Sunday, July 19, 2015

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Dyer Rev 2

Name: Jennifer Dyer
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Tittle: Blue Serenity

2417 AD

At sunset, I’d take the coming-of-age oath, and by the time the five moons had risen, I’d have sentenced myself to death.

For the tenth time, I attempted to wind my hair into an elaborate knot, but the long black strands slipped and fell. I threw my brush on the floor and took a long breath. The scent of roses, sweet and strong, filled my nostrils, but did nothing to calm my thoughts. I shoved open my balcony doors. Above, two of our moons peeked over the western horizon of this planet so different from our homeworld, the place the humans once called Earth.

That was before the Raphient telepaths destroyed it.

Below my balcony, healers with dark robes and darker expressions moved between banquet tables smothered in a food and flower invasion. White floral ropes led to the raised platform where I’d take the oath. A small banner, left crooked across the platform, read, “Wellness and peace to Princess Serenity.”

On one of the patios, a healer elder named Jasen paced, hands crossed over his bony chest, black silk robes swishing. The setting sun slashed red across his face. He glared toward where I stood on my third-floor balcony, his face scrunched up like an old man’s gnarled fist. “What a waste, throwing a party for that half-breed mongrel.” His words rang out. He wanted me to hear.

I’d grown accustomed to Jasen’s hatred, but the word mongrel burned like hot metal down my throat.

“Shouldn’t you be dressed?”

Behind me, Master Eli, my protector, teacher, and sometimes warden, pushed open my door, his wide shoulders filling the door frame. Not waiting for my answer, he strode past the marble fountain in the center of my room toward my desk, footfalls silent on the stone floor, posture as stiff as his forest-green warrior uniform.

He looked over my bed, probably making sure I’d pulled the covers military straight. A band secured his platinum hair in a tight tail and a broadsword loomed over his shoulder. Unlike the healers who thought of carrying a sharp pencil as living dangerously, Nadiv warriors accessorized with weapons, the deadlier the better.

Master Eli didn’t need weapons to look imposing. His stern expression and muscular stature towering eight inches taller than my five-foot-six frame took care of that.

I said, “You know I don’t want this ceremony,” and glanced back at the palace grounds, so beautiful, so filled with hate.

Another healer stomped past Elder Jasen, yanking on tablecloths, slamming down silverware. She paused to pat around her perfect bun, as if the strain of decorating caused her black hairs to stray. A tray of sliced meat must have vexed her because she shoved it aside and knocked several pieces to the ground.

A voice bubbled into my mind like a fizzy drink. "Hungry. Smells good."

The voice wasn’t audible, so I couldn’t locate it by sound, but it only took a moment to find its source. One of Jasen’s tiny canines darted around the healer and gobbled the spilled morsels. It sat, eyes on me, and barked. "More, more, more."

The healer stilled, watching the canine watch me. My insides tightened. I scooted back into my room, but her high-pitched voice carried over the dog’s barking. “She’s unnatural, that one. Deviant and destructive. Not a true healer. Takes after her mother’s people. Mark me, she’ll do something to ruin—”

A mechanical hum sounded, and a shimmering haze dropped like a sheer curtain over my balcony doors. The outside noises went silent. Master Eli’s hand lingered over the audio shield switch on my wall. “Don’t listen to those healers’ poison, Serenity.” He glared outside. “I’m amazed a people gifted with the ability to heal by touch can be so intolerable.” He glanced my way. “Present company excluded.”

But the healers’ words rattled in my head: unnatural, deviant, mongrel. “They hate me because of my prophet blood. Imagine if they knew the truth.”

Eli's face hardened. “You’re worth more than a legion of them."

My stomach felt as though I’d tied it into a knot. “I think they suspect. You didn’t see her staring when the canine—”

“Ignore them. Jasen’s been ill tempered since the war exiled us to this planet, and celebrations make healers irritable.”


“Reminds them of everything the Raphients stole from us.” Typical Eli, he didn’t elaborate but nodded toward the gown hanging on my closet door. “You only have a few minutes.”

The gown’s sapphire hue matched my eyes and complimented my dark hair. The shiny blue fabric distracted from my too-dark-to-be-a-healer cinnamon skin. Father said I would look beautiful. It was the perfect dress for the perfect healer princess.

More like the perfect imposter.

Needing something to do with my hands that didn’t involve punching, I straightened my bookshelf filled with volumes about famous warriors. Lord Teomir’s handsome face stared back at me from one of the covers. “I can’t go through with this.”

“Your father told you to cease your worries about the oath.”

Eli had a talent for not only getting to the point but also stomping on it. The squeeze of discomfort in my chest ballooned into a tourniquet. “No, Father said, ‘Duty first, worry second.’”

“Then you should listen.”

“What am I supposed to do? If I tell the truth, they’ll kill me, and I can’t go out there and lie. Elder Jasen can sense a lie from across a crowded room.” I paced and wrung my hands. “When Jasen asks me to swear to protect our realms and the humans from the evils of the Raphient telepaths and to swear to report any telepathic persons, he’ll know if I lie. And then he’ll order the nearest warrior to chop my head off!” I leveled my gaze at him. “My head won't be the only one. You, my fath—”

“I know!" Eli’s words blasted out sharp as swords. I sensed rather than saw crimson waves crashing toward me from his mind—my deviant brain’s way of giving color to his emotions.

I blinked to clear away the intrusion. Sensing emotions in colors wasn’t a healer or prophet trait. Instead, this extra ability was one of my deadly talents I had to conceal. “I can’t do it.”

Eli took a long breath and smoothed the indigo silk banner hanging on the wall—one of the few relics I possessed from my prophet mother. Another wave of emotion, this one deep blue, billowed toward me. Was he sad?

“I wish your mother still lived.” His words came out rushed and hushed, as though he spoke to himself. “She’d give us an idea of what the future holds.” He released the banner, as though it burned his fingers, and cleared his throat. “Today, we trust your father.”

Movement outside drew his gaze. He opened the curtains and grunted. “Marvelous. That nature-tender’s been eating mushrooms again.”

Outside, a vine smacked the backside of a healer. A few patio levels down, a lanky male swished his finger around in the air. The same vine, weaving like a charmed snake, yanked on the healer’s hair. He snickered. She scowled. I couldn’t hear her retort, but by the way she stomped on the plant, it wasn’t nice. Two tall warriors headed toward the troublemaker.

Any other day, I might’ve laughed. “I rarely see the nature-tenders in action. They’re amazing.”

Eli pinched the bridge of his nose. “That one’s a tree-talking nightmare. I’d better get out there.”


  1. At the risk of sounding like a broken record…I really like it and I think the revisions are strong.
    A few things:

    I like how you added the part about Earth being destroyed back into the story.

    I like the description of Master Eli. I can picture him in my mind.

    I like the description you added about the ceremony about losing the head.

    You took out the part about her being a princess. I can tell her father is powerful but maybe an elder or something without knowing she is a princess and her father is the ruler.

    Great start.


  2. This is another great piece. There wasn’t much I felt like you needed to change from before but what you did is really effective. I love the added paragraph explaining how/why she knows they’ll kill her. That little bit of info helps tremendously! I also like how you added a bit of emotional conflict in the beginning. I can picture her throwing her brush on the floor and taking a breath.

    I only have one very nitpicky suggestion. When Serenity says: “No, Father said, ‘Duty first, worry second,” consider putting a period after the word “no.” The comma makes me read it as Father talking right then. Again, nitpicky. :)

    I think I said it before but I love your voice. Your word choice, description, dialogue… all of it works really well.

  3. So I’m torn about the first line. I really like it! And this may totally be just me, but I’m not sure it’s 100% clear that she’ll have sentenced herself to death because of taking the coming-of-age-oath, as opposed to taking the oath and then sentencing herself to death as a separate event. What about something like: ‘At sunset, I’d take the coming-of-age-oath. It was as good as a death sentence.’

    The downside to that is you lose the ‘five moons’ line but I think you could work it into the next part where you mention the two moons. Say something like ‘two of our five moons peeked over the’

    ‘His words rang out. He wanted me to hear.’ – Nice. This totally clarifies the issue of if she should be able to hear him.

    ‘Not waiting for my answer… warrior uniform’ – this line runs on a bit. Could you separate it at ‘the center of my room toward my desk. His footfalls were silent on’

    So are there telepaths, prophets, and healers? Or are the telepaths and prophets the same thing, which are the same thing as the Raphients? If the answer is the second one, I think you should refer to them only as telepaths, prophets, or Raphients through the beginning for clarity for the reader. Or ‘Raphient telepaths.’ If the answer is the first one, ignore this =P

    I think you do a great job of weaving in backstory and world building, and also creating and sustaining tension. The characters are also already distinct physically and in terms of personality. Nice job!

  4. These revisions!!! I am so impressed Jennifer, seriously. It just keeps getting better and better.

    My thoughts:

    Oh I love how you tweaked that first line. The moons! And it sounds YA! And yay! And the hook! Great job.

    Beautiful second paragraph. Hint of world building without going overboard and very evocative imagery.

    I feel like “That was before” like could be tweaked just slightly. Maybe “Of course, that was before…”? Super super super nitpicky and optional obviously. Just a thought for flow.

    Great adjustment with cutting out some of the passive watching. The pacing is muuuuuch better now.

    "I said, 'You know I don’t want this ceremony,' and glanced back at the palace grounds, so beautiful, so filled with hate” could be streamlined to: "I glanced back at the palace grounds, so beautiful, so filled with hate. 'You know I don’t want this ceremony.’"

    Note about the cinnamon skin: I recommend you try to avoid food associations with skin tone, particularly dark skin tones. I’ve seen a lot of people mention that they find it offensive, given the slave trade implications with PoC. (Also, it’s a little silly when you think about it—light skinned people aren’t described as “milk-tinted” or something lol).

    I love the explanation about why the ceremony will be so dangerous, but I feel like there’s an obvious solution—technically, she COULD promise to report any telepathic persons and then break her promise. Even if she only means it for thirty seconds, it’s technically not a lie, right? That said I like that you have an explanation now. I'm just wondering if there's a way to squeeze in that there isn't a loophole? Maybe just me.

    Overall, really wonderful job. I can definitely see this hooking some readers in and I'm very curious about what happens next. :)

    1. Thanks for all the great suggestions, Ava! I so appreciate all the time you've taken with all of us this month. My work is so much better for all the wonderful suggestions and helpful ideas.

      So glad you said that about the skin tone issues. I had no idea. Eek. :-) I wouldn't want to offend anyone.

      I agree about the need to make sure the reader knows there aren't any loopholes in the ceremony. I hadn't thought about that one, so I'm going to rework that again. :-)

      Thanks so much!

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    Your revisions are good: the five moons, the destruction of Earth, her anger at being called a mongrel.

    Master Eli is so clear in my mind. It was good use of imagery with: his muscular stature towering eight inches taller than my five foot six frame.

    I really do like that she hears the tiny canines. And that the healer also speaks loud enough for Serenity to hear.

    Love the line: More like the perfect imposter.

    I like that she confronts Master Eli.

    Give the quote “No,” Father said, “Duty first…” more emphasis by moving Father said to the end of that quote.

    Love the last two paragraphs. Wish I could read the rest right now.


  6. Hi Jennifer,

    Very intriguing opening -- you start the story in an interesting place, and the worldbuilding is, in general, woven in nicely without being heavy handed.

    My main comment is that there's a bit more telling voice here than I would prefer, including the first sentence. Instead of starting with action, or by putting in the headspace of or the room with the narrator, you start with a sentence that feels a little bit like a summary to me. I think if you could convey this important piece of information in a showing voice instead, it would be a stronger start -- put us right there with the MC, instead of distanced from her through telling, as we are now.

    The telling voice shows up again in the second paragraph: "Above, two of our moons peeked over the western horizon of this planet so different from our homeworld, the place the humans once called Earth.

    "That was before the Raphient telepaths destroyed it."

    Why would the protagonist be thinking about the history of her planet in this moment? If there's not a good reason, this again feels like information delivered for the reader's benefit, and throws me out of the story.

    And then (one more example) the telling shows up again here: "The gown’s sapphire hue matched my eyes and complimented my dark hair. The shiny blue fabric distracted from my too-dark-to-be-a-healer cinnamon skin." Is she looking in a mirror here? This seems to be about how the dress looks, not feels -- but your MC is wearing the dress, so it feels like telling because it's out of her natural POV in this moment.

    In general, I would just do a pass through this and make sure that every sentence makes sense as something your MC is sensing or thinking in the moment. You have a really strong start here, and paring back the telling will make it even easier for the reader to fall into the world you're creating.

    I hope that's helpful feedback, although keep in mind that these notes (like all workshop comments) are of course subjective, and you should only take those that resonate with you. Great work in being brave enough to put your writing out there -- workshops like this are an awesome way to strengthen your work!

    All best,
    Patricia Nelson
    Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

    1. Thanks for the great suggestions, Patricia, and for taking your time to help us in our writing endeavors!