Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #14: FOUR CORDS

Name: Swati Teerdhala (@swatiteerdhala)
Genre: Fantasy
Title: FOUR CORDS

35-word pitch: 

When recruited into a secret organization of spies dedicated to protecting their land from the shadows, Kyri must survive a new world of grueling training and deadly magic to secure her future.

First 500 words: 


Kyri had heavily miscalculated and she was going to pay for it. A bead of sweat teetered dangerously over her brow in the hot midsummer sun, threatening to drop into her focused and unblinking eyes. A gleam of sunlight hit the heavy chainmail of her opponent, temporarily blinding her as she continued her search from her crouched position. The only way she’d be able to get her opponent down on the sandy ground was to find a spot of weakness. She chided herself for forgetting her footwork and getting maneuvered into facing the sun — rookie mistake.
Quickly blinking away the droplet of sweat she found it — a small sliver of exposed torso underneath the left arm. She lunged to the right and narrowly missed, leaving herself open.
With a grunt, her opponent slammed her to the ground. Kyri could feel every bone in her body reverberate with the feeling. It was futile to struggle against the tight hold but Kyri would be damned if she didn’t try. If she moved a bit to the side she could get her elbow to wedge into that soft spot right there....
The clammering of a bell, strident and clear, rang through the arena.
Kyri sighed and collapsed onto the ground, spread eagle as the weight of another human being lifted off of her. Her opponent turned to her, offering a hand as help. Kyri grabbed it and hoisted herself up. Dusting the sand off her body, she turned to face her best friend, Dina, who was grinning at her, happiness evident on her face.
“That was good, Kyri. Much improved.” Dina said, admiration in her voice. “I’ve seen you do the feint a dozen times in practice but you nearly got me there. If you keep working on it you can use it at the Showcase next week.”
Kyri snorted. “I still have a lot of work to do since it landed me splat on the ground.” She released her long black hair from its braid and shook it free, letting the sun settle on her dusky skin. “It would give me a leg up on the competition if I could also throw some unarmed combat into my routine for the Showcase. ”
“Think we’re ready for it?” Dina quirked an eyebrow at Kyri. She yanked her chainmail off and heaved a sigh, turning in Dina’s direction. 
“I hope so. I’m just glad the written exam is over. Now, I can proceed to forget all the historical dates we memorized.” Dina shook her head at Kyri’s broad grin. “I need to be at my best. This is my one chance to decide my future on my own terms, Dina.” Kyri’s grin had faded, leaving a pinched grimace in its wake. “I haven’t been able to sleep in a week. I don’t want to go back to the palace for the rest of my life.”

10 comments:

  1. 1. Love the first line

    2. I was pulled into this story instantly.

    3. Some modern sounding terms jar with the setting: Showcase, best friend, written exam. Can you find a way of using more traditional terms for this. Examination for exam, is better.

    4. The bead of sweat gets mentioned wa-ay to much

    5. I think you don’t need to mention that Dina is her best friend, they are clearly friends you can see it from the writing.

    This sentence stood out as unnatural in speech though, I don't think its necessary, I get a very clear sense of what’s going on here: “It would give me a leg up on the competition if I could also throw some unarmed combat into my routine for the Showcase. ”
    6. I think it could use some light trimming, but nothing too intense. Perhaps earlier lines about her not wanting to return to the palace as well could up the suspense/ stakes something like: ‘I have to do this right, I cannot return to the palace’

    I think this is really great, and I’d read this book from this opening.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pitch:

    I think you've got a good use of the words, but I really wish I knew more about what is special and different about your story. If it means sacrificing part of the overarching plot, that's okay. When presenting your idea to agents/editors you want to show how your story stands out.

    Pages:

    This is a great use of 3rd, it gives the aesthetic distance that matches the voice.

    It feels a little bit of a "day in the life" which isn't always the strongest place to start in YA. If this were adult I wouldn't say anything, because it's a typical place to start there, but without the rest of the MS I'm not sure if I'd advice you to move the story a little farther along before you start.

    Just because the opening has action scenes doesn't mean it starts in the action. In fact, it can kind of be disorienting. The writing is clearly strong, but if you're getting feedback that it starts slow maybe evaluate if there's a place closer to the start of events of the story to move your opening.

    Hope this helps!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Pitch: Good pitch, interesting premise with clear stakes. "protecting their land from the shadows" feels a bit vague though. Are these literal shadows that have somehow gained the ability to attack people? Or is "shadows" a way of saying "the unknown" or "dark magic/forces", etc?

    500 Words:
    "Kyri had heavily miscalculated and she was going to pay for it."--nice. We have tension already.

    "she turned to face her best friend, Dina, who was grinning at her, happiness evident on her face. "--nice. I really like how you intentionally set it up misleadingly so the reader would be surprised at the reveal.

    "She yanked her chainmail off and heaved a sigh, turning in Dina’s direction. "--since this paragraph starts with Dina's dialogue, I would suggest moving this sentence to the next one (where Kyri is speaking). Like this:

    “Think we’re ready for it?” Dina quirked an eyebrow at Kyri.

    Kyri yanked her chainmail off and heaved a sigh, turning in Dina’s direction. “I hope so. I’m just glad the written exam is over. Now, I can proceed to forget all the historical dates we memorized.”

    "Dina shook her head at Kyri’s broad grin. “I need to be at my best. This is my one chance to decide my future on my own terms, Dina.”"--this is also a bit confusing as to who is speaking until the "Dina" at the end. Try this to clear it up:
    Dina shook her head at Kyri's broad grin. “I need to be at my best," she continued. (since this is in the same paragraph as Kyri's last line, "continued" implies that it's still Kyri speaking, despite the previous sentence about Dina shaking her head.) "This is my one chance to decide my future on my own terms, Dina.”

    "“I haven’t been able to sleep in a week"--I hope she's exaggerating *a lot*, because she doesn't seem like somebody who's functioning on low sleep. And why? Because she was busy studying or was the stress causing insomnia?

    Final thoughts: This is good. I like how you started off with the action, and the little red herring about the context of the whole scene. You get the important information in there, though, so there's context. I'm intrigued, and would like to see more. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Swati!

    First, I loved this... Ever read An Ember in the Ashes? This sorta reminded me of that in some ways which drew me in to like it more.
    Okay, for the pitch, maybe make the first section a little tighter so it doesn't feel like a side info before a deep breath for the real info, if you know what I mean.
    For the 500: you descriptions were good in my opinion, the sun blaze made me want to squint as I read, lol. However, I think i picked up pretty easily from the start she wasn't totally desperate as it seemed like you wanted her to be. Maybe I read it wrong but it seemed like you wanted a surprise when people found out she was dueling her friend in a practice instead of caught up in actual combat. If that's the case, I'd shorten some sentences and make it more fast paced with that part instead of freezing the book for a second or two to tell us she's looking for a weak spot... It felt like the pause would've had her killed in real combat so that's probably where I picked up this was al just a practice or something.
    Also, the world feels slightly blank here. I know it's an arena, right, and they're at some school, but all I see is sand and chain mail and an opponent. I know it's hard to show the world right in the first 500 words when the character lives there but maybe have someone mention one of those names or dates so we know you've got an epic and original world waiting for us to read in this exciting original book so that we are hooked to the setting immediately... But don't feel pressured to do so right away, maybe at least in the first chapter if you don't feel ready to show us that in the first 500 besides the sand and such and want to focus more on the characters.
    By the way, again, I loved this and can't wait for the revision to read what you come up with! Hope this helped and feel free to ignore as many as my suggestions as you want ;)
    -Bethany (#12 and co-host)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Charis M. EllisonJune 29, 2016 at 9:09 PM

    I think that your pitch is good, but I wonder if you could compress it a little bit and squeeze in a little extra detail that makes your story new and different?

    I really enjoyed your pages! Great opening line. If I nitpick, I would say that the first paragraph is a bit long. At first, thanks to the bead of sweat and the open eyes etc., I was starting to picture someone as a lookout or a sniper, and you might consider cutting that second sentence--I think that 'A gleam of sunlight hit the chainmail of her opponent' is much stronger, and going directly to that would set the scene really well!

    In general you could probably tighten it up with very small cuts, tiny things like trimming 'Kyri could feel every bone in her body reverberate with the feeling' to 'Kyri could feel every bone in her body reverberate'.

    I stumbled over 'spread eagle as the weight of another human being lifted off of her', I'm not sure if there's a typo or perhaps it's a missing word?

    Dina mentions Kyri doing the feint, but that's not something that happened in the bit of action we see, unless I'm reading it wrong? I got a little distracted trying to figure out whether to recommend describing the action more clearly or not.

    I stumbled a little bit over the last paragraph--you might consider re-ordering the sentence 'Dina shook her head at Kyri’s broad grin' so that Kyri's name comes first, and makes it a little clearer that she's the one speaking.

    This is a great start! Best of luck :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I liked your pitch so much that I struggled to think of a critique. But I came up with this: I don’t get much of the feeling of your fantasy world. That’s a relatively minor point. But if you have any extra words you might slip in a little detail about what kind of magic or what kind of danger exists in this country.

    I love your first sentence. The bead of sweat is also vivid and realistic. The one thing I didn’t like was getting her opponent down on the sandy ground. I felt like slipping in a bit about the ground being sandy was a little too obvious insertion of description into the action. And given that I have no idea what this arena looks like, it wasn’t quite enough to whet my appetite for scenery.

    This is an odd detail but at first I thought Kiri had a weapon and only later did I realize this was unarmed combat. It’s strange to fight unarmed in chain mail so that’s what threw me off. Also a “lunge” made me think she was using a sword as unarmed combat doesn’t use lunges much. Overall I don’t picture the fight quite as clearly as I want to.

    I enjoyed the line about the written exam and you cleverly slip in world-building. My only quibble is that you end with her not wanting to go back to the palace. A small point, but going back to a palace just doesn’t sound like a terrible fate to me, unless you explain why it’s so bad next sentence.

    I love fantasy and you have an interesting set-up here. I want to find out where you are going with this and what happens next.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like your pitch a lot, but I wonder if there is something you could drop in there that is slightly more specific. It is beautifully written, I just want something a little more too really hook me.

    I love your first line. I would personally delete the word heavily, because I feel as though it makes the sentence more impactful, but that's a personal preference.

    I would love a few lines about the atmosphere that don't involve that sun in the first 500 words. I can't picture where she is, only that it is sunny and hot. A line about what she hears or the people around could go a long way in helping the reader visualize the setting.

    I love Kyri's relationship with Dina, but there are a few places I would edit to make the dialogue sound more natural. A good rule of thumb for writing dialogue is less is more. The line " “It would give me a leg up on the competition if I could also throw some unarmed combat into my routine for the Showcase." Might read a little more naturally as "Throwing unarmed combat into my routine for the showcase would give me a leg up."

    and the line “I hope so. I’m just glad the written exam is over. Now, I can proceed to forget all the historical dates we memorized.” might read a little more naturally if you delete "proceed to"

    I also agree with the above commenter that this reminds me a bit of Ember in the Ashes! This is great! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for sharing your work. Pitch. I think if you revised this to include more of a hook - what is at risk for the protagonist? I think it needs more to make me want to continue to read it. Your 500 words are well written. Since this is a fantasy, I would add more details in the beginning so the reader can picture where the two best friends are. I like the best fiend reveal too. It's intriguing - makes you wonder f they will be competing against each their..will their friendship change.. I would edit the dialogue so their conversation is authentic. I love your last sentence. I want to know what this means - what is life in the palace, why wouldn't you want to go back. Maybe you could add a breadcrumb here - a hint to something about palace life. Overall, I think you have a string idea and can see it would be a book my 13yo daughter would want to read. You need to share the hook in our pitch and show the reader the world and slow the reader to feel like they are listening to two teens having a natural conversation. Good luck.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi, Swati! Loved the concept, though a bit foggy about some things.

    Pitch: Honestly, it didn't clarify a lot of foggy things. We know Kyri is the protagonist. But the conflicts aren't clear enough and the stakes aren't strong enough. What do you mean by securing her future? Because I read your #TKA20 pitch, I know that Kyri is a princess. Now that's a vital piece of info you should've included here.

    What are the shadows? Without clarifying all that, your pitch is a bit foggy and won't be able to show the agents what is it about your manuscript that's original and different than others.

    500 words: The opening line is great. Hooking, intriguing, action-packed. Loved it. But I kinda got lost in it with the sun and sweat and the fast movement. A bit too fast for me, perhaps.

    The last paragraph was confusing. In the action tags there are two characters mentioned without any hints of who's saying what. So maybe fix that.

    Otherwise great concept. Good luck with the revision!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi!!

    Remember that all crits are subjective and that you are welcome to use or dismiss mine as you see fit for your story! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Pitch: The pitch needs more spice to show how your story is different. It also needs clearer stakes. "Secure her future" can mean anything. It can mean she settles for a good marriage or applies to a university or steals a bunch of money.

    First 500:

    This is a good scene to open with. Watch your use of adverbs. Again, show me a little of what makes your world unique. I see fighting women (cool!) and the idea that they're in some sort of battle school (also cool!) but I'd like to see a little more incorporation of world building. Towards the end, your POV is a little muddled, what with describing Kyri's facial expressions as if we're looking at them, not feeling them through her and through her eyes. Watch for filtering as well.

    Hope this helps! Can't wait to see your revision!


    ReplyDelete