Sunday, October 19, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Wolfe Rev 2

Alyss Wolfe
Young Adult Fantasy
The Kinship Mantle

Sheba had warned him earlier that day, so when Kenley exploded and disappeared into the sword, Hal couldn’t say he hadn’t had notice.  Of course, he didn’t know exactly what was going to happen; his dragoncat was never quite so specific.  Still, he could have been more careful. He could have made sure Kenley had been more careful.

That was a laugh.  He shook his head at the very idea, as Sheba rested across his shoulders, her weight heavy and relaxed, pressing down onto his neck and loosening his muscles.  She purred thickly against him as he sighed, still in awe of what he had seen, and the rumblings that came from her small body helped him to stay focused on his memories, which may have been fresh but confused him all the same.  It had been less than an hour since it had happened, and he now held the sword in his hands as he sat on a bale of hay, staring at it as if, considering what had just occurred, it might begin to speak and explain.  The old wives’ tales of the one who would reunite the country and save her from centuries of strife.  If that didn’t sound like a ridiculous fairy tale, he didn’t know what did.  Kenley?  His little sister? Even she would admit it was more than a little unbelievable.  She was clumsy, absent-minded - and she had taken the cracked sword that had been practically a plaything to them for the last ten years, raised it high above her untamed mess of hair, and stared defiantly at the damaged metal before spontaneously combusting. 

Hal would have laughed at her, at the obscene number of pearls shimmering on her dress like a gathering halo as the women around her wrestled with the silk folds to stitch them in one by one.  The last time she had seen him, they were both ankle deep in cow manure, straw in her dirty length of hair, mud dried beneath her nails, and he had yelled at her for leaving a pitchfork out on the barn floor where he could and did step on the tines to flip the wooden handle up and smack him in the face.  Now, she allowed her eyes to drift closed and pictured his face, damp and flushed in momentary anger, and felt her fingers curl into fists at her sides.  Her nails were chewed to the quick, the nubs harmlessly pressed into her palms.

“Your grace, it would help if you would kindly hold your breath.”

One of the sewing ladies spoke with words of respect but a tone of impatience and resentment.  Kenley took a small breath and held her belly in as much as she could, regretting the extra cherry tart she had charmed out of the tavern keeper’s wife the night before, keeping her eyes sealed against the image in the huge mirror before her.  She stood in the middle of the room surrounded by kneeling women of varying ages, their heads bound in plain white scarves and their attention fixed on the slippery silk that filled their hands.   She tried to keep her brother’s angry red face in focus as someone started to pull at the back of her head, scraping a rough bristled brush against her scalp in an attempt to tame her unruly hair.  Good luck to them, she thought, and wondered how long she had been there.  Not just in the room, but in the castle.  Time had seemed to stand still since she had found herself here, had been handled and paraded around for inspection like an animal set to compete in a village fair.  The attendants, especially those who had been instructed to bathe her earlier that day, made no pretense of liking her or their work and carried on as if she were deaf.  While she didn’t care what they thought of her, she did wonder what she had ever done to them to earn such ire.

“Well, if the king is looking for a grubby wench to sit on the throne beside him, he sure could have come looking right here in the castle. If it’s mucky he wants, any one of us could have fit that bill.”

They snorted with laughter.  Kenley knew she was dirty, but it was honest dirt that came from honest work, much like these women’s own.  It would be strange, though, she considered, for them to be set to work on a strange girl presented to them as their new queen, who looked no more royal than they did.  Her head felt fuzzy from the heat of the steam, and she wished she could jump in the cool lake back home, with Hal at her side.  What a fuss, she thought.  No one had ever paid so much attention to her hair before, and she knew Hal would be greatly amused to see it free of straw and mud and whatever else she had collected on the farm and in the woods.  She wondered what it had looked like to him, when she disappeared, and if his dragoncat Sheba had explained it. Surely Sheba knew more about it than she did.  Really, at this point, anyone might know more about it than she did.

Hal knew that Sheba had something to do with the strange calm that had come over him after the initial shock of Kenley’s disappearance had passed.  The dragoncat had always influenced his feelings, and for the better, but this felt inappropriate, and began to scare him.  The usual teasing between him and his sister had been interrupted when her jaw set firm, her smile vanished, and with a straight back that would have pleased their mother, who always complained about Kenley’s slouching, she had gripped the sword tightly and held it directly in front of her. What in the world, he had begun to ask, but before he could speak, the space in front of Kenley, the air that even in the early morning had held a heaviness that spoke of a humid day to come, seemed to move and take shape.  His jaw had dropped as he watched while she disintegrated by degrees for an eternity that lasted mere seconds outside of his experience, the flickering faded blue of her day dress dissolving along with her straw-yellow hair.  She hadn’t seemed afraid but more than a little surprised.  Whatever had called to her through the sword, old wives’ tales aside, would have to relinquish her.  Hal would make sure of it.


  1. You’ve done a great job with this revision, Alyss. Your descriptions are just marvelous. I love that we can now see the moment when Kenly disappeared into the sword. The magical world is much stronger in these pages, and you’ve done a good job of introducing us to the dragoncat (really love this! So unique!) and Hal and Kenly.

    I do still find the transitions a bit confusing. I had to read it a few times to figure out where they were. I think if you read the pages out loud, you will be able to smooth out and fix this easily. For example, in this paragraph:

    Hal would have laughed at her, at the obscene number of pearls shimmering on her dress like a gathering halo as the women around her wrestled with the silk folds to stitch them in one by one.

    If you changed it to, Kenly still could not believe that she was the person staring back at her from the gilted mirror. If Hal was here, he….

    High fantasy can be tricky – what to disclose, what to hold back, how to hook your reader without an info dump. You are really on your way here! Good luck with this story, I’ve enjoyed reading this glimpse into such a fascinating world!

  2. I think you have a good start here...I was curious to see what happened and where Kenley ended up.

    There didn't really seem to be much of an intro., so I felt a little lost. And for me, I felt the pages might a be bit disjointed because it bounces back and forth between narrators before I was grounded in the world you're creating and invested in the characters. For instance, we know by the first/second sentence what had happened to Kenley, but we don't have a good sense of the characters.

  3. Super cool we get to see the scene with her disappearing, into the sword. That really hooks me. Going back and forth was neat as well. It read a lot faster for me and it felt more lively. I agree that the transitions are a bit too hard, and by switching back and forth I feel less landed than I did on your first draft. But I can tell you are so close to a happy medium between the two. From what you have submitted so far I can tell you have a nicely developed world here, the characters are engaging, and the magic is intriguing. Now fit all that into these first five pages... easy right? Well, I think you've mostly done just that. Just a bit of tweaking to smooth over the transitions and you will have yourself a nice intro.

  4. Hey Alyss!

    Great revision here! I like that you've brought Kenley back - her voice and the fish-out-of-water vibe she's got going on are really compelling, and I'm glad we get to hear from her right off the bat. It's also nice that we get to go back a little and get a better look at her actually disappearing into the sword. It can be tough to introduce world building, but you've done a good job of not dumping information on us.

    The switch back and forth between perspectives is a little bit jarring. I feel like the jumps between perspectives come a little bit too quickly; we don't get enough time to get invested in your characters before we're tugged to another perspective. If you can smooth out those transitions, I think this will be a lot stronger.

    Great work here! Best of luck with this!

  5. Alyss--

    Unfortunately a deadline sneaked up on me and I'm not able to comment in detail this week. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your writing and best of luck!

  6. I have to agree, the switching back and forth confused me but I am so so so happy that you brought back the image of her in her wedding dress versus barefoot in the manure. I would love to have a dragoncat...maybe some day.