Sunday, March 22, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - McDonley Rev 2

Name: Laura McDonley
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: A Whisper in a Windstorm

Pitch:

A'dya, a 16 year old no-nonsense warrior from the isolated village of Madoria, returns home after surviving her year of seclusion, a coming of age trial for all Madorians. Instead of the expected coming of age ceremony and marriage to her selected mate, A’dya discovers the inhabitants of her village missing. Without any clues as to what happened, A’dya must venture into the unknown, or risk never seeing them again.

On her journey, A’dya meets an annoying idiot fop who introduces himself as Pepik, the hero foretold in legend. A cultural misunderstanding, a deadly escape, and several epic swordfights reveal Pepik and A’dya’s goals may not be so different. As the truth of the situations become clear, A’dya must decide if she is as willing as Pepik to pay the cost.

Complete at 70,000 words, this young adult high fantasy novel is perfect for readers who loved the writing style of Helen Scheuerer’s “Heart of Mist,” the magic of Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling,” and the world building of Sarah J. Mass’s, “Throne of Glass.” A Whisper in a Windstorm is a standalone debut novel with series potential.

Chapter 1

Perched high in a meta tree, A’dya surveyed all forest life passing below. Stomach growling, she sat motionless. She hadn’t eaten in three days. It was beginning to take its toll on her.

A young bacura stepped out from behind a cluster of spine bushes. She licked her lips.

Thank Faith!

Quietly she slid down the rope she’d secured to her branch hours earlier. As soon as her boots met the ground she crouched, checking that her prey hadn’t spotted her. Chewing on a strip of bark, its body and ears remained relaxed. She let out a breath.

Blood pulsed through her veins, thumping in her ears.

Just follow the plan.  

She swallowed, biting her lip.

Same as always.

Crawling on her belly, A’dya moved as close as she dared before rising to her feet behind a tree trunk. She unsheathed her dagger and drew a deep breath.

Just remember your training.

She stepped out from her cover.

Muscle’s rippling, its body tensed. Its head swung in her direction, its wide eyes meeting hers. After a moment’s hesitation, it pawed the ground, its mud-caked hooves leaving ridges in the dirt.

Lowering its head, the bacura aimed its horns, huffed, then charged.

“One,” she counted, forcing herself to take a calming breath, “Two. Three.” She dove toward the right flank in a forward tumble.

In the matter of seconds her dagger slashed the bacura’s foreleg, severing its tendon.  Blood mixed with mud and tangled gray fur as the creature bellowed in pain and surprise. Landing behind it, she rushed again toward the beast. In a heartbeat, A’dya broke its back knee, kicking it from behind. Unable to support its weight, it collapsed where it stood, a cloud of dust puffing into the air around it. Pouncing a final time, A’dya opened its throat and silenced its rage.

She rested on the animal’s side, forcing herself to take long deep breaths. Iron. The air smelled of iron, a constant companion to a fresh kill.

Her hands shook.

A’dya began to skin the beast and prepare it for cooking. She’d have to find a place to bury the remains later.

After all this time, she’d expected to have conquered her nerves by now. Especially since her year of seclusion ended tomorrow, her sixteenth birthday. Tomorrow she would join her birth parents at the sacred pool and receive their blessing during her coming of age ceremony. Afterward, she would meet her betrothed, Vleck, and the two would become life mates.

Together, they would reenter Madoria. She would be Fewah, an equal member of the village, mate of Vleck.

Shaking her head to disperse her thoughts, she pushed a strand of messy white hair out of her eyes, leaving a smear of blood on her cheek.

Memories of home warmed her heart. Tonight she would sleep well in the nearby caverns.

She arrived at sunrise; plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony.
            Certain rituals needed to be performed before her birth parents and Vleck joined her. The waters of the pool felt therapeutic, as if the whole years’ worth of dirt and grime washed away.

            A’dya took care to wash her face, hands, and feet as was required. Her pale skin and violet eyes, obscured only by the rippling of the water, stared back at her. She drew in a breath. With a mixture of shock and wonder she realized how much her image had changed over the year.

Her features had become more defined, and her already petite body leaner. Her skin, which before had been pure of imperfections, was now etched with dozens of scars, each earned through sheer determination to live. Each represented a test she had endured and conquered. She pictured herself in the future highlighting each line with a different color paint, as many of the female Fewah did during village celebrations and holy days.

            After redressing, she prostrated herself on the ground by the Young Tree to wait. The custom was to use this time for prayers and thanksgiving, but she had grown skeptical of the power of the forest spirits. She had become doubtful of their very existence, but, even alone, she was not certain enough to voice the idea out loud. It was not long into her seclusion before she had given up prayer all together. Instead, she meditated.

She visualized entering the village an anointed Fewah and joining the ranks of those that had tested before her. The younglings would look at her in awe and admiration. She would epitomize what every youngling dreamt of becoming.

            The sun crowned the sky and descended. As light ebbed, so did her feeling of pleasure. Instead, her heartbeat thumped an indignant beat. Over and over it said, “Forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten.”

            A’dya waited for the last light of the sun to disappear before admitting no one was coming. She squeezed her eyes shut, striking her fist on the ground.

A dry sob escaped her.  

            Not another night!  

A chill brushed her spine. It was time to seek shelter from the night creatures.

I am certain I have come on the right day. I did not miscount; I marked the passage of time fervently.

Glaring at her rucksack, she half-contemplated roosting in the meta tree for the night, just for spite. Without too much thought, she dismissed the idea. To desecrate the tree would mean irreversible expulsion from Madoria.

            Kicking rocks from her path, she wound around tree trunks and stomped through the bramble towards the caverns she frequented in her youth. She could find her way blindfolded if she needed to, and even had once on a dare.

Though she was forbidden to visit the village while still on seclusion, she took what she knew to be a route that would give her a glimpse of home. With mixed feelings of guilt and self-righteousness, she dared anyone to find her at fault for taking one look. She’d done her time.

            As she grew closer, self-consciousness compelled her to move more silently.

            The closer she crept the more aware she became of the lack of sound.
            Yes, it was late, but not yet late enough for the village to be abed. In fact, this time of night should have an abundance of sound.

            What if something happened to the village?

            She moved faster.

Where is the sound of Carers calling after their younglings? Or the Elders singing at the Calling Place Temple?  

Even the bleating of cocu goats was absent.

 Now the only noise that met her ears was her own breathing, the howl of the catip wolf somewhere high on the mountain, and the chirp of the nightbug.

            She reached the forest edge that framed her village. Shivering, all the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Her stomach twisted in apprehension.

 Pulling back the branches, she peered through.

             She may have screamed.



7 comments:

  1. Ahhh! I forgot to take out the second "coming of age ceremony" in - Instead of the expected coming of age ceremony and marriage to her selected mate... -
    Sorry! I was trying to edit with a 3 year old hanging off me the whole time. lol.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Laura,

    Well done for achieving a 70,000 novel with a toddler around! I'm so impressed!

    Pitch:

    I'm burning with the question: what happened to the villagers? This is so intriguing! You will really capture the reader with this mystery. This Pepik character has also caught my attention. I can sense there will be an evil lurking around in this story, though we don't get to see it yet.

    Some comments:
    - an annoying idiot fop. (Sorry for my ignorance, but I had to look up the word 'fop'. At first some disturbing images about an illness came up, but then I found the definition for it! Oops!)

    - As the truth of the situations become clear, A’dya must decide if she is as willing as Pepik to pay the cost. (I would reword this sentence as it sounds vague. What kind of cost? What situation?)

    Revision:

    It seems like you reverted back to some phrases from your first submission.

    - She stepped out from her cover. Muscle’s rippling, its (change to: the bacura's) body tensed.

    I think the confrontation with the bacura could be shortened. A'dya is going through a lot of emotions in a short span of time, some of which could be deleted to make the narrative more compact.

    - In a heartbeat, A’dya broke its back knee, kicking it from behind. (The bacura sounds like a strong beast. Could she really break its leg that easily? I'm not sure this phrase is necessary or plausible.)

    - She arrived at sunrise; plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony. (You went right from the cave she's sleeping in to the sacred pool. It seems to me there was a bit more transition in your previous revision. I would shorten the bacura fight and let the reader understand how much time passes before she gets to the sacred pool, otherwise it sounds like she lived close to her village for a year.)

    - The sun crowned the sky and descended. As light ebbed, so did her feeling of pleasure. Instead, her heartbeat thumped an indignant beat. Over and over it said, “Forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten.”
    (I like what you did here! Nice!)

    - Without too much thought, she dismissed the idea. (Maybe just leave it at 'She dismissed the idea.')

    I'm having a bit of trouble pinning down A'dya's character. She has excellent feelings towards her village (she's proud and firm). But if she loves and respects her people so much, would she really be angry and frustrated at them? There's just something about the way emotions are pilled up throughout the narrative that make them sound a bit like an enumeration from an emotion thesaurus. Maybe focus on a handful of emotions instead, and delete some repeated or fleeting ones? I know I'm not making it easy, sorry...

    Again, well done on creating such an elaborate fantasy world. I so hope A'dya saves her people!

    Best,
    Rae

    ReplyDelete
  3. Laura,

    Great revisions so far! Rae has given you so many great suggestions and I don't have any more to add to hers, so I'll just concentrate on the pitch. Here's my critique of the pitch ...

    A'dya, a 16 year old [I'd use sixteen-year-old instead], no-nonsense [No-nonsense? What does this mean? Is there a more powerful/descriptive word to describe her?] warrior from the isolated village of Madoria, returns home after surviving her year of seclusion, a coming of age trial for all Madorians. Instead of the expected coming of age ceremony ["coming of age" is not needed again] and marriage to her selected mate, A’dya discovers the inhabitants of her village missing. Without any clues as to what happened, A’dya must venture into the unknown [to find them? to find out what happened? Feels unfinished.], or risk never seeing them again.

    On her journey, A’dya meets an annoying idiot fop [I’d change “idiot” and “fop.” Idiot is ableist language and devalues and discriminates against people with mental health disabilities. I had to look fop up and it took me out of the pitch and you don’t want to take an agent out of the pitch. They may know what it means. I don’t know. Just my opinion. Use it or not.] who introduces himself as Pepik, the hero foretold in legend. A cultural misunderstanding, a deadly escape, and several epic swordfights reveal Pepik and A’dya’s goals [You must define these goals in the pitch.] may not be so different. As the truth of the situations [make the situations clear here. What situation are they in? Are they trapped somewhere? Lost? What?] become clear, A’dya must decide if she is as willing as Pepik to pay the cost [You must define the cost/state the stakes of the story. What is their goals? What do they both want? What will happen if they don’t succeed in accomplishing their goals? Put it here in the pitch.].

    Complete at 70,000 words, A WHISPER IN A WINSTORM [Your title must be in all caps.] is a young adult high fantasy novel perfect for readers who loved the writing style of Helen Scheuerer’s HEART OF MIST, the magic of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and the world building of Sarah J. Mass’s, THRONE OF GLASS.
    [You don’t need to say it’s a standalone or has series potential. Agents will assume this.]

    I hope this helps. I really am intrigued by this story and I hope you have great success with it. Good luck!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Laura,
    For a high fantasy nerd like me, your story sounds fascinating. I especially liked the fact that the second character introduced is an annoying idiot fop who thinks himself a legendary hero 😊 This made me think the otherwise heavy-sounding story will have a fun, humorous side, which is very important for me to enjoy a story.

    I think your pitch is great up to the sentence starting with “a cultural misunderstanding”. The following paragraph was hard for me to grasp. I read it several times to try and decipher it. All these phrases: “cultural misunderstanding”, “deadly escape”, “goals not so different”, “the truth of situations”, “ready to pay the cost” are vague, they don’t say what happened. It’s best to include actual facts and actions in the query rather than vague generalizations. I know that it is hard to say what happens without revealing too much, but you should find the hooks in the story and mention one of them specifically I think, to grab and increase the attention.

    Also, I think in an actual query you have another paragraph before the comp titles and novel info for pitching the story, one more paragraph, so you have space to say what happens, what twist gets the story going, what the stakes are, what will happen if the character fails. I think you should use these 50-100 extra words to include more details.

    Your chapter sounds very clear and evokes powerful images. Great job revising! I’d love to read your work on a printed page one day😊 Good luck and happy writing!

    Lily

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello, Laura. I enjoyed reading this pitch and revision. Your hard work is evident as this story becomes more and more compelling. I also want to thank you for your critiques of my story during this workshop.

    Pitch

    I agree with previous critiques of word choice and vague stakes, costs and truths.

    I'd add my desire to see a bit more of the setting for your story, beyond the "isolated village of Madoria." Your story mentions caverns and forests. How about including a striking feature of the terrain? Or is the area under constant danger from charging bacuras? Or are these beasts legendary and A'dya's the only one to see/battle one in a long time? And if A'dya is a warrior, her village must have enemies--what of those? Do they figure into the stakes, costs, truths? Any of these could be briefly detailed to intrigue a reader.

    Revision

    Your revision is strong. Your edits have improved the flow of the narrative, and you're making decisions about how the story will move forward (what is reintroduced, what is changed).

    You've done excellent work to bring readers closer to A'dya's POV. But the naming of emotions is distracting. Your writing is strong, Laura. Trust it to convey your meaning without telling. For example: "Though she was forbidden to visit the village while still on seclusion, she took what she knew to be a route that would give her a glimpse of home. With mixed feelings of guilt and self-righteousness, she dared anyone to find her at fault for taking one look. She’d done her time."

    This is brilliant writing. You have everything you need to show the action and emotion, if you will only delete these words:"With mixed feelings of guilt and self-righteousness...." Try reading the paragraph without these words to see if they are needed. Trust your reader to understand what you've skillfully described.

    I love this story and know it will turn out fabulous. I'm rooting for the amazing A'dya! :)

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  6. Hi Laura,

    I like what you did with this last revision. The writing is strong and the POV is deeper. I could also feel her emotions throughout the scene. I like how you ended with the cliffhanger, it makes me want to read more.
    Good job.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘no-nonsense’. Pitches need to be concise so I suggest you to use smaller sentences. ‘As the truth of the situations become clear, A’dya must decide if she is as willing as Pepik to pay the cost.’ I think this sentence is vague. You need to be as precise as possible so it can only fit your story. What is the cost? The truth of what situation?

    Also, the stakes could be clearer. 'Without any clues as to what happened, A’dya must venture into the unknown, or risk never seeing them again.' She sets a quest to find them, but why would she do so, especially when she has no idea what happened or who did this or if they're alive? There should be a visceral/personal motivation behind her quest (finding her mate because it's the love of her life, avenge her murdered family, retrieve something important from enemies...). Think about why it has to be her who must save them.

    I can totally relate when I only write when my two toddlers are sleeping. :D

    I hope your story will find a home.
    Best of luck

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  7. Hi, Laura! This is really intriguing and reads well. I actually loved the query that came into my inbox and was so close to requesting, but I'm a bit overloaded with YA fantasy right now. :(

    And I also felt that the way it was written in that sample was great too, which proves that you can be successful with different openings. There isn't one exact right way write things. That one you sent had a bit more voice.

    This is an intriguing world, and we're already getting a sense of the religion, the setting, and our main character.

    My main suggestion would be to have more of an overall hook at the beginning. We should see her worldview, her conflict, her motivations and wants and needs in this first paragraph, as well as theme and tone if possible.

    If she's surveying all forest life, how does that connect with her and what she's hoping for? How does this literal worldview show her internal world view? You could even relate her literal hunger to what she's been hungering for the last year, and then use the bacura to foreshadow what's about to happen.

    Tighten and take out words for more impact.

    She hadn’t eaten in three days. It was beginning to take its toll on her.
    Not eating for three days had taken its toll.

    I do wish you all the wonderful luck with this. You're a great writer.

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