Sunday, February 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Noelle Rev 1

Name: A L Noelle
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Title: When Shadows Refuse to Fade

The smog from half-a-dozen school buses fills the air as idling diesels rattle the ground, signaling the start of another day at Westgate Prep. Our rusty Jeep bounces erratically, the heat from the summer sun blazing through the open roof, as I pull into the last parking space.

Ella braces herself beside me, grasping the roll-bar until we come to a stop. She pulls out a compact and brushes on translucent powder, drying the sweat accumulating over her brow, then angles the mirror so she can see me in the background. The reflection from my trembling hand catches her eye.

"You're nervous." Her eye crinkles as she pushes a pair of harsh, rectangular glasses onto her face.

"First-time jitters," I lie, shaking the nerves from my hand before cutting the engine. "Honest."

She turns, exhaling in disbelief, and closes her compact with a snap.

"Raquel, your nails are completely gone," she says, grabbing my hand off the stick shift and waving it in my face, "and I've heard you at night. Your nightmares are back, aren't they? Mom would go crazy if she knew."

The memory of this morning's goodbye rushes back, and my hands feel the warmth from Mom's as she placed a mahogany box in my palms.

"This was your father's." She opened the box to reveal a small dagger inside. "He left it home on, well, on /that/ day," she said, her voice hardly above a whisper. "I want you to have it." She stopped there, unable to go on.

"Ok, I'm terrified," I admit, staring at the box nestled inside my backpack. "But I'm sure it's normal."

"I hate to break it to ya," she says, pulling up my long sleeve and pointing out the non-existent shadow of my arm, "but we're not normal, even by Soleian standards."

I yank my sleeve down, grab my bag and hop out the door. Ella joins me, and together, we navigate the rows of parked cars.

"I know what's really bothering you." Her words slice my insides, opening floodgates to seven years of bottled emotions.

/Please, don't say it./

"It wasn't your fault."

Anguish surges through my veins. Dad's face swims before me, wide-eyed and fearful, and his last words echo in my head.

/"Raquel, run!"/

I could spend my life Hunting shadows and still never free myself from the paralyzing darkness inside. I'd do anything to be a member of the Guard, to be like Dad, but I know I won't make the team. The shadows of my past will haunt me forever.

"Hey, it's a guided Hunt," Ella says quickly, grabbing my tense arm and putting it around her shoulder. "Nothing like what Dad was doing, ok? You'll be fine. The whole Guard will be watching. It'll be like riding a bike with training wheels."

"Maybe for you. You aren't afraid of anything. You're destined to shine. Pun intended."

"Oh, come on. All you need is confidence." She gives me a side squeeze. "You've got this!" She wraps her delicate hand around my wrist, and immediately my spirits lift as every drop of anxiety is drawn out.

"Quit it," I say, only the words come out half-hearted.

"I can't help it," she shrugs, before taking off after a friend. I watch her go, and my love for her swells. In our darkest days, she was the one who pulled us through. She's a Giver, and even now at fourteen, she uses her Giving well.

By the time I reach the curb, my pants are covered in dust, and a drop of sweat has run down my temple, ready to jump off the sharp edge of my jaw.

A blue bench, cradled into the nook of a fully grown Desert Willow, sits outside the school's entrance. The tree is in full bloom, and the fragrance from its bright flowers welcomes me. I sit on the metal bench in a spot worn gray, and wait.

I scan the crowd of schoolmates, searching for the familiar flash of Kaia's chestnut-colored hair, but she's nowhere to be seen. /Maybe I've missed her/. A burning sensation sears my fingertip, and my mouth fills with a bitter, metallic taste. I don't remember putting my hand in my mouth, but I've gone too far, this time drawing blood. A smear of crimson oozes from my pinky, and my mind wanders as streaks of deep red dissolve away, reforming into the purple-pinks of California's Redwood Forest. Here in my mind, night has fallen, and the Hunt has begun. A smoky shadow beckons from behind a tree, its long, wispy finger calling me to battle. Suddenly, a grisly scream pierces the air. It's a terrible distortion of Kaia's voice, and the deafening noise makes the hairs on my neck stand. My hands automatically summon The Light. A swirling ball of energy materializes in my palm, illuminating the ground around me. The golden orb pulses with strength as bits of light dance around inside. The shadow recoils, slowly retreating behind the tree, yet is still dark as ever. The Devati have gotten her, and she could be hurt, or worse, dead.

Then I see her, in real life, and the knot in my stomach loosens. The forest disappears and the crowd separates, allowing me a glimpse of her cheeky smile. She spots me in my usual seat and plops down on the armrest beside me, one foot on the bench while the other balances on concrete.

"Biting your nails again?" Kaia asks, picking a goat head from the sole of her combat boot. "What's up?"

"Nothing." I shove my fists into my lap. "Just wondered where you were."

"I stopped for gas, dingbat," she quips as the warning bell tolls. "You need to relax. Your imagination is running wild." She whips onto her feet in one fluid motion, offering a hand before adding with a sly wink of her eye, "Again!" I accept her help, lugging my bag onto my shoulder while stabilizing myself on my feet.

"At least I care enough to worry when you're late!"

"For ten seconds."

"What's with the outfit?" I ask, spying an unfamiliar pair of tattered, black shorts.

"I think it's time my wardrobe reflects my personality," she replies, slowly turning on the spot.

She's paired the cutoffs with a fitted, white tank over a visibly black bra. The tank is asymmetrical, and is cut sharply along the bottom. The ensemble hugs every inch of her curves, accentuating her femininity with a fierce exclamation mark.

"I was going for 'bad-ass'. Do you think it works?" She puts one hand on her hip while throwing aviators on with the other.

"It screams it."

"Good," she smirks, adding a strut to her step. "What's on tap for the weekend?"

"Nada," I grimace, walking along. "Mom has me volunteering." The lie tumbles out on auto-pilot, but this time, it's hard to hide the sarcasm in my voice. Luckily, Kaia is distracted by an argument behind us. Ciara, a sophomore with more attitude than all Glendale, stands near the parking lot while a small crowd circles around.

"What's the witch up to now?" Kaia asks.

"Probably beating up another Freshman," I reply, rolling my eyes. "But, if it's not my sister, then I stay clear. Come on, let's go."

"Do you /see/ this?" Kaia moves her hands up and down her body like she's showcasing a prize. "/This/ is my bad-ass outfit. And /that/," she says, pointing straight at Ciara, "needs a visit from /this/."


  1. Hi A L!!

    I think the clarity issues we saw last week are better, but one thing I noticed in this version was the introduction of a lot of terms unique to your world at once. In your first pages, we have Soleian, the concept of Hunting, the Guard, Givers, The Light, and the Devati. I think you're just barely over the line between world-building and confusing, and getting rid of even just one new term right off the bat might help, or building upon one or two of them to root readers a bit more firmly into the world.

    I forgot to mention it last week, but I think the very beginning of this isn't quite snappy enough to immediately hook. The description of buses and school doesn't seem like anything new, but then once you get into the initial conversation things get much more interesting. I think the story deserves a more grabbing introduction!

    The dream sequence is still a little off for me, and I think it might be because the reader gets taken out of the present about two and a half times. The first with the memory of Raquel's mom's gift, the half the little mentions of her father's death, and then the dream/hallucination/imagination sequence. Since you don't have much room to ground the reader in your first five pages, thinking back to other things or removing the reader can be a bit jarring.

    Other than that, I definitely think this is an improvement!! I'm excited to read your next revision.

    I hope this helped!

    - Maggie

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! I'm loving all of the feedback, and getting your critical assessment has been helpful.

      A L

  2. I noticed the lack of a hook last week but didn't want to throw too much at you at once. So I'd do a bit of research about the hook and see if you can't give us something at the beginning that will give an idea of what we're in for.

    Also, you need to watch sentence structure. Most of the selection is good but your first four lines are almost exactly the same sentence structure and feel monotonous. Also, a lot of sentences begin with I. I know it's first person, but there are a lot of ways to switch it up.

    The line: "I accept her help . . . at least I care . . ."
    I'd put that in a new paragraph and let it tag her dialogue there.

    I'd get rid of the flashback to the mother and just let us see the box and have a brief, "that mom had given this morning". Or let it be a conversation piece between the two girls. I agree that flashbacks in the first ten pages are a pacing nightmare. Anything we don't absolutely have to know should be cut. You've already hooked us with her internal fretting about the Hunt, so move us forward into the rest of her day and let us see some actual action sooner.

    That said, this is a lot better than last time and the story is so interesting. I hope to see this world in a book on my shelf someday!

  3. Heather,

    I appreciate your critical advice. It's been a great stepping stone on my quest for writing knowledge. Throw it all my way!

    It's back to the chopping block for me, and I love a challenge, so the next few nights will be a fun adventure!

    A L

  4. Hi A L!

    I'm intrigued by the Hunt and the world. You characters feel real. You've done a great job listening to feedback and revising.

    As for the hook and pacing, think of it this way: the only thing that really happens in these pages is that Raquel pulls into the parking lot and walks into school. The rest of the action is either flashback or a dream, which both stall forward action.

    One of the biggest questions is: Where does the story start? Some writing instructors suggest cutting the first one or even two chapters, starting the story with "chapter 2" or "3". I don't know if that will work in this case or not. However, where does the main action start? Consider starting with the Hunt itself. While she's nervously making her way through it, she can flashback to Dad, to getting the dagger, etc. But in the midst of our learning about her, we're seeing the actual Hunt and not the nerves leading up to it. We can wonder what's happening, worry that she's in danger, etc. That pulls the reader in. Then you can lead to it all being a watched exercise. Use this suggestion if this is helpful, but feel free to ignore if it's not.

    A couple of logistic questions: How can she stare at the box if it's nestled inside her backpack? Is it poking out? Is the backpack open? Does she have x-ray vision?

    Also, I was confused by the goat's head on the sole of Kaia's boot. I imagined her standing. Was this a design? It felt awkward. Maybe I just didn't get it.

    Overall, I'm intrigued by your story and can't wait to see the pitch next week.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts Kelly. I definitely have some major thinking and revising to do. I appreciate your time. It has been a valuable asset.

    A L

  6. Hi A L,

    I love what you’ve done with the opening dialogue. To me, it feels much less like you’re explaining something to the reader and more like a natural conversation between the sisters. I also think you’ve made the transition into the daydream/vision sequence much more clear. I’m as intrigued by the world as I was from your last submission, if not even more!

    I wonder if you might be trying to squeeze too much into these opening pages. For example, the details about her father and the guilt that consumes her as a result. I think we could get to know Raquel in other ways first before being hit with this detail while still trying to be oriented into the world. I think the reader needs to be sunk deeper and more comfortable with the Hunt and what it is that Raquel is trying to be before we get all of that information. I also agree that the flashback to that morning with the mother could be minimized.

    I still love your language and descriptions. Can’t wait to read your pitch!

    All the best,

    1. Thanks Beth!

      Your words at inspiring, and I appreciate your comments!

      A L

  7. Hey A L,

    You've gotten so much great feedback, so again, I'll keep my comments brief.
    I'm still seeing a lot of dialogue tags that feel unnecessary. Ex: "I reply, rolling my eyes." This could be "I rolled my eyes." We still know who's talking, get some action, and you save two words. I know I'm nagging this, but only because it frees up so many words when you properly use action beats, and I know you want to make these first pages pop as much as possible. Another thing that will save you words is to trade out words ending in "ing" for more active verb choices. Ex: "As I was walking" could be "As I walked." Trading these up might also help with the sentence structure issues mentioned before.

    I wish you the best with the next set of revisions and can't wait to see your pitch!


    1. Thanks for keeping up on the tightening aspect. The chopping block is a hard place for a writer to be, and we definitely tend to hang on to things longer than we should! Looking forward to next week.

      A L

  8. Excellent job on the dialogue! It seems much more natural now. I do still find the description a tad heavy in the opening. You are describing the buses, the jeep and the heat in 2 sentences. I would suggest you focus on one thing and make it personal to pull us right into the character. Let us feel her cough at the smog or sweat in the sun, rather than just narrating it to us.

    A couple other small things:
    -If you keep the flashback to Mom that morning, you need to change the verb tense, but I agree that you could just reference it without flashing back in time.
    -We need a physiological and emotional reaction to her thinking her friend is gone with the Devati. She can do the light thing with her hands too, but we don't really believe she is actually scared when she doesn't react otherwise.
    -Watch your POV when you say "She spots me". Your character can't know her friend's mind. She may have spotted her earlier or she may be looking at a squirrel. You need to tell us what she does that makes her ASSUME she has been spotted (like wave or smile or meet gaze).
    -I think you mention the friend's curves and body a bit much if these two are really only friends. If you need to mention these things, she needs a reason to notice them (like if some guy walked by and checked her out or if they'd previously had a conversation about her top or something). Either way, make sure the word choice works for the character. I can't imagine thinking about my best friend's "body" or "curves" in any situation. I might think, "Wow that top is tight" but it would be the top that got my attention and not what's under it.

    Good luck with the last revision!

    1. Thanks for your insights Holly! They've been helpful.