Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #15: SHROUDED GODDESS 11:20 AM

TITLE: Shrouded Goddess
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Sophia was raised among the foreigners who married into her tribal family, but she’d rather drown than wed a conqueror who keeps trying to take her by force. To escape marriage and bring peace to the ravaged rainforest, she must awaken a powerful goddess and prevent the slaughter of her tribe.

Only Uncle Hector would hang a man then go fishing.

The giant jatoba tree, where the noose is set, shades the corpse but doesn’t protect it from the heat. Winter is more merciful than the hellish summer of this land, but only slightly. Noon is fast approaching, and a stench of emptied bowels permeates the village like early morning fog. I press an arm over my nose and quicken my pace to the bakery ahead. At least there is some advantage to being forced to wear long sleeves in this weather.

Vultures circle the cloudless sky above the tree, but not even they dare to defy Uncle Hector. Why did Aryeea send me to the village now? I glance over my shoulder at the fortress’s four-story tower spiked on the Igjommi Hill. The fluttering white cloth, billowing like a sail in the valley breeze, can only be my grandmother’s skirt. Of course she’s watching me from the balcony.

I enter the bakery and shut the door like I found it.  The warm scent of dough helps me ignore the heat. Steps approach from an inside room, and the baker’s rosy face beams at me as he ambles through the doorway.

“Lady Sophia.” He wipes his hands on his tunic. “What do you like today?”

I’d like someone to cut down that man and bury him before he rots. But if I voice the request, the baker will feel obliged to carry out the order. No need to tempt another hanging.


  1. I loved the first line. I think you could lose, "of this land" and stop at hellish summer, as it seems a little impersonal or distracting, cause y'know you wouldn't think or say that yourself. I was confused by, "I find the bakery door closed, so I shut it behind me." I had to stop and read it twice. I know what you mean, it just feels confusing. Can the baker be named? Again, for me, it places distance where there should be familiarity.
    I said this in another entry, but for me, I would have liked to have a little more tension. The scene is well placed, no doubt, but what is bothering her other than the smell of the corpse. What is she thinking about this and how it relates to her? Why is her grandmother watching her? Perhaps that is where your opportunity lies for tension. Give us more of a clue and let us know how she feels about Grandmother watching.
    Does she lean against the door once inside the bakery thankful for the brief reprieve?
    Just a thought, or just thinking and rambling here, but I hope some of it helps.
    Great job. I want to read more!

  2. This opening scene hits with a punch and I like it. It doesn't hold much back which works for me when it comes to YA fantasy.

    I do agree with the above commenter that I do want to know more about how all of this pertains to the MC in the sense of her character or even a clue to the broader tension in the story. I also think that I can clearly see the world, but I can't clearly see the MC yet. Obviously it's just a page here, but I do wonder if it would be worth pulling at lease one pertinent fact about the character into this first page to flesh her out a bit more. I mostly say this because she is the one we'll be with throughout the story and I want to know about her.

    I do like the summary and I think the writing is smooth and clear. I would read on for sure.

  3. That first line is great! And the hanging man certainly gets my attention. My main concern is that there are lot of people mentioned here in the short 250: her uncle, Aryeea, her grandmother (unless that’s Aryeea), and the baker. It’s a lot to digest in such a short space. I wonder if you could cut out Aryeea and grandmother and use that space to give us a little more sense of the MC, instead, as KatCho notes above?

  4. I have a problem with your logline. It says too much and is a little confusing. In order to escape marriage, she must prevent the slaughter of her tribe? Something does not sound quite right here. Maybe choose less events and build on the character's arc more. Otherwise I like the idea. I wish we could feel more that this is the rainforest in your entry.

  5. Excellent opening line. Really, it did its job, setting up character, place, and mood.

    I have to say though your logline is trying to do too much, so it ends up confusing the reader in terms of expectations. Words like "tribal family," "conqueror," "rainforest," and "goddess" can provoke a particular image in readers, which wasn't really captured in this opening. It felt a bit incongruous with "Lady Sophia" visiting a bakery.

    My biggest suggestion is focus. The beginning is a bit scattered at the moment. I'd save the mention of Grandma watching for later and focus on one detail. For example, if you decide to focus on the corpse--tease out who that man was, what his crime was, and perhaps Sophie's relationship to this Uncle Hector.

    Good luck!

  6. Oh wow! This is beautiful. In so few words you have shown so much – Uncle Hector’s character (brilliant first line, by the way), the setting (the cloudless sky, the heat, the skirt fluttering in the breeze, the fort on the hill – the setting is so clear in my mind when I read this), that something unusual is going on (the MC wonders why she is being sent to the bakery).

    Right away we are presented with a scene that is unexpected – a rotting corpse hanging from a tree. But then it shifts to a scene that is quite the opposite – a bakery. What a contrast! And in both instances you evoke the senses – sight, smell, touch. Well done.

    So many questions are raised in this passage, and each one begs the reader to read on. Your last line in particular grabs me - it seems to suggest she is no ordinary girl – that she has power to make people listen and act.

    As far as critique goes, I don’t think there is anything I can suggest to improve your 250, so I will comment on your logline. I feel maybe you are trying to fit too much story into your 50 words, and as such your logline is a little disjointed – particularly in the first line. But I understand what you are getting at – maybe it’s just a matter of rewording the first line to show the connection between the foreigners she was raised among and the conqueror wanting to marry her, because at the moment that is not clear.

    Regardless of this, I have to say I’m already a fan and would love to read this book!

  7. Very intriguing!

    You could draw out the impact of your powerful first line with the word "and."

    Only Uncle Hector would hang a man and then go fishing. Or,
    Only Uncle Hector would hang a man, and then go fishing.

    The other suggestion is to be more specific than "this land," since you have an opportunity to name the place, or drop "this land" and tell us the location later. As it is, "this land" seems oddly vague.

    I was pulled in by this opening page and would definitely read more! Best wishes!

  8. I really enjoyed your opening, but it seemed rather disjointed from your log line. Plus, the descriptor, "...she’d rather drown than wed a conqueror who keeps trying to take her by force.." makes me think this book will have several explicit scenes, which, for me, is a turn off.
    Your style is really engaging and beautiful otherwise. I can definitely put myself in your world right off. Good luck!

  9. I didn't have any issues with the logline, and there are some very effective things in this opening, although there are a couple of rough spots.

    The idea expressed in the opening line is certainly compelling, but I'm afraid the way it's worded is not right -- you would at least need a comma after 'man', and it would read much better if you followed Sarah's suggestion and included the word 'and'.

    I also agree that you could probably give the name of the place rather than saying 'this land', and that sentence would be smoother if the order were changed so that it read, 'Winter was only slightly more merciful than the hellish summer...' etc.. And 'shut the door like I found it' feels awkward to me; I'd suggest either saying 'closed it again behind me' or just leaving that detail out, unless you feel there's something particularly important about it -- I think most readers would assume that the bakery would have a door that wouldn't be left hanging open.

    But I loved the description of the grandmother's skirt, and I think this succeeds in giving us an immediate sense of what the place is like.

    Good luck! :)

  10. Good first line. I assume I'm not supposed to like Uncle Hector, but he's clearly a strong character.

    The image of the hanged man is vivid, and the details of weather, smell, and sight paint a clear picture of the scene. You also do a good job evoking the oppressive heat. The way Sophia skims past the tree and keeps going shows that this isn't an uncommon occurrence. I'd like a hint as to what this person did to be executed. Whether it was major or trivial would tell us a lot about this society.

    I'm a little confused about the social structure. Lady Sophia is clearly of high rank (the baker might risk a hanging to carry out her casual request), but she's been sent to the village on an errand. Wouldn't there be servants to go to the bakery? If there's a reason for this, I'd like to know.

    This is a strong first page. You leave me with lots of questions, and I'd keep reading to find the answers.

  11. These words draw me in and I already get a good sense of the MC. I do want to read more! Beautiful and I adore the rainforest setting. Definitely bring in as much of that description as possible.

  12. Wow. Amazing beginning. But then I saw genre. That is a gruesome beginning to a YA fantasy! Not sure I would have picked it up and kept reading as a teen (but that doesn't mean others won't, and I don't think we should keep 'life' out of YA stories, and death--even this sort of death--is a part of life. The ugly side of human nature. Also, plenty of adults read YA, so it's still likely to draw in many. It's just something I'd think on, is all.).

    Reading on, this is a lovely contrasting scene: she's a lady, there's the smell dough and warm greetings, and a rotting, swinging corpse outside in the heat, with vultures circling. Oh, and the uncle who's gone fishing after committing the act. DAMN. You have cut quite a scene. Having this end with her wanting to ask for the corpse to be cut down but feeling unable to is a wonderful hook. You got me.

    Really good writing. The descriptions were wonderful.

  13. I thought this was a very strong opening, and while I have lots of questions, they're the kind I'd read on for, not that confuse me. I only have two suggestions which have both already been mentioned.

    Put and 'and;' in that first sentence - and then go fishing.
    And rework the door sentence. Although we get it afterwards, it's confusing when it's first read which stops the reader.

    Nicely done!

  14. I like it. It's got nice atmosphere and the writing is mostly clean.

    My complaints are small and about slight clarification issues.

    "...than the hellish summers of this land..." of this land makes me think this isn't her homeland. Is she somewhere else and not in the rainforest?

    "The fluttering white cloth..." It's a little disorienting because there's no location for the cloth until the following sentence.

    "I enter the bakery and shut the door like I found it." This gave me pause because my brain immediately said, "she didn't find it closed... there's no mention of having opened it." I wouldn't have paid it any mind if not for the "like I found it" bit... I'm not sure why.

    While I loved the promise of a rainforest setting from the logline, what I got from the opening scene felt more desert (mostly because I had to google Jatoba tree and there don't seem to be many other vegetative/animal cues to indicate rainforest). I might also like more of an idea of how Sophia is a part of all this, but I like the voice enough to read for a bit longer to find out.

  15. Great opening! I love that things are amiss and smelly.

  16. Great imagery and writing, but the first line bothered me somewhat. I would like to see an 'and' in there. That's really my only suggestion!

  17. Wonderful imagery. It feels like a dark, oppressed place, which I think you were going for. One nitpick: "I press an arm over my nose and quicken my pace to the bakery ahead. At least there is some advantage to being forced to wear long sleeves in this weather." I had to re-read these to know what you meant. Maybe "I pressed my nose into my sleeve..." or something to make it clear that you're using your shirt and that's why it's beneficial to have long sleeves. Nice job!!