So, throw Imara in the middle of the action and then slowly unveil and show her characterization? Thanks for the tips! I'll work on it. (:

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  2. Teresa! You have some really powerful, beautiful writing here. Please feel free to keep or toss my comments!

    I LOVE the first line. It's gorgeous. I also think the three descriptions of dawn are beautiful and relevant and I love the refrain in the final paragraphs that reference them. However, I do agree with Claire, in that there's too much exposition here. I want to know more about Imara, who she is, what she wants, what she has to do. If we could see some action, and maybe see Imara *in* action, I think we'd feel much more invested in this story.

    I think there are some funny lines in here, and I get the sense that Imara is a badass with both a sense of duty and a sense of humor. Unfortunately I think a lot of that is being lost in layers of description and narration of past events that have no bearing on the reader. We don't know the world at all yet, so all this information out of the gate is a little overwhelming.

    I'm excited to see the next revision of this!

    1. Thank you! I'm very flattered (: I can see what you mean in regards to the exposition and overwhelming the reader with too much information. I'll work on it. Thank you for the comments!

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  4. Teresa,

    There are many beautiful images and lovely prose in this opening. You're such a wonderful writer. I had a hard time getting into the story because it's bogged down with too much exposition and not enough action, which Claire and Jessie have mentioned above. I'm with them on getting this story in action. Weave action, inner thoughts, reactions, and senses to breathe life into the story. It will give it a deeper point of view. We need to know Imara better to root for her during her journey. The way she reacts, the things she notices, and what she thinks about them combined give us that.

    The backstory is slowing the story down and I feel unsteady in this world. Slowly releasing information as the story unfolds would draw the reader into the world.

    Did you have the letter italicized and it got lost in translation? If not, the letter should be in italics to set it apart.

    It feels like you're telling the story instead of showing it. Be careful of filter words such as "felt" in this phrase, "Imara felt a coil of unease in her stomach." It should be something like this, "a coil of unease clenched Imara's stomach."

    With that said, I really am intrigued about parts of this excerpt and wonder where the story will lead the reader. I really sat up at the ending with Imara disappearing.

    Great job, and I look forward to seeing your revision!

    1. Thank you for your comments on my prose! I totally see now what you, Claire, and Jessie mean in terms of action and really getting to know Imara. I"ll work on that specifically in the next revision.

      When I sent the email in plain text, there is no way to italicize the letter. But yes, I'm aware I need to do that. Thanks!

      I think the telling part of the story has something to do with me not putting Imara in the action. So I understand that.

      I'm SUPER glad you're intrigued! Thanks for the comments. (:

  5. Teresa,

    Thank you for sharing and participating in the critique. Hopefully my critique is of help!

    I can already tell this story is going to be filled with so many things I love. Far off place. Magic and magical characters. Beautiful scenery. Diverse characters. And your prose is very good. I can see you have your own distinct style and you totally rock it.

    I know there are a lot of things you have to tell for reader to truly understand the world but we were told too many things too early on, and it was hard to follow. There was too much information for me to truly know who’s who and what’s what and how things work. Too much exposition isn’t just boring, it hurts the story because I’m going to forget the beautiful details you took the time to create. For example the way the letter is delivered or the engraving in the ring or the correspondence other kingdoms sent Imara. I feel like I want to remember all these things but I was told so much that it made it hard to remember. If you ease up on the amount of information given, and keep the story moving along, then I can remember the details organically and I will devour the story, because I really like the direction this is going.

    Good job! I’d keep on reading.
    Gabriela Romero

    1. Thank you for your comments! Wow, you're so nice, haha. Like the others have said, I do tend to overwhelm the reader with too much information and it's only because I know my world so well that I think unconsciously, I thought the reader would catch on pretty quick? But I'll work on the slow unveiling.

      Thanks again!

  6. Hi Teresa!

    You have some really lovely stuff here, and I'm really intrigued by the world! I usually use this first critique to focus more on bigger stuff, so let's talk about action and pacing.

    Like the others said, this does get exposition-y, and slightly confusing. But I do think that your initial beginning is actually pretty solid. I love the three descriptions of sunset, and I think that's a really intriguing way to begin. Where it starts to falter is when you transition to Imara standing on the citadel, and I think that happens for a couple reasons.

    The biggest problem, which I think the people above mentioned too, is that she's all by herself in this scene, and basically standing still. As interesting as your world sounds (and it does sound amazing) a character doing nothing but standing and thinking for five pages is a breeding ground for trouble, narratively speaking. :) But fortunately, there are a lot of ways to fix it.

    First off, your MC needs to be engaged in her environment. Even having her walking (or pacing) about on top of the citadel would help. Once you transition from the sunset description, the reader needs solid sensory detail to help them hook into the story. It's a small example, but instead of saying she barely notices the breeze, for instance, she could feel the cold air on her skin and draw her cloak tighter around her. That's a solid, sensory detail, and a feeling everyone can relate to. How does the stone feel under her hand? How does the dawn air feel? What are the sounds and smells?

    Second, you need another person in this scene. There is nothing like a conversation to allow you to communicate worldbuilding and character while still keeping the flow of the story. All that wonderful information about the other rulers trying to get her out of her realm would be so much better in dialogue. For example:

    "You know they're just trying to lure you out again, right?"
    "I know, but this feels different."
    "Last time they sent that photograph that flashed light. You were blind for three days."

    You get the idea. :) It doesn't even have to be a messenger from the people who sent her the letter. But someone has to be here with her while she makes this decision. (Having someone else can also help show us that her people respect her and are happy, instead of telling us.)

    Also, the letter should probably not show up off stage. It sounds like this is the inciting incident, and that really needs to happen in real time. Now, you could do the messenger if you wanted, though with the amount of worldbuilding you're dealing with, I'd probably start with someone who's more a regular part of her day. Trying to get a handle on other kinds of people when we're still trying to picture her and her people might be too much too soon.

    Perhaps have the letter fly up to her while she's watching the sunset? (It did fly in the window right? So why not have it fly directly to her in this scene?) Then she can read the letter and call someone up to talk to her about it.

    See, starting in the middle of the action doesn't necessarily mean that you plop your character into the middle of an argument or a car accident right at the start.It means that--within the first few paragraphs--some kind of conflict presents itself, one that can echo or lead into the bigger arc of the story. In this case, Imara gets a letter and must decide whether or not to respond. That's her initial conflict and we need to see it on the page.

    Like I said, i think you have some really good stuff here. If you let your MC interact with her environment, put in some solid sensory details, leave some of the exposition for later, (especially proper names, it's hard to retain those without context) and add someone for her to talk to, I think you'd be surprised how much that improves your pacing and helps your worldbuilding.

    Good luck, I can't wait to read the next one!

    1. Thanks for the tips! I'll definitely consider everything you've said. I agree that I should probably add someone that is a regular part of her day (another Fortox) and discuss the letter.

  7. Hi, Teresa,

    I really enjoyed this opening. I liked your lush descriptions and Imara's regal bearing. You have a neat sense of structure with describing things in threes, both sunrises and Imara's decision-making process. It might be fun to push that into dramatizing the scene to cut down on exposition--what if, for example, with each version of the sunrise, Imara begins a different kind of letter? Or, as has been suggested, tells a messenger a different version of a message to give to the Queen of the Violets?

    I agree that having a messenger in the scene would move the work out of exposition. Imara would have someone to talk to, thus giving you a chance to add action and dialogue.

    It might be good to open with higher stakes--Imara is considering venturing out but by my reading, nothing dire will occur if she doesn't. Traditionally, the first time a hero receives a call to adventure, he or she refuses it and because of that, the stakes raise. What might be the consequences of initially refusing the call?

    I'm looking forward to your revision. Thanks again for an enjoyable read!


    1. I actually really like the idea of interjecting between each shade of dawn, with a different section of the letter. That's something I'm definitely going to explore in my next revision! Thank you (:
      In terms of higher stakes, if Imara did not venture out and talk to the Violet Queen, more probing and more questions will come up which will potentially bring up the possibility of an attack on Imara's people. I'm still trying to find a reasonable way to set that up here.

  8. Hi Teresa -
    Great job on these first couple of pages. As everyone has said already, you have such beautiful descriptions. The world really reminds me of the THRONE OF GLASS series by Sarah J. Maas. The opening with the descriptions of the sunset is super intriguing and made me want to keep reading.

    My comments are very similar to what other people have said, so I'll mostly point out one issue that I've faced in my own story, in that introducing complicated/different place names or character names too early can lose the reader. Because your world is so different, providing all of these different roles/cities/names what have you straight off the bat is really overwhelming and makes your piece, which is beautifully written, quite overwhelming.

    While I agree with everyone else that she needs to be interacting with someone, I do think you've situated the scene in a good place in your novel - the beginning and closing lines are really interesting and have gotten me hooked - can't wait for more.

    Thanks for letting us read these pages, and good luck with your revisions!


    1. Thank you! The comparison to Queen SJMAAS flatters me! I've definitely decided to ax quite a bit of the proper names/cities/deities and such. And I will be adding a secondary character into the scene to spice things up! Thanks again (: