Coryn of Bellsferry: Blood Thieves -Chapter 5: Unexpected Guests

Hunter aesthetic! 

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Coryn Aesthetic!

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Chapter 5 of Coryn of Bellsferry: Blood Thieves is here! Check it out on Wattpad!

“I shivered, despite the summer heat. What if something happened to me? What if the Blood Thieves got to me? What would that do to my daughter, losing the person closest to her? She barely knew Gunner and Dixie. She’d be devastated and scared, and the security and joy of her childhood bubble would burst and she’d be thrown into the dark, confusing maze of this dangerous world. Death was banging on all of our doors, especially mine and Krista’s, and who knew when it’d break through and seize its loot. It could happen tonight…”-from chapter 5

Chapter vibes:

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Coryn Aesthetic!

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SYNOPSIS TIME!

“With long snaking roads enshrouded by dense woodland and only smatters of clarity along the rolling hills, the beautiful countryside of Bellsferry was the perfect place for predators to stalk.” Coryn knows fate when she’s pricked by it–she thinks.

In a world where American law has been overthrown, and wanna-be supernatural, self-made vampires exist–who by the way, are really creepy and demented and have started preying on the small town of Bellsferry–there also exists Coryn, a twenty-three-year-old single mother who’s just trying to survive through life–and give her daughter a somewhat decent one. But when Coryn is taken under her gunslinging neighbors’ wings and something…otherworldly happens, forget decent; she and her daughter’s lives are now even more dangerous than before. Sigh. That’s what happens when you accidentally become the only real nemesis to the deranged psychopaths who have iron-gripped your hometown.

Since before the demolition of law, Coryn grew up surviving through life, but now she has to protect not only herself and her seven-year-old daughter, but their entire town–doesn’t she?

 

Have you been following along? If so, what are your thoughts so far? Got a WIP you’re working on? Are you on Wattpad? Let me know! Happy reading! -Natasha

Make Your Protagonist Problematic Tip 1: Fear

Your protagonist has to have at least one fear that needs to be squashed throughout her journey. Whether it’s the fear of failing, or the fear of losing a loved one (like Katniss from Hunger Games), the fear needs to be real, relatable, and a reminder to her and your audience at crucial moments.

The fear shouldn’t be an easy one to overcome. And don’t be afraid to let it be a setback, even a major one; that can cause her (and your audience) to hate it and want to conquer it all the more, and can cause interesting conflict between other characters.

When her fear costs someone’s life, it won’t only create conflict among those impacted by the loss, but add more internal conflict; guilt, insecurity, self-loathing, maybe even denial.

Conflict is the engine of your story. If it’s too simple or minimal, you’ve got a weak story. The more complex the problems, the more gripping your story will be and the more satisfying the resolution.

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We are amazed at how conflicts resolve. When someone had a very difficult situation, but it works out, aren’t we quick to ask: how did that happen? What changed? And when the story is said and done, we stand in awe.

Make your protagonist’s journey one that wows us. I’ll have more tips on how to accomplish this next Monday.

What do you think? Comments are welcome here 🙂

Happy helping!

Cheaper Edits for Some Special Preciouses

Those of you interested in having me as a developmental editor are getting a price-break from my already reasonable editing service fees.

Short story edit

A thorough edit of your story, improving various aspects such as plot, characters, dialogue, stakes, emotional appeal, originality, conflicts, and resolution.

Short story edit rates

$0.04 $o.03 a word.

Novel edit

A complete edit of your story, enhancing key aspects such as plot, characters, dialogue, stakes, emotional appeal, originality, conflicts, and resolution.

Novel edit rates

$0.02 $0.01 a word, so if your manuscript is 70,000 words, it’ll be just  $700 for a developmental edit of your entire story!

But, these rates won’t last. I’m offering this price-break until March 1st. Fill out the form below with your genre, synopsis, and word-count, and I’ll get back to you soon.

Happy helping!

Critique Friday: “Allies of the Night” Reading 

It’s Critique Friday! Today’s reading is from an action-packed horry/fantasy/adventure by Nicholas Scott. If you want your first 1500 words to be read and posted here on my blog and on my YouTube channel, send it via email to NatashaSapienza[at]gmail.com 

Don’t send your manuscript if there’s anything erotic in it. 

Happy helping!

Writing Craft Wednesday: Action Scenes vs Rest Ones

When the heroes in your story are fighting the villains, there shouldn’t be too much time to take in every detail. Long sentences must be shortened. Short sentences make us more anxious. For example:

Sara mustered all the strength she had left and swung her fist at Bale’s cheek. He grabbed her hand and twisted her arm behind her back with such force she stumbled onto her knees. His grip tightened, squeezing so hard Sara was sure her blood circulation was cut off. A scream ripped through her mouth and echoed off the cave walls. Bale shoved her onto the cold, stony ground and unsheathed a large double-edged dagger with a leather hilt. 

Vs:

Sara swung her fist at Bale. He grabbed it and twisted her arm. His grip tightened. Sara screamed. Her cry echoed through the cave. Bale shoved her to the ground. He unsheathed his dagger. 

Admittedly, I like both. But if you can keep your sentences from running long, yet include actions that intensify the emotions, go for it. You want to both grip your audience emotionally and make them anxious. 

Rest scenes are different. They are the moments of reflection and/or contemplation. It is when your hero is recalling a lost loved-one, or trying to stoke the flames of hope in himself or his friends. Or it’s a romantic scene where your heroine pours her heart out to her beloved. Longer sentences are welcome here. You can milk these. Details are fine. But, you can and should end these with tension. Tension is what keeps the story moving forward. You can even have the primary emotion of the scene grow stronger and stronger, increasing the tension or anticipation for what will happen next. So even though nothing is happening action-wise during this rest scene, inwardly, something is rising in your character and it can be felt. Like this excerpt from Bryan Davis’s Reapers, book one:

As we continued, heat rose from the roof’s tacky surface, making the air even more stifling on this sultry night. Wearing a cloak with a long-sleeved tunic underneath added to the discomfort, but at least Crandyke wasn’t complaining. A half moon veiled by hazy vapor hovered over the skyline and provided a new frame of light around Sing—a flowing silhouette of cloak and curls running at my side. The daring rescue and her willingness to accept an unorthodox Reaper like me meant a lot. We would probably get along fine.

Yet, not everything made sense. Showing up at exactly the right time seemed too coincidental. And that speech about freedom and being a robot? Practiced. Her acting skills nearly glossed it over but not enough to quell suspicion. It would be best to keep her in sight, at least until after she called for help from her people, whoever they were. Still, she could get in a lot of trouble hanging around me—a medical black-market trader who was trying to, as the Gatekeeper’s Council often put it, “Interrupt the natural order of death and reaping.” If she stuck around, she would eventually learn the truth and maybe get entangled in the danger.

I focused straight ahead. I would probably learn soon enough. The road to the Gateway might very well prove Sing’s alliances.

What novels have you read with some awesome action and rest scenes? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment.

Happy helping!


Critique of “Song of the Daystar” by Nichole

I know it’s Main Character Monday, but I’m finding it quite difficult to film and edit readings and then edit/critique your pieces when sent the day of or before Critique Friday . So if you would like a recorded reaction to your first 1500 words and a written critique, I ask kindly that you please send me your work by Wednesday, 5pm est. Thanks!

Here’s this week’s critique for a cool fantasy piece by Nichole. All of my edits are in bold. You can find an overview of my critique and suggestions at the bottom of this post. 

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Chapter 1

Black Portent (What does this mean?)

The bells of Cythla Mael had not pealed their dirge in decades, yet now their voices rang over the streets of Marratow in dark and mournful song. (Nice hook!)

Bong, bong, booonnnggg! Bong, bong, booonnngg!

(Whatever you do, DON’T write onomatopoeia’s like this. It gives a bit of a comedic feel. Try a simple: Bong. Bong. Bong. I think the majority of readers are going to hear the typical bong created by such large bells.)

Morven raced through the palace’s corridors, bare feet slapping the marble floor as his night robes fluttered wild behind him. Please, no, he prayed into the dark. Not tonight. Not now. Please… let it not be true…

Bong, bong, booonnnggg!

“Morven, slow down!” The voice cut through his chanting thoughts, causing him to stumble.  He caught himself and continued on, ducking his head as if to shield it from the voice’s owner. (Instead of saying “the voice” twice, just put “the voice of Nephraim, the younger of his guards, cut through etc.”) It belonged to Nephriam, the younger of his guards – a tall man in his mid-thirties with a serious outlook on life. (This was a mini info-dump. It sounded contrived. Don’t describe Nephraim unless your POV character which I assume is Morven, is looking at him.) No doubt Torran followed close behind, trying to keep up on much older legs. Neither one was a match for his (since Torran was mentioned last, this “his” is confusing and incorrect grammar. Change to Morven’s) speed… especially tonight. Especially with the song of those bells resonating through his bones.

“Please, my prince… wait!  We only wish to help.” Nephriam’s pleads fell on deaf ears, though that didn’t stop him (from) trying. “We have lanterns!”

“No use yellin’ after him,” said a second voice, and Morven knew he’d been right about Torran (again, just say “Torran sounded out of breath.” Cut to the chase.) The older guard sounded out of breath. “Boy’s got a flighty head on his shoulders, and he’s fast. Besides, he knows well what those bells mean. So do you.”

“We’ll never catch him at this rate,” Nephriam panted. “What if something happens to him? Tonight of all nights? It’s our necks, not his.”

“We’ll catch him. He has to stop at some point, and until then he can handle his own. Besides, we know where he’s going… poor lad.”

Nephriam tried once more. “Moven, just slow down a moment! Try to listen to reason!”

But Morven sped up, leaving the echoes of their voices behind. He liked his guards well enough, but he didn’t want their company. Not tonight. He didn’t need their lanterns to light his way, or their words to ease his worry. They would only slow him down, and he must not slow down…(See, the POV is confusing. Is it omniscient? If so, reporting what the guards are saying is fine. But if it’s third-person-intimate then Morven wouldn’t hear this conversation unless they’re yelling it.)

Booonnnggg!!! Booonnnggg!!!

(Never use more than one exclamation. And again, this one is especially comedic because of the excessive letters and exclamations)

Heaving breath, Morven skirted around a corner so fast he caught his shoulder on the stone wall. Sharp pain lanced through his arm. He ignored it, allowing it only to quicken his stride (to get rid of the double “it” try: “He ignored it and quickened his stride.”) When last he’d heard the Dark Twins sing he’d been but a lad of three, and then their song had (you can get rid of this “had”) made him cry. Now, at twenty-eight, he found he still wanted to.

Please let it not be… He pleaded with the shadows. Aern’s Teeth, please!

BOOONNNGGG!!!

(This one really looks funny)

Morven threw himself around the last corner and skidded to a halt in front of the great black door, just as the bells’ final notes shivered in the air and faded to silence. The two guards beside the door posts glanced at him, wary. (Same sentence structure as previous sentence. Change it up.) He could have sworn he saw pity in their eyes, but they said nothing and he was grateful for it. Drawing in a deep, shuddering breath, he tried to collect himself.

(I think you can do without “tried to collect himself.” It’s telling and unnecessary because his actions are showing it. It’ll be more dramatic as well if it were: “He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Please.”)

Please.  His mind whispered the mantra over and over again. It cannot be… Let them be wrong, if only this once. Let this not be… (I think you can do without “let this not be.” It isn’t as strong as the previous line. It’s what I call a “throw-away” line. And ending at “if only this once” sounds more dramatic.) And placing one hand on the door, the other on the gilded nob, he pushed it open (the “And” is unnecessary.)

The room beyond the door was darker than he ever remembered it. Thick, heavy drapes hung over the windows like funeral veils, blocking Eirna’s waning light. (hmm…if it was still dusk out, why did his guards offer him a lantern?) Morven had never seen the windows covered before. It made the large chamber feel stuffy and cluttered. Dark candles burned along the walls in sconces, yet instead of offering light and comfort they seemed to drain it from all around them leaving only sorrow and pain, and a thick, cloying scent as greasy as it was sickly sweet (nice descriptions, however, you used thick a few sentences before, and cloying is a rare word. I like fancy words, but too fancy can throw off some readers.) He stepped forward (forward isn’t necessary) into the room, drawing the door shut behind him and pulling up a section of his robe to protect his nose and mouth from the wretched smell. An inexplicable urge came over him to snuff the candles out, plunging the room into darkness. Somehow that felt more comforting than having the nasty things lit.

In the center of the room sat a large square bed, as gnarled, majestic, and immovable as an oak. Morven approached it with wary trepidation, dreading what awaited him there, (yet) longing to confirm his own suspicions. His memories of the bed had always been kindly but now, in the light of the baleful (this word threw me off) candles, it seemed to have transformed. Gone were the red and gold brocade (this word also threw me off, but probably because I don’t know much about fancy curtains) curtains he knew so well. Replacing them, heavy black ones spilled to the floor in oppressive folds. Gone, too, was the large blue and silver comforter that reminded him of a night painted in stars. Now thick black (so as not to repeat words maybe you can do “ebony” in place of one of these “blacks”) blankets lay over the bed, trimmed in the barest hint of gold and piled high near the center. They made him think of a beast hoarding jewels, and did not look the slightest bit inviting. They looked like death shrouds.

Morven inched nearer, watching the pile with growing dread. It never moved, nor made a sound. There was no hiss or rattle of breath, no sudden shudder of the blankets to betray life beneath them. As he came closer to the head of the bed, he saw something pale lying on the pillows… a face. His breath caught in his throat. The face, framed in a mane of salt-and-pepper hair was both familiar and strange in all the wrong ways. He knew it like he knew life, like he drew breath…

But never so still. Never so pale. Never so…

Dead.

Morven reached out, caressing one sallow cheek with his fingertips. He didn’t dare hope… refused to believe…

It can’t be true. The Dark Twins lie… it can’t be true!

“Father?”

No reply. No movement. No breath.

The Dark Twins never lied.

Something rustled on the other side of the bed, a sound like snake skin sliding over stone. Morven’s eyes flicked towards the source of the noise, searching. For an instant he saw a hand, pale as ghost shades and gnarled (you used a gnarled tree reference before to describe the bed) like tree roots, brush the top of the bedclothes. Then it slipped over the side of the bed and out of sight. An inhaled  breath (breath isn’t necessary) hissed through the air, followed by a familiar rusty voice. Morven knew that voice all too well.  He hated it.

“So. You have decided to grace us with your presence at last. Too bad it is a moment too late, but I suppose that’s hardly unexpected from you.”

Morven jerked his hand away from his father’s face as if  stung. Straightening, he squared his shoulders and glared at the shadows on the other side of the bed. “Aldriand.” He growled the name through gritted teeth, and did not regret the hate his voice implied.

“The same.” The shadows shifted and a face came into the wan light, long, pale, and swept in a snow white (to avoid your readers thinking of the cute Disney princess, maybe you can simply say ivory or snowy) beard. A hooked and crooked nose perched like a vulture’s beak over thin lips turned down in a perpetual look of disapproval, while black beady eyes glared out from beneath thick white eyebrows (Although I love the vulture beak, I think you’re going a little overboard with describing this man. Your audience doesn’t need this much description. You can do without the thick white eyebrows and even the beady black eyes. Besides, if his beard is white your audience knows his eyebrows will be, too.) The Lord High Erath scanned Morven’s haggard appearance – tousled hair, untied robe, and yesterday’s wrinkled tunic and breeches – with barely veiled contempt before his gaze settled on Morven’s face. Aldriand’s frown deepened, but he dipped his head. “Prince Morven,” he said (he said is unnecessary. You can use Aldriand’s actions as a speaker tag. Just do a sentence break.) The words were civil, but only just. Morven sensed the loathing behind them. “Or, I suppose it should be King, now, shouldn’t it? Though I can’t help but wonder if you’re ready for such responsibility. Especially at so young and…” – he raised an eyebrow at Morven’s attire – “impressionable an age. The burden of such a title usually falls on the backs of older, more mature men. Those who can shoulder the responsibilities with strength, endurance, and dignity. Your father was just such a man, but I suppose in his – well – unfortunate absence, you will have to do.”

Morven’s jaw clenched so tight, he was sure Aldriand could hear his teeth grinding. “What are you doing in my father’s chambers?” he asked. (He asked is unnecessary. Again, his action where you state his name, followed by an action, and then the line is a speaker tag.)

“What you should have been doing all along,” Aldriand reprimanded. (You can take out “Aldriand reprimanded. It’s telling rather than showing so it isn’t necessary. We know by what he is saying that he’s reprimanding Morven.) “I stood with my king in his last hour when even his own son had forsaken him. I wonder how he felt about that in the end.  Knowing that his only son and heir to his throne could not be bothered to see him into the courts of Anwynn.”

Morven winced as the words struck home. (as the words struck home also is telling and unnecessary. The wincing shows us it hit home.) His eyes stung, but he refused to cry. He would not give Aldriand the satisfaction. Besides, the tears were selfish and that realization angered him. He didn’t want their comfort or deserve the self-pity that would come with them. Instead, he drew himself up, squared his shoulders, (used this already. Try a different action) and glared into the calculating eyes of the Lord High Erath. It took all his mustered will to keep his voice from shaking as he spoke. The words that came out felt mindless and stale.

“Thank you for your services,” he said with measured respect. (Because of all that you say before this line, “he said with measured respect” isn’t necessary and the prose flows better without it.) “I’m sure my father was most comforted by your presence in my absence. Yet, now I must ask that you leave. I would like to spend a few moments alone with the body and my private thoughts.”

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Overview

Prose

This was really well written, Nichole; very rich and dramatic. Just look out for repeat descriptions, words and actions which you didn’t have much of, and unnecessary words. Utilize actions along with the character’s name as a speaker tag to get rid of unnecessary “he saids.” 

You used some fancy words. I like using bigger words as well, but I hesitantly simplified them a tad for the sake of keeping my audience in the story. This piece sounds like it’s for adults, but there will still be those (like myself) who get tripped up. 

I know this is fantasy, but I personally don’t like omniscient POV. I favor third-person-intimate because you can get, well, intimate. Omniscient can be distant and reporter-like. I do think it works well in children’s books. Ultimately, it’s what you know will work best in telling the story, just really consider this IF you haven’t yet.

Plot

This was definitely a good, dramatic start. I like the introduction of the characters and especially of the creepy Lord High Erath. I also like that you leave your audience wondering why Morven wasn’t there for his father. What caused the distance between them? It makes us want to read on and find out why. And keep the tension going. Morven’s guilt, the friction between him and other characters. Tension is the best!

Characters

I like that there’s a younger and an older guard; it makes for a more dynamic cast. Contrast in characters is good. Hopefully we see very different personalities and desires that can create good tension. 

Dialogue

Not much to say here. Every word is calculated like Lord Erath’s eyes. And the tension in the dialogue was agrivating in a good way. Made ya wanna yank Erath’s beard off. There was only one place during Morven’s thoughts that was redundant. Lots of times, less is more, especially in dialogue. You can show a lot with actions. Only say what really needs to be said with words.

I look forward to seeing your career hit the ground. You’re a gifted and passionate writer. Well done!

Do you want your first 1500 words critiqued? Send it to NatashaSapienza[at]gmail[dot]com by Wednesday, 5pm est. 

Happy helping!

Critique Friday! Video Reading of “Song of the Daystar”

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You know what time it is: Critique Friday! Here’s my initial reaction/reading of Nichole’s, “Song of the Daystar.” It’s another fantasy piece–yay!–so I decided to get into character and wear my special tunic and headband. For more readings and funny moments be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel.  And well done, Nichole!

I need something to critique and film a reading for!

Attention writers: Critique Friday is tomorrow and I still need a piece to do a reading from and a critique for. Want to see a reader’s first reaction to your first 1500 words? I’ll record my favorite part from your excerpt and share it on my blog and Facebook page, along with a written critique to help your story be all the greater. Just email your first 1500 words to NatashaSapienza(at)gmail(dot)com. And enjoy this other fun part from my reading of Hearts of Faith. Happy helping!

Raise the Stakes!

What’s going to happen if your character doesn’t fulfill his goal? What is at stake for your hero?

The more your main character has to lose, the better.

This can be loss of life; family, friends, wife, husband, children, himself, the world. It can be loss of health, a ruined reputation, loss of income, you name it. And it can be a few of these, or all of them. Remember, the more your character has to lose, the better.

So raise the stakes! I remember being afraid to torture my main character (going to write a post on this Monday so stay tuned). I felt bad for my imaginary friend. I didn’t want him to go through too much. Silly me. I know better now.

Throw the weight of the world on your character’s shoulders. And to make your plot even more interesting, have your character be forced to give up something good in order to gain something greater. And make it hurt. You want your audience to be emotionally invested in your MC so they actually care if he’s going to lose the love of his life, or die trying to save her.

And don’t think if your MC doesn’t do X then the world will perish is a high enough stake. The world ending unless a hero saves it is what nearly every other YA novel in Barnes and Noble is about. What makes your plot special is the personal stakes of your main character. The more personal, the better.

What does your character have to lose? What will not achieving her goal cost her? The higher the stakes, the greater the plot.

What story have you read with really great stakes? What made them so great? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment.

Happy helping!

Critique Friday: Critique of “The Red Tattoo”

All of my critiques are in bold font. If you want to watch my reactions to reading this for the first time, click here. If you wanna get to the meat-and-potatoes of my review, just scroll down to where it says, “overview.” Hope this helps, Jessi!

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I pulled a large rock from the collapsed mineshaft. (I’m HUGE on opening liners. For me, this one was not as gripping as it could be.) It rolled down the pile of rocks and dirt made by the old collapse. More dirt slid down the pile of rubble to fill the hole left by the rock.

I snarled and dug harder, dull claws scraping against rock and dry soil.

Dirt (Third time we see this word. Lots of dirt. Can this be substituted, or maybe even just not talked about as much?) from the tunnel ceiling ran down my shirt. I ignored it and pushed myself to dig faster. We needed somewhere safe to sleep, and a tent didn’t count as safe, not when the Company could come down on us at any second.

“Savora, watch it.” My brother, Rolko, held his clawed hands (keep this description of “clawed hands” in mind) up, trying to keep my spray of rubble from flying into his eyes.

I paused. “Sorry.” I stood (when wasn’t she standing?) and glared at the hole in front of me. We had to be almost through the rubble. A little more digging and we’d be into the mine system, long before Mom got back from foraging with the other refugees.

Rolko shook himself, throwing dust everywhere. Sunlight from the mine entrance illuminated the specks (also keep this description of dust and light in mind). He brushed the yellowish dirt (dirt.) from his chest and the ruff along his jaws, exposing his reddish fur and black stripes. “You should see yourself.” He shook dirt (even. more. dirt.) from his tail and pants.

I looked down at my dust-covered shirt and skirt. He had a point, but brushing off the dust now would do no good (lots of dirt and dust. These descriptions are dragging the story a tad).

I resumed digging. If only we’d had a shovel, but with the war on, even those had become scarce and expensive. Good thing we were Elbas. Torfs never would have been able (to) clear out a mine shaft, not that they would have when they preferred tents to dens (To me, this seemed like unneccessary info dump. Don’t know why this information is important. And even if it is, I think it can be cut and introduced later by showing rather than telling).

I cleared the dirt and rock away until a hole formed. I crawled through.

With only a tiny bit of light shining through the hole I’d dug, I had to rely on senses other than my vision. I clicked a few times and perked my ears. My echolocation (echolocation, fun heehee) gave me a decent picture of the shaft. Past the one collapse, the old mine tunnels seemed clear.

Rolko climbed through the hole. “We’re going to live here?” I heard (stay away from words like heard and saw. Just state the action, especially since this is first-person; it makes for cleaner writing: his triangular ears twitched) his triangular ears twitching, taking in the echoes that bounced off the walls.

I brushed dirt (last time I point out this now despised word) from my fur. “Just until the war’s over.” If only Rolko was still young enough to think we’d win the war, but at fourteen, he had to know we’d been losing ever since the space cruiser, Lusta, got attacked and the Chix threw their full support behind the Company.

Rolko touched the dry mine walls. His long ears and whiskers drooped.

I walked a bit farther down the mineshaft. Cold air blew through my whiskers. If we wanted to live here, we’d have to find somewhere with fewer drafts. That meant more digging.

I ran my claws along one of the walls. Bits of dry earth flaked off, but my claws found rock. It would be too hard-packed to dig by hand. “We’re going to need a shovel,” I growled.

“We don’t have enough coin for food,” Rolko said.

I snarled and slashed at the wall, my claws digging deep.

Rolko stepped away from me. “Easy with the temper.”

The walls weren’t what I wanted to slice to pieces. That rage needed to be aimed at the Company. “Couldn’t they have been happy with two planets?” I growled (she just growled a few lines ago. I don’t think the growl is even necessary here). “It’s not like we’re a threat.”

“Some people just like to dominate.” Rolko’s whiskers drooped (beware of repeat words, actions, and phrases. Not long ago, Rolko’s ears and whiskers drooped). “We can’t change that.”

I went back to the hole I’d dug and enlarged it (so) we wouldn’t have to squeeze through. My anger at the Company lent me the energy I needed to complete the work. My stomach growled growled has now been used three times in these last few paragraphs). “We got the mine opened. Let’s see if Mom’s back.” Please let her have food, I prayed.

We crawled up through our hole out of the mineshaft. I shook some of the dust (and last time I point out this other despised word) from my fur. As the breeze caught the dust particles, light from the milky sun reflected off them (this kind of description with dust and light was used earlier. Change it up).

Bare, rocky mountains spread around us. In a valley below, ramshackle buildings and tents huddled in a tight group, as if their proximity would be able to break some of the bitter Lokostwan winds. About half of the shelters were rock, reminders of a time decades ago when the mines were open. Tents stood beside the blocky stone buildings. They’d been brought in by us, the refugees from the plains. (I like the environment, but I’m wondering…why is she she sitting here telling us what everything looks like if she already knows what everything looks like? Show us the world in the midst of action, rather than pausing to have a character reflect on what she’s already familiar with. It comes across as contrived and it slows down the story’s pace.)

Torf refugees strutted through the tents (see, here’s a good place where the setting is naturally described in the action: torfs walking through tents), their long tails swishing back and forth. Even this far north, none of them wore clothes, not that they needed them with theropodian (I don’t know how many people will be familiar with this word. I wasn’t, and I’d reckon not many others are either) anatomy and feathery bodies. A few wore belts and slings to support rifles while others had packs.

I headed down the hill toward the village. Rolko followed, swatting at his fur and raising clouds of dust (is this a character trait: the constant concern with cleanliness, or just thrown in their for action’s sake? Because later on, he just dives in the midst of a hunt and starts digging like he can care less about his appearance. Seems inconsistent.)

A few Torf guards with rifles stood around the edges of the village, their eyes on the horizon and the sky. I doubted these guards would be much help. If the Company attacked, the refugees wouldn’t stand a chance, guards or no guards. The only way to survive the Company was to be underground.

As usual, the guards watched us. Even though I hadn’t reached my full height, I still stood a head taller than almost all the females and many of the males.

“Your mother’s still out foraging,” one of the older guards said when we came within earshot. The scales on her face were rough, betraying age, and her skin hung loosely. She hadn’t been getting enough food. No one had.

I bowed my head to her, a Lokostwan custom. I couldn’t keep the names of hundreds of Torfs straight, but every one of them knew who we were. In a village of Torfs, three red Elbas stuck out.

My stomach growled (see what I mean about repeat words?). The Torf wasn’t the only one on the edge of starvation. I prayed Mom would find something good. “Do you know of any jobs around here?” I glanced at Rolko. “My brother and I might be young, but we’re good diggers. We’d work for food.”

The old Torf sighed. “I’m sorry, girl. There’s no work here unless you can find some bendsteel in that mine.” She shivered and fluffed her feathers.

I should have known better (Statements like these come across as contrived. Maybe here Savora can be sarcastic in her thoughts, rather than: ‘Duh, I should know this,’ she can say something to the effect of: Ha, bendsteel. Yeah, me and Rolko will be jobless until we’re forced to flee to another planet). Any steel in this region had been mined out long before the war started.

A downy Torf who couldn’t have been older than seven ran to me and held up his clawed hands (repeat description: earlier, Rolko was described as having clawed hands. Maybe just says “furry paws”), silently begging for food.

“Sorry, I don’t have anything.” I looked away, but not in time to miss the kid’s frown deepen in disappointment. The Torf kids had to be getting pretty hungry if they’d risk begging from someone who stood at least a head taller than their parents.

At the edge of the village, a half dozen Torf children near Rolko’s age hopped around a pile of rocks that had once been a building. All of them carried short spears.

“Bet they’ve got a hornsnake,” Rolko said. He took off toward the rock pile. “Come on. We can help get it!”

My mouth watering, I ran after him. A feathery hornsnake was the best we could hope for with the area too cold and barren to support many things bigger than insects.

Rolko knelt on the pile of rocks, his huge ears twitching. I watched from the bottom of the pile. A second Elba would only get in the way of the quick-moving Torfs.

The Torfs focused on Rolko, their heads cocked like they hoped to hear the hornsnake.

Rolko pounced and rolled a large rock to the side (why couldn’t Savora be the one to dive in and help? Again, since she seemed to be the more aggressive one, this seems a little inconsistent with what I know so far about Rolko’s personality). The Torfs came in behind him, their spears lifted. Rolko kept rolling the rocks. The Torfs wouldn’t be able to hear the hornsnake, not like Rolko could.

Rolko rolled away an enormous rock.

A hornsnake that had to be at least as long as I was tall zipped from under the rock, its six little legs skittering as it slithered. One of the Torf kids stabbed at it with a spear. The snake lost a few feathers but kept going.

An older Torf child lashed out, striking the snake with her three-toed foot. The snake went flying, hit the ground, and bounced. It tried to crawl again, though the Torf’s long inner claw had injured it. A third Torf leaped off the rock pile and speared the snake through the neck.

The snake writhed, its tiny legs flailing.

The children cheered, happy to have found food at last. Not only was the snake long, but it still had some meat on it. The winter had been kinder to it than it had been to us.

The eight of us quickly plucked the snake and cut it into sections. If we mixed it with native roots, we’d each have enough for a meal.

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Here’s an overview:

Plot:

I would have liked a lot more drama. If you’re gonna keep me glued, somehow, this opening has to be amped up with action, or a lot more tension. Give me something to get thrilled by, or nervous about. Let’s have a mini-scare, an encounter with a bully-guard, or a Company false-alarm. 

And right now, there isn’t much tension between Savora and Rolko. But you can create some! 

How about increasing the tension of Savora trying to balance being the big sister. Can she be too motherly and it angers Rolko and makes him reprimand her: “You’re only two years older than me, Savora. I’m not a baby so stop treating me like one.”

And she can snap back: “Well you’re not a man yet either!”

“Says who? Do you see dad around here anywhere?” 

Then you can leave it with Savora wanting to not think about their dad so she moves on and leaves the audience wondering where dad is. 

Characters:

Put your main character to the test, show us what she’s got! maybe the Torfs aren’t so nice after Rolko helps them get the snake. Maybe they get greedy, and Savora rises up against them. Is she that kind of person? Will she put herself in harm’s way for others? How much does she hate injustice? How much does she love her family? Putting her in a testy situation will give your audience insight into who she is, and we will like her all the more for it.

If you can’t get your main character to make us laugh, you’ve gotta cause us to like something else about her. Right now, I don’t have a definitive character trait that I can say I particularly like about Savora. And if you wanna keep your readers, a very likable main character is one sure-fire way to do that.

Dialogue:
You want dynamic dialogue; witty, strong, beautiful. You want two-layer lines, lines between the lines, words that have a lot more meaning behind them. 

I’m reminded of the Lord of the Rings films and a beautiful exchange between Eowyn and Aragorn:

Aragorn: You have some skill with a blade. 

Eowyn: The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain. 

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady? 

Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire. 

Aragorn: You are a daughter of kings, a shield maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate. 

Your dialogue should reveal much about your main character and other characters, and they all should have their own distinct voices. If you can’t tell whose talking without speaker tags, keep working on it.

World:

The world is cool, I just want to see it come out more in the action rather than in thoughtful observations. It’s too easy for setting descriptions to slow a story down. Showing us the world as the action is moving keeps the story going forward.

Craft:

Repeat words, phrases, actions, and descriptions take away from the prose. You want every word, every sentence to count, to flow. Broken records aren’t fun to listen to, and repetitious writing isn’t fun to read. Give us more variety with your words. I know you can!

Voice:

Since this is written in first-person, you really have the opportunity to flavor the prose with your character’s personality. I recommend checking out some of Andrew Klavan’s novels. The man has such a rich voice, even in third-person point-of-view. MindWar and Crazy Dangerous are a few great examples of voice.

What did you think? Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment. And if you want me to critique your first 1500 words, just send your work via email: NatashaSapienza(at)gmail(dot)com. Happy helping! -Natasha