Friday, December 2, 2011

#57 YA Dystopian: The Decretum

TITLE: The Decretum
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Generations after a plague almost eradicated society, sixteen-year-old Aura lives by three rules: Stay within your quarter; touch is illegal; love is forbidden. But in the search for her missing brother, Aura is about to break them all.

I shouldn't be walking alone in the Lower Quarters.

If they knew I was here, they'd kill me.

I'd heard the stories. We all had. About the girl who'd swapped her blue gown for the red smock of the LQ and headed out. She never came back -- her body had been discovered at the borderland three days later. They said people from the Beyond killed her.

It wouldn't surprise me. My Guardians say the people there are animals.

Which is why it isn’t smart being out here. A daughter of The Decretum shouldn't leave her Quarter. It's forbidden.

Screw that. A dare's a dare.

I tighten my grip around the handle of the bucket. All I have to do is get the proof home. Show Salina. I won’t get another chance. She’ll be gone soon and… Silence whistles through the empty street -- the hustle of daily life still almost an hour away.

The breeze whips up particles of dirt. They scratch and claw at my skin, but I can’t stop. I’ve already been here too long. I inhale the heady aroma of wood chips and smoldering cinder -- the remnants of a dying fire -- that marks my entrance to the Upper Quarter. Home.

The sun pokes above the clouds, casting its amber shadow across me, bathing my skin with color. I scan my surroundings. The street seems to close in. Trapping me. I shake my head.

Grow up, Aura. You wanted to come here.

With each step I take, the water I’m carrying splashes on the fabric of my shoes and pools between my toes. A chill travels along my spine.

I hear the scuffle of footsteps behind me.

Out of the corner of my eye, a figure leaps behind the crumpled metal frame of a factory. Straightening up, I draw in a deep breath. Move or die, Aura.


  1. I think you do a very good job of world-building in this little bit of text. We learn A LOT about Aura's world without it feeling like any kind of info-dump. We also get a good slice of Aura's voice.

    Well done and good luck!!!

  2. I love this! GREAT logline and eventuali better hook. I didn't make it to the dozen and I think I know why. Too much ranting and overwriting. Your 250 words on the other hand, is brief, exciting and to the point. I am pretti sure you'll get food bids. Best of luck!

  3. I really like this entry. The world building is done very well. I get a real sense of the danger Aura's in and I would totally turn the page to see what happens.
    Not to mention, I'm a sucker for a good dystopian.

  4. Logline: I'm not sure that the three rules are phrased as rules. They're catchy, but 'touch is illegal' sounds more like a law than a rule, and 'love is forbidden' sounds more, well, forbidden. 'Stay within your quarter, touch nothing, love no one' maybe?

    Opening: Okay, I liked it. I was unsure about her comparing herself to the girl who tried to hide as a member of the LQ to run away and died. That sounds more like 'danger outdoors!' than 'Danger below!'. I do like your character, though; I was hooked more by 'Screw that. A dare's a dare' than anything else. From the opening, I get the idea her 'proof' is water, but I'm not sure she's not exaggerating about 'move or die' at the end.

    Overall, I enjoyed this piece and I would keep reading. Well done.

  5. Love the voice. Love the story premise.

    Maybe it's just me but I feel like there's a tense difference between the first two lines and the third.

    I shouldn't be walking alone in the Lower Quarters.

    If they knew I was here, they'd kill me.

    I'd heard the stories. We all had.

    Shouldn't it be: I've heard the stories. We all have. ???

    But I love the first 250. I'd keep reading. Though the last words, move or die, seem a little too dramatic. But perhaps there's an explanation in the next line.

  6. Great start! The choppy sentences work, but only for so long. While I think they do a great job contributing voice, it just becomes a little overdone by the third paragraph or so.

    PS-- LOVE the name Aura-- wow!

  7. I like your logline very much. One thing was confusing, though: is all love is forbidden - or just "romantic" love? Because I assume she feels love for her missing brother? Perhaps all love is dangerous?

    This second line: "If they knew I was here, they'd kill me." I read that at first as, "they'd be mad at her" but then you talk about a real killing so I'm wondering if murder is what she's worried about rather than a stern talking to. The word choice just confuses the stakes here a bit.

    "I'd heard the stories. We all had." (This wording seems fine to me.)

    "She never came back -- her body had been discovered ..." Can you say "was" instead of "had been"? Do a global search for this in your MS, because simple past tense is preferred over past perfect.

    "Screw that. A dare's a dare."

    I like "Screw that." I don't like "a dare's a dare." The first sentence makes me think she's plucky and a rebel. The second makes me think she's a fool. I prefer to be rooting for her this early in the story, so if this really is a dare, let that come out later in a recounting of that event (if, in fact you do explain it later) so we can understand then the real reasons she made this choice.

    "Silence whistles ..." And yet, it doesn't. It's silent.

    Reading the second half of this entry, I found myself concentrating more on your word usage rather than being sucked into the story itself. The wind whips, the sun pokes, the streets close, the water splashes, a chill travels, a figure leaps. And the word "I" has got to be here at least 20 times. It makes the words seem stilted and robotic rather than flowing.

    Best of luck to you, and keep up the good work.

  8. In a spiteful way, I didn't want to comment because your log line reminds me of MY manuscript! But as I read the first 250, our entries are quite different, and in a good way for us both. I love how gutsy Aura is. That line, "Screw that. A dare's a dare," sets her up as a hero right away. Also strong is the immediate sense of danger. I'd keep reading!

  9. I was hooked by the "Screw that" line, n' drawn in by the beautifully-rendered tension of your writing! Positively CINEMATIC!!


  10. Intriguing premise. I love the name Aura, and your writing is good! I'm intrigued by the blue gown switching to red gown thing, and I want to know more about that! I agree with a lot of the previous comments, and unfortunately, for me, her saying "Screw that, a dare's a dare," just wasn't believable enough after you set down these strict rules. If the threat is death I just had a hard time believing she would risk that just for a dare. Also, in your logline you mention while searching for her brother she's willing to break all the rules, but that doesn't seem to be that significant of a risk/conflict when she's willing to break them anyway just for a dare right in your opening lines. Sorry. :)

  11. Logline: you do a great job with the set up, but what are the stakes? What happens if she breaks the rules?

    Excerpt: The voice is great, a nice balance between what's going on around her and building the world she lives in. I have trouble holding onto the tension that I think you're trying to create, though, possibly because of those pauses for the worldbuilding. For example, the particles of dirt scratching and clawing at her skin ratchets the tension up a notch, but then the smell of a dying fire and the thought of home bring it back down. But that's a pretty minor nitpick. I think this is a very well written piece.

  12. Agreed that it doesn't seem fair to compare the girl who headed outside to the narrator merely going into LQ (which, for all we know, could be an indoor area); I think it could be clearer that Aura's also heading outside.

    On a second read, I'm also unsure whether there are gradations of LQ > outside > borderlands > the Beyond; it might be worth clarifying if this isn't how it works.

    In general I didn't get a good sense of the physical setting. She's outdoors and seeing dirt and sun and smelling a wood-fire. Maybe something more about the street when it seems to close in? I had no idea that there were buildings around this girl, so the sudden appearance of a factory and a person behind it startled me.

    The detail about the color of the gowns is a nice way of hinting at the sort of regulations common in a dystopian world.

    I also lost sympathy for the girl and that lovely atmosphere of danger you built up as soon as she thought, A dare's a dare. That just catapulted her into the stupidity camp for me.

    Then you brought in that tenderness with Salina, which redeemed her. There's more to this than being a brash daredevil; it's a last feat for someone dear. I would've liked to get that sense right off so I would think better of her throughout.


    - The breeze whips up particles of dirt.

    This is getting a little too microscopic for me. Maybe just some dust? Also, if they really were just particles, unless this person is on the princess-and-the-pea level of sensitivity, I don't think scratches would ensue.

    - They scratch and claw at my skin, but I can’t stop.

    Stop? I thought she'd want to go faster, to escape this.

  13. Love this! Logline clearly states the stakes and conflict, and the opening drops us right into a tension-filled scene.

    Couple of things that jumped out at me: the name Aura is lovely, but it might be problematic in the YA genre simply because of the fabulous Jerri Smith-Ready's SHADE/SHIFT/SHINE trilogy. The other thing is that I liked the first time she thinks her own name--it was a great way to let the reader know the MC's name, but the second time was a little forced. I don't think I've ever thought my own name, so two times in just a few sentences took me out of the story.

    But aside from those nitpicks, I'd definitely read on! Good luck!

  14. I would pick this book up just because of the first part of your logline - population-destroying plagues get me every time. Awesome.

    I'm pretty curious about what kind of a dare would prompt this character to ostensibly risk her life - I'm hoping to read on and find out that it's really worth it and she's not just being...reckless. :)

    That last line is GOLD. "Move or die." Guh.

  15. I like where the book starts--with a girl doing a huge dare.

    I would like to know what is the proof she has to take home--what does she have to show Salina? I would like it if you put it there, in that paragraph, but then maybe it's just me. (I mean, name what the proof is.)

    Also, I would love to know why is a dare so important for her that she's willing to risk her life.

    I would say more about the 250, but I think you've already got lovely feedback above. ;)

    I liked that the pitch was short and sweet. But in a market that is filled with dystopians I would have liked you to focus on something else that makes your book unique.

    For instance, you said "love is forbidden." And I think of DELIRIUM. And you say "Touch is illegal," and I think of SHATTER ME. (Though it isn't quite the same, but still, as I said, I would have liked that you focused on what makes your ms stand out among the other dystopians around.)

    Good luck! :D

  16. I like the short, to the point logline. You summed up the way the world works, the plot, and the stakes in just two sentences. Nice.

    The first line gets straight into conflict-territory. She shouldn't be doing something, but she is. Why? What's the threat? What happens if she's caught? Of course I'm going to read on!

    The fact that she's willing to face danger on a dare tells us a lot about Aura (comments seem to be divided whether she's rash or has a good reason in Salina), so already I'm starting to think she's a girl who will survive the search for her brother. I do wonder whether the amount of short paragraphs lessens the effect of the first two short, sharp paragraphs, though.

  17. The writing is fluid and strong. I have some nits.

    Will they really kill her or is she being flippant? Might want to choose a different phrase there since I'm new to your world and unsure of it's rules.

    So she's going to risk her life on a dare to someone who won't even be around soon? This might work a bit better for me if you balanced this section with a sense of what Aura is trying to prove to herself. Basically, what's underneath her recklessness? I really have no idea who this girl is other than she's reckless and that isn't enough to make me care about her.

    Also, I'm confused how she can be on a street and still an hour away from people. Then you go on to say it's the Upper Quarter, home to this girl, which confused me even more. Further, if water is the proof that she was in this forbidden place, then that means she has no access to water in the city where she lives? That isn't home?

    Could be I'm just generally confused today. Ah. I just read the logline which makes things a little more clear - but without it, these first 250 were confusing to me. They really should stand on their own, I think.

    Really, those things are nitpicks, though, easy to fix. Good luck!

  18. If I were an agent, without reading any further, my first instinct would be to immediately write you back with 'Great writing. Do you have anything that isn't a dystopian that I can look at?'

    And that isn't meant as a criticism, but as a compliment. The fact is we've all heard how glutted the market is with dystopians right now, so when I see one and talk of a plague, I'm immediately wary. From the first line of your logline, I read the rest of your entry practically PROGRAMMED to dislike it and move on to the next...and your writing sucked me in regardless. Aura's fascinating, and I want to read more.

    So basically, I'm just trying to say, IF you get feedback from agents saying they don't think they can sell a dystopian right now, please please please don't get discouraged and just get another project out there STAT because you're too strong a writer to remain unpublished.

    As for your first page, my only suggestions would be 1) I'd also rephrase particles of dirt....particles just rings false to me. Maybe grains instead?

    And 2) I'd cut: 'Which is why it isn’t smart being out here. A daughter of The Decretum shouldn't leave her Quarter. It's forbidden.'

    Given what it follows, it really just reads as redundant. Wanting people to stay inside because they wind up dead is self-explanatory really. I'd just cut straight to 'But a dare's a dare. Screw common sense,' or something similar.

    Course all this is just my two cents! Good luck and I hope we see you published soon!

  19. I love a good dystopian, and the logline sounds familiar but still fresh. I'm excited about the different quarters, the people in the Beyond, the Guardians, the Decretum--it's all awesome and built around me in a believable way. Nice job!

    The "Screw that. A dare's a dare" line jarred me out of the scene, however. First of all, I'd sort of established a lyrical voice for Aura from the opening paragraphs, so it didn't sound like her to me--it sounded too modern vs. dystopian futuristic. Secondly, a dare isn't a good enough reason for her to be in that quarter to me. I was hoping for a reason that would speak to her personality, situation, values, etc. As an example, in Hunger Games, Katniss crosses the fence even though it's dangerous, but she doesn't just go to escape the life she has to live. She also uses the animals there to scrape together a survival. I'd love to see the same character-building reasons for Aura to be in another Quarter instead of a dare.

    I got a little confused after she smelled the fire and entered the Upper Quarter. She was safe then, right? why is she still frightened after she's in the right place? I thought she was only in danger if she broke the rules, but it seems being out at night is just as dangerous in any of the Quarters, which would cancel out the thrill and fear of being in the Lower one.

    This novel sounds awesome and it's nice, tidy writing. Who are the people from Beyond?! Need to know!

    Good luck!

  20. 90(are you on two accounts? nicely done!)

  21. I just decided to change my name up a little bit. Sorry if that confused.

    Oh, and 110 pages!

  22. #57 THE DECRETUM

    Logline: It’s effective, compelling, if perhaps a bit familiar. (There are a lot of dystopians out where touch is dangerous and love is forbidden.)

    Line notes: I don’t recognize the word “Decretum” and my dictionary isn’t helping. I wonder if it’s problematic as a title?
    I wasn’t a big fan of the internal speech lines, where Aura says “Screw that” and “Grow up”. They threw me out of the moment and mood you were creating, and seem very contemporary and other than the world you’re building.

    Overall: The opening paragraphs have quite a nice tension, and I’m curious about why she’s out in danger, carrying water, and what lurks behind her that she’s afraid of. I’ve said it many times here about paranormal, and I should offer the same re: dystopian. It really has to be special these days to stand out in our increasingly saturated market. I’d keep reading to see what this manuscript accomplishes.

    Best of success.