Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #3: A BOUNTY OF RUNAWAYS

Name: Nicole A. Brake (@nicolealana)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Title: A Bounty Of Runaways

35-word pitch: Teen bounty hunters, Annora, Hellion and Carina, learn that one of them own is wanted. They must cross the savage desert and return to the home they deserted before the hunters become the hunted.

First 500 words: The callous eyes of a thief, a smuggler and a murderer stared up at the two young women who, despite the sweltering heat of the bazaar, were huddled together. Shoulder to shoulder, they leaned over a rickety table to study the men they’d soon be hunting.  

Hellion jabbed a finger at the crude portrait of the man wanted for murder, smudging the ink on the tattered parchment. “I want that one.”
“Of course you do. He’s the one most likely to cut our throats.” Annora erased the trickle of sweat inching its way down her neck with a swipe of her scarred hand. “Just once, let us choose the simple job. We have enough money to keep a roof over our heads for the next week or so; there’s no reason to take unnecessary risks.”
Hellion snorted. “You sound like someone’s grandmother.”
 The wind picked up, blowing red desert sand into both of their faces. Annora yanked her headscarf lower, concealing all but a slash of pale freckled skin and even paler hair.
In the three months they’d spent travelling the borderlands not once had they taken the simple job. It had been ninety-three days of sweat, sand and scoundrels, and Hellion had loved every minute of it.
“Simple doesn’t pay a thousand opeza’s.” Hellion underscored the price on the man’s head with a slash of her finger. “Besides, it has been days since I broke a sweat from anything but baking under the rutting sun. C’mon.” Hellion knocked her hip into Annora’s, her hazel eyes alight with a playfulness that never failed to weaken Annora’s resolve. “You know it’ll be fun.”
Hellion had a habit of getting away with every outrageous act imaginable, but today Annora would stand firm. Today, Hellion’s charm would be met with an iron will and unwavering common sense.
“Or.” Hellion took a slow breath that spoke of her deep pondering. “We could go home. I mean, it’s been three months. Maybe we’ve played the runaway teenagers card long enough.”
Beneath the folds of fabric, Annora gritted her teeth. She snatched up the murderer’s portrait, shoving it at Hellion’s chest. “One day that trick will fail to work on me.”
“But today is not that day.” Hellion’s smile dazzled the sun.
With her eyes on the array of crumbling cupolas punctuating the peach and raspberry skies, Annora tried to banish the guilt before it could unfurl in the depths of her stomach. She tried and failed. Every day she waited for someone to show up to try and drag her back home. Every day she pictured the worry and disappointment carving itself into her father’s brow, and every day she had to see her ruined hand and be reminded of why she’d left. She flexed her remaining fingers, the leather glove shifting on her sweaty palm.
“So, do you wanna grab the horses and go track down his ugly mug?” 


  1. Pitch: Oooh, very nice. Great stakes!

    500 words: The first sentence feels a bit long, even a little clunky. Maybe try: A thief, a smuggler and a murderer stared up at two young women who, despite the sweltering heat of the bazaar, were huddled together.
    I just shortened it a little to make it flow better.
    Also, there's a few areas where you could show a bit more, tell a bit less. For example:
    In the three months they’d spent travelling the borderlands not once had they taken the simple job. It had been ninety-three days of sweat, sand and scoundrels, and Hellion had loved every minute of it.
    I'd delete this, maybe show it in their dialogue instead. Maybe Annora could complain about the fact that Hellion has never once picked an easy job.
    Also this section feels unnecessary:
    Hellion had a habit of getting away with every outrageous act imaginable, but today Annora would stand firm. Today, Hellion’s charm would be met with an iron will and unwavering common sense.
    Show us her charm, show us her unwavering will and common sense. Let us come to those conclusions ourselves. :)
    I really love the premise of your story though! And I already like Hellion's spunk! :) Great job!

  2. Pitch: Great! I think you introduce the characters and the problem well (just the minor typo: I think you mean their instead of them). I’d tweak the last sentence, though. Is the main problem them being hunted? Or is it overcoming something back home?

    Maybe something like:
    Crossing the desert and returning to the home they abandoned means risking… (and then whatever that means: the life of one of their own; the consequence of whatever terrible thing awaits them back home etc.)

    500 word:
    I think this sounds like such a fun read! The picture of teenage bounty hunters draws me in from the get go, but I think the first sentence needs work. You introduce the MC’s as “the two young women” as though we already know who they are. Maybe try rewording it:
    Hellion and Annora stared up at the callous eyes of a thief, a smuggler, and a murderer.

    I would cut the sweltering heat part to make it read smoother and because you refer to the heat later on in a more engaging way anyway: “baking under the rutting sun” “trickle of sweat”

    Some of the dialogue threw me off:
    “You sound like someone’s grandmother.” Kind of pulls me away from the world your creating. It doesn’t seem like the response of a teenage bounty hunter.
    And I think you should use in contractions with certain convos. Makes the dialogue seem more natural.
    Ex: “IT HAS been days since I broke a sweat…” ; “It’s been days since I broke a sweat.”
    I also agree with K. about the parts she recommended cutting.

    But overall, I love the teenage bounty hunters angle and hope to read more!
    P.S—These opinions are strictly my own! Feel free to disregard every word :)

  3. Thank you both! Comments re really helpful. I had feedback from a critique giveaway which said the same thing about the opening sentence, so that's getting the chop!

  4. Pitch: This sounds fun. I bet teenagers would actually make decent bounty hunters. Based on the names alone, I know Hellion and I would be literary BFFs.
    Grammatical notes: Oxford comma ftw! ;) “One of their” own.
    Second sentence: If they know that at least of them is wanted, doesn’t that make them hunted?

    500: Fascinatingly, Entry #2 also starts with a focus on a piece of parchment. Coincidence, or is it more? Hmmmm.

    I love the desert setting. It reminds me of one of my favorite books, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword.

    Introducing two main characters at once in the opening scene is tricky business (I say this as someone who does the same thing in my book). The characters run together a bit. There’s a sense of rushing. How can you slow the tape down to establish the distinguishing traits between the two earlier, without having readers lose interest?

    “Or we could go home.” “But today is not that day.” I knew it, Hellion is awesome and tricky and drops LotR references. That name is a prophecy.

    The thing that pulls me into your story is the description of Annora’s ruined hand at the end. That invests me in the characters and the story.

    Based on this clip and the pitch, I think the thing that will make your writing shine the most is line level editing to polish up the text. That’s not really something I can do here, but I’m sure you’ve got it under control! Great job! :)

  5. Pitch: nice one. The conflict and stakes are clear, but it also provides a bit of mystery. (The home they deserted--oooh, why did they desert it?)

    500 words: Some things I noticed:

    "sweat, sand and scoundrels, and Hellion had loved every minute of it."--nice description.

    "baking under the rutting sun"--um, not sure what this means. Rutting is when animals mate.

    "Beneath the folds of fabric, Annora gritted her teeth."--are her teeth under the fabric? Is this headscarf covering her face, or just wrapped around the head?

    "She snatched up the murderer’s portrait, shoving it at Hellion’s chest. “One day that trick will fail to work on me.”--this is good, really shows emotion and hints at big problems at home. But I don't see why this would immediately make her agree; sure, she might be riled up about possibly going home, but it's not an all or nothing situation. She doesn't have to go home if she doesn't go chase down the murderer; she can still go for the thief and smuggler.

    "Hellion’s smile dazzled the sun."--I don't think this quite works, as it sounds like her smile was aimed at the sun and dazzled it. You could try "dazzled like the sun" or "outdazzled the sun".

    "punctuating the peach and raspberry skies"-nice

    Final thoughts:
    Nice set-up, and I'm getting a feel for both characters. Their ages aren't mentioned, but I'm wondering if Annora is the older one. Also, are they sisters, or just friends? And where is Carina? The pitch makes it sound like the three are old friends, but now I'm wondering if she's someone they meet along the way.

  6. Pitch: I like the mystery of 3 characters but not knowing who is wanted. And I like the bounty hunter premise, could go in any direction :) Stakes are stated but maybe could be increased with a sense of who would be hunting them and/or why they're so dangerous?

    You've received some great feedback already on the opening, so I won't echo that here :)
    I felt like you clearly established the two characters personalities, emphasizing both their sense of camaraderie and their tension. Sometime it felt a little more like telling than showing as in K's comments (I was going to look for an example and saw she already had shared it ;) )

    Most of your editing work will be in the word choice department, making it a little leaner and more "crisp" (the word I use ha) "You sound like someone's grandma." could be "You sound like a grandma" or even snarkier (don't know how far Hellion's attitude is going to go...) "Thanks, grandma." Maybe "Hellion took a slow breath that spoke of her deep pondering" could become "Hellion inhaled deeply as she chose her next words"?

    I love the description of Annora's hand and why she left home. Great job.

    Overall, I really love this premise, creative with lots of room to wander and create tension. Hunter becoming hunted is a great narrative arc.

  7. Pitch: I like the sound of this from the pitch! There could possibly be a little more detail to make the stakes clearer, particularly about the reason one of the girls has been targeted and why returning to their home will solve their problem. It would probably be difficult to include all of that in just 35 words, but even a hint would be good. Although, I want to keep reading based on the pitch you currently have!

    500 words: I really like this opening as I get a good sense of both girls’ characters from their interactions and dialogue, as well as the setting and what I assume will be the inciting incident. There are some lovely descriptions, and I liked how the setting feels very present as the sand is blowing and the sun is beating down on them throughout the scene. I also liked the hints towards the end of the backstory that has led them to choosing to run away and become bounty hunters. It definitely makes me want to keep reading!

    I was initially confused when I read the first line as I assumed there were real men watching the girls instead of the girls looking at an illustration of potential bounties. It might be clearer to say that it’s an illustration in the first line... The other thing I noticed was that the first line makes it sound like the story is written in an omniscient point of view because the girls are described from an outside perspective. It wasn’t clear whether the chapter is from Annora or Hellion’s perspective, or from an omniscient viewpoint. An omniscient point of view seems to be unpopular in YA at the moment and it might be worth considering if the opening would be stronger in one of the main characters' perspectives. There were a few other little things that others have mentioned (e.g. repetition of 'slash', the grandma comment) but overall I think the writing is really strong and I would have kept reading if there had been more :-)

  8. Focusing on your pitch:

    If this is an equal POV you don't need to list their names. If it's a single POV, it would help to re-write this with the POV character under focus because connecting with that character is vital.

    That said, while it is compelling, it would be that much stronger if you gave us something more concrete about this story and where it's going. Right now it sounds like a travel story. Is it? Or is the focus on their relationship? Or is the focus who they're evading?

    If you can get me anchored in who I'm rooting for and why that's going to pull me further along the pages than an interesting scenario.

    Hope that helps!

  9. 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!

    You've got a lot of atmospheric setting going on here and I love it. I echo sentiments that it reminds me of Blue Sword, but also a little of the newest Star Wars (desert planet, you know). My one suggestion is save the space you use to describe what the girls look like for another time. Agents are very vocal in the fact that they want to get to know your character's personality before what they look like in the opening pages of a story.


    Hope this helps!! Happy writing!! :D

  10. Charis M. EllisonJune 30, 2016 at 6:52 PM

    I love your title!

    Your pitch is a little confusing--'one of them own is wanted' was probably meant to be 'one of their own is wanted', but I wonder if being more specific and possibly using a different phrase would be stronger? 'learn that [name] has a price on his/her head' for instance. I think the second sentence is great, although I'd suggest switching out either 'desert' or 'deserted' to avoid the repetition.

    500 words--I like your opening a lot! I'd recommend tightening your first paragraph, especially the part about huddling, since I don't think the connotations fit the mood. My first impression was that these are frightened young women, instead of tough and capable as they're shown to be in the next paragraph. I think you could actually cut it down to '...stared up at the two young women who leanded, shoulder to shoulder, over a rickety table to study the men they’d soon be hunting.'

    I really really like this--I don't have any big suggestions. In a couple of places you could trim a word or two to tighten it up, and you might consider cutting phrases like
    'alight with a playfulness that never failed to weaken Annora’s resolve'
    'Hellion had a habit of getting away with every outrageous act imaginable, but--'
    'that spoke of her deep pondering'
    --they're a little repetitive because they tell things that are already being shown in the dialogue and body language, I think.

    Best of luck! :D

  11. Take or leave comments as you will! :)

    Pitch: Lose the first comma and fix the typo: Teen bounty hunters Annora, Hellion and Carina, learn that one of their own is wanted.

    The concept really grabs me. Teen bounty hunters?! And then one of them has a bounty put on them?! Crossing the desert is intriguing, and I do like the closing of the second sentence, but maybe work in a more emotional stake somewhere there? You could focus just on one or two of the girls? Just a thought.

    500: I had to reread the first line, remained confused, and finally got it farther in. Maybe chop up the first sentence?

    Is Annora wearing gloves? "Scarred hand" and then later saying it was gloved confused me; I had pictured it bare first.

    Are we just in Annora's head? I had thought Hellion at first, because of the line about her loving every minute of it. But after that it seemed clear.

    That said, I love these characters and setting. The sand blowing in, the hints about their life, the line about the cupolas and colored sky... all delicious. Maybe tighten up the telling-type feelings, where Annora is thinking about Hellion (the part where she's loved every minute) and determining to be resolved. You can show at leisure. This is really good! I love how you put up right into an exciting situation, with some mystery, and these utterly real details. Fantastic!

  12. Hi Nicole!

    I LOVE the idea of teenage bounty hunters. I love the stark desert setting, I love the way you describe it, and I love the Firefly vibe I got from this opening. I just really liked it, can you tell? ;) I think this is a unique idea, and you've executed it with a great deal of finesse. The dynamic between the two girls is pitch perfect, and their different personalities really stand out.

    The only thing I'd suggest to help polish this is something you're already planning on, and that's to tighten up the opening line It took me a few read throughs to determine that it's the people on the wanted poster looking at the girls, and the girls are the main characters. If you can find a way to reword that for clarity, that would be great, as when a reader picks a book up off the shelf, you won't get more than one reading of a line to grab their attention and convey meaning.

    Thanks so much for sharing! I loved getting to read a bit about your fierce girls. Hope to see more of them at some point!

  13. Hi, Nicole! Loved the premise and concept.

    Pitch: Awesome pitch. There is one typo, instead of "them" it should be "their". It also needs a bit trimming and rearranging, IMO.

    Example: When teen bounty hunters, Annora, Hellion and Carina learn that one of their own is wanted, they must cross the savage desert to return the home they once deserted, before the hunters become the hunted."

    Not very good maybe but you get the picture.

    500 words: Loved the setting and characters. It's very difficult to show the settings right on the first page. Teen bounty hunters reminded me of a movie where Ewan McGregor, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz starred. They weren't bounty hunters rather thieves but still.

    I loved Hellion. She's rocking. And needs someone softspoken yet fighter type like Annora. I'm curious to meet Carina. Is she the mature adult type?

    Overall very nice concept. Can't wait to see its revision soon! Best of luck!

  14. I love the dynamic between your two main characters. I also like your humor and sense of fun.

    Some comments: you tell me in the first paragraph that the room is loud but I never get the sense of the characters speaking loudly or having trouble hearing each other.

    Second: I'd like to know what Annora's maimed hand looks like. Seems like a good opportunity for some description.

    Other than these minor things, I like this! I get a sense of fun read that would keep me turning to the next page.

  15. Things that caught my eyes:

    01) "smudging the ink on the tattered parchment."

    Shouldn't inks on posters be completely dried before being hung for people to read?

    02) "a hint of pale freckled skin."

    Frickled skin can be anywhere. Be specific.

    Things that I loved about your revision:

    01) The setting was very vivid. I loved the "peach and raspberry sky".

    02) You added Annora's physical peril as well as mental pain. Good job.

    I'd definitely turn the pages. Well done with the descriptions.
    Good luck with your manuscript.