Sunday, February 9, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Watson Rev 1

Cristy Watson
Middle Grade Fantasy
Awakening Dawn

Chapter One – Salt Sky-Seeker

The Cliffs of Ironrab

Today I must climb the cliff that dropped me from its rock face like a speck of dirt. A speck of dirt to be stepped on by my older brother. Slate is sitting by the fire, a smug look on his face as he wolfs down his breakfast. He knows he will succeed on the climb up Ironrab. He’s done it many times before. But as I sit down across from him, he shakes his head. He believes I will fail again.

As Father bites into his trout pie, he turns to my younger brother Seed and says, “I have asked the clan council for permission for you to join your brothers today and they have agreed.”

“Even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away, I can climb the cliffs of the Great Mountain with Slate and Salt?”

Ruffling Seed’s thick, black hair, Father chuckles. “Yes. Then I will have three boys conquering Ironrab today.” Father smiles at my younger brother and then at Slate. When he looks my way, I see disappointment flash across his face before he turns his gaze back to my siblings. “Three boys to bring pride to our family name of Sky-Seeker.”  

Father stands and places his arm around Seed, but my younger brother is so full of the heat of summer, he can’t stand still for long. Like a cougar cub ready to pounce, he shifts his weight back and forth, excitement at Father’s news lighting his face. Giving in, Father lets Seed go, and returns to sit by the fire as he eats the last of his morning meal.

When I was young, I thought Father had only enough love for one son, Slate. But then Seed came along and I realized I was mistaken.

Flames burn my cheeks while Seed bounces off to tell his friends he’s joining us. Like with my younger brother, Father wanted me to be ready for my Ceremony today, so he sent me to practice thirteen moons ago. He wanted me to be the best climber. One who would hold fast our tradition as Sky-Seekers – direct descendants of the clan who reaches for the Sun.

Father has no idea I failed.

But Slate does. Slate had to wait for me thirteen moons ago when I made my first attempt up the cliffs. I was frozen on the side of Ironrab. As the Sun climbed higher in the sky, and the youth of our clan made their way to the top, I was stuck. Wavering on the side of the mountain, while a wind storm brewed inside me. Eventually, that storm tossed me from the mountain.

The other climbers had already begun their trek back to our village. Only Slate had to wait. Only Slate witnessed my fall. Red-faced, he left me there, sprawled in a tree branch.

Since then, though we are not allowed to climb Ironrab at any other time than our Seven Moon Festival, or with permission from the elders if we are not of age, I have snuck out to the mountain in the deep, dark of night and tried to conquer my fear. But each time I began the climb, the cliff would move and twist, as if conspiring against me.
Now my brow knits into a scowl while I watch my brother gather more wood for the fire. Slate’s muscles ripple as he carries the heavy load before dumping several logs onto the embers. As the fire catches and the flames soar, our shadows leap out and cast an eerie story along the tree trunks. Slate’s shadow grows larger and larger, until it consumes mine. I turn to see him grinning as he steps in beside me.

“So, do you have your Quest set for tonight’s Ceremony?” Slate smirks, as he plops down beside Father.

Mother pipes in, “Let it be, Slate. My father will be honoured if Salt claims the role of Orator. You see how he follows in your Grandfather’s steps, constantly repeating the stories of old.” Mother smiles as she wraps the food left from last night’s meal in salted leaves.

Father stands abruptly, hands on hips. “That would disgrace our name. I have told you both before, a Story-Teller is no Sky-Seeker. He’s grounded and sedentary, like the dust left behind by the avid climbers.”

I focus my gaze on the crackling fire, the flames feasting on the new dry wood and I think about my dream from last night. I dreamt that I made the climb up the cliffs of Ironrab – and that Father gathered me in his arms and swung me around with joy. But to suggest I might inherit Grandfather’s place in our tribe at tonight’s Ceremony would only burn more shame onto my father’s brow. An acrid burn blisters my throat.

In silence, I head to our hut and dress in the ceremonial pants I must wear for the climb. I choose not to put on a vest, as it will be hot later in the day. I am sure I will be on the Cliffs of Ironrab for a long time. I close my eyes and try to picture my hands and feet gripping the rock face. But instead, panic grips me, taking hold in my bones. I have no Quest to share this evening at the Ceremony that Father will accept. The climb up Ironrab still looms before me. How will I succeed?

“Are you ready, brother?” Seed bounds into the hut, grinning widely. “Timber gets to climb, too! Aren’t you excited?”

“I am excited for you. I know you will have great success today.”

Because it is not time for Seed’s Ceremony, he doesn’t have to change his clothes. He grabs a water pouch from the pine table and runs back outside.

The Seven Moon Festival begins with a long walk to the Great Mountain. The elders remain in our village to prepare for the evening feast, while lean bodied youth run along the path, barefoot. I wish I could stay back with Grandfather, learning more stories of our people. But I put one foot slowly in front of the other – toward my fated destiny.

Ahead, Slate marches down the forest path with determination and strength, his hands knotted into fists, while Seed skips, his energy light and ready for the challenge. My feet shuffle along, stirring up the dusty leaves, and I have trouble keeping up with my brothers. Other youth pass me, sometimes knocking into my shoulders as they go by. And the whoops and cheers of my peers drown out the sounds of the birds and chirping squirrels.

I hear the echo of Grandfather’s deep voice booming through the forest. His resonating words from last night still sit along the branches of the Cedar trees: “Our ancestors named their tribe, Sky-Seekers. We come from this line of heroes.”

Not feeling heroic, I step out of the forest into a wide span of sand and shrubs that stretches to the Great Cliffs of Ironrab.  My stomach turns. Today is the most important day of my life, but as we approach the Great Mountain, a windstorm begins to brew inside me just like the last time I faced this cliff. I begin to shake like a winter storm that blows the dying leaves clear off the trees, and I feel naked and exposed.

But there is no way to turn back.


  1. Hi, Cristy!

    This was a great revision. You did the right thing, starting the chapter where you did. And because of the way you wove in Mom's dialogue and G-pa's singing later, we don't lose the information or the vibe from the first version. Well done!

    The pacing is a lot better this way also, and as a bonus, we get to read more of Salt's story (yes! We know his name is Salt now!). You also did a nice job of quickly sketching out the brothers' relationships. I liked Salt's kindness to Seed despite his obvious disappointment, anxiety, and jealousy.

    As last time, your writing is lovely. But it does occasionally lead to the potential for lack of semantic clarity. For example, when you say Salt was "wavering on the side of the mountain, while a wind storm brewed inside me" I can't tell if you're being artistically metaphorical, or if Salt is an aeromancer who can literally brew storms, or if -- forgive me -- he had something for lunch that caused him great intestinal distress ("eventually, that storm tossed me from the mountain")! The same goes for the cliff moving and twisting... with fantasy novels, one never knows. Perhaps this is something I'll have to read and find out! =)

    Looking forward to seeing your pitch next week, so I can get a bigger picture of Salt's adventure!


  2. Hello! My apologies for missing out on commenting on the first draft last week. I agree with the previous comment, the pacing works better here.

    What is the main character's name? Since we're in first person, we do don't get the name unless it's worked in within the other character's dialogue. I would suggest doing that within the first few paragraphs.

    For this line below, it would be great to have an action beat so we get an idea who is talking - with multiple characters around the fire, we need to know who is talking (but you don't have to do Seed said).
    “Even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away, I can climb the cliffs of the Great Mountain with Slate and Salt?”

    I'm not sure you need the title Orator in italics unless the mother is speaking the word with emphasis. The other titles are not italicized (and don't need to be).

    The tone and dialogue here are quite formal, which may be your preferred style. With our main point of view character, is there a way to relax the tone at times within their narrative? Thinking specifically for middle grade readers and a tone that can bring a sense of relatability, and also what emotions the main character is feeling that readers can connect with. The character may speak with a formal tone to parents, but in their head, or when alone with the brothers, have a more chatty tone, reveal feelings or conflicting voices and narrative that allow the reader to relate and engage.

    Here's an example of what I mean - just a suggestion when I mention tone. When the MC is alone after the description of the dream and it's narrative:

    In silence, I head to our hut and dress in the ceremonial pants I must wear for the climb. [how does the MC feel about these clothes? Does he like them? Are they itchy? Is he pumped he gets to wear them?] I know I am supposed to wear the vest, but it will be hot later in the day, and I can't focus on the climb with too many layers. Last time I'd done the climb... [specific example of how he felt that might relate to the clothes, his apprehension about the upcoming climb, and a decision to do what HE wants, which could maybe cause a criticism by Father - if that makes sense for the story, and could build tension]

    My heart races at the memory [of the previous climb]. I close my eyes and picture my hands and feet gripping the rock face. My hands are sweaty and they slip. My eyes fly open. I can't let that happen. Not this time.

    I must come up with a Quest to share this evening at the Ceremony that Father will accept. I need to prove to father I can do this.

    - those suggestions also remove a passive approach of telling us he feels panic in his bones to showing it through a memory/flashback, emotional reaction to it, and a vow to do something. Rather than asking a question about himself/plot, he commits to proving himself to his father, but we still have a doubts as a reader if he will pull it off. (which is good for tension!)

    Whent the festival is described and the MC says they wish they could stay back with grandfather for stories,what does he like about those stories? Why does that bring joy instead of what he is tasked to do?

    I'd love to see more emotion and perhaps even a playful tone added in when appropriate for the story to get a richer sense of the world.

    Thank you for sharing your work!

  3. Cristy,

    I think your first revision does a great job of highlighting the family dynamic among Salt and his parents and brothers. I really start to feel connected and to understand Salt’s position and the internal turmoil that he has to juggle. From what I can tell, it seems that Salt is 1) intimidated by the task ahead of him (maybe it’s a fear of heights or the sheer physicality of climbing the rock) and 2) not fully committed to being a Sky-Seeker as he has more of a propensity to follow the steps of his Grandfather as a Story-Teller. But with this preference comes the fear of bringing shame to his Father’s house.

    If my interpretation is true, then my feedback would be to establish these plot devices with a lot more boldness and assertion. Right now, Salt comes off as intimidated by his own thoughts, afraid to think what he actual feels. This kind of handicaps the reader (from my perspective) from really connecting to Salt. If he really does prefer the Story-Teller path, I would like to see that illustrated in his internal dialogue. I do realize, your first post had more of a prelude of his admiration for his Grandfather telling stories to the entire tribe. I didn’t think that flowed well before, but in this revision’s addition of Salt’s mother and the commentary on Story-Tellers, I do think that prelude now augments the story and our understanding of Salt. I think, it’s a trick of figuring out how much you can and should include in the first 5 pages.

    Overall, I like the story and I like Salt as a character. I want to like him more so try to give us more. Of course, if my interpretation is completely off, please feel free to ignore lol.

  4. Hi Cristy,

    There is definite improvement here. It is more clear what happened with Salt the first time he tried to climb and why it’s so important for him to get it right this time around. I do still think this opening needs to be slowed down. That may seem like strange advice since the first pages also must hook the reader, but there is so much being introduced in these first pages that I’m not sure where to focus. The ceremony? The fact that his father doesn’t want him to be a storyteller like his grandfather? The brothers? They are all compelling details that I’m sure will make for an exciting adventure, but it doesn’t all have to be jammed in right up front. Let us get settled into the world.

    Since this is first person, there could also be more of Salt’s voice and inner thoughts. For example, his dad doesn’t want him to be a storyteller, but is that what Salt wants? We’re not getting much look into his inner emotional world. We see what is happening to him but not what he’s thinking/feeling about it.

    Very small note: the first line of dialog from Seed about him getting to go on the climb doesn’t sound natural for a young character. I would tweak it a bit.

    Looking forward to your pitch!


  5. Hi Cristy,

    Great job on this revision. I would definitely agree that it is an improvement from the first draft!

    First of all, I liked where you've chosen to begin to story. The new opening sentence is much more powerful and effective. "Today I must climb the cliff that dropped me from its rock face like a speck of dirt." I was pulled into the story right away; I'm wondering what is this cliff that the main character needs to climb, and why he failed.

    Overall, I liked the flow of the first 5 pages which seemed less disjointed and more organized compared to the previous draft. One of my favourite parts of your first draft was the complex family dynamics in the story, which I was happy to see that you have kept (and even strengthened) in this draft.

    Later on, the scene becomes slightly more introspective as Salt reflected on his past failure to climb Ironrab, which was devastating to him. The first paragraph of the novel set up the question "How did the MC fail to climb Ironrab? How did Slate know this?" which added an air of mystery and intrigue. When I read this flashback, I almost felt like this question was answered too quickly. I'm wondering if it would be more effective if the answers to these question could be presented slightly later in the book. I'm also wondering if there is a more effective way to present the information rather than "telling" the readers via a flashback.

    I have mixed feelings about the part where Salt's mother and father disagree regarding Salt's future career. On one hand, I liked that this was called out. On the other hand, I felt that the dialogue was a bit forced. I'm not sure if there was a more subtle way to work in the conflict with respect to Salt's career aspirations.

    I can tell that you have some great content in this story: the tensions between Salt and Slate/Seed/father, Salt's career aspirations, his upcoming task of climbing the Ironrab, the Quest. However I agree with Beth's comment above that it doesn't have to all be packed into the first 5 pages.

    Overall, I think you've done a great job with this draft. I think your character's voice shows through your writing. Salt sounds like a deeply introspective character who is attuned to the thoughts and feelings of those around him, although he doesn't speak much himself. Looking forward to reading your next pitch :)

  6. Hi Cristy,

    I really like how you changed up your story’s timeline in this second revision. This version flows much better and I can follow along. With the addition of some of the extra paragraphs due to your cutting, we get to understand Salt’s (yes, I love his name) character in grand ways. He’s a sweet brother to Seed and we feel his fear of climbing Ironrab. And that father dismissal…we get it now and it makes it even more gut wrenching. How sad a father doesn’t care for his father-n-law’s chosen quest—or his hopeful son’s.

    I agree with S.A. that some of your metaphoric references (stomach heaving with mountain pitching him off) got mixed with real life events or if it was what Salt was thinking. Easy fix.

    I was confused when you referred to mother wrapping the evening meal in leaves but it is breakfast time. No biggie though.

    This is such a great revision. The narrative flow sounds like an ancient story that one might hear at an Indian get together told to each generation. I want to know if Salt makes it up that mountain and claims his orator quest. Bravo.


  7. Hi Cristy,

    This revision definitely reads much better with the new opening! It throws us into the story and shows us the MC’s fears/stakes. Also, the MC has a name now! Great idea of working it into the dialogue.

    Seed’s dialogue feels a bit stilted…. “Even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away, I can climb the cliffs of the Great Mountain with Slate and Salt?” feels like someone narrating facts in a long winded way instead of what a little brother would say. I’d consider breaking it up into more realistic dialogue.. something like: “I get to go with Slate and Salt?” Seed’s eyes bugged, his anticipation and surprise evident in the way he bounced on his toes. “Even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away?”

    I really love this line: “When I was young, I thought Father had only enough love for one son, Slate. But then Seed came along and I realized I was mistaken.” – because it sets us up for knowing Salt is the forgotten or disliked middle child. However, I’d like a little bit more here as to why. Does he consider himself a screwup? Does his father act like it? What exactly made him realize his dad likes his brothers better than him?

    I have to echo another comment and mention this line: “while a wind storm brewed inside me. Eventually, that storm tossed me from the mountain.” – is this metaphorical, or does he have real wind powers? And then this line:” But each time I began the climb, the cliff would move and twist, as if conspiring against me.” – has me wondering if the cliff is actually moving and actually trying to make him fail, or if it’s just his imagination—a panic attack causing the world to feel like it’s spinning. Just a line or two of clarification would fix that.

    I think you’ve set up a great tension with Father being so against the idea of Salt being a Story-Teller, and it immediately makes me root for Salt because I find his desire to follow in his grandfather’s steps to be very endearing.

    Toward the end, the line about a windstorm brewing inside him appears again, and I’m also wondering if this is a magical actual windstorm or just nerves. If he has powers, I wonder how they play into the story? Does anyone else have powers, or just him?

    Overall, I really like this revision. It feels more rooted in real time, and the anxiety and trepidation are thick on the page, making me both feel for Salt and root for him. He’s in a hard situation—feeling like he’s already set up for failure with this climb, and knowing that even if he does make it, his Quest will anger his father.

    You’ve done a fantastic job, especially with the internal conflicts of the MC, and I can’t wait to read your pitch next week!

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