Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #15: No Man's Land

Name: Emily Thiede (@ethiedee)
Genre: YA SpecFic
Title: No Man's Land

35 word pitch: A century after a pandemic killed off every man on earth, Aurelia's struggling in the all-female utopia. The prisoner trapped in the basement of her mother's top secret research laboratory isn't helping.

First 500 Words:

Floating six-hundred feet above the surface of the earth, Aurelia Skylar imagined she could wrap a wisp of cloud around her fingers if she just reached out her hand. She didn’t, of course. The rooftop had been vacant when she arrived an hour before, but someone might be watching by now. And try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the glare of early morning sun on the transparent ceiling. The sky appeared reachable, but it wasn’t.
However, the heated pool was warm enough that as long as she held very still, she could almost forget she was in the water at all. And with her eyes half-closed, her coppery eyelashes filtered out the glare and made the ceiling fade away.
Voices broke through her reverie and she rolled to her stomach, using long strokes to pull herself towards the horizon of the infinity pool. She draped her arms over the side to gaze down at the vista below, letting the water run down her fingertips. Below, the stripes of civilization extended from the base of Tower Eleven. Her home. Her entire world. Colorful gardens, followed by miles of farmland, then the forest rolling up and over the blue tinted mountains.
The voices grew louder. Three girls she knew from school stripped off their clothes on the far side of the pool and and pulled chaise lounges together, laughing and talking. The May air still held a hint of chill, but it had been an unusually long winter and apparently Aurelia wasn’t the only one overeager for sunlight. They spotted Aurelia and waved. She waved back but made no move to swim closer. 
The metal band around her wrist twitched. 
Ten minutes.
She slowly swam towards the side where her school uniform sat folded next to her backpack, and hauled herself out of the water. Keeping her eyes down, she stripped off her swimsuit and yanked on her school uniform, the fabric clinging to her damp legs. Her classmates continued chattering away, seeming more comfortable entirely nude than she had ever felt fully dressed.
As she crouched to grab her shoes, she groaned. 
Eight minutes. Not enough time to run home, but the bright aqua colored sneakers she grabbed that morning were most definitely not uniform compliant. She pulled them on anyway. Maybe if she got lucky no one would notice and she could stay out of trouble. For once.
Five minutes.
The temperature seemed to plummet as Aurelia made her way towards the chair in the center of the small white room she privately called “the Tank.” She settled herself with a shiver, shifting her sit bones against the firm surface. Designed to fit any female body shape, the cold plastic still managed to press against her in all the wrong places.
“If you were sent here any more often we’d to have to name the place after you,” Dr. Charlemain said with a chuckle from her seat in front of the monitors.


  1. Super interesting concept! I absolutely love your first line (wrapping the wisp of a cloud around her fingertip). I do think that you spend perhaps too many lines after that describing the sky/light. The description of the vista is great and vivid. The count down gives a tense edge, which is really good. You mention "school uniform" twice in the same couple sentences. It would be more effective to mention the specifics of her uniform in one of the instances: pleated skirt and polo shirt, etc. In the paragraph about the aqua sneakers, i think you should mention the sneakers before she groans, because the flow felt off. I really like the Dr. Charlemain quote at the end. I'm intrigued!

  2. Hi Emily!!

    Interesting pitch, however, the second part doesn't quite make sense. We don't understand much about the prisoner or her mother's secret lab research, and it isn't really a stake for your main character since we don't know what she wants.

    The opening line is cool, but the first paragraph is pretty confusing. Where is she? Sounds like she's looking down at earth, but then you mention the sun and blue sky being up in the ceiling. Why would someone be watching? Why has she been there an hour?

    The world and descriptions in the second paragraph are fantastic! I love this place already, except again, it sounds like she's partially outside and then at the same time, inside, but looking down at everyone? It'd be nice if you could clarify if there are windows she's looking out of from this tower, or if she's looking at the tower.

    this line: "Her classmates continued chattering away, seeming more comfortable entirely nude than she had ever felt fully dressed" is very confusing. Right now it tells us her friends are okay without clothes, and she feels uncomfortable in them. So does she not like clothes? Or is she self-aware of herself and why? It needs rewording.

    The idea she has a few minutes to get home, then goes and sits in a Doctor's office, which we don't know where it is, is slightly confusing, since we don't know why her wristband is buzzing how much time she has left or why she's being timed.

    I hope this helps! :D


  3. Hi Emily!

    First off, as I'm warning all SFF, this isn't really my genre, so ignore my comments if it's just a genre thing!

    The pitch:
    Interesting. The pitch does lead me to want to read on, but it's incomplete. What are the stakes? What's Aurelia's desire? How is everything going to fall apart? (Prisoner, I assume.)
    This is the fault of the patriarchy, but when I first read the "killed every man on Earth", I thought it was every person. So, maybe change it to "every male", especially since you use "all-female" later.

    The words:
    I like your first line! (Everyone has such good first lines.)
    If we're referring to the planet, Earth should be capitalized, right?
    The description you gave had me thinking they were in an enclosed space. (And try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the glare of early morning sun on the transparent ceiling.) But then, you talk about the edge of the infinity pool and the temperature outside (The May air still held a hint of chill...). So, that leaves me a little confused.
    "Designed to fit any female body shape..." seems weird as well. In this new utopia, are women all now shaped the same? Because, I can tell you, as a 6'2" woman, I've never fit in anything female shaped before (haha). So, maybe that sensitivity pings that to me, but maybe explaining that a little?
    After she gets out of the pool, I'm a little lost. You have me with the bracelet buzzing, that obviously means she has to be somewhere, but then all of her ruminating and where she goes loses me.

    Overall, you have an interesting concept. I think you need to spend a little more time on the worldbuilding. I'm not quite sure where or when we are. When you describe what she sees out of the infinity pool doesn't mean much to me. But, like I mentioned, I don't read a ton of SFF, so I'm not an expert on worldbuilding. I like how you've worked it in subtly and like it's seemingly normal (since it is to your MC). I would just like a bit of a clearer picture.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Averill (#11)

  4. Hi Emily! Great premise! Makes me super curious.

    I like your pitch - if the second line is confusing to some readers (I'm assuming this is a guy, and our MC's love interest - if that's true, maybe one adjective could give a hint to that (like, the handsome prisoner (argh, too boring? intriguing? preoccupying? ) anyway, it's just a thought.

    I really like your descriptions at the beginning. As others mentioned, maybe you need to be more clear where she is, describe the room. Maybe, "The rooftop of the [description of the place she's in] had been vacant ..."
    one thing that confuses me is that the two things that make her not reach out her hand seem very different in importance- one seems to be fear of someone watching, and that this action is somehow "wrong" and the other is just the glare. Maybe take out the unimportant reason? Maybe add another detail about who would be watching and a just a hint of what that means to her.

    Suggestion - maybe take out the line about the May chill. Just skip straight to, "They spotted Aurelia and waved. She waved back but made no move to swim closer." Then give us a line of internal dialogue - what she thinks/feels at that moment. Then the arm band twitches.

    Your last paragraph needs some transition. At first it seems this chair scene is happening as she exits the pool (I at first pictured some kind of elevator taking her down the tower to school). But after re-reading I see it's something else - she's already at school or something. I suggest a line or two telling us that because I was confused.

    overall there's lots of potential in this opening and I wish you all the best!
    Maria (#1) @MariaCMcDaniel

  5. l just a little bit, maybe. Is this a medical examination? An experiment? A school class? Something? And then maybe my only other quibble is when you wrote "metal band," well, I thought scream music instead of bracelet :D

    Otherwise, not much more to add! Excellent work!

  6. Hi Emily,

    Pitch: Very mysterious, but I think the pitch is a little more mysterious than it should be. Consider something like this: Aurelia struggles to fit in an all-female utopia. But when she stumbles upon the boy held prisoner in her mother's top-secret laboratory, she must decide to X or Y happens.

    500 words:
    This is a really cool world you've built, but I find myself struggling to follow because of the way some things are described.

    In paragraph 1, we're told "The rooftop had been vacant when she arrived an hour before, but someone might be watching by now. And try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the glare of early morning sun on the transparent ceiling." I stumble over "someone might be watching now" and have to wonder whether this is a more ominous, big brother comment or if it just means someone else could have arrived at the pool and might see her embarrass herself by raising her hand to the sky. Likewise, when she speaks of a transparent ceiling, I do not know whether that means there is a glass ceiling or if it's a different way of saying it's an open rooftop.

    You could tighten certain sentences by shortening them and being more careful of modifying phrases. For example: "Voices broke through her reverie and she rolled to her stomach, using long strokes to pull herself towards the horizon of the infinity pool." As written, the phrase "using long strokes" modifies stomach. A cleaner phrase would be "Voices broke through her reverie and she rolled over, using long strokes to pull herself towards the horizon of the infinity pool."
    Likewise, " Three girls she knew from school" could be shortened to "three girls from school." It's implied she knows them.

    "Dr. Charlemain said with a chuckle from her seat in front of the monitors." <-- I think this would be easier to read if the tag on the dialogue was simply "said with a chuckle." If it's important for us to know she's sitting in front of the monitors, you could include that in another line somewhere.

    The switch from the rooftop pool to the office is jarring – is this actually a scene change, in which case we need the hashtags for scene separators. If you don't want there to be a scene change, I think we need some language which takes us from one location to the other in the five minutes we know she has.

    Very interesting beginning! I think this is a great story!

    Julie (#3)

  7. Hi!

    Okay so for your pitch--it was definitely intriguing and it gave that title a punch. I agree with the commenters above me that you could use a punch with the stakes. It's given me a Wonder Woman vibe and I'm digging it.

    Conceptually, the whole thing sounds really neat. I'd love to know what the pandemic did, and why she doesn't fit in. Your language makes her discomfort clear which is great--it definitely translates.

    A note before I go into critiques. I don't know if this is because I'm non-binary and I tend to read into subtext naturally for any kind of queer stories, but I'm wondering if Aurelia is coded to be trans or if it's in my head. Lines like the one referring to her as uncomfortable even in her clothes, and her not fitting in the special chair just....hit me as a way of saying that she doesn't identify as a girl. If this is what you're going for--well done! I caught it! If not, I read into it too much and my bad! As a warning, if this isn't a transcoded story, just be careful when describing an all-female, no-male society, because it can affect any trans readers you do have. Just something to put out there!! :)

    OKAY As many people have beat me to mention, I'm confused by her location with the rooftop pool. Be careful with contradictory setting and redundancy with lines like "The sky appeared reachable, but it wasn't." It can take the reader out of it. BUT since that was covered in more detail above, I'll move on.

    You have a good voice for imagery, and I'd love to see you take it further. Of course it's tough because it's only the first 500 words, but cutting out some excess/passive language will give you the room to do that.

    Nitpicking here--be consistent with the countdown from her wristlet. Sometimes it's its own line, and other's it's embedded in a paragraph. Whichever you pick, stick to it.

    And of course, as has been mentioned, the scene switch needs some transition/signal that we've moved.

    Otherwise well done and I'd love to know more!

  8. These pages have some lovely world-building in them, and some great imagery! But I feel like the story doesn't gain much tension until her wristband twitches, and we start to wonder what she's counting down to. Pulling some of that tension up to mingle with the description might draw readers in faster.

    I noticed a few little things: "Below" is repeated in the third paragraph. There's an extra "and" here: "far side of the pool and and pulled chaise lounges". There should be a comma between "winter" and "and": "unusually long winter and apparently Aurelia wasn’t the only one".

    This beginning definitely has me wanting to know more!

    -Katherine (#17)

  9. Hi Emily! Thanks for sharing NO MAN’S LAND with us! Ever since I watched Wonder Woman, the idea of an all-female utopia seems kickass.

    Ooh, I’m hooked from the part “A century after a pandemic killed off every man on earth”. You say Aurelia is struggling, but I think it would help the pitch to lay out exactly what part about her world she’s having a hard time with. Is this a story about her fighting against the world or fighting for her place in it? The pitch should make the central conflict clear.

    I love your prose a lot! It’s very crisp and clear. I love the image of the first line, though I had a question about her being so high up but also under a ceiling. I get a feeling this contradiction if intentional, so highlighting it could be helpful. Also, because you mentioned Aurelia gazing down, I didn’t realize at first that she was in the same pool as the new girls. I think most of this would be easily fixed with a few lines better placing where she is in relation to everything around her. I also think you could use this non-interaction with the other girls to go deeper into her character. She doesn’t acknowledge them, but what is she feeling when she sees them? Fear at being discovered? Anger at having to share this space with them?

    From your first line, I got the impression she was outside, but then she mentions going to the center of a room without any indication she’d changed settings. I’m not sure if it’s all one big simulation, but if there is a setting change, it should be made clearer.

    This story is off to a strong start. I like that you give just the right amounts of worldbuilding without choking the reader with it. I’m excited to see where you take it this tale. Best of luck with Pitch Wars!
    -Rosie (#12)