Sunday, July 5, 2015

First 5 Pages July Workshop - Dyer

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

Earth of Old date: 2417 AD

Some events require full body armor and defensive weaponry. Before night’s end, I would wish for both. Better yet, to have canceled my coming-of-age ceremony altogether. But no one offered me that choice.

If only I’d insisted.
I pushed open my balcony doors and breathed in the scent from thousands of roses. Already the palace gardens drowned in a floral invasion. White blooms smothered the tables, fence railings, and hillside patios that sloped down to the lake. Like my people, roses weren’t natives of Shelazon. We all languished on a foreign world, relics of our Homeworld, the place the humans called Earth before the telepaths destroyed it.

Below, a small banner on one of the garden gazebos read, “Wellness and peace to the king’s daughter.”

The king’s daughter. That’s how the Nadiv healers thought of me. Not as Serenity. Not as Princess Serenity. Not as one of them.

I was a nameless entity belonging to the king, but it was better that way. If the others discovered my secret, there wouldn’t be a grave deep or dark enough for me and the few people who’d made the mistake of protecting 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 my quarters on the third floor, face scrunched up like an old man’s gnarled fist. “What a waste, throwing a party for that half-breed mongrel.”

Another diminutive healer stomped past him, 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 canine trotted around her and sat, eyes on me. I pretended I didn’t see it, but I could feel its gaze, hear its thoughts calling to me. It barked, demanding I connect to its mind.

The healer stilled, watching the canine watching me. My insides tightened. I scooted back, out of her sight line, but I could hear 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 to ruin—”

The noise outside went silent. Master Eli, my protector, teacher, and sometimes warden, stood in my doorway, hand lingering over the audio shield switch he’d activated. His wide shoulders filled the wooden door frame. “What have I told you about listening to those healers’ poison?”

Not waiting for my answer, he strode past the iron 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.”

“I think they suspect. You didn’t see—”

“Ignore them. Elder Jasen’s been ill tempered since humans commenced with using electricity, and celebrations make healers irritable.”


“Reminds them of too much.” He 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. “This ceremony is a bad idea.”

Eli raised a finger, a sure sign a lecture followed. “What have I taught you in 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 pacifist healers will be thrilled.”

“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.”

A shiver slithered down my neck. I rubbed it away. “I can’t explain it, but I have a feeling tonight will end in disaster.”

Behind my desk, Eli smoothed the indigo silk banner hanging on the wall—one of the few prophet relics I possessed from my mother. I sensed rather than saw solemn waves the same color as the banner billowing from Eli’s 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.

Eli stared at the banner, but seemed a million light-years away. A blast of crimson crashed into my mind. Was he angry? If I were a full telepath, one that could read people’s minds, I’d know, but if I were a full telepath, 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 could help you. Perhaps this feeling is your prophet instincts. Some can sense the future through visions.” He released the banner, as though touching it burned his fingers and cleared his throat, back in the room, back in his role of stern master. “But most prophets are just big wind bags.” 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. The audio shields were still on, so 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.

I couldn’t stop my chuckle. “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 before he makes more trouble.” At the door, Eli released the audio shields and speared me with one more glance. “I’ll be back in half an hour. Be dressed. No excuses.”

Arguing with a warrior was as useful as debating with a rock, but I called after him anyway. “I might as well be dressing for my funeral.”


  1. I love the title.

    The first paragraph is great and makes me want to read on.

    I know it is nitpicky but should Homeworld be capitalized. It is not a proper place is it? I thought her homeworld is Earth. Am I wrong?

    Who are the Nadiv healers? I thought the land was Shelazon. Are the Nadiv that name of the people of Shelazon?

    It is kind of disrespectful to refer to the king’s daughter the way they do.
    I like the part about not having a grave deep or dark enough. Well written.

    Who is he talking to when he says, “What a waste, throwing a party for that half-breed mongrel.”

    The part about the combat boots and a sword confuses me? Is she planning something? Isn’t she wearing a dress?

    I think there are too many kinds of people introduced so soon. I’m having a hard time keeping them straight. The healers, the telepaths, the nature-tenders. I would like to know more about each group than just having them named.

    Sorry I don’t have more to say. Your novel is so well written that there is not a lot of changes I can suggest.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I appreciate it! :-) I've been back and forth on capitalizing homeworld, and I've struggled so much to introduce this world without too much backstory dump. World building feels like standing on a teeter totter, doesn't it? Too much either way and readers fall off. :-)

  2. This is a really strong start—I'm impressed! Most of what I picked up was pretty nitpicky.

    I was initially confused by the dialogue in the first exchange because of the lack of dialogue tags.

    The colorful emotion sensing thing is really cool!

    Loooove the last line.

    I feel like the cryptic mention of her secret could be tweaked. This is a bit of a peeve, but while I like protags with secrets, when they bring attention to it without saying what it is, (as in explicitly mentioning they have a secret), it feels like a gimmick to me. This is a super easy fix, though: saying "the truth" or something of the like instead of "secret" feels a tad bit more subtle to me.

    Nice gradual worldbuilding (not infodumping—yay!).

    I was a little confused about where the MC was when she was eavesdropping on the healers. Wasn't clear if she was in her room looking out a window, or on some kind of overlook, or something else.

    Her inexplicable feeling that the night will end in disaster personally also feels too gimmicky to me. Inexplicable feelings are often the author nudging the reader without explaining how it's really possible for the character to know. In this case, something about a prophetic talent is mentioned, but even so it takes away from the surprise later on. I think it's fine to have her nervous, but for her to actually say she has a feeling the night is going to end in disaster feels like too much to me.

    Overall, this is very well done though. Very nice job. :)

    1. Thanks, Ava. Really great suggestions! I've gone back and forth between using "secret" vs "the truth," so your comment answered a question. Thanks! I've struggled with how much that have her come off as nervous vs having a prophetic feeling something will happen, so you answered that question too. Thanks for your help on that too!

      Question: I've struggled with world building. Am I introducing too much too soon? I had an agent tell me a while back that I needed to explain my people and their powers right away, which is why I introduce quite a bit in the beginning. Is it too much?

  3. Hi, Jennifer.

    The first paragraph is intriguing but the readers should only know what the main character knows. Unless she has that ability, how does Serenity know in that particular moment what will happen later? It’s good foreshadowing but like Ava mentioned, it takes away from the surprise later on. What if you start with “I pushed open my balcony…”

    I do have a few questions:

    If her people are from Earth, what are they called? Are they the Nadivs? If they’re from Earth, why aren’t they human?

    When Jasen looks up toward Serenity’s quarters does he see her? Does he know she can hear him? Why is the dog demanding Serenity connect to its mind?

    I’d like some more detail about the audio shield. Is Eli wearing it? Holding it? Is it somewhere in Serenity’s room?

    You mention Lord Teomir’s face on the cover of a book. I’m assuming he’s important. But nothing is said about him. Who is he to Serenity besides a famous warrior? Does he come up later in the story?
    What makes her a half-breed? Is that she’s part healer and part prophet? Is it something completely different?

    Overall, this is well written. I like the way you introduce the MC. It’s subtle and natural. I like the comparison between the Nadiv healers and warriors and I love the simile comparing Jasen’s scrunched face to an old man’s gnarled fist.

    1. Thanks, Melanie! You've helped me get some more information clear in my mind, and I hope I can make it more clear to the reader. :-) It's sort of like choreography, isn't it? Gotta get all the dance moves just right. Love your suggestion to explain the audio shields!

      To answer the questions: Yes, I wrote the part about Lord Teomir because he comes in later. I also explain more in the next several pages about the Nadiv and Earth. You're right about Serenity. She's a half breed because she is half-healer and half-prophet, and the Nadiv don't like intermarriage between their four realms. They feel like that gives an individual too much power (each realm has a specific power). They live longer lives than humans do, and they're so angry about everything they lost in the previous war that they don't respect their king any longer, which is why they don't mind being rude to the princess. It's a lot to stuff into a few pages. :-)

  4. Jennifer, I first want to say that I really enjoyed this piece. It was so well written that a lot of my comments will be nit-picky.

    My first comment is regarding the opening paragraph. Although I do love the foreshadowing, a second read through made me question, does she already know that the end of the night is going to end in disaster? You indicate that she has prophetic skills and if she does know that the ceremony is bound to be doomed, this will fit fine. She even says that she should've insisted on canceling the ceremony. But if she is prophetic and does know that the day will end in disaster, why isn't she insisting that the ceremony be canceled? Why isn't there more urgency to make sure it doesn't happen? She seems more wrapped up on what the others think of her than the fact that she seems to know that at the end of the day she's going to be wearing combat boots and wielding a sword. Does it have to do with the oath?

    Speaking of oath, can you give us a little more? Not much, but just a little about what that oath entails. As of right now I sense that it's important, but we've been given so little that it's a little ambiguous.

    I was able to follow that Serenity is half Earthling and half Nadiv/Shelazonian. I'm curious how exactly the telepaths destroyed Earth. But maybe that will come later.

    Regarding the Nadiv, and this is super nit-picky, if this ends up as an audiobook...Nadiv sounds a lot like native. Might be confusing. When I'm editing I read aloud and this was something that stuck out to me. Just something to keep in mind.

    What does Eli mean when he says that healers don't like ceremonies because it reminds them of too much?

    I think this will be resolved as the story goes on, but I was keeping notes as I read and from what I gathered Serenity is part (but not full) healer, prophet, and telepath. She also has the special ability to see emotion in colors and can hear at great distances. I'm guessing that it is because she's got all of these abilities that that's what makes her special or dangerous. If not, perhaps she has too many abilities?

    Again, these are just things that came to mind while I was reading. Overall an easy and clean read. There were so many things I did love. I thought it was funny that the nature-tender had eaten mushrooms and was causing shinanigans. Your descriptions are so well written that I had enough information to get a picture of your characters and the setting, but not too much that it didn't allow me as a reader to fill in with my own imagination. Your opening pages are compelling and I would definitely keep reading. Awesome, awesome job!

    1. Wende,

      Thanks so much for your in-depth notes and thank you for your encouragement!

      I wonder if I should instead say in the first paragraph: "Some events require full body armor and defensive weaponry. I’d probably wish for both before night’s end." Then it wouldn't seem so heavy handed? Would it come off as more nervousness?

      Great suggestion about the oath. Serenity does go into more detail about it on page 6. Do you think it's OK that I spread it out a bit?

      I give more information about the telepaths and what they did in the next couple of pages and as the story goes along. I was worried about putting in too much backstory, but with building another reality I can't tell how much is too much or too little. I've struggled and rewritten so many times trying to get the balance right. I know I still have work to do, which is a reason I'm so grateful to be in this workshop!

      I hadn't thought about Nadiv sounding like native. Thanks for pointing that out. I always had it in my head as nah-DEEV, so I never thought about it looking the other way. :-)

  5. Great opening. I like the first line, and I think you do a good job of setting the scene quickly while providing backstory.

    ‘That’s how the Nadiv healers thought of me’ – Is ‘that’s’ supposed to be ‘that was’? Since ‘thought’ is in past tense.

    Really interesting idea of the dog demanding that she link minds! Love it.

    Carrying a sharp pencil as living dangerously lol!

    “You should be dressed” – this line doesn’t need to be on its own, and it makes it seem like it’s someone else’s words. I’d connect it to the line before.

    ‘too-dark-to-be-a-healer cinnamon skin’ – GREAT way to introduce this!

    Sensing emotions in colors is awesome.

    I really like this! It’s very well written and unique. My main critique is actually an agreement with E.S. Although I think you handle the introduction of the groups well, it is a lot to handle all at once. What do you think about picking maybe two of the most important ones and focusing on them, then bringing the other ones in later? For example, although the nature-tenders are awesome, I don’t think their introduction is necessary so soon.

    About Ava’s comment as to where the MC is, I also had to go back and check. You do mention she goes out on the balcony, so it’s not something you forgot to say. I think it’s just a matter of us missing that detail, which may mean it’s worth repeating in some way.

    I also agree with Melanie’s comment about knowing more about the audio shield.

    1. Thanks, Kalyn, for all your feedback and encouragement! Great suggestions. I always seem to miss that some contractions are in present tense. :-) They're my grammar kryptonite. Love the suggestion to explain the audio shields more. And I missed that it was difficult to tell where Serenity stood.

      This world building is difficult, isn't it? I agree with you about how fast I introduce my people. I lob a lot at the reader right up front. A while back, I sent this into an agent. She kindly wrote back to suggest that I introduce my four realms right up front, but I know it's a lot to take in. In a few pages, I need to already have the nature tenders introduced. I also like the hit of humor that scene provides in an otherwise serious start, but I totally see your point. So, I'm not sure what to do. Does the confusion make you want to stop reading?

  6. Hello Jennifer!

    Thank you for sharing your work with us here at First Five Pages. I'm a huge fan of fantasy and I enjoyed getting to know your world.

    Right off the bat, I was a little disoriented. This section that you open with is interior thought: "Some events require full body armor and defensive weaponry. Before night’s end, I would wish for both. Better yet, to have canceled my coming-of-age ceremony altogether. But no one offered me that choice.

    If only I’d insisted."

    Taken alone, it's difficult for the reader to gain their bearings on the setting. Back up. Let us know where we are, or when, or what this day means before you give us your protagonist's thoughts on the matter.

    What comes to mind for me is: "On the day of [name's] ceremony, I [took action/had goal or thought that sets the intention of the scene]" A great reference for a strong opening line that immediately grounds the reading in space and time is SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo.

    Moving on, we receive a lot of back story information that is valuable but not active in the scene, which slows the pace. This seems to be when we join the action: "On one of the patios, a healer elder named Jasen paced, hands crossed over his bony chest, black silk robes swishing. ..." Try to be in the active scene from the get-go. My advice is to cut the opening backstory. Set it aside in a document and then work it into the narrative where it connects with the action, and specifically where it makes sense for the protagonist to think these things. Would she really be thinking about all of this backstory standing on a patio? Is it a beautiful sunrise? Is there an impending trial to the death? Give us an opening that grounds us, enter the active scene, and work in the back story where it truly fits.

    Following the introduction, we meet an interesting world and several new characters. I found all of this intriguing, if a little confusing. I would aim for clarity. After you set the scene and open into the action, really emphasize what the conflict is, and what your character's goal is. She should be seeing everything around her through this lens. That focus will help the reader understand your world as they learn about it, which as you know is challenging in fantasy worlds. Don't try to tell us everything at once, just let us understand: this is the challenge, this is how the character is facing it, and this is how that turns out.

    You have a great start here, and a compelling and sensory world. I look forward to reading your revision!

    1. Hi Melanie, Thanks for all the great suggestions! Based on what you suggested, I went back and did some journaling from the MC POV to try to get a better understanding of what she was feeling. I loved the book you recommended. Great opening. :-)

  7. Hi Jennifer,

    This is probably picky of me but I would like the protector to call her by name at least once in their dialogue because that seems important to her.

    You established the character’s voice well and some of the issues that will be developed: the Nadiv thought of her only as the king’s daughter, she had a secret and she was in danger.

    She is also sensitive to how other people perceive her and what they say about her.

    The coming-of-age ceremony is a very important part of that society but Serenity is dreading it. You’ve done a good job of setting the scene for the ceremony and the potential disaster. I’m assuming it’s because of all of her powers which no one seems to know about.

    I’m confused about the Nadiv. Early on it seems they are against her and may be dangerous to her but her protector and teacher is a Nadiv warrior who is teaching her to become a warrior. Yet she is also a healer, a person who sees other’s emotions, and can connect to the brains of canines. That’s a lot on one girl. Master Eli also refers to her as a healer and maybe a prophet. Wow

    She is isolated, why? Her choice? Where is her father? The remarks make him appear to care for her and her welfare. Will he be at the ceremony?

    I like the way you worked in her description: 5’ 6,” sapphire eyes, dark hair, and cinnamon skin.

    I think the lanky male, aka, nature-tender has a future in the novel.