Sunday, February 19, 2017

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Noelle Rev 2

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


Sixteen-year-old Raquel Alexander inherited all three Soleian powers of Light. She can Heal with a flick of her wrist, Give with the softest touch, and Protect with a single command. The problem—her courage died alongside her father, and being diffident in a world under attack by the Devati, a cruel family of shadow warriors, could prove deadly.

Raquel is hell-bent on conquering her fears by joining the elite Soleian Guard. During her inaugural Hunt, Raquel's world shatters after she unearths a trove of damaging information. Information making her a prime target, on both sides. Ignoring an ancient pact, she confides in her best friend, Kaia, unintentionally putting her in danger.

When the Devati Commander kidnaps Kaia as bait, Raquel must venture into their grisly world to capture him. She meets an unlikely ally, Adrian, the Commander's mysterious son, and along the way discovers true courage when she's faced with an uncomfortable truth—sometimes when histories are written, horrible things are conveniently forgotten.

To find Kaia, Raquel will have to confront her shadowy past and untangle a web of deep-seated lies. If she fails, Kaia will suffer a gruesome death at the hands of Commander Sloane and his dark-souled henchmen.


The shadow ahead should belong to someone, but the lack of a physical body in its vicinity causes me to panic. My ribs ache from the pounding of my heart. It raises a long, wispy hand in an eerie wave. Or salute. Or...taunt? I blink once. Twice. The shadow remains steadfast, even through the haze of heat bouncing off the asphalt. A sickening thought comes to mind—the owner is either Devati or invisible. I avert my eyes, praying for the latter.

"Raquel, pay attention!"

Ella's voice startles me, and I swerve, avoiding the back-end of a parked car. She braces herself, grasping the roll-bar of our open-air Jeep until I've safely maneuvered into a spot, then pulls out a compact and brushes on translucent powder, drying the sweat over her brow. The mirror is angled so she can see me. The reflection from my trembling hand flashes over the sleek surface.

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

"Just distracted," I lie, glancing in the rear-view mirror before cutting the engine. "Honest." The shadow is gone.

She turns, exhaling in disbelief, and closes her compact with a snap. "Raquel, your nails are completely gone." She grabs my hand off the stick shift and waves 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."  

"Ok, I'm terrified." Hearing the words from my own mouth makes me feel vulnerable. "But I'm sure it's normal."

"Well, I hate to break it to ya," she pulls up my long sleeve and points 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 the floodgates to seven years of bottled emotions.

Please, don't say it.

"It wasn't your fault."

Dad's face swims before me, and my temples begin to throb. "Says the good sister who stayed home like she was supposed to." I pinch the bridge of my nose. How am I supposed to be hunting shadows when I can't even free myself from the ones in my mind?

"Hey, it's a guided Hunt." Ella quickly grabs my tense arm and puts 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're going to make it. And Dad will be watching from somewhere above, and you know what? He'll be damn proud!" She wraps her 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 a smile, then takes off after a friend, 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 bits of tumbleweed, and a drop of sweat has run down my temple.

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 it's comforting shade calls my name. Ironic, really. I sit on the cool metal, 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. What if the shadow I saw was the real deal? What if the Devati have gotten Kaia, and she's hurt, or worse, dead?

Then I see her, and the knot in my stomach loosens. The bustling crowd separates, allowing me a glimpse of her cheeky smile. She flicks a wave and eventually plops down on the armrest beside me, one foot on the bench while the other balances on concrete.

"Biting your nails again?" She bends over, 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."

"Had to stop 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 raise a brow. Is confidence a superpower?

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

Her black tank is cut sharp, and is tight, and I'm pretty sure someone sold her tattered rags claiming they were jeans. A dress code violation is definitely in her near future.

"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. 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 roll 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. Andthat," she says, pointing straight at Ciara, "needs a visit from this."

"Seriously, this is the last thing I need today." I grasp for her hand, hoping to steer her away, but she marches on, and I'm left tailing her in the dust. She breaks through the growing crowd with ease and I stumble after, bumping into the thick frame of a dark-haired boy.

"Sorry," I mumble, but he doesn't notice. He works his way forward, but before he's swallowed by the crowd, something falls from his half-zipped shoulder bag. A muffled clunk follows.

A glint of light catches my eye through the jumble of feet. He dropped his phone. A spidery crack splinters the glossy screen.

"Hey, your phone..." He's is nowhere in sight.

I crouch down and scoop it up. The phone dings, and a preview of a picture message pops on the screen. I glance out of habit, and a familiar face smiles back. My heart drops. It's a copy of the ID picture from my classified Soleian file, and five bold words are stamped across the top.

Target Compromised: Bang and Burn


  1. First of all--I want to read this book! I may have said that last week, but it sounds really great.

    For the Pitch:
    Telling is just as bad in a pitch as it is in text. Maybe not quite as bad, but still. In your first line, you info dump. So I'd rearrange and say something like--

    It doesn't help that sixteen-year-old Raquel Alexander inherited all three Soleian powers of Light, because her courage died alongside her father. But Raquel is hell-bent on conquering her fears by joining the elite Soleian Guard. During her inaugural Hunt, Raquel's world shatters after she unearths a trove of damaging information about the Devati, a cruel band . . .

    I shouldn't rewrite it for you, but you get the idea. Make everything active. And not knowing exactly what the powers are actually turns this into a better hook because we want to find out what they are by reading.

    In this part: Information making her a prime target, on both sides. Ignoring an ancient pact, she confides in her best friend, Kaia, unintentionally putting her in danger.

    I think it would be useful to know why she ignores the pact because right now I am questioning her character and intelligence, which may make me lose interest.

    This part: the way discovers true courage when she's faced with an uncomfortable truth—sometimes when histories are written, horrible things are conveniently forgotten.

    First, how does discovering courage happen by uncovering truth? I mean, it may be that facing this truth is hard, but people must face things when they find them out whether they have courage or not. So I need to see the MC take action, which will show courage, after she finds out that horrible truth.

    Also, a bit of redundancy because we know already that it's a horrible truth, and telling us that takes the punch out of it.
    Something like: When MC discovers that (her people's history) has been rewritten (to hide what horrible truth), she (action) before (stakes).

    Holy bleepity-bleep! This is so much better! The new hook is intriguing, world-building, sets the stage. I love it. We have conflict, a bit of theme coming out. Fantastic job.

    There's so much good in these first five now, I don't have a lot to criticize. A personal peeve is when the narrator tells us what's ironic. I feel like a intentional reader is going to pick up on it.

    Bravo at getting us so much more information quicker. I think the elimination of the box and flashbacks brings us to the boy and the phone and bam! We're hooked.

    The echo of Rachel being not confident and then having Kaia's confidence be a superpower, something about it feels contrived. Maybe it's just the echo of the same word, but the juxtaposition is too obvious. I can't pinpoint it.

    Watch out for words like schoolmates. None of the YAs I know would say that. And all we need is the word crowd to have a visual.

    Good luck and thank you for letting us have a look!

    1. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom Heather! I can't tell you enough how much I've learned from the comments you've left.

      A L

  2. Pitch comments:

    I like the world-building in this pitch, and also the very clear stakes! I can see why I should care about Raquel’s journey. I like the sense of danger that this pitch conveys with words like “grisly” and “gruesome.” The pitch is definitely intriguing.

    My overall suggestion would be to address parts that are a bit vague. For example, why does the information make Raquel a prime target? Your first paragraph also leads me to believe that courage is one of the gifts, but I don’t think that’s what you meant. I also think the “histories are written, horrible things forgotten” line doesn’t add the punch that you are looking for, so I wonder if you could be more concrete there. Lastly, I think the pitch ends abruptly, but that could be because of the considerations for word count. I might like to see the pitch end with Raquel’s personal stakes; while Kaia is her friend, the ending line feels more like Kaia’s stakes. You say Raquel is a prime target, so maybe you could end off with something that addresses that issue.

    Overall, I’d love to read this book and see how it all plays out!

    Pages comments:

    I’m so impressed by what you’ve done with the opening of these pages! Using that vision as a scene-setter rather than something that happens later was such a good choice, and you transitioned from vision to real-life with great clarity. I also think you made really effective choices so that you could get to this new ending point in the pages that leaves a reader wanting more. The way you condensed the flashbacks to her father into a few significant lines was amazing!

    If I’m looking for something to offer suggestions on, I might say that the conversation with Kaia goes on a little long, and doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward. I know that it is developing character for Kaia and the relationship between the two, but I wonder if the space used for asking “what’s up this weekend” could be put toward something that will progress the plot further.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your work and wish you lots of luck with your writing.

    All the best,

    1. Thank you for your comments Beth! I especially like your point on adding in Raquel's own personal stakes. You've been very helpful and I appreciate it!

      A L

  3. Pitch comments:
    -I understand why you want to provide so much set up for this story, but your REAL story starts in the 3rd paragraph so you're going to have to find a way to shorten the first two paragraphs down to one succinct sentence.
    -I think you need to be less vague about the conflict. You say she will have to "confront her shadowy past and untangle a web of deep-seated lies" but I don't know what this means or why it will be difficult. What does she actually have to do to save her friend? You can put something about conquering her fear here (instead of at the beginning) since it's a big part of her conflict.
    -I don't understand why he takes her friend as bait. Does he want her instead? Or does he just want her "information"? If the latter, I would be more specific. This is your antagonist's goal (and part of her conflict) so we need to know why he needs it so badly and she needs him to not get it.

    Good luck!

  4. Comments on pages:
    -I think you need to tell us more about where she sees this shadow at the beginning. Is is on the road in front of her car? Is she following it? It sounds later like it was behind her but I don't know how she would see it then since she's driving.
    -If she's trying to avoid hitting a car, she can't see her sister brace herself or react. Her attention would be entirely on the car in front of her.
    -I'm confused about the non-existent shadow under her sleeve. Is she supposed to have a shadow under her sleeve?
    -I'm confused about her arm. Her sister puts it around her own shoulder and then wraps her hand around her wrist. Isn't her wrist on top of her own shoulder?
    -I think you need to give us a beat before she says, "He's is nowhere in sight." She should look at the phone for a second and then look back up to him and then notice he's gone. (Also, delete the "is").


    1. Thank you Holly for all the great info. You have been very helpful over the last 2 1/2 weeks, and I appreciate the time you've taken.

      A L

  5. Hi A L!

    So, pitch first: I was happy to get some clarification about the plot and the world, but I agree with Heather in that there's some issues with telling in the opening. Another issue for me is a lack of specificity, with lines like "damaging information" that don't really shed much light on what, exactly, the stakes are for Raquel. I also found her confiding in Kaia strange: if so much of her life has to do with Soleian life, surely she would know talking to her would put her in danger, so why would she do it? And one last thing: you introduce a lot of characters, especially in the final couple of paragraphs, and it started confusing things for me.

    Pages! I think this is a big improvement, and I especially like how you've re-worked the opening. I don't have too much to say other than a few nitpicky things. First, the non-existent shadow is confusing to me. I'm not entirely sure what that means? I'm also worried you're getting a little tell-y with some of the dialogue, especially the "says the good sister who stayed home like she was supposed to" line. I would just make sure all your dialogue is necessary and avoid things that feel more like small talk.

    Overall, I'm really liking what you've done with this! Thanks for sharing, and for all your feedback this month. :)

    1. Thanks Maggie!

      I've enjoyed your comments and appreciate you taking the time!

      A L

  6. Hi A L!

    This is intriguing! Raquel has all three powers of Light? How rare is this? Does she know it or does she have yet to discover it? How much does Kaia know? I'd like to have a better feel for how much Raquel shares and hides with her best friend. How much does she protect her? She already worries that her friend could get taken, so what is she doing to keep that from happening? Why is she worried about that? Has something already happened? Have there been threats?

    These lines struck me: "Dad's face swims before me, and my temples begin to throb. "Says the good sister who stayed home like she was supposed to." I pinch the bridge of my nose. How am I supposed to be hunting shadows when I can't even free myself from the ones in my mind?"

    While I agree that the line about the good sister works better if it's not dialogue, I like how this shows her doubt and how her dad and his loss is tied to that. You could easily remove the quotes. Then after it, add her reaction "Easy for you to say" or something like that. We see that there's so much more going on in her head, and her sister knows too.

    I found the transition from shadow to jeep jarring, but it probably should be. It jarred the characters, too. It just seemed like her sister recovered awfully quickly--from needing to hold on to pressed powder in mere seconds. It seems like there'd be at least a beat in between.

    Overall, I think you really have a handle on your story. It's fascinating, and I can't wait to see where it takes you. Thanks for sharing it.


    1. Thanks for all your help Kelly! I've discovered so much over these last three weeks, and I'm forever grateful for all of your wisdom!

      A L

  7. Hi A L,

    Your pages are really shaping into a great opener for what sounds like a great book! Most of my comments/suggestions are the same as what's been said above. As a fellow fantasy writer, I know how hard nailing that pitch can be. You have to world build without overdoing it, and still set the stakes up without naming more than three characters! Queries are just hard, lol. Below is a link to a blog post I found super helpful when I was trying to work out my pitch. It's nice because you probably know both of these stories and you can see what's necessary to hook a reader and what can be left out. Hope it helps you some!

    I'm so grateful to have met you and for the opportunity to trade feedback! I wish you so much luck in the future with this project and your little ones too! (I have four myself, lol.)


  8. Hi A L,

    My comments are below--great job on your pitch and pages.

    This is great pitch. It can be hard to build a world in just a few paragraphs, but you’ve done a wonderful job explaining Raquel’s powers and the Devati without bogging the pitch down with too much information.

    That said, there are a few things that are a little vague here—such as why if there is a pact, Raquel confides in Kaia. This seems like a very risky move and so we would need to know why she would do that. Also, I think it would be helpful to know a little more about the “uncomfortable truth”. Does it deal with how her dad died? The true nature of her powers? You don’t want to overload the pitch with information, but right now it’s too vague. A few more details could make this set up even more compelling than it already is.

    I was immediately intrigued by this story, but in the first paragraph, I’m a little lost. I had no idea she was in a car or that her sister is beside her. You want to start in the middle of the action, but you also want the reader to visualize the scene. Even though her heart is pounding, does she keep her foot firmly on the gas pedal? Something like that can clue the reader in on the fact that they are in a car. You do a great job of not having too much filler and pulling the reader in, but I do think a little contextualization would help.

    Right now, a lot of key information is coming through the dialogue—like Raquel’s reoccurring nightmares and how she thinks her dad’s death was somehow her fault. This is great information to have, but you can share it with the reader in more effective ways. Could something else trigger Raquel’s memory of her dad? Saying, “I know what’s really bothering you,” feels forced which make Ella feel flat as a character.

    Overall though, really good job. I love the ending! Reading “Target: Compromised: Bang and Burn” definitely made me want to read on!

    All best,