Sunday, November 3, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Grant

Name: Belinda Grant
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy.
Title: The Librex

Climbing down a slippery cliff in the dark was not one of my talents.

My sister Sunny was made for the task. While my stubby fingers gripped for dear life, she’d scampered down like a lizard, barely touching the grooves in the stone. She dropped down to the hard, slick rock as if it was spongy grass, dumped the contents of her bag and began to make a fire, occasionally looking up as if surprised I hadn’t joined her.

I wished I’d stayed in bed. The night’s little moonlight had vanished. All that guided my hands was the slight glow of the clouds, and the white waves that lapped against the rocks below. Those same clouds also gifted a misty rain, adding to the unpleasantness of my descent. Secret, mysterious caves, it turned out, were not so appealing in the rain.
I inched my way down further, dropping the toe of my boot into a lower groove. Now I stretched out as far as I could reach. I let go with one hand to grab a rock jutting out near my elbow, but the pressure on my other hand was too much. With a cry I fell. I landed on my feet but lost my footing and crashed onto my rear.

“Why'd you let go, Annie?” Sunny called out.

I lay flat on the rock, glaring at the grey sky as if it was to blame. “It wasn’t exactly on purpose.” I groaned and pushed myself up onto first one, then both of my feet. My ankles survived, though my rear started to throb. Why couldn’t my body behave for once? 

“Well, hurry up. We don’t have much time.” Sunny had finished her fire and was now preparing a torch to light our way.

She was right. I’d spent many sleepless nights observing the tides, and the platform where we stood was only safe from the waves for an hour at a time.

Research. That was a talent of mine.

For years we’d been fascinated by the cave, situated in the cliff up the slope from our house. Visible during the low tide, we pondered if anything hid behind its jagged mouth. We couldn’t risk swimming in, where the waves did their regular battle with the rocks. We assumed the smooth cliff was too difficult to climb. But then I’d noticed the strange grooves in the rock, making it safe to descend to the platform at its mouth.

Safe for someone like Sunny at least.

The grey sea reflected the night’s cloudy sky. The biggest waves would break against the platform, close to reaching Sunny’s spitting fire. I ducked down, holding my aching hands up towards the warm flames. The cave was darker than I’d pictured, and I rubbed my prickling arm.

Sunny finished twisting some cloth around her wooden torch. She rocked from one foot to the other and her night-dress billowed in the wind against her tall, lean frame. Her blonde curls danced across her face as she worked. She kept blowing them out of the way with frustration, but little success.

“What do you think’ll be in there?” Sunny asked, using her body as a shield from the wind as she lit the torch.


“Treasure?” Sunny’s laugh had a patronising undertone, as if I was a baby, instead of two years her junior.

“What do you think it is, oh wise and great Sunnilyn Demar?”

“A pirate skeleton maybe? Not coins or jewellery.”

I hadn’t meant coins or jewellery. I hadn’t lost sleep marking the tides for coins or jewellery. I hadn’t risked my ankles or the wrath of our parents for coins or jewellery.

I had a greater treasure in mind. Magic. I licked my lips and moved forward.

Sunny stepped into the mouth. The slimy walls and loose rocks at my feet were perfect locations for things to hide. Slimy, dark things. I pushed up close to Sunny. What might have made their homes in the caves depths?

I could almost taste the salty water that clung to the walls. The light from Sunny’s torch bounced off the stone as she hurried along. She came to an upward ledge standing just above the high tide line. With a jump she was up, light in hand, and she reached down to help me lumber my way to the top.

The cave walls narrowed in around us, the roof brushing against Sunny’s head. Though the wind didn’t curve into this part of the cave, the damp from my cloak seeped through to my nightdress. Sunny raced ahead, but I slowed down, surprised at the length of the tunnel. Who’d last braved this spot?

Someone had been here. Waves couldn’t forge this. Someone cut those groves in the rocks.

The tunnel went dark as Sunny turned a corner. She gasped, and I quickened my steps. There were no hints of any magic whispers yet.

Sunny stood at the end of the cave. If there’d been any doubt that people had made this, it was quelled by the sight of a symbol, the size of my head, chiselled into the wall. Four triangles connected at their tips and fanning out like a flower. Below was a stone pillar, carved out of the back of the cave.

On the pillar was a wooden box.

Tiny enough to fit in the palm of my hand, the wood was chocolate-brown, coated in thick resin. On the box, etched into the surface and burnt black was the same symbol that watched over us from the wall.

Sunny poked the wood with her finger. “It might be an artefact. Do you hear any whispers?”

I moved closer, even held my hand over the top of the box. I strained to hear something, anything. But it was no good. There was only the sound of distant waves and two sets of breath.

“No whispers. It can’t be magic.” My voice was low and someone more sensitive than Sunny would have picked up the hint of tears behind it. There was no reason to think there’d be a magic artefact just waiting in the cave by our house. But I’d day-dreamed the possibility too many times, it had become almost a certainty in my mind.

I turned the box in my hand. The resin which protected it from the elements sealed it shut. Sunny rustled through her pack and handed me a knife. She rested her chin on my shoulder and held up her torch for light as I pried it open.

Inside was a stone. It was speckled, cloudy white, with a vein of metallic blond running through the centre, shaped like a bent knuckle with a hole in the end. A quartz stone?

“A rock?!” Sunny shook her head as I held it up to the light. “I could find five thousand of these on the walk to town. Why the shrine?”

It made no sense. Why would someone go to some much trouble for something so ordinary? I turned it in my hand, watching the glow from the little string of mental. It was rather pretty.

“What a waste of time!” Sunny ripped it from out of my hand and readied to smash it against the walls.


Sunny turned towards me, her face ghost like in the strange light. She watched me for a moment, then handed it over.


  1. Hi Belinda!
    I enjoyed this so much that at times I forgot I wasn't just reading a normal, published book! Your details and descriptions of the setting are incredible. With every sentence my mind painted a picture of the story. I love that you incorporated all senses in your descriptions, it really made for a well-rounded, complete setting.
    I like the main character Annie, but Sunny really shines to me. I can't wait to get to know her character more.
    The only bit that confused me a little was near the end when Sunny rested her chin on Annie's shoulder. I must've read over the set-up for this, and it felt very awkward in my head to imagine.
    I was hooked from the beginning, and you did a wonderful job of giving enough information to inform the reader but still keeping it suspenseful and making the reader want to know more. Fantastic!

    1. Thanks Casey. I was so happy reading your words! I was quite nervous entering this, so your encouragement was timely. So you feel like Annie needs to come to the fore more as a character, given the boon is her POV? Or is the balance okay?

  2. Hello Belinda.
    Great opening line. I get mood, setting, weather and a little insight into the main character all in 14 words.
    I also get a good feeling for the relative characters of Annie and Sunny. Thoughtful and a planner vs a bit self-centred, impetuous and a do-er. I wasn't sure on their ages or even which was older. A few clues might help with visualizing them.
    I was confused at first by the word 'platform' - I thought it was something man-made, but once I read further I figured it was rocky. A little extra description at first mention would help. Even if you just add it in the second paragraph - jumped...rock platform...
    I was also uncertain why Sunny made a fire (and how she made it so quickly) if the platform is only above water for an hour. It's not like they are going to stay long.
    I also wondered why they weren't thinking about the climb back up the cliff face. Especially Annie, who didn't quite make it down perfectly. That's the first thing I'd be thinking about once I was at the bottom and looking back up, wondering what I had gotten into.
    There is also an opportunity to explain why they had to go out in the middle of the night, in the rain. Obviously the tides are a main factor, but is there some other reason they felt compelled to do it on that particular night?
    I'm looking forward to finding out what's in the resin-sealed box, since it seems it's not magical.

    1. Thanks Judith. Some very helpful things. It seems like in the effort to not do too much info dumping, I left out a few key things that would be helpful. Thanks so much for your feedback

  3. Hi Belinda! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this sample and could feel the mystery and salty-sea air. ;-)
    You have lovely prose and really set up your story well.
    The only few (small) areas I think would help would be establish earlier how old these girls are, and you could by way of a recent birthday (wearing my slippers I just got for my sixteenth birthday) or how old Sunny is (My sister is two years younger than me, but..etc) or by mentioning her grade in school. This would also help establish the time period (modern day, or historical?) The fact that she uses a torch tells me its possibly historical, because otherwise wouldn't she bring a flashlight?
    Like I said, these are tiny adjustments but I really feel it help the reader become fully immersed.
    Best of luck and I'm excited to read on!

    1. That is such a good tip! Thanks so much Sarah will give it a try.

  4. Good start, Belinda! You clearly have a strong image of the setting in your mind, and your writing is very strong as you describe it to us. The two girls already have strong and very different personalities so we’re unlikely to mix them up even now.

    I have three main questions though:

    When is this set? It says fantasy, even though it feels like a real world setting of a cliff by the sea, but the era is not as clear. They’re wearing nightdresses and cloaks, and she lights a fire-torch, so I wonder if it’s a historical setting, not contemporary. Can you help us out early on to make sure we feel as sure about the time period as we do about the physical setting.

    Where are they in relation to the cave? Your descriptions of the stone and water etc are lovely, but can you look closely about the girls’ positioning? They’re climbing DOWN to the cave, but then you say the cave is ABOVE their house, and several more times you talk about up and down, all of which destabilizes my understanding of where they are and where they’re moving. I know YOU can see it clearly, but can you help us understand it better?

    Why does she go looking for magic, and not just treasure? And why does she think that magic must show itself through whispers? Has she been brought up on spooky stories about the cave? Are there local myths about the cave’s magic etc? Is she the only one who believes she’ll find magic in there, or does her sister too? Or does Sunny tease her about believing such a ridiculous thing? And if they’d known about this cave for years, what has made them to go explore it tonight? What are the stakes for her? Why does she want, or even need, to find the magic right now? Wanting to find magic for curiosity’s sake is fine, but NEEDING to find the magic so she can solve a problem or address a trauma is so much better!

    I’m looking forward to reading the new version next week!

    1. Wow, thanks so much Caroline, that feedback is so insightful. Look forward to taking it on board.

  5. Hi! Great opening line! I love your use of sensory details throughout! You do a lovely job of creating distinct personalities between the sisters too. I'm assuming the sneaked out at night, but I wonder why they didn't throw on something besides nightgowns? Though, the billowing gown does add to the imagery. I was a bit confused as to how after falling down, she knew that Sunny had lit the torch? Also, I was surprised by the mention of magic at the end. Other than that, very nice writing. Love the back and forth between the sisters and the descriptions of the setting!

    1. Thanks Judith. Love hearing what doesn't make sense, new eyes are so helpful!

  6. Hey Belinda! Awesome pages!! Thanks for participating.

    When I read first pages, the question I always ask myself is, would I keep reading? In this case, I definitely think I'd keep going. I'm curious about the girls, why they are going to the cave and what kind of world this is, so great job on hooking the reader. There are some really tantilizing details here - like the fact that someone else has been in the cave and the fact that Annie has been observing the tides to get to the cave.

    In terms of more critical notes, I have a couple of thoughts. One is that the girls read kind of young for YA - especially Annie (IMO). This is absolutely fine if you're thinking of this as lower YA (which is wonderful!). If you are positioning this as middle or upper YA, then I think you should look at a couple of things here. One is Annie's belief that there could be something magic could be hidden in a cave behind her house and two is the expectation that the magical object would be whispering. Right now, I feel like Annie is 12 or 13 years old and Sunny is 16ish. If the characters are older, I'd drop in a hint (doesn't have to be a huge change) of why a teen would expect to hear whispering coming from a magic object.

    My only other note concerns how much light there actually is in this environment. It sounds like it's pretty dark and as such, would the character perceive the grey sea and white waves more that the light coming off the torch that's right next to her?

    But that is super nitpicky! Overall, I think this is excellent. Great work :)

    1. Thanks Kelly for the helpful feedback. I am aiming for youngish YA (Annie is 13 here, though she ages up later in the novel), so I'm glad that is getting across. Look forward to implementing your thoughts.

  7. Hi Belinda!

    Thank you for sharing your pages with us! This is a very intriguing start to a story! 

    First off, I loved the setting. You could even build on it a little more, add to the danger. I'd also suggest more scene blocking. I'd also like to see a bit more grounding in this world. It reads at first as a contemporary fantasy, so I was surprised when I read about their style of dress and also this: 

    Sunny poked the wood with her finger. “It might be an artefact. Do you hear any whispers?”I moved closer, even held my hand over the top of the box. I strained to hear something, anything. But it was no good. There was only the sound of distant waves and two sets of breath.

    The girls, I'm assuming, went out in the middle of the night in search of a magical artifact. What made them think there might be one in the cave? Why do they want it so badly? Basically, I'd like a bit more stakes here and a bit more character. I know you only have 5 pages, but I'd suggest spending a little less of your prime page real estate letting us know how difficult the trek is for Annie and how easy for Sunny, and give us more stakes and character. Who is the driving force behind this quest and why? The reader doesn't need to know everything, but a bit more would really help hook the reader.

    Overall a great start! I can't wait to read your revision!


    1. Oh wow Erin those are such helpful questions! Definitely can think of some ways I can up the stakes. And sorry for the silly question but what do you mean by scene blocking? Thank you!

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