Sunday, March 15, 2020

1st 5 Pages Workshop - McDonley Rev 1

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

Chapter 1

Perched high in a meta tree, A’dya could see all forest life as it passed below. Stomach growling, she sat motionless. She felt as if she hadn’t eaten in days.

Probably because she hadn’t.

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

Thank Faith!

As quietly as she could, she slid down the rope she’d secured to her branch hours earlier. Once her boots met the ground she crouched, checking that the animal hadn’t heard her. She let out a breath when she saw it chewing on a strip of bark, body and ears relaxed.

Swallowing, A’dya could feel the quick thump thump thumping of blood in her veins.

Just follow the plan, she thought, 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, twin to the one Dilla, her carer, carried at home.

Just remember your training, she told herself. She stepped out from her cover.

The bacura saw her.

Its body tensed, deciding whether to fight or flee. Muscles rippling in agitation, the bacura pawed the ground, its mud-caked hooves leaving ridges in the dirt.

Lowering its head, the bacura aimed its long curved 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, successfully severing its tendon. Blood mixed with mud and tangled gray fur as the creature bellowed in pain and surprise. Unable to support its weight, it collapsed where it stood, a cloud of dust puffing into the air around it. Seizing the moment, A’dya pounced again, opening its throat and silencing its rage.

Resting on the animal’s side, she forced herself to take long deep breaths. Iron. The air smelled of iron, a constant companion to a fresh kill. She wanted to vomit.

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

She thought she’d have conquer 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 violet eyes, leaving a smear of blood on her cheek.

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

Hours before the sun peeked over the horizon the next morning the serenade of the lulabird nudged A’dya into consciousness. Without opening her eyes, she smiled at their song. Due to a combination of ghostly white plumage and a dozen old wives’ tales, lulabirds were whispered to be the spirits of lost souls.

            Rising had never been such a joy as today. The chores she performed every day for a year seemed fresh, even enjoyable. While packing her rucksack she whistled. While dousing and burying the fire she sang.

Dilla wouldn’t have recognized her in her good humor.

Still sore from five days of hiking, she stretched, readying for the final two hours before she reached the sacred pool.

Arriving exactly at sunrise, she had plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony.
            Certain rituals needed to be performed before her birth parents and Vleck joined her. A’dya wanted to begin as early as was permitted. 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 Fehwah 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.

Smiling, 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 the light ebbed, so did her feeling of pleasure. Instead, her heartbeat thumped an indignant beat. Over and over it said, “Forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten.”

            With stubbornness, she waited for the last light of the sun to disappear before admitting no one was coming. Squeezing her eyes shut, she struck her fist on the ground in anger.

Feeling the chill of night brush her spine, A’dya growled. It was time to seek shelter from the night creatures.

            Rising to collect her possessions, she grumbled, I am certain I have come on the right day. I did not miscount; I marked the passage of time fervently.

            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.

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

            As the distance between her and the village shrank self-consciousness coerced her to move more silently, as if creeping up on sleeping prey.

            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. Where was the sound of Carers calling after younglings? Where were the Elders singing at the Calling Place Temple, or the bleating of cocu goats. Now the only noise that touched her ears was her own breathing, the howl of the lonely catip wolf somewhere high on the mountain, and the shy chirp of the nightbug.

            Growing anxious, she reached the forest edge that framed her village. Stomach twisting in apprehension, A’dya pulled back the branches and peered into the opening.

            She may have screamed.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Laura,

    Wow! This is a massive improvement from your previous submission. Well done!

    The fight with the bacura is perfect, though I do wonder if A’dya would really feel like vomiting after the kill. You'd think she'd be used to hunting by now. I also found her reactions a bit too much when she realizes no-one has come for her (struck her fist on the ground, growled, grumbled, stomped). It didn't seem to fit her character somehow. Wouldn't she be worried instead of furious? Then again, maybe these reactions are how you want to define her character.

    The narrative reads smoothly with great descriptions that don't stop the flow of the action. The chronological events make a lot more sense this time, leading to a great climax (next chapter, please!).

    I love your creativity when it comes to naming people and objects in your world (lulabird. younglings, cocu goat, meta tree etc.). Note: check the way you spell Fewah/Fehwah.

    I'd suggest reworking the following phrase just a bit: As the distance between her and the village shrank (maybe add a coma here) self-consciousness coerced her to move more silently, as if creeping up on sleeping prey.

    All in all, you did a fantastic job taking everyone's suggestions into account.

    On to the next round...
    Rae

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  2. This is such a good story, Laura. Your writing is strong and your revision brought your world building to life.

    I love A'dya's thoughts and actions as she walks us through the stalking and attacking of the bacura (what a nasty beast). We're right there with her.

    I love this paragraph: "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 Fehwah did during village celebrations and holy days." You accomplish so much here, revealing physical appearance including battle scars and the effects of the past year, characteristics of toughness and determination, A'dya's hopes for the future, and cultural info. Nicely done.

    In some places, I lost that closeness with the character.

    In the opening, we're told, "She felt as if she hadn’t eaten in days. Probably because she hadn’t." To increase the impact of this, consider briefly stating the exact number of days had passed and what she ate. The physical beat of her stomach growling is good.

    "Rising had never been such a joy as today. The chores she performed every day for a year seemed fresh, even enjoyable." The 1st sentence informs us she's taking joy in her routine. In the next sentence, the word "fresh" is very effective, but I'm tripped up by "enjoyable", which is repetitive. How about a different word?

    In a few places, you name an emotion/feeling (telling), but then show how that feeling plays out. So you can delete the telling part. For example, "With stubbornness (not needed), she waited for the last light of the sun to disappear before admitting no one was coming." By leaving off the 1st 2 words you have a stronger sentence that shows the feeling without repetition.

    There are several instances of telling us thoughts and feelings. Sometimes this is effective ("I am certain I have come on the right day"), sometimes less so ("growing anxious"). Consider identifying all the named emotions and deciding where to replace with actions to show the emotions instead. You did this beautifully in the fight with the bacura.

    Looking forward to the revision!

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  3. Hi Laura.
    I think you made a good job making it clearer and deepening the POV.
    I liked that you mentioned her carer. It means that she cares about the ones waiting for her and raises the stakes when she would find out they're not there. I also liked how you slowed the fight with the beast to increase the tension. I felt more inside your MC's head when she was calculating her next moves and deciding what to do. Good job.
    I liked how you used the reflection in the water opportunity to describe her, but this paragraph was a little to telling-y and again too slow-paced for my liking. You mentioned she has scars that represented her will to survive, which is great, but the lack of details/precision doesn't provide the effect you wanted to created. Just a suggestion (feel free to ignore): maybe the bacura could bite her or scratch her and when she bathes, she takes some time to muse over it.
    I think you can make her deception stronger. I think the switch between her pleasure and anger was too sudden.
    Here are some details that caught my attention:
    'She felt as if she hadn't eaten in days. Probably because she hadn't.' I think it could be stronger if you simply said she hadn't eaten in days.
    'As quietly as she could' : you could probably replace Quietly…
    If you can say the same thing with fewer words, try the simpler version to improve the pacing and make the reading stronger.
    Also, some may not agree with me but if you format inner thoughts in italics, there's no need to add 'she thought' (or similar phrasing) because it's obvious and redundant.
    'The bacura saw her.' Can you show rather than tell? Because the way you wrote it reads as if the POV switched to the animal's like we were inside its mind and it's weird. (The same thing with the 'deciding wether to fight or flee' part.)
    The paragraph with 'slashing the foreleg' seemed unrealistic to me. If she just hurt one of the beast's legs, even if it's harder to move, the animal would still be able to move and try to wether fight back or flee the danger. It reads as if the animal just gave up and let her kill it willingly, which doesn't make any sense IMO.
    Just a question out of curiosity (you don't need to change anything to answer): Why would she bury the remains? Is it for a ritual? Because if it's to avoid diseases or hide her presence, wouldn't it be simpler to just burn the carcass, especially if she's already made a fire to cook the meat?
    I think you need a scene break before: 'Hours before the sun…' to show reader time has passed.
    'The chores she performed…' could you be more precise?
    I noticed you wrote Fewah and Fehwah.

    I can't wait to read the final version.

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  4. Hi Laura,

    Yes! Wonderful revision, the battle with the beast is clear and effective, there are no distracting infodumps or excessive worldbuilding. I like that within five pages you manage to introduce the character, her world, and have that world fall apart. Great job!

    I have small comments for strengthening certain sections:

    The fact that her dagger is twin to the one her carer Dilla has. This inclusion distracted me. If this is important at that moment, sure keep it. But if not, remove it. To me this short clause added several layers of information that I had no way of connecting to anything in the story so far, so it was hard to understand and remember. Who is Dilla? What is a carer? Why is it important that the two daggers are twins? Bear in mind that you are giving this information on the verge of a very intense fight scene. I felt it distracting.

    You can cut “successfully” in front of “severing its tendon”, it’s redundant. In general, run a search of “ly” in the text and consider very carefully every single adverb.

    Try to reduce descriptive phrases before the actual action like:
    “seizing the moment” (I think you don’t need it at all),
    “resting on the animal’s side” (The text reads more smoothly if you say “She rested on the animal’s side and forced herself to take long deep breaths.”)
    “arriving exactly at sunrise” (“She arrived at sunrise. This gave her plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony”)

    I don’t think you need the first mentioning of her “violet” eyes (when she pushes a strand of hair out of them). The second one at the pool is enough.

    I’m not sure the last sentence is the best way you can end this. Instead of giving her reaction, I’d love to see what causes it. What she sees should come before how she feels about it. Like “The village wasn’t there”. And if you prefer the reaction first, try to make the sentence more evocative. Like “She clapped her hand to her mouth to stop from screaming”, or “She barely stopped herself from screaming.” Otherwise I’m wondering what “she may have” means.

    That’s it, I hope it helps! 😊

    Lily

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  5. Hello Laura,

    I'm so sorry I missed the deadline for critique. I've been sick. I do agree with everyone else's comments. And you've done a great job of revising this. You do, however, need to go through and remove the filtering in this piece.

    For example:

    Swallowing, A’dya could feel the quick thump thump thumping of blood in her veins.

    Just follow the plan, she thought, biting her lip, same as always.

    Could be:

    Blood rushed through her veins, thumping in her ears.

    Just follow the plan.

    A’dya swallowed and bit her lip.

    Same as always.

    Go through and remove all filters –
    See / saw.
    Hear / heard.
    Think / thought.
    Touch / touched.
    Wonder / wondered.
    Seem / seemed.
    Decide / decided.
    Know / knew.

    Remove “she thought” and “she told herself” because we can tell it’s her thinking and telling herself because we’re in her POV.

    “The bacura saw her” is telling. Show us that it sees her. “The bacura’s bloodshot eyes narrowed on her.”

    Make sure to rework all telling in this piece to show. Like “With stubbornness” show this instead of tell us.

    “Its body tensed.” Is telling. Show us like, “It snorted, thick muscles rippling under its leather skin.” Or something like that.

    Be careful about using to many introductory clauses in a row to start your paragraphs. Look for Ing-words at the beginning and change as many as you can.

    Again, sorry I was late. I hope this helps for this round.

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