Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #18: Traveler's Epic

Rachel Stevenson @whatshewrote

title: Traveler's Epic

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pitch: EYE OF MINDS meets PRINCESS BRIDE: Two bickering brothers leap into a plague-ridden Renaissance world, hoping to save it before its creators... their dad and his friends ... destroy it.

First 500:

Vosh swirled his milk in his tea as he hopped on one foot down the squawking stairs. He squinted at the dust hovering in the sun’s glare through the multi-colored front windows.
    “Stop bouncing around!” Mum ordered from upstairs. Loudly. She had to yell to be heard over Tarson banging around on his stupid drums. Couldn’t an intellectual get any quiet?
    “I stubbed my toe.” Vosh landed with a thud on the floor and his tea jumped to slap his chin. Something was moving in the front yard.
    “Ah, see that’s more excusable.”
    “No, it isn’t!” Tarson shouted, and hit something noisy.
    Vosh’s whole family lived with exclamation points defining their entire lifestyle. Normally, such awful din signaled a sense of stability in his house. But this was no time for racket. Not when the world was ending and Vosh might gain himself an actual criminal record. Worst of all, about ninety percent of him was certain Tarson stalked him to the Department the other night about a week ago. He swallowed tea, tossed both his coat over his shoulders and the glass on the counter in one move, and opened the door.
    “I’m going out, Mum!” he called.
    “All right! Be back for dinner.”
    Vosh sighed as he slammed the door. The impact sent all the bells and chimes on their porch into a jingling frenzy. He slid a hat over his hair and twisted his lips as he turned around. “I don’t know if I’ll come back at all, Mum.”
    He stopped short. Blue eyes met his, set in a small figure surrounded by at least fifty tons of pink glow glitter dumped all over the lawn he just mowed yesterday.  
    FESTIVAL, TARSON? the glitter asked.
    “Oh, hello, Vosh,” the girl said. She hugged herself. “Don’t tell Tarson, please. I haven’t finished yet.”
She pointed at a stack of unlit sparkler candles. Once Dalec lit a ton underneath their advanced mathematics professor’s desk and ended class prematurely in a chaotic cloud of smoke and purple sparkles. The memory was almost as amusing as the visual of Tarson dressed up for a formal, but Vosh didn’t have time to be amused.
No one did.
“Have fun,” he said. He pushed past her, hopped over the glitter-letters and dashed headlong into the street.
The universitas’ spire poked out of the horizon in front of the city’s dark skyline. Already people clogged the entryway, some holding signs and waving flags. Vosh jiggled his contacter out of his coat pocket as his feet slapped the road.
“Any update?” he asked it.
“C’mon, c’mon,” he muttered as he skidded to a stop in front of the shoving crowd. He elbowed his way toward the entrance, where three irritated guards in bright yellow stood waving staffs at protestors’ legs.
“The ON are immoral! Vote them out!” shouted a sign holder.
Vosh bent his head and edged to the guards, student identification sheet curled in his fist, when a woman grabbed his shoulder and shook it.


  1. I like that we get right into the middle of a protest, but everything before that seems like way too much action and too many characters introduced in a short space of time. Within less than 500 words, Mom, Tarson, and the glitter girl have come and gone, and Vosh has left one scene and moved to another. If you can focus on who Vosh is, within the context of one scene, it will ground the reader better into the story. The part from the universitas' spire is easier for me to visualize than squawking stairs and slapping tea. You can save the introductions to Vosh's unusual family when he is actually going to spend time interacting with them.

  2. Very cool concept. The pitch definitely grabbed my attention and made me want to read this.

    500 words: I'm not sure what "squawking stairs" are. Do you mean the stairs are literally magical/sci-fi or that they just creak?

    "Something was moving in the front yard." This line is interesting, and then it gets ignored in favor of some info-dumping. How does Vosh feel about the moving? Is he worried or at least curious?

    "Vosh’s whole family lived with exclamation points defining their entire lifestyle." Absolutely great line!

    The first page introduces a lot of characters. For example, is it necessary to mention Dalec when his identity isn't explained and he doesn't come up in the passage again? There's also a lot happening in this section, to the extent where it's hard to remember everything going on and all the new information being given.

    I'd also like more of a reaction from Vosh about the glitter. It sounds like he doesn't know this girl, since he just calls her "girl," so doesn't her wonder why she's at his house and how she knows his brother? Is he upset at all about the mess on his lawn?

    Overall: wanting a bit more of Vosh's thoughts is my biggest critique. I thought the writing was strong and the tension was good--I was quickly drawn into wondering what the threat was to Vosh's world. I'd definitely keep reading so I can find out what's going on.

  3. The first sentence tripped me up with the ‘squawking stairs’ line. Unless there’s a bird trapped inside, I’m not sure what that means. Creaking would work.

    Vosh says he stubbed his toe, but that’s never something we see. Is he lying?

    There’s a bit too much going on here. Too many characters and setting details being introduced at the same time. I think if you cut some of the details out and slow the pace down, that could greatly help.

    Wondering what the ON are, so you got me interested.

  4. I'm intrigued but I'll agree with the others that there is a lot going on in a short chunk of writing. Especially in Fantasy, it's so tough to find a balance of world building and getting the plot going, and I think you've given us a lot of information about the character and his family life (love the exclamation point line!) but I'm struggling to visualize the world at all. For example, I pictured the house being in a small town or by itself, then we're in a city, so my brain had to catch up with that, plus keep track of all these characters who all seem to have big personalities (which is great, but they each deserve to be introduced gradually enough that the reader has time to appreciate them.)

    I think you can take some of the info about the brother (I think?) and dole it out a little bit later. For example, "Worst of all, about ninety percent of him was certain Tarson stalked him to the Department the other night about a week ago." It is an intriguing line, but there's so much going on that it gets lost. See if there's a place you can add it a few pages later on, once we have a feel for who the main character is, what he's like, where we are, and what the stakes are. (Also, "ninety percent of him" would probably be better as "he was ninety percent certain" unless there's a specific reason you wanted to phrase it that way.)

    It's a little overwhelming to follow as is, but it's a great setting and I want to learn about all of these characters, just not all at once.

    You do a beautiful job setting a scene and letting the reader know that this story will be quirky and different. Just make sure you give the reader a chance to absorb it.

    Nice work!

  5. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for hosting us on your blog!

    Pitch: I like this pitch a lot. Good comps, good flow. I could argue the stakes aren't clear, but I don't mind it here. The one technical thing I'll comment on is the ellipses. The Chicago Manual of Style states, “Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.” I think em-dashes might be the way to go, or even just commas.

    500 words:
    Your writing is fast-paced and confident and flows really well! The pace and a lack of certain sensory details is causing me to stumble like others have said.

    One example is the tea. If he's hopping down the stairs with a cup of tea, I can't figure out how it's not sloshing and splashing all over everything. It's mentioned that when he stops, the tea jumps to slap his chin. But it would do more than that, it would get him wet, possibly burn if it was too hot, stain his clothes, etc.

    The exchange Vosh has with his mother is another one I find a little confusing. If Tarson is playing the drums, Mum is upstairs yelling, and Vosh is downstairs, how does she easily hear to respond to his comment about stubbing the toe? How does Tarson hear over the drums to respond?

    The Glitter girl, LOL! That piece was awesome but I had to read it a few times. I think it would help to make it clear the comment about not coming back for dinner was something he says under his breath. I think that's right because he's already outside at that point. The first time I read, I thought he was still talking to his mum and then the blue eyes belonged to his mum. You may also want to give us a few more details about the girl so we know it's a human girl before it's actually mentioned a couple lines down. This early in your work, a small figure described with blue eyes and glitter could be a glitter monster...not that I know what a glitter monster is, but this is fantasy, it could happen. That said, once I figured out what was going on with the glitter I laughed, hard.

    This seems like it will be a lot of fun!

    Julie (#3)

  6. Part One of my feedback!

    Hi there I’m jumping in! I’ve been doing mostly line edits for folks because that’s what’s standing out to me as being needed. So, I made a couple of replies because I exceeded the word count. Please use whatever advice you like, or none at all. Totally up to you. You’ve got grammatical glitches, but all are so fixable. I also loved your voice!

    I wasn’t so bothered by so many characters, but if any one character is gonna go, it would be glitter girl. The mom can also lift right out. Since the story is about the brothers, it would be best to hone in on them and their relationship as it stands in the beginning of the story. Then we can see how it changes and grows throughout.

    Your Pitch:
    What do you mean when you say the brothers “leap?” Do they time travel? That was my first guess. Is it our world or another world? Are they hoping to save the world from the plague? What must they do to stop it? So you can see, lots of questions. Some of the momentum of the pitch was lost as soon as I got to “their dad and his friends” because I was overwhelmed with characters and trying to figure out who was who.

    I’m totally speculating here and making things up because I don’t know your story, but maybe if you just said: Two bickering brothers travel back in time to sixteenth century Paris to stop the Black Death from spreading. They must raise a Gummy Bear army, before their father destroys the city and forever changes history.

    35 words. Not your story at all, of course, because I’m only trying to give an example, but it has who (2 bickering brothers), their goal (stop the plague), how to achieve the goal (Gummy Bear army), stakes (dad is the bad guy, history is altered). I personally stink at writing pitches.

    Your First 500:
    Opening line: using his 2x is repetitive. Suggest: “Vosh swirled milk into his tea as he hopped…” I am also wondering how he’s swirling milk, carrying tea, and hopping down stairs at the same time.

    Can you find another word? Birds squawk. Stairs creak.

    Feel like “multi-colored” in “multi-colored front windows” is a detail we don’t need. Is it?

    I’m pretty anti-adverb, especially early on in a narrative. Can you get rid of “loudly” with a rewrite, like:
    “Stop bouncing around!” Mum yelled over Tarson’s stupid drumming.

    I think the actions in the following need to be reordered. Also, how does tea jump to slap his chin? For example:
    Vosh landed with a thud on the floor. “Ah! Stubbed my toe.” His tea splashed on his shirt.
    Then I’d expect him to bend down and rub his toe, but instead he notices something outside. There needs to be a transition between stubbing his toe and spotting something in the yard.

    This needs a dialogue tag: “Ah, see that’s more excusable.”

    I thought Tarson was playing drums off-stage, but this makes it sound like he’s right there…on the stairs. Vosh is on the stairs, right? Or, did he reach the bottom of the stairs: “No, it isn’t!” Tarson shouted, and hit something noisy. When you say he hit something noisy, are you talking about a particular note? Or a drum? Maybe here you can be specific: Tarson smashed his drumsticks into the cymbal with a loud, ear-splitting crash.

  7. Part Two!

    Two filler words in this sentence can be deleted: whole and entire. So it becomes: Vosh’s family lived with exclamation points defining their lifestyle. But “lifestyle” here is vague and needs specificity.

    This is telling: Normally, such awful din signaled a sense of stability in his house. Can you show how Tarson banging on the drums is normal?

    Another filler word to delete – actual – and you need a comma. You can also tighten the prose. Suggest: Not when the world was ending, with Vosh on the verge of being a felon.

    You have two references to time in this sentence: the other night about a week ago. This confuses, and sounds like you are feeding information, so can you limit? And you’ll want to make this sentence more active. You can just say: “Worst of all, he was ninety percent certain Tarson stalked him to the Department the other night.”

    Start the very next sentence with Vosh…otherwise “he” refers to Tarson, grammatically. Also, using the word “both” sounds awkward. I suggest: “Vosh swallowed his tea, tossed his coat over his shoulders and the mug on the counter in one move, and opened the door.”

    It would be cool if his mum didn’t hear him when he left…because she can’t hear over all the drumming.
    “Head” would sound better than “hair.” He slid a hat onto his head and twisted his lips as he turned around.

    Why is the girl’s dialogue all in caps? FESTIVAL, TARSON?

    Comma after once: Once, Dalec lit a ton underneath…In the same sentence I’d delete “prematurely”…you know, adverb and all. The sentence sounds a lot voicier without the adverb.

    “As the visual” sounds a little awkward. Maybe something like: The memory was almost as amusing as the one of Tarson dressed up for a formal dance…

    Careful with past versus passed. “Past” means something happened earlier in time – in the past. “Passed” means you physically walked by something – you passed it. So, you would say: He pushed passed her, hopped over the glitter-letters, and dashed headlong into the street. Note you need to add a comma after letters.

    This is a little awkward and redundant, “out of the horizon in front of the city’s dark skyline.” You could also tighten. I would suggest: The universitas’ spire jutted ahead of the city’s dark skyline.

    Delete “already.”

    I don’t know what a “contacter” is but I’m assuming its key to your story :-) You also have the word “his” 3x in this sentence. It detracts from the flow. You don’t need to tell us his feet are slapping the road. I suggest: Vosh jiggled the contacter out of his coat pocket.

    Let’s add some physical cues here. I would recommend:
    Vosh held the contacter to his lips. “Any update?” he asked it.

    Comma after muttered: “C’mon, c’mon,” he muttered. as he skidded to a stop in front of the shoving crowd.

    The second half of this sentence is telling. Show me how the guards are irritated. Are they scowling? Cursing? Shouting orders at each other? You start to show me at the end of the sentence, but I want more! “…where three irritated guards…”

    Instead of “sign holder” consider “protester.”

    Thank you so much for sharing and letting me read. I hope my comments are helpful.


  8. Hi there!

    How can I compete with Danielle's advice??? :D It's so detailed and it honestly hit the nail on the head with where I was getting lost. It took me three read-through's of your piece for me to wrap my head around who/where everyone/thing was. BUT I read it through three times because I WANTED to know. I like your pitch--using em dashes or commas will fix the flow of it--and it intrigued me. I re-read it because I wanted to understand and start the story you pitched. Cutting out redundant language and tightening it up, as well as shifting the focus to just Vosh and Tarson.


  9. I love these pages! They're very energetic, and the characters pop off the page. The only issue I have is the lack of grounding--by the end of this, I still don't know where/when this story is taking place. Just throwing in the name of the city when you mention the skyline (or somewhere else) would solve that issue.

    Otherwise, this has some nice tension, and I already have a sense of who Vosh is and who the people around him are. Well done!

    -Katherine (#17)

  10. Hi Rachel,

    I love, love the voice in this sample of your story. It's simply delicious! Everyone has already covered many of the points to look at both in the pitch and the 500 words.

    I do have to add that I thought this story in this sample was more MG than YA, simply by the choice of words used and the way the MC behaved, who I thought was beyond enchanting.

    I didn't have a problem with Vosh swirling his tea as he hopped on one leg down the squawking stairs. For me it just set up that this was a fantasy extraordinaire. Thus it was only fitting his tea should slap him on his chin. Loved it.

    Everything happens too quickly and there isn't time to digest the lovely prose. Slow it down.

    All in all, A great start and I expect wonderful things with this story.