Sunday, November 6, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Forrester

Name: T.K. Forrester
Genre: Young Adult: Fantasy
Title: Milka & the Ice Dragon

“Did you see that?” Milka stopped swimming and stared intently at the bush beside the hobbit rock in the clearing by the edge of the water.

“What?” Xander jolted mid-stroke. “I don’t see anything.”

Milka gasped, the adrenaline still coursing through her body. Just a bit farther and she would have won the race for sure; but something unsettling had disturbed her. The two friends stood waist deep in the stream behind the village, momentarily halting their daily swim challenge. A look of annoyance flitted across his elfish face. Choosing to ignore it, Milka focused on the embankment behind him.

“Did you hear that?” Milka spun her head around.

“Nope. Sounds pretty quiet to me”—he rolled his eyes—“unless of course you consider the noisy stream and, oh, I don’t know ... the birds chirping and other sounds usually found in the forest.”

She opened her mouth for a snarky retort but closed it after another rustle caught her attention.

“Shh.” Putting her finger to her lips, she slowly emerged from the water and crept toward the bush beside the giant rock.

Sighing, Xander trudged behind her, shaking his sagging mop of curly red hair, causing droplets of water to splash around. On the bank, he peered over her shoulder into the bush. Nudging Milka out of the way, Xander wiped his eyes and stuck his face in. He pulled it out just as fast.

“Well, there’s nothing in there.”

Shrugging, he did a neat front flip onto the rock, landing on his hands. He then proceeded to hand-walk to its edge, peering over with semi interest.

“And ... there’s nothing around here either.”

“Hmm.” Milka nibbled the bottom of her lip looking about the clearing: Starting with the gem-like stream, gurgling and babbling as it swerved in a zigzagged pattern between the trees, she followed its flow down behind the village to the lower fields; took in the limestone rocks and pebbles sparkling in the water; roamed her gaze over the soft grass with sprinkles of bright wildflowers; finally settling on the tall pine trees all around. The green tops towered against the backdrop of a cloudless sky, as if an artist’s brush had painted it so.

The rays of sunlight filtered through the branches filling the area with a warm, pine scent that tickled her nose. However, she felt strange today; she couldn’t quite explain it, but something was definitely amiss. Milka brought her focus back to the bush by the big rock. Narrowing her eyes, she observed every little detail.

“I could have sworn I saw something move back there.” She wrinkled her nose.

Just then two squirrels darted out from the trees, fiddling with some dried pine cones lying on the ground.

“Oh,” Milka sighed, relief flooding her senses. “Guess it was just some animal searching around for food.”

Xander’s face went blank. He glanced from Milka to the squirrels then back again.

“Let me get this straight. You stopped our race moments before finishing because you were spooked by a few hungry squirrels?” He held out his palm mockingly. “You just couldn’t face losing, now could you?”

“Lose, you say?” Her eyebrow raised in contradiction.

An hour earlier the two friends dove into the challenge of swimming three times up to Brook Knells and back. Petite and athletic Milka enjoyed a good game of practically anything, except archery. Running, swimming, wrestling whatever sport they conjured, she was always willing. It took away from the drudgery of her chores at the manor.

“Yes. I said lose. What’s the matter? Did the squirrels spook your hearing too?”

 Milka knew he was only teasing, but if she conceded a loss she’d never hear the end of it.

“Alexander Mayfield, you know well and good I beat you twice since evening and was on my way to winning for a third time. Fair and square.”

The grin started first at his mouth, then slowly spread to his freckled nose, making its way up to his mischievous hazel eyes.

“Uh, no. By my calculations, I was just about to swim past you when you supposedly heard a ‘noise’ you simply had to investigate. It seems a flimsy excuse to get out of what would have been certain defeat, don’t you think?” A snicker escaped his mouth.

Milka was not impressed. The gall! To say he was going to win when he jolly well knew she’d beaten him. She lifted a finger to give him a good telling off but was side-tracked by Xander’s full on smile.

“You know I’m right. Come on … say it.”

When he smiled like that, Milka fought to resist. “I’ll do no such thing.”

She tried valiantly to swallow the giggles bubbling up inside, but Xander cocked his head and stuck out his tongue. Just like that, Milka was undone. The giggles spilled out into contagious fits of laughter. They both laughed so hard they doubled over holding their sides.

“It’s a blessing, it is, that I’m not an Orgait. Or I’d have you spinning in the air for speaking such blatant untruths.” She spoke lightly, not wanting to dwell on her lack of magical powers.

“Well, sooner or later my luck is bound to run out, so until then, I’ll just continue to hassle you,” Xander countered.

“Quite optimistic of you to think I’ll ever be able to do magic.”

“Hey you know me.” He grinned openly.

“Well, more fool you.” For his sake, she put on a smile. “Anyway, you know I don’t care about all that stuff anymore. It’s okay, I’m fine,” Milka tossed out the words, careful to avoid looking at Xander. She knew from experience his gaze missed nothing.

For as long as she could remember, the Miller’s son had been her best friend: always her partner in crime, fellow sleuth, or trouble companion as Grandma Esme liked to call him. As much as he drove her crazy, he always knew what to say; she just didn’t want to talk about her magic problems today.

“Come on, we’ve stayed long enough,” his voice brought her back from her thoughts.

They picked up their meager belongings and Milka gazed at the stream, wishing they didn’t have to leave. The water, the trees, and even the hobbit rock—this was truly her most favorite place in the world. Here, she could forget about her parents’ death. The fact she barely remembered their faces bothered her. Sometimes she’d stare at the stream, hoping if she looked long enough she’d see her mother’s reflection instead of her own. Needless to say, it never worked. Milka’s blue eyes would pierce back, her oval face clouding with sadness.

“You ready?” Xander asked.

“What’s your haste?”

“Well, we stay any longer and your grandmother will have the whole village out scouring for us.”

“Do explain why you’re suddenly concerned about causing my grandmother worry?” Milka placed a hand on her hip. “That’s never bothered you before.”

“Err, I was only trying to prevent us from getting into trouble. But, seeing that you're not worried ... do carry on. I mean, don’t blame me if Esme gives you the scolding of your life for failing to get back as expected. I’ll be sure to inform her, that I, the good lad that I am, kept urging her stubborn granddaughter to return to the manor on time.”

He ended with a loud growl from his stomach. Xander, turned his head to the sky and whistled.


  1. I like the relationship between the two characters. I see them as around 13 or so, considering his 'elfish' face.
    The opening line gets you right in the action. So that's good.
    I'm not 100% sure abut the paragraph where she scans the forest. I understand you want to give the reader an idea of setting, but it feels planted. Maybe mix it up by showing some of those descriptions as they're racing around, piece by piece.
    You may also want to add more reference to what's heard or seen as far as the spooky thing that stops her from racing. It would build more interest and make the reader want to turn the next page to see what's watching them from the forest.

  2. I love the names. They instantly give us a sense of the world and the characters. The scene is well done, giving us a setting and hint at magic.

    I'd begin just a couple sentences before her spotting something in the bushes. Give us some sensory details about the water, if she's struggling or losing or winning easily. Then the interruption will be a true one, we will be disturbed that all is not as it should be.

    This is third person omniscient. At first we feel closer to Milka but then part way through, we are closer to Xander. It feels a bit like head-hopping and we end up not connecting as well as we could to either character.

    I would let them see something specific about what is in the woods. A footprint or claw mark--if this works with where you're going. If you don't, we are going to doubt the character's judgement.

    Last, this dialogue and relationship feel more MG than YA. Maybe amp up the internalization and add in some older voice.

    Excellent start overall. Can't wait to see it again next week!

  3. Thanks for your comments. Really valid points overall. I was back and forth on the age of the characters deciding on YA but I see my decision isn't reflected so much in this opening scene. They are in fact 15 years old.

    Heather, yes this is 3rd person omniscient, a beta pointed out P.O.V issues before, thought I cleared it up but I see it still needs work, the focus should be Milka but also giving readers a sense of Xander's outward expressions.

    Will rejig with the suggestions above!

    Again thanks for the feedback :)

  4. Hi T.K.

    Thanks for submitting your work. You have a good ear for conversation and it comes through on these pages. Your descriptions of nature and scene-setting are also well-done.

    I do think you might want to look at your first few paragraphs again. I had to read it several times to figure out who was talking and who was male and female. You might want to add a few dialogue tags in there: said Xander. said Milka…

    Here’s one example:
    A look of annoyance flitted across his elfish face.

    This doesn’t work because you start the paragraph in Milka’s pov and then switch to Xander. The way it reads now it sounds like a look of annoyance flits across Milka’s face.

    Whatever it is that Milka saw needs to be played up a little more. What’s missing now is a sense of danger or surprise. It seems as if she is supposed to feel this but your reader may not. Give her a bit more insight into what she saw or what she thought she saw.

    I have a soft spot for traditional fantasy, and this sounds like it could be fun. You’ve already hinted at a magic-inspired world and I want to know more about it. What is a hobbit rock? If you're making a reference to Tolkien's world I don't think that is something you can do.

    Good luck, and keep writing.

    Oh, there’s a light-heartedness to this that make me think it’s middle-grade.

  5. Let me start by saying I like the relationships you set up between Milka and Xander, who I assume are your main characters. The feel of your setting is playful, fun, a pastoral utopia, i.e., the perfect place to be disrupted by the stranger coming to town.

    I agree with the above that the tone and voice of the story feels more MG than YA. Also, I agree that hobbits are off limits. Tolkien invented hobbits and has all rights to them.

    I really want to know specifics of what that “something unsettling” was. I want to know what Milka saw/heard/tasted/touched/smelled that made her feel so unsettled. I, the reader, don’t just want her conclusion about it being unsettling. I want to feel unsettled as well. Moreover, that unsettling thing can’t have been a small thing. Milka was swimming. If she saw something big enough to make her stop swimming in a race, it must have been pretty arresting! And it won’t have been small, because it is hard to see much when you’re swimming.

    Something I’d like to see more of is conflict or a sense that not everything is as idyllic as the setting. Presumably whatever is out there but doesn’t want to be seen is going to launch your story into motion. Until that time, you need real tension to pull us along. You have a lot of good establishing of the relationship between Milka and Xander, but you don’t set up much tension with Milka.

    We know she wants to use magic but can’t. Can you make that a bigger desire for her? Or bring it higher up into the story? Can you raise more unanswered questions?

    This sounds like a fun world. And by the way, I love the idea of ice dragons.

  6. I too enjoy the five straight into the action and I feel like their dialogue is well mixed with the information about the setting.

    I agree the characters seem pretty young and playful but I do see how you could build them more serious from here.

    The magic information isn't enough to entice me. I don't know that I care that she can't do magic, maybe because I haven't seen any of his.

    I also am really intrigued about what's behind the bush, so it better have been something. If it's really just the squirrels than why did she care? Is there something she's worried about in general? Could he mention that she's always skittish or something if that's the case?

    Overall, I am drawn in and I want to know more. I don't mind the third person and like getting to know them both.

  7. Hi, T.K.!

    I really enjoyed your first pages! Your characters are interesting and likable, and your setting is lovely and intriguing. I definitely wanted to keep reading.

    I agree with the comments above; I think they could really help you tighten and strengthen what you already have. I especially agree with the comments about building tension and adding more detail, especially in the opening.

    Some specific stuff:

    *What does Milka see in paragraph 1? It would be great if you could move up the “something unsettling” (paragraph 3) to paragraph 1 and also give us more details. Does she see an oddly-shaped shadow? An animal-like movement? A strange flicker of color that doesn’t belong in the landscape? Be vivid without giving it away. You could then unpack more details throughout this scene, really heightening the page-turning suspense factor.

    *A small thing: You might consider shortening/tightening the opening sentence? It felt kind of long and winding to me with all those prepositions (at, beside, in, by).

    *I want to be more in Milka’s head. For example, in paragraph 4, she says: “Did you hear that?” We don’t know what she heard, although we guess two paragraphs later that it was probably a rustle (paragraph 6: “…after another rustle caught her attention”). Could we be in her head in paragraph 4 and get a description of the rustle? What does it sound like? Is there movement as well? If so, what does that look like? The more details, the better.

    *In paragraph 13: “She felt strange today; she couldn’t quite explain it, but something was definitely amiss” … Could you go into more detail about that? What, exactly, is she feeling? Also, is your idea that she feels strange because of the unsettling something that she sees/hears? Or is it the reverse … i.e., she felt strange prior to the hobbit rock business, and that filter of strangeness may have caused her to imagine (or overreact to or be otherwise sensitive to) the unsettling something?

    *Re dialogue: You have a great ear for dialogue! A suggestion: I felt that Milka’s dialogue started out with a straightforward teen voice (“I could have sworn I saw something move back there”) to more formal/fantasy/eclectic (“you know well and good” … “It’s a blessing, it is” … “I’d have you spinning in the air for speaking such blatant untruths” … “more fool you” and then back to the former (“you know I don’t care about all that stuff anymore”). Maybe make her voice more consistent?

    I’m looking forward to your next draft!

  8. Awesome comments here, thanks everyone.

    @Ron your point about my sentence with "A look of annoyance flitted across his elfish face." has been duly noted, also the need for danger. Many many thanks!

    @Nancy you've provided a wealth of insightful feedback! I struggle with whether the voice should be teen or more formal/fantasy talk. I had it all formal before then Beta readers suggested I incorporate words like 'Hey' and 'stuff' etc to make it more appealing to a YA audience. I'm not sure which way to go.

    I've been plugging away on the revision and I'll certainly try to incorporate your specific points.

    Back to the computer I go :)