Sunday, February 16, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Watson Rev 2

Cristy Watson
Middle Grade Fantasy
Awakening Dawn

Pitch:

Salt comes from the first clan who survived the Great Flood, the Sky-Seekers, but will his fear of heights prevent him from climbing the Cliffs of Ironrab as part of his Quest Ceremony and bring shame to his family? To add to this dilemma, his hopes of becoming an Orator are dashed by his father who has other dreams for his three sons.

Saturnia is suddenly thrust into becoming the leader of the Moth-People, but with her wing hanging limply at her side, will her people accept her in this new role? Many of her clan have slipped down the Glacier, unaware of the impending danger as they sleep in their cocoons.

When Salt and Saturnia meet, both are striving to prove their worth as descendants of great families, but neither are sure how they will fulfill their destinies. In the past, their clans fought against one another for the land in the Forbidden Valley. But now, there are other things for them to worry about, like the Great Shadow Beast hovering above the slippery slopes of the Glacier. Can they rescue the last survivors of the Moth-People, and in turn, save themselves?


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 thinks 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.”

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

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 couldn’t know what happened the first time I faced the Cliffs of Ironrab, could he?

Father stands and places his arm around Seed, but my younger brother is so full of the heat of summer, he cannot stand still for long. Like a wolf pup ready to pounce, he bounces on his toes, excitement at Father’s news lighting his face. Giving in, Father lets Seed go, and watches as my brother runs off to tell his friends he’s joining us.

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. My very name is something that upsets my Father and I don’t know why. When others run and throw spears, pretending to be warriors in a great battle, I climb trees to listen to Grandfather share stories of our past and how we came to be called, Sky-Seekers, descendants of the clan that reaches for the Sun! Father always interrupts Grandfather’s story at the best part to tell me I must join my peers, ignoring my protests.

I wipe my sweaty hands along my pants to dry them. 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. Only Slate witnessed the entire scene. He alone knows what happened that day.

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.

“Do you have your Quest picked for tonight’s Ceremony?” Slate smirks. His request to eventually lead our Warriors was accepted during his Ceremony. He often sneaks up on me to prove his prowess, when I am spying on the Elders to hear Grandfather share forbidden tales of the past.

“My father will be honored if Salt claims the role of Orator,” Mother smiles, as she wraps the food left from this morning’s meal in salted leaves. “You see how he follows your Grandfather, always repeating his stories.”

My Father stands abruptly, Salt, you are a Sky-Seeker, not a Story-Teller. You know that Orators are sedentary, like the dust left behind by the avid climbers. Why must I always ask that you follow your brother’s lead?”

“Because I would rather…”

Father cuts me off, “Tonight, you know what you must do at your Quest Ceremony, but first you will ascend the Cliffs of Ironrab.”

It’s as if my gut is being squeezed between the jaws of a cougar, so 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 shame onto my father’s brow. 

An acrid burn blisters my throat as I reluctantly head to our hut and dress in the ceremonial clothes I must wear for the climb. I hate the way the pants are too tight around my stomach. I am stuck wearing Slate’s old outfit. Though I have no choice but to wear the vest as well, I will take it off at the bottom of the Great Mountain, away from Father’s disapproving glare. It will be hot later in the day and I am sure, like last time, I will be stuck on the Cliffs of Ironrab, while the scorching Sun climbs higher and faster than me.

I close my eyes and try to picture my hands and feet gripping the rock face. But my hands slip, and my eyes shoot open. No, I cannot let the same thing happen today!

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

“I’m excited for you. I know you’ll 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. A huge sigh escapes my belly.

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, hearing more about the time before the Great Flood. 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 calming 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.”

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.

Yet, I must face the challenge that lies ahead.

13 comments:

  1. Cristy,

    I love this revision and how you’ve weaved in a lot more evidence for Salt’s motivations and desires. It’s so clear now that Salt wants to be an Orator and his Father feels disrespected by this. It makes me wonder the history between Salt’s Grandfather and his Father which I suspect is highlighted further in the book. This makes me want to read the story more. I love the imagery included in this revision as well. My personal favorite is the analogy for the relationship between Salt and his brother illustrated by the shadows cast by the fire. Such great writing there.

    I was a bit confused by this line, “My very name is something that upsets my Father and I don’t know why.” It seems painfully obvious (I say painfully because I really do feel bad for Salt) that the reason his Father is upset is because he knows that his son wishes to pursue the Orator role. There are points within the pages where Salt indicates that he is aware of his Father’s disappointment in Salt for gravitating to his Grandfather’s role. So, the aforementioned line comes off as contradictory. Furthermore, the following lines, “When others run and…” almost provides the explanation in itself. I think this is an easy fix. You could probably just leave the line as “My very name is something that upsets my Father.”

    For the pitch, it sounds like what is at stake for both characters is to save the Moth-People, but I wasn’t 100% sure if Salt’s clan is a part of the Moth-People. If so, then I think making that a lot clearer would make the pitch flow better. If not, then I am unsure what is the motivation for Salt and Saturina to be working together. Does the Great Shadow Beast threaten both clans? I think you do a great job of pitching what is at stake for both individual characters. I think what would make this stronger for me is to hint at why their two paths must cross.

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    1. Thanks, Jide for all your help over the course of this workshop! I have so appreciated your feedback! Yes - I am glad that the revisions help solidify one of the themes in Salt's story and there is more to come with Grandfather and Father but for some of it, you'll actually have to wait until books 2 and 3! :-)

      I love your suggestion for cleaning up the line about his name - I felt conflicted by that paragraph - I was trying to address comments from last round, but didn't do it in a way that felt natural and you pegged it! Thanks for the suggestion!

      You are right to ask me to clarify the pitch - Salt is human and from the Sky-Seeker Clan. Saturnia has wings and is from the Moth-People, cocooned for the last hundred years, waiting for the world to be more accepting of differences. She and Salt meet by chance, so I do need to fix that and show what is at stake for both of them. Will add your notes to the pitch revision! Enjoy the last round!

      Cristy

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  2. Great revision! I get a much clearer sense of the story now. Great job.

    For the pitch:
    An industry pro gave me the advice to watch for any time the character asks a question about themselves or the plot, to see if that can be turned into a statement using strong verbs. The reasoning is the questions can come off weak or vague, when a statement is more concise and informative. I think the same can be said for the pitch. The question you have in the first line has a great deal of info; I wonder if you can adjust this to a statement instead since the aim of a pitch is to share the story details. It also gives you an opportunity to name the conflict and choice the character faces with deliberate statements. This is harder to do, but exactly what agents and editors are looking for.

    Suggestion - (and again, just an option, you don't have to take my wording exactly or at all!)

    > Salt comes from the first clan who survived the Great Flood, the Sky-Seekers, but his fear of heights is already proving a stumbling block to completing his quest ceremony. If Salt is unable to climb the cliffs, he will bring shame to his family. To add to this dilemma, his hopes of becoming an Orator are dashed by his father who has other dreams for his three sons.

    Personally, I think this reads stronger and spells out the conflict rather than putting a question on the reader/agent when that isn't the purpose of a pitch. I also suggest not to capitalize quest ceremony since that term is familiar enough. If it were the Hunger Games, that is specific to that book, rather than the competition to the death.

    For the next part, I suggest again to turn the question into a statement. 

    > Saturnia is suddenly thrust into becoming the leader of the Moth-People, but with her wing hanging limply at her side, she worries whether her people will accept her in this new role. [then, what does Saturnia risk if the people don't accept her? Name that here] Many of her clan have slipped down the Glacier, unaware of the impending danger as they sleep in their cocoons. [You could also name the threat here: If Saturnia does not [name action] then the Moth People will [name the risk].

    For the final paragraph, I would change "are striving" to strive (more direct).The last line needs to be concise and direct. I would remove "there are things to worry about" which is vague, even though you do name what those are. You could say:

    > Facing the Great Shadow Beast hovering above the slippery slopes of the Glacier, Salt and Saturnia must rescue the last survivors of the Moth-People, and in turn, save themselves.

    Best wishes!

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    1. Thank you for your feedback and for taking the time to help me with my first five pages and pitch! I am so glad this revision cleared up some of the confusion/missing parts in the last round.

      I LOVE ideas from Industry Pros - and how you turned that into fantastic suggestions for me to strengthen my pitch! I really needed help with this - it is not my forte! I appreciate you taking the time to help with the wording - what a difference it makes! You are so right! Thank you!!

      I'm ready to go! Have a wonderful evening and thank you again for your support and help in making my story/pitch stronger. This has been a valuable experience.

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    2. Best wishes with this and querying!

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  3. Hey Christy,

    Can you believe this is our third time to comment? Seems longer as I have received so much from this workshop :)

    I like the change to your third paragraph but I think the second dialogue line should sound like a young child saying it. As is, it sounds too adult. I also like the addition of the interior thought later. Feels right that Salt should wonder at this moment in time.

    The paragraph that starts with “Flames burn my cheeks” seems out of place with the rest of the paragraph. The first two lines might be better with the previous paragraph. But then you’d need a transition to explain why he’s thinking about climbing the trees. EX: He knows his father hates that he’s up there, listening to his grandfather. This would help to explain this is another piece of their unstable relationship.

    Your next paragraph states only Slate knows he failed but you added in above that Salt now wonders if his father does know, which contradicts. Easy fix though.

    I love that you added in the deeper conversation/quarrel between Salt and his father which helps to clarify why his father is disgusted and what Salt’s true goal is. Really good. And the rest of the story flows much better with the added in phrases. I feel we get a much larger glimpse into Salt’s character with this revision. Great job!

    Pitch:

    I like your first paragraph. Shows story setting and main character’s goal/dilemma.

    The last part in your last sentence in your second paragraph is a bit confusing. Just what is the danger? Be specific so we can worry, too.

    You third paragraph nicely brings in the stakes but could be tightened and more concrete.

    I would look for ways to get rid of the questions. Usually not a good idea to use a question when a statement would be stronger. Bravo on a nice job with the revision. And thank you for helping me along the way.

    Becky

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    1. Hi Becky,

      I know = the time has flown by and the workshop has been so helpful!! Thank you for your support and help over the course of the three weeks!!

      I agree about the paragraph with flame burning his cheeks. I definitely had to rush this revision as I was crazy busy at work this past week. I felt it didn't quite work, so I will look at it in this round and see how I can tweak it. I appreciate your suggestion - that would work! :-)


      You and Jide both caught my oops - with the comment re: failing before... I'm on it!


      I will be shifting the pitch to statements, for sure and will clarify the parts that are vague. Thanks again and good luck with the last round of revisions!

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  4. Hi Cristy,

    First of all just want to say that it's been great working with you on both of our first 5 pages!

    You've done a great job with your revision. I think you've definitely come a long way and your hard work shows! I liked that in this revision, Salt asserted himself more in the narration. It was clear that he was more interested in following in his Grandfather's footsteps rather than what his father had in mind for him. I also really liked the imagery of shadows on the walls, playing out a story that was perhaps a metaphor of how Salt felt about his older brother.

    I loved the description of Salt's journey to Ironrab. I could sense Salt's apprehension for the challenge. I also loved the sensory details (youths bumping into him, whoops and cheers, birds and squirrels). I loved how he could hear his Grandpa's voice in the forest, a place where he'd rather be.

    “I’m excited for you. I know you’ll have great success today.” I am fairly sure that it is Salt himself who says this line, but not 100% sure... Maybe a dialogue tag would be good here?

    I loved your prose in general. My favourite line is "a windstorm begins to brew inside me" :)

    I enjoyed reading your pitch and learning more about the bigger picture of your novel. It was cool to learn about Saturnia; I liked that you mentioned one of her flaws (the wing hanging limply at her side) which made me curious about her backstory. I like her already, even though I haven't met her yet :)

    Towards the end of the pitch, I was confused as to the main plot/conflict in the novel. Is the main plot saving the Moth-People from the Great Shadow Beast, rather than climbing Ironrab? As mentioned in one of the comments above, I would be interested in knowing what was Salt's motivation for saving the Moth-People, especially since it sounded like he and Saturnia were from different clans that had previous conflicts.

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    1. Hey Sophie,

      It has been a pleasure working alongside you, as well! Thanks for all your help and feedback!! I'm glad Salt's character and self-assertion came through more clearly. I do want the reader to see how important becoming an Orator is to him and how that will play out in the following chapters.

      I'm glad the details worked - I was trying to figure out how to recapture parts of what was missing when I deleted the prologue and I was hoping I filled in some of that with this revision. Yes - I can easily address the line where Salt replies to Seed - something like, "I'm excited for you." I hide my shaking hands from Seed. "I know you'll have great success today." Or something like that! :-)

      So glad you are connected to Saturnia - she has equal MC time in the book! I will definitely focus my energy on the pitch - it needs a fair bit of work. Thanks for your ideas - I will be sure to incorporate them!

      Good luck with the last round of edits!! :-)

      Cristy

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  5. Pitch:

    It’s so hard to strike the right balance of providing enough information but not too much, and I think you do a great job! A few thoughts to make this even stronger:
    Although the opening pages of the novel felt like that of a middle grade to me, I think that the wording of the pitch felt a bit older. You might want to go through and see if there is some phrasing you can age down— for example, words like “dilemma” and “impending.” There might be other options that give this a younger feel and that will better reflect the tone of the book.

    I’m going to suggest revising the opening sentences of the first and second paragraph to make them into statements vs. questions.

    One thing I was confused about is whether Salt is one of the Moth People. We know that he is a Sky Seeker but is that a clan within the Moth People? Or are Sky Seekers and Moth People two competing clans? If he is not a Moth person, I think it might make sense to clarify why it’s important to him to help save them.


    Opening Pages:

    I thought these pages were very strong—the voice immediately pulled me in! I also thought they had a great narrative pace, with every sentence moving the story forward. A few thoughts:

    For the paragraph, “I can climb the cliffs of the Great Mountain with Slate and Salt,” Seed jumps up, his eyes wide. “Even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away?” I think it might make sense to put the action first, and combine the dialogue, so that it reads, “Seed jumps up, his eyes wide. "I can climb the cliffs of the Great Mountain with Slate and Salt, even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away?”)

    I love the line, "…but my younger brother is so full of the heat of summer, he cannot stand still for long.” What a great description! I also thought the following sentence was really strong: "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.” It conveys so much without you needing to spell anything out.

    Great job.

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  6. Hi Andrea! So nice to meet you and hear your great feedback and ideas! It is wonderful to hear from an agent and receive this kind of support - thank you for sharing your time with all of us! We are very fortunate.

    I agree with your comment that the pitch sounded older and you picked some key terms that give it that sense. I really struggled with the pitch and that is probably one reason it wasn't working - I just couldn't put my finger on what it was at the time. So, thank you for that feedback. I will definitely shift the language. I saw how playful the other pitches were and I can definitely add the MG flavor! :-)

    I am actually relieved to hear the book itself sounded MG - I was a bit worried. I tend to write older characters and because this clan communicates orally, I figured language would be advanced and I worried I may have gone too far...

    Great feedback re: question to statements. That seems to be the general agreement from all - I will address that for sure as I do the revision! Sky-Seekers and Moth People are different - not just different clans. Saturnia is from a line of Winged-People and Salt is a descendant of the people who built cities before the Great Flood. I will work out how to include his reasons for helping Saturnia - initially he helps her more selfishly, to find a Quest his father will accept. But he comes to appreciate Saturnia as a friend and he cares about her safety and that is why he helps her save her people and why he joins with her against the Shadow Beast. Of course, the Shadow Beast is a threat to their whole world - one he and Saturnia will battle not only in book one, but in books two and three, as well! :-)

    Thank you for your positive feedback on the story pacing and voice! Yay!! :-) I will redo that one sentence. It is definitely one that has caused some issues for everyone in both previous revisions. I like your idea! Thank you for sharing the lines that worked for you!! I hope the rest of my book holds up, but it helps me to know where to focus my energies as I continually revise the novel.

    Once again, thank you for your time and wonderful feedback. It is so appreciated!! :-) Have a great evening,


    Cristy

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  7. Hi Cristy,

    It’s been really fun seeing your pages get better each week. You did a really wonderful job.

    Pitch: I would get rid of all the questions and turn them into statements. I’ve seen many agents say they dislike rhetorical questions, so it’s better to nix them. The first sentence is a bit too long and could be punchier to really draw in the reader. I don’t think we need to mention The Great Flood, The Sky-Seekers, the Cliffs of Ironrab, and the Quest Ceremony all at once in one big sentence. It’s too many “unknown” fantasy world things that the reader won’t understand right at first. What matters the most is the main character, who he is, what he wants, and what stands in his way.

    Consider rewriting the first paragraph to something like: “Salt comes from a powerful clan of Sky-Seekers. He longs to be an Orator to keep their heroic traditions alive. His father has high hopes for him and his brothers, and Salt’s greatest desire is not one of them. To make matters worse, he’s pretty sure his fear of heights will make him fail his Quest Ceremony and bring shame to his family.”

    “Saturnia is suddenly thrust into becoming the leader of the Moth-People, but with her wing hanging limply at her side, will her people accept her in this new role?” – the next paragraph says they both come from great families, so maybe mention more about who she is. A daughter of a leader? How is she thrust into leadership? I love her broken wing, and that sounds interesting and character-driven, but maybe another short bit about her personality would be good here.

    The last paragraph is really interesting and moves the plot forward, but it seems to forget about Salt’s goals and stakes. Is he a moth person? If not, this feels like it’s no longer his story. If he is – don’t be afraid to tell that plot twist in the query.

    Pages: You have such a great opening paragraph! I love the “Father couldn’t know what happened the first time I faced the Cliffs of Ironrab, could he?” line. Now I’m thinking Salt might be a month person and his dad knows this… hmmm… I can’t find anything to change here and I love all the changes you’ve made. The writing is really well done, and Salt’s personality, inner turmoil, and desires feel really strong. This is a wonderful improvement and I’m really excited for your story!

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  8. Hi, Cristy!

    I keep thinking back to how your story originally started and I really feel like you have made some huge improvements in terms of pacing, information-delivery, and flow across the revisions. I've always thought you a strong writer, prose-wise, and this continues to shine. I always want more to actually HAPPEN when I read your first five pages (it's mostly in Salt's head; we basically only get to see the family eat dinner and hear that he's gotten changed), but I would disregard my own impatience on this one... the first five pages are really so tiny a sliver of the story it's hard to judge what the action will be like once it hits. And I know it WILL hit. I think it's a compliment to your story that I'm chomping at the bit for it to get started!

    Your pitch is good! You have a few long sentences in there, especially that first one right off the bat: "Salt comes from the first clan who survived the Great Flood, the Sky-Seekers, but will his fear of heights prevent him from climbing the Cliffs of Ironrab as part of his Quest Ceremony and bring shame to his family?" Just reading that aloud makes me a little breathless. I'd also, like others, like to know the stakes for Salt since it seems that Saturnia takes over the plot once she's introduced. Is all of Salt's concern over his future for nothing?

    My apologies for the late and brief comments this week - I'm really cutting it close! If you want to talk more about your story in the future, you know where to find me! =)

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