Monday, November 19, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Luken Rev 2

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


Sarana was raised by a group of mercenary women who travel the world hunting monsters. To officially become one of them, she must kill her first monster, a giant sandworm.

She fails.

A huntress is never supposed to fail, so they banish her. But they offer one way for her to redeem herself and return: she must kill a type of monster no one has killed before. When she meets Ani, a girl from a town in the shadow of a haunted mountain, she finds her chance. Ani's town has been forced to provide people to free the mountain tunnels from the monster who lives there, and Ani's sister, Ashwia, is one of the latest recruits.

Sarana and Ani team up to enter the mountain--Sarana to kill the monster, Ani to save her sister. But as they make their way deeper into the tunnels, the monster sinks controlling claws into their minds, warping reality and making them see things that aren’t there. They can't trust their senses, but they must figure out how to see through the mind games it plays before their sanity crumbles and they're trapped forever among ghosts.


I face my family’s row of weapons. The metal of the blades glints in the sliver of early morning light that slips through the side of our tent. For the first time, I feel a pinch of nerves. Today is the most important day in my life. Today is the day every other moment of my life has been leading up to.

Because today, after I complete my first hunt and kill a sandworm, I’ll become a huntress.

A shiver threatens, so I draw my new wool cloak closer 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. Any other time, I would've teased him about the flaws in his work. But last night, I accepted it as formally as he gave it. This gift is his show of support, even if he won’t wake to see me off. Right now, he still snores in a pile of furs, his brown feet just poking out.

Mother is awake, sharpening a knife. 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.
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.

I glance at the matchlock rifle. Maybe. But guns are artless weapons. It’s hard to aim with any kind of accuracy.
A bow will be most precise, and if I am capable, faster to reload and fire than the rifle. My throat goes dry, and I lick my lips. If I’m not strong enough--

I shouldn’t doubt myself. More importantly, I shouldn’t doubt my training. Doubting my training is doubting all of my honorary aunts and uncles who worked with me.

I grab a bow and a quiver of arrows, and I take a matchlock rifle as a backup. It won’t be accurate until I’m quite close to the sandworm, but if something goes wrong, I might need it. Last, I grab a slab of dried meat to feed my steed. When I turn to leave, Mother stands behind me.

She claps a hard hand on my shoulder. "See you shortly." She doesn't wish me luck because that would predict my failure.

I don't need luck, because I have skill.

"Of course," I say.

I step outside and jog towards the edge of the huntress camp to fetch my steed. Ahead, the desert sand glows red in the sunrise, like it bleeds. The back of my neck prickles, and the beginning of the day’s warmth in the air says I don’t have much time before I need to leave.

"Sarana." A soft, sweet voice calls from behind me. It belongs to Darius, one of the scouts, and newest member of the huntress team. He might have information for me, so I slow and let him catch me.

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.

"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, scouts and trainees are a team. We're not all related by blood, but we are family.

"Of course." I swipe it quickly from his hand and turn to keep walking.

"I really hope you succeed," he says.

I should let it go, but it feels like a bad omen to leave on those words. He shouldn’t hope I’ll succeed. He should know I will.

I stop and turn back. "Of course I will. I’ve been training my whole life for this." 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 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 you.”

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.”

Once I return, no one will doubt me again. They’ll all see how valuable I am.

Behind me, someone clears her throat. I jump back from Darius and spin toward the noise. My nerves are wound too tight—I shouldn't have been so startled by that. Steps in the sand are soundless.

Rasa, my training partner, soon to be my hunting partner, stands with a hand on her hip, grinning wickedly. "It’s time to go." In her other hand, she holds the reins to her steed. To underscore her point, the steed dances in place. 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.

Rasa swings herself onto its back. I look up at her, and she raises her eyebrows in response. She's tried for years to be able to lift only one, but she still can't. The reminder that she's got her own strange flaws makes me smile.

"It's time we're huntresses already!" She pumps a fist into the air. Her bravado rings false, and it hangs between us. She should stop talking. If she weren't nervous, she'd be quiet.

"’ll be back," I tell Darius, although he’s slumped like a crumpled rug, and hurry away. Rasa follows on her steed.

At the edge of the campsite, the rest of the steeds wait, most dozing. I approach my family's, marked by the red and white ribbon around his neck, although even without that, I'd recognize the spots on his back. I think he recognizes me, too. I toss him the meat and climb onto his back.

Ahead, the rolling red dunes stretch.

"Let's go kill that worm." I say.

We ride out.

We don't pretend there's any path other than success.

There isn't.

Victory or death is all a huntress knows.


  1. Hi Ellie!

    I think you did a really great job in this revision!

    A few comments:

    I think you could lose the first sentence. The second sentence is a much stronger opening. However, I do feel that the lines “This is the most important day of my life” comes too quickly. I think you need at least a few paragraph lead-in, otherwise this line doesn’t achieve the impact that you’re looking for.

    There’s a lot of exposition in the first 8 paragraphs. You could break this up some by moving up the mother’s dialogue.

    Also, I found the dialogue very generic. I feel like this is a missed opportunity to showcase some of the nuance of the customs, ie different ways of saying goodbye, etc, OR to showcase some of the personalities.

    Darius comes across as a young boy in this revision. Is this your intention? I thought previously that they were the same age, but now he strikes me as being 9 or 10.

    Finally, I’m still not sure why she’s picking the weapon now, right before the hunt. Maybe say something along the lines of: I’ve been putting off the decision, turning the choices over and over in my head, but now, I must finally make my selection.

    Good job over these past few weeks! Best of luck to you!

  2. I'm glad the weapon scene is showcased more in this revision. This is a serious decision for a would-be huntress.

    The descriptions are well-done through out. IMO, you can remove "like a very crude piece of jewelry."

    Your pages are strong, but I think a few tweaks could make them stronger. There are a few times when you repeat the same lines twice in close proximity: "doubt me again", "I'll be back", and "his back". Instead of Sarana feeling her face warm or a pinch of nerves, you could say "my face warms" or "my nerves pinch."

    After reading the pitch, I wondered how Sarana felt both before the hunt (yes, being a huntress is expected, but does she want to be one?) and then after she is banished (does her banishment last long before they give her a chance? Also, they gave her an impossible task? Does she believe she can succeed? Does she think she was setup to fail? And why?). Another thing, what happens if she doesn't succeed in killing the mind-controlling beast? Does life just continue on with the huntresses? Does this only affect Sarana?

    Good job on the revision, Ellie. I know the last few weeks have been tough. :)

  3. Great job with revisions! I felt like this version directs my attention in the right ways. It feels tighter to me, more focused. And after reading the pitch, I think this opening gets you some good momentum from the onset.

    Speaking of the pitch, I loved it! I would read that book in a heartbeat. I'm really intrigued by the physical peril side by side with the psychological battle. And lots of cool monsters in the mix!

    Wishing you all good things with this manuscript!

  4. I love your pitch. I might mention the name of the monster.

    I'm still getting a Beetlejuice vibe from 'sandworm.' And I might leave out the line about the brother not waking. Makes him seem uncaring.

    I agree with Pintip, you might leave off the first sentence.

    If these are a nomadic people, I don't know if I'd have the serpent scale be so large. Trophy or not, it'd be a pain to haul around.

    I like the superstition of not wishing her luck. But I might not say 'see your shortly.' Something a little more romantic, maybe a blessing or something.

    Great descriptions of the sunrise and the steed and I love your closing line.

    Wonderful revisions. I'm still loving the gender reversed society you've invented. I'd wish you luck...but that would predict your failure. See you shortly.

    1. Oh! I like Brian's idea about saying a more personal, more significant blessing/ goodbye. Something only these nomads say in this world.

  5. I think you have a great start for a pitch but I do feel like it could be tightened up a little, as well as could benefit from a little bit more of your personal voice. You’re a great writer but I don’t see that in your pitch. Pitches are REALLY hard, so so don’t take this as a negative. You have to say so much with so little and it’s difficult, but I think you can do it with some more revisions and attention (honestly I kinda wish we’d been able to include our pitches from the get go so we could all help each other. Pitches are almost the most important part! They get you in the door).

    I think you do a good job at setting up the goal and stakes though! It just feels… not as enticing and your natural writing voice is. I’d like to get a hint of what I can expect from the writing in the pitch as well.

    I do agree with Pintip that’s there’s a lot of exposition now early on in your pages. It feels like you’re still trying to find that sweet spot of info and voice. You’re getting closer though. I think you found your flow at the ‘I shouldn’t doubt myself’ paragraph in this revision.

    I also noticed that Darius felt a little more juvenile here. Personally I feel like my perception of who Darius is to Sarana has only gotten muddier with each revision. You’ve taken out small details that had previously cleared things up. I don’t know what to make of him anymore. The interaction in this revisions feels like the most irrelevant in comparison to previous versions.

    I like that we got a bit more of Rasa in this.

    “She should stop talking. If she weren't nervous, she'd be quiet.” - Something about this line I really liked, it said a lot

    Knowing your pitch now, and knowing what will happen with the sandworm, I’m super interested to keep going. I’d like to see Sarana’s reaction to failing. With the set up you’ve made, I think this could be a really detrimental experience for her (which happens to be one of my favorite things to do to a character early on, so you can build them back up!)

    Great job, Ellie! Wishing you the best!

  6. Super pitch! I’m very intrigued about the rest of the book. The one sentence is suggest revising is the one about Ani’s town sending people to free the tunnels. I had it to read it a few times before I understood that Ani’s part of a small local army also hunting the monster? I think “free the tunnels” is the vague part that was throwing me off. Other than that, I think the pitch is alluring and unique.

    For the revisions: I do ageee that Darius reads completely differently in this version and I also got a young vibe in this version. I missed the heat from the last one.

    I really love the lines from “let’s go kill this worm” on. Builds some great tension and I want to turn the page and see what happens.

    There are a couple of sections where you get a bit repetitive the 2 lines about “doubting my training” could’ve tightened so that you don’t repeat that sentence twice. Same with the paragraph “I never sonsidered I might not succeed.” You repeat considered twice, then the “all of me might not be enough”... is a bit clunky. I love what you are saying but would consider how you can make that line even tighter.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all the different parts of your story. You’ve built a really interesting world with some well thought through details. Good luck with it! It’s been a pleasure working with you.

  7. Hi Ellie, you've done a great job! I'm posting for Suzie, who's been out of town over the holiday. Please see her comments pasted below:

    Hi Ellie,

    You've done such a great job here. So glad I got the chance to read your pages. Below are all my comments:

    Title: This is very nitpicky, but I think you should change your title. Having three L words in there actually makes it hard to talk about and word of mouth is still a very important sales tool for books.


    Wow! So cool. I love your pitch! Mercenary women hunting monsters! The world seems very cool here and you did a great job creating a concise and interesting pitch. I would recommend that you get rid of "sandworm" in the pitch. One, I don't think you need it. I'd be hooked just knowing that she has to go hunt a monster and fails. Second, a sandworm doesn't sound that threatening to me without knowing more about it. It reminded me of that 80s movie Tremors. And while those sandworms were scary, now they look a bit silly. That's a bit nitpicky, but I'd definitely say that it could influence people.


    I would have stopped reading within the first paragraph here. This opening is all telling. There's so much exposition and what feels like factual information. It doesn't allow us to get to know Sarana at all and it doesn't allow us to connect to her voice.

    These pages are probably 75% exposition in several forms so I'll go through several of them and what you can do to make some changes.

    Think about the first chapter of The Hunger Games—Katniss sneaks out to meet up with Gale and through their actions we know something big is coming. There’s a sense of dread but there’s no front loading of exposition.

    In terms of worldbuilding, in the very beginning I really liked the gender reversal here! Sarana and her mom and the women as huntresses and then her brother doing embroidery. Very cool. However that did make me confused when we found out that Darius is also part of the huntress team. Rather than clarifying or explaining the roles in more detail, you should actually cut back on the information you give us about Darius. I think all we need to know is that he's giving her something and she's startled by it.

    With that in mind, you’re too heavy on description. The feel of the embroidery, the symbolism, etc. we don’t need it. We only need descriptions that is significant to the story. There is A LOT here in these pages that you should cut.

    You also need to trust the reader a bit more—trust them to infer based on details. Cool detail—she has to pick the right weapon. Unnecessary detail—picking the wrong one could cause her to fail. This second detail can be inferred from the first. You have several instances of this repetition throughout these pages.

    Some of your exposition and backstory or details are just coming too early in the story. While others come too late. For instance, I’d rather you describe the sandworm when she sees it. It will create more suspense. And the fact that "Only half make it." We should know this sooner. And we should know that everyone acts like she’s going to make it to mask the fear. Is there a silver of worry in her mom? Does she wish there was something to validate her fear? If she doesn’t make it will her mom be upset? Or will she bottle her emotions and pretend it didn’t happen? Getting more into her head and focusing on her feelings and reactions will do much more to hook your reader than the exposition.

    (More on the next comment)

  8. Continued from Suzie's notes above:

    The pace moves way too slowly because of all description. It feels very telling—textbook style. Give us her reaction vs telling us the facts. For instance, instead of the exposition about Darius, have her just say “I didn’t expect one from him” and then how does this make her feel? Is she happy? Weirded out? Easy way to tell if exposition is fact based—ask yourself is the character actually thinking this in the moment? If the answer is no, cut it.

    Right now the voice feels flat. This is mostly because of the exposition I think so by fixing the exposition problem, you'll be able to give Sarana more of a voice and fix this.

    Because I don't know Sarana very well yet, I found some of the things she says to feel contradictory. For instance, I don’t believe her when she tells the reader she’s never doubted that she we succeed. If HALF of the people don’t come back? Also everything she’s been telling us does suggest there’s a worry and a seed of doubt here.

    Some minor notes:

    Last lines feel contradictory.

    In the beginning I was confused by her steed. I'd been thinking: do horses eat meat? Is this a magical carnivorous horse? Then when the steed is introduced, I realized that yes, that is what it is, but does it have a name? Or is there any way to make the demon horse thing more clear? Or is talking about the steed necessary? You spend a paragraph describing it, but I don't really know exactly what it is.

    Also, Is a bow really more accurate? Why would they have them if they’re not accurate at all? I get the reloading issue but then why not take several of them, all loaded? (I know little about weapons but this stuck out to me and pulled me out of the story—which might also signify that you’re focusing too much on the weapons and the details.