Untitled Young Adult Fantasy

My father tried to kill me and my mother.

This is the reminder I repeat during my training sessions.

I finished practice by swinging my staff in a front thrust and then an uppercut. I held my stance for a moment before coming to resting position. Sweat dripped onto my eyelashes. When I swiped them with the back of my hand, the sweat smeared across my eyelids. It was hot in the barn, but we had to keep the doors shut. No one was supposed to know what we were doing.

I was two years old when my father tried to kill me.

When my uncle, a former soldier in the king’s army, pushed me hard to train, my mantra kept me focused. My mother almost sacrificed her life to save me. I vowed my father would never hurt me or my family again.

“Come on, Vin. One more round before we go and check the rabbit traps.” Uncle Samson also nodded as another form of encouragement.

My uncle did not partake in idle conversation, but if the topic had anything to do with weapons, fighting, or horsemanship, he could be moved to speak with a confidence and authority that compelled you to pay attention.

He liked to call me by my nickname when he was pleased. When I handled the staff with precision and accuracy, I spoke my uncle’s language. The better I was with anything he taught me—weapons and fighting in particular—the better things stood between us. It was how we communicated most times.

I was very fluent in my uncle’s language.

He called me by my full name Vivian when he was not pleased. I hated to admit that I liked the endearment better, but my uncle was fair and was always patient, so I did my best to follow his teachings.

I’m seventeen years old now. My uncle, who is my mother’s brother, thought I was satisfactory with the staff, but not nearly as proficient with the long knife or bow. I held the staff so that it was separated into thirds and resumed my practice. I swung it through some forms—overhead front strike, four point strike, overhead rib strike. The staff cut through the air as I struck an imaginary opponent.

If only it wasn’t so damn hot. Flickering memories of being trapped in a modest cottage surrounded by smoke and suffocated by heat played with my senses. I forced the memories away and tightened my grip on the staff, the weight of it anchoring me to the present. I reminded myself, I’m not that little girl anymore.

As if reading my mind, Uncle Samson’s expression softened, and he said, “Maybe you can take a dip in the pond too when we’re done.”

I nodded my acknowledgement, focusing instead on my technique. I switched to a narrow hold—fists a few inches apart positioned at the center and moved to horse stance. I closed my eyes and lead the staff in a rowing figure eight motion. I concentrated on the weight and balance of the staff as it glided through the circular motions. My uncle taught me that a weapon is not a tool, but an extension of yourself. “How you use your weapon and how you treat it will determine your success with it,” he always said.

My weapons will be used to protect those I love. My weapons are treated with care and respect. As for success, it is up to me to be successful.

My father tried to kill me and my mother.

Whenever I tried to find out more about my father, my mother and uncle would only say that he was a very powerful man. My grandfather hinted once that my father was of noble blood. Someone from the palace. My grandfather used to be one of the top physicians there. My mother was upset for days after my grandfather’s slip-up. She assured me that I would learn the truth soon enough, but for now, I had to stay hidden and learn how to fight and protect myself.

My uncle’s voice cut through my wandering thoughts. “Be present in your actions, Vivian.”

I cleared my thoughts of my father. I opened my eyes, but kept my expression blank. Making excuses only earned more practice time. Action with purpose. That’s what mattered most to my uncle.

I raised the staff over my head, swinging it down in a striking motion toward my imaginary opponent’s ribs. I swung again, pivoting my hips and keeping my staff parallel to the ground, hitting the same point as before. I lifted up my knee and pulled my staff back in order to lunge and thrust the staff forward. I lifted up my knee again to repeat the stabbing technique, but stopped when I heard a crunch—a foot step—on dried leaves outside the barn.

My eyes darted to my uncle and we waited another moment. When the footsteps grew louder, signaling someone coming closer, I turned and sat on a bale of hay near one of the stalls. My uncle threw a smoothing cloth at me and then he grabbed a pitchfork from another stall.

One of the doors to the barn opened and the farmer’s daughter poked her head inside. She frowned. “Goodness, it’s hot in here!” She opened the other one and I was grateful for the cool air that floated through the barn. “If your uncle wasn’t here, I’d think you were up to no good, Vin.”

“Good afternoon, Miss Lena.” She was the same age as me, but we were opposites in appearance. She had long hair the color of corn silk, fair skin, and a generous figure. I was tall, lean and had short dark hair. I returned my attention to the staff, using the smoothing cloth to polish it. She stood in front of me, her lips pinched to one corner.

She liked to tease the boys in the village, but I never took the bait. I think she would probably be upset if she found out I was not a boy.

8 thoughts on “Untitled Young Adult Fantasy

  1. terah7 says:

    I read the entire excerpt. I really enjoyed this and truly believe you’ve got something here. I was drawn in by the voice of the MC and I’m definitely intrigued and would read more.

    This is just my opinion but I would start the story in a different place. Instead of the first sentence, open with: I was two years old when my father tried to kill me. Then go into the third paragraph that starts with I finished practice…the first two sentences are not necessary. This immediately pulls the reader in and provides a serious of questions. Why did her father try to kill her? What is she practicing for? To kill her father?

    You need to tighten your writing a little more. Doing so will help with voice. I found several sentences unnecessary and told me something instead of showing me. For example, entire exchange about the uncle can be summed up into one or two paragraphs, not five. It slowed down the story to me. All of the talk about her father and the staff also weighted down the story. Sprinkle in details and move on. At this point in the story, you want the reader to begin to care about your MC. Show conflict and keep the story moving forward.

    I think you missed a great opportunity to show how Vin is not a girl anymore. Try this: To my uncle, my mother’s brother, I proved satisfactory with the staff. Holding it so separated into thirds, I resumed my practice. I swung it through some forms—overhead front strike, four point strike, overhead rib strike. The staff cut through the air as I struck an imaginary opponent. Flickering memories of being trapped in a modest cottage surrounded by smoke and suffocated by heat played with my senses. I tightened my grip on the staff, the weight of it anchoring me to the present. I’m not that little girl anymore.

    Overall, I really wish you the best with this and I hope my feedback helps you.

    • Jennifer F. Santucci says:

      Thank you, Terah7 for your feedback. Your comments are very helpful.

      I like moving around the line “I was two years old when my father tried to kill me” to the beginning. I agree that it’s a better hook and will probably pull the reader in faster. After I posted the submission, the thought crossed my mind, but it was already done.

      Tightness and precision in narration is always something I’m working on improving. I like your suggestion of tightening up the details about the uncle, father, and the staff. The trick is finding the right balance. I’ll have to figure out when and what to leave in the beginning and which details can be moved later. I don’t want to leave the reader confused or worse, they might not really care about the MC because there’s no conflict or reason to care about her.

      I’d like to clarify your suggestion about showing that Vin is not a little* girl anymore. (*You left out “little”. I’m assuming it’s a typo in your original response because she doesn’t stop being a girl in the story.) Your example tightens up two paragraphs. It seems moving that information closer to the beginning might flow better with the opening, or just the detail about not being a little girl anymore. Is that what you meant? Or did you mean just tightening up that section so that line about not being a little girl has more punch? (I suppose either way, it would help strengthen Vin’s characterization at the beginning.)

      Thank you again, Terah7. I really appreciate your taking the time to read the whole submission and critiquing it.

  2. Bjorn Schievers says:

    As soon as I read the line “I was two years old when my father tried to kill me”, I felt that would be a much better opening line. It says more, and it hurts more.

    Reading how she practices with the staff gives me the impression we’re in Asia. The master teaching his student made me think of the dedication of a Samurai or a martial arts person. The fact that her father is someone of noble blood, from the palace, who tried to kill them both made me wonder if she’s the illegitimate child of an Emperor or something along those lines.

    In any case I love how she’s in hiding as a boy and training for combat. Clearly it’s unsafe for her to be revealed, and all the training promises we’ll get to see some real action later on. You have me as hooked as Eliza Worner!

    As much as I enjoy the master-student relationship I felt the training with the staff lasted a little too long. I’d make it shorter or put something else in there that makes it more interesting to keep reading the moves.

    I just looked at Terah’s comment and agree I’d cut out the first two lines and go straight from the new opening line to the third paragraph. She makes some great suggestions.

    This is my second favorite opening, after Eliza’s, of the whole series so far. And if you rewrite it or move paragraphs around I’d be very willing to read it again!

    • Jennifer F. Santucci says:

      Thank you so much, Bjorn for responding!

      It’s interesting that you pointed out that her training and lineage gave you the impression that this takes place in Asia. I’m still working on the world building details, but parts of my story (specifically Vivian) are inspired by history sourced from Asia. I didn’t realize it was coming through in my writing. I’ll have to take that into consideration as I continue to work on the world building aspect because I like the idea of going in that direction.

      I also agree with tightening up the staff training scene. I was trying to give some authority to her skill as a weapons master, but perhaps it’s too much in the beginning. One of the genre characteristics of YA Fantasy with a warrior heroine is that she can handle a weapon, but I’ve often found that it’s glossed over or told to the reader rather then shown which I feel hurts the character’s credibility.

      Thank you again, Bjorn!

  3. Dean Juday says:

    So I read all the way through. I liked the voice although I feel the narrative could have been trimmed up a bit. I felt like mentioning her father was of noble blood would have been put into dialogue or a plot point. Other than that, keep up the good work!

  4. Eliza Worner says:

    Definitely a good story developing. Very intriguing. So many questions raised that make me want to keep reading. Is she going to hunt her father down or is she waiting for him to return? Who is he? Under what circumstances did her mother get pregnant? Lots of good story to come and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I agree with others about tightening it up a bit and moving that opening sentence.

    The one thing I wouldn’t mind knowing a little more about right now is setting. I can’t get a feel for the time period. Is it medieval, futuristic, steampunk… I’d like to know a little more about the village they live in so I can place the barn on a mental landscape.

    • Jennifer F. Santucci says:

      Thank you for your critique, Eliza! I really appreciate your input.

      Like Bjorn pointed out, I need to work on the setting for this story. It’s vague in my mind and I didn’t realize it was coming through in my writing too. Vivian is partly inspired by a couple Asian legends and I like the idea of taking the setting in that direction. (Thanks Bjorn again!) I stayed so late last night researching social heirarchies and myths. I’m exhausted, but so excited to tackle this part of my story because now I have ideas!

      Thanks again!

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