Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #2: THE STONES OF HOME

Name: M.W. Orth (@lesswithoutyou)

Genre:  Fantasy


35-word pitch: 
To become the queen she is meant to be, wandering healer Saba must recruit powerful but shady allies to reclaim her haunted island before the empire arrives and gives it to her enemies.

First 500 words:

As his meaty fingers pushed the parchment across the knotty table, I stared at the crumbs caught in his beard. Bornsley and I remained silent.
“Are you two the ones puttin’ these up?” he said again, more irritated.
Drips of water fell from the bottom of his tankard and dotted the poster with tiny suns of diluted ink, but the words remained legible:

         The picture of a cloaked person in shadowy woods looked amateur, but my penmanship was flawless…
“No, sirs, not us,” I said.
The bearded man’s companion wore a sad leather cap and huffed in disbelief at my statement. I hid my smile behind a long drink of the tavern’s terrible ale.
“And what’s an old man like you doing alone with a young girl?” asked Bread Beard.
“I’m her guardian. Just a faithful servant,” said Bornsley.
Go ahead and huff, Leather Cap, that one’s true.
“We have witnesses that say they saw a pale man with a white beard and a little black girl hanging these signs around Byrstan,” said the Beard. “You saying it’s another pair that looks like you doin’ it?”
“We won’t have you stirring up rumors,” said Leather Cap, glaring.
“Or vandalizing our fine village,” added Bread Beard.
  Yes, a fine village, just like all the other ones on the Isle. Skinny dogs lying in dusty roads and dirty-faced kids hiding from squinty-eyed parents. 
“Is there a law against hanging posters on the sign-poles?” I asked.
“There is if it encourages people to mess with that land up there,” said Leather Cap.
“Hmm, well, I might want to ask your sheriff about that law,” I said.
“I am the Sheriff,” said Bread Beard.
Of course you are.
“And I’m his deputy,” said Leather Cap. “And I say it was you that put these signs up. I’ve already torn down a dozen. How many are there?”
Not as many as there’ll be after tomorrow and ten times that many across the Isle... “I wouldn’t know, I’m the other little black girl with the old white man, remember?”
        Bornsley’s knee hit mine under the table. I shifted my feet on the sawdust floor.
As the deputy cracked his knuckles, the sheriff stroked his beard and crumbs bounced on the table. A patron across the room praised the ale by pounding his mug on the counter.
I bounced my eyes between the two men, refusing to speak first.
“If we were to promise that no more signs went up,” said Bornsley, “and that we’d turn in anyone we caught hanging them, would we be free to spend the night here as we planned, and be gone in the morning?” He signaled to our serving woman and she wandered over. Without words, her dead brown eyes asked him what he wanted.


  1. Pitch: Love this! Clear stakes and very specific.

    500 words: Clear voice in these 500 words - and I love the snarkiness! Already, I like your MC. :) The only suggestion I have is that during their dialogue, try to include some body language or physical cues. Are they sitting, standing? How is their body reaction to the very tense conversation? It starts to feel a little like floating heads toward the middle, but your dialogue is perfect. It has a great flow, and again, I love the snark. :D Great job, I really enjoyed this!

  2. I'd agree with a lot of what K said. I thought the voice was very distinctive and the MC's dialogue pulls you onto her side immediately. It's very clear that she has a goal and that she's willing to risk getting in trouble in order to achieve it- always a great set up for conflict!
    I wanted to know a little more about the setting. Maybe consider adding a line or two near the beginning about what she can, see, hear, smell.
    The descriptor 'squinty-eyed' pulled me out of the story a little as I wasn't quite sure what it was trying to convey.
    The line: "I wouldn’t know, I’m the other little black girl with the old white man, remember?” made me chuckle. I love that you've injected humour into a somewhat tense scene.
    I would definitely keep reading after this excerpt. Nice work!

  3. Pitch: I think this is a great pitch. Lays out the MC, the problem, and the stakes just wonderfully.

    500 words: First, I really love your MC. When I read her parts I’m reminded of Louise from Bob’s Burgers. A little girl with the perfect amount of sass. :)

    Also loved the line about being the other little black girl. The touches of humor are great and i would definitely keep reading.

    The only thing I would suggest is working on providing a little context. Although I love the scene I’m witnessing, a little info on the type of world she is in would help ground the reader a bit more I think.

    Overall, wonderful job. You’ve got me hooked!

  4. Pitch: I like how your pitch still has the feel of the book in spite of the limited words while clearly conveying stakes. The questions I have while reading the pitch: If Saba is the future queen, why is she a wandering healer? Why is the island haunted? Did the Empire do something with the island, and if the Empire isn’t her main enemy, who is?

    500: The sense I get while reading is that this is geared to a younger YA audience. Not sure if this is the case or not, but thought it worth mentioning. It reminds me of MG books I've edited.

    Definitely getting a strong, classic medieval fantasy vibe.

    Love the poster text, it says so much about the world!

    The first sentences are loaded with detail. I’d suggest reorganizing a bit and cutting the first three sentences to start with “Drips of water fell from the tankard,” etc. That creates a smoother “widening lens” effect for your opening. Rather than starting out looking at insignificant details up close (meaty fingers, knotty table), the reader looks at *significant* details up close (poster and its content). A small distinction but important.

    Continuing with the widening lens, you could then move the relevant details from the cut sentences to just after the poster description—explaining that it was made by Saba (presumably), explaining the Beard Crumb name, who she’s with, etc. And that will provide the widening of the lens.

    Why the ellipsis?

    I think it’s great that you include lots of details about the setting, even in a short clip of your story. With those descriptions, try digging deeper and hunt for more specific, unique, or illustrative details that bring VIVID life to the story. It feels like you’re skimming the surface of possibility. The poster words suggest a very unique world. I’d love to see more of that injected into the other descriptions.

    Saba is being a little snotty about the village. Doesn’t she live like one of the villagers herself, or is this more commentary on the leadership?

    “Of course you are.” Is this supposed to be a thought in Saba’s head?

    They’re debating with the sheriff about the posters, but why, really? Readers don't know yet what the sheriff/deputy are actually afraid of without more info on the world. And why so many posters?

    Thanks for sharing your work, THE STONES OF HOME is off to a great start!

  5. Pitch: great pitch, nice, clear, and concise.
    500 words: good, nice attention to detail, although I do wish there was some more exposition. But that's just my preference. I know some people like to jump immediately into the action. Some things I noticed:

    "As his meaty fingers pushed the parchment across the knotty table, I stared at the crumbs caught in his beard."--I would replace "his" with "the man's" or even "[name]'s". Since this is the very first sentence, I feel like something more solid than simply "his" would be more grounding.

    "WANTED! PERSONS OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITIES. POSSIBLE MONETARY COMPENSATION"--I'm not sure why "extraordinary" and "possible" are italicized here.

    "Go ahead and huff, Leather Cap, that one’s true."--this, and others down the line, sounds like a direct thought, which makes me feel like it should be italicized.

    “I am the Sheriff,” said Bread Beard."--I feel like either "I" or "am" should be italicized, since I imagine that he would be emphasizing it.

    “I wouldn’t know, I’m the other little black girl with the old white man, remember?”--this is funny. Getting a bit of a sassy heroine vibe here.

    I think this section is well done, and sets the scene nicely. I'm getting a good feel for the MC (sassy, neat, confident enough to go to a tavern and also stare down the cops), Bornsley (older, wiser, keeps Saba in check), the sheriff and deputy (old, gruff, somehow I imagine them with a southern accent), and the setting (medieval-ish classical fantasy world). It's well written and piques my interest, and I would definitely read on.

  6. Pitch: I think this does a good job of setting up the overall story and makes me want to know more! Like why isn’t Saba queen? What is haunting her island? And who are the enemy and the empire? It would be great if some further hints about those things could be worked into the pitch somehow. One other suggestion is to use something stronger than “gives” at the end of the pitch as another word might create a better sense of tension.

    500 words: I like how this jumps straight into the story and sets up conflict. The reader also gets a sense of what the main character’s goal is from the first page. I enjoyed the humorous/sarcastic tone and the main character’s voice coming through the descriptions.

    As there is a lot of dialogue, I was a little confused about who was speaking on my first read through. For instance, it wasn't completely clear to me that the man described in the opening sentence is Bread Beard. Perhaps it would help to start the opening line with “The bearded man pushed the parchment across the knotty table” or something like that. I also was confused by why he is called “Bread” Beard… is it because he’s got crumbs in his beard? If so, perhaps mention that they’re bread crumbs? Maybe that was just me though!

    The rest of the chapter was easy to read and I enjoyed the humour and the possibilities that the opening scene sets up!

  7. 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: This is a good pitch. It rolls right into your first 500 perfectly. Not a lot of people can pull that off.

    First 500: Great smooth writing, good characterization. I'd like a little more sense of their setting, but most of all I'd like to see more of what makes this place unique and not just another inn in a fantasy story. Inns and taverns existed in a lot of history. Is this the medieval era? The 19th century? Give us some hints by noting what people are wearing, by what kind of technology surrounds them, something like that. Also, give us some details to ground us such as what are they eating? Is the inn crowded? What time of day is it? Etc.

    I'd also like a little more of an idea of what kind of relationship Saba has with Bornsley. I know Barnsley lays it out verbally, but I'd like to see a little more interaction between them to see the emotional and social makeup of their relationship.

    Hope this helps! Happy Writing :)

  8. Focusing on the pitch:

    While your pitch is intriguing, it doesn't set itself apart from other stories in the genre. Rather than the overarching plot, focus in on the character and what she's facing. A strong connection to her gets a lot farther than fantasy plots, simply because in order to fit them in 35 words they end up needing to be watered down to the point they don't sound special anymore.

    Don't hesitate to let aspects go in an effort to gain investment in your character and story.

    Hope that helps!

  9. Charis M. EllisonJune 30, 2016 at 8:33 PM

    I like your title!

    I think your pitch is really good, although the first phrase almost feel superfluous? Or maybe it would fit better later--'Wandering healer Saba must recruit powerful but shady allies to become the queen she is meant to be and reclaim her haunted island before the empire arrives and gives it to her enemies' feels stronger to me, I think, just as a personal preference.

    I really like your 500 words! The voice is strong and engaging. I stumbled a little over the first sentence--at first I thought the person with meaty fingers was Bornsley. It was also a little confusing to have 'he said again' on the first line of dialogue. You might consider moving some things around for extra clarity--'Meaty fingers pushed the parchment across the knotty table. I stared at the crumbs caught in the stranger's beard.
    “Are you two the ones puttin’ these up?” he said again, more irritated. Bornsley and I remained silent.' or something on those lines.

    I recommending cutting the ellipsis after 'flawless', it doesn't seem necessary.

    I think this is a great start!

  10. Pitch: There's a lot here but it flows and makes the story and stakes clear. You might trade some of the story details to include what Saba thinks/feels about all this.

    500: Love the voice. Maybe the formatting hid this, but when it's Saba's direct thoughts, I'd italicize. ("Of course you are.") You also start with a modifier/pronoun issue-- his fingers, I stared. Then Bornsley and I remained silent, and this other male speaks--I had to fight my way in. I'd say change to just "the meaty fingers" but if she's staring at the beard, why describe the fingers? So maybe just tweak that whole opening line. I love all the specific details setting up this world, and Saba's cheekiness--naming these guys, saying she's the OTHER girl, etc. The "mess with that land up there" confused me until I thought it had to do with the wall where they were to meet? Just sharing my reading experience. As always, take or leave all comments. But these are little things to polish; this looks SO GOOD. It promises a great story. I feel like anyone would request more based on this.

  11. Wow this is really great! I literally don't have any notes on your pitch, so well done!

    Your writing is really beautiful, my only critique of your first 500 words is that it is a little dialogue heavy for me. I would love to get a slightly better feel for the setting and of what's going on in your MC's head.

    I LOVE your MC though, and would definitely want to read more, so well done!

  12. Hi, M! I really enjoyed the story. Great start!

    Pitch: I must admit, this is the only pitch I've come across that's perfect. And I've critiqued 17 entries so far. Great job!

    500 words: Maybe it's just me, but I can't understand what the writings on the poster meant. Is it prompting for some kind of show on a land that's off limit?

    I loved Saba. She's got an awesome voice. Very skeptical and sarcastic.

    I'd like to see how this incident is connected to Saba recruiting shady allies to achieve her rightful throne. A little hint or two might suffice. The last few sentences with the woman, I couldn't understand.

    Otherwise you're off to a great start. Keep polishing. Best of luck with revisions!