If you have about 10 minutes to read, I would love your feedback and input.
I’ve written two other fiction pieces in my life. The first was in 10th grade English class and was truly awful. The second was the summer after 11th grade and I liked it (as did one other person in my creative writing class) but the teacher tore it apart.
After that, I just accepted that I wasn’t good at fiction, that I didn’t have a mind for it, and I would stick to the essays, thought pieces, and non-fiction I seemed to excel at.
But I LOVE fiction. I live in the world of fiction. When people ask me what books I read to learn, expecting me to say things like “Leaders Eat Last” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” my answers were always Hunger Games, Harry Potter, the Grisha Universe – books that taught me to be brave. Women lead characters who taught me that being liked wasn’t the goal, but living with integrity and courage was.
And then a story idea started brewing. So I started poking around, trying to teach myself how to bring it to life, and I quickly realized that I was just never taught how to write fiction. That there is a structure to it I didn’t realize was there. That character and plot development is a craft you can learn.
So I’ve been diving in. And, if you have time, I’d really love some feedback on the very initial beginning of my story.
Here’s what I’d like to know:
– Do these first 1000 words pull you in? Do you want to keep reading? Are you intrigued by the characters? By the world?
– What do you want to learn about these characters and this world? What exactly is pulling you in that you want to know more about?
Completely ignore any editing issues you see, there will be plenty of time spent on that down the road. But as I start to build out the actual story, I want to make sure I’ve gotten the very, very initial “draw you in” element down.
Thank you for your time!
My people are healers but sometimes that leads us to break. From what I’ve observed, there’s a tipping point. When done right, Roga feels like being in a slow moving river. It’s a lazy afternoon bathed in summer light, banana leaves passing over your head as you float along to where the river meets the sea. You go into your patient’s mind to help them process, help them heal, and it’s like seeing the slow-moving light refracting through the water’s surface onto the smooth sand. It’s a muted dance, flowing and beautiful.
Even though we’re born with this, we have to train to do it right, going into someone else’s mind. Without learning to put up proper boundaries, it can be hard to tell what emotions are ours or someone else’s. It becomes too easy to battle things that aren’t our own.
When something breaks, when we don’t perform Roga the right way or ensure all boundaries have been set before we go into someone’s mind, we become trapped. A raging waterfall appears where there wasn’t one before, slamming us into the rocks below. We hit the sea only to find 30 foot shore breaks crashing over our heads, pummeling us deeper into the churning water we can’t escape.
There’s all sorts of ways to break. That’s when it all goes dark in our minds, our patients and ours.
It’s what happened to Cace and Axelle.
It’s why I can’t perform Roga on Isana anymore, we’re too close. Our minds may as well share one skull anyway.
But it’s what has kept our society going for hundreds of years, being able to help one another like this. Because as our people have learned since the Before Times, pain of the body is torturous but for the most part, predictable. Pain of the mind? That’s what made the the world burn.
1 year prior
“Liiiiiiiiiviiiiiiiiii,” Isana sings. “Pass me the fruit salad?”
We’re sitting around the old wooden table in Evin, Isana’s mother’s, kitchen. The wood grain on the table is slightly rough, the sealant stain worn away from decades of use.
From years of Isana, Dema and I huddled in the small kitchen with the single oven light on, practicing our Roga in preparation for our yearly exams.
From the past 3 years of early morning status checks with Evin and her brother Cace, ensuring Asali, our community, was running efficiently with adequate supplies. From the decades before when Evin and Cace were studying for their own exams.
This table has seen us all grow up, witnessed change as our power grew. Change to ourselves and to our people. And was now witnessing Isana’s persistent morning routine of being somehow completely unable to do anything herself.
“It’s closer to you than it is to me,” I point out.
“Sure, but I’d have to stand up to get it.”
“As would I, and then I would have to take more steps just to pass it back to you. Get it yourself.”
Isana lets out a heavy sigh, over-dramatizing the amount of effort it’s taking her to get out of her chair, the small wooden one she and I decided to paint green when we were 12. Misshapen yellow flowers climb up the chair’s back, the paint starting to chip. I know every detail of this house, its messiness, its imperfections. It’s always had a feeling my house never has. A warmth. A feeling of home.
I live down the mountain, closer to the government buildings, with my parents, my mother Nuada and my father Troi. They’re pensive people, always in their heads. With no use for bright colors and random weekend painting projects. Our house is practical, useful. Mostly shades of gray.
Nuada and Troi study brain waves and neural pathways, working on behalf of the Asali council to ensure we’re understanding how to best use our Roga without harm to ourselves or others. It’s never been a perfect science, but calling Roga a power has always particularly infuriated Troi.
“We did not one day wake up with a blessing from some all-seeing god in the form of radioactive exposure,” I can hear him say. It’s something he says often. To anyone who dares say “power” in his presence.
I snap back to the moment as Evin walks in from the living room and flicks Isana on the shoulder.
“Stop being dramatic before you break my chair.”
“Livi won’t get me the fruit salad.”
“Good job, Livi, she’s lazy in the morning,” Evin says as she winks at me, walking by both of us to grab the fruit salad bowl, then doing an about-face to carry it back into the living room with her, where she and Cace have their morning report papers spread across the floor.
“Mooooooooooooooom,” Isana fake cries as she folds forward in her chair, putting her forehead on the table and folding her long arms over the back of her head.
Isana has always been a force. Taller and broader than everyone in our class, always pushing her strength. There was rarely a time when we were little that she didn’t have a broken this, a sprained that. She’s sturdy, physically and mentally. But her mind is so strong that she sometimes forgets her body is fallible.
I watch her mutter to herself with her head still down, the copper of her draped arms highlighted by the sun streaming in the window, the thick waves of her chestnut hair, highlighted by so much time at the beach, cascading over her end of the table.
There were times when we were little that I would look at her and wonder why I couldn’t be as full of fire. But in the past few years, we’ve gotten to a place where we know what strengths and weaknesses of our own complement each other. She leans on my strength for detail, for strategy. I lean on her strength to get things done. When she wants to.
“You’re being impossible, Isana,” Evin chuckles from the other room. “And you two are about to be late anyway.”
Isana’s head snaps up. She does this every morning, switching from her morning lethargy to work mode. She pushes back from the table, scraping the chair legs along the floor, standing up and shooting her arms above her to stretch her long torso.
She leans left and twists, leans the other way and twists, rotates her head left to right, does a quick jumping jack, snaps her fingers four times, puts her right hand over her left to stretch her left wrist, does the mirrored move on her right, then stares down at me.
“What?” she says, like this ritual she does every morning is normal.
“Love you, Isa,” I say as I get up from the table quietly, lift my chair back toward the table so the legs don’t scrape, and walk into the living room to say goodbye to Evin.
Cace is sitting on the couch to her left, picking out mango from the bowl in Evin’s lap with his thumb and forefinger as they both look at the morning report papers strewn across the floor.
“You do know that you can get all of these on the tablet, right?” I didn’t even know there was this much paper available. I can’t imagine how we’ve been able to recycle enough for them to keep printing these stacks every day.
“I never feel like I can get a full view of everything on one screen,” Cace says as he picks through the bowl for a piece of pineapple.
“Here’s a thought – multiple screens,” Isana says as she walks into the room. “And where’s Dema? He’s usually here by now.”
“He had to take Malu to his class orientation, he starts academy next season,” I tell her.
“Aw little Malu! Do you remember how ugly he was when he was born? Looked like a little alien. And now he’s all grown up and handsome and starting academy.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Dema that you think his brother looked like an alien, Isana,” chuckles Cace.
“Dema said it first, this is not news,” Isana says as she makes her way through the maze of papers to give her mother and uncle hugs goodbye, then gingerly steps back through the stacks toward where I’m standing near the front door.
I’ve always been a keen audience to how they interact, the ease they experience with one another. The openness they enjoy, even in the harmless quips they toss each other’s way. Observing them is how I learned how families could interact, were family time not just another study in human minds.
Isana grabs her satchel from one of the wall hooks and loops her arm in mine to forcefully guide me outside, both of our shoulders bumping against the door frame as she uses her foot to swing the door forward.
“Later, loves!” she calls back to Evin and Cace before turning back toward me. “Allright, quiz me. I know you remember this stuff better than I do.”
We have a surprise quiz later today, although it’s hard to surprise any of us when Blaz, our instructor, radiates stress whenever she’s planning out tests. She knows memorization does little for us when Roga is such an experiential craft, but the council insists we spend our final year in academy grounding our practice in history and neuroscience theory.
“The original name for Roga in the Before Times was?”
“Empathic influence. Give me a harder one.”
“Emotional processing takes place in which part of the brain?”
“Which is part of the?”
Her chin shifts toward me, her eyebrows furrowing. “The brain…” she says slowly.
“Right but what system?”
“Oh, the limbic system.”
“Correct, which is part of the?”
“Lobe. Temporal lobe.”
We go back and forth like this for a while, meandering down the gravel road away from her house toward Asali’s center, the ocean beyond remaining in our sight as our elevation decreases.
We’ve been walking this way for ten years, ever since we entered the academy together right after our tenth birthdays, mine just a month before hers. We were both summer children, born when the sun was at its hottest and the sea at its calmest.