Sunday, November 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Luken Rev 1

Name: Ellie Luken
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Last Lights of the Lost

I wait by the edge of the camp beside the remains of the fire for the scout’s return. At the edge of the desert, his silhouette appears against the rising sun. The sand between us glows red with the sunrise, and it looks like everything bleeds. He brings me the last information I’ll need for my hunt today. He’ll be the one to confirm if the sandworm is close enough I can safely reach it before it fully wakes for the day.

I stand and shake stiffness from my legs. Lingering chill from the night prickles my neck and shoulders, so I draw my new wool cloak around me. My fingers skim the raised threads of embroidery, symbols of strength, health, and victory. A few of the threads are crooked. My younger brother isn't precise.

Matis gave me the cloak last night with a solemn bow, no trace of his usual smirk to be found. Any other time, I would've teased him about the flaws in his work. But I accepted it as formally as he gave it. Today is the most important day in my life. It’s the day every moment of my life has been leading up to.

Because today, I become a huntress.

Darius stops short and swings down from his steed. Flecks of meat stick in its sharp teeth, as its lips peels back at the sight of me. It blasts me with breath like rot. Its thin tail flicks back and forth, the hard knob at the end swinging.

One of the huntresses from years ago, Lia the wise, who studied halfway around the world in Heian City before joining our team, bred them for us. They're a combination of horses and gryfith monsters. They're stronger and sturdier than horses with thicker legs and bones, more vicious than horses with their sharp teeth, and don't spook like horses are so prone to.

“You’re clear to go,” he says. “The sandworm is currently only about twenty minutes from here.”

I acknowledge with a nod. “Thanks.”

“Wait. A quick moment.” He flashes me half a smile and then ducks his head. His pale cheeks shine pink, and his light curls glow. “I—made you a small token for strength. Sorry it took me so long to finish."

Usually only loved ones offers up tokens before a first hunt, and now I find my own face warming. "Oh." He's new to the team, originally from far north, one of the rare travelers who begs to join. Maybe he doesn't understand the significance of the tokens.

Or maybe he does. That thought makes my throat a little tight. I hope he’s not looking for something from me. He’s pretty, no doubt, with his fine-boned cheeks, dusted with light stubble. But I’m not sure I like him like that, and I don’t want to have to think too hard about it now. I have bigger concerns.

"Do you—accept it?" He holds out a wooden carving, hanging on a piece of string like a very crude piece of jewelry. The intertwining circles mean strength, but not a lone person's strength. Strength in unity, in family, in friends. The huntresses and scouts and trainees are a team. We're not all related by blood, but we are family. The carving is a little rough around the edges, but I suppose he's new.

"Of course," I say because it’d be rude not to, and even if I’m not sure how much I like him, he’s still a great scout.

I reach for it, and his hand closes over mine as he presses it into my palm. He leans a little closer, the grey mist of his breath swirling.

"I really hope you succeed," he says.

I yank my hand away. "Of course I will. Training has been my entire life. I’ve given everything I have for this." Half of the trainees who attempt this test die trying to pass it, but I won’t end up like them. My mother was a huntress, and her mother before her. I was made to follow in their footsteps.

I've never even considered I might not succeed, because how can I consider that all of me isn’t enough to make me the one thing I’ve always wanted?

“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to insult your abilities.”

I step back. Every word he says is more and more awkward, and it sounds like he doesn’t believe in me. “It’s fine. Once I return, you won’t doubt me again.”

“I don’t doubt you—I just—” he starts, and I put up a hand.

“I need to go.” I turn my back because I can’t get caught up in this. “But don’t worry. You’ll see when I return.”

When I become a huntress, everything I’ve sacrificed will be worth it. My crooked nose from when my rival Tavas broke it and called me weak, my girlfriend breaking up with me because she was afraid I wouldn’t come back from a hunt, the most accomplished huntress on the team rolling her eyes when I announced I would take the test this year and asking if I was sure I didn’t want to wait one more year until I’m eighteen – I’ll show them all that they should never have doubted me.

I weave through the team’s silent tents until I find my family’s and duck inside. It's warm, smelling of sweat and life. My brother snores in a pile of furs. His light brown bare feet poke out. He’s shot up in height this year, and even if I’ll always be three years older, I’m not going to be the bigger sister for much longer.

Mother is awake, sharpening a knife, and she gives me a brief nod. Behind her, nearly double her size, is the scale of a sea serpent. It’s the strongest monster she’s slain, so it travels with us. Anyone who enters our tent can know her strength.

My father doesn't live with us—he lives in the city of Aresten. I've met him only a few times. He didn't want to join the team as a spouse, have to travel the world with us and sleep on the ground most nights, have to stay in the camp during the day and pack and unpack supplies, cook food, care for the youngest children, like all of the spouses here do. Mother keeps hoping Aresten will hire the huntresses again, so we can visit him once more, but they haven't requested us in years. And huntresses follow the money.

I head for our weapons collection at Mother’s side. Although it’s not officially part of the test, selecting my weapons is a critical step for success. I can pick anything I want—but if I pick wrong, I’ll have lost my fight against the sandworm before it’s even begun.

Sandworms are Beast Class monsters, large and heavily armored, with poison on their scales. The only way to kill one is to hit a vulnerable area through the back of its mouth. My gaze skims over the line of close combat weapons, the spears, the curved arms, the swords, all different metals for different monsters. If I end up close enough to the sandworm to use one of these, I’ll probably be dead already. For a sandworm, I need something to fire from a distance.


  1. I'm going to be completely honest. This new opening was lackluster for me. Comparing to the previous one it just feels… without direction. For example, you mention the scout which we know from previously is Darius but I wouldn't know that if I hadn't read before. So you go from scout in the first paragraph, to mentions of MC's brother in second paragraph, to Darius third paragraph. Even knowing that Darius is the scout, this is just, scattered. And among it all is exposition that felt fluid before but now just feels forced because it's littered among the character introductions.

    Additionally, I'm only 4 paragraphs in and this already feels stilted and full of exposition. I don't need to know all this stuff right now. I don't care who bred the not-horse steeds. I thought it was interesting that I only found out that the “steed” was not a horse at the end of your previous 5 pages. It was like “oh! That's cool!no”. With this new exposition you've lost your characters voice almost entirely. The subtle information that you teased us with in the previous version is gone.

    I think some of the clarification you made to show Darius and MC's relationship better is good, but personally I didn't need it. — “Usually only loved ones offers up tokens before a first hunt, and now I find my own face warming. "Oh."” -- This says more than enough about the situation imo. You have a whole book to develop their relationship.

    I actually want to use that comment to address an issue I saw in the critics of the first round. I felt like almost everyone was getting comments about how the reader didn't know enough (gender, name, age were the reoccurring but some other stuff was mentioned also) but I personally feel like that's sort of the point. This is ONLY your first 5 pages. I want to stress that, in my opinion, these pages should be about teasing the reader and introducing them to the world, not giving them all the answers to all their questions all at once (otherwise what's the point of the rest of the book, right?)

    I feel like you fell victim to this criticism. Your opening has suffered because you clearly want to give us more explanation on things when it wasn't necessary for the moment. I was excited to follow Sarana around as she prepared for her hunt. We felt her tension, but now it's… I dunno. Where is it? Who is Sarana?

    So I'm going to stop reading for a moment and tell you the things that I learned from the first draft (last week) just so you can get an idea of exactly the kind of things I picked up from your previous entry (Before moving forward with this revision)

    MC, Sarana, is a member of a mostly female tribe of “huntresses” living rather primitively in a perhaps dystopian-esque world (tents, fires, clothing made of nature fibres suggest well in the past, but rifles and crossbows means it's likely a world separate from our own with a different technological development timeline) in a red sand desert (even hot deserts tend to be cold at night, hence the fires). Her tribe has a number of deeply rooted traditions (tokens, new members proving their worth, huntresses carrying a trophy of their strongest kill), of which we are focused on a “first hunt” which is akin to a coming of age trial (leads the reader to assume she's probably at least 13 but likely older.) We are introduced to Sarana on the eve of her hunt, for a sandworm, which will be difficult, and we are shown Sarana having doubts but also battling those doubts down on multiple occasions with thoughts that come across as mantras or perhaps even reassurances she's heard and internalized from loved ones (she doesn't wish me luck because that would predict my failure. I don't need luck because I have skill.).

  2. Sarana mother is a huntress also, so we learn that Sarana will be at least a second generation huntress, but likely further (3rd or 4th or?). Her brother, Matis, has made her a cloak (which when we learn of tokens we can assume that this cloak was his token) and with your mention of the embroidery being a little messy, we assume he might be younger. We also get the impression that the gender roles of the tribe are possibly switched from our expectation, since it is a boy making clothing and women hunting.

    When Darius is introduced it is clear that Sarana has feelings about him, although perhaps those feelings are a little vague (personally it was pretty clear to me that she had feelings for him, but didn't want to let herself get distracted at such an important time). Still, their exchange is interesting, suggesting Darius at least might have feelings for her as he's giving her a token. I liked Sarana's mention of being unsure if he knew the traditions behind the tokens, as if to dismiss the possibility of him having feelings for her. Their conversation also shows more of the MC's anxiety, as she quick to offend, and quick to offer more dialogue that sounds a lot like more reassuring mantras (“of course I'll succeed”)

    Then we are introduced to another woman, from her introduction and friendly, casual way she speaks with Sarana we can assume she is a friend more than just a training partner. And then we get the hint that the steeds are not horses at the end of your 5 pages.

    Alright, so I wrote this all up so you can get an idea of exactly the information you gave the reader in your last entry (instead of focusing on the questions of what information wasn't there like all the critics were focused on). More precisely, just how MUCH information you gave. So you can take a look at this, and take a look and your pages, and sorta decide what information was good to have there, what might have been unnecessary, what might have been missed maybe or wasn't clear enough to pick up?

    So now back to your revision. I will list the new information you're either giving or confirming.

    Confirming: red sand desert that is cold in the night.

    Confirming: Darius, a scout, likely has feelings for Sarana ( you did not give her name in this revision…) and Sarana likely has feelings for him as well, but does not want to be distracted with sorting those feelings out when she's got such important things going on. I feel like a lot of this is unnecessary, and honestly, without being in Sarana's head and seeing so much of her doubt ahead of time, her snapping at Darius feels much more unjustified this time around.

    Confirming: steeds are not horses.

    New information: the steeds are actually a special breed, a cross between horses and gryfith (we don't know what this is so? What's even the point?) Bred by an educated, old member of their tribe.

    New/confirming information: the details about the difference cities suggests that it is simply this tribe that is living more primatively since they are hunters, and greater technology does exist in other places in this world

    Confirming: brother is younger by 3 years, but will likely hit puberty soon, which also confirms MC’ age around 16-18.

    New information: Father is alive but does not live with the tribe. He did not want their lifestyle. I liked the note about the mother wanting to work in the city to see him again, suggesting there's still feelings there, at least from her side. But this is easily information we can live without for now. This was probably the most valuable new information because it comes along with more information about cities that give us a better idea of the world and their living situation being out of the norm.

    1. That's it. That's all the new information. And we lose so much in the process…

      Here's the thing. You're clearly a fabulous writer. I knew that from your first entry. I felt like it just needed some tidying up, tbh. Both revisions are written great, still. But I cared far more about Sarana in the first entry than I do now. We're lacking her voice in this one. I was invested in her hunt in your first entry because you gave us enough about it to understand what the stakes were for her and why it was important. It was her main focus and the main focus on of your opening. Now it feels like the hunt is just an aside. We don't even learn much about it this time around because you take up so many words with the new back and forth between Darius, when the exchange in the previous entry was more than enough to give us a lot of information.

      I don't know what my advice would be here besides trying to find a medium between the two. And also trying to remember that there's are ONLY your first 5 pages. (Remember that almost all agents and publishes will be asking for a query along with these pages so that's another place to give information that doesn't need to be jammed into your pages)

      Hopefully my perspective can give you an idea of exactly the subtle details you managed to weave into your first entry and see why this new entry feels off to me.

  3. I thought your first version of this story was really great, it just needed a bit of tightening here and there. The additions to this version are very interesting (the steed origins etc.) but they seem a bit random and don’t fit with the flow. I’m ok with not knowing the origins of the steeds until later in the book.

    I’d consider going back to your original version and just tweaking a bit. The one piece I’d consider using from this one is the encounter with Darius. I like the tension you’ve built between the two of them. Fantasy with a romantic subplot is my most favorite thing to read and now I’m intrigued to see where this relationship is going.

    If you decide to continue with this version, I have a few comments:

    Is the scout you mention in the first paragraph Darius? If so, I think you need to call him Darius from the beginning.

    The sandworm line in the first paragraph seems a bit thrown in there now. I think it makes more sense when you choose your weapons (like you had in draft 1)

    The encounter with Darius, you mention “I’m not sure how much I like him” twice in a short period. You may want to remove or revise your wording.

    The far North explanation of where Darius came from is much more clear now. I really like how you reworded.

    I really like your writing style. I am drawn in with your descriptions and can picture the characters. I think when you sit down to write the final version, you should consider all of the comments made about your work, but ultimately go with your gut. You are a great writer, I think you may just have been trying to please everyone with this version (and I totally understand, I’m struggling with it too.)

  4. I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but I like this version better. It is clearer and easier to read. Yes, the last version had more magic from the get go, but it was confusing. Just don't lose your voice, okay. You have a great writing style.

    My only concerns with this version: The backstory about Lia and her special steed feels out of place. Perhaps you could combine that paragraph and the one before it. Just an example: "Darius stops short and swings down from a (name of creature), a half-horse, half-griffin beast bred only for huntresses. Flecks of meat stick in the monstrous creature's sharp teeth. As I approach, it snarls, breathing hot, rotten vapors into my face. Darius laughs." Also, Who is his/ he in the first paragraph? Is it Darius or Matis?

    I'm glad you gave some places names in this version. One suggestion, take it or leave it, give the desert in the first paragraph a name. That way the reader knows from this get go, this is another world.

    I still like the tension between Darius and ??? (Ellie, did you forget to add the MC's name or am I missing it?)

    Keep up the good work, and I hope Sarana slays that earthworm!

  5. I'd avoid using both 'by' and 'besides' in the first sentence.

    This mysterious 'he' at the need to name him, otherwise readers will think you mean Mantis.

    'One of the huntresses from years ago...' This is kind of a run on sentence. Consider breaking it up.

    You describe the steed well, but no its rider.

    I'd avoid terms like 'thanks,' 'wait a quick moment' and 'like him like that.' This is a bold huntress and her people. I'd make sure they don't speak like modern Americans.

    I love that she calls the boy 'pretty.' Drives home what a female dominated society this is.

    You never say your POV character's name. Darius could easily call her by name.

    I think we're getting kind of an info dump here in this draft. Our heroine lives in a female-dominated society where gender roles are very different. Her mother is a mighty huntress, she has a brother, Darius likes her, etc. But there's no action. I liked the previous version where we learned these things in the excitement leading up to the hunt.

    The problem with creating a universe is it's hard to bring the reader up to speed quickly. I'd start with the hunt, the choosing of the weapons and the talk with her mother, maybe a coy look from Darius. Leave the brother, the father, her girlfriend, the rival, and the scholar for other chapters. This is all your reader needs to know right now:

    Mighty huntress, reversed gender roles, dangerous as hell.

  6. Yeah, I'm going to disagree with previous comments. What you've added here is the beginning of actual worldbuilding, where before there was almost nothing that left us with a cohesive sense of culture. I really like this a whole lot more than the prior version because you're starting to ground me in a culture that feels like it's organic and understandable. I agree with the informal American style dialogue not quite fitting in right now, but I get where you're coming from and I think you can dial that back. Still feels culturally disconnected a little in terms of things like "twenty minutes" (do they have watches? Clocks?) "eighteen" (again, Western-specific cultural touchstone of adulthood that doesn't exist in other parts of the world; you can pick any age for "adult" but I'd choose something that doesn't draw us back to modern America).

    Now. Having said that, I agree that you've lost your tension in pursuit of the worldbuilding. They need to happen with an economy of words, and the worldbuilding should go WITH the tension, not distract from it. If she knew she was going after a sandworm, why wait until now to go look at weapons? Why doesn't she have it already in hand and be ready to move out as soon as she hears where the sandworm is? Does the camp get together to send her off on this quest? Is there an observer going with her? These are just details, but the details are important to us believing this is a serious issue. I honestly don't care for Darius's intrusion here, though I do love that you've gender-switched "pretty" and "curls" in describing him. I'd think if she was a strong, bold huntress she would respond to his trying to give her a token with a firm NO and his attempts to reassure her with a blunt comeback. This really doesn't seem like the place for flirting to me.

    I totally agree with Brian's next-to-last paragraph. Start with her nervous anticipation about the hunt and her talk with her mother. Keep the interaction with Darius to a minimum, and show that it IS a female dominated culture; he's awfully intrusive and handsy for that to be true. Think about all the small details and how her culture would be different from modern-day culture. It can be as simple as the giving of tokens from her family, and when Darius tries it's a violation and a bad sign for the day, etc.

    The trick about worldbuilding is to bake it so completely into your characters that it comes out in every single interaction and conversation, every detail of the tents and clothing, prayers and customs. I still think we need to understand that the huntresses are mercenaries, so maybe her mother can be in the middle of talking about an upcoming contract rather than Sarana relating how it works. Casual knowledge is way better than delivered knowledge in these cases.

    Thanks, Ellie. I know this is frustrating! My comments really keep going back to cultural elements, but bear in mind that you're not explaining the culture; your characters are immersed in it, and everything thing they do indicates it. It actually should add to the tension, not distract from it.

  7. There are so many great things about this opening scene. I think the trick is going to be carefully choosing what to shine the light on. I recognize that you have a lot of world building to do with this story, but I wonder if some of it can be postponed. See what you can hold off on until you absolutely can't get by without it--like the origins of the steeds or the cloak her brother made for her. If you do go heavy on the world building in the opening scene, then maybe you can hold off on introducing so many characters at once. Somehow you'll find a good balance, I'm sure.

    One of the things that really interests me in this scene is the shift in emotion that occurs within the protagonist. She's ultra confident, as she's been trained to be, but then this doubt creeps in and really starts to mess with her. As a reader, I would have liked a little more interiority with that. I wonder if you might linger there a moment and let us really feel that with her. It must be a very new and different feeling for her, but it passes so quickly.

    I'm dying to read a scene with the sandworms!

  8. Hi Ellie,

    I really love all of the new information/world-building that you've given us, but what this version lacks that the other one had is TENSION!

    I'd lose the first paragraph altogether. I like the description of everything bleeding in the sunrise, which is gorgeous, but other than that, the other sentences are info-dump-y and don't draw in the reader. The first paragraph is SO important to engaging the reader. You need to make sure you start wth a bang.

    I also like the information that sets up the scene more clearly, about the scout and the sandworm, but I'm not sure that communication merits an actual dialogue. In other words, I think you spend too much time imparting that information to us, while a sentence or two would do.

    The conversation with Darius threw me off. I think it comes too early, before you've actually had a chance to establish the female-dominated world and her feelings about the hunt. She shuts down her interest in him too quickly, too, so he doesn't feel like an actual love interest. While I agree that he should not be flirting here, his character being a possible love interest added tension to the previous version.

    Love the info with the dad -- I just don't think we need it this early in the story. Focus on the action first, make sure the reader is engaged. These kinds of details can be sprinkled in when necessary to the story that you are telling.

    Good luck! You're doing great, and you will get there!