Saturday, February 7, 2015

First 5 Pages February Workshop - Thompson

Name: Meghan Thompson
Genre: YA Fantasy

The mist seeped into the chamber through hairline cracks around the
window.  It hovered motionless, then oozed across the flagstones and
passed the embers in the fireplace, which flared and died.  As it
crawled upon the pillows where the young woman slept, she shivered
beneath her quilt and rolled onto her back.

The weight of blackness inched its way across the contours of her
lithe form, pinning her down.  At her golden face, it paused, savoring
the moment.  It would cut her life force and if she was the supposed
‘Redeemer,’ the war would be won before it was fought.

From a troubled sleep, she inhaled and the mist drifted into her body…
its essence mixing with hers.  Was it her face the angel had seen so
many star cycles ago?  No matter.  It would douse the spark of her
soul and end any threat she posed.

As it probed her consciousness, it left behind a trace of itself like
memories: people crying as flames closed in on them; a circle of
cloaked figures surrounding a body with a severed head; a blood-red

It drifted towards her core, warmed by strange heat; heat unlike
anything it had ever felt.  Cautiously, it delved deeper reaching out
its tendrils to suffocate the light of her life.

But then...

There, in her soul, as if the power of all the stars in the heavens
had been concentrated in one beam, a shard of light struck the mist.
It retracted, writhing, desperate for release.  The woman began to
choke, her limbs thrashing, her breathing shallow and fast.  Opening
her eyes, she clawed at her face as if to remove a mask.  One more
wracking cough and it was over.

As the room slowly into focus, she could make out the edge of her
cushions and see the dressing table against the wall.  Her breathing
returned to normal and her pounding heart slowed.

“A nightmare,” Lockrey croaked, testing her voice.  She shivered and
pulled the quilts tight around her neck, trying to forget the visions
that had seemed so real just a moment before.  Stretched taut on her
back, unable to close her eyes, she listened to the temple bells count
out the start of day and told herself it was just a dream.

Had Mythenrock’s guards looked up at that moment, they would have seen
a wispy cloud hovering outside the mintesses’ window, midway up the
tower.  No longer the opaque pitch that had smothered the room, the
cloud stretched out over the elvgrove forest beyond the curtain walls.
The guards might have watched it pass over the forest and into the

But no one saw the demon mist as it became one with the night and
returned to its servants in the East.


On the opposite side of Mavornia, a bell swung back and forth,
clanging manically, warning the villagers to seek shelter in the
temple.  The army of the Eastern kings would be upon them in moments.
The ground shook with the vibration of thousands of feet marching in
time to hundreds of drums.  Inside the crystal temple, women clutched
their children.  Men barricaded the doors.

“What do you think they’ll do?” whispered a gray-skinned youth, wiping
his palms on his legs.

“I don’t know,” said his father, “But they wouldn’t dare defile the temple.”

“Why are they here?”  The adolescent tried to keep a whimper out of his voice.

“Who knows… in villages to the north, they’ve taken men for the army
or put them in slave fortresses.  I’ve heard tell they are making the
men dig, but no one knows why.”

“Will you go if they force their way in?”

The older man rubbed the hide-like, gray skin on his face, deep-etched
with lines beneath thorny whiskers.  “I have lived my life a free
man,” he said.  “I don’t intend to die a slave.  But, Son…”


“You are young.  If you must, go with them… and trust you will find a
way to escape.”

“You cannot ask me to live with less principle than you!”

“And I don’t.  I ask you to live.  It is Dia’s one gift to us and I
expect you to keep it.”

The boy’s expression was grim, but he managed a nod.  His father put
his arm around his shoulder and kissed his cheek.  “Be brave,” he
said, then walked off to find more furniture to brace the door.

Outside, less than a quarter league away, the temple intercessor’s
body was unrecognizable as booted feet repeatedly trod on top of it.
His attempt to negotiate with the invading army had been…
unsuccessful.  At the head of the army, the green-skinned captain
cleaned the religious leader’s remains off his sword as he rode his
raysol, a giant rodent with sunken eyes and hairless limbs, toward the

“Are we certain this is the place?” his deputy asked.

“This is it.  The exact midpoint of the Eastern Edge,” he confirmed.
“Have we any update where the Istilian soldiers are?”

“Not far, Captain.  Perhaps a league to the east and closing in.”

“And are they supported by the men of Mythenrock?”

“Yes.  About five hundred head.”

The jowls on Captain Bordrid’s wide, green face lifted, approximating
a smile.  Hardly a number to trouble him when he had two thousand
cressl beasts at his disposal.  But it would be a shame to waste time


“Yes, Captain?” said the deputy.

“Where is that boy who came with us from Vardra.  The one the High
Intercessor was keen to train?”

“Riding in the cart with his sister, not more than one troop back.”

“Fetch him to me.”

Dregna returned with a boy seated behind him, who unconsciously pawed
at the thick folds of the soldier’s blue cape.  The stretch marks on
his dark-green skin straining to cover his tall frame indicated he was
young, perhaps fourteen star cycles, but not even he knew exactly how
old he was.  He shivered in his shabby, brown robe, but stared at the
captain with an ecstatic grin.

“Can you do it?” asked Bordrid, adjusting his silver tunic, not
bothering to look at the child.

“Yes sir, I can.”

“And she won’t fail us?”

“No sir.”

“Very good.”  The captain looked up to give his command.  “When we
reach the village, make it happen.  I want the people gone so I can
begin the search… for whatever it is we need to find.  It will be good
to have Dia’s blessing.   A first martyr for the cause... very good,

Dregna returned the boy to his cart.  He clambered over the railings,
then sat with his chest puffed out and his eyes alight.  His sister,
perhaps eight star cycles old, squinted at him, her head cocked to the
side.  Glancing down at her, a smile spread across his lips.  From his
bag, he pulled out a robe he had specially prepared, and he thought
about his own threadbare clothes.  No more.  From this day forward he
would be the celebrated brother of the first martyr.

“Now, Sister, put this on,” he said, handing her the heavy fabric.
She pulled away, objecting to its bitter smell.  “Come now,” he said,
“it’s not for very long.  And by wearing it, you will earn all the
pleasures in the world.”


  1. This opening is intriguing, and sets up an interesting question about what is to come. Be careful of all the descriptors--the adjectives and adverbs: oozed, hovered, seeped. This makes prose feel overwrought.

    When we get to the opposite side of Mavornia, perhaps introduce the green-skinned captain (Captain Bordrid) right away as he cleans his sword, instead of further below.

    Captain Bordrid is riding a raysol, but then he mentions that he has two-thousand cressl beasts at his disposal. Make sure to introduce elements of this world over time. Do we need to know about cressls when we just learned about raysols? In other words, you've got a whole novel to introduce the aspects of your world. Don't try to do too much world-building right away or your reader might get overload.

    You write that Dregna returned with a boy seated behind him, who unconsciously pawed
    at the thick folds of the soldier’s blue cape. What is Dregna seated in?

    I wonder who the boy is and what is this thing the captain is asking him to do.

    You've got a lot of great questions here. Just keep an eye on the descriptors, and remember to show as much as you can without telling the reader. I think you're off to a good start, Meghan!

  2. I'm loving this setup. The whole idea of a boy preparing his sister for martyrdom is so creepy, and fascinating, and must-read-on-able. I'd say that perhaps you might bring that scene even closer to the beginning of the book. It has that spark of something truly unique that sets it apart.

    I'm really enjoying your writing and the whole feel of these scenes. It reminds me a little of Leigh Bardugo's SHADOW AND BONE, and a little of Kristen Cashore's FIRE, both of which I adored.

    Like Ronald mentioned, you may be able to cut back a bit on the worldbuilding without sacrificing much (raysols/cressels/Mythenrock/Mavornia). I also think that from a reader's perspective you may not need to introduce the woman and the mist, or the boy and his father right at the beginning ... and instead skip straight to the army scene. Just a thought though!

    1. Hi Carissa - quick question... Most agents I've heard from say they want the MC on the first page. The woman with the mist is the MC... with that in mind, would you still recommend skipping that scene? Otherwise, thanks a million for comments!

    2. Hi Meghan!

      Well with that in mind, I would say yes... Definitely keep the MC at the forefront. That said, the mist scene reads a little more generic than the martyrdom scene. I know there are some that would advise against prologues but in my opinion the martyr scene would make a great prologue :)

      If the woman with the mist is the MC, I do have a couple more thoughts. As it's written right now, the mist scene is not from her perspective. In fact of all the characters we've been introduced to in these first five, I feel as if I know her the least. Now for epic fantasy this is not necessarily a bad thing this early on but it is something you might want to think about.

      Maybe even some tidbits about her or her personality/goals/struggles/occupation right at the outset. Like "after putting the livestock in their pens, L went to bed. She didn't even notice the mist creeping in the window..."

  3. Hi Meghan,

    Thanks for letting me read your work. I like the feel of your title. You've set up the scene nicely in the opening paragraph. I'm intrigued. What I notice next is a few too many adjectives and descriptive words. I love to describe while I'm writing. I often have to use this thought "Think simple, concise, and direct". If you can say it in one descriptive word, do so. Also, there's something about telling the reader so soon about 'the war' that's bugging me. We don't care about this character just yet, so I'm not sure this is a good place to play that card. The Redeemer part is good, though. It tells me this is no ordinary world, situation, and character.

    Ooh, I'm going to take Carissa's lead and say high-five to the notion of a brother preparing a younger sibling for martyrdom. You've definitely peaked my interest enough to want more. I also agree with Carissa's observation about possibly not needing the mist and the interaction between father/boy at the opening. I really like the solider part leading into the idea of the need for a martyr. Looking forward to reading your revision!

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  5. Thanks for sharing. I think your opening is probably closer to the bottom of this sample. Who is your MC? We need to know in 5 pages (hopefully in one) and from this sample, without reading the comments, I couldn't tell. I think you have a heavy burden as it feels like this is a grand story with lots of moving people/parts which make finding that key opening scene even more difficult! I'm sure you've heard this before, but be careful of dream sequences (or even hints of dream sequences) in openings. I agree with the previous comments. The only other thing I'll add is the dialogue at times felt like it was being inserted to relay information to the reader, rather than to give us characterization about the people who are actually speaking. Try to find another way to give information and save your speaking parts so we learn about your characters and how they view your world.

  6. Thanks, Megan for sharing your exciting story. There's a lot happening in those pages and your descriptions are great, but the first thing that caught my attention was the use of IT. I reread a few times to clarify what IT pertained to. And then you told us it was a dream, but after reading more you know it wasn't. Maybe you can show this happening in another way. The first boy in the story had no name and then in the next section the soldiers go and retrieve a boy against his will. Is this the same boy? You really caught my attention when he put the cape on his sister. I see a little Hunger Games here! I think this is going to be an exciting story, but so much happens in these pages, and with so many different characters, I had a hard time knowing who was who. You've got a great style of writing and I will be looking forward to seeing your revisions.

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  8. Sorry if my comments appear twice. My computer is telling me they haven't been posted and I see them twice!

  9. Hi Meghan! Thanks for letting me read your opening. You’ve got a very cool, creepy, fascinating story, and the ending of the sample was so good, I was dying to read on. On top of that, you have a knack for writing descriptions that don’t get in the way of the movement of the story, and that’s hard to do. I felt like the pacing and descriptions were really well balanced.

    I’m going to be the voice of contention here and say I liked the opening with the mist. I thought it was a very cool, unique idea that this dark mist was going to snuff out a very important person, and I loved that she turned the tables on it. I do think you could cut a bit out of the opening, however, and still get that excellent, creepy vibe across. Just a few cuts here and there would do it.

    I read through the comments before writing this, and I found myself surprised that your MC is Lockrey. Not just because the story starts out in the mist’s POV, and Lockrey is unaware of it, but because you get into the heads of multiple characters throughout, and show us what they’re feeling. To be honest, I’m not sure you need one MC (although, for querying purposes, I definitely see the appeal of finding your main-est main character). You’ve got a lovely third person omniscient thing going here, and I can definitely see this story having multiple main characters, even if Lockrey is the lead protagonist.

    There were a couple of times where the POV shifted in a way that confused me—early on, Lockrey seems like a mystery woman who’s unaware of what’s happening with the mist, but by the end of the section, things are in her POV. Later, it happens with Dregna and the boy:

    “Dregna returned with a boy seated behind him, who unconsciously pawed at the thick folds of the soldier’s blue cape. The stretch marks on his dark-green skin straining to cover his tall frame indicated he was young…”

    I wasn’t 100% sure who the subject of the second sentence was. At first, I thought the boy, but because the subject of the first sentence is Dregna, I wasn’t sure. If it is the boy, something like “The stretch marks on the boy’s dark-green skin…” would clear that up.

    Lastly, I thought the father’s line, “But they wouldn’t dare defile the temple” might work better coming from his son. It just felt like a fairly naïve thing for an adult to believe.

    That’s about it! All of this is pretty nit-picky, as your sample was really well written and so engaging! I agree that the martyr aspect is really fascinating, and you’d better believe I’d read on to find out what happens next! I also loved the line about the raysol—what an excellent detail, which really added to the tension and world-building. Loved it!

  10. I was perusing Twitter instead of working my novel which is due to my publisher in a few months (ugh) and I came across this tweet that my agent retweeted. I think it's very apropos and many of us should remember it:

    Here's a thing I find myself writing on sci-fi and fantasy critiques lately: "don't get too genre too early!"