Sunday, November 4, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Luken

Name: Ellie Luken
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

By the time the fire dies, we must be ready to hunt. And just embers remain, so there's not a lot of time left.

I stand and shake stiffness from my legs. A shiver threatens, 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. Today is the day every other moment of my life has been leading up to.

Because today, I become a huntress.

The desert glows red in the sunrise, and it looks like the sand bleeds. I weave through the silent tents of the huntress team until I find my family’s tent and duck inside. It's warm, smelling of sweat and life. My brother snores in a pile of furs.

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.

Selecting my weapons is the first step of my test, so I head for our weapons collection at Mother’s side. I can pick anything I want—but if I pick wrong, I’ll have lost my fight against the sandworm I’m supposed to kill before it’s even begun.

Sandworms are Beast Class monsters, large and heavily armored, with poison on their scales. My gaze skims over the line of polearms. If I end up close enough to the sandworm to use one of these, I’ll probably be dead already. The pile of swords—all different metals for different monsters—are equally useless.

I glance at the matchlock rifle. Maybe. But guns are artless weapons. It’s hard to aim with any kind of accuracy.

The longbow will be most precise, and if I am capable, faster to reload and fire than either the crossbow or 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 the longbow 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 for 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 camp to fetch my steed. The back of my neck prickles, and the beginning of warmth in the air says I don’t have much time before I need to leave. The first huntress-in-training who failed her test left mid-morning, and ever since, it’s tradition to leave by the time before the fire from the night before is gone.

"Sarana." A soft voice calls from behind me, and it sends a small shiver down my back. Darius’s voice is sweet and melodic, spun candy, and he could convince anyone of anything with it, I'm sure.

I slow and let him catch me.

His cheeks glow pink—maybe from the chilly air, maybe from the freely flowing wine last night. He flashes me half a smile and then ducks his head. "I—made you a small token for strength. Sorry it took me so long to finish."

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

We allow anyone to join if they prove their worth by besting one of us in a competition of their choice. The huntresses would never turn away greatness, no matter where it came from.

"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, and he smiles.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 taste edges of the sweet wine in it."I really hope you succeed," he says.I yank my hand away. "Of course I'll succeed. I realize you're new here, but I'm a huntress." 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 grandmother before her. 

I've never even considered I might not become another huntress, because why should I? I was made to follow in their footsteps. I'm made for glory, not some sad, quiet life.

“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 doubts 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 say. “But don’t worry. You’ll see when I return. Because I’ll be a huntress.”

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 first girlfriend breaking up with me because she was afraid I wouldn’t come back from a hunt – once I’m a huntress, I’ll show them all that they should never have doubted me.

Darius clears his throat. “Ah—yes, of course you will.”

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 quite 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. "Sorry for interrupting, but it's almost 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.


  1. ACKKK looks like in my haste to send this off in time to get into the workshop, I mangled my own title. Anyway, not that it matters much, but just for the record, it's supposed to be LAST LIGHTS OF THE LOST.

  2. This has a real Dungeons and Dragons theme to it: monster classes and weapons for different monsters. Also, sandworms make me think of Beetlejuice. The choice of a rifle, even a primitive one, is interesting. I've always enjoyed fantasy books that straddle ancient and more modern times.

    Wow, 50% fatality rate? Harsh.

    I'm loving this female-dominated society and your heroine is a badass. You've done a great job of setting the scene and creating a universe. I like that her brother does the sewing and it's Darius who sends her off on the deadly hunt. And I love her confidence.

    I would like more physical descriptions of Rasa, Darius, and especially Sarana. I don't know how old any of them are, they could be 13 or 20.

    She seems just a tad cruel to Darius when he wishes her luck, but that could be nerves. Remember to start a new paragraph when someone else starts speaking.

    I love the description of the steed. That ain't Flika.

    1. Hi Brian,
      Thanks so much for your comments! I'll see if I can work a few more descriptions of the characters in there for next time.

  3. The beginning of the story is intriguing. I love the thought of young huntresses, sand worms, and seas serpents. I also like the interaction between Darius and Sarana. I could feel the tension. Also, I like the idea of a world where guns are considered primitive. Although, aren’t bows and arrows?

    I second Brian. I wish there was more descriptions for the characters. I could tell they were teens by the way they acted, but I couldn’t picture them.

    I would love if there the place had a name. In the beginning, I believed the setting was primitive Earth. I didn't realize this was set in a different world until the mention of Sand worms. And, honestly, I believe you could cut the first couple of paragraphs (there was a lot of telling versus showing) and begin the story at… “Today, I become a huntress.”

    Overall, this is a solid piece of writing and I would read more.

    1. Hi Christine,
      Thanks so much for commenting! Descriptions (especially people) are definitely a weakness of mine!

  4. The lines “today is the most important day of my life. Today is the day every other moment has been leading up to. Because, today I become a huntress.” I love the dramatics of it but I think it could benefit from losing the second “Today is the day” to really tighten it up.

    The intro of Darius. The “spun sugar” analogy seems a bit out of place for me with the setting being so primitive. I’d run that one by a few readers to see if they feel the same.

    The paragraph about allowing “anyone to join if they show their worth,” I think you either need to explain that a bit more or leave it out completely. The line above shows me that he doesn’t understand the customs (which I need to know) but I either want a few more details on how an outsider joins the tribe or just move that section out until you can explain that process further.

    One overall comment, I’d suggest looking at your language and seeing where you have repeat words. There is a section in the last third where you repeat the phrase “a huntress” three times in a short span. You could consider taking one out to make it a bit more punchy. Same thing when Sarana is talking to Darius, you use the phrase “doubt me (you)” three times in a short span.

    I’m a bit confused on Sarana’s feelings toward the rest of the team. On one hand, she talks about how they are all one team working together but then refers to anyone that’s not a huntress as a “sad existence,”. This contrast may be intentional and a big theme of the book (it’s hard to tell in only five pages).

    I have a strong suspicion that this hunt may not go as she planned ;) I'm intrigued to read on. Great work.

    1. Hi Kate,
      Thank you for your comments! I do see how the paragraph about allowing people to join if they show their worth is confusing... and probably a bit much for this particular moment.

      And you are definitely right--the hunt doesn't go how she planned at all ;)

  5. Overview: Your characters voice is very clear and I really like that. We got into her head quite quickly as the reader, it wasn’t hard to imagine exactly what you were telling us through her eyes, even though your world is fantasy. I’m loving the red sands, the not-horse steeds, the details like the serpent with a scale that was larger than her mother! You’re setting up a lot of very interesting information without it being boring and bog down through exposition.

    Be careful with your words and try to remember to use some variation. When the same word is used too much in the same paragraph or sentence it can become a little confusing to the reader and make them feel like they are reading the same sentence twice.

    Unlike Brian, I actually don’t think you need more physical description. You could easily work it in if your careful, a mention of sand blowing through the character’s hair for example (for some reason I’m imagining a red head) but don’t feel the need to over do it. Description is one of those things that can come naturally with time. That being said, it would be good to touch on the character’s age. Perhaps this huntress hunt happens during a certain age? Then that would hint at Sarana’s age and the age of the other character’s introduced.

    Overall I think this is a really strong start. I look forward to seeing your first revision!

    Line by line:

    There’s a lot of agents, editors, and publishers who do not like sentences starting with and. These people will look at this first paragraph and likely write you off right away. That’s the harsh truth. A lot of them would see it like ‘if this person can’t even use proper grammar in the first paragraph?’ I feel like you’re shooting yourself in the foot in a way because of that. I think there’s a better way to phrase this paragraph to really make it pop without starting a new sentence with And.

    Honestly, I feel like this almost suffers from the same ‘first line hook’ as the previous entry. It feels like your trying very hard with that first line, and instead your second paragraph ends up being stronger. I enjoyed every bit of this paragraph. It gave so much information with so little.

    I would be very careful with your use of the word huntress. It’s already sort of a noticeably word. It stands out in the text. It’s dynamic. You use it 11 times in your text. Which is a shame because it starts to drag me out of the writing.

    I literally love this line “The desert glows red in the sunrise, and it looks like the sand bleeds.” Unfortunately it’s followed by a less dynamic line. You use huntress again, as well as tent twice in the same sentence. I just really want this line improved because the rest of the paragraph is great.

    Your flow from paragraph to paragraph is fantastic. Love “My brother snores” into “mother is awake”.

    Again, you use weapon twice in the same line. Be careful there.

    “I’ll have lost my fight against the sandworm I’m supposed to kill before it’s even begun.” this line reads a little clunky. Instead, consider something like “I’ll have lost against the sandworm before the fight’s even begun.”. We already get the just that the goal is to slay the worm, as the character is a huntress.

    There’s a lot of doubts in that one paragraph. Perhaps it can be said with one less use of the word doubt at least.

    “Last, I grab a slab of dried meat for my steed.” I get what you’re saying here, but I also read this as the MC literally taking a slab of meat right off the horses body which was, a thing to picture. Maybe “from the saddlebags of my steed”? If your huntress uses a saddle at least!

    Ok you said pervious that MC took meat from their steed, but now she is jogging across the camp to get her steed. So… (con't in reply)

    1. (con't)
      “ it’s tradition to leave by the time before the fire from the night before is gone” I feel like something went a little messy here. Consider “it’s tradition to leave before the fire from the night is gone.” I think it’s self explanatory that the fire from the night would be from ‘the night before’ so it’s unnecessarily wordy

      What a nice name and a wonderful way to introduce the MC’s name. However, you use voice twice again in the same paragraph! Maybe instead consider: “someone softly calls from behind me”

      I wouldn’t personally use an emdash after “His cheeks glow pink”. I feel like a colon fits better as you’re giving the reasons for why his cheeks are pink.

      Again, piece used twice in the same sentence.

      Consider: “The huntresses, scouts, and trainees are a team.”

      I would consider making the last line in that paragraph it’s own paragraph, since you used the previous paragraph to strayed away from the carving and explain more about the family dynamic of the group. It would make a good punctuation for the paragraph before getting back to the MC’s response.

      This paragraph starting with “Of course” got a little messy. I’m assuming it was just a submission error though. Make sure to fix it and add in that new paragraph when Darius speaks, and then when Sarana speaks again.

      You start a list in the paragraph that starts with “When I become a huntress,”. I would break this list up with periods. “My crooked nose from when my rival, Tavas, broke it and called me weak. My first girlfriend breaking up with me because she was afraid I wouldn’t come back from a hunt…” To even out the paragraph, I’d add a third ‘thing’ that happened. Rule of 3 :) I think it would make this paragraph really dynamic. And then, the last line can be it’s own paragraph because it is also dynamic, another nice punctuation to the previous paragraph.

      “Behind me, someone clears her throat. I jump back from Darius and spin toward the noise.” this felt clunky and awkward for the character you’ve so far portrayed. They don’t come off to me as an awkward or jumpy character, so perhaps instead express their reaction in a more ‘predator’ way rather than a ‘pray’ way.

      Oh. the steed is not a horse. COOL! hahaha

    2. Hi Danielle,
      Thank you so much for your super detailed line-by-line comments here. They're great-- especially the cases of repetitive language. I definitely want to clean that up!

  6. Hi there!

    This is great! In just a few pages, you’ve managed to set up an extremely intriguing world with a strong heroine. Fantastic job.

    A few suggestions:

    — When the pages open, Sarana stands and shakes out her stiff legs. Where is she and why is she there, instead of inside her tent with her family? Is there a ritual that requires them to stay out all night?

    — I’d love some description of Sarana and her brother, so I have a sense of their ages.

    — Sarana alternates between saying, “I am a huntress,” and “I will become a huntress.” This feels confusing to me, especially as I am trying to orient myself in this story. Could you be more clear in this respect?

    — her first test is choosing the weapon. Can you give us a little more context here? Did she *just* find out that she will be fighting a sandworm? When was she told? If she’s known for a while, then she’s had a while to think about what weapon she would choose — maybe even discuss it with someone. If she was just told, by whom? When? I guess it puzzles me that her first test is in the privacy of her tent, with no official judges. Unless you mean “test” less formally? Because it does seem like the outcome of the test is whether she comes back? So is the sandworm the judge? Or are there official judges?

    — seems like her mother should either say something or have a reaction when Sarana comes inside the tent.

    — Darius confuses me, as a character. I thought he was her love interest because of how she shivers, but then he seems quite bumbling and she doesn’t seem to like him very much.

    — I love that she’s so strong, but doesn’t she have even one moment of doubt? Especially with a 50 percent fatality rate? Maybe you could make clear that in order to succeed, she couldn’t let even a sliver of doubt slip in, and in her training, she’s learned to control her thoughts. Addressing it in this way would make it more believable.

    — “her first girlfriend breaking up with her because she was afraid she wouldn’t come back from a hunt” — this makes it sound like it was a long time ago, but the Hunt is only now. Maybe she means her “last” girlfriend? Could you clarify the time frame a little more?

    1. Hi Pintip,
      Thank you so much for your comments! I appreciated you pointing out the things that weren't clear (Sarana being outside at first, her switch of "I am a huntress" vs "will be" and the test--which was meant less formally, but I can see how that'd be confusing because there is an official test in play, too), and hope I can clarify them in revisions!

  7. Hi, Ellie! You did a good job of pulling me into another world with well-drawn description and tone. The whole huntress idea is very intriguing. I get the distinct feeling that this character is overconfident and that something will happen to bring her down a notch or two. That really interested me as a reader!

    There were a few small worldbuilding things that I was confused about. You mention her mother and her brother, and then we learn that the people in the hunting party are not related by blood, but by purpose. So that made me wonder, is this really her mother and brother, or is that just the way she sees them?

    I was also confused about how she felt about Darius. When he's first introduced, a shiver goes down her spine. That to me was a bit cliche, and I wasn't sure if it meant she was afraid of him or she was attracted to him. As they interact more, it's still difficult to tell if she likes him or if she's just being patient with his unwanted attention. If she's unsure of her feelings, you might make that clear as well. Because Darius has so much page time early on, I assume he's an important character. But I have no idea how she feels about him.

    Every once in a while, there was a phrase or two that had a contemporary feel to it and threw me off. Phrases such as "a lot of" might sound better by replacing with "much." And "see you shortly" sounded off to me--maybe something a little less modern-sounding. I don't know--maybe that's just my own perception.

    Love the steeds! I saw that coming the minute she grabbed the dried meat, and then when we actually got to see them, I was rewarded with a great description of a frightening animal. That was a nice set-up followed by the pay-off. Good job! Looking forward to reading more!

    1. Hi Lana,
      Thanks so much for commenting! Her mother and her brother are her actual mother and brother, although I could see why that's confusing (doubly since she refers to others on the team who aren't her actual family as aunt and uncle). She's supposed to be attracted to Darius, but his presence seems to be a bit of a source of confusion (and he's not really all that important in the end), so I'm thinking of just cutting him out...

      And yes, you're right about where her character is going-- things will happen to bring her down several notches, not too long after these pages end!

  8. Hi, Ellie, thank you for entering! I'm a sucker for a good fantasy, and I think you've got a good start here, but I think there are a lot of big questions for you to consider.

    (Quick question: is LAST LIGHTS OF THE LOSE the actual title? Or should it be LOSER? Because lose is a verb and it made me pause for a second.)

    Here are the general things I think you should consider:

    1. You say the "huntresses" will consider anyone, but ... you're automatically gendering your group. If they want the best of the best, why are they being exclusive to women, unless it's a traditionally female occupation? How does Darius then fit into this? Or react to it, as a stranger?

    2. I feel you need to deep dive into your culture before your rewrite. Are they travelers who follow herds? Mercenaries who hunt for profit? It’s critical to understanding the culture she's emerging from, and right now I don't have a sense of WHO they are, just what they do.

    3. I really liked your first line about waiting until the fire goes out, but I felt like the REASON for waiting until the fire goes out should have been rooted in competence rather than failure ... you tell us the reason they traditionally wait for the fire to go out is because the first huntress to fail went before that time. But, for instance, the reason they wait until then has to do with the weaknesses of what they're hunting then it reinforces the notion that these are people who know their stuff.

    3. Speaking of that ... There's a pervasive feeling to this that somehow she's never hunted before. And I assume she WOULD have hunted many times before this, assisted others on hunts, etc. -- she'd be well trained at what she's about to attempt. So maybe look at that. It feels like she's too easily distracted and doubtful.

    4. Which brings me to Darius. Her reaction makes me think she's attracted to him, which is fine even if she's previously only been attracted to girls, but this seems the worst time for her to be allowing herself to be sidetracked. If today is the most important day of her life, why does she engage with him? So maybe consider if he's entering the story in the right place?

    5. Back to culture and worldbuilding for a second, because this jumped out at me. Do these hunters live in this desert? If so, is it a hot environment (like the Sahara) or a cold one (like the Tibetan deserts)? Details kind of matter when constructing a culture that makes sense. Why is she wearing a cloak, for instance? You never tell us if it's hot or cold, and clothing needs to tailor to environment.

    This includes weapons, too. Longbows are generally associated with Britain, and are about 6 feet and draw about 90 lbs, which is REALLY difficult. How large and strong is your character? When you get into very specific items, you need to understand why those weapons were created in the first place in THIS world. Pole arms were developed here for use against cavalry and swords to protect infantry, for example. Figure out exactly what specific weapons have been developed to hunt the thing you're hunting, and why.

    When worldbuilding, remember that the world shapes your objects and culture. Don't forget to think about the religions, the crafts and hobbies, the foods, who makes the clothing and weapons and and how commerce works. Your world should include all these things even if you never have to show them.

    Last, I promise: I can't get a bead on the cultural derivation of your characters. I guessed European and white because nothing is mentioned except Darius's red cheeks after drinking, but white shouldn't be used as a default; we shouldn't just have to assume they're white, in other words. So tell us. Give me color, smells, and sound. Describe Mother to us. Describe others in the camp. Make your world vital.

    Can't wait to see what you do with this! I love a good desert setting, and the hunting aspect sounds interesting. Thanks for letting me read it!

    1. Hi Rachel,
      Thank you so much for your comments! Your comments on the worldbuilding are so detailed and thoughtful, and I hope I can attempt to do them justice in a revision. There were at least some pieces that were in earlier drafts (the climate, the fact the huntresses are mercenaries), but I cut them from these pages because I wasn't sure they were necessary and were just taking space, so I can definitely add those back at least.

      The actual title is Last Lights of the Lost--I just somehow managed to butcher it when putting together my email and not realize until I'd already sent it off.