Sunday, March 19, 2017

1st 5 Pages March Workshop- Bryan Rev 2

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


Torchveil is the story of a lonely outcast who escapes from her dreary life by sketching the world she imagines instead of the world she sees. Yet imagination can be a powerful thing when you’re a Torchveil. And on Opal’s 12th birthday she finds her small fishing and tourist village of Saint Agnes overrun by a horde of bizarre creatures, straight from the pages of her sketchpad.

The resulting disaster deals Opal a terrible loss when her best and only friend, Ellis, is taken by wicked creatures from somewhere beyond the bounds of her darkest dreams. She sets out alone on a journey to bring him back and along the way discovers the secrets of her tragic past and perils of her destined future.

Opal Torchveil is a blend of Matilda, Molly Moon, and Doctor Strange, wrapped into a new style of heroine, who is a clad of the earth, possessing features that question her ancient ancestry. A friend of hers once said “You look like you could fit in anywhere,” but the sad fact was that Opal fit in nowhere. Among the story themes of self doubt, friendship, family, and the power of imagination, Torchveil carries a subtle thread of racial identity in Opal’s quest to reveal her past.


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.  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 bored with her chores, which was quite often, Opal daydreamed. She imagined fantastic creatures hiding among the dust balls she swept from under old furniture or camouflaged among the weeds she pulled from yards and gardens. Yet this strange 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 in the garden behind the Teaberry Candleshop. She scanned the garden for the large bird but all she could see peeking above the curved 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.

“Your rulers will be issued 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, home of Miss Teaberry’s pride: a rosebush that had received more awards than than…..???.. 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. This odd man now stood outside the iron gate and lazily leaned against an old Elm tree.  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 and circled round the lawn in clockwise ?? of ???. Opal had no idea how much time had passed when she felt something small and hard strike her backside. She turned to see Tommy Braskins standing at the garden gate with a peach pit??.

“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 flaming rose bush, once referred to as the pride of Saint Agnes, 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.

Miss Teaberry loved this rosebush more than her husband, or so it was said. People came from towns throughout the countryside to visit and admire and envy and these roses and now they had somehow turned black as coal.  The flower petals, the leaves, the stems, all dead and reeking of sulfur.

“No, no, no. This isn’t happening,” she shouted. “Not now. Not now.” She scooped up a black leaf from the ground to examine.

It must be a joke. Someone did this. “Tommy Braskins,” she hollered. “You’ve gone too far this time!” But as she squeezed the leaf between her fingers it crumbled to ash. The entire rosebush shimmered in the light for a second and blew away in the breeze like coals from a campfire. The massive crow circled over the garden and the man with hat had vanished.

Opal scanned the garden frantically looking for a place to run. She froze as her gaze caught on a smaller shrub with yellow and orange flowers. She looked at the shears in her hand and back to the orange flowers. “Sure. No one will notice. This one’s just as good as that ole prize winner.” She snipped off about half the shrub with the orange flowers and plunged it into the dark soil in the center of the garden.


  1. Hi Patrick

    Pitch: I really like that you’ve nailed the themes of your story in your pitch and your comps are solid. I get a great flavour of your book from your pitch.

    For me, you’ve answered the ‘who, doing what, what are the stakes’ kind of questions that a pitch should cover. I would like a little bit more info than “wicked creatures” about the antagonists though.

    I can’t help but suggest some line edits! ;-) You don’t need “is a story of” – perhaps start with her full name, as the “Opal” of your 3rd sentence is not referenced earlier. So, “Opal Torchveil is a lonely outcast…” and for the “Imagination can be a powerful thing” line, make it more specific, eg, “when you’re descended from a lineage of [fairies/wizards/whatever]”

    I would tighten up the language: don’t waste words on “fishing and tourist” – one descriptor would do instead. “Saint Agnes” is meaningless in terms of location. Perhaps just “her small fishing village in Cornwall”?

    Because Opal is passive in your second para (the disaster is dealt to her), it then causes confusion about the ‘her’ and ‘she’, which could equally refer to Ellis (who I don’t know is a boy until I read ‘him’ in the third line of that paragraph).

    Maybe “clad of the earth” adds more confusion that it solves? Is it possible to reference Opal’s ancestry and possible mixed identity earlier and leave your last para for comps and themes?

    Your pages have definitely subtly improved since week one. I liked this story from the start and I like it even more now, especially since the black bird and the man in the hat are both on Opal’s radar throughout the scene – and therefore the reader’s – as possible threats or portents.

    The rose bush scene is much stronger now. And I like the touch of humour of planting half a bush to replace the burnt one.

    It’s been a real pleasure being on this workshop with you. Thank you for your feedback. I hope that mine has been constructive too.


    1. Thank you Caroline. I'm embarrased to say that the version i sent was not my final edit (as I'm sure you can tell from the few odd notations I have in there).

      Your feedback really helps.
      Best, Patrick

  2. Hi Patrick,

    I liked this story from the start and still do. If I were an agent I'd request it. The writing is crisp, convincing, and paints a picture of Opal's world very vividly.

    There are a few typos here and there but I'm sure you'll root them out. Small stuff. I found a few instances of The Passive Voice. Here is one:

    When bored with her chores, which was quite often...

    Instead, SHOW her being bored:
    Opal swept the floor in a mindless daze. She was bored, which always led to daydreaming, one of her favorite pastimes.

    I think that this is strong enough to get requests. You'll get a lot of good comments here, which is a good thing. The hard thing is knowing what to use and what to file away. That's up to you. Overall, though, I think it is very strong, and is in the top percent of the writing I see from people who want to be published. A good editor's eye could really improve this, while keeping your voice and vision for the story intact.

    Your pitch still needs a little work. It is very important! You don't want an agent or editor to pass on the pages because the pitch is lackluster. Perhaps you can tell us straight away what a Torchveil is. You write:

    Yet imagination can be a powerful thing when you’re a Torchveil.
    ***So tell the agent what a Torchveil is.

    I'd also add her name to that first line:
    Torchveil is the story of OPAL, a lonely outcast who escapes from her dreary life by sketching the world she imagines instead of the world she sees.

    Here is a link to query letters that worked and went on to get book deals:

    Good luck, PJ, and thanks for sharing your work. I think you are on your way to good things.

    1. Thank you Ron. Your commnts and feedback have been invaluable. I really appreciate that you take time out to help aspiring writers.


  3. Hi Patrick,

    Excellent job on the revisions--I love the evocative atmosphere, the tongue-in-cheek humor, and the hints of more magic and peril to come. You've hooked us thoroughly and I'd definitely read more.

    I think the pitch could probably use a few revisions. I like the idea of beginning with Opal's power of imagination (though I agree you should just begin with her name) and the line "Yet imagination can be a powerful thing when you’re a Torchveil" is incredibly intriguing. The next line could be much punchier and I'd focus on Opal's emotional reaction when she sees her sketches come to life. And just to clarify, are the "wicked creatures" Opal's creations?

    After this, the pitch falls victim to a little too much telling over showing. Instead of explaining to us about "secrets of her tragic past" or the themes that will appear in this story, focus more on the details of the plot. Hook us a bit further on why we should care for and worry about Opal. Generall, agents seem to frown on being told the themes in a query. They'd rather be shown how loneliness and racial identity are woven into the story.

    And while Opal's racial identity can be a very compelling theme, I have to admit I didn't realize Opal was of mixed(?) race from the first five pages. This--and her friendship with Ellis--are definitely elements you can draw out more in your beginning, since they seem crucial to the story at large.

    On a more minor note, I thought you could mention the prized rose bush earlier, especially when Clattenrot is giving the children her long, bruising lecture. Instead of telling us about the rosebush after it's been destroyed (how it was beloved, prized, etc), have Clattenrot rhapsodize about it. For one, it could certainly show us the friendship between Clattenrot and Teaberry. Also, it'd establish the stakes: damage the rosebush and you'll receive a world of hurt.

    Thanks again, Patrick, for being a wonderful addition in this workshop. I truly wish you all the best with Torchveil!

  4. Hi Patrick,
    Pitches are hard! The one I shared so short because I'm pulling out my hair with a longer version. More Opal, less abstracts is my thought. I also like the idea of a bit more on "Torchveil." That's a great name!

    I'm really impressed by how much your opening has grown. The images - bird, man in hat, rosebush - help build a unique and intriguing scene. I'm imagining more vivid and recurring images will follow with Opal's artistic talents. Love it!

    I was confused by the start of the third paragraph. It took me out of the scene, while really it was an explanation of the bird. Lead with the bird! You might also expand her travel from her "home" to where they will do the gardening. Maybe one more short paragraph. It seemed a bit sudden, her standing and listening. I wish for another detail from her walk, I think.

    Patrick, thanks for your help this month. Best wishes for Opal and her exciting story.



  5. Hi again Patrick,

    We made it! Last week!

    Your pitch drew me in, and I think it does a good part of getting a flavor of things to expect, I have to bounce off of Caroline in disagreement and Ronald and Caroline in agreement.

    The thing that I've learned through looking through critiqued and commented pitches is do not over burden with the details of every little thing. Creatures give me an idea of something, but its left to being discovered. Only key and in brief information if its absolutely needed. In agreement with Ronald and Caroline however, there is a bit of telling, not showing. Give us a hint of the journey, the issue she'll face, the conflict.

    I can't say too much on the pages itself as you've cleaned and revised it with most of the recommendations you've received and it would be nit picking to me at this rate, and that's not what we're here for! I've read through this version faster than the others and enjoyed it all the same. I would love this story in my hands and I hope the best of luck for you and the future!

  6. Hi Patrick,

    Sorry for the brevity of my comments tonight. It's been a tough week and I'm only just able to turn my attention to this. Luckily, I don't have all that much to say, since you've done a great job on these pages from round one. I think there may be a few areas to polish up a little in these pages (the other commenters probably touched on them), but you've definitely got something you should feel really good about here.

    As for the pitch, I'm a bit less blown away. It's competent, but feels a little flat. I think you should try to write it more in the voice you've used for your pages. I think a written pitch shouldn't just explain what's going to happen in the story -- it should give an authentic flavor of what's to come.

    Thanks so much for sharing your pages. I hope you find lots of interest among agents for this. Can't wait to see it in print one day!

    All best,

  7. Dear PJ,

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to read your pages! Your book is atmospheric and lovely and you have established a very consistent tone throughout. I already have a strong sense of the world – which feels, to me, to be part Coraline, part Tuck Everlasting. Wonderful job.

    To start with your pitch, it’s a small pet peeve of mine when authors begin with “_____ is the story of” so I recommend restructuring that sentence. And can you hint a little more about the Torchveil legacy, and clarify that she’s an orphan here? I think you can even start the pitch with that quote in the last paragraph: “’You look like you could fit in anywhere,’ a friend once told her. But the sad fact was that Opal fit in nowhere.”

    Overall, be careful of passive voice throughout! There are a few instances throughout your pitch and the pages that could some more active sentence structure. This would greatly improve the fluidity of your prose.

    I loved that the story starts with her advocating on behalf of her true last name. That sets the scene for the rest of the story – very good instincts here. Other moments I loved: the smack in her right ear, the rose-petal wings, the rose bush disintegrating into a pile of sulfurous ash. You are a very vivid writer. I will look forward to reading more in the future.

    Wendi Gu