Sunday, April 5, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Tardiff

Name: Anthony Tardiff
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Damsels Dragon

Berric peered around the corner and groaned. There had to be half a dozen guards between him and this side door leading out of the palace. And every other door would be guarded at least as well.

A revelrous racket came from the Great Hall behind him. It sounded as if half the royal city were there, which was probably true, since this was the day the palace was open to everyone. The prince was supposed to choose one request from the people to grant on his upcoming coronation day. Groups of citizens competed with each other to have their petitions heard. Mini-alliances were made and dropped, as servants circulated through the hopeful throng with food and drink, and the lords and ladies mingling with the crowd were courted to join their influence to this group or that. The hubbub would have worked in Berric’s favor, except that anyone leaving the castle would stick out like a sore thumb.

There was else nothing for it. Berric stepped around the corner and walked towards the door. The nearest guard saw him and gave a little start. “Your Highness,” he said, clasping his fist to his breastplate and bowing as Berric passed. 

“Yes, yes,” Berric said absently as the other guards saluted and bowed as well. These guards were professionals. Even with the throng, Berric had probably less than three minutes before Lord Pottsworth learned of his departure. And Lord Pottsworth could take a more direct route to the stables, so . . . Berric broke into a run.

It was three long flights of steps down from the side door to the courtyard. Berric took them as fast as he could, and still had breath at the bottom to sprint the length of the courtyard to the stables. He went straight to the stall of his coal-black charger and lifted its saddle pad from its hook on the wall. It was when he turned and hoisted the pad over the charger’s back that he saw the man standing in the shadows in the back of the stall.

“Yagh!” Berric said, dropping the saddle pad with a plop on the charger’s back and earning a scornful look from the horse. “Don’t scare me like that, Kerrill!”

Kerrill shuffled into the light at the front of the stall, wringing his hands under the long sleeves of his plain brown tutor’s robe. “Lord Pottsworth said I was to wait here and stop you if you tried to go riding.”

“Lord Pottsworth says this, Lord Pottsworth says that,” Berric said, putting the saddle on top of the pad and cinching it tight. “Too bad.”

“But Highness, this is important. Even more important than the Council sessions you skipped, or the meetings with the ambassadors. The people expect a coronation gift. It’s tradition.”

“The people can expect anything they want,” Berric said. “But the king does whatever he chooses.”

Kerrill sighed and leaned against the horse, then jumped back hurriedly when it danced away and snorted in his face. “But you’re not king yet.”

“So Lord Pottsworth keeps reminding me,” Berric said. “He’s made sure I haven’t had a bit of fun since we got here.”

“I’d say you’ve been having a lot of fun,” Kerrill said, “judging by the apologies I have to keep making. Do you know how hard it was to convince the ambassador from Shrewsia that you didn’t put jam on his seat on purpose?”

“But I did,” Berric said, fitting the bit into the charger’s mouth. “He took himself too seriously. It was good for him to have people laugh at him.”

“And that whole joke of making me a nobleman and your Lord High Chancellor.”

“That wasn’t a joke,” Berric said. “It was duly witnessed and official. You’re the best man for the job. Anyway, who better than my teacher to take over the country if something happens to me?” Kerrill didn’t look convinced, and Berric didn’t blame him. But he didn’t tell him that the real reason he’d appointed him chancellor was to keep Lord Pottsworth or anyone else from getting funny ideas about Berric’s suitability to the throne. As the old king’s chancellor, Lord Pottsworth would have been next in line for the throne of Eldary if Berric had died without leaving an heir or appointing a chancellor of his own. But now Kerrill had that privilege. A nervous former commoner who rarely set foot outside his library was not a king anyone would want — nor was he someone who would plot against Berric.

Kerrill took off his floppy tutor’s hat and squeezed it in his hands. “Please, Highness. This tradition is important to the people. Didn’t you learn anything from all my history lessons?”

Berric swung himself into the saddle. “Yes,” he said, looking down at Kerrill. “I learned that the king makes the history.” 

This was the life. Berric rose and fell with the smooth, easy gait of the horse beneath him as it thundered through the streets of the royal city. Peasants scrambled to get out of his way, and then stared as he passed. The fresh morning air rushed into his lungs with each breath, sharp and cool. The city wall rose ahead, encircled the city in ten feet of stone, heavily manned by the Royal Guard. Its gate was thrown wide to the farmers and tradesmen from the surrounding countryside. The guardsmen saluted smartly as Berric flashed through the gate. Then the road opened onto rolling countryside, and Berric let the charger have free reign.

“Your Highness!” a voice gasped from somewhere behind him. “Slow down, I beg you! I can’t keep up!”

Berric looked back. Kerrill was following, clinging to the back of his horse, a fine stallion, as if it were a pack mule — and he the pack. Well, let him try to keep up if he could. Berric spurred his horse onward. He laughed aloud as the wind whipped around his face with such force that he had to squint against it, and the charger steadied into a joyful, rolling gait. He thought of the old cart horse he’d had back in Everwold province and laughed again. It was a good thing Berric had snuck rides on Lord Pottsworth’s horse in Everwold, or he might be in as bad a situation as Kerrill right now. This charger was a real horse, quick, spirited, and sure-footed. Riding it was like flying! 

A stretch of trees loomed ahead. The road narrowed as it passed under the first of them. The trees thickened, flashing past, making Berric feel that he was going even faster. There was a curve approaching. He knew the charger could make the turn. He tightened his legs and crouched in the saddle in anticipation.

The horse leaned into the turn, as smoothly as Berric had known it would. But then it seemed to change its mind. Its legs scrabbled at the dirt of the road as it tried to swerve. It stumbled, skidded, and then came to a sudden stop.

Berric did not stop. For a brief moment he really was flying. Then he hit the earth on his back and slid and scraped to an abrupt halt in the ditch at the side of the road. His legs flew up over his head. From this position he saw what had caused the accident: an old woman stood in the middle of the road, her walking stick poised, an astonished expression on her wrinkled face.


  1. Hi Anthony,

    I really like what you have so far. From the start, we understand Berric's personality and character. We also get what he wants freedom from responsibility a bit, but also, that he's cunning. All very good. Reminds me of The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy) Which I adored.

    I would probably change this part[[“Yagh!” Berric said, ]] and cut out the "Berric said" part, because he's yelling and dropping something, so you could just cut that out. But that's more nitpicking than anything.

    And the first part it seems like he needs to sneak around the guards, but he ends up just walking by them, so that threw me off a bit about why he would care so much that the doors were guarded. Why not climb out the window?lol

    There's hints about him not being king yet, and that he was previously someplace else with Lord Pottsworth, so I'm curious why they traveled and what happened to his parents; if that could be hinted just a tiny bit?

    Sorry I don't have much to say, but hope this helps!

  2. Hi, Anthony. Thanks for letting me read your story opening. You’ve done well setting up the story and what’s going on here. I like that you don’t say right away that Berric is the prince; I didn’t realize that at first, and it was nice to be surprised on that point. You’ve also drawn Berric clearly so we know exactly who he is.

    As for my suggestions…

    I’m unclear on Berric’s age. His circumstances tell me he’s probably older, like 17ish. But the fact that he has a tutor (combined with way he acts), makes him sound much less mature, possibly an early teen. Because there’s a vast difference between the behavior of a 13- and a 17-year-old, this is something that you might want to clarify early on.

    The other concern that I have is about Berric himself. The reluctant king-to-be who shirks responsibility at every turn and is only interested in having fun—I feel like I’ve seen this character before. As such, I’m not really drawn to him. It would help if I could see what makes him different: an unusual combination of traits, or an uncommon motivation for the way he acts. Think about what sets him apart from other princes and bring that out, to make him stand out from the pack and build reader interest.

    Related to this, I find that I don’t like Berric very much. Which isn’t necessarily a problem; there are plenty of unlikable characters out there that readers are drawn to. But I’m not finding that to be true with Berric; he’s not someone that I like enough to be overly concerned with what happens to him. I think you could remedy this by either giving him a likeable/relatable/admirable trait, or showing him doing something that shows this trait. Instead of blowing off his elderly tutor, who’s only concerned for the prince’s welfare, maybe Berric shows concern and discourages him in some way from following him, so the tutor won’t get hurt. Or maybe he notices something that’s off about his horse, and he goes out of his way to care for it. Something like this shows readers that Berric has a good side, that while he’s self-serving, he does care about others. This would go a long way toward building reader empathy and ensuring that readers are invested in your hero.

    Best of luck with your rewrites! I’ll talk to you next week.

  3. Thanks a ton, Becca. I’ve been struggling with this for a while. Berric needs to be selfish at the beginning of the story (or I won’t have a story at all), but I’ve never yet managed to do that and make him relatable/likable to the reader, too. I’ll try again.

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  5. The writing was good enough; the real problem is that I just don't care. Berric isn't very likeable. I saw your previous comment that he must be selfish in the beginning (a redemption story, eh?). Since Kerrill has known him for a long time, he could help the reader by mentioning in some way his belief that there is some good deep down inside Berric. If only something hadn't happened to make Berric turn his back on the world. Have his parents recently died? That would explain the selfishness and coronation, perhaps. I'm sure you can think of something to help us care enough to keep reading. If we don't care about Berric, then make Kerrill more interesting to keep us going. He just sounds like a monkish man without much personality. If I read far enough to reach the old woman, she might add some spice....

    I don't want to sound too negative; the writing was fair enough. Just help us find a reason to like your characters!

  6. Hello Anthony,

    Thank you for sharing your work with us!

    I found your selection easy to follow, and sprinkled with great world-building details. My biggest item of feedback regards the tone, both of the writing and the main character, Berric. He's not coming across as a middle grade hero to me. How old is he? He seems set on escape, and on eluding a future as king...which all seem much more YA in tone. MG characters are generally focused on finding their place and making a meaningful contribution within their world, not escaping it.

    If Berric is supposed to be 11 or 12, I think his attitude and dialogue would be different from what we see here. I would expect more focus on how family members treat him, and why his life is terrible, rather than so much focus on the kingship. I understand fantasy (I write it, too), but he would still come across as a child who yearns for something, rather than brashly takes it.

    Here are a few other detail notes:

    Opening lines >> I love the idea of the opening scene, but I need another line to anchor me before the ones you currently have--something that sets the scene and tone. This day for vising, does it have a name? If it did, I'd imagine an opening line like, "Open Day was Berric's least favorite day in the palace." That's a terrible off-cuff example, but I need something that establishes character, event, world, and intention, so that I'm eagerly reading on to learn more about this day and to see if he escapes it, which are both great hooks.

    "Yes, yes,” Berric said absently >> To me, this reads strangely for a MG protagonist. The first line of dialogue from a character is SO important for characterization, I'd make sure that he comes across the right way. From this, I'm getting an older man, annoyed with impertinent servants.

    I recommend revising the truth behind Berric's choices. Yes, he can be brash, but what makes that attitude of his endearing? Let us SEE how he is put-upon, and we'll cheer his escape. To do that, we need to get let into his inner sanctum, and see his true wants and desires, so that we can tap into those feelings and believe in him. Characters who make terrible choices can still be well-loved by readers.

    Best of luck with the revision!

    Melanie Conklin

  7. Hi Anthony,

    You've done a great job at sprinkling worldbuilding details throughout the piece. I have a great sense of the world of your story. Good job!

    A few things:

    I quite like the first paragraph. It drew me into the story and immediately had me asking questions.

    The phrase "revelrous racket" took me out of the story and made me pause. I think just racket would suffice.

    I love the surprise that Berric is royalty! I thought he was a prisoner trying to escape and you totally made me grin with that twist!

    To speed up the pace a little more, I would suggest slimming down the description of him running to the stable. That could be done in one or two sentences instead of a whole paragraph.

    Berric's age confused me. His actions made me think younger, but the voice of the piece seemed more YA to me.

    Speaking of Berric, like the other commenter's, I wasn't drawn to him. His character didn't make me want to keep reading as I found him quite annoying. In order to keep the reader hooked, I think we need to learn a little more about Berric's motivations behind his actions.

    Thanks for the read and I can't wait to see the revision!

  8. Great advice, everyone. Thanks a ton!