Sunday, January 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Boswell Rev 2

Name: Kirsten Boswell
Genre: YA Fantasy  


Orphaned, and desperate to do what others told her she’d never achieve, Lily dreams of joining the ranks of H1 – a highly-skilled and male-dominated army. She is mentored by Captain Wall, who Lily dreams of succeeding as Belham’s head captain.

One night, while Lily is practicing with her training partner, Tane, the sky above her city bursts into flames. Her feelings for Tane have grown recently but the relationship becomes strained when Captain Wall takes Tane with him to discover what’s causing the fire in the sky. Lily is left behind.   

While guarding her city, she is lured out of her home and falls into a trap set by their greatest enemy: fire-filled Cranks. They place a mark on Lily. The silver mark bursts with the evilest of magic and destroys her strength and her memories. Her personality begins to fade. When the mark is finished, only her talent and skill will remain, leaving her a blank canvas ready to be filled. When she is bare, her mind will be born again as the leader of her enemy.

Lily must embark on an epic journey to free herself. Or, become the very creature she vowed to protect her people from.

Chapter One – Belham:

Lily reached out and pressed her hand against the lime-green shield. The power from it buzzed against her palm and it even hummed against the soles of her feet where it disappeared underground. 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 glow high 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 subtle glow at the world it kept out, don’t let it in.

The shield glowed 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 left the boundary line. She 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 the Leader’s Room high up in the branches of the four great oak trees that marked the centre of Belham.

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. Melting violets and pinks of sunset darkened into nightfall and, as the green haze of the shield grew bolder, the colours began to fade behind it. 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. “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 looked up and over the trees at the snow-topped peaks of the Kris-Kra that were just 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 and every time she looked into she saw the lie. This lie was everything. When she held it, none of the other stuff, like the feeling that something was missing, mattered. She could pretend she was who she wanted to be.

“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 had 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.

“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.  

Her fingers ran along the bronze handle of her sword. It 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. 

Lily 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. She’d finish what her parents had started. Even if it meant, like them, she’d never return. Nothing mattered more than keeping her home safe from what lay beyond the shield. She wouldn’t let them down.

“Five years of training and the day is finally here,” said Lily.

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. Kirsten,

    Your pages and pitch look great! By looking at your pitch, it seems like your pages start at the perfect place.

    I don’t have any critiques on your pages because I think they’re strong as is. Your pitch starts strong and you set up the stakes nicely, but the last paragraph falls flat. Lily has been infiltrated by the enemy and if she doesn’t do something, she’ll become the enemy. But what does she do? Where does her epic journey take her? Is she alone or with Tane? Is she looking for an object or a person? Adding a little more clarification would finish your pitch off nicely and help us understand why we should cheer for Lily on her epic journey.

    Good luck!

  2. Hi Kirsten!

    Please note (I'm making this comment to everyone): I'm reading these pages cold, meaning I'm not reading the earlier versions or comments from others before commenting myself. This may mean that some of my comments repeat what other have said or contradict them - and that's OK! Publishing, in many ways, is a subjective process. It's up to you as the author to take in (sometimes contradictory) information, consider it, and then decide what makes the most sense to you and your book.

    So! It seems like there is a very cool story about to emerge after these pages (what a great concept! how exciting!), and you've set the reader up to want to keep reading. Great work! But I also felt like I had to wade through a lot. I'd love a slower, sparser reveal of all of these details of the world with more "traditional" (ie, nonfantasy) details like what people look like and who Lily is. Layering in some intriguing world building - her sword, the shield, that she has a big task ahead of her - and trimming the rest of it (H1 army and the danger of the world outside the shield and what happened to the other town) would make this easier to fall into seamlessly. We want to know that something is going on but I personally don't think we need the explicit telling of the stakes in these early paragraphs. Those rising stakes can come as the chapter continues. These first pages should be an interesting character (which you don't have enough of) in an interesting world (which you have too much of) - that alone will keep us reading.

    Before you send this out, be sure to take the time (as I know you will!) to do a copyedit clean up. It doesn't have to be perfect but good to read with that cleaning eye to avoid clunkiness - see second sentence with extra "it" - and make sure all is clear ( is she sitting by her window or standing outside? Hard to follow).

    Well done - these are strong pages and you are certainly in the nitpicky stages now, which is a great place to be. Good luck!

  3. I don't have anything additional to add - great working taking in the suggestions and thoughtfully revising. Best of luck with this!

  4. Hi Kirsten,

    Your revisions are great, this is definitely the best version yet. I really like the way you've heightened the tension with little ominous details (e.g., "She'd never seen the captains so uneasy,") towards the beginning.

    Re: the query, I would cut the part about her relationship with Tane, because it doesn't seem to tie into the main plot. If it does, show us how. Instead, I'd use the extra words to clarify what the 'epic journey to free herself' looks like. What does she have to do? How does she go about doing it?

    This could just be me, but you said when she looked into her sword she saw "the lie" and I didn't totally get it. I think you could clarify what "the lie" is.

    One other tiny thing, I think you define what the H1 army is twice. I'd cut the reference to it in one of your final paragraphs (fifth or sixth from the end, something like that).

    I've really enjoyed reading this!

  5. Hi Kirsten,

    Wow, reading your pitch gives me much better insight into your overall story. The only comment I have about the pitch is that I'm thinking her relationship with Tane is one of the elements you're using to up tension and conflict because of her feelings for him and that the captain chooses him over her. (If I'm wrong totally disregard this.) This is obviously necessary for the story, but not necessarily for the pitch. I'd love more focus on this evil that infiltrates her, how it conflicts with her goal of becoming captain, and what this evil really is.

    As for the piece itself, this is so much tighter. It was easy to follow and understand. It's a nice set up to the story. Thank you for sharing with us! All the best to you...


  6. Kirsten,
    Wow! Your story sounds a little like Jason Borne concept--of course way different setting, stakes, etc. But the psychological thriller part is exciting! I can kind of understand what Abby Saul said about wading through a lot. I am game for it, but maybe thin the first pages down for agents who are too swamped with queries, introducing concepts like H1, etc. more gradually.
    The line about the lie that you added gave me goosebumps! I would definitely turn pages to find out what the lie is. Perhaps whet the readers' appetite even more, adding a sentence or two to clarify what "everything" is and what "missing" means.

    For the query, I think the suggestion to leave Tane out might be wise. I think your selling point with the story is the psychological thriller. Focus on that, amplify it, cut distractions. IMHO :)

  7. Hi Kirsten,

    I loved reading your pitch. The story sounds really great.


    What is a crank? It makes me think of some machine, but I wasn’t sure if it was something common or not. If it’s not a common thing, maybe give a little more detail about what it is.

    You could skip the second paragraph and give us more details about what Lily needs to do after getting marked. She needs to remove it, but what does that involve. I love the mystery of the wall and what lies behind it. You do a great job of setting that up in the pages, and that what I remember being excited about from your first version, but it’s missing from the pitch.


    You mention Lily’s feelings for Tane in the pitch but not in the pages. I don’t think you need a lot, but you could hint at it when she first talks with him or when he mentions life after their first mission.

    I’m also curious to learn more about why people didn’t think Lily could make it to join the H1. Adding some of her thoughts about that could give us more insight to Lily, and I think it would make sense since she is just about to join.

    Your story is so interesting and you do a great job setting it up! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Kirsten, I'm late on the scene. It's been a crazy few weeks here in my little corner of the world. My "mom" hat has been particularly demanding.

    I've read the other suggestions and I would agree with most with the comments about Tane in your pitch. I don't think a hint of their relationship is necessary in the opening pages, because you have 250ish more to develop that relationship into something bigger. And often times you don't really know you love someone until something is at stake.

    I agree with the need for an overall clean edit. You've definitely improved, but I still think you can clean it up a bit more.

    Overall, a fun and intriguing story. I can't wait to see where this story and you go from here.