Monday, March 4, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Pearson

Name: Cordia Pearson
Genre: YA Fantasy

He’s shouting. I’m cringing.
My father slams his fist to the map table. The force of his blow sends pens and papers toppling to the pavilion’s pounded-earth floor. “Thea, what were you thinking?”
The tent walls, rolled high in deference to summer’s heat, snap in the ever-present winds off the grasslands, scattering papers across the ornate carpets.
Already at rigid attention, I cast my gaze to the middle distance and scramble for a response. “a’Shara?”
“I want an explanation, daughter! Not a reminder of my title.” Despite the pavilion’s cool shade, Pell’s growl raises hairs on the nape of my neck.
Lycan stands stalwart at my side, like myself, hands clasped behind his back. Pell a’Sada isn’t his foster father. Justifying what we did falls to me. “a’Shara, we raced Hanan against Amir, seeking to learn whether he’ll be ready to run in Kalais this fall.” With my heart halfway up my throat, the words come out timorous.  
My father’s brows arch in an expression suggesting an utter lack of foresight on my part. “Surely some other possibility suggested itself?” His eyes narrow as he waits for me to evidence intelligence. “Somewhere less than a stone’s throw from Daharsha? Such as one of the ways, where the enemy couldn’t drill an arrow through your empty skulls?”
The ways, roads that crisscross the Sada territory, none of which are elbow distance from the Daharshan desert where I was born.
Before Lycan tries taking the blame, I do. “a’Shara, the lapse in judgment was mine.”
My father shakes his head, battle braids swinging. “Is that not the heart of the matter? You, acting without thought?”
The Venari who caught us stifle laughter.
I’m mortified, shirt and leggings sweat-soaked.
The a’Shara pivots as one of the Sada’s dozen Ulans approach from the north. One hundred Venari strong, these are the ranks of warriors Lycan and I have devoted the last four years practicing to become once of age. Me in a moon, Lycan come winter.
This is the Lightning Ulan, just off patrol and heading for the horse pens. In the fore: the lancers, their pinions fluttering—a division requiring Lycan’s broad shoulders and strength. The swordsmen and women follow, then my calling, the archers. All salute their commander, my father, as they pass.
He inclines his head, acknowledging their service.
Lycan, tawny hair framing skin almost as tan as my year-round golden bronze, uses the breather of the Ulan’s passage to ease his hip against my ribs. The discrepancy in our height has become a physical form of banter between us. Him reminding me of his size; me reminding him of my speed, which I do now, with a swift, tense quit-it shove.
Should Heaven smile upon us and we are made each other’s Seconds—the Venari tradition wherein two warriors guard each other’s backs—it will be a first: a Daharshan foundling fighting at an A’talan’s side.
Hidden behind our backs, Lycan threads his fingers through mine, offering comfort and fortitude.
The wind swirls, erratic in this heat, replacing the sweet tang of horse and parch of dust with that of roasting meat and baking bread off the gathering grounds. Not that I’ll be eating any time soon with a stomach in knots.
My father turns as the last rider passes and sees how close we stand. His lips thin in their frame of tight-clipped beard and mustache. “Step apart.”
My stricken expression pleads for lenience even as I do as commanded, hand coming free of Lycan’s.
My father’s gaze pierces. “You lay with this boy, yet neglect to tell me?”
I dart an anxious glance Lycan’s way. Yes, I dream of this young man night and day. Yet for my father to believe I’d withhold truth, appalls.
Lycan’s shoulders go stiff with outrage. “a’Shara, we have not.”
“Daughter, is this true?”
My nod sends a ripple down the braid riding my spine. “It is.”
“Indeed.” The a’Shara sits, long fingers laced over a stomach lean and muscled as any of his younger Venari. “Hear me and hear me well. Together, you are a recipe for disaster. Seek other companions or forget becoming Venari.”
In the stunned silence that follows, the wind slaps the tent’s lofty ceiling , sending it straining against the king poles and guy ropes.
“So, what’s it to be?”
Lycan and I share an agonized glance. The a’Shara has offered us a choice between two extremes of wretched.
The closer I’ve come to my seventeenth birthday and possible ascension, the greater my restraint in my adopted father’s presence. I love this man, nay worship him. Since a tiny child, have understood who and what he was in our world: head of our tribe, a protector of A’tal and the last word on whether any Venari-to-be ascends into the Sada ranks.
While I will become adult on my birthdate, only as Venari will I gain the rights of a citizen. And for that, I must forswear the first A’talan to deem me worthy of sharing his life, love and fate.
I square my shoulders and meet my father’s gaze. “I would be Venari, a’Shara.”
His eyes narrow in a half smile. “Good choice. Should obedience and restraint replace imprudence, I will revisit Seconding the pair of you—provided either of you ascends.”
I fight for breath. Never before has my father threatened not to make me Venari.
Lycan takes a step forward. “a’Shara, this is wrong.”
My father’s expression turns to flint. “Tragic enough when I lose Venari to the enemy. Idiotic, when Venari-to-be offer themselves as easy kills along the border. And for what? Nothing more than good race footing.”
Hot as the day is, ice slithers through my veins. I caused this mess. Not my father. Not the young man I hope to love and fight beside.
The muscles in Lycan’s clean-shaven jaw clench as he speaks, his voice deep and intense. “a’Shara, I would do anything to protect your daughter. Anything.”
My father laughs. “None of which you evidenced, racing with her along the border. You want to be her lover? Do better. Until then, leave her alone!”
My tears fall like silent rain, darkening the loose weave, open-throated shirt and leather riding vest I wear. For hundreds of years, A’talan warriors have rained death and destruction upon their enemy, Daharsha. As a creation of that enmity, I am heir to its legacy—children who cry silently, never sobbing, not drawing death's attention.
My father turns to the Venari who brought us here. “Take their stallions to the horse pens and tell Sojur what happened. This pair’s riding boot leather for the remainder of the day.”
He’s unhorsing us, leaving us on foot.
I wrench free of my stun. “a’Shara, no, please! It’s my responsibility to care for Amir.”
“Suggesting Sojur hasn’t the knowledge?”
Sojur, the man who taught me everything I know about riding and training. “No, it’s just that . . .”
“I want to explain our reasons before others offer their opinions.”
“Pity you didn’t think of that earlier.” He dismisses the two Venari.
Lycan turns his back on the a’Shara, then compounds the insult by taking my face between his large hands. “In less than a moon, you ascend. Take no Second. Come winter, I too will be Venari. We can survive this, however unjust.” He runs his fingers under my blue eyes, wiping the tears away. Blows my bangs aside and blesses my forehead with a kiss.


  1. Hi Cordia! Thank you for sharing your pages with us. I’ll comment as I go.
    I like the action you open with, but I think it can be tightened. Before her father speaks for the first time, it would be more effective to move the description/reaction of the tent and her father’s rage above with the scattering of pens, etc… Then have her father’s question be alone with a single physical gesture from him or something. This would up the tension and tighten the piece. You can also cut here and there to tighten, such as the sentence after she says …he’ll be ready to run in Kalais this fall.” That following sentence interrupts the flow and takes the reader out of the story. Similar tightening can be used throughout the first five.

    For me, the other most noticeable drawback about this opening is that I didn’t feel grounded in the character’s world as I read. Obviously, this is a fantasy world. So sometimes when creating a new fantasy world giving the reader less exact details, such as named locations and things, helps them assimilate into your world faster and with less confusion. Give them what is absolutely essential to your opening and to creating your character/goal/conflict. I had to reread the opening half a few times to piece all the details together. You don’t want a reader to have to do that during your first few pages. Saying this, the remainder of the piece did draw me in. You gave your character a gut-wrenching conflict and goal mixed into one. That is really good. It makes me want to know more. I hope this helps! Best of luck with your revision. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.


  2. I should preface this by saying I haven't read much YA Fantasy in recent years, so take any thoughts with a grain of salt.

    The opening feels like it begins after the first line. Someone shouting & someone cringing doesn't grab me or strike me as that memorable first line(s). The second piece with the father's action could act as the opener. I'd consider combining those sentences together into one (along with his words), then moving the opening behind it.
    I found myself a little overwhelm by the number of proper named people and places in the pages. I'm guessing many of these (like the running/race) will be revisited later, but it was challenging to understand the meaning with just a proper name.
    The conflict is crystal clear and well done. The subtle gestures between the two create a strong sense of commitment early on and I could already feel myself pulling for them. I came away with a solid feel for three characters the pages focused upon although I felt pulled away at times with all the focus on the eyes and shoulders features/actions. That's probably more of a personal preference though as the descriptions were good, but it felt like a pattern of sorts.
    You have a solid start to your novel. Congrats.

  3. Hi, Cordia!
    You're clearly a skilled writer, which is wonderful. That said, the biggest issue I see is that you've introduced too many original names for both people and things in the opening. It's easy to do that with high fantasy, especially when you know your world and characters inside out. But you don't want your reader to become confused and frustrated with trying to understand and keep track instead of being drawn in. Think of a way to ground us with mostly familiar concepts and introduce just a few names at a time. For example, you use the father's title, name, and relationship several different ways, each making me wonder if he was a new person or the same. I was also unclear on the names of the groups, the soldiers, and whether they were racing or racing animals.
    Describe the situation, emotion from the MC (very important, and then in a very clear way, slip in the name with each so we know confidently who you are referring to and why it is important.
    I do love the situation you've put her in. I think there are a couple of smaller things you can do, like perhaps hip to rib is a bit too much of a height difference? It left me wondering how they can hold hands behind their backs. ;) And for this huge revelation about staying away from one another that way to be just found out seems strange to me. Maybe a hint that he never approved or more shock as to why with internal dialogue?
    I am intrigued by this world you've created and love that it's more military based and not princess, etc. Can't wait to see what you do with your revision!

  4. Hi Cordia,

    I read through this twice. The first time I wasn't that engaged, but the second time I enjoyed it much more. I suspect that reveals a problem: in order to follow what's happening in the scene, readers have to absorb a lot of information. You do a good job of integrating it into the narration, but there's so much of it, I got confused on several occasions and was putting more energy into working through what is happening than bonding with Thea.

    I wonder if this is because of where you're starting. Ostensibly, beginning with a conflict like this could engage the reader, but because it's a high-stakes confrontation begins on a bad foot and gets worse for Thea, there isn't much space around it to show the world at a more reader-comfortable (or me-comfortable) pace. When I think of other world fantasies I've read recently, they usually have a few pages before the high-level conflict begins so we can get a lay of the land.

    The intense confrontation also prevents you from showing Pell a'Sada as anything other than a fairly stereotypical hard parent. He may have nuance as the story evolves, but the nature of this encounter doesn't let you reveal it. From these pages, I assume he's important to the story, so, as a reader, I want to be reassured he's got some depth beyond yelling.

    All that said, while there's too much of it for me, the world you paint is vivid and engaging. I'm not sure if the central problem Thea will face is overcoming her father's resistance to her being with Lycan or something else, but I can imagine both of the two teens being compelling characters as the story goes on. As well, the implied conflict created by Thea's dual heritage suggests some delightful plot action later.

    My notes from as I read through (mostly the first time. Quotes from the MS are called out between double slashes, e.g., //quote//

    //scattering papers across the ornate carpets//—Nice scene setting in the opening. I have a good sense of place without it feeling like you lingered on too many details.

    //my gaze to the middle distance//—that's a bit wordy. Can you express this more concisely?

    //Pell a’Sada//—while there's nothing wrong about him being named a'Sada while having the title a'Shara, it may be confusing or come off as a typo.

    //Justifying what we did falls to me.//—I'd start a new paragraph here so it's clear Thea is speaking and not Lycan.

    //I’m mortified, shirt and leggings sweat-soaked.//—this implies Thea's shirt and leggings are soaked because she's mortified, which would be a whole lot of sweat for an uncomfortable conversation.

    //…dozen Ulans approach from the north. One hundred Venari strong, these are the ranks of warriors//—this confused me because Ulans (or Uhlans) are cavalry. As I read ahead, I see they are cavalry, but the one hundred vs the dozen makes it read like an Ulan is a group of warriors. I'd edit this for clarity.

    //which I do now, with a swift, tense quit-it shove.//—I loved this paragraph.

    //My father turns as the last rider passes and sees how close we stand//—My attention drifted as the ulan review happened, and I struggled to follow what was happening. It feels to me that you're trying to get in some important world information, but it's coming too fast for me to absorb.

    //My father’s gaze pierces. “You lay with this boy, yet neglect to tell me?”//—this feels extreme. Perhaps in their culture, a father publicly accusing his daughter of sleeping with somebody wouldn't be shocking, but it's hard for me to imagine him doing so.

    //The a’Shara has offered us a choice between two extremes of wretched.//—Great conflict.

    //For hundreds of years, A’talan warriors have rained death and destruction upon their enemy, Daharsha. As a creation of that enmity, I am heir to its legacy—children who cry silently, never sobbing, not drawing death's attention.//—more great conflict stuff.


  5. Hi Cordia,

    I agree with many of the above comments. I love the relationship between Lycan and Thea and the conflict that is presented for her. I did feel a little lost with all the names and the intro to the world, which made me feel less invested in the conflict than I might have otherwise (without caring for Thea first I had a hard time feeling as much emotion as I could have seeing her in a tough spot). I think it requires slowing down a bit so we connect with her before we see her in a bind. Possibly you can open with her with Lycan, so we see them caring for each other and their goals and then when it's threatened we see what she has to lose? I know her father mentioned he would take away being Venari but I wasn't sure what that meant exactly and why it was important. What happens if she doesn't become Venari? What is she hoping for if she does? Establishing these types of things early will really help us feel the emotion when it's threatened. Overall, I think you have a great premise and a great start, so clearing these things up will really help it shine!

  6. This is such a unique opening, and I found myself immediately drawn into the world. The first lines are great, and I really felt tension between Thea and her father. I also love the relationship you’ve created with Thea and Lycan. Some of my favorite lines were:

    “The discrepancy in our height has become a physical form of banter between us. Him reminding me of his size; me reminding him of my speed, which I do now, with a swift, tense quit-it shove.”


    “For hundreds of years, A’talan warriors have rained death and destruction upon their enemy, Daharsha. As a creation of that enmity, I am heir to its legacy—children who cry silently, never sobbing, not drawing death's attention.”

    The first gave me a lovely glimpse of the way Thea and Lycan interact, and the language felt really natural. The second provided a peek into the history of the world, and the way Thea fits into all of it. It was also really beautiful and sad.

    Overall, though, I felt like the language was getting in the way of the story. It felt a little overcomplicated, and it took me a while to know why, exactly, Thea’s father was angry with her. I knew that she took someone to race someone in an area where she shouldn’t have. But she never explains why she raced him in that area, either to her father or to the reader. Also, it isn’t until the final page that you mention that Amir is a horse. I think putting that information up front, in simpler terms, would go a long way in making the conflict clear.

    I also think she and her father could call each other by their names—especially since he calls her out immediately for using his title, as if it’s unnecessary. The names/titles in general felt like a lot of information for this short of a passage. In the first five pages, the reader is introduced to:

    Pel a’Sada

    I think it’s too much. If feels like you’re trying to introduce all the components of the world at once (trust me, I totally get that instinct) but I think this opening scene can be pared down a bit. Ask yourself what this scene is about. Is it about Thea getting in trouble? Or is it about the larger issue of her father not wanting her to be with Lycan? At first, it seems to be about the former, but soon turns into an issue of the latter. Is it possible to weave these threads together? Can it be Lycan who’s constantly getting Thea into trouble with his plans, to the point that her father forbids them to be together? If today’s race is part of a larger pattern (being together makes them reckless), it will make more sense that her father is making her choose between Lycan and becoming Venari. Otherwise, I don’t see a reason in the text for why he’s making her choose, so it feels like a conflict is being written in just to create tension.

    If you pare down the amount of names used, info about the world woven in, and some of the more formal, stilted language, and really focus on the fact that Thea and Lycan keep getting into trouble together, I think you will have something really fantastic here. Looking forward to the revision!

  7. Hi Cordia,

    I found your opening full of action and your pages seem intriguing, but all the different names threw me off. I felt this as a bit similar to when amateur writers create character soup (introducing too many characters too quickly). I agree with the comments above, but one sentence that caught me off guard and found somewhat awkward "Since a tiny child" could be revised as "Since early childhood." I hope that helps, and I'll look forward to your revision.