Excerpt -- YA Fantasy, 3rd rev

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D.S. Deshaw
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Excerpt -- YA Fantasy, 3rd rev

Post by D.S. Deshaw » September 30th, 2010, 2:46 am

Hello! I recently tried to thoroughly edit my first chapter but I'm not quite sure if it starts out where it needs to, if it's engaging enough, or if it's too expository. So, other than whatever catches your nitpicky eye, let me know if you'd want to read more if you picked it up from the shelf at a bookstore. Tell me if it seems like an actual beginning to you, or if I should take a serious look at it and try to come up with a better place to start :)

I also put up a nice chunk because right now I don't care a whole lot about line edits. If you'd like to tackle it for that, be my guest! I'd appreciate it. But right now I'm mainly focusing on it as the beginning of a story and whatever insight you have on that is like gold to me right now.

Thank you!

Edit: See here for recent version!

The high school bus was a moving social hierarchy. The bus driver was mean and ugly. He made it clear being a bus driver was the last thing he wanted to do with his life. School work defined the kids who sat in the front. The kids who sat in the back thought too highly of themselves as teenagers, supreme beings of universal knowledge. In the very back were the kids who wanted to learn life’s lessons through substance abuse. Ayla Elias sat in the middle.

The bus stopped just before her street. Ayla swung her bag over her shoulder and stood up. She patted her best friend on the shoulder. “See you later, Oliver. Visit me. Please.”

“Yeah. I’ll try to rescue you from the sisters as much as I can, okay?” He smiled lightly at her and moved his long, black bangs out of his eyes.

“You can try.” She waved at him with a laugh and shuffled after her so-called sister, Rachel. She was like a parade float as she waved her final goodbyes to all of her friends at the back of the bus. She threw promises at them like cheap greeting cards.

The bus pulled away from the curb as they headed up the street. Rachel walked two steps ahead of Ayla as they passed entirely too narrow houses with pastel paints and perfectly trimmed hedges. Ayla didn’t bother catching up to her because Rachel wore Guess perfume as if it was smog and she was Los Angeles.

They got to the house and Rachel opened the screen door. She marched right in and shouted she was home. Ayla followed her in and took off her sandals at the door. The house was twenty degrees cooler than it was outside for once, but Ayla didn’t care—she’d rather be anywhere but inside.

Michelle, Rachel’s homemaker mom, said from the kitchen, “Want a snack, sweetie?”

“Yeah, sure.” Rachel walked through the red living room to their open kitchen. Eliza, Rachel’s older sister, sat at the kitchen island in her pajamas. Ayla moved to the living room as Rachel took a seat next to Eliza. The sisters shared the same crisp tan and dark brown hair. “Can I have, like… do we still have pizza from last night? Or like some cookies. Did you make any today?”

Michelle tossed blonde hair over her shoulder. “I think we still have some pizza…I made cookies, too, but that should wait for after dinner.” She waddled to the fridge and opened it up to search its depths for the pizza.

Ayla stopped behind the couch and looked at the television as Michelle heated up the leftovers. As always, Michelle left the Northwest Cable News channel on. They were covering another story about the reoccurring therian attacks in the area. Ayla watched the footage from a family’s surveillance system as the anchor talked about the recent attacks in Bellingham and Tacoma.

The attacks started ten years ago in the Middle East. No one in the U.S. cared until a girl in a study abroad program disappeared. Foreign authorities blamed therians—animals that transformed into humans or any other animal they wanted. The attacks spread to Europe, and then to the United States. The news called them modern werewolves, but they weren’t werewolves at all.

Ayla knew therians were more intelligent than the mythical creatures of Hollywood. She’d seen them in action when they had killed her parents. She didn’t remember much, but her uncle promised to tell her everything when she turned sixteen. That’d be next Saturday, and she couldn’t wait.

“Ayla, can you get over here and take out the trash? It stinks,” Michelle said.

Ayla turned from the television to the kitchen. Michelle was standing by the microwave, leaning against the counter. Her apron was a bit too narrow for her chest and a bit too tight around her waist. She stared at Ayla with cold blue eyes and bright red lips.

Of course, they expected her to do everything because she wasn’t family. She wasn’t their maid, but she might as well have been. They probably would treat a maid better than they treat her, though.
Last edited by D.S. Deshaw on October 25th, 2010, 5:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by Mark17 » September 30th, 2010, 11:43 am

I really like that opening image of a moving social hierarchy and I love that Ayla sits in the middle. The bus driver description is a little out of place, I like having him there, to juxtapose his lot in life compared to the kids, but maybe tighten up his description a little. Or start with the popular kids and move to the bus driver.

I would also think about tightening up the middle section. I love the image of the first paragraph, and then the last paragraph that kind of gives me a litle Cinderella vibe, but I think the dialogue and some of the description in the middle slow it down. The family's nature is described well, and it needs to be in there, but it gets in the way of your two big reveals, the werewolves and her life of servitude.

One more thing to think about, if you set a fantasy story in Washington state you are going to invite comparisons to Twilight. Maybe you want that, but you would have to do a good job of making it clear early that people are getting a different story. I agree there's something mystical about the Pacific Northwest, but it just might be something to be careful of.

I'd definitely keep reading because the main parts of your story seem very interesting. I'd just try to bring them to the forefront more.

Good luck.

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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by Holly » September 30th, 2010, 5:05 pm

D.S. Deshaw wrote:Hello! I recently tried to thoroughly edit my first chapter but I'm not quite sure if it starts out where it needs to, if it's engaging enough, or if it's too expository. So, other than whatever catches your nitpicky eye, let me know if you'd want to read more if you picked it up from the shelf at a bookstore. Tell me if it seems like an actual beginning to you, or if I should take a serious look at it and try to come up with a better place to start :)

I also put up a nice chunk because right now I don't care a whole lot about line edits. If you'd like to tackle it for that, be my guest! I'd appreciate it. But right now I'm mainly focusing on it as the beginning of a story and whatever insight you have on that is like gold to me right now.

Thank you!

Hello, D.S. Deshaw. This looks like an interesting story, but a couple of things throw me off.

First, whose point of view are we in? The narrator (first paragraph)? Ayla (some of the other paragraphs)?
Do you intend for this to be omniscient or third person? Second, you start with telling, not showing. Show us instead. I would replace the narrator explanations with real scenes that Ayla sees.

Good luck to you.



The high school bus was a moving social hierarchy (sounds like adult-speak. Do you plan for teens to read this?).

The bus driver was mean and ugly (the narrator is telling us this. It would be more effective if you would SHOW us that the bus driver is mean. He could yell at a kid who drops papers or do something else that's unreasonable. And what does ugly mean? Does he have a surly expression? Is he disfigured with old burn scars? Or does he just have an ugly attitude? Show us instead of telling us. Lots of people have homely or even ugly faces, which is okay with me).

He made it clear being a bus driver was the last thing he wanted to do with his life (how does he do this? Show us with his actions, don't just tell us).

School work defined the kids who sat in the front (instead of telling us, show us -- show them bent over their books).

The kids who sat in the back thought too highly of themselves as teenagers, supreme beings of universal knowledge (the narrator is telling us this -- show us, give us an example).

In the very back were the kids who wanted to learn life’s lessons through substance abuse (how? Show us what they are doing. Instead of just telling us, show somebody doing drugs).

Ayla Elias sat in the middle.

If this was my story, I would replace all these narrator explanations with Ayla witnessing specific things and tell it from her POV -- unless you want the narrator in there.

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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 30th, 2010, 9:17 pm

Nice work, D. S. Deshaw. I thought the first paragraph was too indirect, but its last sentence saved it. Like Mark17, I thought of Ayla as maybe a latter-day Cinderella. You might capitalize Therians.

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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by Moni12 » October 2nd, 2010, 7:33 pm

I really like the comparison between Rachel and Ayla, especially with the image of the bus. I remember how cool it was to sit in the back of the bus, mostly because when we went over potholes everyone flew out of there seats. Of course, kids who misbehaved sat in front. I also like the idea of a modern day Cinderella, but you might say what her relationship is to these women. All we know is that she isn't related to them. Some of the dialogue seems a little unnatural, especially where Rachel keeps saying "like". I know a lot of young women do this, but with the word in one sentence after the other it doesn't sound genuine. Anyways, I would definitely like to read more and I also like the twist on werewolves that you put into especially with the current werewolf/vampire craze.

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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by D.S. Deshaw » October 5th, 2010, 12:51 am

Hi everyone! Thank you for your feedback. I'm going to try writing another possible beginning that was feuled by your comments and other comments to this excerpt. I'll post it once it's done and when it's been looked over :)

A change that I'll be making is where I'm starting the story. It doesn't have to do with school, so the bus might be a bit misleading. The report on therians is also straightforward telling, and since they play a rather large part in the story, I should make it more important and have more impact.

Moreover, I was trying to set up the scene so readers feel sympathetic toward Ayla. While A lot of you seemed to compare her to Cinderella, I've had other people who don't quite see it that way. I think I can use another method to get readers to identify with her :)

Hopefully I'll write and revise by next week! Thank you everyone!
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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by D.S. Deshaw » October 17th, 2010, 11:40 pm

Hi again! I've thought a lot about my opening and realized some issues were stemming from the decisions I had made about my MC. So I've changed a few things and started somewhere else. This is what I've got. Again, not looking for line edits. I just want to know if it's good as an opening, if there's any place I need to elaborate (or delete), and if it had your interest :) And of course if you'd want to read more.


Ayla Elias was fifteen years, three hundred and sixty four days, and twenty two hours old. She ran along the dirt path with bare feet, a frown, and a basket of fruits over her shoulder. She had a natural tan and dark, wavy hair tied into a bun. She had a splash of freckles over the bridge of her button nose. Her gray eyes moved like smoke as she panted toward the cliff. Her dad would be depressed if she missed their birthday dinner date. There was no way she was going to be late.

The trees of Ekarkara towered above her and the smell of the Sound filled her lungs with every controlled breath. She raced by jigsaw houses made of dark stone nestled in the forest. Every house had its wooden door wide open. The anticipation that rolled out of each door was almost suffocated her. Did they really need to keep their doors open just to hear one tiny announcement? The world wasn’t going to end for everyone—just twenty-one of them. If Ayla wasn’t lucky, she’d be one of them, one of the twenty-one chosen mageians and therians that to bear the pride of their species and fight for dominance in this crooked world.

Ayla counted on her luck. Today was her birthday, but today they’d send the invitations if—and only if—this was the year the next war would start. If not this year, the mageians and therians of Ekarkara would settle down once again and wait for the next year to once again bate their breath and wait in dread. In Esagila, the city of the mageians, and Eabzu, the city of the therians, Ayla was sure the excitement was as palpable as clay. The thought made Ayla angry, but not angry enough to let the cold magic in her muscles slow her down. Ayla was in control of her magic just like her dad.

“Ayla!” a loud voice called out to her. It was deep and smooth. Ayla recognized it and turned her head toward the voice. Loran stood in the doorway of his family’s house wearing a loose pair of pants, a sleeveless shirt, and a wide belt. “Going to leave without saying bye?”

She hurried over to him. His head was only a finger’s height from the top of the door frame. His dark hair almost grazed the top. She smiled up to his vibrant blue eyes and said, “In a hurry, but happy birthday.”

His angular face softened as he smiled back at her. “Celebrating with your dad again this year?”

“Yeah. I wish you could come! It’s hardly a celebration with two people, Loran.”

He shrugged. His shirt rippled against his lean and muscular body. “Maybe someday.” Ayla lowered her eyes and sighed—you’ve only said that every year for the past ten years. He chuckled lightly. His laughter rolled like a steady flower river. She looked at him as he lowered down to her. She saw the small bump on his nose she’d given him when she was twelve—she was still proud of it.

Loran whispered, “Well, happy birthday, anyway.” His eyes sparkled as he leaned down and pressed his lips to either of her cheeks. She felt her cheeks flush as he moved away. The big grin on his face told her that he could see that flush as clear as day.

“Even after sixteen years,” he said, “you still blush the same color.” Loran brushed her cheek with a fingertip. “Your magic is an even prettier shade, though.”

She rolled her eyes. After sixteen years, you still like to tease me. She took a breath to calm her nerves and pushed his hand away from her face. “I’m glad one of us can see it.”

He laughed and placed a hand on her head. “Have a safe walk home, Ayla.”

“As always. See you tomorrow!” Ayla smiled at him and he opened his mouth.

He closed it and Ayla watched something like stone wash over his facial features. “Yeah, bye.” A smile carved onto his lips. She stared up into his eyes. The color rippled like rain against a puddle, magic swam against her skin like turbulent waters, and her heart thudded into her throat.


See here for recent version!
Last edited by D.S. Deshaw on October 23rd, 2010, 5:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by erin_bowman » October 19th, 2010, 11:30 pm

I too really like the analogy of the bus to social hierarchy. Like mentioned, I feel you need to start with the kids though. When someone mentions a school bus, I immediately picture the kids on it, not the driver, and because of how you've ordered things, the opening feels rather choppy, and almost like two different thoughts.

What if it read more like this:

The high school bus was a moving social hierarchy. School work defined the kids who sat in the front. The kids who sat in the back thought too highly of themselves as teenagers, supreme beings of universal knowledge. In the very back were the kids who wanted to learn life’s lessons through substance abuse. And then there was the bus driver, mean and ugly. He made it clear being a bus driver was the last thing he wanted to do with his life. But Ayla Elias didn't fit into any of these hierarchies; Ayla Elias sat in the middle.

Putting the driver at the end makes Ayla's introduction seem a bit forced, and so I tweaked that a little. Not sure its right, but I definitely think transitioning from the analogy directly into one of the groups of kids is important.

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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy

Post by D.S. Deshaw » October 23rd, 2010, 5:50 pm

Thanks for your comments, Erin! I actually scrapped that version entirely, though, because I changed what happens in the beginning and that constituted a whole new one.

Here's a slightly-polished version of my first 300-or-so words. Line edits, reactions, comments, suggestions--anything is helpful! I'm specifically the most concerned with whether or not it has any word-building. Many thanks in advance!



Ayla Elias was fifteen years, three hundred sixty four days, and twenty two hours old… and running late for her birthday dinner date with her dad. She ran along the dirt path with bare feet, a frown, and a basket of fruit over her shoulder. Twigs snapped and rocks crumbled under her steps, cold magic padding her feet like shoes. The path winded between a forest of towering fir trees, mammoth shore pines, and colossal red cedar and alder trees up to a cliff on the northern tip of the island. She raced by jigsaw houses made of dark stone nestled between the trees toward the cliff and the door to the human world hidden in its rocky slope.

She couldn’t see the cliff, but she knew it was just over a mile away. It’d take her eight minutes if no one stopped her—except every house had its wooden door wide open. It was inevitable someone would step out and notice her because Ekarkara was a small, tight-knit community. Ayla knew every house, everyone by name, and they all knew her even though she didn’t live here. It didn’t matter to them, they still treated her like she did.

“Happy birthday, Ayla!”

Ayla looked over her shoulder as she passed by the Badal house and noticed her friend waving out of an open window on the third floor. Faya blew her a kiss as Ayla laughed and waved back and yelled her thanks.

“Sweet sixteen, finally!” Faya called out.

“Yeah, in two more hours!” Ayla said over her shoulder.

Faya leaned out of the window even more and put a hand next to her mouth. “If we were in Esagila, you’d already be sixteen, so don’t argue with me!”

Ayla tipped her head back and laughed at her friend but didn’t stop running, keeping a mantra of eight minutes in the back of her head. “See you tomorrow!”
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Re: Excerpt -- YA Fantasy, 3rd rev

Post by Fenris » October 29th, 2010, 2:49 pm

Hello D.S. I have to say I understand rewriting entire sections differently--I've had to do that a few times myself.

I didn't see much wrong with this opener--for "slightly polished," you did a good job! I really like the more mundane slant of magic mentioned here: magic replacing shoes? It's certainly a departure from the more dramatic picture people usually get when they think of magic, but it's a good one. I also like the idea of two worlds being linked together, one human and one not. However, with this in mind, and the fact that Ayla is currently on the "unhuman" one, her friend Faya was a bit of a disconnect for me. It might just be me, but unless it's specifically stated that a character is not human, I tend to assume they are. And since Faya isn't from the human world...it stopped me. Do humans still live on the other world (obviously they can survive there, Ayla is), or is Faya inhuman? It made me curious, and while that is a good tool to use to ensure readers keep reading, it wasn't the kind of curiosity I tend to want in my writing. It wasn't the good curiosity, the "what happens next?", but the niggling-doubt kind, like you can't quite get a good mental picture of Faya, which prevents us from fully connecting with her. Now, granted, this is only the first 300 words. Maybe we'll get more info later. And if Faya is a purely supporting character, we may not need to connect with her so much as Ayla.

The only other trouble I had was in the very last sentence, a minor word choice issue:
D.S. Deshaw wrote:Ayla tipped her head back and laughed at her friend but didn’t stop running, keeping a mantra of eight minutes in the back of her head. “See you tomorrow!"
Isn't 'mantra' a word for a religious belief or chant? I get the picture that she's keeping track of the time, but the religious connotation associated with 'mantra' confused me here. Again, it's a minor issue--if you like it, then by all means keep it.

I hope this helped! Good luck with your work!
Hi, my name's Fenris. I'm a thousand-year-old monster who's broken free to destroy the world. Your kids will love me!

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