Sunday, January 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Boswell Rev 1

Name: Kirsten Boswell
Genre: YA Fantasy 

Lily reached out and pressed her hand against the green shield. She released her breath and felt her shoulders drop.

It was still here.

She’d pulled her blanket from her bed last night and sat by her window all night, making sure she could see the green up in the sky. After yesterday’s news, she couldn’t look away.

Every time she thought about what would happen to her city if it failed, frost flourished in her chest.

She took a deep breath. Don’t stop. Whatever happened yesterday, she stared through the lime green shield at the world it kept out, don’t let it in.

The green began to glow brighter and a whisper in her mind replied: You’re going to be late. He doesn’t like it when you’re late.

She pulled her hand away and studied the sky for a moment. “Oh, blade!”

She turned and sprinted down the wood-chipped path and back to the centre of Belham. The crystals hanging from her belt clinked off each other and she shot out of the Eastern Forest. 

“Sorry.” She dodged around groups of people all heading back to the Housing Area, their shadows growing long behind them as the sun neared its resting place. Usually, conversation filled the centre and children would be running around her. Not tonight. Not after what happened the day before.

She slowed her strides 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. She’d never seen the captains so uneasy.

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

She grinned. “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, as she marched along the path, she saw the fiery summer sun slide behind the mountains beyond the boundary line. As it did, the slight green haze of the shield grew bolder. 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. 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. 

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. He’ll be held up in the Leader’s Room but he’ll be here soon. He’d never let us out of a training session. Even if the city is on the brink of a shield disaster.”

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. Her blade was a mirror. It held the only true reflection of her. None of the other stuff, like the feeling that something was missing, mattered when she held her sword.

“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. Yesterday, the shield that protected Demem, a smaller city in the far west, had failed. The city has been exposed for over two hours. 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 looking forward to the most?” said Tane.
She thought for a moment. “There’s lots to look forward to.” Lily looked up at her training partner. “Anything could 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. She 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. Death didn’t scare her. It was returning home 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 lost but there were a few foggy memories of her father. Like them, at eighteen she’d joined the army. Now she had to finish what they’d started.  They never returned from beyond the shield.  She’d finish what her parents had started. Even if it meant, like them, she’d never return. She wouldn’t let them down.

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.”

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

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


  1. Hi Kirsten,

    GREAT job on the revisions! The majority of the questions I asked myself during the original are answered, well done. I think the rearrangement of information and pieces of the scene really work and having the stakes up front and center makes a dramatic change as a reader. A few teeny things:
    - You tell us the shield is green or lime-green several times in a short space. I would limit this or find a different way to describe it. Is it transparent? Does it hum? What does it feel like, if anything?
    - You say "shield disaster" twice within a few sentences. I'd mix that up.
    - I still don't love using "Blade!" as an exclamation, but you've added better examples of it so it's more obvious.

    Awesome job!


  2. Hey Kirsten,

    Good job on your revisions. The opening is a lot clearer now. I like getting a sense about the shield before we go into the dialogue.

    The beginning did confuse me a little though. Is Lily connected to the shield somehow? Is the shield reacting to her thinking about it failing by glowing brighter? And I couldn’t tell whether the shield was somehow putting thoughts in her mind i.e. “He doesn’t like it when you’re late”, or if that’s her own thought.

    I’m still curious about why she’s so eager to leave and hopes to never return. Just to escape the memory of her parents? Normal teenage angst?

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Kirsten,

    The first few paragraphs I was confused a little about where Lilly was. I think this was because at first she is by the shield, but we don’t know where, and then she mentions being at her window last night. It made me wonder if her window was up next to the shield or how far she had traveled that morning to go next to it, which also made me think it was much earlier in the day.

    I’m confused about their cities shield disaster. By the intro, I thought something had happened to their shield recently. Then, when Lilly meets Tane he mentions the city being on the brink of a shield disaster. We learn about a shield failing in another city, but I want to know what happened in their city or why they think something will.

    The lines “It held the only true reflection of her. None of the other stuff, like the feeling that something was missing, mattered when she held her sword.” made me stop reading and check if I missed something. Had she mentioned something missing before? Maybe mention it earlier or say more about it after those lines.

    What is it that Lilly wants to finish for her parents? Right now I’d guess joining the H1 army and successfully making it back after her first mission, but she also says she is afraid of returning home, so I’m unsure.

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  5. Hi Kirsten,

    I think this revision does a good job of clarifying a lot of the questions I had last time around. I also like the new opening, it definitely feels more impactful! However, the scene with the shield was hard for me to picture. I was envisioning it as a dome way up in the sky, but it's close enough for her to touch-- is she standing right near the edge of it? I think if you can help us picture that scene a little more clearly, it could be extremely memorable.

    I also like Tane mentioning the shield disaster right away this time-- everything you've changed seems to amp up the stakes earlier, which is great. I am extremely curious about what's outside the shield.

    I think the paragraph that starts: "She nodded. Yesterday, the shield that protected Demem," might be too detailed. There are lots of definitions and proper names in that paragraph, I had to read it twice to feel like I got most of it.

    I like the faster transition in the paragraph that starts, "“There’s lots to look forward to.” Lily looked up at her training partner," but I think you could add something (a smile, an eye-roll, a tone of voice) to show us that she's being sarcastic.

    I think this sentence has too many clauses: "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."

    I think the revisions in the paragraph about her parents are good, but it is slightly repetitive. She says she wants to finish what they started several times, but she doesn't make it clear what that was.

  6. Hi Kirsten,

    I really like this new opening! I'm instantly grounded into this strange world with the character. I even hear voice from the start, a sense of desperation, need, worry, and then a little reassurance. :) As I read, I also understood more about this shield protecting them. But I'm wondering if you could give it more substance like size, thickness, how far away people are from it. A few of the details make it hard to see all that. Can she touch the shield or is she simply reach out at it?

    This is a fantasy world, so using the word 'whispering' gives the impression that it might be another person/being - ghost or what have you. These are inner thoughts. You can refer to them as such at the beginning. The reader will grow to expect it as the story continues. *Note: in a fantasy story definitive lines need to be created to keep the reader from confusing real things from magical things.

    Yes, the part where she's running through town is so much cleaner. It's really easy to understand and visualize. Nice job! The paragraph starting Tane shook his head. "You got away with it." What's it? I know it's the fact that she's late, but really, it could be anything.

    The first sword paragraph: Although this is much crisper and concise than the first draft, I still question the mirror image. I think you're using 'mirror' as a metaphor for who she is inside. (Mirrors reflect back at us, so she she's what's truly there.) Saying that, you go on to state that none of the other stuff (I'm assuming inner emotions/doubt...) is there while she has her sword. But if the sword reflects herself back at her wouldn't it show everything? I might be totally off base here. If I am just disregard this part. There's a little repetition in the last paragraph about the sword.

    Hope this helps! Looking forward to your revision.

  7. Kirsten! Ack! I posted a detailed reply and it disappeared. Internet gremlins strike again. I'm going to try to rewrite it.

    I love your new beginning. It absolutely drew me into your world and answered most if not all the questions I had. I love the fantastical elements and the fact that you've brought a hint of emotion into it. Awesome job!

    That're going to be disappointed, but all I've got for you is editorial suggestions.

    First, you tend to be repetitive. Green is used over and over again, but without giving us a sense of what we're looking at. Lime green, moss green, forest green? Booger green? Green in itself is a weak descriptor. Can you bring it to life more by changing it up, giving it something to compare it to so we know exactly what you're seeing?

    Speaking of green, can you really see the purple and pink hues of sunset through a green shield?

    Back to repetitiveness. Shield disaster is another you use often. Change this up too?

    Take a look at your last two significant paragraphs. You use the word "she" ten times in a handful of sentence. I'd suggest using her name and combining some of those sentence so they don't read so choppy and repetitive.

    Did you mean to repeat "she had to finish what they started"? She says it again two sentences later, and then again at the end. I'm not sure if there was a reason for it, but it didn't read smoothly to me.

    Still a few passive writing places. The shield began to glow brighter or The shield glowed brighter. She knew the handle was a tad or The handle was a tad. She ran her fingers along or Her fingers ran along. The city has (tense issue here as well) been exposed or The city was exposed.

    I know these little things might seem silly and petty, and they really are petty, but you want your wording to be strong with a punch. Had beens, always, never,...they bog the flow of the story down and take up real estate in the words you're aloted in writing YA. Make each word count. If it can be cut, cut it. Use those extra words to bring your story alive with vibrant description, showing character traits and emotion, and giving the story the punch that it needs to draw the reader in.

    Again, awesome job. The fact that I'm nit picking your editing needs says a lot. It means that your story is good, the characters are believable, I'm engaged, and now all you need is a good clean up. Seen you in revision two!