Monday, March 14, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Marnoch Rev 1

Name: Kellie Marnoch
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Title: Bright Young People

Bright Young People

Book One
May 1926

Pen tapped her foot to the music, her palms sweating within her elbow length gloves, trying not to fidget with her ostrich-feather fan, to let her nervousness show.

Her London debutante ball was a much more frightening prospect than her Perth, or even her Glasgow debut. Her “lesser” debuts, according to her mother, never mind that she was twenty-second in line to the Alban throne, compared to fifty-seventh for the English one. And that her eldest brother Simon was one of the many tanists for Pictland.

Kitty, her beautiful elder sister, stood next to her (how Pen wished she would go away, she didn’t need the comparisons, not tonight) and said, “You look magnificent, Pen, darling.”

“She’ll do,” her equally beautiful mother, Arabella, said, as she swept forwards to mingle with the cream of the crop of London high society.

Kitty briefly frowned then smoothed her expression into a placid smile again. “Don’t listen to her. She’s just...nervous.”

“Ha,” said Pen. “Mother, nervous?”

“You know what I mean.”

No, Pen didn’t know what she meant. But she didn’t say that. It might cause Kitty to stay by her side longer.

Pen had the more fashionable figure, thanks to the sylph blood running through her veins, but Kitty had inherited her looks from their mother’s side of the family - the succubus blood. Succubus blood always made you beautiful.

In paintings and stories, sylphs were always beautiful nude women (according to her father, who had been obsessed with the family stories of sylphs), but they were air spirits. They had no human form - which made Pen wonder how her distant ancestor had had a child with one, but that was a question no one would answer - and everyone knew that occasionally the children turned out to be horrific monsters. Pen was told to be grateful that she hadn’t turned out like that.

Her mother and sister were...voluptuous. Kitty might complain about the girdles and her restriction diets to fit into the curveless clothes, but Pen saw the effect they had on men. She wanted a little bit of that.

Somewhat, anyway. Perhaps, if she had seemed less sylph-like...

No. She shook her head. Nothing was going to make her think of that tonight. She was not going to let anything spoil her night. Not tonight. Everything was jake, as the thoroughly modern flapper that she was would say. She was full of excitement, brimming over with it, so much so she felt somewhat jittery, fidgety, unable to stop moving. When she hadn't been planning out every little detail of the ball, she had been sketching and painting, always doing something, leaving no moment free of action.

She thought that tonight, perhaps, her succubus blood might be discerned. Her dress was white silk, cut on the bias so that it clung to her (very) modest curves, with pearly beads on the straps and hem, dangling down on tassels to her knees that tinkled as she walked. It was trimmed with white velvet, a thin strap of which was also around her head, resting on her fluffy ash-blond curls like a halo, though she didn't feel much like an angel tonight. A large white ostrich feather stuck up from it, swaying whenever she moved. A fashionably long string of pearls was looped twice around her neck, falling past her low, square neckline to her hips, where the tassels began. It matched the pearl earrings she wore, and her white silk low-heeled shoes completed the ensemble.

It was an outfit for dancing, and she planned a lot of that tonight.

She fought back a yawn, annoyed with herself. She couldn’t yawn at her own debutante ball! But she hadn't been sleeping much lately, hadn't felt the need to, but even when she did she always woke up from dark nightmares, unable to fall back asleep, too frightened of what she would see when she drifted away. A stream of handsome men and beautiful women, completely unknown to her, kissing her, touching her in ways and places that made her blush when she woke up...and then they started burning, screaming and screaming until they were nothing but a little pile of ash. She woke up screaming herself, sheets damp with her perspiration tangled around her. She had tried to capture it on paper, but the essence of her dreams eluded her. Something stopped her.

She shook her head again, and bit her lip, then immediately stopped, hoping she hadn’t ruined her blood-red lipstick. She took a deep breath and then looked around the ballroom. Kitty had wandered off, probably to her flat-tire of a husband, and she was standing all alone. Almost desperately, she searched for Pip, her best friend in all the world, her soulmate, she was sure, who knew everything about her.

Except for a few little things, the things she had never been able to tell anyone, ever. The deepest, darkest, monstrous, utterly unspeakable parts of her soul. The things she couldn’t even put in her sketchbook-journal, they were so awful.

“Pen, darling, what a wonderful party!”

Pen almost jumped out of her skin and spun around. It was like she had summoned him. “Pip! You came!”

Kitty stood next to him, her arm through his, her smile beatific. She let go of her bounty, pleased with herself, moving beside Pen.

“Of course I came, dearest! Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He bundled Pen up in his arms, gathering her to him. She closed her eyes, wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders, breathing in his scent, Brylcreem and something indefinably Pip. He was hers.

And then he was gone, saying something about having to greet someone.

Kitty let out something like a hiss, but Pen knew her sister would never make such a sound.

“I wish you wouldn’t languish after him, you know.” Kitty had said something like this a thousand times, and Pen did what she always did: ignored her.

“He’s going to propose tonight, I know it.” She sighed a full, whole-body sigh, feeling like a heroine in an Elinor Glyn novel. She just needed a tiger-fur rug.

Ever since she was little, she knew she was going to marry Pip, that she loved him, but it was only recently that she really understood what that meant. And that she also felt something else too: lust. Whenever he was around, she felt hot and cold, at the same time. She wanted to touch him – and not just holding hands. She wanted to feel him all over her, skin against skin. When she was in bed, she imagined just what it would feel like, and it was so vivid and real that she half expected to roll over and find Pip next to her...

She knew it would be different, she wouldn't complete that thought. She wasn't going to think about it. She had resolved, when her father died, that he would never spoil anything for her ever again.

Kitty sighed, too, but it sounded more weary than romantic. She was jealous, Pen supposed. Her husband Lord Henry Wellard was boring, even if their elopement had been rather romantic. He was a barrister!

And he was coming to claim Kitty for the first dance.

Pen waited. Pip would certainly ask her. Oh, no, there he was, sailing by with Lucy Montague. But it would only be because he thought she already had a partner for the opening dance, of course.


  1. Hi Kellie!

    Great job with this revision! The pace is quicker, and we’ve met what I assume is the love interest, and got our girl to the ball! I still think the narrative is weighed down by description, especially about bodies. For example:
    Pen had the more fashionable figure, thanks to the sylph blood running through her veins, but Kitty had inherited her looks from their mother’s side of the family - the succubus blood. Succubus blood always made you beautiful.
    Since you’re telling us here that her mom and sister are beautiful, there is no need to comment on it above. And at this point, you’ve used the word beautiful 3 times in half a page, and then again in the next line.

    I was also confused in a couple of places. Intrigued is good, it keeps the reader turning the page, but confused pulls the reader out of the story. For example, I assumed Pen was in her room, and so I was surprised when her mother swept past. This felt awkward to me, because I couldn’t picture it. There is a lot of description about bodies and Pen’s dress, but I have no idea what kind of room she’s in or where she is. Is she leaning against the wall? Waiting in the shadows to be announced? If the ball is for her, why is she standing there alone? And is this room a magnificent ballroom with marble floors and a half a dozen crystal chandeliers, with a band playing on a stage? Help the reader get a sense of place here.

    I was also confused here: She knew it would be different, she wouldn't complete that thought. She wasn't going to think about it. She had resolved, when her father died, that he would never spoil anything for her ever again. This was more confusing than mysterious, and took me out of the story. And I was also confused when Pen thinks that she knew she would marry Pip since she was small. I assumed an arranged marriage, but reading on, I don’t think that’s the case. Best to cut or clarify.

    Regarding Kitty, again I assumed it was an arranged marriage, so I was surprised she had eloped to marry a boring barrister! Why did she run off with him if he’s so dull? Perhaps cut or put in later, if it’s important. Don’t waste the valuable 1st 5 page real estate on anything that won’t draw the reader in.

    Some of the transitions need smoothing, as well. Here there was a disconnect:
    She fought back a yawn, annoyed with herself.
    Just before you told us that she was fidgety and excited. And here as well:
    “I wish you wouldn’t languish after him, you know.” Kitty had said something like this a thousand times, and Pen did what she always did: ignored her.
    But Pen doesn’t ignore her, she answers her, saying “He’s going to propose tonight, I know it.”

    I also felt this was a bit melodramatic: Except for a few little things, the things she had never been able to tell anyone, ever. The deepest, darkest, monstrous, utterly unspeakable parts of her soul. The things she couldn’t even put in her sketchbook-journal, they were so awful. You can introduce Pip as her best friend, who she shared everything with, and then give the reader a hint – well, almost everything, or except for the things she didn’t dare ever tell….or some such.

    Lastly, I know this is a historical fantasy, but reading these pages, I don’t have a strong sense of what type of story this is. Everyone seems to know about these other creatures, so it seems accepted in this society and not hidden. I know it isn’t easy to set the tone and stage in 5 pages (believe me, I know!) but I’d suggest reading some YA historical fantasy, like Grave Mercy, and see how others do it. Look at the first few pages, and see how much is in the beginning and how much is woven in later. Fantasy is so tough – and often requires re-writing the beginning again and again and again!

    Good luck I can’t wait to read next week!

  2. Hi Kellie,
    This opening works so much better in my opinion. I like that you've changed where the story starts. Like Erin, I could do with more info about the room, in particular the number of people there. Is it crowded? Is it hot?

    There's still loads of info in that second paragraph. I think you've done well to refine it down from the first draft, but by the time I got to the part about her brother being a tanist I was getting it wrapped around my neck. Personally, once you've talked about her ascendency, I'm not all that interested in her brother's. That part can come later, you've already outlined that she's of high social standing and has a legitimate link to royalty.

    This is a pretty sexually charged opening, and while I'm not averse to sex in YA fiction, I wonder whether this is laying it on a bit thick. It's personal preference of course, but it might be off putting for some readers. And if your novel isn't going to be centred on sex then maybe cutting some of it out would give a better understanding of what's to come (of course if there is going to be a lot of sex, then you're setting the right tone!).

    I found the paragraph about the air spirits a bit odd. You write "which made Pen wonder how her distant ancestor had had a child with one, but that was a question no one would answer". Are the machinations of it really important? And would a young girl really have asked? Do you think that no-one would answer the question, or is it more likely that no-one ever asked? I doubt that Pen would have gone to one of her parents and said "an air spirit, now how did that work?"

    The reference to Elinor Glyn made me stop reading and google her to figure out what you meant. I'm pretty well read, but she wasn't right up there in my consciousness. Maybe I'm a philistine and other people got the reference straight away!

    Minor comments: There may be a problem with formatting, I think I've got some words replaced by .......

    I find the frequent use of elipses pulls me out of the prose.

    "Jittery, fidgety, unable to stop moving" feels tautological to me.

    You say that Kitty hisses, but then say she'd never make that sound.

    Good luck with the revisions!

  3. I still love the idea of a flapper debutante ball in the United Kingdom! I like the insertion of the characters, and I felt the pace picked up. I also like that you explain a little more about what a slyph and a succubus are.

    For me, I still don't have a good handle on who Pen is or what she wants. She says she wants to be at this party and that she's planned everything, but she's very nervous despite having been to a number of these events. Why is that? What is at stake for her tonight? Is she expecting a proposal from Pip? If so, I'd like to know that sooner.

    Pen seems to be anxious around Pip and jealous too. She didn't seem to like him walking with her sister or talking to the other girl. Are they just "best friends" or are they seeing each other? Is she nervous because she wants/expects a proposal tonight? If they are at the point where she thinks he's going to pop the question, you might reconsider describing him as a "friend" (I thought she was referring to a female).

    Finally, I definitely don't think every main character needs to be likable by any means, and I don't know what you have in mind for this story. However, for me, Pen comes across as a little jealous and somewhat petty. My reasoning is that her sister compliments her and seems to be trying to talk to her at the start of the story, and Pen just wants her to get out of there so they don't get compared. It didn't feel to me like she was self-conscious as much as she didn't want her thunder stolen. Kitty might be horrible later, but right now she seemed kind of encouraging. Toward the end of the passage, Pen accuses Kitty of being jealous that Pip likes her and puts down her brother-in-law.

    I'm not sure how you envision Pen, but I thought I'd give that little bit of feedback in case that's not necessarily what you were going for!

  4. Hi Kellie,

    You did a nice job with the revision. Your opening is much improved.

    I’m still getting weighed down with details that I don’t necessarily feel I need to know right now. Right now I want to know What’s the setting? Is she at her home or a hotel or a fancy ball room? What’s this room she’s in look like? When’s the party start?

    And I want to know about Pen herself, lots more about her. Her conversation with Kitty is a great way to let us get to know Pen, as well as Kitty, of course. For example, you say about Pen that “She was full of excitement, brimming over with it.” I’d like to see that excitement throughout the scene. Otherwise, there’s more telling us about Pen than letting us see her.

    At this moment in time, on this evening, what would be on her mind? Probably How do I look? Will they like me? What’s Pip doing? Who will I dance with? She probably won’t be thinking about her family tree and if we don’t learn about her family tree until later, that’s okay.

    The story sounds like it’s set up for lots of social intrigue. Seeing the interaction among the characters you have introduced should be fun. Keep up the good writing.


  5. Hi Kellie,

    Great first revision. I feel like I can see and relate more to Pen now, whereas before she was hidden behind the descriptions of everything going on.

    My first comment is that the writing seems a little disconnected now, taking us out of Pen's perspective to describe things that aren't going to draw readers to Pen and her journey, such as her clothing, her mother, her sister, etc. About 1/3 of the way in there are some big paragraphs with some examples of telling versus showing (Pen telling us she's excited instead of showing us how).

    I still love the succubus angle of the story, but I'm a PNR reader so while I know lore behind succubus and what they are (generally), brand new readers may not. I fear that while you state what she is, succubus, it may go unnoticed or confuse people. A few words dedicated to what it means to be a succubus would be better served here in the opening pages rather than the still heavy description.

    But I see such improvement already over the initial posts, this will be great for the final revision ;)

  6. Okay! I think this takes a step in a great direction with the early interaction, but I want to challenge you to trust yourself and your reader. Right now, it feels like you are straining to pack critical info into every single sentence--but all that info is back story, almost parenthetical.

    Last week I suggested that you reveal bits of the world, the characters, and their dynamics through interaction. We've got a bit of that here, what with Kitty and Mom, but the dialog is so brief that it's really just a bit. However, much of the stuff you tell us could still be shown in dialog instead of related through Pen's narrative. And with dialog, you have the benefit of not being too on-the-nose about it--you can refer to things more obliquely, creating intrigue and stoking curiosity without laying it out in little info-dumps.

    I agree with the others' feedback about taking time to paint the picture--I struggled to figure out where they were exactly, and how much time was passing. In that way, it still feels like there's more telling than showing--the super-brief interaction with Pip being a prime example (she interacts with him for a split-second, I have no idea what he looks like, and then we get a paragraph about her feelings for this person who is still relatively faceless and without true presence on the page). And yet, you clearly have the ability to paint a picture with words, because the dress descriptions are so detailed. I suggest focusing on showing the reader where Pen is, what's happening, and more slowly revealing the world through the description and dialog (there's the place to have a snappy exchange about who's in line for the throne, etc) and taut interactions between characters. It's just the first few pages. Luring in the reader is more important than laying all the cards on the table, which can too often result in overwhelm and disconnect.

    Hang in there--you've got such a rich, intriguing world here, and sometimes it's hard to know how to initiate the reader into it. Keep at it, though, because you're headed in the right direction!

  7. Everyone has covered what I would say! I'll echo that I'm so glad to see your character at the ball in action! Much of the world building can be trickled in, so consider what readers need to know right now to keep the story moving. Great job on the revision!