Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entery #9: Shadow the Night

Name: Aria Valentine (@ariavwrites)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Title: Shadow the Night

35-Word Pitch: When 17-year-old Haylo’s investigation of her blind sister’s murder uncovers a plot to resurrect dark magic, she must overcome her guilt and solitude to fight for the truth and save her tropical kingdom.

First 500 Words:
The first raindrops struck my scalp like a torrent of wasp stings. I never could outrun the storms, but I always outran the jaguars.
I just prayed my sister could, too.
She called out my name too loud, too shrill, like a wounded antelope screeching. The bounding paws and resonant growling behind us only got louder in response.
“It’s okay, Mara, just keep going!”
The rain fell heavier with every step we took, turning the soil underfoot into umber silt that threatened to pull us down like quicksand. Evading the jungle’s twisting vines and jutting rocks at high speed was always harder during in a downpour. Running barefoot didn’t help, but it was the only way Mara could navigate.
My burning lungs clawed at the moist air, grasping for the strength to call out to her. “Remember … when your feet hit grass … turn left!”
Mara slowed her sprint to keep from slipping, and I had to shorten my own stride to keep her in my sights. I stayed so far behind her, I could almost feel the jaguar’s breath on the back of my legs.
Big cat teeth sinking into the flesh of my calves—the image invaded my mind, seeping into my every thought like poison. How quickly could it kill me?
My heart convulsed faster and faster, catching up to the beat of our hastened feet pounding the forest floor. With every exhalation, I lost another shred of stamina. 
We’re not going to make it.
Then, like light at the end of a tunnel, sprigs of emerald pasture came into view. My jaw clenched as Mara approached the grass path. Even a fraction of hesitation and we’d be cat food.
But right on clue, she deftly swerved left as her feet hit the greenery. I followed close behind, wishing I had enough breath for a sigh of relief. All that came out was ragged panting. The jaguar was still just dozens of yards behind us.
I may have had more muscle on my thighs, but his heavy paws could propel him into the air with every step. That’s why outrunning jaguars was more a matter of outwitting. The predators never learned as quickly as the prey.
Without warning, the beastly feline let out a deep, rumbling roar behind us—a warning against me challenging his intelligence. My stomach lurched at the sound, and so did Mara’s legs.
A vine caught her foot. The few seconds she took to steady herself brought her ever-closer to the jaguar.
“Haylo … I can’t do it!”
No, no, no. The pain in her cry. I could feel it. She truly thought she was going to die here. And I couldn’t let that happen.
“Omara Ivy!” I shouted, finding unexpected power in my lungs. “You are blind in sight, but not in perception. Your awareness, your judgement—they’re clearer than the light of day!”
Mara was blind, but she knew our tropical kingdom of Ventura even better than I did.


  1. Hi Aria!

    Your 35- word pitch is great! it includes everything that needs to be there, character, conflict, goal, and setting. The only thing I'd suggest is more clarification on what she's fighting against rather than the use of " fight for the truth". This is a small thing. Your pitch is very good. All of this is good!

    On to your 500 word sample.

    You've done a great job of creating tension and a feeling of fear. Your sensory is on point. Your imagery is lovely (emerald pasture, a screeching antelope, all of it!). I can feel Haylo's terror. The action is 100% right from the start.

    There are only a few things that caught my attention. I wonder if readers might benefit from knowing Mara is blind a little sooner. I know she's blind because of your pitch, but other readers might not have that benefit. Maybe you want it to be a surprise, and I get that.

    Also, although I love the sentence, “You are blind in sight, but not in perception. Your awareness, your judgement—they’re clearer than the light of day!” I questioned whether she'd have enough time to say it before the Jaguar attacked. You mention "even a fraction of hesitation, and we'd be cat food" . Isn't the Jaguar a few dozen yards behind them? Couldn't a jaguar get to them in a matter of seconds? Also, right before, Haylo had to gasp for air to say "When your feet hit grass, turn left!" I know she finds unexpected power in her lungs, but it seems The rest of this is so fine-tuned. Maybe that's why this stuck out.

    Finally, and again, this is a tiny, tiny thing. Your first paragraph says "I never could outrun the storms, but I always outran the jaguars". This flows so well, it's so pretty, but does Haylo really outrun the Jaguars, or does she evade/escape them? Jaguars are fast.

    Like, really, really fast. 50mph, or something crazy. They can't maintain it, but they wouldn't have to. They can catch pretty much anything, except for maybe a cheetah or a gazelle. Is Haylo superhuman? If not, consider rewording this. I think I know what you are saying, and you do mention that Haylo outsmarts the jaguar ( which is so cool) but it's your first paragraph, and my first thought really was super-speed.

    I read too many fantasies! ha!

    Overall, this is such a cool opening. I love how well you've captured this terrifying moment. That is so hard to do, you clearly have a talent. I got pretty detailed in my feedback. Please take it as a compliment! I had to dig deep to offer feedback. That is SO AWESOME!!!!!

    If you have any questions or want to discuss anything, please reach out.

  2. Hey Aria!

    First off, this isn't really my genre, so ignore my comments if it's just a genre thing!

    The pitch:
    So, it is definitely an intriguing pitch! But it raises many questions. How is her sister’s murder related to any of this? Why does she feel guilty? What is the truth she's looking for? The truth of her sister’s murder? “Her” tropical kingdom, is she royalty or an everywoman? Why does this fall on her?
    (I know, I know, just read the book, right? But I think you need more details in your pitch to really get us reading.)

    The words:
    The first lines are intriguing! The tense is throwing me for a reason I can’t place? I might just be because the last one I read was present tense, but also something about outrun and outran being in the same sentence doesn’t work for me. (But outrunning a jaguar! What a hook!)
    I know they always say to start with action, I even just recommended it in another entry, but you took this very literally. I have no sense of the characters or situation or anything in the first few lines. She’s just being chased by a jaguar! You describe the jungle very well as you’re running through it, but I don’t have any investment in Haylo and Mara escaping the jaguar.
    Your writing is very vivid. It’s great! I can feel the rain and smell the jungle air. Your turns of phrase are really nice – “I could almost feel the jaguar’s breath on the back of my legs.”
    I wonder how much time Haylo would have to ruminate on death-by-jaguar since she’s sprinting through a wet jungle and trying to keep her sister in sight?
    Haylo’s “Omara Ivy” speech seems too long for someone so out of breath.

    So, this is a very intriguing entry for me and I would definitely keep reading. I think you’re a great writer and your word choices seem purposeful. I just want to feel more connected to the characters before this scene, because I don’t feel the danger or panic I know you’re trying to convey. Great start!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Averill (#11)

  3. Hey Aria! Thanks for sharing SHADOW THE NIGHT with us!

    First of all, I love that the driving force of this story is the sister relationship. Not enough stories feature sisters and the bond between Haylo and Mara is so clear from your excerpt.

    Overall, solid pitch! I suggest changing “investigation of” to “investigation into” because that is what’s commonly used with that word. Also, I think you can be a little more specific on exactly what she’s saving her tropical kingdom from. Monsters? Her sister’s murderer specifically?

    I like that the first scene drops us straight into the action. It’s a good way to orient the readers into the kind of fast-paced, dangerous world your characters live in.
    Because you’re navigating two characters at the start here, be clear on who is doing what. When Haylo mentioned running barefoot, it took me a second to realize she meant Mara was running barefoot and not her. Also, watch out for superfluous words! You have “harder during in a downpour” at one point.

    Some of Haylo’s interior thoughts on the jaguar read like someone who doesn’t have much experience with the animals. Since she grew up in a tropical region where she likely experienced them often, I think you could use this opportunity to showcase her knowledge of the animals and terrain and also subtly push forward your worldbuilding. Also, she said she’s outwitting the jaguar, but it’s not clear how.

    “The pain in her cry. I could feel it. She truly thought she was going to die here. And I couldn’t let that happen.” I love this sentiment, but it’s a lot of telling. Show us through her actions how far she’s willing to go for her sister.

    One more broader plot thing. There's a history in fiction of murdering disabled character's for the sake of abled characters' stories and it tends to tie into the idea disabled people are disposable. I suggest getting a disabled sensitivity reader to make sure you're incorporating this element into your story in a respectful way.

    Best of luck going forward!

  4. Hi Aria!

    Your pitch is amazing! I love it!!!

    As are your opening lines! This sucked me in right away!
    This line: "Evading the jungle’s twisting vines and jutting rocks at high speed was always harder during in a downpour" is a little incomplete and awkward. Try rewording.

    The term, "Then, like light at the end of a tunnel, " is kinda modern, so if this is a more historical society, you might want something else.

    It'd be nice to see a little bit of the outsmarting the prey that she mentions, since its mostly in passing right now. Everything that follows though is intense and I can feel the emotions there. We just aren't sure if Haylo kept running or stopped and turned on her heel for her sister.

    You have a great voice and I wish I could read on!

    I hope this helps! :D


  5. Hi Aria -
    First of all you have a great "author's name" :-).

    Fantasy is not my genre, but I'll give the best feedback I can.

    The pitch is very thorough and descriptive.

    500 WORDS:
    "outran the jaguars"? Is she supernaturally fast, or is she evading them? Are they way behind them? I think a jaguar would catch up to a human running extremely quickly.

    "wounded antelope screeching" - if they are in a tropical kingdom I don't get the antelope reference. Maybe some jungle animal instead?

    I had a strange thought reading that she must not like her blind sister very much to leave her to her own devices with jaguars chasing them. I get the impression that they are separated by the sister "calling out her name." Maybe make it really clear that she's let her sister go AHEAD of her, to protect her.

    about halfway down I'm still wondering how girls would outrun a jaguar. By the time we hit "dozens of yards" I'm wondering how it's possible it hasn't caught them given the time that has passed.

    "The few seconds she took to steady herself brought her ever-closer to the jaguar." - I'd change this to "The few seconds she took to steady herself brought the jaguar ever-closer." (The jaguar is closing in on her, not the other way around).

    This seems like an awfully long, complicated sentence to get out while running for your life at top speed: "You are blind in sight, but not in perception. Your awareness, your judgement—they’re clearer than the light of day!"

    So - I really like that you throw us right into a chase, and the tension is good. I think there are just some odd questions that come up about being chased by a jaguar that will distract the reader.

    Good luck in PitchWars!

    Keli (#8)

  6. Hi Aria,

    Pitch: Wonderful pitch. I think you hit on all the important points. Good job.

    Words: Your opening lines are awesome. The part that states she can outran the jaguars gave me pause. One, because of the outrun and then the outran verbs. Two, outrunning a jaguar would mean he had special powers and I expected to hear something about this. I didn't read anything that showed her outwitting the jaguar either.

    Your descriptions are vivid and the pacing in your first 500 words moves along at a quick pace.

    Overall, wonderful start to your story. Can't wait to read more.

  7. Hello! Thank you so much for entering #YayYA!! :D

    Pitch: this is really, really solid. Applaud yourself. That said, maybe my only quibble is that "dark magic" is so general and overused. If there's anyway you could be more specific in the same amount of words, it'd take this pitch to a whole different level in the world of awesome pitches.

    First 500: You use a lot of -ing words. That's okay cuz I'm guilty as charged, but maybe we should both cut back on them :D I'd also like a little context for this scene... how'd they get themselves in the forest chased by a jaguar (also the fact you have a freaking jaguar in your story is pretty awesome, and I love that first line)? I think that'll help anchor us a bit more.

    That said, your sensory details are fantastic, and I think your main character is going to just bound off the page wrapped in your lovely narrative. I think I'd just like an idea of what kind of culture we're looking at here. I recognize an action scene isn't exactly the place to explain that, but at the moment, it seems a little generic. I guess it is South American, since there's a jaguar, but that's my only clue.

    Otherwise, this is really fantastic. Good job.

  8. Hi Aria!

    Thank you so much for sharing Shadow the Night with us! It's such a compelling premise, I love the sister relationship at the heart of it, and the setting is a refreshing change from the typical medieval fantasy world. I really dig it!
    35 word pitch: This is great! The stakes are compelling, and my only quibble is with the imprecise nature of words such as dark magic and fight for the truth. Can you get more specific?

    500 words: Lots of excitement here! You pull us right into the action right away, which is awesome. I want to know a little more about the characters to get truly invested, though. You can start off how you do, but maybe drop a few more hints as to who they are and why they are there along the way.

    You paint such a vivid picture of your setting. I can just picture it in my head, imagine I'm right there!

    I love the relationship between these two sisters right away. I can tell you're going to break my heart, but I am okay with that. Though I do encourage you to follow Rosie's suggestion of the sensitivity reader. You want to tread very carefully so as not to seem like you are sacrificing the disabled character for the sake of the able-bodied character's arc.

    Overall, I found this excerpt immersive and compelling. Thank you so much for sharing and good luck during Pitch Wars!

    Kimberly #4

  9. A lot of info packed into 35 words but it still is very easy to understand and follow. Good job.

    500 words:
    Very action packed opening! I love it. Immediately I want to know why they are running from jaguars...something that seems like the norm in their world. Vivid descriptions that make me feel like I am running right along with them.

    There were only two places that tripped me up a little bit and that was just based on simple word choice.
    1. “My heart convulsed faster and faster”. Something about the word convulsed just doesn’t seem to fit in this description. Pumped or pulsed might be more on target.
    2. “ I lost another shred of stamina.” Shred is the word that doesn’t sit right for me. I guess when I think of stamina it is not in shreds ha ha. Maybe ounce of stamina.
    Again these are very minor issues. Overall I really enjoyed reading this excerpt from your story. A very strong and interesting opening. Hopefully I’ll get to read more at some point.

    Jackie (#5)

  10. Hey, Aria. First of all, I'm not at all good at line editing and critiquing so I'm refraining myself from line critiquing. My feedback will be on the overall excerpt.

    Great pitch. Except, the use of the word "solitude". If you mean avoiding others after the death of a loved one, then try "isolation" or "loneliness" even. Solitude doesn't have a negative ring to it. It means the peaceful, contemplating isolation you voluntarily find yourself in.

    500 words:
    I find them outrunning a jaguar very unrealistic for a human. Even wounded, jaguars, like cheetah, can run very fast. And the sisters running from a jaguar, not even wounded, in rain, slippery forest floor, barefoot, very unrealistic. This is the biggest problem I found.

    Another thing is her sister being blind. If we hadn't read the pitch, we wouldn't know. This vital info, given that they're running from a jaguar, should be mentioned in the first few paragraphs if not lines.

    Otherwise, you have strong vocabulary, very vivid setting and relatable stakes.

    Best of luck in PitchWars.

  11. Hi Aria,

    Your pitch is good overall. I'd look for possibly stronger words than guilt and solitude to convey what she must overcome.

    500 words:
    Overall, this is strong writing, and engaging. There are a few conceptual things potentially to address here. The first is that you've opened right thick in the middle of not only action, but life-in-danger action. Often this is a no-no because readers haven't been given the opportunity to care about your characters. In your case, it might work because you've got the two sisters involved, and you've appropriately addressed the fear of the older sister for her younger, disabled sister. But as I read, I asked a lot of "why would Haylo put her sister at risk, if there was a possibility of running into predators? I think it might make more sense if you back up and start ahead of this scene so we know what happened to incite this.

    I can suspend my disbelief and accept immediately that she can outrun jaguars, but the other conceptual issue I’m finding is a matter of how close the jaguar is actually getting to them. One moment, Haylo can almost feel the jaguar's breath on her leg because she's fallen so far back to protect Mara, the next moment the jaguar is still dozens of yards away, the next moment Mara has stumbled and the jaguar seems to close in (is Haylo not putting herself between them anymore?). I believe a jaguar could close a gap of a dozens of yards in a few seconds, but it isn't clear that's what is happening. You mention she outwits him, and that makes him angry, but the readers don't know what that means.

    Really nice visuals of the jungle and her surroundings.

    I hope this helps some!

    Julie (#3)