Monday, January 7, 2013

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Nash

Name: Erica Nash
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Infinite Betrayal of June Grey

My sixteenth birthday was less about candles and more about death. Not my death, of course, that would have been much too macabre for my seemingly delicate mother; no, this birthday was about the death I would eventually deal.

The death that had clouded my thoughts since I caught my father washing the shiny metallic blood off his hands.

"Just in time." Tuck's voice was a low rumble that ruffled the hair near my ear. He stood behind me, hovering over my shoulder, and took a deep breath.

Disregarding the slight blush that warmed my cheeks, I ducked away and turned to face him. He smiled in that way that did funny things to my gut and even funnier things to my head. Tuck and I had been friends for as long as I could remember, but over the past few weeks there had been this thing between us. It bordered on the edge of beautiful and deadly, and was spurred by the fact that we were Promised to each other.

"Just in time for what?" I asked the question even though I knew the answer. Joining the Guard was everything I wanted and it was closer than reality to dream now that I was of age.

Tuck chuckled and cocked his head, a lock of dark hair falling over the top of the scar that ran from his right eyebrow down to the edge of his jaw.

My fingers itched to trace the raised line, as I had done many times before. My awe, both at the creature who'd done the damage, as well as the boy who'd fought for his life, grew more with each time. It was nothing short of a miracle that Tuck had survived.

"If you have to be reminded, maybe you aren't ready."

I looked around at the people who filled my home. Civilians and Guards alike, living in perfect harmony. If the dragons we hunted were in attendance, I had no idea. A shiver of hatred mingled with fear crawled down my spine and I met Tuck's gaze with a measure of ferocity I knew he would understand. "I'm more than ready."

"There's my girl," he said, a goofy smile restoring him to the boy from before.

Before the Promising.

Before the scar.

Before the bloodlust.

In this life where our existence was continually threatened and war was only a misstep away, children had to grow up long before their time. I was given a weapon at the ripe old age of seven and nine years later, I had no reserve when the need to bust a cap arose.

Well, that's what the simulations would have me believe, but I'd like to think that would hold true in the real world.

"Congratulations on having the lamest party in the history of all things lame, June." The smile on Lucy's face, and the fact that it was true, took the sting from her words. "Is the stud keeping you entertained at least?" She winked at Tuck and he laughed, loud and carefree, throwing his head back to the ceiling. "I'll take that as a yes."

She looked at me then, eyeing me from head to toe, holding her chin in one hand. Tuck mirrored her stance and I bit my lip to keep from squirming under their scrutiny. Finally, Lucy spoke. "So what do you think, Ms. Grey--is sixteen everything you thought it would be?"

She was asking the question I had asked myself a hundred times. With this birthday I would be given knowledge, training, freedom. I would be given a chance to join the Guard and keep those I loved safe.

At that moment, there was nothing I wanted more.

Tuck stayed silent, watchful, understanding that the answer to this question was far deeper than Lucy could ever understand.

I wondered again at the luck involved when our parents Promised us. I could have done much worse than Tuck, regardless of the fact that I was unsure of the feelings I held for him. We wouldn't bond until my eighteenth birthday, but knew I could be content with him.

I turned to Lucy and made a face. "Sixteen would be much better if we could ditch this lame gig."

A sly smile graced her pink lips. "I thought you'd never ask. Stay here. I'll be right back."

I laughed, shaking my head at how quickly she moved through the crowd and was out of sight. "That girl is a force to be reckoned with," I said over my shoulder, to where Tuck still stood. When he said nothing, I turned to face him, unsure if he heard me.

He was watching me, an odd light in his bright eyes that uncovered the emotions he so often masked. He took a step forward, his gaze memorizing my eyes, my lips, before he reached a tentative hand toward my face. I fought the need to step back and keep him in the relative safety of the friend zone or to step forward and explore whatever this was. Letting my body decide for me, my lips parted, letting out a heavy sigh that he caught on his fingertips, before he rested his palm against my cheek.

Vaguely, I wondered if he was going to kiss me, here, surrounded by our friends and family. It would be an odd place for a first kiss, but I wasn't exactly against it.

He ran the pad of his thumb across my bottom lip and shifted forward. Our bodies weren't touching, but he was close enough that I could feel the heat from his broad frame envelope my small one. A subtle hint of cologne filled my nose and I closed my eyes.

When I opened them, Tuck was smiling. "Happy Birthday, June." He leaned forward, ever so slowly in that delicious anticipation of first kisses, before I was ripped from his hand.

"Come on, you two, we have to hurry." Lucy was dragging me through the house, Tuck trailing behind, with little concern for the party goers that filled the rooms in my honor.

If I was being honest, I didn't really care that we were ditching. Many of the people here didn't understand the significance of my sixteenth birthday, but those that did were in attendance more out of respect for my father than to honor my coming-of-age.

As Head of the Council of Guards, my father had more power than any politician could ever dream of and therefore demanded the same amount of respect. He was ruthless and intimidating and I wanted to be just like him.

Little escaped his attention,though, having so much power, which is why I shouldn't have been surprised that he caught my eye just before Lucy pulled me out the door. He raised an eyebrow, a silent warning, but said nothing as the crowd around him demanded more of his attention.

My choices were clear: stay and endure more of this borefest, demonstrating the maturity that Dad felt should come with the number sixteen or leave and celebrate as every sixteen year old should, later enduring the wrath of my angry father.

A split second passed before I laughed at myself and let Lucy pull me into the crisp autumn air.

Maturity was overrated.


  1. "My sixteenth birthday was less about candles and more about death. Not my death, of course, that would have been much too macabre for my seemingly delicate mother; no, this birthday was about the death I would eventually deal." KILLER Opening! Pulled me right in right away!
    CONFUSION: ..."death I would eventually deal." Not sure this was said the way you want to say it.
    "the need to bust a cap arose." - This line seems out of place to me for a fantasy about dragons. Modern language.
    I'm not sure of the world your MC's are living in really. At times seems old...other times seems modern. No sense of which it is, but I am certain it does so sooner or later in the MS.
    You have posed some questions I'd like answers to such as why her father is an angry fellow and how Tuck received his scars, so I would more than likely continue reading as long as you settled on a time period/setting.
    The average reader may flag at the things I've already mentioned.
    I'm not yet emotionally invested in June's character based upon these few pages, and the romance sequence seemed abrupt and slightly formulaic. However, I am aware of how important that element is in so many YA novels these days.
    TITLE: I think I have read somewhere that shorter titles ring truer and do better at bookstores, but I happen to like your title because it almost gives me the essence of the possible theme of the novel. I wihs you the very best with this! :)

    1. Thank you! The story is in modern times and you're right -- I need to clear this up. In the next scene they're driving away in a Jeep, so it settles it there, but perhaps giving subtle clues would help. As far as the whole, "death I would eventually deal," yeah--I'm trying to find antother way to say it. I like the structure of the sentence, though, so I'm having a bit of a hard time. I'm also thinking of making June more wary (if that's the right word) of her relationship with Tuck. Perhaps this would make readers connect with her more.

  2. The idea behind this is great, I love that she hasn't faced battle in reality yet and that it's dragons we're talking about. The romance is done well. BUT I think it needs a bit of flushing out. I would like to slow down and describe more of the things she sees and comes in contact with, that might ground us better in your world. Some of the sentence structure needs smoothing as well. Take a look for unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Show rather than tell, for example with the dad. The best friend so far feels rather cliche. The love interest too, though I like the scar, I'd like to feel his character. But most importantly I want to connect with June and get to know her better in these first five pages.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. I can see how the characters might fall a little flat. I'll work on it!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. While I really like the opening paragraph, upon a second read, I was struck by the inclusion of her mother in that graph who never is mentioned again in these pages. If you are going to highlight her mother in this way so early on, it seems she'd be important enough to be mentioned again. I know how hard it is to leave a sentence or opening graph you love, but I do wonder if this serves the story in the best way or your opening scene in the best way in terms of expectations and importance.

    I too found some of the dialogue jarring set against the narrative. The dialogue seems modern but the narrative doesn't. I do think this is something you need to work on. It can be set in modern times but maybe your style of writing lends itself to less "bust a cap" type wording?

    I also feel like the reveal of the dragons is given too little prominence. I know this is normal in her world, but it's not to a reader and it's only one line here, a line that is in the middle of a paragraph and could almost be skipped by a not careful reader. I know this will be revealed later, but I find it odd that she doesn't know if dragons could be at the party? Meaning dragons can take the form of humans? It seems so glossed over but seems a huge thing to a reader.

    And I think you need to explain if the entire human world knows about dragons and the battle. I'm thinking not given your line about not everyone at the party knowing the importance of her birthday, but this actually threw me on the first read. I thought this was something that wasn't a secret but now I'm thinking it is.

    I wonder if the interaction with Tuck and Lucy is necessary in such detail so early on when you have a lot of other things to clue the reader into -- along with getting to know June's character more before we are introduced to others. I too struggle with the action versus info dump but for me, I'd rather learn a bit more and save the interaction with her friends for later, especially save the interaction with Tuck for later. It's enough to know they are promised. I'd rather not know as much as her inner thinking about him right now. You have lots of time to sprinkle that in rather than devote so much of your opening pages to it.

    One suggestion would be to begin with her entering her party, maybe she is about to enter the room when her father approaches and they have an interaction off to the side that gives us some of the necessary background of this world and the significance of this birthday for her. Then she could see Tuck and Lucy in the corner, gesturing to her to ditch the party. Maybe she works her way across, greeting some of the important people along the way. You could have some interior dialogue about being trained, about her being promised, etc. Then she reaches her friends, have a couple of lines of dialogue, have her look across the room at her father, who maybe shakes his head at her, and have her ditch anyway.

    I know it's so easy for others to say "just do this"! But I also know from my own writing, sometimes concrete suggestions can spur your thinking and point you another way. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for your suggestions, Lori.

      I do love my opening paragraph, but I get what you're saying about her mother. She comes in later in the chapter and we see that, while she seems delicate, she certainly isn't. She can definitely take care of herself. I'll find a way to include her earlier.

      I keep laughing to myself about the 'bust a cap' phrase. I know it seems silly and out of place, but it's sort of a nod to her snarkiness and sarcasm. Her other dialogue needs to reflect that as well, I know.

      You're right about the dragons taking human form. The general public doesn't know, but her family and a group called the Guard hunt them. I had hoped the sentence that said not everyone knew the significance would be enough to avoid the info dump, but perhaps it needs more explaining.

      I like your suggestion about her entering the party earlier. I had a similar thought after reading some of the earlier comments. As I said, I'm just really trying to avoid too much backstory. It's definitely a fine line!!

      Let me ask you this: do you think it would be too much backstory to include a brief explanation after finding her dad washing the blood off his hands? Perhaps that could be the place to explain that the humans don't know about dragons, but hey! We hunt them, so no worries. **Enter party**??

      Again, thanks for such detailed feedback!

  5. Hi Erica--thanks for sharing your work. One of the first things that struck me was the use of dragons in the same story as the phrase bust a cap. I don't know if this was deliberate, but I felt myself immediately hoping it was. And in fact, I want to ask for more of it. What a great spin--dragons in a modern urban environment. I think it would be very intriguing.

    I felt the relationship with Tuck developed a bit too fast. I wanted it to unfold a little more slowly. I wanted to also know each character a little bit better to help me with the relationship. But I'm also not adverse to them already being in a relationship and having them banter and toy with each other a little. I just think that you can't build a new relationship, that the reader can get into quick enough to fully appreciate what's gong on. You don't want to waste all that great tension you wrote.

    You've also introduced a lot of info in a small space. BTW--these are all things that pop out to me because I'm guilty of them myself at times LOL! But you are world building, creating romantic tension, giving us family and friend back story, in addition to a coming of age birthday, all in a very short amount of time. All of it seems very interesting, but it comes so quickly that I don't feel as if I've had the time to wrap my mind around everything that is going on.

    I also like the dynamic of the trio of friends and can't wait to see how that develops. And yes, maturity is overrated LOL!

  6. Thank you, Kimberly!

    As I said in the comment before, I keep laughing at the bust a cap phrase. It was definitely deliberate and was a nod to June's snark. This entry is my first revision of a completed novel, where June's character was snarky and witty and sarcastic and exactly the character I wanted to write, but in the revision (which has started a new way) I lost some of that! I'm desperately trying to get it back with just the right touch, but am having a rough go of it. I know it'll get there! So yes, there will be more of it, and then I'm hoping that phrase won't be so out of character.

    I will work on the relationship with Tuck. I just wanted to get across that, despite them being friends, there's a lot of added tension due to the fact that they'll be forced into marriage. Perhaps this is where I can get some of June's snark back, where she's struggling to keep the relationship they've always had--and failing miserably. A possibility to consider.

    I hadn't thought about all I was introducing in just five pages, but now that you've listed it like that, Wow! I will work on slowing it down and flushing things out.

    Can I ask you a question, though? Do you feel like there's enough known about the dragons at this point? Right after they ditch the party, June has a run in with one, but perhaps there needs to be more information thrown in sooner?? I'd love to hear what you think on that part.

    Again, thanks so much for your feedback! My mind won't stop now! :)

  7. I love snark!!!! And I can tell that you have it in your voice LOL! I think you'll get it just right as you play with it. And I think the Tuck interaction is a good place to lay some of that down--excellent idea. I'm ok with the dragon--for me it was a promise that was big and bold enough to not need an immediate explanation. It wasn't like it could be something misconstrued--A dragon is big. I like the casual way it was tossed into play and left dangling as a promise of cool things to come.

    1. Thank you so much, Kimberly. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate your feedback.

  8. Hi Erica, I like your title. It caught my attention and definitely made me curious after reading the first paragraph, which I loved. Strong opening! I like the MC’s voice, which was sarcastic and funny and not trying too hard. It seemed natural to me, which is great and hard to do. I didn’t have a problem with the early mention of dragons at all. Some of the info you mention early on, such as the Guard, Promising, bloodlust even, hinted to me more of what was to come later on in the story, so they only intrigued me more. I thought the bust the cap thing was funny, maybe because I knew a lot of people who used to say that all the time! I really enjoyed the teenagey phrases you used, like lame gig, borefest, or saying maturity was overrated. Although I am far from being a teenager, they made me laugh. I am curious to see how you will revise the opening scene, but for now I definitely feel you have a strong start!

    1. Thank you! I like hearing what worked, so I know to keep it in the revision!

  9. Great 1st line – scratch that, 1st paragraph – scratch that, the whole thing. Voice, character, intrigue and hints of inner and outer conflict. Even where some people have said you need to show instead of tell, I find myself ok with that. Normally I’d be the total opposite but your voice carries this through perfectly for me. I’m hooked, and although I feel useless having nothing to say, that’s really all I’ve got. 
    Oh wait – yeah the bust a cap line did jar me.

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate your feedback. Sometimes, the positives are enough to get me where I need to go. :)

  10. Hi Erica,

    I loved the first paragraph right up to the last clause, which I think just needs to be rephrased a wee bit for clarity. I would also bring up the sentence from the next paragraph and, unless the mother is genuinely part of the story question, ditch that from your opening.

    I, too, adore the idea of dragons in a modern urban environment, and I love the hint that they could be hiding among humans -- that has such intriguing possibilities. Draw that out more! I love the simulations, pull that out more! Those are your hooks. Those are the things that are fresh and unique in your piece and make this instantly marketable--I think. I'm fascinated by the possibilities here.

    Overall, I would love for you to:

    1) Show us the world. Trust that we are with you after that opening and make us see that we are right to trust in your skill by showcasing the unique situation that you have set up and giving us a better grounding in your world and premise.

    2) Show us more of your character. Give us more interaction more tension between her and the love interest -- but show it, don't tell it. Show us more of their gradual shift from friends to more, poise us on the knife edge of both worlds and the agony of questions that comes with that delicate place in a relationship.

    3) From the opening paragraph, I feel like she doesn't want to kill. Clarify the relationship between that feeling, her desire to join the guard, and the love interest's scar. It feels like there is something wonderful in that relationship, but right now, it's a bit muddled.

    4) Ground us more specifically in the immediate environment. Consider building an opening image for us. Overall, think of this playing out as a film and giving us strong visuals. Since this is a high fantasy, and not an urban fantasy, the settings for each scene are even more important. Give us the texture to put ourselves in the scene by using all of the senses.

    I'm fascinated by this and can't wait to see where you take it!



    1. Thank you so much, Martina. I rephrased the last clause of the first paragraph to "death I would be responsible for." Do you think that works better? I was trying to avoid using for at the end of a sentence, but saying it properly just wouldn't be June.

      You suggest that I draw out the idea of the human/dragons and the simulations. What exactly are you looking for? Later in the story, we'll go through a simulation, and in the revision I've been working on we get that the dragons can become human. What if at the party, one of the Council members pulls her aside to ask her about a problem in one of her simulations, but she doesn't know what he's talking about? Maybe that will do it?

      I will consider points 1-4 for my revision!

      Again, thank you so much! And thank you for this workshop--what a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow!