Sunday, July 7, 2019

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Asif

Name: Zunaira Asif
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Heir of Shadows
Sky blue eyes met ember ones. She gazed at the boy with infinite love and tenderness. If only things hadn’t gone so wrong, they would have been together. The boy was just as striking as her. Oh, how she missed him. Each day was agony. She’d give her life for a few moments with him. It would be worth it. She sighed. It was useless to wish for the impossible.
Thwarted, she swept her hand at the orb and it fell to the floor and shattered into a million tiny pieces. She fell back into her gold armchair and looked despairingly at her chambers. Everything from the bed to the candle holders was gold. The couch was cushioned with red velvet the same as everything else in the place. Her eyes crept to the fireplace where a shadow snake out from among the firewood and stopped at her feet.
“Laddyyy.” It drawled in its shadowy voice. “How can I be of service?”
“Shakos, did you find the boy?” she questioned.
She closed her eyes and sighed through her nose. “I want you to help him.”
“You want me to lead him home.”
“Yes.” She amended. Her voice crisp. “You must teach him what he must learn and lead him home.”
“I will. My lady.” Shakos promised as he disappeared in the shadows.
A single tear fell from her eyes. She would not be able to meet him one last time. If only she could. She wiped her face and stood. With one last look at the shattered remains of the orb she strode out of the room. Her ebony gown swirling around her.
Chapter 1
Aaron’s sword clanked against his Master’s. His legs quivered with exertion. “I give up.” He panted through his teeth. Xavier’s eyes met his, brimming with disapproval. Oh a lecture was coming and he was in no mood for it. Not saying ‘give up’ would be a hard learnt lesson. Sensing his crabby mood, Xavier simply said “I give up is not something I should hear from you again.” Aaron grunted and reached for his water skein.
The clearing around him spread out in miles of unending bare land. He would never have bothered to the trek here if it wasn’t so close to his house. He could not say the same for Xavier. He would have had him in the arena in town were it not for the fact that he could not stand people.
His eyes wandered to where his master stood, wiping his brow. It had taken a lot of effort on his part to stop calling Xavier ‘master’. But sometimes he couldn’t help himself. He had no recollection of how he had met Xavier and the old man certainly could not be bothered to tell. Well, he didn’t look old. His face was untouched with age and his brown hair did not have a single streak of silver. Only his depthless grey eyes spoke of his age and wisdom.
Aaron was an orphan. He had never held a silver of information about his birth parents. Xavier had been his father in all aspects. He’d brought him up since he was ten. He could not recall of anything before that and Xavier didn’t enlighten him with any further information.
Beside him Xavier cleared his throat. “You’ve been miles away today. Is something wrong?”  Aaron gave him a withering glare and he held up his hands in defense. “Well I am leaving. Don’t wander off in the forest after dark.” He clicked hi tongue at him and strode out of the clearing. Alone again, Aaron let his mind wander.
He felt shadows curling at his feet. The encircled him speaking in languages unknown. He swatted out at them and they scattered, only one curled around his foot and stayed. He let it be. Strange things had begun happening around him. Unable to conceal then he had left and found his own lodgings. Over the years he had become accustomed to them but he couldn’t shake of the feeling that it was him who called them. He understood them, though he did never admit.
He shook his thoughts off and began walking towards the forest, his steps unhurried. The clearing was surrounded by palm trees, shielding it from sight. There was a legend about this particular clearing.
It was said that thousands of years back, strange mystical creatures ‘the others’ resided here. A warrior prince had led his armies here. They fought with the others and managed to defeat them but lost their own lives in the process. None lived to tell what creatures once lived here. This place was said to be haunted by the spirits of the dead creatures and humans alike. Most people believed it to be a superstition but by an unspoken rule no one dared to come near to this place. Well, apart from him and Xavier. They had both agreed that this place held some spiritual value for them. ‘Thanato’s ground’ the land of the Greek god of dead. This was what he called it. “It certainly lent a mystical and airy feeling to the place.” He said out aloud right as he slammed face first into a wall.
He clutched his face in pain. His nose felt squashed in and his head felt not entirely his own. Looking around he realized that he was in town, standing in front of the arena that had once been a Roman amphitheatre. Cheers and shout erupted from inside. Curiosity led him in. once inside he was greeted by a mass of cheering commoners. He made his way through the crowd and got himself a seat. His face rested on his hand in impatience as he waited to see what all the commotion was about.
All voices quieted as three of the gates rose to reveal lions of unnatural size. Each one was a large as a horse and blessed with cunning eyes that belonged to no animal. Their sleek forms made them all the more dangerous. Razor sharp claws scratched the pavement as the lions released a monstrous roar. “These lions are bred to survive in extremes. Each can take on 20 armed men on its own.” A shadowy voice whispered at his ear. He turned but could not discern the speaker. Something slithered at nape of his neck. He yelped as he looked down to see a shadow slither past his shoulder and curl at his neck. It rose from one end to gently tickle his ear. He bit his tongue to keep from screaming. It seemed that that damn shadow had no plans of leaving. His stomach clenched as it tightened its grip on his neck. Behind him someone yelled at him to settle down. He reluctantly turned to his attention to the dais, still keeping an eye on the shadow. He could’ve sworn it snorted at his apprehension.
His attention slid to fourth gate as a girl was shoved in. She looked about 18. His heart missed a beat as his eyes fell on her face. Wide blue black eyes flecked with silver rested in a slender face accented by high cheekbones. Straight starlight hair fell down her back where they curled on ringlets. Her willowing form was veiled by the barest of rags. Moon white skin glowed golden where it met the morning sun. She stood with her shoulders thrown back and knees bent, ready to take on anyone. Her eyes fell on the lions and her shoulders slumped in relief.


  1. Hello, Zunaira, and thank you for participating!

    This is a very intriguing piece. You immediately establish ancient and otherworldly elements, and it's clear in prologue and chapter one that the stakes are high for these characters. You have a nice way with descriptive detail, and I feel invested in the characters. I do have questions and suggestions.

    1) I have to stress the importance of careful proofing. There are a few typos and formatting inconsistencies that could easily pull a reader out of the story. For example: In the first sentence, I think you mean amber rather than ember (though ember--like a burning coal--is an interesting choice for eyes). Also, intentional fragments are totally okay in fiction, but there are some (especially where you are writing dialogue) that just read like errors. Example: “Yes.” She amended. Her voice crisp. “You must teach him what he must learn and lead him home.” SHOULD BE: “Yes,” she amended, her voice crisp. “You must teach him what he must learn and lead him home.”

    2) Dialogue format is a bit off elsewhere. Here's another one:

    ORIGINAL: “Laddyyy.” It drawled in its shadowy voice. “How can I be of service?”

    FIXED: “Laaaddyyy,” it drawled in its shadowy voice, “how can I be of service?” I drew out the word Lady with extra aas rather than the consonants only.

    3) In the prologue, can you make it clearer that she is watching the boy in the orb? Otherwise, it is a little confusing that their eyes meet, but they are not/cannot be together. (Also, I'd reconsider "a million tiny pieces" which is a worn-out phrase).

    3) Watch small inconsistencies of description. Everything in the chamber is gold, but then everything is red cushioned.

    4) The way you start chapter one is really nice. The mid-action scene works well, and you quickly establish teacher/pupil relationship. Maybe rethink the word choice "crabby," which feels off. Also in chapter 1/paragraph 3, I wonder about "depthless" eyes. In paragraph 4, I think you mean sliver, not silver.

    5) The description of the clearing/distance/trek in paragraph 2 loses me. I'm not sure who can't stand people.

    6) Another seeming inconsistency. The shadows speaking in "languages unknown," but then it says Aaron understands them.

    7) Could you move the description of the clearing--and its mysterious history--earlier (to when they're actually there), and perhaps have them discuss its history? It might make better sense/flow there--and feel less like an exposition dump. This feels a little awkward: ‘Thanato’s ground’ the land of the Greek god of dead. This was what he called it. “It certainly lent a mystical and airy feeling to the place.” He said out aloud right as he slammed face first into a wall. Also, some of the details of that history could be clarified. What sort of creatures were The Others? I realize no one is left to tell, but it feels too vague.

    7) In the amphitheater: Don't forget that he walked into a wall. You'll need to allude to that as he sits--or perhaps someone notices. Is his nose bleeding?

    The description of the lions is nice, but I wonder about "pavement". There are also some typos (mostly missing bits) in these paragraphs.

    I'm also a little thrown by Aaron's reaction to the shadow. Earlier, you mention that he has grown accustomed to them, so his shocked reaction seems odd. Is it because the shadow is wrapped around his throat? Or is it that it's speaking to him so publicly? Some clarification needed.

    8) About the girl: How close is Aaron that he can so clearly see her eye color? I like that she is relieved at the sight of the lions. It makes me really wonder about her (in a good way).

    Again, Zunaira, I think you have real potential here. A good once-over to tighten and correct errors, and then some thoughtful clarifying of unclear spots should make a big difference. I look forward to seeing your revision. Hope this is helpful!

    All best,


  2. Hi Zunaira, cool story! I like the mysterious vibe you've got going and the gun-ho attitude of your protagonist. Looks like it will be a fun read.

    I too noticed some of the spelling mistakes, words that were missing or out of place. This is probably the main point to fix, as it is the first thing readers and agents will pick up when reading.

    Regarding the prologue, I question whether it is necessary. Most things I've read about first chapters from agents say that they prefer you start with the protagonist and the issue facing them right now, rather than a flashback to another time in a prologue. I suggest deleting it and just starting with Aaron so we get to know him straight away.

    Speaking of getting to know Aaron, you've got your backstory worked out which is great. However, I feel it is a little too much in these first 1250 words and feels like an "information dump". If you google that, an information dump is where you tell the reader everything they need to know upfront, without showing the reader over time all the information and letting them work it out for themselves. This makes it more interesting for the reader to keep on reading and turning pages, when you leave small tidbits throughout. I suggest maybe breaking up his backstory and only letting us know what detail we need to know right now to understand what it is happening.

    The first chapter should really set the scene to show who the character is, and maybe a bit of what their goal or desire is. I don't have an idea what Aaron wants yet, which doesn't give me a clue to where the story might be going.

    I also found the ending a bit unclear. I wasn't sure what was happening, whether it was in the present or past, a dream or not. And it didn't give me an idea of where the plot was going. Suggest trying to make this direction a little clearer, especially from the start.

    I think you can use Aaron and Xavier's names more instead of the pronoun 'he', as you have two male characters and it can be hard to work out which 'he' you are referring to.

    My last comment was just about dialogue. The rule for dialogue is generally use commas within the dialogue tags if it is a half sentence or someone is speaking. E.g.
    "I give up," he panted through his teeth. (is how it should be written)

    Good luck with the revision, can't wait to see the next one!

  3. For the Prologue, I would focus your first round of edits on removing the telling. You need to show the reader how she feels about the boy, not tell us. Also, this is very short for a prologue which does make me wonder if it is necessary.

    For the chapter, you have 2 POVS in the first 2 paragraphs. I think you need to work on making sure this is all in Aaron's POV and not ever in yours or Xavier's. Also, there is some telling (i.e. "Aaron was an orphan..."). Finally, I think you may need to clarify how much time is taking place here. You say there are miles of bare land but then have him walking toward a forest but suddenly appearing in a town. If this is some kind of time/space travel, it needs to be more clear.

    Good luck!

    1. Lots of possibilities here. Romantic longing, weird shadow creatures, huge lions, and a mystery.

      Prologue: It is clear from your prologue that there is an established relationship between characters and a strong love interest. It is obvious you want to make the point that she misses him dearly but you might be over stressing the point to make sure the reader gets it. For example: ‘She’d give her life for a few moments with him’ makes it pretty clear how much she misses him. To follow that with ‘It would be worth it’ is repetitive in the sense that she wouldn’t say ‘she’d give her life for a few moments with him’ if she didn’t think it was worth it.

      I didn’t realize until the second paragraph that she was looking into a crystal—I thought they were facing one another. Might want to make that clear from the beginning. You might want to clarify who has the sky blue eyes and who has the ‘ember’ eyes (I think you mean amber eyes. If ‘ember eyes’ was intentional—as in hot and glowing—you need to make that distinction as eye color opens the sentence.)

      A few words on setting: You said everything in the room was gold including the bed. Could be just me but I got the image of a very hard bed. A few sentences later you say everything was red velvet. ‘Everything’ might be a bit too expansive. Much later you mention that her robe is ebony. A few words would set a striking contrast between her robe and everything else in the room.

      “A single tear fell from her eyes.” One tear, two eyes?

      There are some typos and word slips. You might try reading your work out loud. You can catch a lot of those kinds of things when you hear yourself reading them.

      Chapter One: The narrative opens with action. You might try showing more of the action that has worn Aaron down. Have him swing, grunt, pant, swing again then give up, something like that.

      I was a little confused at the setting. Aaron is surrounded by miles of unending bare land yet he came there because it was close to his house.

      A few words about why he remembers nothing of the first ten years of his life would be welcome. No need to explain in full but a few word so the reader isn’t just scratching his/her head.

      Odd he had virtually no reaction to the shadows that surrounded his feet and later at the arena he was terrified that one was on him.

      Why did he have so little reaction to running into a wall suddenly in front of him when a moment before he was surrounded by vast space? Had he experienced something like this before?

      There’s a good deal of back story that slows the pace. Might think about weaving in bits of that important information as the story progresses.

      I love the last line when the young girl is relieved when she sees the lions. Totally unexpected and foreshadows some hidden power she possess. You might think about other physical actions that signal relief rather than slumping shoulders. How about a small smile?

  4. This was interesting. You've got a lot of neat details and there's some good world building going on. I got a sense of who Aaron and Xavier were as well, and you go a little bit into the world's history.

    I'd consider dropping the prologue though. I was kind of unsure what purpose it served and it was a bit confusing.

    There were also some consistency issues. "Sensing his crabby mood, Xavier..." for instance sounds like it's coming from Xavier's point of view, but the rest of the chapter is in Aaron's head.

    Also, the clearing supposedly spread out for miles of bare land, but it's still near his house. Then he walks to town in what appears to be a few minutes. Aaron hears voices in languages unknown, but then he understands them. I'd try to clear these up.

    There were also a few issues that a good proofread could fix. Repeated words, dropped words, etc.

    Visually, there's a lot of good details and so far it seems like you know your world and your characters well. I'm also interested to see who this girl in the arena is. I like that she's staring down three gigantic lions like it's no big deal.

  5. Hi Zunaira!

    You had some really cool moments in your first five pages. I was especially intrigued by the shadows curling like they had lives of their own. Below are my thoughts, I hope they're helpful!

    1) I'm not sure you need the prologue. A lot of times prologues just slow down getting to the action, and I think they only work really well if they create a real sense of urgency, like in crime novels sometimes you'll see the crime committed as everyone else goes on unaware of what has happened.

    If you do keep the prologue though, I might try to hint at how old this boy is, because reading "the boy" made me feel like he was younger than the woman, but it seems she wanted a romantic relationship with him. I also thought "infinite love and tenderness" might be a bit extreme, and I'm wondering if there'd be a better description for her gaze.

    2) I got a bit confused at the start of chapter one whether or not Xavier was his master, and it seemed like unnecessary confusion. At first he seems to think of him as his master, but then he says he's stopped calling him that, so then perhaps he shouldn't think of him that way anymore.

    3) The last four paragraphs looked visually dense to me. I think it'd be a lot easier to read if they were broken up, which is an easy fix. The dialogue in those paragraphs can definitely be set off as their own paragraphs.

    4) I felt like the description of the girl at the end was a bit overblown, just like some of the details in the prologue. I don't think he'd be close enough to see all the details in her eyes, and I also thought it was a lot for her to have starlight hair and moonwhite skin that glowed golden--unless she really is some sort of heavenly being. If she is, then I suppose those details are appropriate.

    I hope this helps, and I'm excited to participate in this workshop with you!

    1. Also, I just edited my profile so I'm no longer "Unknown," but this is Emily!

  6. Hi Zunaira!

    Thank you so much for sharing your pages! This is a very interesting start to a story!

    The main issue is that it's hard to follow, and that confusion is taking me out of the story. I'd start by proofreading this very carefully, as others have suggested. Then I'd work on scene blocking. Having both Xavier and Aaron talk and move about in one paragraph is confusing. Focus on one of your character's words (using standard dialogue tags, etc) and actions, showing him in relation to his surroundings and other characters, and then move on to the next. For example in this paragraph I couldn't tell who was speaking:

    Beside him Xavier cleared his throat. “You’ve been miles away today. Is something wrong?” Aaron gave him a withering glare and he held up his hands in defense. “Well I am leaving. Don’t wander off in the forest after dark.” He clicked hi tongue at him and strode out of the clearing. Alone again, Aaron let his mind wander.

    Careful also of sentences like this: He felt shadows curling at his feet. How can he feel a shadow? If he can, take a few beats and describe the shadows to them, the weight, the pressure, etc.

    The description of the girl was a bit over the top, unless she's an angel or something. I do find her intriguing though, and am eager to find out what she's doing there. This is a great ending:Her eyes fell on the lions and her shoulders slumped in relief. I look forward to reading next week - and good luck revising!


    Erin, 1st 5 Pages Mentor