Sunday, October 15, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Willis Rev 1

Name: Latrice Willis
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

The plucking of the linti's ten strings were complemented by the slow rhythm of the drum and a melodious voice. Mika’s arms moved in tune with the words, swirling and waving with each lyrical inflection. She spun around, thrusting her arms upward, and accentuated her turns with the stomp of her right heel. Mika leaped into a split, her arms up again as she landed. The only sound from the crowd was the shifting of bodies on the crudely built benches.

Mika stepped back, now in line with her two close friends, Lewa, and Malani. She scanned the crowd in front of them. It was an intimate group of just over thirty people, all family and friends. And sitting on a bench to her far right was one of the most important people in her life, looking right at her, giving her that smile.

That smile.

The same smile that distracted her in training. The same smile that was the reason for her jitters that night. She couldn’t let her eyes linger on him too long. How could she impress him if she just stood there? Mika’s face warmed up as she forced herself to look at her friends to get back on track.

It was time.

The voices of the crowd rose and hands came together as the drum thundered. There was a cheer with each leap, foot stomp, arm movement, and body roll from the three dancers. They made use of the small area between the crowd and the musicians, rotating positions so each one had a chance to be featured. Mika blinked at the sweat in her eyes. Lewa made a series of short leaps. Dust rose from the ground around Malani's frantic feet. The drums were getting louder and louder. Mika launched herself into the air one last time.

There was a final pluck of the linti strings and a softening drum roll as Mika’s feet hit the ground. She smiled through her heavy breathing as they received a standing ovation and whistles from the group. It was their first performance in front of the crowd. It took four weeks of practice, sore bodies, and a few missed meals, but their hard work had paid off.

Mika glanced at her friends again, giving them each a slight nod. Malani backed away, leaving the two girls alone. The drum started again as the crowd died down. It was time for the most anticipated part of the routine: the rutha battle.

Mika had been ecstatic when she and Lewa were asked to perform rutha in front of their tribe. The traditional martial art was usually taught to young boys. Mika’s mother, who learned through her husband, advocated for the girls to learn along side Malani. Their tribe leader was soft-hearted, and gave in to their pleas. In a matter of four years, both girls had mastered the complex moves which incorporated dance with swift arms, elbows, kicks, flips, and cartwheels.

Mika and Lewa faced each other. The sixteen-year-olds stood about five feet three inches. They were members of a Sanga tribe, one of the nomadic groups from the south. Like most southerners, each girl had plump lips, thick, tightly coiled hair, and dark amber colored skin. But what made Sanga tribe members stand out was their bright green eyes and hair, the color of malachite.

For that night’s performance, Mika pulled her hair into a ponytail of tiny braids, adorned with beads. She spent all morning painting tribal designs on her headband. Lewa parted her hair into twelve thick braids with large white beads attached to the ends. They wore matching sleeveless cropped shirts and matching shorts. Three rows of blue and brown beads were attached to each side of the shorts.

Mika and Lewa rocked back and forth, putting one foot behind the other. Mika exhaled, and balled up her fists. Lewa gave her a knowing look and mouthed the words so quickly, she almost missed them.

“You will win tonight.”

Mika shook her head at her friend’s silly words. Though they started training at the same time, Lewa was slightly better at reading her moves. Mika was going to put her all into that night’s match, but she was a realist.

"Amijo!" Malani shouted. Lewa made the first move with a spinning kick aimed for Mika’s right shoulder and chest. She felt Lewa’s leg brush her hair as she ducked, and retaliated with her own spinning kick at Lewa’s shoulder. The series of kicks between the girls continued; a move that would make the average person dizzy. That was the choreographed part of their routine, simply for the crowd’s own pleasure. Once Lewa backflipped away from Mika, they would have to rely on their own abilities to win the battle.

The girls fought furiously, grunting, and yelping with each hit. One-handed cartwheels and flips targeted the upper body, and sweeping legs were directed towards ankles and shins. Mika's elbow clipped Lewa's chin, but Lewa got her right side with a knee. They had only been fighting for three minutes, but the girls began to slow down as their bodies grew fatigued. Mika noticed Lewa actually moving slower than usual that night. Her kicks and elbows didn’t have exactly the same fierceness as they did in training. Mika decided to take advantage of her friend’s sloppiness.

It was time for the take down.

She dove feet first, opening her legs just enough to envelope Lewa’s left leg. With the slight twist of her body, she used her weight to pull Lewa down to the ground. Lewa groaned as her back hit the dirt.

"Mika bota!" Malani declared Mika the winner. As Mika bent down to help Lewa up, Lewa gave her a mischievous smile. She narrowed her eyes as she realized why her friend’s movement had been so off.

It was because of the promise she had made to Lewa earlier that day.

“You’re gonna win tonight,” Lewa had told her a mere two hours before they were to perform. “He’ll see how far you’ve come in training. He’ll be impressed, and will have to listen. Tell him how you feel. This is your only chance. You win, you do it tonight. Promise me.”

“Sure,” was Mika’s dismissive response. It didn’t actually occur to her that Lewa would lose on purpose that night.

Now, as the girls limped away from the crowd with their arms around each other,  a mix of anger, happiness, and nervousness came over Mika. Anger for Lewa’s lack of effort in their match in order to give her the win. Happiness for Lewa’s sacrifice so she could look good in front of everyone. And nervousness as she realized what her winning meant.

That night, Mika would have to tell him she loved him.

"Mika! Lewa!" Mika’s mother, Alaya, pushed her way to through the group. "Come on girls. Let’s get you taken care of." Many people outside their tribe assumed Alaya was actually Mika’s sister. They were the same height, but Alaya’s green eyes turned slightly upward on youthful face.

Alaya led the girls to a pair of cushions near the food table. A small, overturned box with a large ceramic pot of ootuga paste, gauze, and flat string were set up next to the cushions. She anticipated slight injuries, and had the foresight to prepare the area for them.


  1. Hi Latrice,

    You made some really effective changes. We now know there was someone special in the crowd watching Mika perform, and that he doesn't know the extent of Mika's feelings.

    I also really like the addition of tension between Mika and Lewa after the battle. It's great that Mika didn't want to win because someone else LET her win.

    I'd love to know who Mika is in love with, and why her victory means she has to tell him she loves him.

    Good job!


  2. GREAT JOB, Latrice! This new version is really working for me.

    To further strengthen this opening, I think you need to make clear who the love interest is in the beginning- as in, give a name, what he does, who he is to her right now- just some more details for us to grab onto, because it's very vague right now and I found that distracting. Also, there will be more tension if we know more about this love interest and why the thought of telling him how she feels is such a big risk/frightening/important/etc.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Latrice,

    You've done a great job with this revision! I love the element of the love interest and I think it can lead to a lot of tension for Mika if she must win in order to impress him and have her chance. With that in mind, I wonder if it wouldn't be stronger if Lewa doesn't let Mika win? What if Mika NEEDS to win for herself--for this chance at love. You would have to build that up for us--give us believable reason why this night is so important. Is he leaving the next day? Is she indirectly auditioning for a place on his team? In other words, how does her winning the fight play into her winning the guy? Then, the fight with Lewa would be full of tension--we'd have a reason to root for Mika to win. Right now, Mika wants to impress him, and that's definitely understandable and a motivation, but can you make the stakes higher? Can you make this mean even more?

    I thought you did a nice job streamlining and deleting some details and names. I wasn't confused reading so really good job with that!!! I still think you can do more to trim the telling (for instance the paragraph describing the tribe and their physical dress and hair.) I think the reader needs a picture of the girls, but can you do it more organically...or maybe the right word is sneakily. :) Where can you slip in details and make them part of the action? Here's an example of what I mean (not meant as a suggestion of what you should do, just as an illustration): As Mika spins the string of blue and brown beads on her shorts jangle in time with the drums.

    One other thing I'd love to see you consider in revision: I still feel distant from Mika. I want to feel what she's feeling. You tell us that she's breathing hard and that there's sweat, but that's not until a few pages in. Is her heart pounding with fear...with exhilaration? Does she feel the dirt cool on her feet.... Does she lose herself in the dance or is she too nervous? What sensory details can you give us along with how she's feeling? It doesn't have to be a lot, but enough for us to connect with Mika, to understand, even in these few pages, what she wants and why. At the end of this scene, victorious, she could have a moment of joy and then fear. Uh oh. Because now she has to face him. That feels like a very strong opening that will grab your readers (including me.)

    Hope that helps--look forward to seeing where you take it from here.


  4. Hi Latrice,

    There is much more tension since something has to happen now that the MC won the match—she has to face a fear. And only having a few character names to remember made it much easier to keep up with what was happening.

    I’ve read that, unless told otherwise, a reader will assume a character is white. When you tell the reader a couple of pages in what the MC looks like and they’ve already formed an assumption, it is jarring. This could be avoided if Mika feels the thick braids as she dances, the headband, all the things you describe when Mika and Lewa face each other. Or, if you gave the love interest a name, you could describe him a little, giving the reader a round-about view of what the girls might look like since they’re all from the same tribe. In addition, knowing what it is about THIS guy would be interesting to me (lovesick fool that I am :))

    “It was time” left me wondering—time for what? They just continue dancing. The crowd reacts differently (their voices rose instead of sitting quietly), but I don’t know why. It didn’t feel different to me from what they were doing before. It seems like this line might come before the Rutha match.

    Good work!


  5. Latrice,

    The inclusion of this new wrinkle--the fact that Mika hopes to impress a boy--is so great not only because it introduces some conflict that wasn't present in your first version, but because it's such a relatable form of conflict. To jump into that right away as you're doing is a great idea.

    Now I would want to see more of it in these early stages, specifically more about who the boy is.

    Also, the part when Lewa mouths "You will win tonight" definitely got my ears perked up figuring out what she means. But I think it also robs the fight of its tension, because Mika does end up winning. There are a number of ways this could go depending on how the rest of your MS plays out, but I think anything that gets the reader rooting for Mika to win and impress her crush is a good idea. Amy has a great suggestion above. I could see this section playing out like: 1. Mika hopes to impress her crush; 2. Mika gives her all and wins the fight; 3. Mika learns after the fact that Lewa let her win. In this scenario, we've now opened up two dramatic avenues...the follow-up to the crush, and how Mika deals with Lewa's "trick"--even if the latter is a quick resolution like "Lewa! You shouldn't have!" it still makes me want to find out what happens next.

    All the other elements that made your first version so strong are still there. The world still feels very vivid, and the action is easy to follow. Now I think you can move on to stretching out the conflict you've introduced across the entire section so that perhaps we don't meet Mika's mother in these first 1250 words.

    Great work!

  6. Latrice,

    I think this revision is very good. I did like the inclusion of a love interest - it gave it some conflict.

    Like the others, I want to know more about the love interest. I want to know if his smile is *meant* for Mika, or if he just smiles like that all the time (does he possibly have similar feelings?). Do they have more history than just training?

    I agree with Sam. I feel like it's "too easy" for Mika to win. If I knew my friend was going to let me win, would I really give it my all and, in turn, impress my crush? While introducing the love interest creates some great conflict most people can identify with, I feel like it starts to dissipate when Lewa tells Mika she will win. The conflict pops back up after she wins with mentioning that she'll have to tell Mr. Love Interest about her feelings - doing something like that is HARD!

    I think you're really close to nailing it. The suggestions above (showing Mika's emotion, etc.) I think will allow you to bring it home.

    Keep up the good work!