Monday, October 15, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Mezher Rev 1

Name: Helene Mezher
Genre: YA High Fantasy


CHAPTER ONE:

My fate was woven from dripping wax.

Incense burned on every street corner, while laments wailed for the dead, and those stamped by the plague. Livestock aged and died within weeks, and crops shriveled like the women who tried birthing life. As lightning slashed its sword through the night, so did my familial mob, carrying herbs, tonics, and staffs ablaze. I was the root of the evil, they said, and they had come to purge the city.

Practicing with the oak-hewn spear that my eight-year-old arms could hardly carry, I did not know of their plans. I did not know that my self-taught defense would become of utmost importance. Then I journeyed home by way of dying candlelight, and I knew that my relatives came seeking the dark shield of glory.

Our Oracle, Rhea, stood at the forefront. When she spoke, rooms trembled like blades of grass. When the embers of our hearth blazed with decrees, she read them with authority. When she trekked through the rotten brigs of our mast-less city, the stares of men possessed a salacious edge. A voluptuous woman with a stentorian voice and pharisaic attitude, she held her staff like it was an extension of her body, carved of the finest cedar, an eagle at its pedestal. Without a single word of acknowledgement, she motioned for me to allow their entrance.

My would-be murderers, sigils decorating their naked bodies, trailed into the house after her. Almost thirty people blurred in my vision, and among them, a traitor whose presence was poison to my veins. Father, bearing his dirty apron and slouched posture, perpetual fixtures on his small, wiry frame--he held the bird cages, four chains in all while his eyes avoided mine. Mother was absent, and my sister too, one of the unfortunate sleeping in an earthly tomb.

Someone lit the wax towers on my table until they wept orange and yellow. The shadows the candles cast on the walls crept like the pervading whispers of those present; they saturated the house with the untold monstrosity of our rituals. The stink of days-old excrement permeated the kitchen, a blessing for their actions. Apron snug on his bare chest, Father deposited the cages by Oracle's feet, kneeling in servitude before scuttling in retreat. His form melded into the dark circle without offering the explanation that I deserved.

I remembered the fire on his face when we washed the red from my skin. The solidarity in his embrace that bound my bones with strong-armed courage. The smell of dough which clung to his unshorn beard, warm and sweet. And I knew that he had deceived Mother. There was no emergency council meeting. He had planned to exploit her lack of interference.

His betrayal was the most monstrous shadow.

Oracle tap, tapped her staff to cease the whispers. In the absence of action, the intruders noted my every breath, my every shake. I straightened my back, though fear was my crutch, its knobs thudding my shoulders.

"We are gathered here today to pay a bloody tribute for our city's cure. Lenaea"--she paused until everyone glared, their gazes as hot as the flames behind me--"daughter of Andrea and Petros,"--she indicated Father, who shrank from the attention--"and prisoner to the light, was destined to live a half-life. My mother's mother decreed this ruling at the conjoining of the moons, when Lenaea entered this world and all was revealed. We call on the Others now to distribute their judgment."

Oracle released one of the birds from its cage. Immediately it pounded its wings, searching for freedom. For a moment, it seemed a mighty beast, flapping feathers with an inky sheen, and a beak of some proportion. Then the truth was revealed: it would never find peace. An arrow pierced its throat before it flew five feet. Father carried a bow in his apron pocket, and knew precisely where the death mark lay. I stared into the candlelight to stave an outpouring of tears. Even if I survived, they too would cage me until my wings broke.

Energy pulsed in the room, a palpable heave of murmurs, menacing laughter, and torches at the ready. I could smell their excitement, their sweat palpitating like a heart-drum for the violence they craved. My fellow citizens, the women who worked in the mornings and voted by night, and the men who raised their children and baked bread with love, had clustered together, a circle of faces that no longer accepted mine among theirs. The table dug into my skin, reminding me that this was real. I could not wake from this nightmare. When Oracle closed her eyes and lifted her hands, prayers began.

"Grant my daughter strength, Healer."

"And mine courage, wisest of all."

"Mastermind of the senses, I am your slave."

I blocked their prayers from my mind--I was a captain of the vessel that sailed for enemy shores; I was a phalanx of the fifth that ran my spear through life; I was nothing when Oracle gasped and shouted, her nails diving into the bird. I fisted my hands, for I knew what was coming, and I could do nothing to prevent the unseen from unfolding. My life would plant its roots within the foundation of our city, and heal the sickness while I lay crucified.

As if he longed to see that vision, Father edged closer. My stomach churned when I noticed the eagerness tainting his face. With my broken nails, I clutched the table; it was solid but sure, a buttress of support.

While Oracle rummaged through the bird, reading the future in its entrails, I tasted the stench of fresh blood and incense, and the noxious perfume of their collective anticipation. Rhea made noises--distraught, disappointed, doubtful--I could not read them well. I knew little beyond the thump, thump dirge of my heart, and the murmurs of a mob thirsting for my death.

All conversation ceased when Oracle let out an agonized cry that reverberated through the thatched house. The flames danced, their fingers reaching for the sky. Every candle caught fire, a flash of sunset smudged light that flared and steadied, as sound as the stone pillars of our theater. The features of those surrounding me were brought into clarity, alight with astonishment.

The fire had introduced another change: one in me. Power thrummed through my veins, gifting me with a strength I had never experienced. Each flex of my muscles and each twitch of my eyebrows pushed the wings of fire closer to the surface. I wondered if the others could sense it, this magic flowing through my blood, whispering to me of the flames' secrets.

Then Oracle smiled, sharp teeth and shadowed holes. I no longer doubted that she, at least, knew what had happened. A precocious child, I had never believed in her prophecies until that night. I resented her, for I did not understand these mysteries. Most children wanted to be told they were destined for something greater, something special. I did not. That was a double-edged sword waiting for when I least expected its twist.

This power was a rapier of force.

"My children," Oracle said, "we are alone in this decision. I could not read the Others' message, so I recommend no course of action."

As if in response, the flames roared.

CHAPTER TWO:

On my sixteenth birthday, Mother decided to chance fate. A new writer was visiting Antigone, she said, a noble woman who used her talent to create a masterpiece, and we were to watch one of her plays.

9 comments:

  1. I loved your tightened up writing with the scene details expanded a bit. The flow was excellent and I think your edits turned out great! I would read your book!

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  2. Honestly, I love it. The writing is beautiful but feels appropriate for the voice and world, not distracting. That's my personal opinion - I wish I had tips on how to make it better, but I really think you tightened it up well. Great!

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  3. Wow! I love the revisions. I'm definitely intrigued to read on. I want to keep going to find out why her father betrayed her and why her. I'm also intrigued my the oracle's knowledge of the magic in her. I love the voice!

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  4. Hi Helene,

    First, let me say that your writing is gorgeous. It is truly more like verse than prose, and the images are just incredible. I am awed by your talent, and it is tempting to say that I don't want to mess with that kind of artistry. That said, I;m going to put my foot in my mouth and do it anyway, because I think that sometimes the sheer beauty of the words might be getting in the way of the emotion the reader should be feeling, of reader engagement. There are certainly plenty of people who would read this for the joy of reading your sentences and seeing the images play out on the screen of their minds, but I think that you might be doing yourself a disservice if you allow it to rest here. PLEASE be very mindful of the fact that mine is just one opinion though as you read some examples.


    "My fate was woven from dripping wax."

    This is a fantastic first line. But the fact that you set it off by itself, and then the several images of burning in the next paragraph leave me feeling a bit disjointed. I want to come back to the image of burning and how that is tied to her fate, but instead you jump to an image of a sword.

    Incense burned on every street corner, while laments wailed for the dead, and those stamped by the plague. Livestock aged and died within weeks,

    Minor pick, but delete the comma after dead. Livestock aging especially with the mention of birth in the next sentence, makes me wonder if the livestock was born and died in the space of weeks. Simplify by simply saying that "Livestock died within weeks." -- As an aside, consider building the sentences to a culimnation instead of dead people, scarred people, dead livestock, shriveled crops, people dead in childbirth, find a way for that to progress from least to worst.

    As lightning slashed its sword through the night, so did my familial mob, carrying herbs, tonics, and staffs ablaze.

    I would like to know here where she is and get a sense here of how old she is and relate the above paragraphs to your mc: "I had escaped (or some better word to show how she feels about the above situation) XXX to practice YYY at the XXX" (of course, put more beautifully as only you can)

    End part 1 comment -- continued below

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  5. Part two of comment:

    I was the root of the evil, they said, and they had come to purge the city.

    If you are using the root metaphor, I would suggest extending that metaphor instead of saying "purge the city"

    Practicing with the oak-hewn spear

    oak-hewn is probably not worth the distraction. Suggest you use oak alone, or perhaps even wood since you are using a growing metaphor above, just so that readers don't subconsciously expect a connection

    that my eight-year-old arms could hardly carry, I did not know of their plans.

    We've jumped ahead and now we are going backwards. This pulls me out of the story. I would rather have you show us what she sees when becomes aware of the mob coming toward us and have her react to it

    I did not know that my self-taught defense would become of utmost importance.

    The situation is tense enough. We don't need to jump ahead to what she will know in the future. Diffuses the tension rather than adding to it.

    Then I journeyed home by way of dying candlelight, and I knew that my relatives came seeking the dark shield of glory.

    Journeyed is too benign for what they are doing. Are they dragging her? Carrying her? Does she go with them willingly? Did they take the spear from her? Put us INTO the scene here!

    Our Oracle, Rhea, stood at the forefront.

    Was she waiting back at your protag's house? Who had been part of the mob? The father? Rhea? Cousins?

    Some dialogue when they find her in the meadow would be fantastic. It would give readers a little bit of respite from trying to untangle what's going on and tell us more directly, then let us see her reacting to it.

    When she spoke, rooms trembled like blades of grass.

    It may be only me, but I'm having a hard time with this simile. It's not only the comparison which isn't dead-on (blades of grass tremble from external forces, whereas presumably she is shaking things from the inside -- perhaps the contents of rooms (phrased more elegantly, of course) but aside from that, what stops me is that I don't know if this is a general statement as in, this usually happens, or a specific statement and we are expecting dialogue from Rhea to follow immediately.


    When the embers of our hearth blazed with decrees, she read them with authority.

    Again, I'm expecting dialogue, because this could be (and should be, specific to the moment)

    End part two of comment, see part three below

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  6. When she trekked through the rotten brigs of our mast-less city, the stares of men possessed a salacious edge.

    Why lapse into generalities here? WHy NOT be specific about the situation in the room right this moment. You've now dissipated all the tension you've built up so far.

    A voluptuous woman with a stentorian voice and pharisaic attitude, she held her staff like it was an extension of her body, carved of the finest cedar, an eagle at its pedestal.

    Very few YA readers are going to understand "pharisaic attitude" do you want to spend time on that kind of a distraction here?

    Without a single word of acknowledgement,

    Why wouldn't she say anything?

    she motioned for me to allow their entrance.

    Okay, your MC was in the meadow by herself, went home not knowing there was a mob coming, got home before the mob, and then the mob showed up and your mc opened the door for them because she was home alone?

    My would-be murderers, sigils decorating their naked bodies, trailed into the house after her. Almost thirty people blurred in my vision,

    Naked bodies -- coming at this moment, that is a big distraction. We've had no sense of a society that primitive up until this moment -- I was picturing something more greek or romanish, so envisioning togas. (Just my impression, of course but certainly the candles and incense suggested that.) If they are naked because that is the norm for the society, then reference your mc's nakedness while she is in the meadow or wherever she is. If the nakedness is ceremonial, them mention, "sigils decorating skin laid/made bare/naked for XXX" or something, or if they alone are customarily naked, then let us know the significance of that.

    End part three, see part four below

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  7. among them, a traitor whose presence was poison to my veins.

    Does she understand now what this all means? How? Why? So far, her father hasn't done or said anything. How does she know he is a traitor?


    Father, bearing his dirty apron and slouched posture, (okay, now we have an apron), perpetual fixtures on his small, wiry (wiry frame suggests glasses when you use the preposition "on" like this) frame--he held the (the implies a great deal of significance here but we don't understand it. Either explain it immediately, or drop it) bird cages, four chains in all (what do chains have to do with bird cages?) while his eyes avoided mine. Mother was absent, and my sister too, one of the unfortunate sleeping in an earthly tomb. (Confusing, are both of them dead? You say only one is dead, but the progression and structure of the sentence suggest both.)

    Someone lit the wax towers on my table until they wept orange and yellow. The shadows the candles cast on the walls crept like the pervading whispers of those present; they saturated the house with the untold monstrosity of our rituals. The stink of days-old excrement permeated the kitchen, a blessing for their actions.

    Beautiful but too dense for easy comprehension and there's a lot of judgment implied in this sentence without explanation. What kind of mostrous rituals involve candles? Or does "they" refer to shadows? Blessing for whose actions? and how does the stink of excrement create a blessing? As a reader, I'm tangled up in all of this, and my brain is doing one of two things in response: 1) either becoming numb and starting to think less about what I'm reading, or 2) losing track of my place in the story while I puzzle out what's going on. Either way, I am losing engagement with the story and not "feeling" what's going on any more.

    What is your mc feeling, by the way? What does this mob make her feel? Isn't she more focused on them than on past rituals or the smell of excrement? With burning torches and incense and thirty bodies in the room, wouldn't the smell be drowned out anyway?

    You asked me for specifics the other day, so I am giving them to you, but I'm nervous to post this because your writing genuinely is so beautiful. Part of me feels like it is truly a desecration to look below the surface of your words. But I think you need to if you are serious about finding a wide audience for this and letting readers connect to her.

    Does that make any sense at all? I'm really eager to see where you go from here!

    Best,

    Martina

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  8. I have to agree this is much tighter. I really enjoy your writing style. But I still am thrown with the eighty-year-old comment and about the mom perishing in chapter one, and in chapter two she is mentioned as the mc is sixteen.

    I must be me. I am missing something.

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  9. I really like how you changed this! Like I said, I love the poetic wording you use to tell this.

    My only concern is, while it is a bit mysterious on everything, is there any way we can give it more? Something about the ceremony that has never happened before that might make your MC unique and have people shocked during the ceremony? This will add more hype to it, I think.

    I can't remember if I asked this, but have you given any thought about making this section a prologue to help bridge the time gap for Chapter 2? I know that struck me odd the first time around as well.

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Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)