Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #12: Dusk Before Dawn

Rosie Brown
YA Fantasy

Pitch: In a world based on North and West African folklore, the crown princess of a desert nation must quell a mutiny against her comatose mother’s throne while avoiding the refugee tasked to kill her.  

First 500:
Malik wasn’t ready to see the sun again.
After two weeks of near complete darkness, the sudden brightness of the afternoon sun stung his eyes. Splotches of purple and green danced across his vision as Hassan barked, “Everybody out!”
Malik had no idea how the smuggler expected them to follow this order. He and the other refugees were packed so closely together within the confines of Hassan’s wagon that it made even breathing difficult. Moving was not an option.
When nobody followed his orders, Hassan grabbed Malik by his shoulders, lifted the boy from the wagon bed, and tossed him onto the dusty ground. The metallic taste of blood and sand exploded in Malik’s mouth. He scrambled to his knees, clutching the strap of his worn leather satchel tightly to his chest.
“Everybody get out,” Hassan yelled again.
Nadia jumped out of the wagon bed and ran to her brother’s side, grabbing onto his pant leg as he coughed. Their mother Rahila followed after her, shooting Hassan a glare as she dropped to her knees beside her son.
“Are you okay?” Nadia asked, her dark eyes wide. Fighting the pain, Malik gave a small nod.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine, I promise.”
Rahila’s eyes narrowed, her hands clenching into fists. Malik forced a smile on his face, anything to let her know he was fine. They had enough to worry about without adding his wellbeing to the mix.
After double checking Malik was not injured, Rahila turned to the smuggler and demanded, “What is the meaning of this? Why have we stopped?”
Hassan spit a glob of phlegm onto the ground near Malik’s feet before replying, “Sentinel checkpoint.”
The knot of anxiety in Malik’s stomach tightened, and he glanced around as if one of the aforementioned warriors would come at them with a scimitar at any moment. If the Sentinels were to discover their motley group of refugees and the man who had smuggled them halfway across the desert, death would be most merciful option waiting for them.
“But you said when we left Talafri that this route had no Sentinels on it!” cried Rahila.
“Shut your mouth!” Hassan glanced over his shoulder, his hand hovering near the hilt of his dagger. He was by no means a small man, and in the short time Malik had known him, the smuggler had never shown uncertainty of any kind. The fear tinging Hassan’s words now only added to Malik’s own nerves.
Hassan continued, “Are you trying to summon every Sentinel patrol between here and Mahashe?”
Rahila grumbled but did not reply, much to Malik’s relief. His mother may not have feared the curved dagger that hung at Hassan’s hip, but Malik did.
They had stopped beside a large stone outcropping a little ways away from the main road, and as Hassan maneuvered the camel-drawn wagon deeper into the shade, Malik dared to look around. The golden sands of the Odjubai desert stretched out in every direction.


  1. Hi Rosie!

    I love your pitch! I don't see anything really to suggest to change, but maybe someone else can help you with that during the hop :D

    You're opening lines are great too! It's just that you appear to have two different main character's between your pitch and opening. Is Malik the MC or the princess? If they're both and it's a multi POV, you might want a pitch with Malik as the focus too since it could confuse the reader.

    There's also quite a few names in this opening to keep up with. A mom, brother, sister, smuggler... since we barely know them, it might be good to slow down the introductions. Hassan also has the attitude of a slave trader more than a refugee smuggler.

    As for Malik's fear of Hassan's dagger, if possible, it'd be nice to see and know about sooner.

    You're voice and pacing is pretty good over all.
    I hope this helps! :D

  2. Hi Rosie!

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

    The pitch:
    I don't really have much to say about this. I think it's great! To be picky, I don't think most people are fans of the "In a world..." openings but it works well here, since you want to highlight the folklore aspect. But I'm definitely intrigued and I think you have all the aspects. Reading another comment, I don't think you need to focus more on the refugee. I got immediately that Malik is going to be the refugee sent to kill the princess, and therefore that the book is multi-POV.

    The words:
    Great first line! Really draws you in.
    In a few places, I think you could use stronger or more specific words – Like "...packed so closely..." you could maybe use "tightly"? But, that's all style and personal preference.
    I'm never sure about this, so forgive the dumb comment, but would you use the mother's proper name? It's in third person, but Malik's POV (we've been in his head), so wouldn't he say "my mother"? I've come across this many times and I never know the answer. I write so much in first person! And this is fantasy, too. So, I don't know. But it always seems weird to me to hear parents' proper names.

    So, those were all my "inline" comments. Your writing is wonderful! Really solid, and it brought me right into the setting. I'm not used to reading a lot of third person, so I always have a bit of a hard time connecting to a MC in third – or at least it takes me longer – so I don't think that's a failing of yours at all! Your characters are well sketched – I'm a little nervous about Hassan myself – and I think you've started in a good place – the action is beginning but we're not so much in the thick of it, we don't care. I'm curious about where they're going, if they're going to get caught, and all that good stuff. From the pitch, I can guess a few things, but I'd definitely keep reading this. It sounds wonderful!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Averill (#11)

  3. Hi Rosie -

    I'm not a Fantasy expert - writing or reading - but here are my notes, nonetheless!

    I think you could shorten "North and West African" to just "African"

    FIRST 500:
    Though most readers wouldn't have just read the pitch, I was confused that the pitch was about a "crown princess" as MC, then the story begins with Malik - who seems to be the MC. Is he the "refugee tasked to kill her"?

    Also - at the beginning it seems like Hassan has kidnapped these people, since he's treating them so harshly. Reading on it seems like they have hired him to smuggle them out?

    I'm unclear how old/big Malik is - he seems very young if he can be "lifted from the wagon bed and tossed on the dusty ground."

    As Nadia and Rahila rush to Hassan's side, it seems they should both be speaking to him.

    If there is a sentinel patrol close and they are afraid of being caught/detected, why are they all out of the wagon for the first time in two weeks?

    "aforementioned warriors" seemed off. Perhaps the right technical word but it stood out oddly.

    I like where you are going with this - you set the desert scene nicely with brightness and dust - maybe add some heat?

    Good luck with PitchWars!

    Keli (#8)

  4. Gorgeous writing. Truly. I'm trying to think of suggestions but I don't have any. Your writing is lovely, the descriptions are vivid without being overdone, and we get a feel for the characters and the stakes already. The only thing I thought of is that the pitch makes it sound as if it is a story about the princess, but this opening scene features other characters and not her, which makes me wonder if there are multiple main characters. As in, is Malik the refugee tasked to kill her? If so, you might want to tweak your pitch to give agents/readers more of an expectation that he is a major character, not just a threat. But other than that, it's pretty much flawless. Nice work! I hope I get the chance to read the rest someday!

    -Emily #15

  5. Hi Rosie!

    Great pitch! There's really not much I can critique here. I always love to the see the MC's name in the pitch if possible, but I don't think it's 100% necessary.

    FIRST 500:
    Like others have noted, I was a little confused at first about who the main character was when your passage started. From the pitch and the opening, I'm guessing this story has multiple POVs? If so, a chapter header showing Malik is the POV character of this section would be helpful. And, if he's the refugee tasked to kill the princess, I think naming him (and her) could make it clearer that he's a major part of the story. If Malik is the only main character, I'd consider revising the pitch to make him the main focus as opposed to the crown princess.

    That aside, this is a really great opening! The character and the setting are established straight away, and there's plenty of action. I don't have much new to add, but just to expand on what everyone else has said:

    There are a lot of names to keep up with all at once, especially with the place names added in. I'd consider spreading out name introductions, or possibly even doing away with some of them depending on each character's importance. Rahlia, for example, could just be referred to as "his mother", since this is Malik's point of view. To be honest, this comment is mostly with regard to Rahlia and Nadia, just because they're quite visually similar.

    I also think it would be great to bring the element of high heat into the setting, especially because heat can have such a big effect on how the characters feel and behave. In fact, Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a great resource for this!

    And finally, I'd love to see something that gives a bit more indication of Malik's age. I'm assuming he's a teen, since this is YA, but the fact that the scenario he's enduring is so serious, I think it brings an adult feel to the piece. Reinforcing Malik's age would, in my opinion, make readers feel even more empathy for him.

    That's really all I have to say. This is an intriguing passage and if I had the full story, I'd have carried on reading :)

  6. Hello!! Thanks so much for entering #YayYA! :D

    Pitch: Very good pitch. I'm fascinated by your setting choice. That alone will help it sell due to its uniqueness, and it's very solid.

    First 500: I haven't read a good fantasy in this kind of setting since The Blue Sword, so this is exciting.

    However, I don't think Malik is the main character. He also seems like a little boy, which means he probably isn't the one tasked to kill the princess either unless this is a flashback? I think you may be starting at the wrong place, though I do love your opening line. His mom seems pretty awesome, as well. I love this passage, but I don't think it's supposed to be your first chapter. Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Rosie!

    Great Pitch, very compelling. I questioned the necessity of "North and West" . I was also thrown when the first few pages were from Malik's POV. Is there a way to squeeze in both POV's? I know that's hard to do in 35 words.

    500 word sample-
    Great opening line. Strong writing. I was confused by Malik's age, which seems to be a common consensus. I also noticed area that seemed a little like a POV slip, because how can Malik see his mother shoot a glare and his sister jump out of the wagon if he's on the ground having a coughing fit? Perhaps the important thing is word choice? It could be me. I tend to like close POVs.

    I love how strong his mother and sister are. Great characters.You do a great job of creating character in Hassan.

    I am also a little confused by what's going on. At first I thought they were prisoners, but no I see they're refugees. Perhaps add a sentence to ground this fact early on.

    Overall, great piece! I love your setting and your concept.
    -Jessica, #13

  8. Hi Rosie,

    I am swept away by your writing and overall I loved what you have here. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Pitch: This is a great premise. Two things pop up when I read the pitch. Why the need to mention both North and West African folklore? The other thing I'm unsure about is the following..."quell a mutiny against her comatose mother's throne..." I'm not sure what that means.

    Words: I just have little things to mention for your first 500 words. To begin with, in 500 words you mentioned 6 names. That's a lot for such a short space of time.

    Also, I'm not sure who the MC is. From the pitch, I was expecting a crown princess. Malik seems to young to be a teen. Is this something that happened years ago? If so, then you might be starting in the wrong place.

    But that's it. Your writing is great, the tension for this family is on the page. I really can't wait to read more. Really, your writing is so smooth.

  9. Hi Rosie!

    Pitch: The pitch is great, really great. But once I get to the pages I wonder if this is a 2 POV story, in which case, can you weave both into the pitch? Example: The crown princess of a desert nation must quell a mutiny against her comatose mother’s throne. A refugee must assassinate the princess in order to X...

    500 words:
    Your story is very well written, so I'm going to be super picky!

    As I mentioned above, I am confused about the pitch's connection with the opening pages. I wonder if the refugee is Malik, and this is actually a flashback? In that case, giving an indication of POV/time period at the top can help.

    "Malik wasn’t ready to see the sun again." <-- Awesome first line, but I wonder if you could make it stronger. As I read it, I think Malik didn't want to see the sun, and I'm thinking that's not right. What about something like: Malik wasn't prepared for the blinding flash of sunlight.

    "Hassan grabbed Malik by his shoulders, lifted the boy from the wagon bed, and tossed him onto the dusty ground" <-- you could tighten this a bit by not giving us all the action steps, e.g., Hassan grabbed Malik by the neck (or shoulder) and tossed him to the ground.

    "Nadia jumped out of the wagon bed and ran to her brother’s side, grabbing onto his pant leg as he coughed. Their mother Rahila followed after her," <-- Couple of things about POV here: The first sentence flirts a bit with Nadia's POV and not Malik's. Most will get what is going on, but you might want to make it stronger. The 2nd is that referring to their mother by her full name feels odd to me if he is a child. Is Malik a child? It feels that way, by the way his sister and mother are reacting to him, but I realize you've not told us how old he is. It's fine in 3rd person to refer to a parental character by their given name, but for a deeper POV, I think you want to call her how Malik thinks of her.

    "Malik forced a smile on his face, anything to let her know he was fine." <-- would he be trying to hide tears or shaking, etc.?

    "After double checking Malik was not injured, Rahila turned" <-- show us how she double checked him in a few words.

    "They had stopped beside a large stone outcropping a little ways away" <-- a little ways away is more whimsical than anything else. I'd be more concise about the distance.

    Others above have noted mentioning this heat, which makes a lot of sense. Consider bringing in smells as well. After all, those bodies packed in a tight place for two weeks would reek, not to mention wherever they must be leaving their wastes. Even with the blinding sun, I'd think Malik would feel a serious relief at a first sense of fresh air.

    Great job!

    Julie (#3)

  10. First off, just to get this out of the way: I absolutely love this premise! Your writing is strong, and you introduce us to the world in a seamless way that's not overwhelming.

    This is a great scene to start with, there's so much tension and I'm so stressed out about Malik and his family. I assume Something Terrible is about to happen to the people being smuggled, and that alone would keep me reading.

    That said, I'd like to see more of Malik's internal reaction to what's going on. It's just the first two pages, so there's not much space to dive into a character, but at this point I have a better feel for who Hassan and Rahila are than Malik. I know he's afraid--which is completely valid--and I know he's willing to put on a brave face for his family, but that's it. This isn't a huge problem, because whenever The Bad Thing that's about to happen happens, we'll get to see more of his character revealed.

    But in this opening, he's mostly having things done to him, or he's watching other people around him. If this is in line with his character, no worries!

    A few small things: I'd move "Fighting the pain, Malik gave a small nod." to the next paragraph with his dialogue, and there's a typo in the paragraph beginning "Shut your mouth!": tinging should be tingeing.

    Again, this is a great opening, and it's got me dying to read more! Well done!

    -Katherine (#17)