Sunday, April 17, 2016

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Bea Rev 2

Name: Kimberly Bea
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Walking on Knives

Pitch: The magic that keeps the merfolk alive is dying; once fed on the sacrifice of humans, now it starves under a despot king.  When Neri, the king’s unwanted daughter, visits the surface she impulsively saves a human boy. The Sea Hag tells her the gods demand a life taken for the one spared. Neri refuses to die for this boy, but there is one life she would happily take: her father’s. Disguised by the Sea Hag’s magic, she sets off for the surface world to seek human help in her attempt at regicide. The condition: she can’t reveal her true nature until she has bound a human to her, heart and soul. As surety against this, the Sea Hag takes Neri’s voice.

Neri surfaces on the small island kingdom of Coppersea, where she encounters the very boy whose life she saved. Prince Edmund’s kindness turns to friendship then something more—but their romance is threatened by the arrival of Lady Annabel of Rosewyn, who is not only a better political match but whom Edmund believes has saved his life.  Can Neri bring him to see the truth in time? Or will her quest for vengeance cost Neri’s life?


Neri lived on the ocean floor, in a cave full of human bones. Her only companions were the Sea Hag and the bodies of drowned sailors. Not even her sisters were allowed to visit, since her father--by birth only--forbade his daughters to venture anywhere so dangerous and dark. They were princesses, after all, cherished, protected, and most of all wanted, while Neri was none of these things. But even a princess might sometimes disobey.

Neri's body cut through the water with the speed of a sailfish. She dove behind a giant rock formation with the tip of her tail sticking out. If hiding from a predator, she would have stayed behind the rocks completely, silver scales scattering light and her green-black hair waving like sea grass around her. But no predator was in her wake, only her elder sister, Twyla. Neri had every intention of being found.

But where was that girl? Neri didn’t like to waste a moment when Twyla got herself away from the palace. She scoured the murky waters for a glimpse of her sister or a shark or squid she'd have to fight off. Twyla wasn't as good a fighter as she was, despite being three years older; she had never needed to be.  If something happened to her, Neri couldn't live with herself.

She burst forth from behind the rocks, swimming like a shark pursued her--until she propelled herself straight into Twyla's arms.

Twyla giggled, silver eyes twinkling as she encircled Neri in a soft embrace.  "I caught you!"

Neri glowered and made a half-hearted attempt to shake her off. "I thought something got you." But the corners of her mouth curled up, and soon she was laughing too. Twyla had got her, all right.

The girls clung together in hysterics, then Neri pushed away slightly. "My turn now." Her tail twitched to get moving again. She longed to plunge deeper into the ocean depths, to show her sister the twilight realm few mer explored.

But Twyla kept hold of her arm. "My little Neri." She smiled and stroked the side of Neri's face. "You do worry so. I will miss that."

"Miss it? I'm not going anywhere." Neri snorted, then noticed Twyla wasn’t laughing. "Are you?"

Twyla's face was placid, like the figurehead of a ship. "I will be sixteen soon. Father wishes me to wed."

"No.” Neri set her jaw and looked away. "It can't be time yet." Hadn't they just been through it with Opal? No, that must have been two years ago. Marriage was always stealing Neri's sisters away.

Twyla sighed. "I am a princess. This is my duty."

And what did Neri care for duty? She only cared that she would be losing her very last friend. She kept shaking her head.

Twyla patted her shoulder.  "At least he will not send me away."

"Won’t he?" Father, give up a chance to use a daughter as a bargaining tool? That was unheard of. Only Neri had escaped—because he refused to acknowledge her birth.

Twyla gave a bitter laugh. "Father has chosen to keep me close at hand.” Unlike Opal, whom he’d sent to the Northern Sea, or the elder five sisters Neri had never even met.

Hope arose in Neri’s breast, then receded like the tide. “Not Megakles.” Prince of the Middlesea. The only ruler close to home.

Twyla's smile faded. "Megakles is not a kind man. He kills dolphins for sport, and swallows anemones whole. His brother died from poison. They claim it was a jellyfish, but there was no sign of a wound. Oh, Neri, he frightens me so." Her breath came in small, uneven gasps.

Neri tried not to let the panic show on her face, kept her voice quiet and calm. “Could you flee? I could hide you in my cave.” Where the sunlight barely came, and the bottom feeders skulked. “Or go to Opal. She would love to have you stay with her.” But the Northern Sea was so far, and so cold. Was Twyla hardy enough to make it up there? Would she even try? “I can take you. I won’t let anything happen, I promise.”

Twyla shook her head frantically, clearly terrified of leaving the home she knew.

Neri tried a different tack, anything to calm her down. “Father would never risk your safety, even to ensure Megakles’ loyalty. And Megakles would never risk offending the king.” She patted Twyla’s arm. "You'll charm him like you have the rest of us. Who would ever be unkind to you?"

Twyla nodded and stared down at her tail.

"And if he is, you come find me. I'll show him a thing or two."  She bared her teeth at a passing school of fish, who turned and swam the other way.

Twyla gave a weak chuckle, then hiccupped. "Tough . . . Little . . . Neri."  She wasn't breathing the way she ought to. She took in water, but it didn't come out her gills; she had to spit it out or swallow it, like a human. And when humans took in seawater, they drowned.

“Not again!” Neri put one hand on either side of Twyla's neck and massaged her gills.

Twyla gulped. “This is why—” She sputtered, spat out the water and tried again. “This is why Father— “

“I know. This is why Father wants to keep you close.” This was why Neri wanted to keep her close, too. “Don’t try to talk. Just let me help you get unstuck.”

But no matter how Neri rubbed, Twyla kept gasping and gulping. What did they do now?

Find the Sea Hag.

If the Hag was in her grotto, not wandering the ocean as she was wont to do.

Head for the surface. There the mer used lungs, not gills.

Twyla gulped water, coughed it out again, wheezing with the effort. Her gills strained to open, her skin was pale as a drowned man’s, and her eyes—her eyes stared blindly, like one of the human dead.

Neri backed up to Twyla and threw her arms over her shoulders. “You breathe, I’ll swim.” At once they began their ascent.

Up through the swaying kelp forest she swam, past floating jellyfish and clutching polyps. Neri swam ever upward, heedless of any plants or fish she passed along the way. Until at last the canopy of the surface hung above them, brighter than a school of lanternfish. And just as Neri swam towards it, strokes away from her first glimpse of unfiltered sun, Twyla whispered, “No.”

And then a huge gulp, and the sound of water pushing out her gills.

Neri released Twyla and turned to face her. Twyla's gills worked hard as she gasped and gulped. Her body twitched as it re-taught itself to function.

What mattered most is it did function again.

"Are you all right now?" Neri touched the side of her face, stroked her silvery hair. "I'll still take you up there if you need."

"No." Twyla's color was better, her breath getting back to normal. "I think I will be fine."
“We better not go exploring after all. And I can't take you back to my cave." Her home was beneath the sunlit ocean, in the twilight where the night hunters and phosphorescent creatures dwelt. Much too cold for Twyla, particularly after the scare she’d just had. "I'd better take you home."


  1. Your world building is so good! The way you use simile, pulling in the ocean as you did, just great. I like how you drew out the problem with the gills. It didn’t seem so rushed this time, and I felt the danger more.

    As great as I think this revision is, I still feel you could add another element of danger. I know Janet suggested getting caught in a net or a shark…the choices are limitless really. You have this horribly dangerous ocean with sharks and squids and whirlpools, angry mer kings, sea Gods, killer whales, ect. I feel you are missing an opportunity to turn up the heat. The writing is there, no doubt, and I hate to keep saying basically the same thing I’ve said from the start, but at least I’m consistent.

    On the pitch: I think you should cut the questions at the end. I don’t think questions work well in pitches. SO, did you cut out Neri's tongue like H.C.A did? wait, don't tell me...

    This story has such awesome possibilities, and you are a skilled writer. Keep up the good work!


  2. Hi Kim,
    I really enjoyed this! I was absorbed by the story, and it felt really smoothed out. I thought the rationale for Twyla's breathing issue was very clear, and your ending seemed to bracket the scene.
    Well done!
    Cheers, Lana

  3. Your query:

    Ooh, this is really interesting. The Little Mermaid but the mermaids live off the sacrifice of humans. That will definitely add a twist to the fairy tale! I also think the fact that Neri’s out to get her dad, the bad king, will create some fun conflict.

    I wonder about the magic starving under a despot king. Why? Wouldn’t a bad king be more likely to kill humans to keep his realm strong? I think your pitch is quite strong but if you could make that clear, it would be even better.

    The revision:

    I like your new first lines, though I do worry that the first paragraph as a whole is rather telly now. But then, I liked the old start of your story so maybe I’m just in the minority. I do think, though, that you need a transition between the first and second paragraphs. Perhaps that today one of the princesses was disobeying. Since the reader is not well grounded in the story yet, I think it would help.

    I like the slight change in the girls’ conversation about Twyla’s marriage. It almost feels like the breathing attack was brought on by the panicked thoughts about marrying the unkind prince.
    Great job with your revisions and best of luck with querying your story!


  4. Hi Kim. LOVE the new opening paragraph. It really answers those questions about why she lives separate and why none of her other sisters come to visit her. It also paints a great picture of Neri’s life up until now. Great job!

    The part with Twyla’s gills locking up is much smoother and the pacing is much better, not so frantic. Also leaves it open to add more tension in the next pages of the first chapter.

    I have to agree with Jeff about the questions in the query. Turning the questions into statements will give it that much more punch.

    You’ve done a wonderful job describing Neri’s world, both the physical world and her emotional world. I have really enjoyed reading this piece over the last few weeks. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. This is well written, and well described. Context is nicely set, as well as the emotions of the characters. It reminded me of a fresh Little Mermaid. I especially liked the relationship between the sisters, and the intrigue about where they go when they are taken away from their family. The writing overall is smooth, with a nice flow. Sometimes the tense shifts though -- I would watch out for those spots. For example: "What mattered most is it did function again." But all things considered, this is a great start and a good example of world building under the sea -- such a fascinating place!

  6. This is well written, and well described. Context is nicely set, as well as the emotions of the characters. It reminded me of a fresh Little Mermaid. I especially liked the relationship between the sisters, and the intrigue about where they go when they are taken away from their family. The writing overall is smooth, with a nice flow. Sometimes the tense shifts though -- I would watch out for those spots. For example: "What mattered most is it did function again." But all things considered, this is a great start and a good example of world building under the sea -- such a fascinating place!

  7. Great job! I like the first paragraph a lot, and anticipate some really great world-building as you move forward. I think there's some beautiful imagery in there and the language is easy to read and smooth.

    I think because of the similarities to The Little Mermaid, you should call attention to it in your pitch. That could really work to your advantage in terms of calling attention to the fact that so many children love that story and now there's a YA take on the subject of mermaids and humans. I wouldn't let someone else mention it (which they will). Own it and it won't feel derivative.

    Good luck!

  8. Thank you so much! I wasn't sure how explicit I needed to make the connection in the pitch, so I will play it up more when I revise.

    Thank you so much for all your help and advice this month! I really appreciate it!


  9. Wonderful revision! I really love the new beginning! The world building and imagery is all lovely. I can exactly imagine the setting, and I feel the stakes and the danger. I also love that it centers on two sisters, and their relationship. Since it is a re-telling, I would stress that in the query and also in these pages. You could try amping up the danger and the stakes when Neri is about to break the surface – let us know that it is forbidden, or dangerous, or some such.

    It has been a real pleasure reading these pages! Good luck!