Sunday, January 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Grigorova-Schaarschmidt Rev 1

Name: Lily Grigorova-Schaarschmidt
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Title: Dragon Season

It is the month of winds of the year 2207, thirty-six days before the Change sweeps the earth. The small country of Khania is huddled under late winter's frost, blissfully lost in its own struggles. Nobody knows. Yet nobody will be able to elude what’s coming. It all begins with Elena, a daughter of House Carnelian, who is returning home after six years in the royal courts of the Federation. She can already see her hometown in the distance. And she isn’t happy.

Elena blamed the letters. They had been arriving diligently for the past two years, written in her best friend’s sharp-edged, hard-to-read hand. Their contents had been pretty much the same: we all miss you, nobody cares what happened, please come back. And then, five months ago, they had changed. He had started writing about trouble at home, claiming her father needed her, the North needed her, and he would soon need her for “an endeavor of great import”. But it was the final letter that had decided her. It was somehow … off. Too chaotic, rambling on about a weird book that explained everything. Whatever everything meant. It simply didn’t sound like the person she knew. So Elena had put on hold the final year of her Governance major at the Federation’s most prestigious university, hired a carriage for her luggage, and sent a message to her parents that she would be coming home.

Ten mind-numbingly tedious days later, days of riding alongside the slow carriage accompanied by an ever-changing group of eccentric on-foot travelers, and nights spent in questionable roadside inns, Elena seriously regretted her decision. The closer she got to home, the more potently all the reasons for leaving were coming back to her. This morning, when the coachman had told her they’d be arriving today, she had had something like a mini panic attack. And now the pine woods of Alya hill, the ancient plateau which stood guard over the valley of her city, were already around her, smelling and sounding and tasting like her past, like a childhood of freedom and a youth of mistakes, and Elena felt jittery and unprepared to face it.

She ran her hand over the stack of letters just inside her left saddlebag, patting them like some kind of token, that she had come home for a reason. All would be well. She only had to make it through today.

“Soarer! Soarer!”

The shouts jerked Elena out of her brooding. She pulled the reins of her mare, the snow-white thoroughbred Marya, and looked up:


The coachman, who until a minute ago had seemed half-asleep atop his perch, pointed ahead and to the left, where the road swerved to follow the crest of the hill. And there it was! A tiny human-shaped shadow, soaring along the underbelly of the dove-colored winter clouds.

“Wow!” She had grown up around flying children, but after six years in the respectable corners of the Federation, Elena found the sight spellbinding.

I think I want to catch this little guy!

“I’ll meet you at the castle,” she called over her shoulder, digging her heels into Marya’s sides.

The mare jumped forward, bursting into an immediate gallop; the dull ride had made her impatient as well. Elena felt a slow smile fight its way onto her face.

“Go, my girl!” she whispered, leaning close to Marya’s white neck. “Let’s see if we can outfly a soarer!”

They charged down the ancient road, and Elena’s heart seemed to be beating easier with each rap of the mare’s hooves against the slabs. She glanced at the sky. The soarer was still visible, gliding lazily in the direction of the valley of Alshanai. She had to catch up with him before he dove above the city and disappeared from view.

How long had it been? Since she had also soared, as light as the wind, defying all the laws of gravity and reason? More than ten years? Fifteen? With age the ability to let go waned, until one morning, near her tenth birthday, she had stood, desolate, amid the castle’s courtyard, feet glued to the ground. She had cried then. Thrown a tantrum worthy of a boyar’s youngest daughter. But of course in vain.

Marya slowed down, and Elena tore her eyes away from the flying shadow in the sky to look at the road. They were approaching the wide curve to the right, after which the road followed the crest of Alya hill before descending into the valley of Alshanai. Continuing ahead would require for her mare to also learn how to fly.

Elena pulled the reins, disappointed, and peered at the sky.

It was a boy. And he was coming closer. His shape solidified out of the grey winter air, arms outstretched, feet slightly apart. He noticed her looking at him and waved. Elena waved back.

“Should I call him, Marya?”

But of course she wouldn’t. What will she say, excuse the interruption but I really wanted to be close to someone who knows what it’s like to defy the most basic law of nature? Her grandfather’s image flashed across her mind, red round cheeks covered in grey bristle, a fat old pipe stuck to the edge of his mouth: “No matter how hard you chase the past, you’re never going to get it back!”

Ah, grandpa, if you only knew how wickedly it all turned out!

The boy’s shadow glided over the uneven body of the hill, its outline rippling on the frosted earth. She followed his graceful dive over the valley until he disappeared beyond Alshanai’s city wall.

Her heart gave a dull throb of loss. Enjoy it little guy. For it never lasts.

She jumped from the saddle, feet landing softly on the worn paving of the road. Elena of House Carnelian, she thought, the last of the Carnelians, coming home. A wry smile twisted her features. No fanfare to greet her; as if in apprehension, the valley of Alshanai had wrapped itself in silence. The east side of Alya hill, where she now stood, rose cliff-like above the city. She could see the stone labyrinth of Alshanai’s streets and squares swimming in pre-evening mist. It was so familiar, the shape of her city, so dear, that it started plucking strings in her heart she had thought silenced for good. I don’t believe it, I’m home!

And then her eyes traveled beyond the city to the east horizon where evening was already draping its first veils. There, barely visible, rose the Footmark – a tangle of rock plateaus where her country’s history had begun its regal course. Another string rang out in her heart then, completely obliterating her reserve and the promises she’d made to herself to stay cool. No! You won’t think about him! But Ivaylo’s face had already filled her mind. Was he there? In the Footmark? Or perhaps even in Alshanai, awaiting her arrival? Stop it! Of course, he won’t be here! He doesn’t want to see you anymore!

“Ah, Marya,” Elena spoke aloud, hoping this would stave off her inner conversation with the past, “you think it was a good idea to come home, don’t you?”

The mare turned her graceful white head, giving Elena an affectionate nudge with her nose.

“Yeah, I love you too!” Elena said, stroking her mare’s silky neck.

My hands are shaking! She curled her fingers into a fist, anger at her own weakness adding itself to the whirlwind of emotions inside of her.


  1. Wow. This is so different! The quick lead in to Elena is less cumbersome, and we don't immediately feel overwhelmed with all of those names. I think it lets us know, more certainly, that Elena is our main character.

    The flying boy seems much less out of place now, though I feel like he becomes as important in this passage as Elena does. Will the soarer make another appearance? Is he just there to remind Elena of her lost youth?

    I like the hints that she had to leave home, that there is some bit of unresolved business that she very much wants to avoid. I also like what you added about the letters from home. It lets us know what fueled her to make the journey, though she is apprehensive about returning.

    You've got some grammatical errors, and there are a few sentences here and there that I think could be cut, but overall, I think this is a much stronger intro!

    1. Thanks Gabby, for your kind feedback. Actually, when I read it now, I kind of think it sucks :), a bit dissapointed with myself. There are quite a few places that need work, and I'm beginning to think there is simply not enough tension in this whole scene, so no matter how I twist it, it's still slow. There is a lot of tension in the novel, it's just a bit further along. What would be your honest reaction after reading such a beginning, would you keep on reading?

    2. I probably would. A slow beginning has never been a deal breaker for me, especially with fantasy. If there still wasn't any tension or conflict by 20 pages in, I might abandon it though.

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  2. So...totally different. Wow! What courage you have to tear these pages apart so wildly. No matter what first pages you finally come up with, please know that this kind of ferocious fight with your manuscript is the mark of a real, committed-to-craft writer. Bravo!
    Some things I love: The focus on Elana, the clarification of the flying boy, the insight that Elana had also been able to fly as a child, the revelation that her friend has urged her return because of something ominous. Elana's desire to fly, and the way the text mirrors her following of the boy, gives us a gorgeous show-don't-tell sense of her bright, independent-minded character. I simply like her. And I like the way she loves her horse!
    There is one element, however, that I feel has weakened: The voice. Elana now feels contemporary--her sense of self, idiomatic expressions are almost modern. I'm wondering if you could retrieve some of the gorgeous "high fantasy language" of version one while hanging onto the tighter, more focused narrative that makes version two so much stronger plot-wise. I read in a comment above that you felt there was not enough tension in these pages but I'm not sure that's true. Maybe just bring in a bit about the mirror -- or perhaps give us a scrap more about this mysterious best friend and why his words have sufficient weight to beg her return from school. But, on whole, I think it's a good set-up for a fantasy story.
    On a more subtle note, I feel like the world-building weakens a bit when you talk about Elana's degree and her life at school. Make sure you can thoroughly envision all this as clearly as you saw those nacreous stones :)
    You're closing in on the voice/style/shape of your narrative. Don't be afraid (or be afraid but don't stop). You are really doing this! - S

    1. Thanks Stasia! I desperately needed some encouragement at this point!:) And I agree, the nice "inspired" voice from the initial pages is gone. Will do my best to get it back :)

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  4. Hi Lily,

    This was so fun to read! I’m so fascinated by the flying boy, and the fact that Elena used to fly as well. Also loved that her friend asked her to come back for an endeavor of great import, and that there’s the hint that she left because of something she’d done (or perceives she’d done) wrong. This all really excited me to read more.

    While I did love getting in Elena’s head a little more, I found some of the internal musings (I think I want to catch this little guy!; Ah, grandpa, if you only knew how wickedly it all turned out!; Enjoy it little guy.) a little out of place. Maybe because, related to Stasia’s point, they feel a little contemporary?

    Small thing: I loved the scenery, but wondered what everyone was wearing. Perhaps that would help bring back some of the fantasy world-building?

    I was curious about the fact that she’s coming home from university. On the one hand, it sounds like the fact that she went to university (and so far away) was incited by something dramatic — she was running away from something, felt like she could no longer be where she was. On the other hand, if I use our world as an analog, it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility, that, in her world, a royal daughter would go to college. Maybe she needs to given that she’ll help rule something, and that’s why she has a governance major? So the fact that she’s coming back from university made her exit from home feel a little less dramatic. Maybe doesn’t make sense to include in the first 5 pages given everything else going on, but I was curious to get a better sense of how unusual it is that she went away, vs. she just didn’t come home as much as others do when they go to university.

    Excited to read more!


  5. Lily,

    Whoa. That was an utterly fearless revision, and that is how I know beyond the first shadow of a doubt that you are going to nail this. You are willing to experiment, to kill your darling words and see what happens and that is foundational quality number one for becoming a better writer. I can say all this with sympathy, having wrangled with, scrapped, re-wrangled and scrapped the beginning of my most recent novel a total of eight times before it even started to resemble what I wanted. You are so much closer than that!

    So here’s what I think worked. We are much more into the personal headspace of Elena, and we get straight to the pertinent information about who she is, her background, where she’s been and why she’s coming back, and all without having too much extraneous info/names to keep up with. The flying boy is also much more clear (and still intriguing!). I do think this happened at the expense of your voice, though. That maybe while trying to consider all the comments, you ended up twisting the story into something it’s really not.

    Here is what I would suggest: Choose a moment to begin that is Elena’s moment (maybe when Elena sees the flying boy? Or something different?) and let your storyteller’s voice be Elena’s voice. Let her tell the story just as you would, but only as she sees and thinks about what she sees. Let your voice be her thoughts, like you’re an actor playing her part, and then write them down. Tell us what she thinks about her journey, what she remembers about her past, what her anxiety is for the future. And this will give you plenty of opportunity to sprinkle in your world building (there were so many great details in that first sample, plenty to pick and choose from) and let us learn Elena’s character and conflicts as you go. Try that, set it aside for a day, pick it up again, and see where you are. What do you think?

    Finding the balance of necessary information vs. too much detail, finding a character’s voice, the right place to begin, it’s every writer’s fight. Do not be discouraged. At all! I forbid it! Your passion for words and story is obvious, and I can tell you know this story clearly and thoroughly. My instinct says the key is going back to the feel of the first sample, while using the better clarity of Elena’s POV that you have in the revision.

    Please feel free to ask questions, Lily, and I’m so looking forward to the next set of pages!

    1. Thank you, Sharon, I can't tell you how much your encouraging words mean to me!

  6. Hi Lily,

    I really like what you did with getting in to Elena's head and working the flying boy in to the story. I miss some of the rich descriptions from the first draft. I wonder if it would be possible to weave the two together. You have a way with world building I would hate to loose.

    Also for this version I feel like there is more telling than showing. For example, the mirror gave a hint of something significant coming and I feel that type of expectation and showing aren't as clear with this draft. I do think it is a compelling story and am curious to see your next draft. I think you'll nail it, I think you have the skills now its weaving it all together.

  7. Hi Lily,

    I really like what you did with getting in to Elena's head and working the flying boy in to the story. I miss some of the rich descriptions from the first draft. I wonder if it would be possible to weave the two together. You have a way with world building I would hate to loose.

    Also for this version I feel like there is more telling than showing. For example, the mirror gave a hint of something significant coming and I feel that type of expectation and showing aren't as clear with this draft. I do think it is a compelling story and am curious to see your next draft. I think you'll nail it, I think you have the skills now its weaving it all together.

    1. Thanks Jessica, I've been wondering how to fit the mirror into the first five pages (last time it got pushed further back because of all the new plot-setting information). I'll keep trying :)

  8. Hi Lily,

    I like what you did with the new beginning. Getting to meet Elena right off the bat gave me something to hang on to through the pages.

    I wonder, is that first paragraph necessary? It raises a few questions, but I completely forgot about it as I started reading the rest of the pages.

    I do like that we get to meet a Soarer and learn more about Elena and how she misses being one herself. But I wonder if the opening would be better if you broke up the first two paragraphs and dispersed the information throughout the scene. I'm not sure how that would work for you, though, and I'm trying not to look at things from a "this is how I would write it" perspective.

    One small thing that I noticed is that Elena's thoughts are peppered in, and I'm not sure if not putting them in italics was intentional or not. They were a little confusing until I realized that they were thoughts. But I'm not sure if leaving them in regular font was purposeful or not.

    Looking forward to your new revisions.

    1. I was also wondering about the first paragraph, it's only there to introduce Elena, will have to reconsider it. I will once again reconsider the structure of the whole thing :)
      And the thoughts were in fact in italics, but somehow that got lost during the posting :)

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