Monday, September 11, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Schunemann - Rev 1

Name: Lisa Schunemann
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: CROWBORN

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 landed, only to be consumed by the unforgiving ground. A tendril of frosted air caressed my eyelashes exposed above the wrap, the brown leather blending into my skin.

The deer might smell me, but it shouldn’t see me.

My fingers itched to draw the bow string, but 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. My stomach turned inwards, grumbling like a vicious badger. I tensed, but the deer didn’t startle, still didn’t seem to notice me. My mouth watered, even in the cold.

Death or an empty stomach. What a hard choice.

I needed one more blighted step for the best shot. I couldn’t afford a long chase if I just wounded it. Crossing the valley had drained too much of my strength already, the trek exhausting even if I wasn’t half-starved.

The deer took two steps. I flexed my frigid fingers and the bow creaked just as the wind suddenly shifted. My breath caught as the deer twisted to stare into the dark behind it, 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. But my heart pounded like a swelling storm. I hadn’t spooked the deer.

In the distance, wood cracked beneath boots.

I ducked behind the tree trunk, adjusted my grip on the arrow. 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.

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

The Therian moved just enough. The arrow grazed his arm and tore through his sleeve. In the setting sunlight, greasy hair fell around eyes ringed with silver. Shapeshifter eyes. They meant the end to those like me.

He clucked his tongue, gaze 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. The claw marks on my cheek burned like they were freshly carved, mirroring the hate 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. “None of our 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.

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

Helping? I tensed to run 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 stiffened, 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 spearing through muddy ground. A howl sounded. Brush gave way as he barreled after me.

Ryland! My crow, watching from above, had given me a small chance. Frigid creek water soaked my knees. Through it. Up the rise. The crashes behind me increased. A heavy weight slammed me into the mud, on my back. The paw pinned my shoulder, fangs snapping 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. 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 bones, brought me to my senses. My hands fumbled in the mud. I gripped the first solid thing my palm touched.

A second arrow slammed into the wolf near the same spot. I knew one person who shot like that and she shouldn’t be out here! I screamed again, in terror that wasn’t for me, and swung the heavy stone. The yelps cut off and the wolf collapsed to the side. I clawed at the wrap over my lower face. Sweet air 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. Her brown eyes were probably as wide as mine.

“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 still cradled the stone. I’d gotten him good. But not good enough. He’s still breathing. Hot fury roared to life and a stuttering sob escaped my throat. 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 wolf shuddered and skin flowed to replace fur. Naked, he lay twitching, blood streaming down his face.

Gem helped me rise and we bolted, but my legs were almost too weak for me to keep up with her. 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 Therian had faded. I slowed, lungs burning, and lurched against a bent sapling.

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

Gem’s lips tightened. “You may have fooled Father, but I knew you wouldn’t stop poaching. I followed you.”

“Not possible.”

“My arrows say otherwise,” she snapped. Her face broke under my stare. “Fine. Your crow led me to you.”

Gem 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’s not natural,” Gem muttered.

My gaze darted between them. They were always tagging along. Always catching me—the Therian’s words surged back. I snatched Gem’s arm.

“Did you see any other soldiers?”

“No.”

Panic clawed its way up my throat. That soldier hadn’t been alone. I met Gem’s gaze.

There were more out here.

8 comments:

  1. This. Is. Fantastic.

    You stepped up the pacing and although you cut some lines out, the ones you kept and added did their job splendidly well. The sequence of events was clearer.

    My only suggestion would be to maybe have them take her sister's arrows back? If they're poor they might not be able to afford new arrows and would any markings on the arrows trace them back to her or her family (unless this is something that happens. Leaving the arrows is 100% believable because Ash realizes there is danger and they need to get the heck out of dodge. That's all I got.
    Great job!!

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  2. I like the revisions! We understand the stakes clearly early on and why it is so important for her to kill the deer.

    What if you had a paragraph break after "The deer would live another day. I might not." I think this would emphasize this really strong line.

    So, in the last version, I was under the impression that there was something magical draining her energy since she was in the wrong valley. In this version, it sounds like she's just low on energy because of starvation. If there is something magical, I would hint at that, but if she's just starving, this version makes that very plain.

    I love the revisions you've made in the paragraph that starts "The Therian moved just enough." This version has a lot more impact! I love it!

    I like the bit at the end with the sister, too! That has a lot of tension and we get to it more quickly. These pages are very strong.

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    Replies
    1. Abigail, love the idea about the paragraph break!

      Regarding the forest, nothing magical about it. Goes to show the value of this workshop because the great comments provided on the last revision showed me the language was vague in the original and I needed to clarify :)

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  3. Hi Lisa,

    Good job on the revision! The tension is great and the pace is really solid. I love the developing relationship between her and her sister and the crow is intriguing.

    For the next round, I'd still love to get a better sense of the story question and the overall direction. I'd also love to see you check your word choices on some of your descriptions, and on the information that you give, and make certain that they're adding to the mood and clarity instead of distracting.

    A few examples:

    In the northern territory of Orbis, snow was never far away, dancing and falling in lazy swirls.

    This is a beautiful sentence, but since we are in first person, is this really what she would be thinking in this moment? First person is necessarily a deep point of view and your voice isn't coming across as one in which you are telling the reader a story as much as it is one that is simply relating thoughts and experiences as seen through the narrator's eyes. That leaves you less room for asides and backstory as they can dissipate tension and seem intrusive. You need to ask yourself at every juncture whether we need the information. Do we need *at this exact moment* to know that we are in the northern territory of Orvis? Is this what your narrator is really thinking?

    Flakes landed, only to be consumed by the unforgiving ground. (LOVELY) A tendril of frosted air caressed my eyelashes exposed above the wrap, the brown leather blending into my skin.

    Examine your word choices for mood and also check your POV. She doesn't see the skin of her face, therefore she can't actually see the wrap blending. She could see her hands though. She could feel the leather damp across her lips and stiff with frost. Does she really feel the air caressing her eyelashes, or are her eyelashes caking with snow? That's a question of the mood you're trying to set. Also, does air have tendrils? Again, this speaks to clarity and mood. Every word you write has to have purpose to add to the whole--you're at that point in your skill level where you can go beyond pretty words and take things up a level with just a few small, mindful changes.

    Be careful also of distractions. Descriptions like "blighted footsteps" need to be questioned to see whether you are being clear and whether they add to the overall voice/mood/tone/setting/characterization enough to merit the need for the reader to pause. It's not immediately clear in this case whether "blighted" is a swear-word or whether it means something specific, and therefore as a reader I have to stop momentarily to consider meaning instead of reading on immediately. Those pauses add up. You're very successful in other spots -- dense air, sweet air -- those are both very powerful and really add to the story, letting us know exactly how Ash feels--what she feels.

    Use your opportunities for filling in background where you find them. Consider what the shapeshifter might say to her. What does he want to know? What does he want from her? Simply to kill her? Or does he want to know who sent her? Does he demand answers? Confirmation that she is one of the Canis carrion crows sent to spy? Does he boast that Canis will never best Silvanus? That maybe he'll send a message to her Canis masters? Context here can really move the story forward and bring up the larger story question.

    Be careful with the section about the crow. I lost clarity there. Make it clear that the bird is scarred, not that it is unnatural in the sense of being a shapeshifter, and make the link between her sister and the crow being there and her realization that there will be more soldiers clearer. As it is, I don't see the connection and therefore I don't get the tension that the realization should be adding.

    Overall, again, a nice revision and a very good job with this! Looking forward to reading the next installment!

    Best,

    Martina

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  4. Hi Lisa,

    I love what you did in revisions! Great pacing, tension, action. I loved that you brought in the sister and the crow more. This is shaping up really nicely!

    I definitely agree with Martina's comments, especially about the story question, distractions, POV issues, and filling in with more background and worldbuilding.

    The main thing I would add to these pages is deeper character development. We know she'd do anything for her family, that she loves her sister, that she can hunt, that she's poor and hungry and desperate. But that's very general information that could apply to a lot of people, and to a lot of characters we see in YA. How is her personality unique? What's story-worthy about this girl? What's special about her motivation to tackle the conflict? What's also deep and complex and human about her? Right now from these pages she seems like she could be one of a group of similar characters, so I'd use hints, subtext, reactions, emotions, etc to show us that THIS girl is going to take us somewhere fascinating and unique.

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  5. Great language in these pages. You have lovely analogies in here, like “the creak would echo as startling as a blade striking wood”—I really like that one. Also, I think you did a good job balancing out backstory with action in this revision.

    I liked how you changed Gem’s introduction. It was much more dramatic. I think you could play that up a little more, in terms of how she’s both relieved to be rescued by her sister and horrified to find her out here.

    Likewise, I think you could show more of her feelings when she decides not to kill the shapeshifter. She switches between murder and mercy very fast. (In fact, after she’s hit him repeatedly with a rock, it seems like she might have changed her mind too late as I could easily see such injuries killing him). It would be really interesting if she had a reason to not be able to kill him: maybe he screams in pain, maybe it’s because her sister is watching. Also, it would make sense for her to be scared of the consequences of leaving him alive, while it would show her good character that she does so anyway. The moment where she puts the rock down is potentially very powerful and I think you could linger on it more.

    Finally, at the end, how does the MC know that there are more soldiers?

    Minor points:
    The phrase “A tendril of frosted air caressed my eyelashes exposed above the wrap” has some subject confusion on if the eyelashes or the air is above the wrap, and I think the second half about brown leather needs to have a transition or be its own sentence.

    When you switched to calling the shapeshifter as “the wolf” it briefly threw me. He’s still the same person even when transformed, so I think you should keep calling him the shapeshifter/soldier.

    Hope I've been helpful!

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  6. This was so engaging! Love your revisions. The pace and tension are fantastic. I really like the world you're creating. And I still love that the shapeshifter things she's a boy.

    Just a couple of notes to help with your final revision:

    Words/WC - this is a pet peeve of mine, so take it with a grain of salt. But the word 'seem' always bugs me. Whenever I read or use it myself I'm forced to ask 'Well, is it or isn't it?' Seem is one of those indecisive words that, on rare occasions, is fine to use. For the most part - not. :)

    You mention that wood cracks beneath boots. Technically I doubt she knows they're boots, except if she cracked the wood under her own boots or caught a glimpse of someone else's boots through the brush. However, you could add a few details that would lend 'boots' more believable like how she's familiar with the way wood breaks under boots or whatever. That might even add more intrigue and tension. Yeah, as I read on, shortly after the 'boots' she references as to the reason the deer would live but she might not - so, this tells me she knows who or what is threatening her life. Maybe a little more around that initial 'boot' reference, which could also tell me more about this world and its dangers.

    I was pulled out of the text in between the crow line and the soldier line. He's actually a wolf now, right? And the first crow is far away, yet the second reference to crow is her crow. Is it the same crow? The only other observation I have is that I'd love to see what makes your MC tick. How does she feel about things (or what's happening in this scene) and why? Is it her past interaction with these things? What makes her different from her sister, from most in her world - because I'm assuming there must be something unique about her seeing how she's your MC.

    Other than those few notes, this really is great. I'm excited to read your next revision!

    Sheri~

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  7. Nice job on the revisions. I still find this story very engaging and intriguing! My only critique is that I found it a little hard to get inside Ash's head.

    I read some of the other comments that mentioned point of view, and I think that may be why. The story seems sometimes written more from a narrator than Ash's own thoughts. I struggle myself with portraying my characters' emotions correctly, so I definitely relate. I would just suggest making it more personal and direct, like we're seeing all this through Ash's eyes.

    Good luck on your next draft!

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