Sunday, February 21, 2016

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Boyce Rev 2

Amanda Boyce
YA Fantasy
Dragon Slayers

Jayde has been taught to hunt and kill dragons from the age of eight—she is a Dragon Slayer, and the first female of her kind. As protectors of their realm, Slayers should be respected by humans, but after centuries of peace from dragons their reign is failing and the people cry out for the first human king in millennia. War is coming. And dragons have returned to the land of Celedonia, burning towns and killing human and Slayer alike.

When she first meets Kail, a Slayer with a rare case of amnesia, Jayde has no idea how her life is about to change. She never expects to have the possibility of a normal life. She never expects to learn a startling new truth about dragons—or about a powerful dark magic brewing in the land.

1st 5 Pages:
A forest was ablaze with dragon fire, the air choked with belching smoke and the aroma of burning wood. Chaos reigned as people tried to find cover from the dragon's destructive wrath. Jayde watched from above in alarm, almost missing the six Slayers below the trees until they began shouting orders, trying to protect as many humans as they could. They stood their ground as a blood red dragon the size of a small house came into view, its spiked snout and multicolored scales glimmering in the moonlight.

She had no idea where in Celedonia they were; the wooden structures that peppered the trees like ornaments, connecting tree to tree were unfamiliar. A pang of shock coursed through her when she caught a glimpse one of the Slayers through the dense canopy of leaves, his radiant grass green eyes that rivaled her own shining up at her. She wanted to call out to him, tell him to run, but there wasn’t any time and she knew he would never hear her in the uproar surrounding them. Each Slayer took aim with an arrow just as the dragon shot a torrential jet of flames in their direction, blocking all from Jayde's view.

Screams of pain and horror resounded in her head and all went black. She opened her eyes to an entirely different scene: she was eight and Caius was teaching her to use a bow. The wind caressed the trees, bringing the sweet sent of blossoming magnolia and cherry to Jayde's nose before sweeping through her long auburn hair. She nocked an arrow and took a deep breath as she pulled the arrow back to her cheek. Her aim was good, the arrow whistling the sixty yards and embedding its tip in the center ring of her target.

A thought nagged at her, an idea. She let fly another half a dozen arrows then stopped suddenly to look up at Caius. His long grey beard danced in the wind. He looked down at her, waiting as though he expected her next words.

"I had another dream about a dragon," she said, confessing. "Is it wrong that I don't want to kill them?" She gazed up at the blue sky. "I want to fly with them."

The corner of Caius's mouth twitched. "Do you think it's wrong?"

She shook her head as the words, "But I'm a dragon Slayer," came tumbling out of her mouth. "How can I love dragons and kill them?"

His eyes like opals watched her for long minutes, never wavering.  "Perhaps you'll do both."

Jayde woke with a start, lurching upright and gasping for breath. She felt as though she was still in that forest with the dragon--clearly just a dream--even though her unconscious mind seemed to have conjured a nearly forgotten memory of Caius and shooting a bow in an effort to calm her. Why that memory? she wondered. And why had he been so kind in her dream? In her waking memory he was never so loving.

It hardly mattered now. She was already reliving the first dream, the vivid smell of smoke, the roar of flames and screams in her ears, and Micah's green eyes.

She shuddered.

Normally she relished her dreams of dragons, but this one, oh, Gods. Micah’s appearance had to be a coincidence. He'd been on her mind almost daily after his letter a month ago, and she'd dreamed of him plenty of times before. But this one felt different, more real somehow. Unable to bear the thought of anything happening to him, she shook the horrible vision from her mind and took a deep breath thankful the morning air smelled smoke free.

Her heart slowed as she focused on the mountains in the distance bleached of color in the pre-dawn light, Gabriel’s house a short walk away, small plumes of smoke emanating from the chimney, peaceful in its familiarity. A sparrow announced the day from one of the trees overhead; she always slept near trees when she could. It was a habit she formed early on with Caius even though her mother liked to remind her she had a perfectly good bed in her room. Caius never asked her to, but he slept outside so she slept outside. Now she almost felt claustrophobic sleeping indoors. She closed her eyes and dug her fingers into the damp earth--one of Caius's remedies to ground her after a nightmare.

She thought of Micah, his reassuring smile, his strong jaw, his comforting voice. He'd written that he had exciting news and he wanted to see her, to tell her in person. She could imagine him telling her he had requested to switch hunting teams to be with her, that he wanted to start a life with her. Daemyn stirred nearby, popping her fantasy bubble. She opened her eyes slowly.

"Another nightmare?" he guessed, his dark hair sticking up at the back of his head. She nodded and explained about the red dragon and the Slayers.

He stared at her, nonplussed. "Sounds like Cathal's team," he finally said. Daemyn was a few years older than she was, but she still felt like she might as well be his third older sister.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure it's not real. It's just a dream." But then, Jayde didn't have normal dreams. Daemyn, along with the two leaders of their team, Matthias and Gabriel, had never witnessed one of Jayde's dreams come to fruition, but they all knew from Caius's explanations the previous year it was only a matter of time.

"It couldn't be real," she said more to herself than to Daemyn. "I mean, a dragon attacking U'Aste; it's not possible." The idea of a dragon openly attacking and burning down a city anywhere in Celedonia seemed absurd. Such an event hadn't happened in a century. There were still occasional sightings, of course, but the last one had been over eleven years ago when it killed Jayde's father. Caius had been the one to tell the then five year old Jayde and her twin brother Aiken that their father was never coming back.

"Why is it," she asked Caius once, "that we have to be trained as Slayers if there aren't any dragons to slay?"

He didn't respond immediately and Jayde thought she might have insulted him somehow. To her relief he set aside his bow which he had been polishing and he answered, "There will always be dragons, good and bad. There will always be some sort of threat, and humans will always need protecting. Slaying dragons is not our only duty." He paused, picked up a small pebble, and began smoothing it between his fingers brushing away the dirt, his pale eyes gazing ahead lost in some unknown recess of thought. "Do you remember what your mother said about her crops yesterday?"

"That they lost their taste," Jayde said immediately. She only remembered because she hadn't noticed a difference in the taste of the potatoes and vegetables on her plate until her mother said something.

Caius looked down a the pebble in his hand. "There may come a day when not just the people of Celedonia need protecting, but also the land itself. Healing this land may require magic only the dragons have. We'll want them on our side. They'll know whether we've passed on our knowledge generation to generation; whether we've used these gifts we've been given. Do you think they'd appreciate the waste of not using the strength and the speed and the healing abilities that their blood passed along to you?"

Jayde had never thought of her abilities in such a way before and she did well never to forget the blood of dragons ran through her veins. Only shortly after their conversation Jayde's body began to change, forever marking her as "other", making it impossible to forget where half of her blood came from, especially when she had a twin. "Your ears are pointed!" Aiken noticed one day, aghast. He reached out tentatively to touch the tip of her ear. "Like father's."

"And like Caius's," she said. "He told me my skin will change too. It will get thicker and tougher like his." She'd been excited then, but it was only the first of many changes that slowly separated her from her brother.

Daemyn cleared his throat, scattering her thoughts. "Well, even if it hasn't happened, it might still happen in the future, right?"

Jayde shrugged and brushed the dirt from her hands. "That was Caius's theory." She pulled parchment and a quill that contained a store of ink (one of Caius's inventions) from her bag and began recording her latest dream.

Months after he began her training, Caius voiced the suspicion that Jayde's dreams were prophetic. Over time they both realized that like Caius, Jayde had visions of the future. Though less intrusive than Caius's abrupt visions, Jayde's dreams were also not as obvious or as easy to remember, so Caius instructed her to keep a record of her dreams. Each of her collections of parchment were a testament to the fact that most of her occasional prophetic dreams were personal in nature--how their cat died, Aiken getting caught for stealing at the market, Caius coming to visit when she and Aiken were eight. (At the time she thought he was there to train Aiken. No one was more surprised than she was to learn she was the first female dragon Slayer.) She was not accustomed to far-reaching dreams involving places in Celedonia she'd never seen and people she'd never met. She had to admit, however, that a prophetic dream of Micah was just as personal as one of her brother, and as she finished writing all she could remember her stomach twisted painfully at the thought that there was a possibility her dream might actually happen.

She hoped to the Gods it never would.


  1. This revision is fantastic! I really like how you explain more about Micah. This is a great paragraph.

    She thought of Micah, his reassuring smile, his strong jaw, his comforting voice. He'd written that he had exciting news and he wanted to see her, to tell her in person. She could imagine him telling her he had requested to switch hunting teams to be with her, that he wanted to start a life with her. Daemyn stirred nearby, popping her fantasy bubble. She opened her eyes slowly.

    It is much easier now to dive into this story. You tease us with the image of her being part dragon, and her desire to unite with them rather than kill them. Excellent intrigue.

    I hope to see this on the shelf soon.

  2. The first five pages are stronger in this sample. I'm not going to comment on them other than you might want to tighten and make parts sound more immediate. Like this - Chaos reigned as people tried to find cover from the dragon's destructive wrath. - could be this - People darted for cover from the dragon's destructive wrath. - It could be just me, so see what others think. But I think streamlining and cutting what's not needed would make this read more immediate.

    I don’t feel the query here has a big enough hook or defines the stakes in the story. There’s too much backstory and I can’t get a sense of what the story is about.

    What is the inciting event that sets the story in motion and defines the situation? Start with that. What action does the character have to take to solve the problem (stakes)? I use this formula to come up with my proposals/queries: When [protagonist] discovers/learns/other similar word [catalyst], he/she must [overcome x] before a deadline or ticking clock, or else [stakes].

    Start with something like this ..

    Sixteen-year-old Jayde is a Dragon Slayer, and the first female of her kind. (Add something exciting here about her that hooks the reader. What’s special or shocking about her?)

    After centuries of peace, the dragons’ reign is failing and war is coming. Jayde (does what?). She meets Kail. He has amnesia because a bad man hit him on the head. He knows secrets or he’s something special. The people rise up. A powerful dark magic brews in the land. Jayde must do this or everyone will die.

    I do love this premise and am a fan of dragon stories. There's so much to love in the sample pages and I'm crossing my fingers it does well in the next part of the contest. I hope this helps, and good luck!

    1. Thank you for your suggestions on writing a pitch. I have the hardest time writing them, especially for this particular story. I'll be using this formula when I rewrite it. Thanks for all your feedback!

  3. I think you need to clarify in your pitch that Slayers (and the king) are not human. It’s still unclear to mean.

    This is an interesting and punchy pitch, but it’s also a little short. Maybe a couple more sentences for clarification wouldn’t hurt. Right now, your pitch seems no different from a thousand other sword and dragon stories, and I know from reading it that your story is more than that.

    Your first two paragraphs are suburb. You really get us into the meat of the story, I felt like I was really watching the dragons and the slayers. Unfortunately, the flashback is jarring. We don’t know that we’re in a dream, and the sentimental memory kind of takes away from the exciting beginning. Save that scene, but use it later. Also, no one stares at someone for minutes. Stare at someone for five seconds and things start to get awkward.

    ‘Gods’ is generally spelled with a lowercase g.

    I’m glad we’re getting more character description here.

    Why, exactly, does Jayde feel like an older sister to Daemyn?

    I’m glad we’re getting more backstory about Jayde and her dragon blood.

    I really have very little else to say. Your manuscript was polished to begin with, and it’s only gotten better. I wish I could read the rest of this. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks so much for all your feedback Brian! It's really helped me and I've really enjoyed participating in this workshop.

  4. Hi Amanda,

    This is really great. I still love your opening -- so dramatic!

    Your pitch draws me in, too, and makes me want to read the story. However, Brian has a point. It's a little short if it's for a query and maybe a few more details about how some of the characters are half-human (or any other details) would make it stand out from other dragon/ slayer stories.

    I'd read this! Good luck!

  5. Hi, I'd like to ask for an extension. I'll offer my feedback tomorrow. Thanks for understanding.

    1. Hi I like how you move to the scene when she was first using a bow. I like how you have given enough information for creating a sense of place. The breeze sentence and the paragraph before "shuddered." I'm intrigued about how blood of dragons runs in veins. I have created an image of a human with scales. Now I want to know if the dragon slayers can communicate with the dragons. I do like the introduction of a twin as a way to showcase the difference between them. The time frame feels like a past time with the arrow. I've enjoyed the process. I like the hints, conversations, and word choices that have evolved over the last revisions. Best of luck.

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  7. Amanda, I agree with a lot of the other comments. You opening five pages are much stronger and cleaner to read. This piece is captivating and draws the reader in fairly quickly.

    I'm still going to stand by my "don't start you book in a dream sequence" comment from before. I'd rather it be an actual dragon battle because that's what gets my heart racing. To be thrust in a battle and then find out it's only a dream...kinda is a let down. In this particular scene she has a dream and then another vision/dream before she wakes up. There are some standard no-nos in the industry and while they still can work, they have to be phenomenal. Starting a book in a dream sequence is one of them.

    I want to comment on this sentence. " Healing this land may require magic only the dragons have. "...then why do we have Slayers? If we need dragons, why are we killing them off?

    Editorial-wise, much cleaner. There are still a few began to and was plus a verb that can be cleaned up. But I can see you did a lot with cleaning it up.

    Pitch is a bit weak, but that's okay. What you have is no hook, no stakes, why should your reader care about this character? I love Brenda Drake's take on it and I think she gave some very solid feedback.

    Overall, I think the story has a ton of potential. Dragons and magic are things that most of us, no matter what genre we gravitate to, will love. Best of luck to you!

    1. Thank you for your feedback Wendy!
      I've been indecisive about my beginning from the get go. I've never been sure how to start the story and so its changed a few times. I have heard that agents don't like for stories to start out with dreams, but Jayde's dreams are visions and this particular vision really does happen. In a way, I am starting out the story with an actual dragon fight scene, it's just Jayde is seeing happen from hundreds of miles away. She finds out by the end of this chapter that her dream was real. Do you think that's still something an agent won't like?

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  9. Hi Amanda!

    Nice job with the revisions- they are really working!

    For the query, I wouldn't start with backstory if I were you- I'd jump right into the hook and what the conflict is. I would also try to make the conflict and what's at stake more clear and specific- I was a little confused about those things. Best of luck!


  10. I was definitely intrigued by this but I agree that there has to be more in the pitch. What makes this stand out? What's the hook? It starts great but then your last paragraph kind of tapers off and isn't very specific. I'm not quite sure what happens next or where this goes. You want to hook your reader and show what makes this different. I feel like I've seen other books with dragon slayers: The Story of Owen is one, so it's important to show what makes it stand out in your pitch. Also, I agree with what was said above about making it clear Slayers aren't fully human (how do they have dragon blood?) and I was unsure why the specific reference to having a human king. Have previous kings had dragon blood? Do Slayers get along with some dragons? You mentioned good and evil dragons.

    But, that aside I am still intrigued and I thought your writing was good. I was a little confused though at the beginning. Is the part with the dragon (great opening!) a dream that shifts into a flashback dream? I wasn't 100% clear here.