Sunday, June 4, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop- Jachetti

Name: Elisha Jachetti
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Concordia

Shrieks of terror wake me from a dead sleep.  From the distance, I can hear the shout of someone giving orders. My heart starts pounding out of shock and confusion. What is going on? During the last three years I have served for The Sentry, we have never had any trouble. Until today.

It takes me a few seconds to realize the voice shouting commands belongs to Sergeant Greyson, the head officer of the Sierra Greens region. I jolt up, sweat starting to form on the back of my neck, and swing my legs over the side of my bed. As I reach for my shoes, I finally discern exactly what Sergeant Greyson is saying, “Find the intruder.” 
I’m still lacing up my boots as I stumble out into the hallway of the castle. The whole place is in chaos. Maids and servants are running through the halls. Sentry members are organizing. Or attempting to. The warning drums are being sounded, and though I know the particular beat that signals Danger!, I’ve never heard it outside of practice drills.
A strange feeling begins taking over my body. I don’t know what’s happening. My chest feels tighter by the second, as if someone has a firm grip on my heart and is squeezing it dry. This is real. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just a dream. It has to be.
“Earth to Quinn.” My friend Harley waves her hand in front of my face, forcing my pupils to refocus. I blink, while she stares at me impatiently, her emerald eyes, strong and confident. Her auburn hair falling in pieces over her shoulders.

“What’s going on?” I bark out. My throat is dry as if I’ve swallowed a mouthful of red sand.

Harley relays the story so fast, her words blur together. “Someone broke in, and the only guards who maybe got a look at his face are unconscious at the front door.”

The tightness in my chest is becoming more unbearable by the second. It feels as though someone has stuck me with a key, turned it, and is continuing to tighten and tighten and tighten. “How do you know it’s just one person?” I ask.

“We don’t.”

Just as Harley says that, a big crash comes from the end of the hallway causing me to jump. For a second, I think maybe the perpetrator has been caught and is being brought to justice, but it is really two clumsy Sentry guards who attacked each other, probably thinking the other was the fugitive. When they start rolling around on the ground, still unaware of who they actually tackled, Harley curses and grabs my arm.

“Let’s go,” she whispers.

She keeps a firm grip on my bicep as she drags me to the back staircase. Not many people know about this hidden gem. Harley and I found it one day when we were exploring the castle. We thought the only way we could truly protect the Royal Family from any problems would be if we became navigational experts of this place. Other guards made fun of us, because the reality of someone trying to hurt the King is just preposterous. Concordia is the land of peace. Always has been. Well, at least since the Dividing War.

Harley feels around for the familiar knot in the wall. One more millimeter to the right and- ah, she locates it. Moving the panel slightly to the side, we slither through to the stairs, a secret passageway that can take us directly to any floor of the castle. I gulp in air as all has suddenly gone still around us. It’s quite the contrast to the swirling pool of people right outside. We begin to make our ascent.

“The King is on the third floor, which is where most of the Sentry went.” Harley shares. My breathing is starting to grow heavier with each step. I’m not out of shape, so I must be hyperventilating.

“There’s a lot of them on the first floor too.” I manage to croak out as I continue forcing my feet to move upward.

“Right, which is why I’m going to the fourth floor and you’re going to the roof.” Harley smiles at herself.

“Wait-” I stop in place. “We’re splitting up?”

Harley, who is a step in front of me, pauses and pivots around. “Yeah. That way one of us will get him.”

I nod deliberately, trying to reassess the situation. I think of my training from when I first joined the Sentry. It was brief and left much to be desired. I guess I never minded until now. Harley starts to chuckle.

“Woah, you need to relax. Your face is as red as the Crest.” She shakes her head, opening up the wall on the fourth floor. “I’ll see you when we’ve got him,” Harley says winking, and with that, she’s gone.

I turn and force myself to continue. I have such a tight grip on the railing that my knuckles are white. By the time I reach the top of the stairs, I’ve convinced myself that this is a drill concocted by Sergeant Greyson. That seems the most sensible after all. Why on Earth would somebody break the peace now? And for what purpose?

As I pull back the wall, my muscles tense a bit in anticipation of the intruder being on the other side. But there’s no one. I step through into the only enclosed space on the roof. The King likes to visit this room by himself sometimes. I know, because occasionally his guards are stationed outside of it. As far as I’m aware, it’s never used officially for matters of state though.

The walls are made entirely of glass, ribbed together with strips of mahogany. Not great for hiding. It’s early evening and the light from the outside is falling through the windows, illuminating the glossy sheen of the woodwork. Had it been four hours later, I would be standing in complete darkness.

I take a glance around. It’s sparse, except for a few clunky pieces of furniture. There is a mahogany desk jutted up against the wall with a red velvet chair tucked underneath, a matching sofa directly across from it with a short, mahogany bookstand to the right, and a tall, imposing, deep mahogany wardrobe in the back of the room.

I guess the King likes mahogany. Or perhaps hates it, since he sent all this furniture up here where no one can see it.

I walk over to the wardrobe first. I brace myself as I fling the doors open. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Elisha, you certainly started with a tense scene! Way to adrenalize your reader from the 1st page. I wonder, though, if starting with your MC waking up is the best way to do it. That scenario is known to be overdone. Especially since there seems to be an inconsistency there. When Quinn gets to the roof, you say it's early evening, but you open your story with her waking up, which leads us to assume the evens are happening in the dead of the night. You could easily skip to "Earth to Quinn" as your starting point. This way you bypass the cliche opening and still throw your reader right in the middle of action. You also need to establish clearly what surroundings your MC and her friend find themselves in. One moment Quinn sees every little detail of Harley's appearance (which seems out of place there because in stressful situation we don't notice things like that), which suggests perfect illumination, and then next, Harley is feeling the wall for a knot, which suggests pure darkness. You need to tell us when their surroundings change. I'm also unconvinced Quinn's extreme anxiety is called for. You say it yourself that Concordia is the land of peace and later on Quinn wonders if all this is an elaborate drill. Maybe that should be your focus instead of hyperventilating and sweating. Since the events like this have never happened in Quinn's life, the worst shouldn't be the 1st thing her mind goes to. This extreme reaction also doesn't paint your MC in the best colors; Quinn comes across as a bit of a coward. While Harley calls the shots, Quinn sorta wanders around shell-shocked. Giving Quinn a little more agency and making her reaction more logical would really make your beginning shine. Hope at least some of my comments are helpful. Good luck!

  3. Sorry, published the comment twice. Had to delete one of them.

  4. It's an exciting opener. If the break-in is your inciting incident, I'd encourage you to take a step back and let us get to know your character better. I do empathize with her because she's in a tense situation and questions her abilities, as we all have at one time or another.

    In the beginning, I'd ground the reader as much as you can. Shrieks would indicate there are only girls. And if you can include a place, that would be even better. Shrieks of terror [grunts, the clash of steel, slamming of doors. The shrieks don't happen in a vacuum. Down the hall, outside my room, inches from my head.]

    In the distance . . .

    My heart pounds. The rest is redundant because the reader knows what it means to have your heart pound after being woken by screaming.

    When you're telling rather than showing, like in the last sentence of this first paragraph, keep it as short and snappy as possible. And in the middle of the crisis, I'm not sure this is the place for this sentence anyway, but . . . Three years working for The Sentry, we'd never had trouble.

    Until today is also redundant. I know you're trying for effect, but the real effect is in the waking to screaming, which happened sentences ago and we still don't know where we are or what's going on.

    Continue to ground us. Every word can be a detail for the reader to glean some clue. And we will feel the natural passage of time as well.

    [As I jolt up, I realize the voice . . .] What you put first is most impactful. So do you want us to feel the slow passage of a few seconds or her jolting response to the shrieks? And again, think about what we have to know. That he's her sergeant is important because he's her leader, but knowing he's the head officer of Sierra Greens could probably wait.

    The next paragraphs work pretty well with content, but the incomplete sentences get to be too much.

    I'd keep things as tight as you can, especially in these first pages. Skip any or all of these phrases: on my bicep, one day, when we were.

    We thought the only way . . . since the Dividing War. All of this is telling. You do need some of it, but I'd sprinkle it in as they're moving into and through the passage.

    I'd delete "There is" A mahogany desk . . .

    And the use of mahogany so many times is distracting. Maybe list the furniture and then say, all of mahogany, or something like that.

    This sounds like a fun story! Hope it helps.

  5. Hi! I get a sense from this that the story could be quite entertaining. Your voice seems light and humorous, and I like that. The part I found most interesting is the glass room, and the somewhat humorous reference to all the mahogany that the King “perhaps hates.” I don’t know why. This part is a lot slower than the rest, and yet, captures my attention more. I want to know what is beyond, and it would be great if I could feel like this even earlier.

    You have opportunities to tighten and get further into the story sooner so we learn who Quinn is and what his/her goal is to start off the story. For example, I like that s/he has never heard the warning drums outside of practice drills. But the subsequent “strange feeling/don’t know what’s happening, description of body feels/must be a dream” feels too introspective and lengthy and out of the moment. Instead, perhaps, how does Quinn emotionally feel about this? Angry and frustrated that s/he’s nervous? Why? In this unusual call to action, is Quinn excited to finally have a chance to put his/her skills to use? Or bummed out because sentry in a peaceful kingdom is supposed to be a cushy job? You can use Quinn’s feelings to show more about Quinn’s character and goals, rather than just “feelings” in a vacuum.

    So far, in this beginning, you introduce Quinn and her/his friend Harley (names are a bit distractingly referential), who are Sentries in charge of protecting the king, during an unusual emergency signal—an anomaly in three years of peace. (which may explain Quinn’s excessive nerves, and the bumbling Sentries who attack each other). Honesty, I’d almost start it at that moment, with Quinn and Harley in the thick of the action—showing us in the moment their personalities as they try to process what’s going on, and then making the decision to hit their secret staircase and split up. If you get through this action quickly, hopefully, somewhere up that staircase, we will also learn a little bit more about who Quinn is and what her/his goals are and what this story is about.

    Other thoughts: Waking from sleep is often a cliché beginning, and honestly, you could accomplish the same info, by having Quinn, rub h/ eyes or via a reference, like “we never had a drill before sunup.”

    Overall, it seems like there’s a lot of reference to body parts, so much so that I started noticing it. The reader is going to be more interested in the larger world at this point, and your words would be better used to set setting and characters, more so than in what Quinn’s feet and chest are doing, or what color Harley’s hair or face are.
    I can’t wait to see more!

  6. Hi there! To be honest i'm having a hard time picking this one apart because it entertained me so. I will leech off the other comments my reply.

    Yes, the waking up opening is a bit over used and could be changed to only include the events directly following that opening line, but the whole thing really grabbed my attention and I think that's the most important thing. I happen to think the opening of Harry Potter is very cliché but it worked for Rowling. But that's neither here nor there.

    I do have to say that I was not sure if the MC is male or female and we should know by this point so we can get a clearer picture of the MC. The names are ambiguous (and this is just an observation) there is a Batman character named Harley Quinn, not a huge deal but it could be jarring for others familiar with the popular character.

    I thought thought Quinn's insecurity pulled us into the character and, although we are sort of thrust right in o the action, I felt like I was getting to know the MC just fine. I don't mean to go against the grain here but I think its important for authors to get different perspectives on the same piece.

    I agree in removing the possibility of all this being a dream as this caused me to wonder if it actually was and nearly pulled me out of the scene.

    You could focus slightly more on the setting to ground us. I had a preconceived notion of a stone and mortar castle but that was just me, if that turned out to not be the case I would be very confused because I wasn't given any clues to the contrary.

    All in all this piece kept me glued to my screen though and I felt Quinn's urgency and confusion. Nicely done!

  7. Hello Elisha!

    I honestly really enjoy stories that open with characters waking or looking into mirrors even though they are cliche, but that's my personal opinion.

    I love how tense the scene is, that you get a sense of urgency right away that this is something big, and something truly surprising to everyone.

    I hate taking from what others have said but I feel like you could use some more time in the beginning to get to know the MC, even if it's just a few more details to let us know her voice. I do agree with the setting up the setting a bit more. I was having a hard time picturing it till the very end.

    Overall though, it's entertaining and really had me curious what was going on and WHO broke in. I'm definitely loving where it's going!

    Great job!

  8. Hello, Elisha! Thank you for being willing to share your work. I apologize if some of this has been said; I try to not read the other comments so I can take everything in with fresh eyes. :)

    That's a grabbing opening line. It makes me wonder what is going on and what will happen next. I like knowing right away that the character works for The Sentry. That's a great bit of information to ground the readers.

    I love that so much emotion is being shown internally as in this line: "My chest feels tighter by the second, as if someone has a firm grip on my heart and is squeezing it." Showing is great. But do make sure it's not all "heart" and "chest" focused in this scene.

    Also, do The Sentry have weapons? I'm thinking that if they're on guard and ready, Quinn might have his/her boots on already and be reaching for the weapons. Also, knowing what these weapons are along with the fact that they are in a castle, will help ground readers more into the setting.

    I have to say, too, I love the name Quinn and I love the name Harley. If you don't want to invoke images of a certain female superhero/villain, you maaay want to rethink one of those names. :)

    Your dialogue seems very natural. Very nice.

    We're in 1st person with Quinn--and you have done a nice job with that!--but there was at least one slip up when Harley is looking for the knot in the wall that we seem to almost slip into her point of view. Be careful to stay in the right character's head. :)

    I am really getting a great sense of Harley's character. She's confident and smart and quick-thinking. Very nicely done. I'm still trying to get a sense of who Quinn is. S/He seems very scared and unsure for a Sentry--which is fine, but I want to know why. Did s/he never expect to have to deal with this and signed up just to be with Harley? Is it scarier than anticipated when it's real? Was the training not good enough for the real thing? I imagine the character arc will fit in with this as the story progresses, and I can totally get on board with the fear here, but as a reader, I want an inkling as to why Quinn is reacting so much more fearfully than Harley.

    oh. Ha! now I read this: "I nod deliberately, trying to reassess the situation. I think of my training from when I first joined the Sentry. It was brief and left much to be desired. I guess I never minded until now. Harley starts to chuckle." Yes, this kind of thing a little earlier. :)

    "Your face is as red as the Crest." LOVE this little insight into their world. Well done.

    When we get here, "The walls are made entirely of glass" I'm finally getting a sense of real setting. A few details sprinkled earlier might help. As I said about the weapons, etc. But since Quinn was sleeping, I assumed it was night. It's not. That information is good up front. Ground me in the setting right away.

    Also, watch repetitive words that really stand out, like mahogany. :)

    Nice, suspenseful line ender for this scene. The whole scene has a lot of action. :)

    I know so often that writers hear to "start with the action." I like action, but I also--especially in YA--want to get to know the characters a bit first. It helps me care about them more. Relate to them more. Want to go on this journey with them.

    Would you consider backing this up a pace? I think it's okay to start a scene with a little of Quinn in his/her normal world doing normal things before this huge incident. I know this isn't normal by the end of the first paragraph, so I'd like to see a little of normal Quinn in a hook-the-readers type of setting. Perhaps something that reveals the secret passageway? Just a thought.
    Since the idea of The Sentry is cool and part of who Quinn is, maybe something with Sentry duty and how easy/hard/awesome/whatever it is that can foreshadow a bit of this upcoming scene.

    I hope this is helpful! Cheers.

  9. Thank you all for your comments!! You gave me a lot of great insight. I have much to think about.