Friday, December 2, 2011

#55 YA Fantasy: Tears

TITLE: Tears
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A wizard’s spell has blocked emotions so people can’t cry. Stubborn, sixteen year old Kiana must find a rare jar of enchanted tears that can help her reverse the spell, but she has to do it before the Arcaian soldiers steal her people’s magic—including her brother’s.

Silence screamed all around me, and I knew any minute the heavy tread of military boots would hammer through it. Shivers nibbled at my skin and laddered up my spine.

I ducked through the fog into an alleyway and listened for some sound, some warning that the ever-present Arcaian soldiers, who had infested my country Itharia, had also caught sight of a sixteen year old girl breaking curfew during their nightly patrol. I sipped a cold breath before breaking toward the Square.

A large yellow piece of machinery rested by the abandoned fuel station, and I stopped by one if its massive wheels. The Arcs must have just stopped working to begin their patrol because the acrid smell of burnt magic filled the air around the machine. My jaw clenched. I hated that smell. Like we needed another reminder of what those axrats were doing when they took our magic.

Well, when they took my people’s magic.

I pushed aside my annoyance and tried to peer through the slithering fog for my best friend. “Come on, Gwynn,” I said under my breath. “Where are you?”

Any other time the words would have left a smoky trace in the cold air, but the fog was too thick. It choked its way through the streets in Cadehtraen—I could barely see the street signs or the traffic lights.
Moonlight shifted, and the crippled arms of our meeting place, the Guerra Tree that stood in the center of the Square, twined upward over the fog. Feeling like a moving target, I ran straight for it.

I cursed my footfalls and shot a glance into the murky street behind me. Despite my desire to stay quiet, panicked noises crept out between my frantic breaths.

I should have just had Gwynn sleep over. Meeting at two am would have been much easier.


  1. Love the voice and the concept! Shivers nibbled, axrats. I'd definitely read on. :)

  2. I guess I don't get why tears are needed from the logline. Why does she need to get them back? Lets just show sadness and pure joy a different way...

    I'm turned off by the second paragraph. You can tell that you're throwing some necessary points in there but they don't really flow. Arcaian Soldiers, my country Itharia, sixteen year old breaking curfew. It feels like you've got a list of things you want people to know and you're making sure they all get in that paragraph. It's needed, but I think you could spread it out more. Introduce it in different areas.

    I also don't understand this last line: I should have just had Gwynn sleep over. Meeting at two am would have been much easier. (What time are they meeting? Perhaps it's answered in the next sentence...)

    I do really love the voice and I get the sense of urgency. I just feel like there's a lot of telling in these first 250 words.

  3. I love the voice and the urgency in this. I'm willing Gwynn to hurry up myself! And the "shivers nibbled" is wonderful! Gave me shivers ;D

    Good luck.

  4. Such urgency, as the comment above states. Really in the moment.

    I'd say that the logline needs to make a case as to why tears are necessary or important. Also, something I often complain about in fantasy is too many proper nouns at once. Slow down-- it's good! Let us enjoy.

  5. Some of your world-specific terms are just awesome. I love "axrats!"

    One quibble I have with the log line is that it says she needs to reverse the spell before they steal her people's magic, yet in the first 250 it says they already took her people's magic. There's probably a very easy explanation here, but it did give me pause.

    Phrasing and verbs are beautiful, the shivers "laddering up" her spine, the fog "choking" its way through the streets. Lovely.

  6. I like the concept, but I feel like the writing is a bit overdone. Personally, I'd cut the first paragraph entirely (but I see other people saying they really liked it) because for me it seems like one cliche after another.

    I also agree with the comments that there's too many explanatory phrases dropped in. Figuring out how to get in your worldbuilding/backstory is a delicate balance, but I think in this case you've come at it a bit too hard. Mentioning the Arcaian soldiers (am I the only one who is tripping over all those vowels?) and that they took the magic is enough for the first page. No need to belabor the point.

    I would probably read a few more pages, because I like the voice.

    Good luck!

  7. - Silence screamed all around me

    I get what you're trying with this, but I find it a little too contentious an oxymoron to use as your very first two words.

    - I ducked through the fog into an alleyway and listened for some sound, some warning that the ever-present Arcaian soldiers, who had infested my country Itharia, had also caught sight of a sixteen year old girl breaking curfew during their nightly patrol.

    Too much information packed in here. I liked how it situated her in a pose of caution, but then I suddenly got a wave of history ("who had infested my country Itharia" -- which sounds a little too explanatory, as few people think, say, "my country the United States"), the age of the narrator, and the fact that there's a curfew. Maybe break this up into two sentences: "I ducked through the fog into an alleyway and listened for some sound, some warning that the ever-present Arcaian soldiers had caught sight of me." And then something about how they wouldn't take kindly to someone breaking the curfew they'd instituted on Itharians since conquering their country.

    - A large yellow piece of machinery

    I'd actually love more physical description about this. I was imagining an old boiler or something, and then learned it had wheels, that made me think it might be a form of transportation. Finally I ended up with some sort of portable furnace.

    - Well, when they took my people's magic.

    Fascinating. I wonder how "my people's magic" differs from "our magic."

    - "Come on, Gwynn," I said under my breath. "Where are you?"

    Given all the silence and her worry of being caught, I'd prefer an inaudible thought rather than an actual vocalization.

    - Despite my desire to stay quiet, panicked noises crept out between my frantic breaths.

    I think you could graduate "desire" to "need" in this case.

    Good tension, a little broken up (in a good way) by her wryly impatient thoughts about Gwynn. Wish the excerpt went on to include their meeting!

  8. The writing in this was beautiful. Interesting concept, and I think you did well writing such a condensed logline that clearly states the stakes and conflict. I loved being dropped right in the middle of a tension-filled scene.

    Couple of suggestions:

    In the second paragraph, I think you would do better to simply mention the soldiers without explaining they infested the country or that she's 16 years old. These two things seemed almost like an aside to the reader and not truly in the MC's POV. Could you weave these details in later?

    And because "Guerra Tree" was capitalized, I felt like it was important and therefore wanted more of a description.

    I'd definitely read on! Good luck!

  9. I'm intrigued by this set-up. Conquering soldiers stealing magic (which it seems the MC doesn't have), a girl sneaking around past curfew and risking capture (what would they do if they caught her?), a machine that burns magic, and a boy-best-fried. Me love. I'm very drawn into the image of her sneaking around, the fog thick in the air, trying to find someone without being found herself. Good stuff.

    Others have already elaborated on this, so I'll just say that I was a little tripped up by the language. You use a lot of beautiful, startling, and unique word combinations... but I noticed them. I prefer not to notice the words while I'm reading. They stood between me and the picture, pulling me out of her experience to mull over your word choices. They were brilliant words, used well, but too apparent, if that makes sense.

    I also agree that the first page was a tad telling and info-dumpy. On the first page, I don't need to know that her country is conquered, the name of the conquerors, or what they're doing with the magic. I think I'd be pulled in well enough by her situation, maybe with the sound of marching boots and burning magic in the background. I don't need to know who's wearing the boots or where the smell is coming from. Not right away.

    I would definitely read on. Good luck!

  10. I liked the premis of this and the way you are leading into the story is very intriguing. I stumbled over many of your word choices: shivers nibbled, laddered, sipped, slithering, murky street, panicked noises.

    I really felt they interrupted the flow of the narrative, throwing the rhythm off. Save them for a later time when the narrative slows maybe.

    But there was so much to like here. I'd definitely read on. Good luck!

  11. I really love your voice here, but I have some questions about the log line. I would like to know why it's important that the people be able to cry again, as well as why her brother's magic is so significant. I think that being more specific about these points would make Kiana's stakes clearer.

    That being said, the premise is very interesting. I was struck by the line, "Well, when they took my people's magic." Now I want to know if she somehow retained her magic and how. =) I would definitely read on.

    Good luck with the auction!

  12. I like the way this writer captures the tenseness of the scene and Kianna's emotions as she waits for her friend. "The silence screamed," "shivers nibbled" – what a great way to evoke fear and suspense! Add to that the shifting fog and the crippled arms of the Guerra Tree to give a spooky setting… good job!

  13. Okay, first off I love the juxtaposition of magic and technology here, and think you've got a great premise. That said, a couple things:

    You've got to be really careful with writing like this. In the right places its awesome, in the wrong ones it feels overdone and offputting. For instance, just in your first paragraph: 'Silence screamed all around me,' just feels heavy-handed and a bit cliche. Whereas 'Shivers nibbled at my skin' is awesome. Less is more. I'd stick with a more straightforward approach to revealing that its silent and she's on the look out for the sound of soldiers...and then sprinkle in stuff like the shivers nibbling. Use a light touch.

    The real problem I think is your MC's voice is getting lost in your writing. Lines like 'Like we needed another reminder of what those axrats were doing' are fantastic and jump off the page with voice....but then in other parts the prose becomes distracting and your voice kinda slips away and leaves us feeling disconnected. Really I think this is an awesome start and has mad potential, I just think it maybe needs some more editing to pare the writing down and let the voice shine through more.

    (Oh and one last thing, beware the info-dumps. The 'who had infested my country Itharia' line for instance feels disjointed and flows a bit unnaturally. We don't need details like that right away on the first page so don't feel you need to throw it in somewhere it doesn't seem to fit.)

  14. I like this opening and that you're trying to build up a lot of tension right away. Makes things exciting! However, there is a bit more of a telling vs. showing feel going on here.

    This might sound silly, but the opening sentences have a lot of very strong words in them--silence, scream, hammer, shiver, nibble, ladder. Each of these has a strong sound in my ear, and with so many at once, I wasn't sure of the most important one to grasp onto. Is it possible to simplify here? Maybe, "Any minute the heavy tread of military boots would hammer through the silence." I immediately feel the tension.

    There is also a bit of info that may be weighing down the scene. Things like "my country Itharia" or "my people's magic" slow down the pace here. Could she just say, "the ever present Arcaian soldiers, who had infested Itharia..."? As a reader, I will trust you as you build this world around me. You don't need to explain too much!

    If it's so dangerous to be out after curfew, I'd also like to know the reason sooner why it's urgent to meet with Gwynn at two am. Why not have her sleep over? Why not do the logical action? That's what's going to make this exciting, as long as it also makes sense.

    And a quick note on the logline--why is it crucial that the ability to cry be restored? Is it the same as being unable to feel sad? And even then, I'm not sure of the severity of it, versus, say, not being able to be happy, or grow crops, or survive, etc.

    Love YA Fantasy and you have a great, suspenseful opening. I think a bit of tightening here and trusting the reader with fewer details, and this will be lovely! Good luck!

  15. I agree with a lot of others in that you're trying to get too much information across on your first page. For me at least, it dispelled some of the tension. I think you'd more effectively hook readers by focusing on one aspect of your story, in this case whether or not Kianna is going to be caught by the soldiers. They'll read on to find out if she's OK, then presumably she'll meet with Gwynn and they'll read on to find out what the meeting is about and so on and before you know it, they've finished the book.

    I also had a problem with some of your verb choices. You've clearly gone out of your way to pick strong verbs, and some of them (hammered, nibbled) are fantastic. Others don't work for me (sipped - how do you sip a breath?) or make the author's hand too clear. As someone above said, too many big verbs in a row makes it hard for the reader to tell which one is important. I'd liken it to having a crowd of people, one of which is wearing orange and the rest of whom are in grey. The orange person would clearly stand out of and be the focus of attention. But if everyone is wearing bright colours, the eye doesn't know where to look and flits everywhere.

    Some specific comments:
    who had infested my country Itharia
    Kiana is not likely to be thinking this while sneaking around. Her whole attention would be focused on not getting caught. If she did think it, she would drop either 'my country' or 'Itharia'. I'd cut this bit. The soldiers are a threat, that's all we need to know for now.

    had also caught sight

    The 'also' here confused me. It implies someone else has seen her, but your text doesn't indicate that.

    A large yellow piece of machinery As someone above said, I'd prefer a more detailed description of this. I was picturing a piece of mining equipment, which is very different from YKP's mental image. I'd also cut the rest of this paragraph. It's a lot of telling and for me, it dispels the tension. Plus, 'they must have just stopped working to begin their patrol' didn't make sense to me. Surely being on patrol is a soldier's job. Why would they also be working on some sort of machinery? And how do they work with the machines then patrol all night? If the patrol is only done once a night, then why is Kiana sneaking around during that exact time? I'm sure there's some good explanation for all of my questions, but the first page isn't the place to answer them. I do like 'axrats' and the mention of 'our magic' and the correction in the following paragraph, but I'm sure you could work them in somewhere else.

    I'd also cut 'Cadehtraen'. Again, Kiana would probably just be thinking 'the streets'.

    Feeling like a moving target, I ran straight for it.

    I cursed my footfalls and shot a glance into the murky street behind me.

    I'm confused at this point as to whether Kiana is still running across the square or whether she's reached the tree.

    I should have just had Gwynn sleep over.

    For me, this kills all the tension you've worked to build up over the page. If it's so dangerous to be out, why didn't Kiana just ask Gwynn to sleep over? You need a better reason than 'Because I wanted a dramatic opening.' Cut this bit and the page will be stronger.

    Anyway, there are some really good things about your first page and you can definitely write, you just need to rein in the verbs sometimes. And I really like your logline. A lot of people in this comp have submitted what are basically queries rather than true loglines, but yours is succinct and gets across the essence of the story. Well done.

  16. #55 TEARS

    Logline: The opening line feels very naked to me – okay, there’s a magic world here, but what kind of wizard, what people, where? And the last line leaves me scratching my head a bit – why the distinction of her brother’s magic after the general “her people’s magic”? This doesn’t clearly raise the stakes, as one assumes her brother and everyone she knows is among the people. Is there another more effective way to show her personal drive to be the heroine here?

    Line notes: There are several interesting word choices – “sipped a cold breath”, “slithering fog”, “words would have left a smoky trace” “the crippled arms…twined” – that paint a swirling picture, but I wonder if there are a few too many, so that they become distracting. Somehow too much of a good thing?

    Overall: As in the logline notes, I’m not entirely sure I know where this opening scene is taking us, what kind of world and magic is at play. A curse to block the ability to cry and the loss of magic don’t feel very connected as the problem of this story, and a jar of tears (from whom or what?) also sounds like a random solution an occupation by the Arcaian soldiers described as the problem in the sample. There are some compelling elements here, but I’d need to see this coalesce quickly into a thoughtfully layered world and plot.