Monday, October 13, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Wolfe Rev 1

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 been notified.  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, and Hal rolled with it.  Sheba was resting across his shoulders, her weight heavy and relaxed, pressing down and loosening the muscles in his neck.  She purred gently against him as he sighed softly, still in awe of what he had seen.  The old wives tales of the one who would reunite the country and save her from centuries of strife.  Kenley? His little sister?  Even she would admit it was more than a little ridiculous.  She was uncoordinated, clumsy, absent-minded - and she had taken the cracked sword in her scratched and muddied hand, raised it high above the straw-hued mane that hung untamed about her head, and stared defiantly at the damaged metal before spontaneously combusting.  Right before his eyes. 

Sheba's soft rumblings helped him stay focused on his memories, which were still fresh but confusing.  It had been less than an hour since Kenley had disappeared and he now held the same sword in his hands as he sat on a bale of hay. His parents would yell at him for wasting time when horses needed brushing down, stalls wanted mucking, and cows lowed as they waited to be milked.  Kenley would be milking them now if she were here, and they would be teasing each other about some silly matter or other.  She snorted when she laughed hard, which was often, all the time, really, and he smiled.  Was she snorting now, wherever she was, fit into the sword?  It was an absurd and impossible feat but he knew without a doubt that she was there. She spoke of it right before it happened, leaving out all the details that would have made sense of it, to him, at least. If there was any sense to be made.  All that was left was for him to figure out what to do with the sword to keep it, and her, safe.

He reached around to touch his fingers to Sheba's long back and stroked the black cat gently.  She leapt away from his fingers and lay at his feet, her eyes nearly closed as she peeked through the small slits that revealed them, watching him closely.  Hal blinked at her slowly.

"What now? Do you know where she is?"

Sheba's eyes drifted completely shut and her purrs became longer and deeper, almost like a growl.  Hal stared at her then down at the sword. 

"The castle.  A princess belongs in a castle."

He slid the sword into the sheath strapped to his waist and yanked at his pants, pulling them up.  His mother was always complaining that he wouldn't wear a belt, and for once, he wished he had listened to her.  The pants were too big, handed down from cousins who were quite a bit larger than he, and if he was going to walk all the way to Dara he'd need something to keep his pants on.  There were bits of rope in the mess of whatnot on a bench - mostly Kenley's finds - and he grabbed a hank, pushing it through the loops on his belt and tying it up front above the buttons.  If she could only see him now.  Maybe she could.  He realized that although he knew the legend like the back of his hand, now that they had started their own path into the story he felt as if he knew very little.  Very little that was practical, that is, and could help him figure out how to help Kenley if she needed him.  Maybe she didn't. 

The sword shone in the awakening sunlight, teasing him, the beams bouncing off the metal and shifting back and forth, nearly blinding him as he twisted it back and forth in front of him, hoping to feel her presence somehow within.  He shook his head as a wave of helplessness came over him.  She had disappeared right before his eyes here in the barn in seconds that had seemed like hours, her body dissolving into a million pieces like the exploding lights set off during summer fairs.  Could she see him? Could she feel the sword swooping in the air as he moved, his eyes never leaving the weapon as he watched it carefully before tucking it safely away?

Sheba rose and stretched before padding to a corner of the barn to settle down, her tail curled carefully and thoughtfully around her sleek body.  Her eyes met his again and he knew she was as troubled as he was.  It made sense that Kenley would go to the castle, as she was, apparently, the rightful heir to the throne, but how was she going?  Did the sword have to bring her there, now that she was part of it, or was there something magical about the sword that could transport her?

There were too many questions and reading his mind, as dragoncats were wont to do, Sheba narrowed her eyes in disapproval.

"I know, I know, " he nodded as he spoke aloud.  "Crowding my thoughts isn't helpful.  Distracting.  One thing at a time."

Time, though, was a problem.  If Kenley needed assistance, time wasn't an element to be ignored.  Still, he had to focus on one problem at a time in order to move forward.  Conrad.  Focus was one of Conrad's favorite words.  Where was he, anyway?  Usually he was lurking about, sometimes sneaking up to give Kenley some sort of advice, something Conrad must have thought was wise or clever. Hal could use a clever solution right about now.


He stared at Sheba but she was looking past him at nothing, her feline senses somewhere far away.  Maybe she could contact Kenley.  Hal sat down on a bale of hay and rested his face in his hands.  He had to be missing something important here. There had to be a starting point.

Legend held that long ago two brothers fought over the sword of Andaria, and the older brother was killed during their battle.  Their mother, the queen, cursed the younger brother, as she had always favored the heir to the crown.  It had truly been an accident, however, and the younger son was devastated that he had murdered his sibling.  His sorrow was so great that the sword that had brought about his brother's death split and nearly shattered with the force of his grief and guilt. The curse was a dark mark on the royal family ever since, with every generation having some troubles but none that were as terrible, and none that stood out as anything more than the usual sort of family squabbles that were understandable, even amongst royalty.  Now, with a younger brother pushing the older from his seat on the throne, it seemed that history was doomed to repeat itself, leaving the country in a state of panic.  If both brothers were worthy of the crown, there would be little to worry over, but one was quite mad with his lust for power and disinterest of the problems of the common people.  Unfortunately, he was the one in control at the moment.


  1. Hi Alyss--

    Okay. My cats give this 8 paws up for lots of dragoncat inclusion :-) I like these pages better than the prologue, but that's a personal taste thing as your prologue was well-written.

    High fantasy is hot right now, which is a good thing, but that also means there are a ton of manuscripts out there and you want to make sure yours distinguishes itself from all the other prophecy/curse/poor girl is actually a princess books. So it's this going to be dual POV with Hal and Kenley? A brother-sister dual POV would be cool. I'm not sure I've seen that before--it's usually the romantic pairing. This also feels like it could be MG to me, I guess because Kenley feels like she's 11-13 the way she's being talked about, and also because so much YA fantasy tends to be so dark and murder-filled and sexy shirtless warrior-filled and I'm not getting that vibe from this. But I like it. It feels fresh.

    I'm wondering why you're wanting to start here because I feel like these 5 pages are mostly backstory and flashback--but not the kind where we get to see what happened, the kind where we just get to hear about it after the fact. I still think we should see Kenley "go into the sword." I might even go further back to when Sheba "warned" Hal, because how exactly does that work? Does Hal read the cat's mind, too? Also, where did the sword come from--we don't get to see that. How does Hal know that Kenley is a princess? Because the legend says the princess will go in the sword? But the legend at the bottom of your pages doesn't mention a princess. So that's a different legend? Do these people view legends and old wives' tales the same? Why does he think she's at the castle? Why does he think she needs assistance? The castle seems like a safe place to be. What year is it? Where are they?

    I'm sure all the answers to these questions are in your story, but wonder if some of your elements could be arranged in a different sequence to make the story flow better. Or maybe I'm just impatient :-) Can you distance yourself enough to read the pages just for what's on the page and see if they answer the questions you want answered or if there are too many instances where the characters are talking about things like you should already know what they are?

    Picky--I'm still not sure who Conrad is. I know he's human, but now I feel like he could be a Hagrid type or a Dumbledore type or a Ron Weasley type.

    I do think the prose is really solid and that you do a good job of incorporating in tiny details and figurative language that adds to the story but doesn't overwhelm the reader. As someone who doesn't read a ton of high fantasy, I also like how this feels very accessible to people who aren't huge readers of that genre--more Harry Potter and less Lord of the Rings, if that makes sense.

    I can't wait to see where you go from here.

  2. I miss the clumsy Kenley that I read about in your first draft! Paula is right though, it does read middle grade. I read a ton of YA and I am not getting that feel here. I do not read much MG, so it was hard for me to go along with the :exploding into the sword" thing, it seemed too unbelievable as the first thing we find out about. I feel as someone who doesn't read this genre often (I have read a little), I need to be eased into the fantasy world so that I can suspend my disbelief. Like I can believe a dragon cat exists (go figure!). On a weird note, I really love Sheba and Hal as a team...

  3. I too miss the Kenley. For me, she had a much stronger pull. Or perhaps in her opening there is all the vivid imagery which sucked me in. This opening does a great job of building the world up, but I do feel like I just missed all the excitement. I really want to be there to see Kenely go into the sword, but I would even settle for a moment after standing with Hal as the ash settled to the ground. There was a business to Kenely's chapter that really had a nice pace, Hal's just seems a bit slow to me.
    I love the addition of the bit of history and already want to know more about this world. Something that bothered me was:
    "The curse was a dark mark on the royal family ever since, with every generation having some troubles but none that were as terrible, and none that stood out as anything more than the usual sort of family squabbles that were understandable, even amongst royalty."
    So the curse is nothing more than your usual family bickering? Why shouldn't they really be cursed, each generation doomed to despair. I'd be on board for that. Or if the curse is not really a big deal maybe:
    "The curse was a dark mark on the royal family but they suffered nothing more than the usual sort of family squabbles that were understandable amongst royalty."
    -- or something to that end.
    Overall can tell that this story is plump with surprises and can't wait to see how it will all turn out.

  4. Hi Alyss!

    Definitely a lot of big changes here! I will say that I miss Kenley as a character. She was interesting and quirky, while the Hal presented in these five pages doesn't seem to have quite the same depth of personality. I'm sure he's an interesting character, but I'd like to get a better sense of who he is.

    Definitely love the dragoncat... I'd like to see more description of it!

    I'm not sure how I feel about the starting point. We spend these first five pages hearing about an event that just happened, and I think I'd really rather just see the event. It's hard to get my bearings in this scene (Where is this taking place? How old is Hal? What is he doing?), and it's hard to picture what happened based on his description. I think I'd think actually seeing it happen might make for a stronger start.

    I'm not entirely sure what the final paragraph is referring to. Is that some kind of prophecy? Is that what's currently happening in their world? How does that relate to the situation with Kenley?

    I can tell you've got a great idea going here, with wonderful prose, but I just need a more solid introduction to everything so I can tell what's going on. Can't wait to see the next revision!

  5. Hi Alys!

    What a pleasure to read these pages, you have lovely descriptions and language. I did not read the first version, but I did find the beginning confusing. These first pages are so important to hook a reader – you want the reader to want to know more, but not be frustrated. You have gotten good advice here – I think rearranging things would make a big difference.

    The reader should see Kenely go into the sword, that is so cool! If you started a bit before there, to establish character/world, and then showed it, I think you would definitely hook your reader.

    I also thought it seemed more upper MG than YA, which is fine. It can be a fine line between upper MG and younger YA. As you think about your story arc, character arc, and themes, one should be clearer to you. If you are sticking with YA, Kenely needs to be – or appear older to the reader.

    The fantasy world is so intriguing, I want to know more about it – which is exactly what you want! Make sure to give the reader what they need to know, and hold off what they don’t need to know yet, to draw them in.

    Good luck with this, looking forward to reading next week!

  6. I think my only advice would be to remove as many was, were and had been's as possible. These make your writing passive.
    Sorry I don't have time to say more, but good luck!