Sunday, July 12, 2015

First 5 Pages July Workshop - Dyer Rev 1

Name: Jennifer Dyer
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Blue Serenity

2417 AD

It was the night of my coming-of-age ceremony, the night I would condemn myself to death.

I stepped onto my balcony and inhaled the scent from thousands of white roses. Already, two of our five moons had risen in the western horizon. The ceremony would start soon. Below, healers with dark hair, dark robes, and dark expressions meandered between banquet tables and fence railings smothered in a food and flower invasion. Two scowling ladies tied a small banner to a gazebo that said, “Wellness and peace to Princess Serenity.” They left it hanging crooked.
The pair moved down the hill toward the lake and inspected the path formed by two ropes of white flowers. They stopped on a raised platform, the place I’d take the coming-of-age oath.

The oath would be the end of me.

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 barked instructions in his usual nasal whine. “No. Sweets in the garden. Savory on the terrace.”

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, spoken loud enough for me to hear.

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

Another healer stomped past Jasen, yanking on tablecloths, slamming down silverware. She paused to pat around her 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. I pretended I didn’t see it, but it sat, eyes on me, and barked. More, more, more.

The healer stilled, watching the canine watching me. My insides tightened. I scooted back into my room, out of her sight line, but I heard her high-pitched voice over the dog’s barking. “She’s unnatural, that one. Deviant and destructive. 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 doorway. The outside noises went silent. Master Eli, my protector, teacher, and sometimes warden, stood in my doorway, hand lingering over the audio shield switch on my wall. His wide shoulders filled the wooden door frame. “Serenity, what have I told you about listening to those healers’ poison?”

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. He glared out the window. “I have no idea how 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. “We both know they’ll never accept me, the half breed.”

“You’re worth more than a legion of them,” Eli said.

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. Elder 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 should be dressed.”

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 wish Father would cancel the ceremony.”

Eli raised a finger, a sure sign a lecture followed. “Remember your warrior training, apprentice? Free your mind. Focus. Face the enemy.”

“Certainly, I’ll storm out there tonight in combat boots and swing a sword around. The healers will be thrilled.”

The sarcasm earned a look from Eli that could pierce glass. “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.”

“But if I take the oath, I might as well order my execution.”

“I know!” Eli's words blasted out sharp as swords. I sensed rather than saw a blast of crimson waves crash 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 if I wanted to live.

Another reason I couldn’t take that oath.

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 billowed toward me, this one matching the indigo colors on the banner. Was he angry? Sad? If I were a full telepath, one that could read people’s minds, I’d know. But if I were a full telepath like the Raphients, I wouldn’t have survived this long.

“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, back in the room, back in his role of stern master. “Today, we trust your father.”

Movement outside drew his gaze. He parted 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. The sentence “The night I would condemn myself to death.” Reads awkward to me.

    Nice description of the scent of the white roses.

    I like the part about the five moons.

    Great description of Jasen but when he says No. Sweets in the garden. Savory on
    the terrace. Is he organizing the ceremony. Why would an elder have that task.

    I love the part about the canine.

    I love the line “Unlike the healers who thought a carrying a sharp pencil as living dangerously, Nadiv warriors accessorized with weapons, the deadlier the better.”

    In the part about Present company excluded, I never got a whiff that Serenity was a healer. I thought she was a telepath and warrior.

    I don’t understand how taking an oath will order her execution.

    I still love the nature-tenders.

    Overall excellent revisions. I don’t have much to add because it is well written.

  2. I like this opening line much better. It grounds the reader in the time and action to come. I also think that the fact that she’s on a balcony is clearer. Based on E.S.’s suggestion, perhaps: ‘The night I condemned myself to death’ flows better?

    The roses and moons are part of a cool description and nice world building.

    So I’m still struggling a bit with how far away Jasen is and the fact that Serenity can hear him. The reason why, is because these things made me think he is far away:

    - He seems to be squinting (which is the impression I got from the scrunched up face).
    - There’s no acknowledgment that he knows Serenity may be able to hear him, or any kind of communication/recognition/anything.

    But then you say he’s close enough to hear her. But if he’s that close, then wouldn’t they realize they’re both looking at each other, in which case he’d have said that knowing she could hear him and she’d probably know that from how well she knows him… I think I’m getting circular here haha.

    I think ‘Hungry. Smells good.’ Should be in italics. ‘More, more, more’ too and any other voices that aren’t hers.

    The audio shield is much clearer this time.

    What do you think about something like ‘Too bad that wasn’t me’ instead of ‘more like the perfect imposter’? Sounds punchier, but could just be my opinion! :)

    ‘Healer or prophet trait’ – any way to drop in a brief mention of prophets prior to this? Or would it be too much info/terms at once? Maybe after her dialogue where she calls herself a half-breed. Something like: ‘“…the half breed.” Neither Prophet nor Healer, I was an abomination.’

    ‘one that could read people’s minds’ – this is implied; you don’t need it.

    Lastly I did understand how taking the oath would order her execution. Or at least I think I do. I assume it will somehow reveal her half-breed nature. I only mention this because if I’m right, then that’s one person who caught it and one who didn’t so I dunno which would end up being the majority haha.

  3. I love the description of the setting in the first paragraph, especially the part about the banner hanging crooked. The whole thing is a great set up. It reads smoothly. You have a wonderful voice and a knack for figurative language.

    Adding the description of the audio shield makes a big difference. The visual of the shimmering haze like a sheer curtain is great!

    One thing I’m not really clear about is why she’s so hated. She’s part prophet, part healer, part telepath, part something else (sensor of emotions in colors). Why is this a bad thing? Is that something that’s explained farther along in the book? It makes me think of half-bloods in Harry Potter. I get a sense (or maybe it’s my own interpretation) that there is an underlying theme of prejudice, tolerance, and/or acceptance.

    I know it’s her coming-of-age party but what exactly is the oath she’s taking?

    I agree with the previous comments questioning how taking an oath will lead to her death. Why? Maybe that’s another thing that is explained later. So I understand if that can’t be answered yet but I’m still concerned how she knows that. Is seeing the future one of her powers? If so, that should definitely be included. And if she knows her death is coming, I don’t understand why she won’t refuse to go the ceremony. Why is she not in a greater state of panic? Is she willing to die?

    The very first line is intriguing but without understanding how she knows this, the sentence loses its effectiveness for me. Of course, that’s just my opinion. It is a great line though. I think it would make a nice hook in a query letter.

  4. Thanks for all your great comments! It helps so much to see the story through other people's eyes! The oath is explained on page six--wish I could have squeezed that part in here. :-). I'm not sure if we're supposed to answer questions asked here or not? Since you asked, Melanie, part of the oath is Serenity swearing to help destroy telepaths. So, she's thinking she'll have to swear to condemn herself, so she's not truly being prophetic in the first line. She's more expressing her fears. I'm hoping I can find a way to better explain that. I'd love any more input!

  5. Jennifer, I love your revision. Your world has become so much more colorful and vivid. Your descriptions are well written without being too overly detailed. From this short piece I get a clear vision of the palace,the gardens, the ceremony preparations, the characters. Very well done. A lot of my previous questions did get cleared up this time around and you did it with such a light tough I couldn't tell it had changed your story much.

    I do agree with the few comments on the oath. This is my opinion, but I think you need to get it in earlier. You cut the part that you had in last time in which Earth was destroyed by the telepaths forcing the healers (or was it the prophets) to flee to this new planet. I think that was a critical piece of information. This explains why the oath is there to begin with now that I know what the oath is. I know you're limited to 5 pages so it's hard to get it all in.

    In addition, although your first line is better, I think it still can be stronger. I know we're not supposed to line the powers to be...don't look at this comment. LOL!

    What about this as a first line or something like it: Tonight I would take the oath, an oath that would ultimately condemn myself to death.

    Then bring up in the next paragraph about it being the Coming of Age ceremony and the preparations. And then your third paragraph mention the oath being to destroy either the telepaths or if you want to be more subtle you could say "my kind" or "those with my abilities".

    I don't know. Just throwing a few brainstorm ideas out there. Ultimately, you have to go with your gut, but maybe this will stir an ah-ha moment for you.

    Overall, this revision was very well done. I'm very impressed how you were able to take input and within a week produce an excellent revision. Good luck!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks, Wendy, for all your great suggestions! You've given me some great things to think about and some great ideas for revisions. I appreciate all of you so much.
      (Sorry about the deleted comment. :-) Lol. I got distracted and hit publish before I was ready.)

  6. Hi there!

    This is turning out great! I like the tweaks you've made and I've got a few more thoughts this time:

    Great revision with the first line—excellent hook. I am wondering however if “condemn” is the right word—I’m sure the meaning is fine, but it feels a little formal for YA. Also if you want to indicate that she just THINKS it’s going to be the end for her, you could say “the night I would probably condemn myself to death” except…different because I still think “condemn” needs to be something else. :)

    Can we get a one word description of the scent of the roses? (i.e.: sweet)

    Cool tidbit about the moons.

    Just saying “healers with dark hair, robes, and expressions” would give the same meaning without repeating “dark” three times.

    “Two scowling ladies crookedly tied a small banner…” would be a good way to combine those two sentences instead of “They left it hanging crooked” at the end.

    I think the hook works fine about hinting her death, but then following it up with “The oath would be the end of me” a few paragraphs later felt like too much. You’ve already said the ceremony is going to end badly! I don’t think you need to pound the readers over the head with it. :)

    Nice description with the hot metal down her throat.

    Is “More, more, more” supposed to be more barking? I’d say “Again” instead, then. Unless the “More” was the dog’s thoughts, in which case I’m assuming italics aren’t working on blogger.

    Should read “The healer stilled, watching the canine watch me.”

    Be careful with filter phrases like “I heard.”

    I’m wondering if maybe you’ve got a little too much of your protagonist passively watching what’s going on before Master Eli comes in. It slows the pacing a bit.

    I’m not quite seeing the connection between Serenity having abilities that could get her killed and not being able to take the oath. How are the two connected? Would taking th oath reveal her abilities?

    What do you mean by “Back in the room” when Eli is touching the banner? Does he leave the room? I thought the banner was in the room they were in.

    As for your question from last week, I don’t think you’ve got too much world building here. You don’t have any info dumps, which is excellent, and you gradually show us bits and pieces of Serenity’s world through description, action, and dialogue. The only thing I suspect goes on for too long is Serenity watching what happens before Master Eli comes in.

    Overall, this is well done and I think you're really close. Nice work!

    1. Such great suggestions, Ava! Thank you! You've given me some great ideas. :-)

  7. Hi Jennifer,

    One of the bad things about reading it earlier and then critiquing it later is that everyone seems to have covered my points. So here goes my take.

    The first line is better and offers a good intro into her anxiety of he coming-of-age ceremony. But I remain puzzled as to what might condemning her to death: her being a half-breed, her abilities to read minds and colors? I know the oath will but how and why?

    Just my own personal reaction but reading about healers who all dark and I shrink. I see healers in white and bad guys in dark – especially dark expressions. I like the crooked sign but agree the sentences could be combined: Two scowling ladies crookedly tied….

    I don’t get the next paragraph because I don’t think it moves the story along: The pair moved down the hill …. The place I’d take the coming-of-age oath.

    Wow, the healers are not happy or nice people. Again, it’s just me but it doesn’t work with my ideas of healers. Jasen hates Serenity and another healer slams down silverware. That is jarring to me. However, the descriptions and the writing are consistent with healers who are dark. And Master Eli sums up my feelings exactly.

    I love the part about the tiny canine and wanting more. I have a feeling her relationship with the canines will be more important later on.

    I really liked the last few paragraphs especially about about the vine and the nature-tender.

    There are the healers, telepaths/Raphients, Mentors, healers, nature-tenders, tree-tenders. That’s a big cast of characters to keep up with. Maybe too confusing or maybe I’m too tired.