Monday, April 20, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Tardiff Rev 2

Name: Anthony Tardiff
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Damsel’s Dragon


His Royal Highness Prince Berric was only a day from being crowned the youngest ever king of all Eldary. And he had just been kidnapped.

It was embarrassing, really. He had let his guard down for only a moment, riding out of sight of his four Royal Guardsmen escorts and into a thick group of trees. In a trice he’d been knocked off his horse, bound, and whisked away. And now here he was, kneeling in the back of an enclosed cart that smelled of rotting hay, bouncing along a rough road to who-knew-where.

And Lord Pottsworth had sworn up-and-down that there was no plot to keep Berric off the throne! If Berric got out of here, he was going to deliver the loudest “I told you so” ever heard in Eldary.

Of course, he’d have to get free first. He took a deep breath, set his knees wide, bit his lip, and pulled with all his might on the ropes that bound his wrists behind his back. He’d felt the knot slip a few moments ago, but now it was being stubborn.

There was a shout from outside, and the cart slowed and came to a stop. “Did anyone see you?” said a voice. It was unnaturally gruff, as if the speaker were hiding his true voice.

“No, he was alone, as you said,” said the driver. The cart rocked as he got down. “Are you taking over, then?”

“Yes. Take this for your trouble.” There was a jingling sound.

“If it please you, sir,” said the driver, “I’d rather take this and have no trouble, if you see my meaning. Kidnapping a prince . . . some would call it a hanging offense.”

“You have nothing to fear. This isn’t even illegal.”

“Maybe. But princes aren’t princes forever,” said the driver.

“Why not?” said the gruff voice.

There was a pause. “Ah,” said the driver. “All the same, me and my men will keep our masks on until we’re clear. And I suggest you do the same. I do not want to know who you are, though I imagine I’ll know soon enough. Now: where do you want him?”

“In this carriage.”

The driver whistled. “Fancy.”

“He’s a prince.”

Berric was running out of time. He took another deep breath. Last chance. He bent forward and pulled, muscles straining, grunting as his face turned red with the effort. He was close; he could feel it! Just a little more . . .

Berric bent over too far and fell on his face. His rear shot into the air, and his nose bounced in the musty straw on the floor of the cart. His body jerked as he sneezed. 

There were footsteps coming toward the cart. Berric rolled over — and stared in astonishment at his unbound wrists. Ha! The ropes had parted when he sneezed! 

A shadow fell into the cart from its tiny, barred window, and Berric quickly rolled under it and stood up, keeping his arms out of sight. He looked out the window and jumped a little when he found himself looking into the eyes of the bandit driver, already staring in. “Oh, hi there!” Berric said. Had the man seen his loose wrists? “Listen, I’ve been thinking. We can cut a deal. Let me go, and I’ll make sure you spend the rest of your life in riches.”

“Hmm,” said the driver. His eyes were shadowed under his hood, and his nose and mouth were hidden by a loose, wrapped mask. “You’ve gone from insults to bribes. You must be desperate.”

“And rich.” Berric gave him his most winning smile.

The bandit driver smiled in return, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Will I get to live in a palace of my very own, like Mr. Princeling?”

Berric’s eyes drifted to what was behind the man. The cart had stopped under on a broad road under thick trees. In the sun-dappled light a second bandit was untying a horse from the back of the cart. It was Berric’s horse, the beautiful, coal-black charger he’d been riding when the kidnappers had ambushed him. Berric’s hands itched to close around its reins. “How much is Mr. Gruff Voice paying you?” he said. “I’ll triple it.”

“Can you pay enough to protect my family from bandits?”

“Huh?” Berric said. “You are a bandit.” 

The man rolled his eyes and unlocked the cart door.

This was his chance! Berric stooped and grabbed a handful of dirty straw from the floor, and as the door swing open he flung it in the driver’s face. The man shouted a curse and threw his arms up, leaving him open for a swift and, Berric thought, well-deserved kick to the chest.

If only he hadn’t been wearing mail under that robe. Berric yelped in pain. But there was no time to stop and see if he’d broken his toes. The bandit was still wiping dirt from his eyes. Berric jumped out of the cart and ran past the man and toward his horse.

“Get him!” shouted Gruff Voice, and out of the corner of Berric eye he could see a heavyset figure coming toward him in a rolling run, and other figures converging from every side.

The man holding Berric’s horse dropped the reins and rushed at him, arms out, but Berric ducked under his arms and then under his horse’s stomach and emerged on the far side to clamber in an instant up into the saddle. “Up!” Berric shouted, and his charger reared on cue, making the surrounding bandits leap back. The charger tossed its head and Berric snatched the reins out of the air as they flew back. He dug his heels into the horse’s side and they were off like an arrow, scattering bandits as they flew.

Trees whipped past on either side, and Berric leaned forward in the saddle. He’d done it! What a story this would make when he got back to the palace. He’d have the criers proclaim it throughout the kingdom. Did you hear? The young prince, ambushed, captured, probably destined for some barbaric slave market or to be abandoned for the monsters in the Towerwood Forest, and he escaped!

What, all alone, with no help?

Yes! And he rode all the way back to the palace and called the Guard to arrest the kidnappers.

Berric smiled. Those bandits would spend the rest of their lives in a palace, all right — in the lowest dungeon.

There were hoofbeats behind him. Berric flashed a look over his shoulder. Four riders were close behind, gaining fast. Their horses were the equal of his own, and the riders leaned in their saddles with practiced ease. Berric spurred his charger desperately, but they kept pace. Then his eyes caught what they were wearing: the blue and gold livery of the Royal Guard. They’d found him! Berric pulled the reins to slow his horse.

“About time you caught up,” he said as the Guardsmen took up protective stations on either side of his horse. But something was wrong. The men didn’t look at him. And they were riding much too close. Then the closest reached out and grabbed Berric’s bridle, and the whole group came to a dusty, scrabbling stop.

“What are you doing?” Berric said.

Without a word, the Guardsmen turned Berric’s horse around, and they all began trotting back the way they had come.

“Hey! Berric said. "We need to get back to the palace."

5 comments:

  1. Your opening just gets better and better. I love the details in the wagon, with the rope around his wrists and him trying to get it off. The re-positioning of the horse and how he gets to it is also much better. The hard work is definitely paying off ☺.

    The first two sentences are awesome, but then there’s a paragraph telling what happened in the recent past. To keep up the pace and keep readers engaged, I suggest rewriting that paragraph to keep it in the context of the current story, and only include what’s necessary for readers to know at the moment. My suggestion is to have him struggle to his feet, trying not to breathe in the rotten hay smell, so he can see out the small window. Who had done this? Where was his horse? Why had he been so insistent on outrunning his company of guards and leaving himself open to this indignation?

    Because Lord Pottsworth had sworn up and down that the prince was perfectly safe, that there was no plot to keep Berrick off the throne…

    If you can relay the important information without stopping the current story to do so, the story will be tighter and readers won’t be pulled out of it to hear about past events.

    A few other things that stuck out to me:

    This line: How much is Mr. Gruff Voice paying you? It doesn’t ring true. I don’t think that Berrick would be calling anyone Mr., particularly someone who’s just kidnapped him. This would read more realistically if he simply asked, “How much are you getting paid?”

    And this line: “Huh?” Berric said. “You are a bandit.” While I appreciate the humor, the Huh is an admission that he doesn’t understand. Again, because of his arrogance, I don’t think he would so blatantly admit that he doesn’t understand what is being said. IMO, it would be much more covert, something like: Berric narrowed his eyes. “But you are a bandit.”

    That’s it. Thanks so much for sharing your opening, and for being so open to suggestion on how to improve it. Best of luck with your writing!

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  2. Hi Anthony,
    Such great edits, this is so super close to being done! I can' think of much to add that Becca hadn't said already.
    I wonder how the touch rope could have snapped though. Was the rope already frayed? Maybe he could pick at the knot to get it loose enough? Or maybe pull his arms under him so the knot is in front and he can use his teeth? Just some nit picky ideas haha
    This is already so much better than your original, I can't wait to see it on a bookshelf someday :)

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  3. Hi Anthony,

    I have to start by commending you on the line “It was embarrassing, really.” I don’t often laugh out loud when reading but I did when I came to this. I love the playful tone. I’m wondering, though, if you might condense the section of dialogue that begins with “No, he was alone…” It doesn’t tell us much and takes the focus away from Berric. Also, I found part of the conversation to be confusing – how is kidnapping not illegal? It’s an offense to kidnap a king but not a prince? Why would the gruff voice ask “why not?” doesn’t he know that this prince is about to become king?

    I’d also like to make a case for keeping the “Huh?” which Becca suggested you drop (sorry, Becca!) It is confusing! And, although admitting that he’s confused might be out of character, it seems appropriate given the situation. It also hints to readers that something is awry because actual (or experienced) bandit wouldn’t say that.

    A few little things:
    “He had let his guard down for only a moment, riding out of sight of his four Royal Guardsmen escorts” – Not sure you need “Guardsmen” and “escorts, seems redundant.

    “And Lord Pottsworth had sworn up-and-down that there was no plot to keep Berric off the throne! If Berric got out of here, he was going to deliver the loudest…” – I’d replace “was going to” with “would”

    “No, he was alone, as you said,” said the driver.” – Try to vary your language. You use the word “said” a lot (not just here). Maybe “No, he was alone – just as you predicted,”

    “some would call it a hanging offense.” – maybe “consider it a hanging offense.”

    “He looked out the window and jumped a little when he found himself looking into the eyes of the bandit driver, already staring in.” – you might consider dropping “already staring in” – it’s superfluous.

    “Berric’s eyes drifted to what was behind the man.” – this is vague and a little confusing. Being more direct will help keep the reader’s interest.

    “The cart had stopped under on a broad road under thick trees.” – drop “under.”

    “Berric stooped and grabbed a handful of dirty straw from the floor, and as the door swing open…” – “swung”

    “The man shouted a curse and threw his arms up…” -- I’d either say he screamed or he cursed – not both.

    “If only he hadn’t been wearing mail under that robe.” -- I think it would be clearer if you used term ‘bandit’ here. Will your readers know this meaning of mail? Or are you better off using the word “armor?”

    “Berric yelped in pain. But there was no time to stop and see if he’d broken his toes. The bandit was still wiping dirt from his eyes. Berric jumped out of the cart and ran past the man and toward his horse.” – The second sentence of this paragraph is out of place. Keep focus on Berric. Maybe: B jumped out of the cart and ran past the bandit, who was still wiping the dirt from his eyes.

    “Get him!” shouted Gruff Voice, and out of the corner of Berric eye …” – “Berric’s”

    Trees whipped past on either side, and Berric leaned forward in the saddle. He’d done it!” – I think that the first line here is superfluous. It might be stronger to start paragraph with “He’d done it!”

    “About time you caught up,” he said as the Guardsmen took up protective stations on either side of his horse.” -- “…took up their protective stations…”

    “Without a word, the Guardsmen turned Berric’s horse around, and they all began trotting back the way they had come.” – how about “…turned B’s horse around and trotted back…” less wordy.

    “Hey! Berric said. "We need to get back to the palace." – especially here, you need something stronger than “said” to show his fear/anger/confusion. Maybe “cried” or “exclaimed.”

    Thanks for sharing your work and please don’t hesitate to respond if you have any questions about my comments! Good luck with the project!

    Amaryah

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  4. Anthony,

    Like I said before, writing wasn't a problem for you. The key was finding the right place to start which you've done masterfully. I really like your style of writing which is either a compliment to you or it means I have the taste of a middle grader. A little of both I think.

    No comments on improvements - just suggestions.

    Berric did seem to break free of the ropes fairly easy. Maybe you could have him scraping the ropes against a loose nail in the floorboard? It gives him something to do while the other characters talking back and forth. It would fit well at the end of this paragraph, after he quits trying to break it the hard way:
    He took a deep breath, set his knees wide, bit his lip, and pulled with all his might on the ropes that bound his wrists behind his back. He’d felt the knot slip a few moments ago, but now it was being stubborn.

    Loose nail in the floorboard also adds description to the state of the wagon.

    This sentence felt long and might work better as two:
    The man holding Berric’s horse dropped the reins and rushed at him, arms out, but Berric ducked under his arms and then under his horse’s stomach and emerged on the far side to clamber in an instant up into the saddle.

    Everything else is splitting hairs. Seriously great job, and I wish you the best of luck getting published. Not that you'll need it.

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  5. Hi Anthony,

    Wow! This opening has come so far since week one! Kudos to you for being so willing to experiment with new openings and taking feedback so well.

    I think you've got a great voice for MG and your writing flows really well.

    I don't have much to add other than tightening up the places that the others have mentioned.

    Once you've done that, I suggest reading it allowed to make sure there aren't places where you've repeated the same word or phrase a few times. You'll find pieces that are clunky that way.

    My one comment is that i still think he managed to break free of the ropes fairly easily. I'd love to see him struggle a bit more or come up with an ingenious way to slip the bonds.

    Congratulations on the strong opening and I wish you the best of luck in your quest to get published. I can't wait until the day I see your novel in my local bookstore!

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