Sunday, March 6, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Marnoch

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

Bright Young People

Book One


May 1926


Pen twirled in front of the mirror, light balls floating around her, for once pleased with the way she looked. Pos-i-lute-ly a Sheba, she thought. Perhaps her seductive succubus heritage could even be discerned? It wasn't impossible. Her boyish figure suited the flapper style, and as it was her coming-out ball, no expense had been spared. Not that it ever was, but her mother had still gone all-out, something she didn't usually do for Pen. She had gotten used to Arabella not caring, but it was nice to feel special for once.

And this was for Pen, unlike the Court Presentation, which was more for her family than anything else. No, she would enjoy her ball.

She hadn't even had a coming-out ball for her Glasgow debut. Her mother hadn't deemed it important enough, despite the fact that Pen was twenty-first in line to the Alban throne, and closely related to the royal family, the Stewarts.

Never mind her Perth debut. That meant even less than Glasgow. According to her mother, "Pictland is barely even a country!" And yet Simon could still become king (no matter how small the chance. It was possible, and Pen held out every hope.) What would Arabella do then? Pen didn't think the Picts would like to have a king whose mother said they weren't even a country.

No, only the London debut was important. Even though Pen felt she didn't fit in with the English aristocracy (though to be honest, she didn't either with the Alban one, but at least there she was significant. She was only distantly connected to the English royal family through her mother's side, and was fifty-second in line to the English throne.)

But she was determined to enjoy herself. Pen loved parties. Or at least, she thought she would, never having been to a real one before. It was hardly fair that girls never got to do anything until their debut. Boys did. They even got to go away to school! Apart from certain reasons that Pen didn't care to dwell on, she would have liked to have gone and made friends. The only real friend she had was Pip. She would have liked friends who were girls. Friends she could have told all her secrets to.

Though perhaps not all.

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 earbobs she wore, and her white silk low-heeled shoes completed the ensemble.

It was an outfit for dancing, and Pen was planning on a lot of that tonight. She had been practising and practising, and she thought she had gotten the hang of the new style of dancing. Her sylph blood certainly helped with her rhythm and gracefulness. Though the exciting new dances weren't what her mother would call graceful. Foxtrots, quicksteps, tangoes...she had even practised the Charleston, though it was unlikely Arabella would allow it.

She sat down at her dressing table and picked up her swansdown powder-puff. After applying a dusting of powder to her face and shoulders she rimmed her eyes with kohl and applied eyeblack to her fair lashes. She frowned a little at the faint shadows under her eyes. She hadn't been sleeping much lately, she 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, from the inside, 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. The drawing or painting was never as dark as her dreams were. She felt that this was the fault of her education rather than anything else. Girls should be able to sketch and paint, but only boring old landscapes and the occasional portrait. Nothing interesting.

She shook her head and painted her full, pouty lips blood-red for the vamp she wanted to be and blew a kiss at the mirror, giggling. 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.

There was a short rap at her door and her mother walked in. She was dressed in a way more suited to her voluptuous figure than was strictly fashionable, but Arabella Renleigh, Dowager Duchess of Ashby and Dunollie (she was very pleased to have married into a double dukedom, even if one of the titles was Scottish), knew what she looked good in and she stuck to it. That way, too, no one could accuse her of trying to keep up with her daughters, a notion she found horribly vulgar.

Pen once again wished that – despite having the more fashionable figure – that she had inherited the looks from her mother's side of the family, like her sister and second oldest brother. Her sister looked like a Bottecelli painting. Succubi were always beautiful, unlike the sylph features that she and her eldest brother had inherited from her father's family. In the stories, sylphs were always beautiful women, but in reality, they didn't have a human form, and so who knew how the resulting baby would look? At least she was lucky in that respect. Compared to her mother and sister, she might not be much (always pretty enough) but at least she wasn't a monster. Everyone knew the tales of monstrous babies, not looking anything even close to human. Pen always wondered what happened to them. No one ever told her.

"Penelope, dear, I do hope you're nearly ready." Her mother looked her up and down critically.

Pen resisted the urge to bite her lip and therefore ruin her so-carefully applied lipstick. "Yes, mother."

She felt her mood dip, swooping downwards. But she was used to her moods swinging wildly, and controlled her expression, pushing away her feelings, making herself a blank.

As she was pulling on her elbow-length gloves her sister, Kitty, walked in.

"Oh, Pen darling, you look magnificent."

Pen ducked her head, blushing, pleased.

Until her mother had to ruin it. As always.


  1. Hi Kellie,

    There are some really intriguing things in these pages that made me want to learn more, such as the strange dreams, the monster babies, and the different races - Succubi and sylph. So great job with that!

    I'd try to keep the focus on the character and the conflict, to really hook your reader. I think you could trim quite a bit in the beginning about the many debuts, it started to feel like a list. I'd also make it clear what you mean by debut - I thought it usually was followed by a ball, so I was surprised when I read that this was her first party.

    Although I do love descriptive writing, careful not to over do - "She shook her head and painted her full, pouty lips blood-red" was a bit much. And that paragraph didn't flow well from the previous, dark and disturbing nightmare, to her giggling and blowing kisses at the mirror. In general, I think there is too much emphasis on looks in these pages. By the time I got to the paragraph starting "Pen once again wished that" (which had beautiful twice in the span of a few lines) I knew that Pen was pretty, I didn't need to hear it again.

    I was also confused about the slyph - are the gods? Is her father sired by a slyph? I had to re-read it a couple of times to figure it out, which took me out of the story. It's so hard, because you want to avoid an info dump (which you have done - and that's not easy!) but explain enough for the reader to follow easily.

    Overall, great job, and I look forward to reading next week!

  2. Hi Kellie!

    I instantly liked the cocky, confident nature of Pen. And succubus heritage? A+. I’m immediately picturing this world you’re introducing us to and I already want to spend more time in it.

    The description is really detailed, but almost overly. So much of the first five pages are dedicated solely to what Pen is wearing, what she looks likes, the ball, and little else on immediacy or foreshadowing what’s coming ahead. We only get the littlest glimpse of something being ‘not right’ when Pen mentions her not sleeping, but I’m craving more. I can definitely picture the fantastic, lush world you’ve got going and I think if you can intertwine that by alluding to the stakes, you’ll have readers hooked.

    My other comment is that while Pen was doing a lot in these pages, I didn’t connect with her a lot. You’re telling us what she’s feeling and doing, but not really showing us.

    I can’t wait to read the revision and see what magic you’ve made!

    Lisa :)

  3. A lot of intriguing stuff going on here! My favorite moments were the more subtle hints at something dark and dire going on just a layer beneath the frivolity.

    I did find some of the descriptions and parenthetical notations a bit overwhelming. I am torn about it, because on the one hand, the voice of Pen is coming through, and that's fantastic. On the other, it feels a little like you as the author are desperate for the reader to understand every detail of her situation and thought right off the bat, and that's where it starts to tip toward too much.

    My suggestion is to step back and assess your priorities. We need voice, absolutely. And an initial orientation to what's happening, and where we are. But we're also hungering for action. It's difficult to start with a character alone, not interacting with anyone, and I might suggest cutting back on long paragraphs of description in favor of bring in a dialog partner earlier. If you do, you might be able to 1) give the reader a few details of the dress and her appearance without laying it all out, 2) give us a sense that Pen is hiding something as you contrast her inner thoughts with what she says out loud, and 3) give us a feel for the tension and dynamics between Pen and the other characters. It can all unfold organically and through interaction, which is more engaging to read because there's really a dance going on.

    Looking forward to reading the revision!

  4. I love the setting details and the introduction of fantasy elements right away. Though, having a character describe themselves by looking in a mirror is an opening that I think we mostly want to avoid, only in that it’s cliché and overdone. You have a lot to work with, so no worries! You hint at quite a bit of conflict, though it is all explained in narrative. What I would suggest is to start this further into the story, perhaps while she’s at the coming out event. There is beautiful writing and period details you can easily transfer to a more active scene. A pondering scene where a character is alone and reflecting can fit in a book, but I would strongly suggest not beginning your story this way, especially in YA. Start where something is happening, where there is the start of conflict, or a story question.
    I love the line where you say the silk is cut on the bias over her modest curves; this line serves more than one function: we see what she’s wearing, but also how she FEELS about it. She’s a little self-effacing, and maybe not as shapely as other girls (though, in the flapper era, lack of curves was lauded).
    Where you say Pen felt she didn’t fit in with the English aristocracy, show this within a scene. You could have people snub her, or she’s doing one thing while everyone else does another, violating a custom or mannerism. If she’s in a scene with her mother, or with others, that’s even more opportunities to set up your story by showing these things play out rather than explaining them to the reader. You have a great foundation to start with.

    It might be a good idea to check out the opening page of a few YA historicals; Bright Young Things is your same era, with the same multi-POV format. Ch 1 starts with description looking into a busy scene, and characters interact within the first page. The Diviners series is another good one though it uses some unique narration, but still good to check out.

    Good luck! Can't wait to

  5. Hi Kellie,

    Your detailed descriptions made the scene come to life in my mind. I could clearly see “her full, pouty lips blood-red.”

    There’s so much detail, though, that I couldn’t quite take it all in. For example, I found all the references to families and places hard to put together. I especially like the idea of having some of these details revealed in dialogue with another character, such as a sister or a handmaiden.

    I’d like to see more of her feelings revealed in her actions. Let me see what she’s doing and how she’s reacting and then let me figure out how she feels. For example, she could run through a few steps of one of her dances there in the room. We could learn lots about how she’s dressed and how she feels as she moves through the steps.

    There’s certainly some intrigue underlying the opening scene. And a hint of maybe some magical characters. There seems to be some chance this all won’t work out. Letting us feel even more of that intrigue would be engaging.

    I’d also like to know why this event is so important to her, in her life or in her future.

    You’re off to a great start.


  6. Hi Kellie,
    I like your idea a lot, I'm a sucker for period drama so as soon as I saw the year I was in.

    I agree with some of the other comments about the various courts and families. If you need this info in, it could be tightened up so that it only takes a line or two for us to understand that she has had other, less important, debuts.

    I like your descriptions of the period clothes, and in my opinion it's something that people reading a period novel will want to hear about. But the others are right, it's too much and can be trimmed.

    In terms of the character I found it odd that she would say her education was to blame for her not being able to capture the scenes from her dreams. After all, a strong grounding in landscapes and portraits would give her the skills needed to turn her hand to other art forms, and it would seem to be her fault if she can't work on expanding her range. It comes across as a bit whiney and I don't get that feeling about her from other parts of the opening. Instead, why not say something like: even with the tuition that all girls get in landscapes and portraits she couldn't sketch the images from her dreams.

    I think you might need to hint more at the secrets she's keeping. Is it her heritage, or something more?

    Some details: I'd never heard the word 'earbob' before (I'm from Derbyshire, UK) and looked it up. This is predominantly southern US usage. If that's consistent with your character, fine, if not it should probably be changed to a more realistic word. Earrings would be fine.

    The same with eyeblack. As far as I knew this was a sporting term. Mascara as we know it was invented in the 1910s so it's conceivable that a well connected, wealthy girl would have had access to it.

    Good luck with the revisions,