Sunday, March 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages March Workshop- Bryan Rev 1

Name: PJ Bryan
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Torchveil

In the small village of Saint Agnes, along the rocky shores of Cornwall, in a country that time forgot, there lived a very lonely young girl named Opal Torchveil.  While some of us are born to teach, or invent, or lead, or repair the things that others cannot, some of us have no idea what it is we are born to do with ourselves. Opal certainly didn’t. Her destiny was ripped away when she lost her parents at the age of three and was now far from any trace of that past life. But the funny thing about destinies is that no matter where we find ourselves, or what circumstances befall us, our true selves seem to find their way out, for good or ill, and today was the day that a shadow of Opal’s future was about to surface.

Each summer day had been blending into the next for Opal and the other children of Clattenrot Foster home. Yet from the moment she rolled off her bed of cardboard boxes and wandered through the dimly lit kitchen, Opal felt that today was somehow different. A stillness filled the air as she stood in line to receive her garden tools from Tommy Braskins, the eldest boy in the Clattenrot home, and the meanest. The shadow of something large passed above the children yet Opal was the only one to notice.

Perched on the peak of the equipment shed roof was a large black bird that Opal had never seen. At least twice as large as a crow, the bird’s eyes, nearly human in appearance, locked on her every move and as the children began their march through the cobble streets of St Agnes, past shops still in darkness and homes with sleeping families, the bird followed.

When Opal daydreamed, bored with her chores, she imagined fantastic creatures hiding among the dust balls she swept from under old furniture or camouflaged among the weeds she pulled. Yet this bird was different; it wasn’t imagined. But as she tried to get the attention of Ellis, the only kid at the Clattenrot Foster home who paid her any kindness, she ended up dropping her weeding trowel and earning a kick from Tommy for falling behind.

Opal now stood, as she often did, toward the back of the gaggle of children listening to Miss Clattenrot’s morning instructions. She scanned the garden for the large bird but all she could see peeking above the garden wall was a black hat on the head of someone standing near the bakery: Sift and Whip. She pressed the toes of her right foot into the dusty soil and began to drag them in a graceful arc, leaving behind a curved trail, ignoring Clattenrot’s lecture.

“The grounds will be impeccable. The lawns measured to precisely seven centimeters tall. And, put down your hand Ellis,” shouted Ms Clattenrot as she waved off the the question from the shortest and roundest of the boys.

“You will be issued rulers to verify the heights and I expect they will be returned clean and undamaged. Hand shears will be returned clean and oiled. If I fail to find your shears properly stored, you will be spending the next three nights in the basement.” Clattenrot’s coarse voice echoed off the brick walls of the shops surrounding the Teaberry garden. Her eyes scanned the children for a sign of understanding when she caught Opal scratching at the soil.

“Is that clear?” she snarled to the children as she stepped toward Opal. “What do have today Miss van Gogh? Another masterpiece in the mud?”

Opal’s breath stopped and she kept her gaze to the ground; avoiding Clattenrot’s stare. “Torchveil,” she murmured under her breath.

“What’s that? Speak up child, it’s rude to mutter.”

Opal raised her eyes to meet Clattenrot’s, nearly wincing as they first looked into the bloodshot orbs, but something about the air today gave her a strength. She straightened her small body and pronounced, “My name is Torchveil. Not van Gogh and not any of the other stupid names you--,”  but Opal was cut off from speaking as her right ear blazed with the fire of a hard smack to the side of the head. The sound of Clattenrot’s open hand colliding with Opal’s face rung through the garden like a warning bell.

“Know your place,” growled Ms Clattenrot keeping her hard gaze on Opal’s wounded expression before she turned to scowl at the other children, who immediately raised shears and rulers to the their sides with military precision. They scattered from the assembly area behind Ms Teaberry’s candle shop to their assigned gardens and yards.

Opal was left alone in the Teaberry rose garden with Ms Clattenrot. She glanced toward the garden wall to see the owner of the black hat staring at her as he lazily leaned against the stone front of the bakery. He seemed out of place and as Opal eyed his odd clothing and curious expression the sting faded from her face. The man wore his old black fedora at a rakish angle.  He was almost shabby-looking yet, not. His corduroy coat and grey wool suit with orange stripes, though wrinkled, were stylish in an eccentric sort of way. She could see the side of his face and a short pointed beard that sported patches of white which he stroked like someone deep in thought.

“Are you ready for crumpets Clattle?” shouted the sweet voice of round Mrs Teaberry from the back door of her candle shop. For some odd reason, the kind old woman enjoyed Ms Clattenrot’s company and stuffed her with crumpets and tea while the children tended to the landscaping business.

“Coming Teabee,” Ms Clattenrot shouted back in a sickening falsetto.  “I’ll be watching you, you little twit,” she huffed as she marched away to stuff her face and gossip.

“No you won’t,” Opal muttered under her breath, turning her back to Clattenrot and her attention to the smell of roses. She tried to imagine herself rising above the garden on the drafts of sweet perfume with wings covered in rose petals. Up to a place where the ugliness of her life faded away. For a moment she could almost feel her feet lift from the ground and wings extend from her back.

But instead of flying above St Agnes, Opal instead dropped to her knees in front of the centerpiece of the garden (a prize winning rosebush with flowers of orange and red that resembled living flames in the right light.) She began snipping the turf to the required height of seven centimeters. She had no idea how much time had passed when she felt something small and hard strike her backside. Opal turned to see Tommy Braskins, the eldest of the boys at Clattenrot Place, standing at the garden gate.

“Oy you git. Wake up. Lunchtime.” Tommy surveyed the garden and curled his upper lip. “You’re not even half way though, Dopal.” He shook his head in disgust. “We’ll be pickin’ up your slack again,” shouted Tommy as he turned and headed back out the gate.

Opal slumped sideways in the grass and surveyed the garden. It seemed different somehow; the roses less colorful and their perfume had turned sour. As she fixated on the most spectacular flaming rose bush at the center of the garden, a dark shadow darted through the far right edge of her view. She turned, but nothing was there. She stood. The man with the hat was gone. Again there was movement but beyond the far edge of her vision.  Opal spun herself around in a circle and back to the center of the garden to find the prize-winning rosebush; scorched and dead.

This had been the most spectacular plant in the whole garden, the one people came from other towns to visit and admire and envy and it had somehow turned black as coal.  The flower petals, the leaves, the stems, all inky black and reeking of sulfur.

“No, no, no. This isn’t happening,” she shouted. “Not now. Not now.” She reached for a leaf of the dead shrub and watched as it turned to ash.


  1. Hi Patrick,

    I thought this was much, much stronger. Amazing revision! I loved how you interwove the crow into the beginning, as well as the odd man in the hat. Your description of him was particularly excellent, with enough hints to suggest that the crow and the man may be inextricably linked. I feel you've built up the atmosphere of your story much more, which is quite crucial.

    My first suggestion is I'd actually just remove the first paragraph. For me, it read very much as a "warm-up" paragraph when the writer stretches his writing muscles to get into gear. It's all telling and backstory and it doesn't tell the reader much. Begin with Opal sensing something is different about today. Better yet, begin with the strange bird. The faster you can cut into the meat of the story, the better.

    I have a feeling descriptions are a particular strength of yours. The imagery of the burned rosebush was vivid and quite wonderful. I did have a question about the dialogue. When Opal cries out "Not now," I wasn't sure what she was referring to. If you have an explanation coming up, then disregard my statement. Otherwise, I'd suggest tweaking the dialogue for the reader's benefit.

    Overall, excellent revision--and I look forward to seeing how it all comes together!


  2. Hi Patrick

    You've really built the atmosphere well, and - although you call this fantasy - it has the something of the feel of steampunk to me. I don't know if that's something you want to explore?

    I think the first paragraph lays some good groundwork for the atmosphere that you create elsewhere, but it could be distilled into about 2 lines of scene-setting. I personally like knowing the location and era. I don't think 'country that time forgot' works though - sounds clich├ęd and I'm left asking what does it even mean? I would remove the omniscient narrative from the 1st para "while some of us are born to teach..." etc.

    The second paragraph really establishes the tone of menace - the crow is intriguing and threatening. I really like how you've fleshed it out in this revision, and later introduce the mysterious man in the hat.

    I wonder if you could perhaps get Clattenrot to mention the prize-winning rose bush earlier with a threat about how it mustn't be touched/damaged. It would give the reader a sense of Opal's fear when it burns to ash.

    All in all, it's a really strong start and the revisions have definitely made it stronger. Great writing!


    1. Hi Caroline.Thanks for all your comments. I wanted to ask you about 'steampunk' stories. I'm aware of the general style (I think even Firefly could fit in here with low tech and cowboys mixed with high-tech and space ships), but I'm not familiar with a good example of a 'steampunk style story. Can you direct me?

      Ultimately with Torchveil, we will see a world where magic is explained by a power called the Flux. It runs through the earth (like magical lay-lines) and can be tapped into by certain materials and certain people.

      Opal ends up at The Anthaneum, a school and refuge, for people like her. Here we see how ancient ones like Corvus Lumiere (the man with the hat) studies this magic like a science, because it is a science that is simply undiscovered by those without a tie to the Flux.

      She leaves to rescue her only friend from the Clattenrot house, Ellis, who was taken during the incident that sets her on the road to the Antheneum.

      There is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy, where imagination has real power and Opal has the gift to channel it and alter reality. So, I'm not sure if that qualifies as steampunk-ish or not.

      Thanks again,

  3. Hi Patrick,
    Because I've been having such an ugly battle with my beginning, I've been looking carefully at a lot of successful beginnings. Your story reminds me of a number of English-orphan stories and a beginning I reviewed the other day was James and the Giant Peach. What I liked about that one, and I can say this for sure since I know the rest of the book, is that it zooms over a collection of specific details (the angry rhino, for instance) without pausing and without the promise of our ever seeing these details again. It is useful exposition, but it doesn't use abstracts, like your "destiny" which is poetic but doesn't give us an image to tag to Opal's past. I love images, and you provide many satisfying ones in this revision's paragraphs.
    I can't say I'm any good at summarizing with images, but in a sense I think that's what Dahl is doing with the beginning of James and the Giant Peach and the effect is something you might really want for Opal: a quick snapshot of her history that leaves her at the beginning with her main conflict and her current antagonist and some intriguing newcomers.

    The crow's wings and the reference to Opal and wings catches my attention now. I want to know if that crow stuck around and if it is responsible for some of the shadow/shadows.

    I want more clarity when it comes to where Opal is in relation to the prize rose bush. She started clipping in front of it, but then a vague amount of time passes. Is she still in front of it? Is that supposed to be unusual? Is she daydreaming or is time just very odd today? When it is burnt is she so close to it she might feel the heat? Could she reach out her hand from where she is on her side and touch it? Is she drawn to it and that's why she is still so near?

    I really like the changes you have made. The story seems less "like" other stories and more like Opal's story now. Looking forward to seeing more!:)


    1. HI Kathi. Thanks for the comments. Roald Dahl's Danny Champion of the World is probably my favorite book (and of course I love all of his work). I will be trying something like this for those first few sentences in the last go.


  4. Hiya Patrick,

    Much better with this revision! I see you've took to a lot of the suggestions and it shows! I read over this version much faster and flowed more naturally to me.

    The intro paragraph is a little long, and I would suggest cutting down if possible. However, that first line is my favorite, and immediately set the scene for me in my mind. Great hook. However, for Mid Grade I'm not sure if talking about destinies and fates is going to stick well with a younger audience - older for sure as we can comprehend those things more thoroughly, but a younger reader may struggle a little. I would simplify it if possible.

    You've done a great job tying things up, though I'm curious to see what exactly caused the bush to go up in smoke so fast. As stated by Kathi, how close was she to it? Would she have felt it? Or do you have another idea of magic in mind that would do that so fast?

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Nice job, PJ! You really made a lot of changes for this round, and they help the opening feel much more focused and less confusing.

    These are strong pages, so there's nothing major for me to recommend. Very well done!

    I do have a few minor suggestions, though.

    The first paragraph feels a bit like throat clearing. While it's nicely written, I think you might be able to cut it all together without losing much.

    I found the third paragraph to be a bit clunky, probably because of the length of the second sentence -- it runs on a little. Maybe you can break that up?

    You introduce Tommy twice. You can strike the introduction of him in the rose garden.

    You mention "spectacular" twice in two successive paragraphs in describing the rose bush. Feels repetitive.

    The blocking involving the man in the black hat seems a bit weird to me. At first, only his hat is visible. Then his eyes are. Then his whole body. Yet it doesn't seem the man has moved -- he's still leaning against the bakery. I just found this all a little disorienting spatially. Did the man move in front of the garden gate where he can be seen? Did Opal move so she now has a better view of him?

    Also, you should explain what happened when Opal felt something hit her backside. What was the small hard thing? Why did it hit her? Was it a rock that Tommy threw? Does he have a slingshot? It's implied that the object came from Tommy, but I think if we saw him tuck a slingshot into his pocket or chuck another stone at her it would be more clear to readers.

    Overall, though, this is some great stuff! I'm looking forward o seeing the next round.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Rob. Thank you for pointing out those issues. I get so blind at times when I write. Blind to the page. I see it in my head but it's lost somewhere in between and unless I have someone else read and point these things out, they sit there like warts.

      I read your bio and thought I'd let you know my middle-son (Henry) is learning the trumpet. He enjoys the noise.


    2. Hey Patrick,

      Happens to us all. The blindness, I mean, not the trumpet.

      My deepest sympathy to your eardrums.


  6. Patrick,
    I’m totally in love with that first paragraph. I thought it was a very cool opening for a middle grade book. A tad bit wordy in the middle of the paragraph, but I still think the whole thing worked for me.

    I think you did a terrific job on the revisions. Maybe you could mention the rose bush a bit earlier. I still think we need to know a bit more about it early on so having it burn has the big impact you are hoping for.

  7. Thank you Cat. I overlooked the importance of introducing the "burning bush" early, so I see now that there is little to no build of tension. And then when it is destroyed, the impact is lessened because the reader just doesnt see it as being all that important (odd, but not important).