Sunday, October 13, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Barrios Rev 1

Name: Anita McDivitt Barrios
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Dragon's Leap

Chapter 1 - The Call

Iric MacDraegan resisted the urge to jam his thumbs into his ears as the heavy drone of
two clashing, dissonant notes followed him into the farmhouse. The dragon lung pipes
spewed their strange tones, ebbing and flowing, drowning out all other sounds with each
heave of the bellows. He slammed the door against them.

They're calling another Leap, he thought, and balled his fists as if he could pummel the
sounds into an in-tune pleasant harmony. He knew from experience the noise -- it couldn't
be called music -- started out aggravating, but over a fortnight burrowed into his ears,
scratching and scraping, crescendoing in sleepless nights and frayed nerves. He ground
his teeth against it, fighting the reminder that, once again, he was losing out on his
chance to Leap.

Everyone else in earshot was already responding to the almost painful noise, packing a
sack and getting ready to fling themselves over the Leaping Cliff, hoping and praying
they'd be dragon-chosen. But not him. He was trapped on the farm with stalls to muck, a
cow to milk, chickens to feed and fences to mend. Other parents couldn't wait for their
sons to Leap, but his mother only harped on how "you're going to bust your head open
on the Beach of Sorrows if the River Maw is running low." She'd never let him get
near the Cliff. The Glacier Maw could melt and flood the valley and she still wouldn't
let him go.

The lung pipes droned.

The fire crackled and a three-footed black pot, full to the brim with porridge, simmered
in the flames. He placed the egg basket and milk pail on the table and served himself a

His mother appeared, sweaty from stoking the fire, skirts gathered in one hand. She wiped
her brow on a rolled-up sleeve and served him a ladle of last night's mutton and gravy
from a smaller pot. Her red hair, a glorious crown of curls pulled off her neck and piled
on her head, was greying around the edges. Her hands, rough and cracked from washing and
weaving and tending fires, were strong and steady.

The droning penetrated the room, swirling like wood smoke. Heavy. Stifling. Suffocating.
He couldn't stand it. He had to say something.

"When are you going to let me Leap?" He didn't look up from his bowl. "I'm

"You're all I have. I can't lose you." Her eyes locked on his. She didn't even
pause before answering.   

"That's not fair. You don't know you'll lose me. I could be dragon-chosen. Dad
was." He met her gaze.

"You're not your Dad. Why can't you be more like your Uncle?" She flicked an
imaginary crumb off the embroidered tablecloth. "He and I were talking the other
day. He thinks you could lead the next drive to the shearing house. Take the horse and
drive our quota in. He could use the help."

He flinched like she had slapped him. She may as well have. "Why're you always
trying to get me to care about sheep? I hate sheep. I hate living here. I want to fly.
When do I get to do what I want?"

"It's too dangerous." She bunched her rough wool shawl higher around her neck
and smoothed her hands on her skirts. "You don't understand. If the River Maw is
running low, you could bust your head open on the Beach of Sorrows. Break your legs. One
of those beasts could rip off your arm. Then what would I do?"

"I'm not a kid anymore, Mom. I've outgrown Dad's boots and I'm taller than he was,
too. Uncle Luak says so. You're always on me to do more around here. If you let me Leap,
I could be dragon-chosen and get you all the stuff you have to barter for now -- dragon
mutes and dragon-casted wool. I could really help you then." He stabbed a piece of
mutton with a knife. It screeched and pushed a glob of gravy over the edge.

The sound of the pipes ricocheted off the walls, louder and shriller.

"How can you know you'll be dragon-chosen?" Her voice sliced through the
droning, clear and hard. "You can't. No one knows what the dragons want in a
rider." She sniffed. "What if you're not chosen? You want to spend the rest of
your life with a mangled leg? How about losing an eye? I can't let that happen to

"It won't." They were talking in circles at each other. "I could be like

"Dragons killed your father and nearly broke me. Don't you ever forget it!" She
hit the table with a fist and half rose off the bench. "That's why I raised you
here. Away from dragons, for good. I didn't want you growing up at the Mews admiring and
worshipping those beasts."

"I get it. You hate the Mews." He tried again. "But it can't be as bad as
you say, or no one would ever Leap. I think it'd be amazing."

Her arm flashed across the table. She grabbed his wrist, pinning it between her thumb and
fingers. He dropped the knife and pulled back. She held him fast.  "You think being
dragon-chosen'll make you different? Special, somehow?" She sneered the word,
special. "That a dragonling'll care about you? Make no mistake. They're beasts,
Iric, not pets. They don't think like us. They don't love. They don't have friends.
They're not nice. Ever. They're selfish to a scale. All they care about is getting what
they want. What they need. Not what anyone else wants or needs. Not about you or anyone
you love. They're the true Lords of the Mews, not the Council or the Masters or the Wing
Leaders. Everyone serves them. It's twisted."

"Are you any different?" He yanked out of her grip and stood up. "Isn't
that all you care about? Making me stay here so I can chop wood and round up the sheep
and do chores for you? So you don't have to?"

Droning filled the silence.

"I only want what's best for you." Her shoulders slumped and she curled her
empty hand into a fist. "I thought I knew what that was. I want to keep you safe. I
want you to have a long life surrounded by people who love you. I want you to have what I
never could."

"What if I don't want that?" He took a deep breath. He couldn't stop now.
"What if I want to take a chance? What if I want to get out of here and fly?"

"You don't understand what you're saying." Her hands shook. She covered her
face. "You can't possibly understand."

"What did Dad want me to do?" he shouted.

Her head shot up, face stony white and lips set in a grim line. "No," she

"See? It doesn't matter what I say. You'll never listen to me and you'll never let
me go!" He stomped out the front door, slamming it shut. He ran to the barn, then
out to the empty corral, sucking in the cold air, holding back tears. She'd never
understand him, never know how he felt stuck on the ground when he could be touching the

The empty pasture mocked him in the dawning sun.

He had to round up the damn sheep.

The dragon lung pipes bellowed across the fields, calling.


  1. Thanks all for the feedback last week. I incorporated most of it, I hope, especially the POV feedback. I've struggled with writing that, as there are italics for telepathic dialogue later in the story, but in this rewrite I used 3rd limited, past tense POV. This workshop submission is also the first time I've considered this as my first chapter, so the comment about waking up was spot on. It just hadn't occurred to me it was now the opening scene (duh!). I showed the argument with his mom, as suggested, although if this isn't enough conflict and a grim enough tone (if the story is anywhere near HTTYD, it's book 13, with Furious headed out to the ocean to die), there's another point, in the next chapter, that I could rewrite as the beginning. I also struggle with the term / concept of dissonance. It's a music thing, you know it when you hear it; 2nds and 7ths, but that means nothing to most folks, and I do know that, but I still want to use it. I'm using it to foreshadow the alien-ness, the sheer unconcern for humanity, of the dragons. This is their call for the needs of their young -- a human pairing. I've tried to describe it better this time; please let me know if it works. It probably needs more work. Looking forward to your feedback and rewriting! Have a great writing week!

  2. Hey Anita!
    Firstly, I just want to mention how much I enjoyed reading your revision! It has great imagery, tension was evident, a want/need for more to come was present. It drew me in and kept me reading!

    Here are a few things I found:

    In the second paragraph: The second sentence reads a little strange to me. I really feel it is the “He knew from experience” part. Suggestion: The noise, which couldn’t be called music, started out aggravating…”

    In paragraph 3, identify Iric again. I think it will help with ownership of what we read, giving us a better grasp on your MC. Suggestion: “But not Iric.”

    Actually, as I continue to read, I’d like to see his name used a few more times, rather than at just the very beginning.

    In the paragraph that begins with “You’re not your Dad…” I believe Dad should be “dad” because it isn’t used as a name there.

    The last 4 paragraphs/sections are where it’s at! “….stuck on the ground when he could be touching the sky…” wouldn’t that be an epic first line? I think so!

    Looking forward to your final edits!

    Best wishes,

  3. This is a great improvement from the first chapter! There's character motivation right up front, and while there's still mystery around the Leap, there's enough present that we are on board, and we are on his side about doing it.

    I think the dialogue might be a little too on the nose with the back and forth, and a lot of the information you gave us before the chat with his mother, comes up again in their talk. This might be to "for the reader" and I think you could have them basically have the talk without repeating any information, and give it more of a "we've had this talk so many times" feel. Like, she'd start to say something, and he'd cut her off, finishing it because he's heard it so many times. As it stands it felt very Her, then him, her than him, and everything was the expected dialogue.

    I think the biggest thing that might help here is him doing something in the argument he's never done before. Maybe he's never brought up dad -- and finally, he's holding it in, and then he just goes, what about dad? There just needs to be a slightly fresh angle to the conversation that they can chat about, that is new to the characters, not just the reader. This will give it more authenticity.

  4. What a fantastic revision! So much more immediate and clear, and some lovely writing in here.

    I think that if you trim a bit here and there, it feels like a good starting point.

    A few examples:

    The first paragraph--why have him resist? Just have him stick the thumbs in his ears, but nothing stops the dragon lung pipes that burrow into his ears,
    scratching and scraping, crescending in the long, sleepless nights. It's GREAT to let us *see* the reaction. : ) And I love that description in the later paragraph and would love to have you move it up, front and center.

    Second paragraph (and elsewhere): Don't bother telling us that he is thinking, or that he knows something from experience Just go there: "The bellows were calling another Leap." Then when you immediately give us a great reaction to that thought: "He balled his fists as if he could pummel the
    sounds into" (submission or ????), we feel him. But maybe you can add a physical hint of the physical action he really wants to take to join to all those other people who are responding to the Leap. That is SUCH a great description of the locations. Maybe hold off on WHY he can't go though, and let us see that later in the discussion with his mother. Maybe cut everything from: Other parents couldn't wait for their sons to Leap, but his mother only harped on how "you're going to bust your head open on the Beach of Sorrows if the River Maw is running low." She'd never let him get near the Cliff. The Glacier Maw could melt and flood the valley and she still wouldn't let him go.

    The descriptions once he gets inside--and the descriptions of his mother--are fantastic. You clearly have a gift for putting yourself and the reader in the physical space, so that's why I want you to get there sooner.

    The rest is all good, but look to see where you can eliminate the unimportant and the stuff that's too much on the nose. Here are some examples of things I think you could cut out, making what's left behind much stronger and less direct.

    He had to say something.
    "When are you going to let me Leap?"
    You're all I have.
    You don't know you'll lose me.
    You're not your Dad.
    I hate sheep. I hate living here.
    When do I get to do what I want?
    "It's too dangerous."
    You don't understand.
    Then what would I do?
    "I'm not a kid anymore, Mom.
    You're always on me to do more around here.
    "How can you know you'll be dragon-chosen?" Her voice sliced through the
    droning, clear and hard. "You can't.
    I can't let that happen to you.
    "It won't." They were talking in circles at each other.
    "That's why I raised you here. Away from dragons, for good. I didn't want you growing up at the Mews admiring and worshipping those beasts."

    Truly--this is a phenomenal revision! : )

    1. Martina, I'm not clear with your instructions -- do I cut everything not in quotation marks? Or have you already cut the stuff that needs to go? Perhaps I should compare the two, side-by-side, and figure it out for myself? I'll do any rewrite, I just need to know what to cut. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    2. Hi Anita! Sorry!

      So first and foremost, what you do is totally up to you. There's no right or wrong answer, and your edits are going to have to feel true for your artistic sensibility and your story. I just know how hard it is to get thoughts across, so I was trying to give you some concrete examples or what worked for me, personally, in reading and what didn't.

      In that vein, my instict would be to get to the parts that show Iric moving and getting on with his gut as quickly as possible. I think you could safely go straight from sticking his thumbs in his ears in the first sentence to the part about the sound burrowing into his ears—maybe go with another noun, though, to avoid repetition. Brain maybe? Head? Anyway, consider whether you really need anything else from that first paragraph at all. If not, you could make the next sentence (new first paragraph) the direct thought about the bellows calling another leap. You don't need much else from that second paragraph after that, and you could go straight to another physical reaction--the fists balling. That SHOWS us his frustration and anger to the thought. You can then provide context for that reaction by going right into the part about:

      Everyone else in earshot was already responding to the [lung pipes], packing a sack and getting ready to fling themselves over the Leaping Cliff, hoping and praying
      they'd be dragon-chosen. But not [Iric]. He was trapped on the farm with stalls to muck, a cow to milk, chickens to feed and fences to mend.

      I think you can trust your reader to get everything else in that paragraph from the conversation with his monther that's coming up, and I don't think you need the sentence about the lung pipes droning, either.

      Everything else is so REAL and wonderful. I want you to just get to it so that the reader is as immersed as I felt in going through it.

      Once you are inside the house, the things that I listed are the ones that I would suggest you can cut out.

      And I do agree with the comment below--you can leave a little mystery about what happened with the dad. That will build a sense of urgency in the reader, incentive to keep reading to find out.

      Honestly, that's it. Looking at this, the worldbuilding is just immaculate. Keep up this level of writing, and I do not think you are going to have ANY trouble selling this. At all. Feel free to email me via my website as well, any time. I'm happy to discuss and I'll give you my phone number as well. : )

    3. Got it. Rewriting. Thank you. This chapter is now so concise and has the visceral impact I want it to have. In the rewrite of this, I feel like every single word (finally) belongs there. It went from 2698 to 964 words. I'm using this example to edit the entire MS, after the workshop. I cannot say thank you enough.

  5. Hi Anita! were seriously busy last week! You basically rewrote the entire opening. And ta know's paying off! At least for me. I'm getting why The Leap is important to Iric and what it could mean for everyone. With the way Iric is longing for the sky and disatisfaction with with the choices chosen for him, I'm getting a Luke Skywalker vibe from the beginning of A New Hope, and I love what you did with that scene.

    That being said there's just a couple things to watch out for.

    The word "drone" or "droning" appears a lot.

    I do have to second some of the other comments. Portions of the dialogue do come off as on-the-nose. It's often backstory disguised as dialogue. I've been guilty of this too, and it's so easy to overlook. Some of it may just have to wait until it can be sprinkled in later on to avoid it coming off as a conversation for the sole benefit of cluing us in.

    Would you consider may e including half the stuff about Iric's dad, and really amp up the mystery element with what's happened to that character. I think it would have more agency if revealed later on or little by little.

    I think bringing your world to life would be the hardest part of a story like this, and you've done that already. The rest of this you've soooo got!

  6. Wow! This revision is amazing, I'm seriously impressed. I love how you captured that moment of hitting the wall between parent and child. The world building and stakes are so much clearer now as well. I have 2 small things that were missing for me:

    1. If this is something Iric has dreampt of for a long time, is he imagining what it feels like to ride a dragon--you can do a lot with the five senses there.
    2. What does he feel when he's looking at his mother? Obligation? Rage? Pity?

    I think adding those items will round out the emotions.

    GREAT job!

  7. I really like the changes you've made. You really got control of the point of view and it is definitely working as a close third, knowing Iric's thoughts.

    I'm wondering if you could do a little more with the narration and less explaining through the dialogue (I think that's what's happening when people say it's on the nose). You could do some summary around the dialogue pieces so the context is divulged but the characters still speak like human beings.

    An example sort of riffing on what you've got here (but I don't really know your story, so it is definitely not right, but...): Iric had heard the stories of his dad, who'd taken the Leap at 14. Dad was dragon chosen, why couldn't he be, Iric wondered. "Why can't I go? Why won't you let me?" he asked mom.
    Mom shook her head. "Don't go thinking you're your father. You're not."
    "What if I am?"
    "Go. Do your work."
    "I'm trapped..."
    So the exposition, the context is taken care of by the narrator and the characters then only have to be themselves and the reader will pick up on the subtext.

    You've already leapt forward so much. Looking forward to seeing what happens with one more iteration!

  8. Really great work! This really sucks us into the world you are trying to build. I want to know more about the Leap, his dad and everything that happened there. You do a great job of giving us just enough to get us reading more.
    The only thing I think might need improved on is breaking up the dialogue a little bit. Maybe sprinkle in a description here and there. What is Iric doing while they speak? His mother? What are their reactions to what the other is saying?
    Great job!