Monday, May 6, 2013

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Noser

Name: Ann M. Noser
Genre: YA fantasy, 60,000 word count
Title: Desiderata

Prologue – To Find the Perfect Girl

Wesley’s hands trembled as solutions in glass flasks percolated. Yellow, orange, and green fluids coursed through tubing and collected in glass beakers.

Please be a match.

The collected samples of hair from the prince and the maiden in question, curled together in a small cauldron upon the tripod. Wesley carefully added the distilled concoctions, turned up the flame underneath, then stepped back.

I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

The cauldron steamed in the sweltering laboratory. As the experiment rose to a boil, Wesley’s heart raced.

She could be the one. Then this would all be over.

Wesley’s unruly hair fell into his eyes. He swiped the damp strands away before extinguishing the flame. He watched the solution cool as sweat ran down his neck.

Please be red. Please put an end to this.

The fluid continued to bubble for a long while, turning from purple to pink to...

Red! It’s going to be red! Finally—I am saved!

With a loud belch, the solution curdled and turned black. And stayed that way.

Wesley dropped his head in his hands.

I better warn that sweet girl before Duncan gets a hold of her.

Chapter One - Garden Secrets

“Shoo, or you’ll be our dinner!” Maria hoisted up her long skirts and raced towards a deer savoring her garden.

The deer’s head popped up, ears quivering.

Maria picked up a half-eaten apple and lobbed it far over the deer’s head. “And stay out!”

The animal hurried after the luscious apple.

“You weren’t trying to hit that poor creature, were you?” Anna set down her gardening tools.

“No, but I should’ve.”

Anna shot Maria a reproachful glance. “It’s just hungry, after all. You know what that’s like, don’t you?”

“Don’t scold me. I gave it an apple, didn’t I?” Maria picked her way to the edge of the garden and fussed with the rusty hinges of a broken gate. “We’ll have to fix this if we want to keep those pests out.”

Anna glanced around and whispered, “You know what they say in town about our garden, don’t you?”

Maria snorted. “What do they say, Anna? That it’s a pity to see a noble family reduced to selling berries to get by? That it must be magic we can grow anything in here with our fence in shambles and a broken gate?”

Anna smiled. “At least that much is true.”

“Well, magic won’t help us with this gate. Come over her and give me a hand. Or two.”

Both girls grappled with the broken gate. Finally, after much sweating and swearing (both on Maria’s part, Anna did nothing of the sort), Maria gave the gate a final heft and slid the bolt back into place.

Maria grinned. “That’ll keep those thieving buggars out!”

“But look at that poor deer.” Anna nodded towards the dejected looking creature, gazing longingly at their garden. “It still looks hungry.”

“You’re ridiculous!” Maria wiped at a dirty spot on her gown.

“And look at you!” Anna gasped. “Mother will have a fit! Your dress has rents and stains all over it!”

“I know it. Oh, bother, there’s no point.” Maria stopped fussing with her gown, glanced at the deer, then sighed. “At least I can make someone happy.”

Maria put her hand to the gate. It opened with a rusty creak. She stepped forward, moving towards the pine forest that surrounded their modest, crumbling estate. Once she reached the deer, she settled down cross legged, facing it. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and brushed her open hands slowly back and forth just above the scraggly grass and weeds. After a moment, small shoots of hosta leaves sprouted forth from the ground. Maria repeated these motions until a dozen full-grown plants were formed.

Anna scanned the horizon. “Stop showing off, Maria. What if someone sees you?”

“Who would see me? We can’t afford gardeners or stable help anymore. There isn’t anyone out here but you and me.”

“I hope not. You know what they say about us in town.”

“Nothing, Anna. They say nothing. No one even notices us anymore. That’s what comes from being poor. Now come on, we’ve got work to do.”

Chapter Two – The Prince Needs a Wife

“Oh, my dears,” gasped red-faced Mother Leon as she burst into the library. “I have such news for you!”

Her nap interrupted, Maria rubbed her eyes and glanced around the wood-paneled library. Anna leaned over her father’s shoulder as he sat in his favorite forest green chair. She giggled and pointed towards the map book that lay open on his massive wooden desk.

“Girls?!” Mother Leon’s eyes bulged as she flapped her hands.

Maria yawned and stretched in the window seat. “Yes, Mother?”

“The prince is coming!” Mother Leon gasped.

“Here?” Maria eyed the cluttered bookshelves, worn furniture, and faded tapestries. The prince had been touring Desiderata for the past year in the search for a suitable wife, but Maria had never thought he would come to their home.

Mother Leon sighed. “No, of course not, dear. He’s been invited to the Pekipsies’ estate for their annual Summer Festival.”

Father Leon glanced up from his large book of maps. “They’re the only family around here with enough gold to impress royalty. Your mother almost married into the Pekipsie family. Did you girls know that?”

Mother Leon shook her head. “No need to dig into the past, dear. I’m more concerned about the future.” She turned to her daughters with a gleam in her eyes. “Anna’s 15, the perfect age to be presented! And Maria…well, you’ve already been seen at several functions, and…” Mother Leon cleared her throat. “Maria, step forward, please.”

She left the window seat and stood before her mother’s watchful eyes.

“What on earth happened to your dress?” Mother Leon shook her head. “You’re more careless now than you were as a child, I swear!”

Maria’s cheeks burned as her mother turned to Anna, who somehow still looked perfect—as if she hadn’t just battled the local wildlife and the dilapidated garden gate.

“Anna, my dear, your hair glows like the sun and your waist is smaller than mine was at your age.” Mother Leon circled her youngest daughter like a cat. “Let’s see what we can do to make you look your best at the Festival.”

Anna turned frightened eyes towards her older sister. “Help me,” she mouthed.


  1. I'll even comment on mine.

    I think, looking at contests and blogs and such, that I am a "lone duck" trying to sell a YA book which isn't contemporary. This could be a problem.

  2. Good writing sells. And if everything else YA is contemporary right now, it may be the perfect time for something different. -- I'll comment for real once I've ruminated a while longer, but I couldn't let the above go unchallenged!

  3. Love the prologue. Sets up all kinds of questions while still telling its own little story, and adds tension (the good kind) from the start. A side note - when I read Wesley I immediately thought of Westley in the Princess Bride. I don't know if YA readers would have the same reaction, though.

    Maria and Anna are nicely developed as individuals, with distinct personalities. I like that they are allies when it comes to their mother!

    Have you ever thought about switching the garden and library scenes? So that the prologue ends with the idea of warning the "sweet girl" about Duncan, and next chapter is Mother Leon's amazing news, which puts the reader right into the heart of the matter. Then the girls escape from their mother to do garden chores...

    Well done!

  4. I want to try this! Thanks for your comments!

  5. I really liked the foreshadowing of the prologue and definitely think you should keep it, but I was a little distracted by the character's inner comments between each paragraph. I wonder if it might be less distracting not to have so many of them, or to group them together a bit more. Otherwise I felt like I kept having to interrupt what was happening to listen to what he was thinking.

    I'm not usually a fan of fantasy or supernatural stories, but I really found your characters and their banter charming. I agree with VGC about considering switching the library and garden scenes: I felt a little confused about the purpose of the first chapter, but putting it after the library scene would mean the sisters could both discuss the prince's impending visit AND reveal their magical powers, giving the chapter more weight and substance.

    This beginning is strong and would definitely compel me to read more!

  6. I also want to add that I wouldn't worry about not writing a contemporary story: fairy-tales are 'classic' for a reason and I imagine you will bring clever, contemporary twists to the story (i.e., it's doubtful that we will see THESE girls being rescued by Prince Charming in a traditional sense!)

  7. Okay, it's official! Thursday night, when all the comments are in, I will switch the two chapters and modify as needed to make it work. Thanks for the help!

  8. I lied. I'm doing revisions right now. Will there be directions posted on Thursday, or am I already supposed to know what to do next (because I don't--sorry!)


  9. One more question, if I may: I've read that many agents HATE prologues. Would it be wise to rename it chapter one even if it truly is a prologue?

  10. Okay, I think I have the protocol down right. Just format it as directed the first time, to the same address as the first time, anytime AFTER Thursday night but BEFORE the Sunday deadline at 6 p.m.

  11. Oh no! I have one more (hopefully final) question: What if our revision of the same pages leaves us slightly OVER the 1250 word limit?

  12. I agree with a lot of what's been said. The prologue did a good job of making me intrigued and I loved how he thinks it's going to be red and then it turns out black. I'd agree to get rid of some of the thinking, you don't need all that.

    I also liked the sister's relationship and the whispered help me. I would switch those scenes and have them discuss the prince and him coming while they're in the garden. A lot of the garden stuff is unnecessary, basically it seems like they're there to establish they're poor and that Maria has magic powers. Get rid of the stuff with the deer, it doesn't seem to have much of a plot point and have Maria do the magic while they're talking and I think the whole thing will fit much better.

  13. A big thank you to everyone!
    I have a critique group, but it REALLY helps to get a whole new set of eyes (and a new brain!) on it--to get a whole new perspective.

    I originally started in the library, then wrote the garden scene to introduce the magic and the two separate characters sooner. THEN I wrote the prologue most recently. But now that I have the prologue, I like the idea of shortening the garden scene.

    I'm very interested to see what people think of the redo (which is under the 1250 word limit now, so no worries...)

    thank you all again and good night!

  14. Hi Ann,

    I'm glad that you've started on the revisions, because I agree with that as a base. Fairy tale retellings seem to be slowing market-wise, but a fresh twist on anything will find it's own market, and this feels fresh to me. I enjoyed it a lot. That said, I agree with the comment about the thoughts every line in the prologue being distracting. I also felt as though some of the language in that section felt a little formal and stilted, and I would love for you to consider how to convey that sense of another time while maintaining a consistent tone. On a similar note, I loved the banter between the girls, but the dialogue felt a bit unrealistic in places, as if the girls were exchanging information they already knew for the purpose of cluing us in. I'd love to feel as though, as a reader, I am just eavesdropping on a conversation that came out of a moment in their lives. I realize that the information about magic is important, but I'd rather just see it happening for a compelling reason and understand from their actions how they feel about it and how the village feels about it. If they feel the need to hide the magic, there are other ways to convey that. I'd also like a better sense of whether garden magic is the extent of what they can do, or if it is just one aspect of it.

    As far as the 1250 word question goes, I think that by the time you cut out some of the repetitive dialogue -- places where you state what you could or already show us -- you will have room to get to this point again. If not, please just give us the first 1250 words of the revision.

    Looking forward to reading this again and seeing where you took it!

  15. Very insightful comments--I've been battling the language of conversation battle for a while. At first I had them talking like Masterpiece Theatre characters whichmy CPs said was too difficult to read. Then here was the question of: do I use "could have" or could've"? I'm still not sure what's the right answer there. I already resubmitted before I read your comments, so I may have to address them next week if this version doesn't fix them. Just didn't want you to think I didn't value your comments--because I do!

  16. Ann, I didn't address this again this week because I didn't want to hammer you with it. You had already said you would address it. :)

  17. Yes, I need to make a list of "things to consider" during my next revision...thanks for reminding me!

  18. Okay, I just went through and read their spoken words aloud, and made a few adjustments. I hope you approve! Thanks again!