Sunday, February 5, 2017

February 1st 5 Pages Workshop- Noelle

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 the deep rumble of idling diesels rattles the ground, signaling the start of another monotonous day at Westgate Prep. Our rusty, green Jeep bounces erratically, the shocks worn from years of proper Jeep use, as Ella and I pull into the last open Senior parking spot.

"Are you nervous for tonight?" Ella asks, pushing a pair of harsh, rectangular glasses into place. A sad smile spreads across her porcelain face as soft, blonde curls bounce above her shoulders. Her lanky arms are covered in a long-sleeved tunic while a pair of leggings wraps to her ankles. The sight makes me sweat.

"I'm not too nervous," I lie, turning the key to cut the engine. "Honest."

She draws back, narrowing her eyes while exhaling in disbelief.

"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 again, aren't they? Mom would go crazy if she knew."

The memory of this morning's emotional goodbye comes rushing back, and my hands suddenly feel the warmth from Mom's as she placed a small mahogany box in my open palms.

"This was your father's," she had said, opening 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 had stopped there, unable to go on.

"Ok, maybe I'm a tad anxious," I admit to Ella, staring into the open backpack in-between our seats and seeing the box peeking out of the top. "But I'm sure it's normal for a Soleian to be uneasy before their first Hunt."

"I hate to break it to ya," she says, pulling slightly on the neckline of my long-sleeved shirt to reveal the three odd Soleian marks above my heart, "but you're not normal, even by Soleian standards."

I yank my shirt up, grab my bag and hop out the door. Ella joins me, and together, we navigate the rows of parked cars. My hands tremble as they mindlessly pick at my non-existent nails. Ella notices, then grabs my arm and puts it around her shoulder. The sweet smell of fresh rose petals fills my nose and I close my eyes, draw her near and kiss the top of her head.

"Hey, it's just a basic Hunt," she says. "Nothing like what Dad was doing, ok? You'll be fine. Plus, 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 says, giving me a side squeeze. "You've got this." She wraps her delicate fingers around my wrist, and immediately my spirits lift, as if every drop of anxiety is being drawn out.

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

"I can't help it," she replies with a shrug before taking off after a friend, and my love for her swells. In our darkest days, she was always the one to pull 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 from the unpaved lot, and, by no surprise, a drop of sweat has run down my temple and is threatening to jump off the sharp edge of my jaw.

A small, blue bench, cradled into the nook of a fully grown Desert Willow, sits outside the school's front door. The tree is in full bloom, and the fragrance from its bright flowers envelopes me in peace. I sit on the cool, 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. She's usually here by now. A burning sensation sears through my finger, and my mouth is filled 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 the tip of my pinky, and my mind wanders as streaks of deep red dissolve away, reforming into the purple-pink colors of California's Redwood Forest. Here, 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 left 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 must 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 trademark cheeky smile. She spots me in my usual seat and plops down on the armrest beside me, one foot resting on the bench while the other balances on concrete.

"Biting your nails again?" Kaia asks while picking a goat head from the hem in her leather pants. "What's up?"

"Nothing," I reply, shoving balled 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 and offers 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 own two feet.

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

"For ten seconds."

"What's with the leather pants today?" I ask, giving her a once-over.

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

She's paired the leather pants 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 asks, putting one hand on her hip while throwing on aviators with the other.

"It screams it."

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

"Nada." I grimace, walking alongside her. "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 groans.

"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 says, moving 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 really admire the way you are able to communicate so much with very little exposition. I found that most of the most important information I needed was presented with dialogue or action, which maintained the flow nicely. Your character descriptions also worked well. I had a clear picture of your characters without feeling overwhelmed by the detail.

    The relationship between Ella and Raquel confused me a little bit. In my opinion, it sort of crossed the line between being a caring sister relationship to a romantic one. It made me think that Raquel was in romantic love with her sister. Maybe that’s part of your story, in which case it worked, but I just wanted to point out how it appeared to me as a reader.

    One point of confusion for me was when she has the vision. I think you could make that transition into what is happening in her head vs. real life a little more clear. I thought “wait the hunt is starting?” The description while in the vision I found very compelling, but it tripped me up a little how we got there.

    You may be able to cut out some of the descriptive words in the first two paragraphs to get us into the action even quicker.

    Your first five pages leave me wanting more. I want to know more about the hunt and about this character’s powers. I believe it is a combination of your pacing and dialogue that gives you a good start to your story.

    I hope this helps.

    All the best,

    1. Thanks for giving me your perspective on the pages! I definitely need to rework my wording on Ella's relationship with Raquel. Nothing sexual going on, just super close from going through trauma together.

      As for her imagination, would it help if I wrote something similar to:
      "Here, in my mind, night has fallen, and the Hunt has begun." (Just a quick example)
      or are you thinking more of a heavier revision?

      Thanks again!

    2. I definitely think it could be as simple as one sentence to transition into the vision. Something between the cut and seeing the blood to being in the vision could help let the reader know we've gone into something that is not really happening.I don't think anything heavy is needed, as the vision is strong the way it is, just something to get us in there.

  2. Hi A L!

    I think this does a really good job of establishing the world, but I feel like I know more about Ella than Raquel. Make sure things happen with her, not just to her!

    I'm not sure if part of Raquel's power has to do with heat, but you mention her sweating a couple of times. The first time you do, it's in relation to something Ella's wearing so I thought there was a sexual connotation before I realized they were sisters! I agree with Beth that it seemed to toe a line.

    I also agree with Beth in that the vision was really confusing to me. I wasn't even sure if it was a vision or if she was letting her imagination run wild or something else entirely, and the quick transitions between the vision and the regular world were jarring.

    I LOVED the way you introduced Ella's (... power? Talent? Gift?). I thought it was really organic and sweet, and fit into the world well. I'm slightly unsure about whether or not the rest of the world has similar powers, or if Raquel and Ella hide theirs from everyone else. I assumed that this was a universe where people had different powers, but when Raquel lied to Kaia about her plans I wasn't too sure.

    Overall, I think this is a good start, and it does a good job of reeling people in. :)

    I hope this was useful!

    1. This is all very helpful, thanks! Gah! About the sexual stuff. They have a completely plutonic relationship, but are very close because of what happened when their dad died. I will remedy this in my revisions!
      This takes place in AZ (HOT!), and the two sisters have to wear long-sleeved attire. I think I should mention its AZ a little earlier on (it happens on page 6) to give the readers a better idea. Definitely don't want them going down that road.

      My character is known for a wild imagination. I'll have to come up with a better way of breaking into that, and showing the reader her imagination is running wild during her vision. Thanks for your time!

  3. Your description is very well done but I think you've used too much. Try to focus on one thing to describe each time her focus changes. It gives your reader whiplash if you're describing one thing after another. Also, we should always have a reason for the description. If she doesn't have a reason to notice the hair color of someone she sees every day, then she can't notice it in her thoughts just because you want to tell the reader what it is.

    I would also recommend that you work on making your dialogue less on point. People who are very close speak about things without mentioning what they're speaking about (because they already know). For example, her sister (who has clearly already figured out that she's nervous) wouldn't say, "Are you nervous for tonight?" if "tonight" is the only thing she could be nervous about. Also, when she says, "But I'm sure it's normal for a Soleian to be uneasy before their first Hunt" this feels like you're telling the reader something your characters already know. It would be more natural if she just said something like, "It's perfectly normal," and then her sister could argue. Yes, this makes world-building more difficult, but it will make your characters more authentic and your POV much deeper.


    1. Thanks for the awesome feedback. The specific examples are extremely helpful, and they've taught me more about authentic dialogue, something I've always struggled with. Your time is appreciated!

  4. Huh--I didn't get the sexual thing at all. I guess that's why there's a few of us commenting for good measure. I agree with the rest of it though.

    In this line:
    Ella and I pull into the last open Senior parking spot.
    I would like to know who's driving right off the bat. When you're introducing us to a new world, every word makes a difference. And the word Senior feels telling.

    I agree that we could gain just as much from her not asking about being nervous. Instead, have Ella chastise her for biting her nails so badly as the first dialogue and go from there. It'll get us to the inciting incident sooner.

    Telling us they're wearing long sleeves and pants without telling us the weather or looking longingly at all the other students wearing shorts and tank tops does us no good. I thought it was just winter. We don't have to know specifically about Arizona any sooner, but you can use setting to juxtapose their situation to show us how they're different.

    Leather pants in Arizona in the summer (I'm a Tucson girl, myself) is risky. Makes me cringe, knowing how that would feel. Chafing. Sweating. Icky.

    If the MC is thinking things, I'd do some internalization rather than telling.
    She's usually here by now. OR (could be in italics) Could I have missed her?
    Or whatever your character would think.

    You're a talented writer and I would love to hear more, so you've done a great job!

    1. Thanks for your time! The feedback you've given is invaluable. I'm a NM girl myself, and really fought the leather pants idea. Sometimes we want something a certain way so much, we go against our gut and run with it. It's great hearing the hesitation from a veteran writer. It shows I should've gone with my gut and used the alternative route!

  5. Hi A L!

    You do a great job juggling the contemporary setting with the fantastical elements. You’ve left enough for me to be intrigued and want to know more, yet I’m not confused. That’s a tough balance. Brava!

    I agree with the others who mentioned the confusing relationship between the sisters. They’ve addressed it well, and you've responded, so I won’t add to that.

    I think you could layer in some internal details about what Raquel IS worried about. Not only will this give us bit more info about the hunt, but we can get a better understanding of her state of mind. Is this a rite of passage thing for her age, a Soleian thing, or something else?

    What are the stakes? Is the hunt a life or death situation? A sport? Is it training for war? If so, is it the threat of war or something ongoing?

    What does Raquel want more than anything? Does she want to go to the Hunt, or is it something she has to do? Has she prepared for it?

    I also want to know if everyone is in the same world or if there are a few with powers who also dwell in another realm. Does this make sense?

    None of this needs major revision, just light layers here and there, mainly with beats of internal reaction or reflection.

    Thank you for the story. I’m looking forward to more pages.


    1. Thanks for your critique Kelly. I'm glad you drew my attention to the stakes of the hunt, and you're right, giving little details about this will take the pages to the next level!

  6. Hi A L,

    Thank you for sharing your work with me. As with all feedback, remember these are only my opinions, so take what works for you and ignore the rest.

    I agree with what's been said by the others, so I'll keep this short.

    As a fellow fantasy author, I know how much we love descriptions, but we have to pare down our adjectives! (Kill those darlings, love.)

    I think you could cut the flash back with the Mother and the knife, as it pulled me out of the narrative and could probably be addressed later.

    I've suggested this to some of the others, but I would trade out most of your dialogue tags for action beats. This helps cut the word count, and helps make your words count. Also, we learn more about the character when they do something, instead of just a "said so and so."

    But other than that, this sounds like a unique concept (a must in our genre), I'm all into this mystery and ready to dive into more pages! Good luck with your revisions!


    1. Thanks Jamie! I appreciate your feedback, especially coming from a fellow fantasy writer. Back to the cutting board! :)