Saturday, September 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop- Schunemann

Name: Lisa Schunemann
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy


Poaching in these forests would get me killed.

In the northern territory of Orbis, snow was never far away, dancing and falling in lazy swirls. Flakes hovered as if choosing where to land, which patch of wet dirt to seek solace. A tendril of frosted air caressed my cheek above the leather wrappings. If the landscape had been barren white, I’d have no chance at my prey. The brown wrappings blended into my skin. The deer might smell me but it shouldn’t see me.

I didn’t draw the bow string just yet. In the empty forest, the creak would echo as startling as a blade striking wood. Silence was a hunter’s best ally yet worst enemy. Breathe, Ash. You’re seventeen. This isn’t your first kill.

The deer stripped sheets of bark from a leaning tree. It should have had more fat beneath its hide. My stomach turned inwards, grumbling like a vicious badger. I tensed, but the deer didn’t startle, still didn’t seem to notice me. I couldn’t recall when I’d eaten more than scavenged mushrooms. My mouth watered, even in the cold.

Death or an empty stomach. What a hard choice.

That did it. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, sneer at the stingy meal.

Just one more blighted step. Lungs, liver, heart. If I hit the chest, the deer might run a few feet before collapsing. I couldn’t afford a long chase. Crossing the valley into these woods, ruled by the family Gens Silvanus, had drained too much of my strength. If I killed the deer, I still had to gut it, save the hide and haul the meat to my secret larder. That took energy I might not have.

The deer took two steps. I flexed my frigid fingers and the bow creaked as I drew the string. My breath caught as the deer raised its head, nostrils flaring.

No! It pivoted into the twisting underbrush. That quickly, my only chance at a decent meal for my sister and father disappeared. The string relaxed, my shocked fingers barely keeping it from firing. The deer shouldn’t have smelled me.

Maybe it didn’t. In the distance, wood cracked beneath boots.

I ducked behind the tree trunk and adjusted my grip on the arrow. Someone, something, was out here with me. The deer would live another day. I might not.

Brash steps drew closer. My arm shook, from the cold and from terror known to me since birth. A wild animal wouldn’t be so careless. I knew what I’d face when I turned. And I had one chance to take him or her by surprise. I needed to fire between the beats but my pounding heart echoed the snapping of twigs. I had no time to aim, just follow my instinct. I exhaled.

A last twig cracked to my left. I broke my cover and the arrow soared.

The Therian, the shapeshifter, moved just enough. The arrow grazed his arm, tore through his sleeve and left a seam of blood. In the setting sunlight, greasy hair fell around eyes ringed with silver. All shapeshifters had the same mark.

The silver meant the end to those like me. I was Anthron. I couldn’t shapeshift and my life was all the more horrific because of it.

He clucked his tongue, eyes like bristling fire. “Carrion boys in these woods are up to no good.”

Good. My first horrified thought. He didn’t know I was a girl. If he did… all he could see were my green eyes and I hoped they blazed with the hatred stoking in my chest. But I backed away. Those silver rings contracted.

I only knew he was a Silvanus soldier by the leaf and sword stitched on his tunic. “Nothing to defend your crimes, carrion?” he taunted. “No Silvanus slave would dare be out in these woods. I’d bet you belong to Canis.”

He had that right. Canis was another noble family and I lived in their valley. But crime? My poaching?

“Not that it matters,” he continued. His head lowered, predator staring at its prey. “We’ll catch the filth you’re helping.”

A plan tried to form in my mind but the soldier shifted forms with a snarl. Fabric ripped. Fur replaced skin. A tan wolf, shoulders as tall as my hips, stood in the mud. His lips peeled back, fangs glistening.

Far away, a crow’s caw filtered through the darkening forest.

The soldier tensed, distracted from his lunge. I fired my last arrow and ran for everything I was worth. Dense air choked my lungs as I dodged stumps dotting the muddy ground. A howl sounded. Brush gave way as he barreled after me.

Thank you, Ryland! My crow, watching from above, had given me a small chance. Frigid creek water soaked my knees. Through it. Up the rise. Around the boulders. The terrain of the forest was seared in my memory, but the crashes behind me magnified. I stumbled, right ankle screaming. A heavy weight slammed me into the mud, on my back. The paw pressed on my throat, on my shoulder. Pinned. Fangs snapped in my face, a thread’s width from my covered nose. I screamed. Not because of a wolf who could rip my throat apart but because, at any second, he could shift back.

The ring of death, we called it. Shapeshifter eyes gleamed down at me. I wanted to close my own. See nothing but oblivion before I met it. The last little bit of my courage refused. Caws echoed again but were different. This time they sounded directly above us.

An arrow punched into the wolf’s shoulder.

His piercing yelp penetrated my senses. My hands fumbled in the mud. I gripped the first solid thing my palm touched.

Another arrow slammed into the shapeshifter near the same spot. I knew one person who could shoot like that. I screamed again, in terror that wasn’t for me, and swung the heavy stone. The wolf went rigid, yelps cut off, and collapsed to the side. I clawed at the wrap over my lower face. Sweet air suddenly flooded my lungs.

“Ash. Get up! Ashina!”

Small but strong hands dug into my clothes. Gemina hauled me close and shook me until her face swam. My sister’s brown eyes were probably as wide as mine.

“Gem,” I sputtered. “Gem, stop.”

Her thumb absently brushed against the trio of scars on my right cheek. It always helped me focus. Gem was three turnfalls younger but her eyes were always so solemn.

“Are you all right?” She glanced at the ground near us. Her bow rested half on her knee, half in the mud.

I surged up, pushed her away. The soldier! He didn’t move. My palm still cradled the stone. I’d gotten him good. But not good enough, the little voice whispered. He’s still breathing. Hot fury roared to life and a stuttering sob escaped my throat. Ignoring Gem’s cry I scrambled forward and raised the stone. One less thing to hurt us if I brought it down. Again and again. Until blood soaked the thin layer of snow.

“Ash,” Gem pleaded. Her arrows quivered with each halting breath the shapeshifter took.

The stone thudded to the ground. I was a coward. I just couldn’t do it, because nothing except pain and death came from killing a Therian. The shapeshifter shuddered and skin flowed to replace fur. Naked, he lay twitching, blood streaming down his face.


  1. Hi Lisa!

    I loved the tension throughout-I was definitely worried for Ash as things progressed and I totally thought Ash was a boy until revealed otherwise, so if that was the goal, thumbs up.

    Gemina's arrival to save her sister threw me a bit because the way Ash was describing the scene in the beginning, I was convinced she was all alone and no one really even knew that she was out hunting, so if something were to happen to her, no one would know for days. But then, Gemina shows up and rescues her. Is there a way to maybe mention that She and Gemina had gone in different directions or, when she misses the deer, can she hope her sister was having better luck?

    I got a bit disoriented when the deer smelled the shifter. What direction was the deer looking? I imagined it as the deer looking in Ash's direction, meaning the shifter was behind her, but then if the deer smelled the shifter, it would have smelled Ash since they were in the same direction. Maybe just a quick note of whether the deer looked at her or in the opposite direction will help to orient the reader.

    I think you did a great job with world building-I feel immersed in the world and its only a few pages. There are different races and families and I have questions about them, but I'm guessing those will be answered as we progress and I would keep reading from this point to find out what is going to happen to Ash and Gemina as I'm sure they'll be blamed for "attacking" this shifter (should he live)

    I like your opening line, it definitely draws the reader in, but maybe you could tighten up the second paragraph-you do a nice job blending the information with how Ash is interacting with it, but I think it could be a bit tighter.

    And I love the name Ashina- its original and easy to pronounce/remember!

    1. I love her name too, and it's a great bonus that it's easy to pronounce :)

      Thanks for your helpful suggestions - you pointed out great areas for me to tighten text and clarify some points/actions :)

  2. This was very well-written and entertaining to read! You drew me in immediately with the opening sentences, and your descriptions were beautiful.

    A couple things didn't quite make sense, though. Why was Ash debating with herself whether or not she wanted a skinny deer? If they're in dire need, as you seem to have portrayed, would she really consider not shooting the deer? I understand that you were trying to show that they're desperate, but I think that could be done with less conflict and more disappointment.

    Her sister seems to kind of come out of nowhere. The briefest of explanations of why she was there, mentioning her presence nearby earlier on, or maybe confusion from Ash if she herself doesn't know, could help fix that.

    The suggestions are a little nit-picky because I honestly couldn't find anything else wrong with it. It was exciting and engaging, and I greatly enjoyed reading it!

    By the way the Therian was talking, I get the feeling that some other, bigger crime has been committed, and he thought Ash was involved. I'm guessing this is the 'inciting incident'. If so, the pacing is right on point.

    1. Hi Nora, thank you so much! I see the reason and sense behind all your suggestions and they're great things for me to fix regarding the deer and also Gem's arrival :)

  3. You have a killer first sentence! Love it. It immediately hooks the reader. Then I love how you put in some worldbuilding right after. These first few lines are excellent.

    I was really pulled into Ash's world and her voice was excellent. Lots of great hints at danger ahead, especially the bit about it being worse for her that she is a girl and that the soldier thinks she's involved in something other than poaching. Also, I was intrigued by the bit about being in the other tribe's territory draining her strength.

    I got a little confused when the shapeshifter showed up. She's firing between the beats, but we aren't sure what beats. All that was mentioned was footsteps.

    I think you could tighten the backstory some when the shapeshifter shows up. A little less terminology to keep track of in the first chapter might help. For instance, all we really need to know about Ash is that she can't shapeshift and that she's in the other group's territory.

    All in all, though, this is excellent! The pacing and action are great, and Ash's voice draws you into the pages. Well done!

  4. Hi Lisa! Thanks for letting me read your work. I'll comment as I read. Here goes:

    Great tension throughout! I like how you draw the reader into the immediate here-and-now. I also could hear voice, maybe even a little snark, which is very distinctive. This is really tiny, but I'm having a hard time finding much to help you with. :) There are a few areas where you could still tighten and even maybe stagger word choice a bit more. For instance: using 'wrappings' in two consecutive sentences. Maybe leather or something? At first I was concerned because I couldn't figure out whether this was a male or female character. Now I understand, and I really like what you've done. The only other comment I have is the part where her sister enters the scene. My initial impression was that the younger sister was more of a weak link (because she was helping her and her father.) Now I'm not so sure. Maybe I just don't understand the dynamics of her family yet. If that's not the case, you might want to hint to a different reason why she's out hunting alone when she's not supposed to be.

    I really enjoyed this. You have strong world-building and attack a lot of the senses. Love the names you've chosen! I look forward to reading your revision.


  5. Minor point: should your first sentence be “would get me killed” or “could get me killed”? I think “would” implies it’s definitely happening in the future whereas “could” is closer to what you mean. If you said “would get me killed one of these days” that would also make sense.

    “If the landscape had been barren white, I’d have no chance at my prey.”  This phrase threw me; it took me a minute to understand you were referring to her camouflage.

    “But crime? My poaching?” This phrase didn’t make sense because the narrator knows poaching is a crime; it’s stated in the first line it’s a death sentence. Later it becomes obvious the shapeshifter is referring to something else but I don’t think she’d suspect that at this point in the story.

    Overall, I thought this was a very exciting place to begin your story. Not only have you set up a lot of interesting world-building, you’ve also put the MC in immediate danger and conflict.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    Wonderfully tense opening! You keep that tension from the start, and you do a fantastic joy of weaving in the world building, character development, and backstory.

    Taken in isolation, there's really not much that's lacking here, save for a bit more attention to clarity. (For example, "caressed my cheek above the leather wrappings. If the landscape had been barren white," -- that makes me pause because leather wrappings are generally for feet and legs rather than a face, so slivering in a bit more clarity would help keep the reader from pausing.)

    My main concern is that I wonder if it's distinct enough from Sarah Maas' A Court o Thorns and Roses opening? I know that it is probably very distinct from that in where the story develops, but there are many similarities in this setup and I wonder if you could pull up what's unique in your story a bit more to the forefront?

    Also, can you pull up the story question a bit more distinctly? You've defined her poverty, the feud between the two families, the use of the shapeshifters as soldiers (which is a GREAT angle, as are some of the powers at which you've hinted!!!) but I'm not getting theme or character wound just yet unless it's the inability to kill. If you could pull that up just a wee bit more clearly, I think it would strengthen the piece and help with the differentiation.

    That said, these are tiny nitpicks. Truly, this is a wonderfully strong piece, but the YA market is so tough right now that anything you can do to make yourself stand out is a good thing. : )

    Eager to see the next installment!

    1. Martina, could you clarify what you mean in 'pull up the story?' Also 'character wound'?

      I have never heard those terms before but I'm eager to understand them!!

      Thanks :)

      "Also, can you pull up the story question a bit more distinctly? You've defined her poverty, the feud between the two families, the use of the shapeshifters as soldiers (which is a GREAT angle, as are some of the powers at which you've hinted!!!) but I'm not getting theme or character wound just yet unless it's the inability to kill. If you could pull that up just a wee bit more clearly, I think it would strengthen the piece and help with"

    2. HI Lisa,

      Okay, so every character worth reading about has something broken inside them, a wound, that results from a specific event in their past, and that wound slants their view of themselves and the world around them in a way that will effect what they do in the book. This is wound and misconception that will hold them back from achieving their goal and resolving the story question, and this is what creates the powerful internal conflict that will keep readers riveted and turning pages. For examples of specific wounds, you could try Angela Ackerman's brilliant Emotional Wound Thesaurus, or do a trial run on the One Stop for Writers website which will give you a zillion great resources.

      As far as pull up the story, I mean get to the meat and the story question a bit faster. You can trim up on any backstory that isn't strictly necessary at this juncture. For every piece of backstory and world-building that you've woven in, ask yourself what readers need to know right at this moment, and why they need to know it, but also ask yourself whether this is something that your MC would organically be noticing at this particular moment. Really put yourself into her shoes and feel and see and hear what she is experiencing. Trimming up a wee bit will give you room to get that story question and wound in faster so that we know what the book is TRULY going to be about. : )

      Hope this helps!

    3. Awesome, that answers my questions, thank you!

  7. Wow, Lisa, there's so much to love here! I was immediately hooked by your first line, and I love that the set up is making us question whether she'll fire the arrow-- but that when she does, it's not at the deer. Fantastic payoff! I also really loved that her sister is the one who rescues her, rather than a mysterious stranger or love interest. It makes me think their bond will be central to the story and I love that. I also was fascinated by the shifter soldiers, and that she has a crow. In fact, I wanted to see those things pumped up & given more action in the first pages. They are wonderful hooks and kept me reading.

    I agreed as well with almost all of what's said in the comments above, particularly with Martina's comment about getting to the story question & character wound sooner. What is this girl dealing with as her big internal conflict? Show us some piece of that early on so we can see what we hope she can conquer inside herself.

    My main thought is that even though a lot happens in these first pages, it still feels slow. She tells us a lot of worldbuilding, when it would be more compelling to see it in action or have the explanations be subtext instead of a direct comment from her. It seems odd to me that she would pause to think that the valley was ruled by the family Gens Silvanus or that all shapeshifters had the same mark, for example, when she already knows these things. It sounds like she's explaining for the reader's benefit, which pulls me out of the story. It also slows the story down. I'm most interested in watching her hunt, things going wrong, escaping the shapeshifter, seeing more of this crow and her relationship with it, and figuring out the angle with her sister. Once we are hooked with the character and those problems and unique details, we'll have more attention span for filling in worldbuilding. the first page or so felt especially slow for me, since most of the action is just her waiting and watching this deer. It's all important info, but a lot of it could wait until we need a pause-- for example, we could hear that the deer is skinny and what her last meal was after her sister rescues her if they pause to dress the deer or when they're taking it home. Basically, I would just give us more action on that first page, pare back some of the explanations, and give us more action from the really fascinating hooks you have here! It's a fascinating kick-off to the story.