Saturday, January 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Boswell

Name: Kirsten Boswell
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Lily shot out of the eastern forest.

She was late! Of all the evenings to be late.

Her feet crunched across the wood-chipped path and her breath puffed from her chest as she tied her belt around her waist. She tugged the knot tight, the crystals it held clinking off each other.

She dodged around groups of people all heading back to the Housing Area, their shadows trailing the ground as the sun neared its resting place.  Usually, conversation filled the centre and children ran ahead. Not tonight. Not after what had happened two days ago.

She slowed her stride as she passed the wooden staircase that led up to four great oak trees that marked the centre of Belham and also housed the Leader’s Room high up in their branches.

Captain Loch thumped down the last of the wooden steps. Above him, other captains milled around the open door to the Leader’s Room, their low rumbled conversation catching her attention.  Lily had never seen the captains so uneasy.

“Ready for tomorrow, young blade?” Captain Loch’s voice caught in his throat, the deep-set wrinkles around his eyes reaching up his face to disappear into his grey hair.

She grinned as she passed him. “More than ready.”

Captain Loch laughed and called after her: “You won’t be saying that when you’re out there beyond the shield, kid.”

Lily turned and watched the fiery summer sun slide behind the mountains beyond the boundary line. As it did, a slight green haze appeared over her city, Belham. Melting violets and pinks of sunset darkened into nightfall. She couldn’t remember a day in her life when the vibrant, lime-green shield hadn’t boasted its power high above her home. She knew no magic and no creature could harm them while the green glowed.

She followed the path and stepped through the wooden gate into the Teaching Grounds. A low grey-stone wall circled the flat, open grounds and tall pine-trees lined the inside of the wall. The fresh scent of pine always perked her up for training.  As she stared out at the plains she saw groups of fellow H1 humans practicing. Swords scraping mixed with a low murmur of conversation. 

“Of all the days to be late, you choose today?” Tane sat on the low stone wall. Alone.

She looked around. “He’s not here?”

Tane shook his head. “You’ve gotten away with it.”

Lily dumped herself down on the wall beside him and balanced her sword on her knee, the handle clinking off her belt of crystals. She leaned back and looked up and over the trees and saw the Kris-Kra. The snow-topped peaks, sleeping behind circling grey clouds, were only a few miles away from her city’s boundary line.

“I heard your parents arrived in Demem,” she said. The last of the sunlight bounced off her sword. She’d melted white pebbles into the blade hoping it would create a misted effect. Blades with swirls of colour were so unusual and she’d always wanted that for her blade. But, when her hands had blistered from pulling her sword out from the fire, there was no white mist. There was only a mirror. From that moment, her sword had become a part of her. Her shield.

“Yeah, they got there last night.”

“D’you wish they were here to see you off tomorrow?”

Tane shrugged. “They had to go. It wouldn’t look very good for the head councillor and the councillor in charge of defence to not go to the biggest shield disaster in history.”

She nodded. Two days ago, the shield that protected Demem, a smaller city in the far west, had failed. The city has been exposed for over two hours. Lily didn’t want to imagine her city so defenceless. The Belham councillors, a group of humans from all the armies, had taken half of Belham’s H1 army with them to Demem. Even with half of their H1 missing, as the world’s largest human settlement, Belham still had nearly two thousand H1.

“D’you want to know what I’m looing forward to the most?” said Tane.
She thought for a moment. “There’s lots to look forward to.” Lily turned to her training partner. He’d really grown in the five years since they’d began their H1 training together. True, all the males she’d started with now dwarfed her but Tane was something else. His size went even beyond the typical H1 male bulk. She felt quite dainty around him, and she was hardly small herself.  ‘Tall and broad’ as her friend, Aura, H2 in-training, had said when trying to cheer her up one time. “Anything could actually kill us when we leave the city tomorrow. There’s the pressure of the magic that could make our heads implode, creatures to strip us of our skin while we’re still alive. Dehydration, poison –“
“Blade, Lily, I meant when we come back,” said Tane.

“Oh. Okay. If we do make it back, what’re you looking forward to the most?”

“The day we get back, I’m going to build my own home.”

Oh blade, there he goes again.

He was always planning a life within the city. He really did seem to forget that they were part of the H1 army which meant, in comparison with the other armies, there was only a five percent chance they’d reach the age of thirty. Lily wouldn’t let herself make such plans.

“Of all the things to be thinking about, how can you think of building a house when we have the world waiting for us.” Lily spread her arms. “We’re going beyond the shield. If we succeed in this mission we’ll be fully qualified H1. We’ll be leaving all the time.”

“And if we do, and risk death with every trip, I want to return to my own home that I built.” Tane leaned back against the stone wall, propping himself up on his elbows.

Lily didn’t know how to reply. The risk of death had never scared her. It was the thought of returning home that she feared.

She ran her fingers along the bronze handle of her sword. She knew the handle was a tad old fashioned but in her memories, though it could just be her dreams, her father had had a bronze-handled sword. When she’d crafted her own weapon, on the day of her inauguration into H1, a highly trained human army that went beyond the safety of their city and out into the world, she was the only one to use bronze. 

She couldn’t really remember her parents. Her mother was totally lost but there were a few foggy memories of her father. At eighteen, she was the age they had been when they died. It seemed only right to join the army that had cost her parents their lives. She had to finish what her parents had started. 

“Can you believe tomorrow’s finally the day?” Lily looked back at Tane. “Five years of training and the day is finally here.”

Tane grinned. “There were a few times when I didn’t think we’d make it. Well, not really ‘we’, more you. I was fairly certain that was the end of you a few times during training.”

“You had a few trips to Flint, as well, young protégé.”

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?”

She recited the official forms for their planned journey: “Captain Wall will accompany his protégé, Tane Shield, and H1 in-training, Lily Frost, on their inaugural mission beyond the shield.


  1. Hi Kirsten! Your story sound great so far and I only have a few notes.

    In this sentence: "“Anything could actually kill us when we leave the city tomorrow."
    I think taking out the word 'actually' will give it a better punch.

    Two separate paragraphs describing her sword feels like too much in the first five pages. Maybe you could combine the two or find a different way for her to speculate that her father's sword was bronze, like a flash of a memory or something.

    Why does returning home scare her so much? Is it because she has no family? Maybe hint at that when she mentions her parents.

    I hope my comments are helpful. Good luck!

  2. Hello Kirsten,
    I feel like your first five pages throw a lot of balls into the air that you probably catch later in the chapter or the book. Too bad we end at the 5 pages here :)
    Some suggestions/questions below.

    I was confused here "There was only a mirror. From that moment, her sword had become a part of her. Her shield."--Why had the mirror made by the pebbles turned the blade into her shield, and into a part of her? Is there something special about the mirror? How does it shield her?

    "Captain Loch’s voice caught in his throat, the deep-set wrinkles around his eyes reaching up his face to disappear into his grey hair."
    --I am not sure I understand the physical changes that you describe here. When you said his voice caught, I thought he was surprised, or shocked. But it turned out he was neither. And I am having a hard time visualizing wrinkles disappearing into the hair (I am assuming he is human, and his face is like ours?) Perhaps re-phrase?

    "The risk of death had never scared her. It was the thought of returning home that she feared."--I would cut down to "Death never scared her. It was returning home that she feared."

    Prune adverbs: "She couldn’t really remember her parents. Her mother was totally lost but there were a few foggy memories of her father. " would sound punchier without "really" and "totally."

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Kirsten,

    Here’s what I thought it was about:

    Lilly lives in a society where cities are protected by (magical?) shields that keep out the poisonous environment and deadly creatures. Lilly is a member of one of the human armies meant to protect the cities from what lives beyond.

    I think you’ve set if up for Lily to venture beyond the shield and probably learn more about what’s out there.


    You definitely have me interested by the first pages! You do a good job setting up a lot of questions that make me want to read on (during the pages and after). What is Lilly late to? What are the crystals she wears? What is the world like beyond the shield?

    I like the way things get mentioned in an offhand way. Lilly is called a blade by one of the captains, so we know she’s part of some fighting/army community. The way you use human makes me think there will be other species, which makes me more interested in the world too.

    I liked learning more about the world when Lilly turns and surveys the city, but it felt weird for her to do since she was late and running towards some appointment.

    There are some other things that I think could wait until later to be found out. We get information about Tane’s family, Lilly’s family, and mention of another friend. I think you could keep some of these details until later. It felt like a lot to remember all at once.

    I liked hearing what happened two days ago to make people worried, but I would have rather heard about what is going to happen to Lilly. She’s going on some mission beyond the shield, but to do what? Why is she afraid to return after her mission?

    I’m interested in the world you’ve set up and I like the relationship the fighters seem to have with their sword. I’m definitely interested in learning more about that!

  4. Hey Kirsten,

    I really like this! I would definitely keep reading based on your first 5 pages.

    I think you do a great job providing enough worldbuilding in these pages to situate the reader without making us feel overwhelmed. I feel like I have a pretty clear image of where Lily lives (kind of a nice Lothlorien vibe with the Leader's Room up in the trees) and what her life is like, and I'm eager to learn more about what lies beyond the shield.

    So in the paragraph that starts "She thought for a moment," I think you lose the punch of the dialogue at the end of the paragraph by breaking it up with such a detailed description of Tane. I liked her sarcasm, it was different than what I went into the paragraph expecting. But by the time I got to it, I had to jump back to the top of the paragraph to remember what they were talking about, because I had switched my focus to Tane.

    The sentence "It seemed only right to join the army that had cost her parents their lives," raised some questions in my mind. I think this would be a great opportunity to help us connect with Lily emotionally and to give us a better sense of her motivation, so I'd flesh this out a little bit if you can. Side note, I find the wording of the sentence a little confusing, "cost" has a negative implication, but we're to understand overall that she feels good about being in the army. I think if you changed it to something like, "the army her parents had given their lives for," or something that implies heroism as opposed to loss, it would be more convincing.

    I find the dialogue at the end a little repetitive, specifically from "Can you believe tomorrow's finally the day?" I think that could be trimmed. In its place, I'd love to see more of Lily's thoughts/emotions. I think everything else is so good-- the setting, the worldbuilding, the dialogue, etc.-- and the only thing I'd really like to see more of in the opening is feeling and motivation that helps me connect more strongly with Lily.


  5. Hi Kirstin,

    Thanks for sharing your work with me! I’m intrigued right away and definitely curious about what’s going to happen when Lily and Tane go beyond the shield. I think you’ve done a nice job of adding the emotional layers with her commitment to her parents’ work, and also contrasting her motives with Tane’s.

    A few points:

    - Watch the exclamation point at the beginning. The words felt urgent enough, in my opinion, without it.
    - I’d define what H1 is the first time you mention it. Every time you said it but didn’t tell me what it was, I was pulled out of the story.
    - The description of her sword and the pebbles that others have mentioned was also confusing for me. It didn’t seem necessary and I found the later description of the bronze handle much more powerful because of the personal connection.
    - Is “Blade” an exclamation in this world? I had to reread a few times. I might suggest using something different, especially since there is much talk about swords.
    - Tane’s last name is shield? Since the shield is an important element of this world, I might suggest choosing something else.

    Hope this is helpful! I’m happy to answer questions if you have them.


  6. Hi Kirsten! Thank you for letting me read your work. I'll comment as I go.

    I like where you start this off. I get a sense of character, place, and some urgency, which is a great hook to encourage a reader to continue. Yay! And there's magic. Love magic!

    A few notes: for me, although the initial four or five short paragraphs are written well, I still think they could be tightened. There are a lot of specific locations (eastern forest, the path, groups of people, housing area, wooden staircase, four great oak trees, centre of Belham, leader's room) listed that she dodges, passes, climbs, and looks over. I think only a few of the specific locations are needed. The others you could work in a little later. In their place you could touch upon her other senses to add detail to her surroundings.

    Reread some of your descriptions and see if you can't eliminate a few words. Less is sometimes (most of the time) more. The two separate areas where you describe her sword - the second one resonated with me more, felt more personal and gave the act of her making it more meaning. The first one felt like it was dropped in there. I like the ideas in the first description, but it could be added in later. Even though you use different information, in this short space using both sounds a little repetitive.

    Making this note, I also would love to see more of Lily. How does she feel about her parents dying so young? Why does she fear coming back home? This place must be important to her because she willing to fight for it. Or is she solely fighting to 'finish her parents fight'? And even a little more intimacy (friendship) between her and Tane. It's obvious they must be close friends, training together as partners all these years. How does she feel about that? About his life being in danger, too? Stuff like that. I'm also curious where the magic will come in. Could you elude to it a little more to give more mystery or tension? And how does magic play into this war?

    Best of luck with your revision! I really enjoyed this.

  7. Kristen, sorry for the delayed critique. I've been traveling this week.

    This is a great start. You've given me enough of the story to ask questions, but not to much to all up front. My interest is piqued. I appreciate that you've started us right in the middle of the ongoing conflict. It's often easy to get lost in staging the story in the first few pages without engaging the reader into the conflict at hand.

    I feel like the world building is pretty good, however, the characters feel a little flat. Lily is running to her training (I think), but where has she come from? Why is she late? Even a simple sentence or two could give us a clue into her character. Was she exploring the shield to see if there's a crack in it to get to the outside world? Was she up to mischief? She's late, but it doesn't sound like she normally is. This is just one example where I think you could show us her character a bit more.

    The writing is a bit clunky and passive to me. In just a short amount of time she tugged, she slowed, she grinned. There are a few run on sentences. At one point you switch to present tense using "has". Several sentences have passive verbs (was + verb, had + verb). Also, watch the use of always and never. These tend to be filler words that are unnecessary. I think with a thorough edit, it'll give you space for more content in your opening pages.

    Regarding the age of her parents when they died, if they were 18 and she has foggy memories of her father, how old were they when she was born? I had a little trouble with the math on this one. Just going to throw out the suggestion, but maybe she doesn't remember her parents. Or if she does, they probably ought to be a least a little bit older so that she can be 5 or 6 years old to have those memories.

    One other mathematical thing, the snow-capped peaks are only a few miles away. Which means as far as elevation goes, wouldn't she be under snow too? I was trying to imagine her peering at peaks of mountains that were only two miles away and it doesn't seem very plausible. I may be wrong, but something to think about.

    Overall, fantastic start. I've got soooo many more questions, but I'm going to hold off until the revision because I don't want to boggle you down with them yet. Looking forward to round two!

  8. Ack, and I spelled your name wrong! So sorry!