Sunday, February 2, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Watson

Cristy Watson
Middle Grade Fantasy
Awakening Dawn

Chapter One – Salt Sky-Seeker

The Climb

“Tomorrow begins our Seven Moon Festival, and the Quest Ceremony.” Grandfather’s voice booms through the forest, echoing into the night sky. The clans have gathered around the bonfire to listen to him tell tales of our ancestor’s past feats, and how we came to live near the base of the Great Cliffs of Ironrab. Orators, like Grandfather, are the keepers of the stories and they record our history; sometimes embellishing the tales, so that simple deeds are lifted to great heights.

Eager to recall the dangerous journey our elders took to bring our people to safety, we lean in and listen intently to every word, as Grandfather continues his tale.

“The Great Ocean rose and swallowed whole cities. Stone dwellings that reached for the sky, crumbled and disappeared under the swell of salt-water. The Surging Sea claimed the coast and the lives of those living along its fated shores. Only a few survived the waves of destruction, by fleeing into the wilderness and up the mountain paths, as high as they could climb.

But the waters climbed, too, pushing the survivors higher and higher until they were forced to scale great mountain cliffs to find refuge. Those who were successful, forged the new world. The world we now call home.”

Grandfather catches my eye and winks. I silently speak the last words in tandem with him. “These first settlers named their tribe, Sky-Seekers. Our people come from this great line of heroes.”


I have always wanted to be like Grandfather. When he shares memories with our elders that younger people like me aren’t supposed to hear, I climb up the closest tree and tuck myself in where I am hidden from all eyes. That way, I can bear witness to these forbidden stories. Even though wavering on the branches makes me dizzy, it's worth it to hear Grandfather’s resonating boom. His words pound the air and drive straight through to my heart. I have memorized many of Grandfather’s tales and when I am in the woods by myself, I repeat the stories to whatever animal will listen, so that maybe one day I will be worthy enough to share them with my tribe.

But today it doesn’t matter that I conquered a tree. Ironrab is a different story. One that has haunted me for thirteen moons. A story that I can’t change. A story that Slate witnessed. Since that horrible day, I've snuck around spying on my brother, watching to see if he will tell Father what happened the last time we faced Ironrab. Waiting for Father to discover the truth.

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. Now, 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.

Wrapping the food left from last night’s dinner in salted leaves, Mother looks my way and smiles. Today she will be busy with preparing for the feast of the Seven Moon Festival. As Father bites into his trout pie, he turns to my younger brother Seed, and tells him he may join Slate and I on our journey up Ironrab today.

“I can climb the mountain, even though my Quest Ceremony is still twenty-three moons away?”

Ruffling Seed’s hair, Father chuckles. “Yes. Then I will have three boys climbing the great cliff 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.     

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.

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 young cougar 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.

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 – first descendants of the clan who reaches for the Sun.

Father has no idea I failed.

But Slate does.
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 plops down beside our father, where they talk in low tones. Probably, planning Seed’s future.

As I watch the fire crackle, the flames feasting on the new dry wood, I think about my dream from last night. I dreamt that I made the climb up the Great Rock – that I completed the first half of our Seven Moon Festival. I dreamt that Father gathered me in his arms when I reached the peak of Ironrab and swung me around with joy. I dreamt that Father and Grandfather beamed as I claimed my Quest to be an Orator. But the vision was short-lived as the screech of a Great Eagle startled me awake.

There is no way to escape what lies before me. Today, all youth of age must do two things. One, they must climb Ironrab and reach its peak. Two, they must claim their Quest at the Quest Ceremony. An acrid burn blisters my throat.

Even if I somehow mount the Great Wall of Ironrab, I don’t have a Quest that my Father will permit. All year, thoughts of my failure on the mountain consumed me and dreams of falling regularly ripped me from sleep. My energy was eaten by the fear of what lay ahead. Discovering a Quest that would be acceptable to my Father, seemed like the least of my worries, so I left it for another day.

But now, that day has arrived. And I am un-prepared.

Our Seven Moon Festival begins with a long walk to the Great Mountain. The youngsters of our village who have been granted permission to climb, like Seed, join us on our trek, while our elders remain in the village to prepare the evening feast. Lean bodied youth run along the path, barefoot. I wish I could turn back and sit with Grandfather, learning more stories of our people. But I put one foot slowly in front of the other – toward my fated destiny.


  1. Hi Cristy,

    I really like the family dynamic you’ve set up here—the admiration for the Grandfather, apparent dispute among brothers, and the quest for approval from a Father. I think there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the amount of information revealed which makes it a bit hard to follow the story. For example, questions that initially popped up in my head were:

    “What’s the difference between the Seven Moon Festival and the Quest Ceremony and how are they connected?” You explain this to some extent towards the end of the first five pages, but these two terms are brought up many times prior to their explanation. Might be beneficial to explain them earlier in the story.

    “Why is there tension between the main character, and his brother Slate?” We know Slate has witnessed the narrator fail at something, but why do they have such relationship that Slate would harbor it against him? A deeper peak into the foundation of their relationship would help me become invested in their relationship more.

    “Why does the narrator’s Father seem disappointed with him?” There is a scene where the Father boasts about his son’s but looks at the narrator in disappointment, but to my knowledge, the Father is not aware of the narrator’s failure prior to the festival. Where is the resentment stemming from?

    Lastly, I’d recommend reconsidering the start of the chapter. The anecdote of the Grandfather’s telling of stories to the clans is a great touch but might work better as a prologue. For me, the hook of the story started with, “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.” There is tension, failure, and insight into the relationship between brothers all in two lines. Why not start the chapter here?

    1. Thanks, Jide for your comments and thoughts on revision. I originally had the story begin on the cliffs of Ironrab but my early readers felt confused about the world-building and what was at stake, so they didn’t connect with Salt in the way I had hoped. I thought the opening may alleviate that. I can definitely see how it would work better as a prologue. I think I have made my writing life a bit difficult, as I opted to write from two narrative first-person voices. In Chapter Two we meet Saturnia and so a prologue felt strange for Salt, as he is only half of the story… I will think on this and hopefully come up with a solution! 😊

  2. Hello, Cristy! I'm so lucky to be among such talented company here!

    Your world is so rich with tradition and your writing is strong and descriptive! I'm almost getting a 'Veronica Roth writes MG Clan of the Cave Bear' vibe... very unique.

    I think Jide (above) really nailed a few things in his comments. The opening feels a little like prologue-y worldbuilding, and I think he's really insightful in saying that a stronger start for your chapter would be that line ("Today, I must climb..."). It's a testament to your writing that that line covers so much from tone to content all at once. However, I get the impression (I could be totally wrong) that part of the narrator's arc is the struggle between feeling forced into being a Sky-Seeker like Seed and Dad when he REALLY wishes he could be an Orator like his Grandfather. If I'm right, then having Grandpa's storytelling and the narrator's keen reaction to it is important! I just might rearrange the pages so it doesn't *start* with that.

    It's not a big deal, but I do sort of wish I knew the narrator's name. We get a lot of names (of both people and places and ceremonies) in these pages, but not his. It leaves me feeling strangely uncentered? But that being said, I feel loads of empathy with the guy right away. You do a great job of describing his inner turmoil - his secret shame, his longing for his father's love. I'm glad he at least has Grandpa pulling for him. ; )

    I'm not sure if this is a problem... I'm still digesting... but these pages are mostly internal with a lot of backstory telling. The reason I'm not sure it's a problem is because a) you do it so well, I'm still engaged and b) you do also do showing. But nothing significant really *happens* during these pages. Externally, we see a kid watching his Grandpa, and then sitting by a fire and eating. Again, I'm not sure I feel this is BAD. I can see there's action to come and I can be patient and wait for it. But maybe a little more interchange between our narrator and others (Dad, Slate, Seed, Mom) or his nervous preparation for the upcoming event might add something? Not certain, but it's worth being aware of.

    Overall, it's got great character depth and plot promise, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this story evolves over the next weeks!


    1. Correction: I meant "Slate" and Dad. But it does make me wonder if too many names starting with "S" packed together might blend together for your reader.

    2. Thanks, S A! I am honoured to be in such great company, too!

      I was thrilled by the ‘vibe’ you got – I am going for a First Nation’s ‘feel’ to the new world in this book, so your comment validated what I am trying to achieve. Thank you!

      I realize everyone commented on SALT’S name not being in this section. It is in the title of the chapter, but, I don’t think it gets mentioned in dialogue until page seven or so, which is still Chapter One, but too far into the book, so I will address that with the revisions. Good catch!

      I agree that there should be more action earlier on and perhaps, even just more direct dialogue with his family, as you mention. Thanks for your helpful feedback – it is much appreciated!

  3. Hi Cristy,

    Great work on your first 5 pages! I enjoyed the world that you have built and the main character that you have introduced. I think you've highlighted some family dynamics that I would love to see being developed later on in the novel, and becoming key pieces in the character's own development.

    I enjoyed the opening scene with the Grandfather telling a story. It was a lyrical description and definitely read like a folk tale. I felt like I was listening to an age-old tale passed down for generations. However, I was a bit confused transitioning to the next scene, because I wasn't sure if there was a time skip immediately after the Grandfather told the story.

    I liked that the main character's goal was clear from these first 5 pages. It sounded like he needed to climb the Ironrab, perhaps to impress his father and to prove himself worthy among his brothers.

    It did take some effort for me to piece together the information that was introduced (e.g. the character dynamics, the Great Wall of Ironrab, the Quest.) I agree with S.A. that there was a lot of internal dialogue here, which is definitely not a bad thing because I was able to learn more about the main character and his motivations. However for the first chapter, I would want to see the character interacting with the world a bit more, and for the observing and reflecting to happen a bit later down the line.

    Great job with this first snippet of your novel. I loved the idea of the "Sky-Seekers" tribe and you've definitely gotten me intrigued about what would happen next :)

    1. Thank you, Sophie!

      I appreciate your thoughts and I am glad you enjoyed the opening. As Grandfather is an Orator and Salt wishes to be one, too, I thought it made since to have that beginning, but I see by all the comments that is has been confusing and that I definitely didn’t get the transition to the next scene done in a way that made sense. So, that will be my first point for revisions.

      You nailed the goal for Salt. He definitely needs to climb the cliffs of Ironrab to honour his family name, and as part of the Quest Ceremony, because he is of age. I see that I am juggling a few too many things that will need clarifying. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I appreciate this whole process! 😊

  4. Cristy,

    Thank you for sharing your first five pages with us. As a fellow subber, I know how it feels to put your work out for critique. I meant to get all comments done yesterday but my day had other notions.

    From the start, I loved the Indian “fable” feel of your story. You set up your main character’s personality rather well by his observance and love for this grandfather’s quest of being an Orator. Then you make your reader fall for the MC when he shows how his father ignores him for the other two sons. This caught my heart.

    As the others have said, I found it had to follow the plot advancement. My first hesitation was right after the three asterisks. You start the story with the night before but then jump into the MC’s interior thoughts as to why he loves his grandfather (paragraph after three asterisks) but I felt as if he was still up in the tree, observing. Then the next paragraph is present day morning. So whatever you decide to do with your revisions, you may need to rethink this transition of time. Your final paragraph jumps to present day but I at first thought the MC was narrating what WOULD happen later in the day.

    Ironrab really has me confused:
    • I wanted to know right away what Ironrab was and how it played into the Quest.
    • The MC tried it 13 moons ago and his father does not know he failed, but I couldn’t understand why his father didn’t know. It was a practice but wouldn’t others watch/hear of those who succeeded or failed? Wouldn’t his father ask?
    • Who gets to do Ironrab and is it redone every year? You mention it is the “Ceremony” for the MC. But I was confused as to why some boys have ceremonies while others are just there to join in? Ceremony seems very important, so you may want to bring that out more.
    • Where you mention “first half of the Seven Moon festival” I had to reread. You later mention two parts, which made more sense, so you might want to find a better way to explain they do two things, not two halves. I kept thinking they would make as second climb/journey.

    Your story is wonderful. You have the bones of a fantastic story, and I want to read more. I’m rooting for your MC, which is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve. I’m looking forward toward reading your revisions.

    1. Hello Betty! Thanks for all your feedback! I am embarrassed to say that I am not sure what the term ‘subber’ means? But I am glad to be one with you! 😊

      The world I am creating is harkening back to the Frist Nation’s world, for sure. I am so glad you connected with SALT as I feel that is always what hooks me in a story. I will definitely address the confusion around the timeline.

      Sorry about the confusion re: Ironrab. I guess part of the reason I had the prologue was because early readers didn’t understand why I started with the climb up the cliffs of Ironrab. They didn’t know what was at stake for my MC. So, I added the prologue to show that centuries ago, the waters rose and swallowed the cities. The only survivors were those who could climb high into the mountains and scale the cliffs. Now, having the young people climb the cliffs is part of their annual Seven Moon Festival. But another part of the festival, is that youth of age, must also claim a Quest at the evening ceremony. I realize now that is too confusing, so I will clear that up, for sure. Thanks for your help!

  5. Hi Cristy!

    I am the guest mentor this month. Thanks for sharing your pages! Right away I can tell this will be a genuine, fun adventure and I’m eager to fall into the story and see what happens.

    I think the first scene before the scene break could be deleted in an effort to tighten up the prose and throw the reader into the story quicker. That first scene tells the history of the Sky-Seekers, but I’m not sure that’s as important right now as it will be later, and I think you can filter in those facts as to how the tribe was created as the story goes on. Because right after the scene break, we then hear the same thing again—that Grandfather is telling stories and the main character listens and loves hearing them.

    I’d also suggest giving a little physical description to the characters and throwing in the main character’s name sooner, because it isn’t listed in these pages and now I don’t know what to call him, or what he looks like. (I’ll call him MC for now)

    I like the tension where MC is clearly scared of his task because he failed the last time he tried it. We can really feel what’s at stake here. However, if his father has no idea he failed, why does he cast him a disappointed look?

    You say Father wanted him to be ready for his ceremony, so he sent him to practice 13 moons ago… however.. Father didn’t ask how the practice went? He didn’t inquire if MC made it to the top or not? That sounds like Father didn’t really care if he was ready for his ceremony or not… also, any reason why MC only practiced one time and then never again for over a year? If this ceremony is a pretty big deal, I’m wondering why he didn’t practice more… It might make more sense if underage children aren’t allowed to practice and you have to scale Ironrab on the first try, since this seems like an important rite of passage, I’m not sure you’d get years to practice before doing it?

    I really love that there is a quest ceremony and that children “claim their quest”, but I’d like more explanation. It’s a great plot device if MC is desperately wanting to be an Orator but doesn’t think he’ll get it. I’d like to know why, though. Claiming, to me, seems like you just walk up and declare your quest, but I’m guessing that’s not how it works. Are the quests bestowed? Granted? Magically given? A little clarification would help here.
    As a small nitpick, make sure to keep track of your commas. Some of them don’t need to be there, like the comma in the first sentence. “That way, I can bear witness to these forbidden stories” and “Probably, planning Seed’s future.” doesn’t need a comma.

    This story has a great premise and I’m already really liking your main character and I’m rooting for him. Can’t wait to see how your revision unfolds!

    1. Thank you, Cheyanne! We are so fortunate to have your expertise guiding us!

      I have heard back from the others that the initial scene was difficult. It does play into us understanding why climbing the cliffs is the most important thing this tribe does, but because SALT comes from the Sky-Seekers, the first clan of this new world, it is even more imperative that he succeed on his climb. But it sounds like I didn’t make that clear in the wording, so I will rework it so that it fits, or at least, I will try to work it in better as the first scenes unfold.

      His Father has been disappointed in him from the time it became clear that Salt wanted to follow in Grandfather’s steps and not his – but I have to do a better job of making this part clear, especially as the Quests are chosen by the young people, but need to be accepted by the tribal elders. Father doesn’t know that Salt failed the first attempt because Salt was the last one on the mountain, which also means no one else knows besides his brother, who had to wait for him. Slate has ‘covered’ for him all along. This also plays into the tension between he and his brother. But again, I didn’t make that clear, so I will tighten things up and address these issues in the revision. Thank you for your helpful thoughts and ideas!

      And I am the Queen of over-use of commas! Ha ha! I do need to work on that! 😊

  6. Hi Cristy,

    Thanks so much for sharing your work. Your writing is lovely and there are many great lines in this section (the shadows casting eerie stories!).

    I think that you are mostly successful in incorporating information without it feeling like an info dump, but I think there is just too much information happening right up front. While you do want to draw the reader in and set up what’s to come, you can slow down and really show the relationships between these characters and their feelings toward the ceremonies happening today.

    I agree with a previous comment that this is not starting in the right place. Your current opening can be woven in later on. Drop us right into the action and the dynamics that are happening now.

    I would also incorporate the main character's name into these pages somehow.

    Looking forward to your revision!


  7. Thank you, Beth for being a guest mentor. We are so lucky to have your time and support!

    I appreciate your kind words about my writing style, but like the others, you have mentioned a key piece I need to address. I will use the revision to ensure that not too much information is coming at the reader too quickly and that I spend more time building the relationships with the family members and how it impacts the ceremonies SALT is facing today.

    As I mentioned above, I had his name in the Chapter heading, but I didn’t even notice it wasn’t clear in the first five pages. I think it becomes clear on page six or seven, but that is too late in the story. Always a tricky part of using first-person. Thanks for your feedback! I’m off to write!! 😊

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