Critique Group – Wings of Change

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Wings of Change – by Shana

Part 1

Her feet had just slid onto the dew-soaked grass when a thin whisper sounded from behind her.

Don’t go, Rayna.”

She spun around to see Kara, her sister, peering out the window she had just emerged from. The child’s eyes were still and emotionless as her quiet voice rasped, “Please, Rayna. I don’t want you to go.”

She just tossed her head and laughed. “Don’t be so shy, Kara. I go every day.”

Kara stared unblinkingly into her sister’s eyes. “Father doesn’t like it,” she whispered.

“What Father doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Rayna cracked a grin. “I’ll see you when I get back.”

As she ran across the wet fields, moist stems of grass tickling her bare feet, Rayne thought about her sister. She still couldn’t get how two girls so different could be related. Kara had always been pale and thin, even as an infant. Her skin never darkened past pearly white – Rayna swore she became nearly translucent during the winter months – and her wispy blonde hair was practically white. Her eyes though – her eyes were strikingly dark brown, nearly black, and appeared too large for her wan, ghost-like face. It seemed to Rayna as though all the color in her body had focused on her eyes, leaving none for her skin and hair. Rayna’s eyes too, were brown, but of a faintly lighter shade, and streaked with stripes of orange and violet. A most unusual condition, the neighbors all said. Her own hair was raven black, as still as a starless night, and her skin tanned at the faintest hint of sunlight. It never burnt, however. It always stayed brown.

Rayna slid to a halt at the crest of a tall hill, shaken out of her reverie by a gust of strong wind, unstayed now by trees. She caught her breath as the air slammed into her lungs, whipping the end of her ponytail into her face, pressing her pale blue night robe into her sides. She reveled in the wildness of it, spreading her arms and soaking it in. A line of brilliant orange light spread across the horizon, expanding as she watched into a blinding archway surrounding the faceless, piercing sun.

Caught up in the moment, Rayna threw back her head and howled to the morning sky.

When the sun had fully risen, Rayne reluctantly turned to go. Father would be waking soon. He would be looking for her. She needed to be there. As she made to step into the copse of trees that separated hill from home, two waving feathers, caught in the bark of a spruce tree, snatched her eyes. She reached out and took them, turning them over in her hands. They appeared to be ordinary feathers, torn from the outstretched wing of a soaring raptor, though Rayna had never seen a bird with plumage so blindingly white. It felt right, holding these feathers in her hands. Like they belonged with her.

Impulsively, Rayna reached around the back of her head and unknotted the cord holding her ponytail in place, allowing her hair to fall in waves around her shoulders. Carefully, she fastened the feathers to one end of the cord, trying tight knots until she was sure they wouldn’t slip out. Than she pulled up her hair once more, wrapping the around her tail of hair, leaving the feathers flapping in the breeze, white against black. Pleased, and content with that wonderful feeling of rightness, Rayna continued on her way home, feathers like two small wings on the back of her head.

Part 2

Rayna saw no one as she returned through the window to the small room she shared with Kara. Her sister was nowhere to be seen as Rayne stripped off her night robe and pulled her day dress over her head, adjusting the worn, moss-green fabric as it clumped around her neck. She was tying her faded blue skirt around her waist as the door creaked and Kara tip-toed cautiously in.

“There you are,” Rayna said, not looking up as she twisted the skirt so the knot rested on her hip. “What’s the news for today?”

She turned towards the wobbly table that stood between the beds. Seeing the rough brown top with nothing on it, she started taking a step backwards in surprise.

“Kara, where’s your mirror?” she demanded, shocked.

“Right here,” Kara whispered. She reached a hand into her pale, rose-colored tunic and withdrew a sparkling circle of glass, about the size of Rayna’s outspread hand. She laid it carefully down on the table, dark eyes darting nervously to see Rayna’s expression.

“What were you doing with that?”

Rayna was horrified at her sister’s actions. “This is the last good mirror! What would we do if it broke? How would we remember Mother?”

“It’s not like we ever knew her anyway,” Kara defended herself, her pale face never changing expression as she spoke. “I’m being careful. There was something I had to see, that’s all.”

“See what?” Rayna shook her head at her sister as she went and knelt by the mirror. “What could you see in the mirror you can’t see in here, or with your own eyes?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Though Kara’s voice never changed in tone, no emotion revealed in her speech, Rayna could sense the deep resolve hidden behind the soft tone, and knew that nothing she could say would change her sister’s mind. Shrugging, she changed the topic. “Well, at least it’s still fine.”

She fussed with her hair in the mirror, trying to make all the fly-away strands stay flat. She heard the floor creak as Kara crossed the room to kneel at her side.


Her voice sounded nebulous than usual, more thin and frail. Rayna twisted to look at her concerned. “What is it, Kara?”

Instead of answering, Kara reached out a skeletal hand and gently pulled a thin, golden chain from under the collar of Rayna’s tunic, fingering the fine links and curling her hand over the delicate flower charm which hung off the end.  Rayna had worn the necklace her whole life. It had been their mother’s, just like Kara’s mirror, and was her only reminder of the woman she had never known.

Kara released the necklace, allowing the tiny charm to thump softly against Rayna’s chest. Her expression remained inscrutable as she whispered, “Rayna…”

Rayna saw her slight chest rise and fall as she drew in a slow, deep breath. “Rayna, do you think Mother ever existed?”

“Of course she did!” Rayna couldn’t believe her sister’s question. “We have her things. Besides, everyone has a mother. There’s no way she doesn’t exist.”


Kara’s face was like stone. “Rayna, listen to me. Think. You look older than me. A lot older, ten years or more. But do we actually know how old we are? Do you ever remember a time without me?”

Rayna swallowed, searching her memory. No. No, she  didn’t remember a time when Kara wasn’t there, when she didn’t have her slender, mysterious sister beside her. And if she strained her mind back into the furthest reaches of her memory, she could see herself, being held by an even smaller Kara. She, a baby, Kara a… a toddler.

Rayna jerked out of her memories, standing so quickly her knees cracked.

“No,” she said. “No, Kara. That isn’t true.”

“But Rayna…” Kara whispered, rising slowly to her feet.

“No buts!” Rayna snapped. “Come! Father will be waiting, and we are very late.”

She swept out of the room like if she moved fast enough, the memories would be left behind, Kara walking silently after.


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5 replies

  1. This is a really great beginning to the story, from the first I wanted to keep reading. So, I didn’t scrutinize it, so there was probably some stuff that I missed, but you have a really nice clean draft. One thing I noticed was tat in the beginning of part 2 you said “Rayna saw no one as she returned through the window to the small room she shared with Kara. Her sister was nowhere to be seen as Rayne stripped off her night robe and pulled her day dress over her head, adjusting the worn, moss-green fabric as it clumped around her neck.” The wording in the beginning is a little confusing, I understand that she climbed from the window in the beginning of the story, but for this section, it’s hard to tell if she literally returned through the window, or if she looked through the window as she returned, so if you said “as she climbed back through the window” or something like that to clarify the characters actions. Other than that, you may want to bring out the beginning of the story, there is nothing inherently wrong with the first lines, but if you went into a description Ranya’s surroundings just before she stepped into the grass, this would help create a nice hook, as well as giving a short introduction of her outlook on her surroundings, if she has any feeling towards her home, does she look on it with apathy, dislike or like? As I said, I didn’t scrutinize it, those are just the two things I noticed, so there will be other things that someone else will bring up. This is a really good piece, keep up the good work!

  2. Shana, you did a great job raising mystery and intrigue.

    I had some trouble with getting hooked at the beginning. I didn’t understand Rayna’s motivations for sneaking out. Where was she going? What was she planning to do? Did she have a goal? We finally learned that she howled at the sky, but why? What was the point?

    Because of the lack of drawing me in, I would have stopped reading at this point if not for the fact that I needed to critique this piece. You hooked me later with the mystery, but it came too late.

    I thought the long description of Kara was excessive. It slowed the story to a halt. Also, I don’t think Rayna would have thought so much about these details since they were well known to her. I think you would have accomplished your purpose with just a couple of these details.

    Be careful to maintain point of view. This is supposed to be in Rayna’s POV, but this sentence – Kara stared unblinkingly into her sister’s eyes. – sounds like Kara’s POV.

    Watch for the proper order of motivation and reaction. “She caught her breath as the air slammed into her lungs.” The air slamming caused her to catch her breath, so the air slamming should come first. You have this issue in other places, so be sure to search for them.

    In multiple places, you have potential pronoun confusions. For example – “She spun around to see Kara, her sister, peering out the window she had just emerged from.” Who is the “she” who emerged from the window. The closest antecedent is the sister, Kara, so it sounds like Kara is the one who came out the window. Search for other places where the pronouns might be confusing.

    There is no need to tell something when you have already shown it. For example, “Kara, where’s your mirror?” she demanded, shocked. The “shocked” is not needed since she had already taken a step backwards “in surprise.” In fact, you could take out “in surprise” if you show her stumbling backwards.

    Also watch for simple typos. In multiple places you have Rayne instead of Rayna. Also – “Rayna twisted to look at her concerned.” This is missing either a comma or a word.

    The following also seems to be missing a word – “Than she pulled up her hair once more, wrapping the around her tail of hair,” and so does this – “Her voice sounded nebulous than usual.”

    You should conduct a thorough edit to clear up these and other typos.

    If you give Rayna an interesting purpose for going out, a goal that would hook readers, I think this will be a good start to your intriguing story.

  3. That’s an interesting concept! I like the end of it, when Kara was talking about their mother. It really pulled me in.
    The only thing I noticed is that sometimes you forgot words, or worded things a little funny. For example, “Her voice sounded nebulous than usual, more thin and frail.” I think you meant to say that her voice sounded MORE nebulous than usual. Another example, “Rayna twisted to look at her concerned.” Twisted is a strange word choice. There might just be a missing comma or something, but I would maybe play with that sentence a bit.
    But its a great start for sure!

  4. There’s at least two great mysteries here.
    FEATHERS SNATCHED HER EYES???? Sorry, but that brought up such a grotesque image.
    I wonder if the long details about the sister’s appearance needs to be here. I felt like I was waiting around, while Rayna was running off, to stare at Kara. I understand you wanted us to know what everyone looked like right away, but maybe short details working in here and there would be better? You could tell us how pale she is when she’s first looking out the window?
    I would change “Father would be waking soon. He would be looking for her. She needed to be there.” to “Father would wake soon and would look for her.” Then I would delete the “She needed to be there.” or change it to something like, “If Father didn’t find her (bad thing would happen).
    Four great mysteries. Why is howling at the rising sun important? Why does she look so different from her sister? Mom. And why does Father freak out about the early morning runs and howls? and five: What will Father do when he catches her running off? Pretty good to work in so many hooks in 1000 words.
    I disagree with an earlier critiquer. Kara stared unblinkingly into her sister’s eyes. is not a POV violation.
    My opinion is only my opinion. Feel free to disregard.

    • Thank you for the critique.

      The reason I believe “Kara stared unblinkingly into her sister’s eyes” is a POV problem is that Rayna, the POV character, wouldn’t refer to herself in this context as Kara’s sister. “Her sister” would be Kara’s POV because she sees Rayna as her sister.

      From Rayna’s POV it would be better to write, “Kara stared unblinkingly into Rayna’s eyes.”

      I would also probably take out “unblinkingly” because that is pretty much how people stare. 🙂


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