Sunday, November 3, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Williams

Name: Judith Williams
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Midsummer Chronicles

The last remnant of magic swept over the warm beach and into the forest that grew across the island, searching for a boy whose time had come. A boy whose time had long since passed.

The wind ruffled the dark curls at the nape of Reyne’s neck, sending a tingling surge along his spine. He shivered and rubbed the arms of his pale green tunic, peering into the thick canopy of leaves that shadowed his home. Not a single giggle or sparkle of light. No faeries in sight. Strange, he thought, brushing the back of his neck.

Reyne adjusted the basket on his hip and stepped out of his one-room cottage nestled into the side of a tree. Many trees dotted the island, but only this one had been crafted into a dwelling. It sat alone atop a hill, against the rocky bluffs that surrounded most of the island.

Reyne set the basket down, shut the door, and then opened and closed it again, repeating this process several times and counting to three as he did so. The faeries knew when he skipped this part, and he didn’t want to be confined to his room again.

Lifting the basket, he walked down the hill toward the beach, stopping at every seventh stepping stone, as demanded by the ritual, to pick the deep red berries from the bushes along the path. Reyne paused before the tall grasses that separated the island from the sandy shore and tilted his head listening for movement. “Not late after all,” he murmured, stepping through.

Seymour waited.

Reyne closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

The faerie’s wings fluttered rapidly. “Finally,” the small faerie snarled. “You should have been here by now.”

“Sorry,” Reyne muttered at his feet.

Seymour bristled. “Who do you think you are?”

“I. . . Uh. . .” Reyne winced in anticipation. Seymour loved reminding him of his inferiority.

“I’ll tell you who you are.” Seymour circled the air above Reyne several times and swooped down to hover in his face. “You are a changeling. A human. Dark hair and wild curls. A faerie’s hair is like silk.” Seymour ran his fingers through his own hair. Golden highlights glinted over the spikes in the early morning light.

Reyne shuffled his feet in the sand.

Seymour snickered. “And that tawny complexion. What a disgrace. Nothing in the grand scheme of existence. You shouldn’t be here.

“B-but the ritual,” Reyne stammered.

“Not here, you dolt. Here,” Seymour said, spreading his arms to encompass the space, “in Faerie. Humans are too lowly to feel Faerie, to have magic at their fingertips.”

Heat rushed to Reyne’s face. He didn’t have the pale skin, light hair, and delicate features of the faeries. But why was that wrong? The whole island was a mosaic of colors brought forth by nature, so why couldn’t it be that way for people?

Reyne glanced at the faerie. “S-sorry."

“Never mind. Get the ritual set up before I get back.” Seymour flew off toward the white tower that loomed over the island from the top of the bluffs.

A weight settled on Reyne, heavy and suffocating. How he despised the faeries. They always played tricks and carried themselves with their nose in the air. He never wanted to be a faerie. One day he would escape this place.

Reyne strolled toward the center of the beach and tossed his basket to the ground. The ocean waves rose and fell, sparkling in the early morning light. Freedom. If only he could swim. It couldn’t be ocean forever. There had to be another island out there. Maybe he could make a raft. . . Reyne inhaled as the salty sea air caressed his face. The rise and fall of the waves captivate him and a longing stirred deep within. He’d been forbidden from entering the ocean. The Faerie Queen had made it clear the punishment would be severe if he put even a toe in the water.

Seymour’s smug face flashed before him. Reyne clenched his fist, digging his nails into his palm. He gazed at the sea, and his pulse raced. They don’t control me.

Reyne glanced over his shoulder, pulled off his shoes, and ran across the sand, stopping just before the waves reached his bare feet. He half-turned toward the tall grasses, watching for any sign of faeries. With a sigh, he stepped forward into the sun-kissed water.

The waves sloshed over Reyne’s feet, and he wiggled his toes. Pleasure ignited his body, a smile touched his lips, and the wind picked up, a salty kiss dancing across his skin. He backed away and closed his eyes, letting out a gentle sigh as the feeling left him. Never did he imagine the ocean would feel so wonderful, so connected to the world around him.

Reyne opened his eyes and stared across the ocean. A peacefulness enveloped him. Nothing dark and ominous out there. So why couldn’t he enter? From the moment the faeries had kidnapped him at birth, they directed every aspect of his life.

Reyne’s stomach tightened, and he fought to push away the nausea. Guilt wracked his soul. He shouldn’t think ill thoughts about the faeries. Without the Fae, what would he be? His thoughts were off today.

He lowered his head and turned away, trudging back to his sandals buried in the sand. If he didn’t get the morning greeting set up, the Fae would become curious and, for Reyne, curiosity meant punishment. He had enough chores without the Fae adding any more—and he didn’t need their mocking tone.

Reyne searched the tall grass lining the edge of the beach and grabbed a stick poking out of the sand. He walked along, brushing the fingers of his other hand over the long, green blades. The sun peeked over the horizon indicating the ritual should begin. Reyne would greet the sun and say the word signaling the faeries to come out. Lacking magic, his part existed for theatrics. The Fae would come and raise the platform themselves.

He turned his head toward the sun. Its warm rays blanketed his body, casting his shadow over the sand. A shiver ran down his spine and the light caressed his skin. Careful to place one foot directly in front of the other, he moved forward until he stood centered between the tall grasses and the water’s edge.


  1. Hi there! Overall this is a LOVELY piece! Your prose is gorgeous and I love the MC's inner voice. Only a few areas I think would strengthen it... Its hard to judge Reyne's age, I know your story is YA, but maybe giving the reader a little more insight as to his age would help them reason his choices/feelings. For example, I feel like a 17 or 18 year old boy would have a difficult time being :"bossed" around and bullied. There would be a lot more defiance there than say a 14yr old boy. However, if you gave just a little more background as to why he's there, and for how long, that could help.
    Also, how does the Faerie boss him around? Do they have magic spells? Withhold food? etc. I think clearing this up early on would strengthen it and make it clearer as to why Reyne doesn't just whack the faerie over the head with a piece of driftwood ;-).
    But like I said, very well done!!

  2. Lots to like here. Strong first paragraph, excellent description throughout with enough detail to give the reader a good feel for the world and the faeries without dragging into over-description. The sequence of ritualistic steps is a clever way to start making the reader thing about some of the quirks of the place. There is a clear sense that Reyne is going to amount to more than the Faeries think, so there is definite anticipation to read more.
    It would be helpful to know Reyne's age early on, to help form a better picture of him. I wish we saw page six, seems like something interesting is about to happen.

  3. Hi Judith! I really enjoyed these first 5 pages! The opening lines about the boy really drew me in and made me curious enough to read on. Your descriptions of the characters and setting are wonderful, I could picture everything so clearly in my mind.
    One thing that stood out to me was how Reyne seems to fear the faeries, especially the Queen who forbade him to enter the ocean, yet he does just that and no one seems to notice. Of course, these are only the opening pages so maybe that is addressed later! :)
    I agree with Sarah Jane and Pat, knowing Reyne's age early on would be helpful in getting to know him as a character. Great job!

  4. You write really nicely, Judith, and your descriptions of the setting are well done. It feels like you’ve been to this particular place and you’re describing it from memory, which is very reassuring for a reader.

    However, what really jumps out at me from these five pages is that, well, nothing much happens. Yes, a faerie is a bit mean to Reyne, and yes, Reyne does something he shouldn’t do, but other than that, it’s all just him vaguely wishing he was somewhere else doing something else. There’s no immediate punishment for him paddling in the water and even his conversation with the faerie feels like it’s just an ‘information dump’ where you get Seymour to explain the rules and hierarchy of this fantasy world to the reader, rather than have a real conversation. Everything Seymour says, the boy must already know, given he’s lived it since birth. Don't be nervous about getting something firm for him to fight against into these first few pages - we need that to keep us reading!

    All the way through, have a look at the verbs you are using because they don’t really support his emotional state as you describe it. Example – you have him suffocating under a heavy weight and plotting his escape, and yet, almost immediately, he’s “strolling” down the beach. That verb implied a lightness of heart, not just the speed at which he’s walking, so I’d suggest looking to change that. Also look for other places where a darker or stronger verb or sequence of actions would match the emotions better, like later, when he knows he’s on a deadline to set up for the morning greeting or get punished, yet he goes wandering around hitting at grasses with a stick and walking back onto the beach. You spend a lot of time TELLING us about his emotions, but then few of his actions SHOW us his emotions.

    Another big thing to jump out at me was that you say the faeries stole him at birth, and yet he spends his whole time yearning to escape to somewhere else. If he’s been brought up like this, how does he know that there is any alternative life to the one he has? Do they really tell him, “we stole you at birth from a much better place where you’d be much happier”? Seems unlikely. So perhaps have him stolen when he was a bit older (though I know that might get in the way of the standard definition of a changeling) so that he holds memories of a different life/place/people than this? And would you also give us some description about the fae, and in particular their size? Are they the same size as him? Are they human-like, but with wings or are they different? Is Seymour an adult or another teen, and in fact, how old is Reyne?

    And finally, it is very unclear from these few pages about the level of oppression he’s living under. Nothing so far makes me think that the faeries are anything worse than spiteful Tinkerbells who like bossing him around. If this is truly a society in which he is being kept as a prisoner and treated as a slave, then you need to pack a lot more punch into these opening pages. And you also need to be very careful when you choose to assign skin colors to either the oppressors or the oppressed, especially if that color is cited specifically as a reason for the boy being seen as not as equal to the fae. Even though this is a fantasy world, readers will read their own knowledge of real-life racial experiences into what you’ve written, so tread very carefully. Not knowing or not understanding history is not an excuse for writing culturally insensitive material, so if you don’t understand what I mean, you should seek advice about it.

    You’ve got a solid base here to build on, so I look forward to reading the next round after you stir things up a bit for Reyne.

    1. Hi Caroline,

      Thank you so much for the feedback. Much to think about here, and you highlight some things that I thought were obvious, but maybe weren't as much to the reader as they are to me.

      Reyne isn't actually late! Seymour is just being a jerk, but I guess I didn't make that as clear as I thought!

      It is an epic fantasy, so a bit of a slow build, and I admit that Seymour used not not be in these opening pages and I added him after some feedback from another big name writing workshop, so no I'm starting to second guess that. Maybe I will just cut him back quite a bit. And that may be why he comes off as an info dump.

      I can't really have Reyne stolen older, it would reverberate through the entire story. He has many reasons to know about and think this other/human world is better and this comes out later, but maybe he doesn't need to think about this in the first five pages.

      I know people have mentioned Reyne's age and it is brought up fairly soon after these pages, but I can't really find a place to bring it up organically in these early pages without that seeming like an info dump. Seymour's age doesn't really matter, the Fae are eternal, and this will be mentioned soon past these pages too. Again, this is an epic, so there is a lot of lore that isn't all going to be dumped into the first five pages.

      As to the level of oppression, it isn't actually that bad. But as in any culture, some people are worse than others, and Seymour is one of the worst, and Fae are particularly arrogant. In faerie lore, it isn't uncommon for them to enslave humans, though Reyne isn't really treated too much like a slave. Really just made to do some chores, which is why Seymour dislikes him so much.

      I did try to be careful with skin color which is why I used complexion instead. Complexion and skin color are not the same thing. Anyone of any skin color can have a tawny complexion, and I purposely left this vague, so different people could identify with Reyne. I do have degrees in anthropology, sociology, history that gives me knowledge of issues of diversity and the history of these complex issues, and I have personal experience with being taunted and treated poorly base don skin color/complexion/eye/hair color, and that only being the only reason. Which, sadly, for many is often reason enough.So I do not feel that I am writing "culturally insensitive material" and I don't think it could be judged that way from one or two lines in the first five pages. I inserted this because sometimes looking at this based on fictional cultures can get people to think about the absurdity of it all. Although, again, it isn't the sole reason he is disliked.

      However, now considering that the conversation with Seymour probably needs to be cut, a lot of this will be tossed out of the opening pages anyway.

    2. Judith. Please understand that I wasn't suggesting that you had written anything culturally innappropriate, I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of the extreme sensitivities in YA/MG circles when talking about characters in terms of their skin color/complexion and their place in societal hierarchy, even if it's in a fantasy world. I certainly wasn't questioning your academic or personal background, just suggesting that you take advice if you weren't sure. But clearly you are.

      Also, please don't remove Seymour completely. You say you added him in recently, well, that might explain why he doesn't quite fit in as smoothly as the rest. Just work on making their interaction more fluid and natural.

      And finally, my most important suggestion is that something needs to happen! With agents and editors having to read the first few pages of 50+ submissions a week, no author has the luxury of saying "the good bit/interesting bit comes later in the book". The first five pages don't need to explain the whole world or situation, they just needs to grab the reader by the throat and make them desperate to keep turning the pages. Like I said to one of the others, make us mourn that we don't have page 6!

    3. Hi Caroline, I was just worried, because this is posted publicly, and it did kind of read that way! So, I wanted to make it clear to anyone who came across it (and yourself) that I did have the background to write sensitively about such issues due to as you said YA circles being sometimes so extreme right now. But really, the story isn't one of extreme subjugation. Seymour himself just has his own ideas of superiority, and I really was in love with the mosaic line and thought it was a good place for critical thinking. But, I am also open to criticism, and I know it the Seymour area wasn't flowing, so kill your darlings!

  5. Your description is well done, but I find it heavy for an opening. I think you need to use a little less of it and add some more action and internal thoughts. I feel like I know this beach way better than I know Reyne and you want the opposite here.

    I also am very confused by the opening:

    "The last remnant of magic swept over the warm beach and into the forest that grew across the island, searching for a boy whose time had come. A boy whose time had long since passed."

    Is Reyne the boy here? Are we supposed to think the magic finds him in the next paragraph? And how has has time both come and passed? Sorry, but this doesn't make sense to me especially with the flow to the next paragraph which is a different POV.

    Finally, watch where you are telling us his emotions. You need to let the reader figure out that he's feeling guilt or anger or pleasure. Also, we shouldn't see so many conflicting emotions in such a short span of time. If Seymour has really gotten under his skin, he should be stewing about that for the rest of the chapter. He shouldn't be moving onto pleasure or peace a few sentences later. If he does, you are telling the reader that Seymour really didn't bug him that much after all (although his words contradict this).


    1. Hi Holly,

      I will take a look at the showing vs. telling. Time works differently in faerie than the mortal realm and this will play into the story later. I'm also trying to play with an opening that is similar to epics like the Wheel of Time.

  6. Dear Judith,
    I’m really intrigued by the Island/Fae mix! Seems like a cool set up, and the description was lovely. My favourite bits were the treehouse, and the excitement of touching the ocean for the first time, the last one so believable and relatable. I also liked the ritual stuff, it was a clever way of showing something of what the faeries are like without having to explain too much.

    The two big things that stood out to me that might need improving in the conversation with Seymore, and the feelings about the Faeries. Seymore is saying things in quite an expository way. If they have had this conversation before, if Seymore regularly teased him, I don’t think he would say it in quite such a telling way. He’d be much more likely to cover something really specific. If it is (as I suspect), a way to reveal what Faeries look like and have an early description of Reyne, I think having Reyne internal compare the two of them while Seymore taunts him in other ways might be more believable.

    I also wasn’t sure what Reyne thought about the Faeries was consistent. To go from reflecting on how terrible they were, to guilt because he owes them so much didn’t ring true for me. So might be worth thinking about that more, as to how he views them (which seems to be generally fear, mistrust and dislike, and what would keep him from going in the ocean.

    But I really like the setting and I felt a real connection to Reyne and am looking forward to seeing where you go next.

  7. Hello, Judith! What a fun and intriguing premise you've got here. I think it's a good start.

    I have some concerns regarding his purpose. He was stolen at birth, but what for? Why did they want him? Is there a reason he was chosen over other changlings? I sort of feel like there isn't anything special about him. I mean, the faeries have magic so they could get the chores done lickity split. And you even said that his announcement is theatrics. So why do they need him?

    The banter between Reyne and Seymore just felt like an older brother picking on his younger brother. Do all the Fae treat him like this, or just Seymore? If they all treat him like that, I could see how he'd think this life stunk. Sort of a Cinderella syndrome. With that, I do think that maybe there should be more oppression to make him really want to leave this horrible place. Seems like he has a cozy home, is fed enough that hunger isn't an issue, and has clothes and sandals.

    The scene at the ocean was a little unconvincing. He's lived there his whole life and not once ever put a toe in the water. But this one day that one of the faeries bullies him a bit, he decides to break the rules. I just don't think the preceding events are strong enough to entice him to rebel against the rules.

    That being said, I wonder if he could long to get away, but somehow the Fae have instilled fear of the ocean in him. Heck, I'd have broken the rule a long time ago if my only consequence was additional chores on top of the one I had. If my whole purpose in life is to clean and serve a society of wicked winged little beasts, I might as well have something that brings joy. The stakes aren't high enough. But, if he's terrified of the ocean because there's something in it that'll eat him, or he'll drown, or maybe that was his punishment...the faeries would drop him deep in the ocean and make him tread water until he couldn't any longer. Something that would really keep him away from the ocean's edge and make him not want to rebel.

    That being said, I was secretly hoping he'd turn into a selkie when he put his toe in it. LOL!

    Finally, I'd love to get a sense of his age and what the faeries look like. Are they tiny Tinkerbell size or Maleficient size? Can they be swatted away, or are they truly frightening?

    You got the bones of a great start. Can't wait to see your revision!

  8. Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for the feedback. They definitely could do it very easily, and so I think it is meant to be part of the audacity so to speak. Just like anyone who has others serve them could easily do things for themselves. You bring up some good points for revision. Reyne is under compulsion to not go into the water, but I guess I haven't made that as clear as I thought! I will try to emphasize this more without being too overt. The magic that has arrived is meant to be breaking this, because he isn't exactly quite as human as he thinks. At the same time, I'm also trying to emphasize that physical abuse isn't the only type of abuse. A cozy home and clothes and being fed aren't always enough if someone is taunted,teased, and mentally abused. It can create conflict, guilt, stockholm syndrome type symptoms. Lots to think about during revision. Thank you!