Saturday, October 7, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Willis

Name: Latrice Willis
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

The plucking of the linti's ten strings complemented the slow rhythm of the drum. Naja's voice wafted among the instruments. 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. As Naja's voice faded, Mika leaped into a split. 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. Her eyes quickly ran over the crowd in front of them. It was an intimate group of just over thirty people, all family and friends. She looked at Lewa. The excitement in Lewa’s own green eyes matched Mika’s. Mika then signaled to Malani.

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, switching their positions so each one had a chance to be featured. Mika blinked at the sweat in her eyes. She could hear Malani panting. He was struggling to keep up with the routine. They were so close, they couldn’t stop now. Mika needed to block it out. Lewa made a series of short leaps. Dust rose from the ground from Malani's frantic feet. The drums were getting louder and louder. Mika launched herself from the ground one last time.

There was one last pluck of the linti string and a softening drum roll as Mika landed on her feet. The crowd jumped from the benches, clapping and cheering for them. Mika smiled through her heavy breathing. It was the first time she and her friends had performed in front of everyone. It took four weeks of practice, sore bodies, and a few missed meals, but their hard work had paid off.

Mika glanced at Malani and Lewa, 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 ruthabattle.

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

There were excited murmurs as Mika and Lewa faced each other. The sixteen-year-olds stood about five feet three inches. Like most people from south Khalavan, the girls had plump lips, thick, tightly coiled hair, and dark amber colored skin. But Sanga tribe members stood out due to their bright green eyes and hair, the color of malachite found in the mines in the north.

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. Small white and gold tassels were attached to the sides of the shorts.

Mika and Lewa began rocking back and forth, one foot behind the other.

"Amijo!" Malani shouted. Lewa made the first move with a spinning kick aimed for Mika’s right shoulder and chest. Mika 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 Khalan dizzy. That was the choreographed part of their routine. Once Lewa flipped back to get away from Mika, the girls would have to rely on their own skills and ability to read each other 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 damaged Mika's 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. They kept going under the strong encouragement of the crowd. Even during training for that night, Mika suspected they wouldn’t be able to rein themselves in. She was right.

It was time for the take down.

Mika 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. Mika bent down to help Lewa. During most of their training sessions, Mika was often the one who prevailed. That night, Lewa’s determination was much stronger than usual. Mika had to admit her friend put up a good fight. With their arms around each other, the two girls walked into the parting crowd.

"Mika! Lewa!" Mika’s mother, Alaya, pushed her way to through the group. "Come on girls. Let’s get you taken care of." Alaya had recently turned forty years old, but many people outside their tribe assumed she was Mika’s sister. She was the same height as Mika, with green eyes that turned slightly upward on wrinkle-free face.

Alaya led Mika and Lewa 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 the girls’ injuries, and had the foresight to prepare the area for them.

"You girls looked great out there," Alaya said in a hushed voice as Mika and Lewa sank into the goose feather-filled cushions. "Mika, you're better than I ever was. I was so happy to see you two out there, I wanted to join you!" She laughed as she removed the lid from the jar.

The crowd quieted down as it was now time for Mashi to speak. Mashi was not only the leader of their tribe, he was also Malani's father. Mika couldn’t see Mashi through the people, but she could hear his voice commanding their attention. She flinched when the cold, dark green ootuga paste hit her wrist, slowly disappearing as her mother rubbed it onto her skin. The pains from her fight quickly dulled as the thin layer took effect.

"Stop squirming," Alaya ordered. Mika turned towards the crowd, not heeding her mother’s words.

"...for our younger generations," Mashi was saying, "Malani, Lewa, Mika, thank you all for that beautiful display of rutha. We are looking at you young ones to keep the traditions of the Sanga alive. Thank you for showing us such passion and dedication tonight." There was applause and a few people turned in their direction.

"And now," Mashi’s voice silenced the applause, "Datani, will you come here please?" Mika perked up.


  1. Hi Latrice,

    You've envisioned an interesting world with it's own customs and rituals. The writing is really nice and the descriptions definitely paint a picture. Through the dance and the fight, I'm learning about the people and a little of the culture. However, what I'm not getting is much about the main character and the conflict she faces.

    How can you bring conflict to this scene? What can I learn about Mika that will hook me in her story? Why should I keep turning pages?

    You've given me two interesting tidbits: this is their first night dancing in public, and they are doing the rutha battle that girls generally don't perform. But even so, it doesn't seem like there is anything at stake for Mika. (I'm assuming she's your main character.) Even in the first few pages, the reader needs to see conflict. This might be the calm before the storm, but there still needs to be tension...a sense that not all is right.

    Does something happen in this scene that changes everything for Mika? If so, can we see that? If not, perhaps this isn't the right scene to start with. In revision, see if you can bring in that conflict and more about what matters to Mika--what she needs or wants, or what threatens her.

    One other suggestion: Can you start with less characters? You're introducing us to a new world and a new protagonist and new situations and problems. It's already a lot for the reader. If you can, I'd hold off on bringing in so many names and people. For me, it was confusing.

    Hope that helps--looking forward to seeing how the story develops.

  2. Hi Latrice,

    Thanks for sharing your work. You've created a vivid world that would be so easy for me to get wrapped up in.

    I love your description of the girls dancing and the sense of ceremony of that night. I also really love that two girls will be allowed to participate in a tradition that's normally reserved for boys.

    Was there something at stake for Maki to win the battle? I realize there isn't a prize, but was she hoping to win for herself, or to impress someone, or to honor her family? Knowing that might pull the reader in even more.

    Why was Maki so keen to hear Mashi speak? Does she respect him? Dislike him?

    Your writing is great, and the pacing kept me interested. Nicely done.


  3. Hi Latrice,

    First of all, your writing is beautiful. I love your word choices and you're using just the right amount of description for me as a reader- well done! I also think your pacing is great.

    What I feel like I'm missing here to make these pages really hook me into the story is a deeper emotional connection to Mika. And because I don't have that emotional connection, I also don't feel like there's any tension here, which is another barrier to hooking readers.

    Here are my suggestions:

    1) Figure out what's at stake for Mika in this scene. Write it down and focus on it as you revise these pages to bring out some conflict- we should feel the tension building from page 1!

    2) To bring us closer to Mika's perspective and help us feel more of her emotions, I'd suggest an exercise: rewrite your opening pages in first person present. In this tense, we'll be experiencing everything more closely with Mika, and then you can try to apply some of what you've done to your 3rd person perspective. You can keep us in close 3rd and still help us feel what Mika is feeling- play around with more sensory descriptions, too (scent and taste are especially fun to use!).

    Happy revising! Can't wait to see what you come up with!


  4. Thanks for sharing your writing! What a cool premise. I'm eager to read more. The first two paragraphs introduce quite a few names and it’s a little hard to tell who we should focus on. Since we don’t know who Naja is yet, and Mika seems to be the point-of-view character, maybe start with Mika observing and save the additional friends for the second paragraph—you do well introducing them as her two close friends already. You could cut the second line about Naja’s voice, going right to Mika’s arms moved… Then, “As the singer’s voice faded, Mila leaped into a split.”

    The paragraphs beginning with “The voices” and “There was one last pluck” could probably be combined. Focus on Mika to start rather than other characters we don’t know yet; the reader is still getting oriented to what this dance is and does not yet know why they are dancing or what it means. The line “it was the first time she and her friends had performed..” is great info to get to a little sooner if you cut back some of the other details about Malani struggling. The other line that would be great to see join this is “It was an honor for Mika and Lewa to perform a rutha battle in front of their Sanga tribe.” Give us a little more context sooner and then you can fill in what is happening with other secondary characters.

    It sounds like you’re going for a distant third person narration. While you can certainly do this, the appeal of many young adult books is a closer point-of-view so you feel what the character feels. You can still do this using closer third person narrative. Statements like “the sixteen-year-olds….”where your main character is being described by a narrator, creates distance for the reader, rather than reading the story as if Mika herself is describing what happened. A closer POV might read: Mika stood five feet three inches, the same height as Lewa—neither had hit their growth spurt, even at sixteen-years old. Even that could go closer by adding how Mika feels about it. Mika faced Lewa. They each barely reached five-feet-three inches, despite both being sixteen, and Mika’s nightly prayers/pleas to grow a few inches overnight (or however she feels about her height—maybe she likes it. Give us some of her personal insight along with the descriptors).

    At one point the narrative goes back in time describing earlier in the day getting ready. Your verb tenses should indicate this; Perhaps: Earlier that day, Mika had spent all morning painting tribal designs…
    Then when you come back to the present again, re-orient the reader: Now, on the dance floor (or whatever fits), Mika and Lewa began rocking back and forth…

    What we could also use a glimpse of is a hint of where the story is going, what Mika wants, what the conflict is going to be. A simple line about this dance being the next step for her to do [what?] or as soon as she got through this dance, then she could focus on [what?]. A little more context for what is happening, why, and how Mika feels about it will help give readers a reason to keep turning the page. :)

  5. Hi Latrice,

    I like this world you've created! The bit about their bright green features was intriguing to me, and I did wonder if there is a reason why they have them. Is it *because* of the malachite, or just because?

    While I did like it, I felt like it was lacking some conflict. Of course the ruthabattle was interesting, and exciting even, to read. But I suppose it's because I don't understand it. What happens to the winner? The loser? Do people get seriously hurt performing a rutha? I didn't feel like I had enough to remain vested.

    However, your last line indicates that big news is coming. I'm curious to know the news. Maybe you need to work it in a little sooner if it's the first thing that sets the conflict into motion.

    Great start, and I'm interested to see what changes are made next week!


  6. Hi Latrice,

    You have definitely created a unique world in these pages. But at the same time, this uniqueness stood in the way of comprehension for me. I had to assimilate so many new characters and new terms that I had a hard time following what was happening. Add that to the distant POV, and I wasn’t sure who the MC was for a couple of paragraphs.

    My comments are going to sound largely redundant to what’s already been said since I’m almost last commenting, but I’ll hit the highlights:

    I would bring the POV much closer. I love the suggestion to write it in 1st person/present tense because of the intimacy it will give you with Mika, even if you switch it back to 3rd/past. First person puts you in the body of your character, seeing through her eyes, thinking her thoughts.

    I, too, was missing conflict. It was lovely description and world building, but I kept waiting for “why” I was being told these things. Why should I care? If this is coming, I would find a way to bring it in sooner. Is it related to dancing or the ratha? If one and not the other, perhaps focus on the one it’s related to. If not, why are we starting with these events?

    The more we understand Mika’s motivations, the more we’ll cheer her on.


  7. Hello, Latrice,

    I am definitely sold on this world! In such a short section you've given me a vivid idea of the setting and the characters! However, 1. I'm not as sold on the story itself, though I feel like it's JUST on the other side of the break once Mashi continues his speech, and 2. like some of the other readers I'm a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters introduced. The good news is those two issues might be solved with one fix: consider trimming the number of characters introduced in this first section, which should shorten it and get us to at least a hint of the conflict sooner.

    The fight scene was described so well. We've all read lousy action scenes, and some of us might even write such lousy action scenes that we avoid them altogether! : ) Yours is great! I could see the fight in my head, blow for blow! I did question why some of it was choreographed and some of it was treated as a real battle. Perhaps that can be cleared up in a revision. Also, because this section is low on stakes, you may be able to create a minor one simply by letting us know that Mika normally prevails BEFORE the fight. That way we may be interested to see if that's the case this time.

    I can't wait to learn more about the challenges Mika is bound to face.

  8. Thanks everyone for the comments!

    My novel is written with close POV and there is tension, but it wasn't until I saw these comments that my first chapter is too long. The first chapter is about 12 pages and most of the tension happens later. And for that matter the POV is much close around that time. So I'm doing to cut down the character and take out what's not really needed as well as incorporate the conflict much earlier!

    So I think I will cut down my pages and do a bit of rearranging, I think that will help clear up the POV issue and some of the conflict.

    I can definitely on cutting down some of the characters. And I now see how close of the characters names are as well, so I will work on that and hope that will help cut down on the confusion.