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Author Topic: Zodiac Turner: The Five Trials - YA High Fantasy Chapter 1  (Read 753 times)
serenawinter
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« on: April 25, 2019, 11:03:45 PM »

So, after rewriting my query, I am still struggling to get requests for my manuscript. I'm starting to worry that it might be my first chapter that is creating hesitation for agents. I would greatly appreciate feedback! Thank you for any help.

Chapter One
The ancient power of Zodiac Turning was abolished long ago, but the tales following had been etched into our minds since we were children.

Possessing the ability to change someone’s Sign was too powerful, too manipulative. The existence of the Zodiac Turners was centuries before I was born, the craft removed by their bloodshed. It was only a story within my generation, but an intriguing one.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts as I stared down at the tiny relic in my hand. The necklace was coated with silt from being washed up by the creek, and its pattern barely distinguishable. It appeared to be a tarnished silver pendant in the shape of a Zodiac wheel, with an aged crystal embedded inside. A blue hue flickered over it when I tilted it in the Sun; it must’ve been enchanted in the war. The enchantment seemed to be fading.

I draped the necklace into my palm and stuffed it in my tattered satchel. It was a remarkable find, and would make for a pretty necklace if restored.

For a moment, I basked in the peace of the forest. Thick foliage and trees were nestled around the creek’s banks and shielded me from the Sun. Through all my exploration work, I hadn’t let myself take the time to venture on my own. It was worth the risk of losing a day mapping for Gardian.

I started walking back the way I came. It had to be late in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to be late for the ceremony. The Officials and Ceremony Master would become suspicious.

My thoughts swallowed me as I traveled and I took in a deep breath to calm myself. The excitement of the night was buzzing in my mind. It was finally approaching the time of the ceremony.

I picked up my pace. After all, I didn’t want to be in the middle of Conviction Woods after sundown. I could feel the gazes of creatures slicing into my back as I walked. I shivered and hurried, pushing the sense away.

“Akira!”

My head jerked up at my name. The voice was boisterous, aggressive, and definitely not soft. I understood who it belonged to. No one other than my sister would have a voice like that. I must’ve been close to my house.

Our meager cabin-like home was ahead, squatting in the forest beneath the canopy. Sunlight cast upon the wooden roof, the shadows on the building shifting as leaves danced above.

My attention was snatched as the bushes rustled to the back of the house. A dim shape of a person sulked around it, sticking to the sides to hide their presence. Fear coursed through my body, and I ducked into the cover of the woods, shielding myself behind a tree. No one ever visited us.

I couldn’t make out anything about the person. They were a silhouette of black, face covered by a hood. My body ran cold as my eyes directed to their hip, their gun flaring as sunlight caught the metal.

We didn’t do anything wrong. Right? What in the world could we have done to have an assassin sent to our house?

I instinctively reached for the sword that usually rested on my back, but I grasped air instead. The satchel was empty. I must’ve left my katana inside so that I didn’t have to lug the weight around the woods. Even three pounds could be a struggle for my small body.

My mind spun as I debated running into the house, but I didn’t know how fast the person was. They could’ve been a trained killer, for all I knew. Why there would be a trained killer at my house, I hadn’t a clue.

I gasped before charging forward and crashing through the woods. My heart felt as if it would pound out of my chest as I sprinted to my door. The person in black shrieked, causing me to jump and collapse to the ground while my breath was knocked away. As fast as I possibly could, I turned to face the person, but had no time to recover.

To my disbelief, a gun was shoved to my forehead. Terror engulfed my body.

But they didn’t shoot. Instead, they sighed. Their shoulders relaxed, and they placed their handgun back into the satchel on their hip.

“Don’t do that, Akira,” they muttered, and relief washed over me as I recognized the voice. They slid their hood off and I heaved myself up with legs that wobbled from the experience. The person’s dirty blonde hair tumbled out of her hood, and her shimmering tangerine eyes met mine. I relaxed as I recognized my sister in black fabric.

“You snuck up on our house!” I hissed, and made my way inside. I corrected my emotions, forcing myself to calm down. I drew in a deep breath and fixed the tone of my voice. “What were you doing?”

“I got back from a spy mission,” she explained. “The Officials told me to go investigate Societal’s base and not to reveal myself until I was completely back inside my home.”

I closed the door quietly. “You didn’t have to be sneaking around the house.”

“It’s more fun that way.”

As soon as I entered, I set my map down on a paltry wooden table that was scratched and bashed up from all the years we had used it. Even with only my sister and I living in the house, it was still in poor condition—the walls creaked with every gust of wind, a January chill leaked in from the defectively-sealed windows, and the furniture was unkempt and dusty. Neither of us had time to clean during the day, with Avia a spy and I an explorer. We both chose hard-working jobs to earn enough money to keep ourselves alive.

“Look what I found by the creek today,” I said, withdrawing the necklace from my satchel as I sat down in a creaky wooden chair that once was the same shade of brown as the table. “Must’ve been washed up. No one really goes down to that creek, except for us.”

“Oh, that’s cute.” She poked at the necklace. Her attention was quickly lost as she glanced back up at me. “Today, the Ariesian Leader came to me for my mission.”

I perked up. The Leader was certainly a big deal. “Oh, what’s-his-name Fulbright?”

“Atlas,” she corrected. “He didn’t say much, but still pretty cool.”

I leaned over in my chair to catch a glimpse of what it looked like outside. The Sun was about half-arc in the sky, meaning sundown was to occur in approximately an hour or two. We had time to burn before we had to travel to the clearing where we’d go through the Zodiac Ceremony.

Avia sat across from me and delicately set her handgun down on the table. Its barrel was pointed directly at me, cocked, but I wasn’t afraid. Avia would never pull that trigger on me, no matter what I did. She was the only person I had left, and I was the closest she had to herself.

“I suppose I should get something to eat.” I stood up from my chair.

“No, don’t.” Avia stopped me, and I met her eyes. “I was told that the Ceremony is going to have a feast. And trust me, when the Officials throw a feast, they mean it. As in, lots of food. I like food.”

“You seem focused on food,” I said, running my index finger across my map on the table. It was only intricate in the sections of Conviction Woods, where we lived. I kept exploring its mass over and over again, despite wanting to explore the other Unions. But the Conviction Officials wanted me to work in Conviction, so I wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.

Avia growled something underneath her breath and slammed her head down onto the table. I didn’t flinch; I was used to her doing idiot things. She always had a tendency to be abrupt and sudden with her actions. I adjusted.

She jerked back up and slapped her hands down on the table. “Can you shapeshift my dress for tonight? That’ll pass some time.”

I got up from the table without a word and made my way down the hallway. She rose from her chair so quickly that she sent it skidding against wood, and bolted past me to her room. I grumbled at her high spirit. Typical Aries.

When I entered the bedroom, she had already started scrounging through her closet to find something her size. I didn’t have to look in the closet to know what was in it. It was filled with only black dresses and shirts. We’d learned it would be easier and cheaper to buy low-quality clothing, then later have me shapeshift them into something apt.

Avia yanked out a worn dress and placed it on top of her bed. “Okay, I want something golden, not yellow. Golden with sequins—that’s the prettiest. If you could add in some swirls with red, that’d be cool. Aries-like. I don’t want the Officials thinking I’m a Libra if I’m wearing gold.”

“I would’ve done that anyway,” I reassured, stepping forward to put one hand on the black dress. “You’d be in big trouble, that’s for sure. Plus, yellow and red match you. You shouldn’t be wearing gold at all.”

“Make it gold, they don’t care,” she fought, and I gathered in a deep breath. I knew better than to argue with her. “It’s a shade of yellow.”

“Whatever.”

I closed my eyes and focused all my power on the dress in front of me. I pictured what she wanted, exactly how she told me. It didn’t take much for me to
shapeshift the dress, as I was used to the procedure for our other clothing. The shapeshifting light pooled out of my hands to the dress.

“Perfect!” Avia expressed before I even opened my eyes. “Now, shoo, go do yours. I need to change.”

I caught a glance of the stunning dress before walking to my room. It was one of the works I was prouder of. My shapeshifter skills kept advancing as I used them more often.

I entered my room and headed straight for my closet. It was the same as Avia’s, coal-colored dresses, all the same size. Mine were slightly longer than Avia’s, but only because I was barely taller than her. We were close in height, despite her being a few months older than me.
I used the same process as I did on my sister’s dress—closed my eyes, touched my hand to the dress, and summoned my power. It was quicker since I had a clear vision of what I wanted.

A dress, black and red in color, was in front of me. It wasn’t nearly as flashy as Avia’s dress and rather pretty, being fairly simple. It was embroidered with ornate red spirals and patterns. Scorpio colors. I wasn’t going to risk it, unlike Avia.

I slipped into the dress quickly. I was graceful and agile, allowing me to get into the dress fast. But my muscles were weak, and I didn’t have the training to gain strength. My legs had adapted to all the walking I did with exploring, but that was about all the muscle strength I had in my body.

Avia was the opposite of me. She had Ariesian training that made her more muscular than a regular teenager. She, however, was incredibly clumsy and tripped over every single thing in sight. I learned over time that a person either had agility or strength.

“Akira! What could you possibly be doing in there that would take you so long?”

I jumped at her booming voice. Shaking my shoulders, I hurried out of my room and into the hallway where Avia was waiting for me. She looked stunning in the dress as it stuck close to her body and flowed with her stride. I was a bit afraid that she’d trip and mess it up.

“You look amazing,” she complimented, and I glanced down at myself with a half-smile. “Your hair and eyes go well with your outfit.”

I leaned into the bathroom to check her statement. My long, sleek raven hair blended well and made the outfit sharp. My one scarlet eye, one golden eye made the outfit pop out and the red in it shimmer. I allowed a tiny smile to slip onto my face.

“Well, that killed twenty minutes,” I muttered, walking out of the bathroom to collapse on the living room couch. Dust puffed into the air. “What do we do now?”

“We could start walking down to the place where they’re conducting the Zodiac Ceremony,” she suggested. “It’s in Conviction Woods.”

That caught my attention. “Around here? Why’d they choose it for us?”

“It could be any reason,” she pointed out, leaning against the wall, “but I’m guessing it’s because there’s another Convictionist attending.”

“What? How do you know that?” I asked. “How many people are going to be there? It’s not like there could be a million other sixteen-year-olds all becoming Zodios at the same exact time.”

“Three others, I think.” She put her hand to her forehead as if she was trying to remember the facts. “A Convictionist and two Societalists, all siblings. One of them waited a year so that they’d become a Zodio at the same time as their siblings. I don’t know much, but that’s what I was told by a couple of other Ariesians.”

I paused to process her words before standing up. “Well, if you know where the spot for the Ceremony is, you can lead. I suppose we can get going early.”

She sprinted toward the door with an eager nod. We were off to the Zodiac Ceremony.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2019, 11:27:10 PM by serenawinter » Logged
rivergirl
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« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2019, 07:22:00 AM »

The ancient power of Zodiac Turning was abolished long ago, but the tales following had been etched into our minds since we were children. This very first line reads like a dull documentary . Get right into the story and incorporate this fact. You want to grab your agent's attention, else she/he won't even bother with the second para.

Possessing the ability to change someone’s Sign was too powerful, too manipulative. The existence of the Zodiac Turners was centuries before I was born, the craft removed by their bloodshed. It was only a story within my generation, but an intriguing one. same here. another info dump.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts as I stared down at the tiny relic in my hand. The necklace was coated with silt from being washed up by the creek, and its pattern barely distinguishable. It appeared to be a tarnished silver pendant in the shape of a Zodiac wheel, with an aged crystal embedded inside. A blue hue flickered over it when I tilted it in the Sun; it must’ve been enchanted in the war. The enchantment seemed to be fading. Finding a relic is a better place to start your story and then carefully weave the back info in.

I draped the necklace into my palm and stuffed it in my tattered satchel. It was a remarkable find,no comma. poor punctuation can be a turnoff to some agents. Get a proofer before submitting anymore and would make for a pretty necklace if restored.

For a moment, I basked in the peace of the forest. Thick foliage and trees were nestled around the creek’s banks and shielded me from the Sun (did you mean to capitalize sun?). Through all my exploration work, I hadn’t let myself take the time to venture out on my own. It'd been was(she's leaving now worth the risk of losing a day mapping for Gardian. (I'd love a sentence here explaining her job)Surveying the boundaries of the king's forest was such boring work...

I started walking back the way I came. It had to be late in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to be late for the ceremony. The Officials and Ceremony Master would become suspicious.

My thoughts swallowed me as I traveled comma and I took in a deep breath to calm myself. The excitement of the night was buzzing in my mind. It was finally approaching the time of the ceremony. this would be a good place to add a sentence about what the ceremony is. The sooner you pull your reader into the know, the better

I picked up my pace. After all, I didn’t want to be in the middle of Conviction Woods after sundown. I could feel the gazes of creatures slicing into my back as I walked. I shivered and hurried, pushing the sense away.

“Akira!”

My head jerked up at my name. The voice was boisterous, aggressive, and definitely not soft. I understood who it belonged to. No one other than my sister would have a voice like that. I must’ve been close to my house.She does't know if she's close to her house or not???

Our meager cabin-like home was ahead, (a moment ago, it seems she's deep in the forest and suddenly she's home) squatting in the forest beneath the canopy. Sunlight cast upon the wooden roof, the shadows on the building shifting as leaves danced above.

My attention was snatched as the bushes rustled to the back of the house. A dim shape of a person sulked skulked around it, sticking to the sides to hide their presence. Fear coursed through my body, and I ducked into the cover of the woods, shielding myself behind a tree. No one ever visited us.

I couldn’t make out anything about the person. They were a silhouette of black, face covered by a hood. My body ran cold as my eyes directed to their hip, their gun flaring as sunlight caught the metal.

We didn’t do anything wrong. Right? What in the world could we have done to have an assassin sent to our house?

I instinctively reached for the sword that usually rested on my back, but I grasped air instead. The satchel was empty. I must’ve left my katana inside so that I didn’t have to lug the weight around the woods. Even three pounds could be a struggle for my small body. Anyone who carries a sword is not going to struggle with three lbs. It's vital this is believable. find another way to fit her description in.

My mind spun as I debated running into the house, but I didn’t know how fast the person was. They could’ve been a trained killer, for all I knew. Why there would be a trained killer at my house, I hadn’t a clue. These last two sentences contradict each other. Either she's sure they are an assassin or she doesn't know.

I gasped before charging forward and crashing through the woods. My heart felt (way too many body descriptions. we already know she's scared) as if it would pound out of my chest as I sprinted to my door. The person in black shrieked, causing me to jump and collapse to the ground while my breath was knocked away. As fast as I possibly could, I turned to face the person, but had no time to recover. (Why in the heck is she running to her front door with an assassin lurking around. She's hidden where's she's at. Also there's no apparent explanation on why the MC suddenly collapses to the ground. Surprise is not enough It's vital this is believable. Why was her breath knocked away? It doesn't fit the scenario)Also you can't face someone if your lying on the ground. This whole para needs to be re-written

To my disbelief, a gun was shoved to my forehead. Terror engulfed my body.(Way too many body descriptions/emotions. I love them and think they are important. you just go overboard in my opinion. They are distracting. Also the gun isn't to her disbelief. She saw the gun only moments ago. no surprise here.

But they didn’t shoot. Instead, they sighed. Their shoulders relaxed, and they placed their handgun back into the satchel on their hip. We aren't seeing enough. Akira is facing this person and still acts like she doesn't know who they are. It's like she's blind. They might be wearing a hood, but she can still see her face. She needs to recognize them right way, not recognize their voice

“Don’t do that, Akira,” they muttered, and relief washed over me as I recognized the voice. They slid their hood off and I heaved myself up with legs that wobbled from the experience. The person’s dirty blonde hair tumbled out of her hood, and her shimmering tangerine eyes met mine. I relaxed as I recognized my sister in black fabric.(you already said she was wearing black)

“You snuck up on our house!” I hissed, and made my way inside. I corrected my emotions, forcing myself to calm down. I drew in a deep breath and fixed the tone of my voice. “What were you doing?” Three sentences starting in "I" is too distracting. Use "I" only when there's no alternative. Already you have to use it a ton with first person. Also she's outside and not making her way inside so quickly. She has to utter a breath before she's suddenly inside. Also there's no reason for her to hiss because there's no reason to be quiet. I imagine Akira shouting at her sister instead.

“I got back from a spy mission,” she explained. “The Officials told me to go investigate Societal’s base and not to reveal myself until I was completely back inside my home.”

I closed the door quietly. “You didn’t have to be sneaking around the house.”

“It’s more fun that way.”

The story sounds exciting but more polishing is needed before resending out to an agent.
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serenawinter
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« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2019, 09:42:49 AM »

Thank you for your feedback, Rivergirl, it is very much appreciated! Here's those corrections. I took out the entire first two paragraphs, since it's explained later on in the novel. I also fixed the entire action scene with the assassin by rewriting most of it, so it's more exciting and logical. I will definitely be getting a proofer for the rest of the book and going through another round of editing.

A tiny relic rested within my hand.

The necklace was coated with silt from being washed up by the creek, and its pattern barely distinguishable. It appeared to be a tarnished silver pendant in the shape of a Zodiac wheel, with an aged crystal embedded inside. A blue hue flickered over it when I tilted it in the Sun; it must’ve been enchanted in the war. The enchantment seemed to be fading.

I draped the necklace into my palm and stuffed it in my tattered satchel. It was a remarkable find and would make for a pretty necklace if restored.
For a moment, I basked in the peace of the forest. Thick foliage and trees were nestled around the creek’s banks and shielded me from the Sun. Through all my exploration work, I hadn’t let myself take the time to venture on my own. It’d been worth the risk of losing a day mapping for Gardian. Surveying the boundaries of the same forest over and over again was starting to become such a boring task.

I started walking back the way I came. It had to be late in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to be late for the ceremony. The Officials and Ceremony Master would become suspicious.

My thoughts swallowed me as I traveled, and I took in a deep breath to calm myself. The excitement of the night was buzzing in my mind. It was finally approaching the time of the ceremony. I’d been sixteen-years until I could finally travel Gardian freely without the bounds of lurking in Conviction’s territory.

I picked up my pace. After all, I didn’t want to be in the middle of Conviction Woods after sundown. I could feel the gazes of creatures slicing into my back as I walked. I shivered and hurried, pushing the sense away.

“Akira!”

My head jerked up at my name. The voice was boisterous, aggressive, and definitely not soft. I understood who it belonged to. No one other than my sister would have a voice like that. I was nearing my house.

Our meager cabin-like home was ahead, squatting in the forest beneath the canopy. Sunlight cast upon the wooden roof, the shadows on the building shifting as leaves danced above. We were well-protected, living deep in the woods, if anything were to ever happen.

My attention was snatched as the bushes rustled to the back of the house. A dim shape of a person skulked around it, sticking to the sides to hide their presence. Fear coursed through my body, and I ducked into the cover of the woods, shielding myself behind a tree. No one ever visited us.

I couldn’t make out anything about the person. They were a silhouette of black, face covered by a hood. My body ran cold as my eyes directed to their hip, their gun flaring as sunlight caught the metal.

We didn’t do anything wrong. Right? What in the world could we have done to have an assassin sent to our house?

I instinctively reached for the sword that usually rested on my back, but I grasped air instead. The satchel was empty. I left my katana inside so that I didn’t have to lug the weight around the woods.

My mind spun as I debated running into the house, but I didn’t know how fast the person was. They could’ve been a trained killer, for all I knew. Or, a robber, but there was nothing much to steal from us, and it was difficult to make it all the way through the forest.

The sound of growling rumbled behind me. I spun around, only to see a pair of glowing eyes in the bushes. My heart dropped and I started to back up as the creature stepped out of its hiding place, saliva oozing from its hungry jaws. It stepped forward, snapping at me. The dog was mangy and feral, skin and bones. I was its next meal.

As I backed up, something shoved against the back of my head. I froze; it felt like the barrel of a gun. The presence of someone else burned into my back, although I couldn’t turn to catch who it was.

The gun shot. But not into my head. It was yanked away from me and aimed at the dog. The creature yelped as a bullet pierced into its side, and fell limp to the ground. I whirled around to face the person.

“Those stupid mutts,” they muttered, and relief washed over me as I recognized her. She slid their hood off. The person’s dirty blonde hair tumbled out of her hood, and her shimmering tangerine eyes met mine. I relaxed as I recognized my sister.

“Did you really have to shove a gun to the back of my head, Avia?” I grumbled, heading toward the house while correcting my emotions and straightening my face. “Idiot.”

“You backed into the gun, for the record. It was aimed at the dog before it was aimed at you,” she explained, “and I just got back from a spy mission. The Officials told me to go investigate Societal’s base and not to reveal myself until I was completely back inside my home.”

I closed the door quietly. “You didn’t have to be sneaking around the house.”

“It’s more fun that way.”

As soon as I entered, I set my map down on a paltry wooden table that was scratched and bashed up from all the years we had used it. Even with only my sister and I living in the house, it was still in poor condition—the walls creaked with every gust of wind, a January chill leaked in from the defectively-sealed windows, and the furniture was unkempt and dusty. Neither of us had time to clean during the day, with Avia a spy and I an explorer. We both chose hard-working jobs to earn enough money to keep ourselves alive.

“Look what I found by the creek today,” I said, withdrawing the necklace from my satchel as I sat down in a creaky wooden chair that once was the same shade of brown as the table. “Must’ve been washed up. No one really goes down to that creek, except for us.”

“Oh, that’s cute.” She poked at the necklace. Her attention was quickly lost as she glanced back up at me. “Today, the Ariesian Leader came to me for my mission.”

I perked up. The Leader was certainly a big deal. “Oh, what’s-his-name Fulbright?”

“Atlas,” she corrected. “He didn’t say much, but still pretty cool.”

I leaned over in my chair to catch a glimpse of what it looked like outside. The Sun was about half-arc in the sky, meaning sundown was to occur in approximately an hour or two. We had time to burn before we had to travel to the clearing where we’d go through the Zodiac Ceremony.

Avia sat across from me and set her handgun down on the table. Its barrel was pointed directly at me, cocked, but I wasn’t afraid. Avia would never pull that trigger on me, no matter what I did. She was the only person I had left, and I was the closest she had to herself.

“I suppose I should get something to eat.” I stood up from my chair.

“No, don’t.” Avia stopped me, and I met her eyes. “I was told that the Ceremony is going to have a feast. And trust me, when the Officials throw a feast, they mean it. As in, lots of food. I like food.”

“You seem focused on food,” I said, running my index finger across my map on the table. It was only intricate in the sections of Conviction Woods, where we lived. I kept exploring its mass over and over again, despite wanting to explore the other Unions. But the Conviction Officials wanted me to work in Conviction, so

I wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.

Avia growled something underneath her breath and slammed her head down onto the table. I didn’t flinch; I was used to her doing idiot things. She always had a tendency to be abrupt and sudden with her actions. I adjusted.

She jerked back up and slapped her hands down on the table. “Can you shapeshift my dress for tonight? That’ll pass some time.”

I got up from the table without a word and made my way down the hallway. She rose from her chair so quickly that she sent it skidding against wood, and bolted past me to her room. I grumbled at her high spirit. Typical Aries.

When I entered the bedroom, she had already started scrounging through her closet to find something her size. I didn’t have to look in the closet to know what was in it. It was filled with only black dresses and shirts. We’d learned it would be easier and cheaper to buy low-quality clothing then later have me shapeshift them into something apt.

Avia yanked out a worn dress and placed it on top of her bed. “Okay, I want something golden, not yellow. Golden with sequins—that’s the prettiest. If you could add in some swirls with red, that’d be cool. Aries-like. I don’t want the Officials thinking I’m a Libra if I’m wearing gold.”

“I would’ve done that anyway,” I reassured, stepping forward to put one hand on the black dress. “You’d be in big trouble, that’s for sure. Plus, yellow and red match you. You shouldn’t be wearing gold at all.”

“Make it gold, they don’t care,” she fought, and I gathered in a deep breath. I knew better than to argue with her. “It’s a shade of yellow.”

“Whatever.”

I closed my eyes and focused all my power on the dress in front of me. I pictured what she wanted, exactly how she told me. It didn’t take much for me to shapeshift the dress, as I was used to the procedure for our other clothing. The shapeshifting light pooled out of my hands to the dress.

“Perfect!” Avia expressed before I even opened my eyes. “Now, shoo, go do yours. I need to change.”

I caught a glance of the stunning dress before walking to my room. It was one of the works I was prouder of. My shapeshifter skills kept advancing as I used them more often.

I entered my room and headed straight for my closet. It was the same as Avia’s, coal-colored dresses, all the same size. Mine were slightly longer than Avia’s, but only because I was barely taller than her. We were close in height, despite her being a few months older than me.

I used the same process as I did on my sister’s dress—closed my eyes, touched my hand to the dress, and summoned my power. It was quicker since I had a clear vision of what I wanted.

A dress, black and red in color, was in front of me. It wasn’t nearly as flashy as Avia’s dress and rather pretty, being fairly simple. It was embroidered with ornate red spirals and patterns. Scorpio colors. I wasn’t going to risk it, unlike Avia. I slipped into the dress quickly.

“Akira! What could you possibly be doing in there that would take you so long?”

I jumped at her resounding voice. I hurried out of my room and into the hallway where Avia was waiting for me. She looked stunning in the dress as it stuck close to her body and flowed with her stride. Hopefully, she wouldn't trip and mess it up like she usually did.

“You look amazing,” she complimented, and I glanced down at myself with a half-smile. “Your hair and eyes go well with your outfit.”

I leaned into the bathroom to check her statement. My long, sleek raven hair blended well and made the outfit sharp. My one scarlet eye, one golden eye made the outfit pop out and the red in it shimmer. The dress stuck to my frail and slender body.

“Well, that killed twenty minutes,” I muttered, walking out of the bathroom to collapse on the living room couch. Dust puffed into the air. “What do we do now?”

“We could start walking down to the place where they’re conducting the Zodiac Ceremony,” she suggested. “It’s in Conviction Woods.”

That caught my attention. “Around here? Why’d they choose it for us?”

“It could be any reason,” she pointed out, leaning against the wall, “but I’m guessing it’s because there’s another Convictionist attending.”

“What? How do you know that?” I asked. “How many people are going to be there? It’s not like there could be a million other sixteen-year-olds all becoming Zodios at the same exact time.”

“Three others, I think.” She put her hand to her forehead as if she was trying to remember the facts. “A Convictionist and two Societalists, all siblings. One of them waited a year so that they’d become a Zodio at the same time as their siblings. I don’t know much, but that’s what I was told by a couple of other Ariesians.”

I paused to process her words before standing up. “Well, if you know where the spot for the Ceremony is, you can lead. I suppose we can get going early.”

She sprinted toward the door with an eager nod. We were off to the Zodiac Ceremony.
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retroisking
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2019, 03:58:14 PM »

I would really concentrate on the first sentence and first paragraph. It really needs to draw the agent in, and I still think your off just a little Smiley

A tiny relic rested within my hand. (first sentence).

The necklace was coated with silt from being washed up by the creek, and its pattern barely distinguishable. It appeared to be a tarnished silver pendant in the shape of a Zodiac wheel, with an aged crystal embedded inside. A blue hue flickered over it when I tilted it in the Sun; it must’ve been enchanted in the war. The enchantment seemed to be fading. (First paragraph you describe a single item. I think this will get agents to pass.) One more note, you mention that blue hue flickered in the sun, yet next paragraph your main character is shielded from the sun by the trees Smiley  Its little things like this they will use to pass on your work.
".... Thick foliage and trees were nestled around the creek’s banks and shielded me from the Sun. Through all my..."

So here is an example of your first sentence or two, that might draw the agent/reader in. Not perfect, but maybe it might help you out --A tiny relic rested within my hand, a reward well worth the risk for being alone in  Conviction Woods. I could feel the gaze of  the(ghost/demons/your bad guys) penetrating me through the thick forest as I turned the tarnished silver pendant in my hand. Glancing up,  a few rays of the sun peeked through the thick foliage told me time was still on my side.Drawing my attention back...
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RJP
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« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2019, 10:41:40 PM »

Your descriptions are really good but I've got a few suggestions.

You need to vary your sentences more. Many of your sentences are the same length and the reader will sort of drone on and on. It's something that I struggle with as well and a senior member of my writing group is always reminding me. Also, many of your short paragraphs are the same length.

You're falling into this cycle with your dialogue tags. You'll have a character say something and then do an action right afterwards. You need to vary that as well. Maybe have some sections of dialogue just as dialogue and have the actions sometimes start before the dialogue. Mix it up more.

I agree with all of the advice you've received about the info-dumping from your last draft and some of the other things. I was also confused to how she forgot her samurai sword and why a person who'd carry such a weapon would say it's too heavy. You have to constantly be checking the believability of what you're writing.

You have a lot of exposition in your dialogue. The characters are just saying what's on their mind and divulging everything. You need to think of dialogue the same way as the info-dumping that you took out. Readers love to piece things together rather than have it given to them. That's why it's always better to show rather than tell. You, as a writer, should constantly be mining for opportunities to sneak info into a scene organically. And it's okay if the reader doesn't understand everything all the time as long as they're not too confused. You have to find a balance.

Here's an example:

"And I just got back from a spy mission. The Officials told me to go investigate Societal's base and not to reveal myself until I was completely back inside my home."

They sometimes call this "on the nose" dialogue. You should try and say the same thing but without the unnatural exposition. When characters talk like this, it's just info-dumping like your prose in your first draft.

You could have Akira instigate her sister's whereabouts:

"Why are you stalking around? You were on a mission weren't you?"
"Nonsense, I just wanted to see you squirm."
"You were."
"You know I can't speak about it. Not even to my sister."
"The Officials sent you."
"Where'd you hear that?"
"It's what everyone's been saying. That the Officials would send a spy to the Societal's base. And here you are, in your cloak with a loaded gun."
"I couldn't risk leading them here--"

I don't know. You and I have different voices but maybe you can see what I'm getting at. And I should mention that sometimes, your characters DO say what's on their mind but you should always be trying to avoid exposition if you can.

Anyways, that's just one opinion. Keep writing because you're very talented and I wish you luck on this project.

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serenawinter
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2019, 08:09:00 AM »

Thank you, retroisking and RJP! I really appreciate your advice. Here's what I've come up with using your suggestions. I worked on the first few paragraphs to add some suspense, and I think it turned out! As for the dialogue, I worked on making it sound more natural, and went through the chapter to take some of the tags out. Here is the updated chapter.


A tiny relic rested within my hand, a reward well worth the risk of being alone in Conviction Woods.

A shiver traveled up my spine as I could feel the gaze of creatures in the shadows penetrating me while I turned the tarnished silver pendant in my hands. The necklace was coated with silt from being washed up by the creek, its pattern barely distinguishable. It was in the shape of a Zodiac wheel, an aged crystal embedded in the center. A blue hue flickered over it when I tilted it; it must’ve been enchanted in the war.

I draped the necklace into my palm and stuffed it in my tattered satchel quietly. It was a remarkable find and would make for a pretty necklace if restored.

For a moment, I paused to survey the surroundings. Thick foliage and trees were nestled around the creek’s banks, shielding me from the sunlight. A few rays peeking through the canopy told me time was still on my side. Exploring deep in the woods was dangerous; it was only a matter of time before sundown when the creatures went on the hunt.

Through all my exploration work, I hadn’t let myself take the time to venture on my own. It was worth the risk of losing a day mapping for Gardian. Surveying the boundaries of the same forest over and over again was starting to become tedious.

I began to walk back the way I came. It had to be late in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to be late for the ceremony. The Officials and Ceremony Master would become suspicious, and the last thing I wanted to do was give Scorpio a worse reputation than we already had.

My thoughts swallowed me as I traveled. The excitement of the night was buzzing in my mind. It was finally approaching the time of the ceremony. I’d been sixteen-years until I could finally travel Gardian freely without the bounds of lurking in Conviction’s territory.

I picked up my pace. After all, I didn’t want to be in the middle of Conviction Woods after sundown. The bushes rustled, and I could've sworn I saw eyes flare in the shadows. I shivered and hurried as I pushed the sense away.

“Akira!”

My head jerked up at my name. The voice was boisterous, aggressive, and definitely not soft. I understood who it belonged to. No one other than my sister would have a voice like that. I was nearing my house.

Our meager cabin-like home was ahead, squatting in the forest beneath the canopy. Sunlight cast upon the wooden roof, the shadows on the building shifting as leaves danced above. If anything were to ever happen, we were well-protected from living deep in the woods.

My attention was snatched as bushes rustled near the back of the house. A dim shape of a person skulked around it, sticking to the sides to hide their presence. Fear coursed through my body, and I ducked into the cover of the woods, shielding myself behind a tree. No one ever visited us.

I couldn’t make out anything about the person. They were a silhouette of black, face covered by a hood. My body ran cold as my eyes directed to their hip, their gun flaring as sunlight caught the metal.

We didn’t do anything wrong. Right? What in the world could we have done to have an assassin sent to our house?

I instinctively reached for the sword that usually rested on my back, but I grasped air instead. The satchel was empty. I left my katana inside so that I didn’t have to lug the weight around the woods.

My mind spun as I debated running into the house, but I didn’t know how fast the person was. They could’ve been a trained killer, for all I knew. Or, a robber, but there was nothing much to steal from us, and the pain of making it through the forest wouldn’t be worth a robbery, anyway.

The sound of growling rumbled behind me. I spun around, only to see a pair of glowing eyes in the bushes. My heart dropped and I started to back up as the creature stepped out of its hiding place, saliva oozing from its hungry jaws. I continued to step away as it stepped forward, snapping at me. The mutt was mangy and feral, skin and bones. I was its next meal.

As I backed up, something was shoved against the back of my head. I froze; it felt like the barrel of a gun. Someone was behind me.

The gun shot. But not into my head. It was yanked away from me and aimed at the creature. It yelped as a bullet pierced into its side and fell limp to the ground. With a gasp, I whirled around to face the person.

“Those stupid mutts,” they muttered, and relief washed over me as I recognized them. They slid their hood off. The person’s dirty blonde hair tumbled out of her hood, and her shimmering tangerine eyes met mine. I relaxed as I recognized my sister.

“Did you really have to shove a gun to the back of my head, Avia?” I grumbled, heading toward the house while correcting my emotions. “Idiot.”

“You backed into the gun, for the record. It was aimed at the dog before it was aimed at you.”

“Why are you stalking around? Were you on a mission again?”  I shut the door quietly in between our conversation as she followed me in.

“Nah, I just wanted to see you freak.”

“So you were.”

“You know I’m not supposed to tell anyone about it.”

“The Officials sent you.”

She glanced my way. “How’d you know that?”

“Been hearing it around the past couple of days. Rumors of the Officials sending someone into Societal’s base. And here you are, in that fancy suit of yours with a loaded gun.”

“I couldn’t risk leading them here.”

I didn’t respond and set my map down on a paltry wooden table that was scratched and bashed up from all the years we had used it. Even with only my sister and I living in the house, it was still in poor condition—the walls creaked with every gust of wind, a January chill leaked in from the defectively-sealed windows, and the furniture was unkempt and dusty. Neither of us had time to clean during the day. We both chose hard-working jobs to earn enough money to keep ourselves alive.

“Look what I found by the creek today,” I said, withdrawing the necklace from my satchel. I sat down in a creaky wooden chair which once was the same shade of brown as the table. “Must’ve been washed up. No one really goes down to that creek.”

“Oh, that’s cute.” She poked at the necklace. Her attention was lost as she glanced back up at me. “Today, the Ariesian Leader came to me for my mission.”
I perked up. The Leader was certainly a big deal. “Oh, what’s-his-name Fulbright?”

“Atlas,” she corrected. “He didn’t say much, but still pretty cool.”

I leaned over in my chair to catch a glimpse of what it looked like outside. The sun was about half-arc in the sky, meaning the Ceremony was to occur in approximately an hour or two. We had time to burn before we had to travel to the clearing where we’d go through the Zodiac Ceremony.

Avia sat across from me and set her handgun down on the table. Its barrel was pointed directly at me, cocked. Avia would never pull that trigger on me, no matter what I did. She was the only person I had left, and I was the closest she had to herself.

“I suppose I should get something to eat.”

“No, don’t.” Avia stopped me, and I met her eyes. “I was told that the Ceremony is going to have a feast. And trust me, when the Officials throw a feast, they mean it. As in, lots of food. I like food.”

“You seem focused on food,” I said, running my index finger across my map on the table. It was only intricate in the sections of Conviction Woods, where we lived. I kept exploring its mass over and over again, despite wanting to explore the other Unions. But the Conviction Officials wanted me to work in Conviction, so I wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.

Avia growled something underneath her breath and slammed her head down onto the table. I didn’t flinch; I was used to her doing idiot things. She always had a tendency to be abrupt and sudden with her actions. I adjusted.

She jerked back up and slapped her hands down on the table. “Can you shapeshift my dress for tonight? That’ll pass some time.”

I got up from the table without a word and made my way down the hallway. She rose from her chair so quickly that she sent it skidding against wood, and bolted past me to her room. I grumbled at her high spirit. Typical Aries.

When I entered the bedroom, she had already started scrounging through her closet to find something her size. I didn’t have to look in the closet to know what was in it. It was filled with only black dresses and shirts. We’d learned it would be easier and cheaper to buy low-quality clothing then later have me shapeshift them into something apt.

Avia yanked out a worn dress and placed it on top of her bed. “Okay, I want something golden, not yellow. Golden with sequins—that’s the prettiest. If you could add in some swirls with red, that’d be cool. Aries-like. I don’t want the Officials thinking I’m a Libra if I’m wearing gold.”

“I would’ve done that anyway,” I reassured, stepping forward to put one hand on the black dress. “You’d be in big trouble, that’s for sure. Plus, yellow and red match you. You shouldn’t be wearing gold at all.”

“Make it gold, they don’t care,” she fought. I knew better than to argue with her. “It’s a shade of yellow.”

“Whatever.”

I closed my eyes and focused all my power on the dress in front of me. I pictured what she wanted, exactly how she told me. It didn’t take much for me to shapeshift the dress, as I was used to the procedure for our other clothing. The shapeshifting light pooled out of my hands to the dress.

“Perfect!” Avia expressed before I even opened my eyes. “Now, shoo, go do yours. I need to change.”

I caught a glance of the stunning dress before walking to my room. It was one of the works I was prouder of. My shapeshifter skills kept advancing as I used them more often.

I entered my room and headed straight for my closet. It was the same as Avia’s, coal-colored dresses, all the same size. Mine were slightly longer than Avia’s, but only because I was barely taller than her. We were close in height, despite her being a few months older than me.

I used the same process as I did on my sister’s dress—closed my eyes, touched my hand to the dress, and summoned my power. It was quicker since I had a clear vision of what I wanted.

A dress, black and red in color, was in front of me. It wasn’t nearly as flashy as Avia’s dress and rather pretty, being fairly simple. It was embroidered with ornate red spirals and patterns. Scorpio colors. I wasn’t going to risk it, unlike Avia. I slipped into the dress quickly.

“Akira! What could you possibly be doing in there that would take you so long?”

I jumped at her resounding voice. I hurried out of my room and into the hallway where Avia was waiting for me. She looked stunning in the dress as it stuck close to her body and flowed with her stride. Hopefully, she wouldn’t trip and mess it up like she usually did.

“You look amazing,” she complimented, and I glanced down at myself with a half-smile. “Your hair and eyes go well with your outfit.”

I leaned into the bathroom to check her statement. My long, sleek raven hair blended well and made the outfit sharp. My one scarlet eye, one golden eye made the outfit pop out and the red in it shimmer. The dress stuck to my frail and slender body.

“Well, that killed twenty minutes,” I muttered, walking out of the bathroom to collapse on the living room couch. Dust puffed into the air. “What do we do now?”
“We could start walking down to the place where they’re conducting the Zodiac Ceremony,” she suggested. “It’s in Conviction Woods.”

“Around here? Why’d they choose it for us?”

“It could be any reason,” she pointed out, leaning against the wall, “but I’m guessing it’s because there’s another Convictionist attending.”

“What? How do you know that?” I asked. “How many people are going to be there?”

“Three others, I think.” She put her hand to her forehead as if she was trying to remember the facts. “A Convictionist and two Societalists, all siblings. One of them waited a year so that they’d become a Zodio at the same time as their siblings. I don’t know much, but that’s what I was told by a couple of other Ariesians.”

I paused to process her words before standing up. “Well, if you know where the spot for the Ceremony is, you can lead. I suppose we can get going early.”

She sprinted toward the door with an eager nod. We were off to the Zodiac Ceremony.
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