Sunday, September 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Schunemann - Rev 2

Name: Lisa Schunemann
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Ash lives in the Orbis Empire, ruled by shapeshifters known as Therians. Ash is Anthron, one who cannot shapeshift, and spends her days poaching food to keep her family from starving. After a Therian lord murders her father and abducts her sister, she’s given a chance at revenge: free the banished goddess Nex in hopes that she will destroy the empire, including its cruel goddesses that keep Therians in power.

Luca Grey is a cur, half-shapeshifter, and hated by all. At seventeen, he’s survived by being the companion of a noble’s son. Despite their friendship, Luca struggles with secret desires to protect curs against the cruelty of the ruling class. When he hears whispers of unrest—one that may destroy the Therians altogether—he knows he can’t ignore the Therian brutality.

At the Ascension, a competition where the shapeshifter goddesses choose the empire’s next ruler, Ash and Luca’s worlds collide. Ash must avoid detection while unlocking Nex’s prison, or her and her sister’s life is at stake. Luca must choose his true alliances— the Therians who view him as a hated beast or the growing resistance, which may end up killing more innocents than it saves.


Poaching in these forests would get me killed.

Snow fell silently and danced in lazy swirls. The flakes landed, only to be consumed by unforgiving ground. I flexed my numb fingers, the leather on my hands crackling. Any longer and I’d be an icicle before the deer wandered closer.

A few more steps. My eyes watered as bitter air played with my lashes. I itched to draw the bow, but the creak would echo as startling as a blade striking wood. Silence was my best ally and worst enemy. Breathe, Ash. You can’t miss any more shots.

Going home empty-handed, again… I had to keep trying.

The skinny deer stopped to nibble on tree bark and its chest came into view. My stomach turned inwards, the growl shocking even me. The wind blew in my direction. I hated trekking into these woods from our valley, but if I didn’t feed us, no one would. Resentment, ugly and fierce, fought the hunger swirling in my stomach.

Death or watch Father collapse again. What a hard choice.

Half-starved, surviving on mushrooms for a night and day, my arm shook as I drew back the string. The snap of thick wood sent the deer fleeing. I blinked. No. No!

Another crack and my blood stilled. Cautious steps never wavered and grew louder. In the darkening twilight, brush rustled in the distance. A silver gaze locked with mine, the briefest of seconds, before I ducked lower.

The deer would live another day. I might not.

“Oh, little carrion. I see you.” The shapeshifter’s chuckle shocked my ears.

My chest trembled and my fingers tightened on the last arrow. I had one chance. Through the twigs, his stained boots came into view. I broke cover and fired.

The Therian moved just enough, arrow grazing his arm, tearing through the leaf and sword crest on his tunic. Soldier. Gens Silvanus. The family controlled the woods bordering the valley and I courted death just by standing there.

Touching his arm, he growled, gaze like bristling fire. “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… my scars burned fresh, like claws carved my cheek where I stood. So, so long ago but the memories never left.

I jumped as he stalked closer. The silver rings around his eyes contracted.

“You don’t belong in these woods, carrion.” The taunt made me shiver. That’s all we were to them. “No Silvanus slave would dare be out here. I’d bet you belong to Gens Canis.”

He had that right. Getting closer. I took a step, hands shaking around the bow.

“I’ll make you a deal. You tell me where this pack of curs are, how you’re helping them, and I’ll kill you quickly.”

My gasp had him chuckling again. That’s why soldiers are here. They hunted curs, offspring of Therians and Anthron, like me. Just like the curs, Anthron couldn’t fight Therians. We never could.

I tensed to run and 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.

A blurred shape dropped from the sky, wings fluttering, caws ripping through the air. Ryland! The soldier growled as my pet crow hovered around his head. I did the only thing that would keep me alive.

I ran.

Dense air choked my lungs as I dodged stumps spearing through muddy ground. A howl sounded. Brush gave way as the soldier barreled after me. Frigid creek water soaked my knees. Through it. Up the rise. The crashes behind me increased and then the world shifted. A heavy weight slammed me into the mud, on my back. Fangs snapped in my face. I screamed, brought my bow up at the last second. Jaws clamped around it.

The ring of silver death gleamed at me. I wanted to close my own eyes. See nothing but oblivion before I met it. The last little bit of my courage refused. Somewhere, Ryland cawed again.

An arrow punched into the soldier’s furred shoulder.

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

A second arrow pierced him. Time slowed as I saw the feathers, dyed dark red. I knew those arrows! I screamed again, bone-gripping fear feeding me strength, and swung the heavy stone. The yelps cut off and the soldier collapsed. I clawed at the wrap over my lower face. Sweet air flooded my lungs.

“Ash. Get up! Ashina!”

Small, strong hands dug into my clothes. Gemina shook me until her pinched face swam. Her brown eyes were probably as wide as mine.

“G-Gem,” I sputtered at my sister. “Gem, stop.”

“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 cradled the stone. I’d gotten him good. But not good enough. He’s still breathing.

Sounds disappeared except for a whine in my ears. Hot fury roared to life and a stuttering sob escaped my throat. I scrambled forward and raised the stone. He could track you back to the valley. To Father. Bring it down! Again and again. Until blood soaked the thin layer of snow.

Therians stained most of the world with Anthron blood. Why not do the same?

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

Sister. She wrapped her hands around my shoulders.

The stone thudded to the ground, my courage gone. Nothing except pain and death came from killing a Therian. The body shuddered and skin flowed to replace fur. Naked, the soldier lay twitching, blood streaming down his face.

We ran, together.

My legs were almost too weak for me to keep up with Gem. She was three turnfalls younger, tinier and quicker. Or maybe it’s because you always give her your share of food. The trees thickened as we ran. Night chased our backs but we didn’t stop until the presence of the shapeshifter had faded. I slowed, lungs burning, and lurched against a bent sapling.

Gem’s brown curls bobbed around her face as she crowded close. “I’m waiting for an apology.”

“What are you doing out here?” I demanded instead, pushing my hood back and gulping air.

Her lips tightened. “I knew you wouldn’t stop poaching. I followed you.”

“Not possible.”

“My arrows in that Therian say different!”

“You’re horrible at tracking,” I countered.

A fidget, then Gem’s face broke under my stare. “Fine. Your crow led me to you.” She jerked her head to a tree. Ryland sat on a branch and cocked his head. His left eye was a cloudy orb, a thin gash marring the glossy feathers. He cawed again.

“That bird—” Gem trailed off as I wrapped her in my arms. Her sharp shoulders slowly relaxed. I never said sorry, but this was my apology. Gem’s fingers finally poked my ribs beneath the layers of cloth and leather.

We stood in the silence. Even as Gem finally poked my ribs beneath the layers of fur and leather, I never took my gaze from the darkening forest. We weren’t safe. The soldier hadn’t been by himself. Where there was one, there were always more.

Home. We had to get home.


  1. Pitch:

    Your story sounds thrilling, but the pitch isn't living up to its full potential in my opinion. The opening sentence doesn't have any "oomph". I totally get the struggle with trying to figure out how to represent characters, plot, and world in 200 words, but remember: the pitch isn't a summary of your book, it's an advertisement. It's okay to leave out some details. In fact, you want as few proper nouns as possible, so "Orbis Empire" can definitely go, as it's an irrelevant detail, and the pitch can be understood perfectly fine without it. Same with Ascension. I think you could do without "Anthron" and "Therian" too. Just say shifters and non-shifters. You want to tone back on the world-building in your pitch and focus on hook and voice. Too many names makes it hard to keep track of the important stuff.

    Also, the ending could be better. If you can find a way to combine Ash and Luca's stakes, so that instead of ending on Luca's, you end in a general, "this is what happens if they fail" sentence. More summarizing, you know?

    As for your revision:

    I apologize if I'm giving you advice that conflicts with everyone else's, since I'm guessing someone told you to add in more details, but in my opinion, the new information you've added to this draft isn't necessary. I don't need to know why the soldiers are in the woods as long as I know Ash is wondering that too. I don't need to know about curs yet, unless they're relevant to this specific scene.

    Also, I feel like Ash's frustration at missing the deer is a bit muted. I'd expected a stronger reaction than "I blinked".

    Sorry for the negative feedback, because I really do love this story. Best of luck!

  2. I agree with Nora, I think you could tighten up your pitch and get more into the consequences of what Ash has to gain and what will befall her if you fail.
    A line that threw me a bit in your pitch was:
    she’s given a chance at revenge: free the banished goddess Nex in hopes that she will destroy the empire
    I wasn't making the connection of how the chance for revenge led to the freeing the goddess.
    Who is offering her a chance for revenge? is she recruited by a resistance force?

    I think I may already love Luca Grey because he sounds like the type of characters that I adore, outsiders who find a way to fit in even though they dislike the people they pretend to like and I'm really hoping that his story entails betraying his friend somehow and kissing Ash....I'm hopeless, I know.

    I liked the added internalizations about why hunting and killing the deer was so vital and I liked that she saw the red fletching on the arrows and knew it was her sister.

    I agree with Nora on the added bits about the curs and the reason for the soldier being in the woods. They just aren't resonating for me and snagged the pacing a bit.

    And did you get my email? My answer is yes if you're still interested!!! (fingers crossed on my end)

    1. On the note about Luca: Same xD I haven't even met him yet and I'm already shipping Luca + Ash (Lucash?)

  3. I agree with the comments above. I was wondering who offered her a chance at revenge. I would focus more on that: how does she get to the plan to free the goddess and bring the destruction of the world as she knows it? I think you can simplify why she is seeking revenge - because her family was destroyed - and say more about

    I liked Luca as well. I love your last paragraph, but I wondered if you could make it more clear what Luca has to lose by giving up old friends/alliances for new. I'm still a little unsure of his place in this world, while Ash's place is clear.

    All in all, though, great query! This provides great background for these pages, and made me enjoy them even more. You are such a good action writer. Best wishes for this book's future!

    Your query left me wanting more! Good work!

  4. Hi Lisa!

    I, too, agree with the above comments about your pitch - especially Nora's points about your pitch being an advertisement to entice people to want more. What you have now feels too uniform, like you're reciting facts verbatim. Relax and try to write it again, but this time think about the tension, conflict, and inner struggle of your characters and their story. Tell us the guts that wrench the story's need to be read. Show conflict, stakes, and goals more simply using one or two strands of thought from the story. I also agree with using minimal proper nouns. I know you want to tell every cool, interesting, and vital piece of this wonderful story, but that just clogs up a query and confuses the reader. Think simple. You definitely have something here.

    As far as the story, I love it even more than I have over the past two weeks. Way to go! You create amazing tension and sprinkle crumbs in all the right places. I'm excited to see this on the shelf someday. Best of luck to you!


  5. Hi Lisa,

    What a fun read! I've divided my feedback into notes on your query and notes on your pages. Let'd get started!

    1) I was surprised that Ash wants to kill the goddess who keeps the Therians in power instead of the Therian who actually killed her father and took her sister. I was also surprised that there was no mentioning of rescuing her sister. 2) Is there a reason 'cur' isn't capitalized, unlike the other names? (Therian, etc.). 3) I suggest finding a way to bring the Ascension in during Paragraph 1, b/c it would have helped me understand why the goddess was so important to Ash. 4) It's unclear what Nex's prison has to do with the Ascension happening. Is she imprisoned in the same place where the competition is taking place? 5) Finally, it's unclear how the two character's lives are actually colliding, since it doesn't sound like they actually ever meet. I'd love to better see how their stories entertwine, and get an idea of what is finally at stake if they each fail to achieve their goals (this means what will happen to their world, but also on a personal level).

    Pages: You do a great job setting the scene at the beginning of these pages, and at establishing the stakes (though I found the tone slightly strange in this line--is she being sarcastic? "Death or watch Father collapse again. What a hard choice."). I think the appearance of the Therian could be slowed down/clarified a bit--I read right by the cautious steps and rustling brush, and didn't realize someone was there until they spoke. Along the same lines, I think you're trying to do too much at once in that part of the scene ("They hunted curs, offspring of Therians and Anthron, like me. Just like the curs, Anthron couldn’t fight Therians. We never could."). Instead of bringing in all this worldbuilding, give us only the necessary information (who he is and why he's there) and then introduce the rest when she has a chance to breath and we have a chance to process.

    On a line level, I think you can show her feelings a bit more. For instance, she doesn't feel terrified here: "Good. My first horrified thought." I'd also like to feel a bit closer to her POV when she realizes why the soldiers are in the woods (instead of telling us she gasps and that it makes him laugh, keep things closer to her POV--"I gasped. That’s why soldiers are here." See the difference?). I also think you can afford to let the dialogue speak for itself ("That’s all we were to them") a bit more. The story picks up again when she starts to run, however, and I really enjoyed her interaction with Gemina.

    I hope these notes are helpful!

    Lauren Spieller
    TriadaUS Literary Agency

  6. First paragraph of your pitch does a great job of identifying the stakes. If you can slip it in, I’m really curious how Ash gets a “chance” to free a goddess. That sounds like something that doesn’t fall into the hands of an impoverished poacher every day.

    I don’t know what a half-shapeshifter is, although that’s a minor detail which didn’t bog me down too much. The ending line was great. You really set the stakes high.

    Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop. I got a lot of good advice out of doing this.

  7. Hi Lisa,

    Seeing the pitch, I see where you're going much more, and that makes sense to bring in the Cur angle into the first pages. Also, great job on many aspects of the revision! You're really getting there.

    Going forward:

    The Query:

    It's critical to lead with what's different and what's at stake, so focus on getting your MC's character front and center. What's her wound? What about her own character and or conflicting goals is going to hold her back from achieving her goal of defeating the Therians? I see lots of EXTERNAL opposition in this pitch, but not much in the way of internal opposition that will lead to character growth, and I think that's what's really missing. I still don't have a sense of who she is and what--apart from feeding her family--she cares about or wants. As it's set up right now, even the relationship with Luca falls a little bit flat because the choice for Luca seems pretty obvious. I'd like to see a really powerful reason why he should side with the Therians--not necessarily willingly but because they have something on him--which would also make the tension between him and your MC more profound.

    Also, think through your motivation. Is she set on revenge? Or is she hoping to save her sister? How can you combine the two? Is the shapeshifter who destroyed her family possibly the same shapeshifter who is under consideration to be chosen as the next ruler by the goddess? Something like that would allow you to have a direct line of reasoning for stopping the Ascension and connect everything together.


    The parts that you edited and trimmed out backstory read much better, but I'd like to see the POV go even deeper. And the need for the deeper POV becomes clear in the new parts what you added. Those parts are critical--don't get me wrong. I love the addition of the Cur information, but I think you need to really do that much more in dialogue or in emotion and natural introspection. Much of the new information feels intrusive because your MC wouldn't be thinking those thoughts and therefore the information is clearly just there for the reader.

    Every time you provide information for the reader in a first person narrative like this, especially in a tense situation, you pull the reader out of the moment. For every word you write--especially in these critical first few pages--you really need to ask yourself what the MC is thinking and feeling at that very moment. If she isn't thinking or feeling what you are writing, then don't write it.

    Use your dialogue with the shifter. (And give us a better lead up to that introduction. We need more reaction and emotion when she encounters him!)

    Right now, you've got two lines that are nearly repetitive in that exchange, and much of it doesn't really further the story. Really use the dialogue and action to communicate the information and give us the insight we need instead of relying on narrative communication.

    For example:

    "Oh, little carrion. I see you.” The shapeshifter’s chuckle shocked my ears.

    Why is the shapeshifter amused? We need him to say more. And could you add in something like: "Where's your master? Gens Canis cur, is it?" Maybe have him spit as he says the family name. Consider what assumptions the shapeshifter makes about who or what she is, and communicate those to us through speech and body language.

    My chest trembled and my fingers tightened on the last arrow. I had one chance. Through the twigs, his stained boots came into view. I broke cover and fired.

    This is great -- but chest trembling is a tough image. Think through what is really happening to her physically.


  8. The Therian moved just enough, arrow grazing his arm, tearing through the leaf and sword crest on his tunic. Soldier. Gens Silvanus.

    >>The family controlled the woods bordering the valley and I courted death just by standing there.<<

    This is pretty obvious and you can make the rest clear by tweaking the previous line to: A Gens Silvanus soldier. (This then needs to be followed by a visceral reaction that SHOWS her fear and lets us feel it with her.) And consider where we want this information. Is she more scared when she first sees him because he is a shapeshifter or because he is a Gens Silvanus soldier? What does she notice about him and when, being who she is and what the situation is in that moment.

    Touching his arm, he growled, gaze like bristling fire. “Boys in these woods are up to no good.”

    Really? She shoots him and this is what he says? I don't believe that, and therefore as a reader you have lost me. This exchange feels like it is purely to get her gender across, which you can do with a reference to her hair or appearance when you describe her wrappings earlier. I would reference the scars earlier too. It would be natural to say that the leather covered the scars on her cheeks, but maybe there is something about them that she can notice--the stiffness, a height difference that lets in cold air, something-- i.e. covered the scars on my cheeks from XXX blah, blah.

    I jumped as he stalked closer. The silver rings around his eyes contracted.

    “You don’t belong in these woods, carrion.” The taunt made me shiver. That’s all we were to them. “No Silvanus slave would dare be out here. I’d bet you belong to Gens Canis.”

    We don't need much of this--again, it's obvious and therefore feels unnatural.

    Make this exchange snappy and tense.

    He sees her, he identifies her, but he wants information from her which is why he hasn't killed her yet.

    Is she shocked because he thinks she would associate with a Cur or would be shocked that he thinks she would betray someone she was working with? How are the curs thought of by the slaves? Are they better or worse than the shapeshifters? Can curs shift? Hide themselves? Are they known to work against shapeshifters? Are there already curs from her family working against the Silvanus? All of this should be reflected in her dialogue and reactions, because there isn't time for thought right now.

    Anyway, those are some specific examples. I think you really are very close. Just tweaking it a little bit and getting deeper into character will tip you over the edge! : ) Best of luck!!!

  9. Hi Lisa,

    Wow, your revisions here really show. I love how much you've pumped up her goal and brought in great conflict. I particularly agreed with Lauren and Martina's comments about your pitch and pages, and the one thing I would add is that while you've got a really intriguing plot and stakes for the pitch, what it's missing for me is internal conflict for her. What within herself is she struggling to overcome, that's tested by this mission? What deep fear, persistent insecurity, or guilt is holding her back? What is she torn between internally? Weave this into the stakes and language of the pitch and our emotional investment in her and the story will be taken up to the next level!