Sunday, January 5, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Devine


Name: Michael Devine
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Last of the Magi

The storm ravaged the island city of Santivar. In a dilapidated dormitory situated in the densely-populated, southern part of the city, Jalen Talos felt the whole building shake with the buffet of each gust. Sitting at his desk, he did his best to ignore the wind and rain pummeling the windowpanes. Scattered before him were piles of various parchments and manuscripts, which had thus far defied his attempts at memorizing them. A lone candle on his desktop burned low, casting flickering shadows on the rows of bookshelves that lined the walls. 

 Somewhere outside in the night, above the roar of the storm, he heard the city bells toll. Three in the morning.

 Jalen leaned back and stretched. He was never going to be ready for final exams tomorrow. He didn’t know why he even bothered; the passing rate was less than five percent. Still, despite how much was riding on these tests, he feared he’d reached the point where he couldn’t study anymore. It was so late, and he was spending more time dozing off than he was reviewing all the information he would need to know. 

 Probably doing more damage than good, he thought as he cleared off his desk.

 His gaze drifted to the empty bed across the room. Malachi’s old bed. Ever since his older brother left five years ago, Jalen had a revolving door of roommates. No one ever seemed to stay long. He currently resided in the room by himself. 

 With a deep sigh, he blew out the candle. But as he sat there in the dark, the dormitory grew deathly quiet, muffling the commotion of the storm outside. Jalen felt a sudden, growing heaviness hanging in the still air around him. There was no sound whatsoever, like a blanket had been tossed over him and he suddenly lost the ability to hear.

Which was why when he heard the sound of someone knocking on his door, he thought he had imagined it. 

 But then there was another knock, firmer, more insistent.
 A voice followed the knock. “Jalen? It’s me, Kishari!”

 Jalen hadn’t seen Kishari Ashcroft in a couple of years. Was she his new contact? The Magi had kept a close eye on him, ever since his brother’s hasty departure five years ago. This was standard Magi procedure. Jalen was just discovering his burgeoning mystic talent and the Magi had taken over his training. If he ever needed protection, his contact was to point him in the right direction.

 But in the middle of the night?

 “What are you doing here?” Jalen whispered back, as loud as he dared. “You’ll get us both caught!”

 “Jalen, let me in! They’re coming for you!”

 They? A cold terror gripped Jalen’s soul. The Sentinels? 

 Jalen shot up and ran to the door, opening it as quietly as he could. 

 Whatever memory he had had of Kishari was dashed away by the young woman standing before him, wrapped snuggly in her drenched cloak, a hood pulled over her head. Even in the darkness, he could see the girl’s eyes wide with terror.

 Those eyes… Piercing ebon, almond-shape eyes locked onto his and would not let go. The girl had smooth, dusky-colored skin and long, jet-black hair that cascaded from under the hood, a few wet strands plastered to the sides of her face.

 My word, she’s stunning, Jalen thought. Even soaked from the rain. Especially soaked from the rain. He could only imagine the impression he must have made, standing there before her, grinning like a fool.

 He certainly didn’t remember Kishari looking this good. The girl he remembered had been homely, plain, a tomboy, almost one of the guys. But the alluring young woman who stood before him looked transformed. She was the same age as he was, but she looked twenty-six instead of sixteen. 

 She didn’t seem to notice his reaction. Pushing him into his room, she said, “The Magi keep an eye on the Sentinels. As soon as a raid departs, I’m notified. Especially if they’re coming in this direction.” Her breathing was labored but she looked at him intensely. “You are the only mystic in this dorm that the Magi are aware of.”

 Jalen was about to respond, but then he heard a noise, outside and further down the hallway.

 Kishari froze; she had heard it, too.

 “What do we do?” Jalen whispered, recovering but barely able to speak.

 Kishari hesitated. She had been trained for such a situation, but simulating a raid and dealing with the real thing were not the same. But her indecision lasted only a moment. Softly closing the door, she dragged Jalen across the room and sat him down on his bed. Then she withdrew a figurine – a miniature replica of an ebony hawk, about to take flight – from within the folds of her tunic. 

 “What’s that?” Jalen asked.

 “Protection from the Sentinels,” Kishari whispered. “Hopefully. It’s supposed to shield its user from their mind probes.”  

 “Hopefully? Supposed to?” He stared at her intensely. “That doesn’t sound all too reassuring. Will it work on both of us at the same time?”

 “Only one way to find out.”

She motioned for Jalen to lie down on his bed and then she sat down on the floor next to him. She closed her eyes, focusing, tapping her Source while holding the image of the hawk in her mind’s eye, reaching out to it, touching the hawk’s spiritual essence. Gradually, she felt her spirit melt with the ebony raptor’s, her soul infusing with that latent power harbored within the hawk. Then she willed it to expand outward, covering herself and Jalen.

 It was as if immaterial wings spread out and enveloped them both. 

 And then they waited. There was no point in trying to run from the Sentinels. Jalen had heard rumors of secret pathways within the dormitory, hidden passages in and out of the building. But there were none that he knew of that connected to his room. Their only chance was that Kishari’s hawk would shield them. And hope that the Sentinels were after some other sorry soul.

 But if was Jalen that they were after – if the Sentinels had discovered that he was a mystic, and that the Magi were secretly harboring him – then both of them were as good as dead.

 Mystics were people that could tap into the spirit world to give them enhanced, superhuman abilities. Like most mystics, Jalen’s ability to tap into the power of his soul began with the onset of puberty. But thanks to the Magi, who had placed barriers within his mind to both regulate and hide his ability, he didn’t have the enhanced speed, strength or agility that was the hallmark of so many mystics. And he certainly didn’t have any of the more rare powers of the mind, like telepathy, telekinesis, and divination. 

 Jalen wasn’t even sure what he was capable of.

 Not that it mattered to the Sentinels. Despite the myriad ways their talents can manifest itself, all mystics in Santivar had one thing in common: being one was illegal.

 Unless, of course, you were a Sentinel or a member of their larger organization, the Church of the Illuminator.

 Spanning all three continents of the western world of Quintara, the Church of the Illuminator had a moral authority that exceeded even that of the local governments. Kings and queens, lords and ladies, even mothers and fathers all deferred to the Church in areas that it considered under its jurisdiction. 


14 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,

    Your writing came across powerfully to me.

    In the following sentence I felt that the words after “information” perhaps detracted from the sentence.
    It was so late, and he was spending more time dozing off than he was reviewing all the information he would need to know.

    In this sentence, did you perhaps mean “But it was Jalen …”
    But if was Jalen that they were after

    I felt the description of Kishari was too detailed at this point. Since they are fearing the Sentinels, I don’t believe he would be standing grinning at her. Perhaps move the details to a place in the story where they have settled, and he has time to really look at her.

    In this sentence, it feels like an explanation of what mystics are. I think it would be nicer to read if you rather incorporated it into the next line.
    Mystics were people that could tap into the spirit world to give them enhanced, superhuman abilities.

    The following sentences feel connected, so perhaps join them into one paragraph.

    Not that it mattered to the Sentinels. Despite the myriad ways their talents can manifest itself, all mystics in Santivar had one thing in common: being one was illegal.

    Unless, of course, you were a Sentinel or a member of their larger organization, the Church of the Illuminator.

    It sounds like a really gripping story. I’d love to read the published version one day.

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  2. Hi Michael,

    I enjoyed the imagery of your first paragraph. It made it easy for me to visualize the setting.

    When Kishari knocks on his door, the explanation of who she is made me think she was a Magi and his superior. But then he says, "You'll get us both caught!" so it sounds like they're equals. Either way, it would be great to clarify.

    The three paragraphs describing Kinshari took the tension down for me. Maybe trim it down a bit so we can continue feeling curious and worried about what's going on.

    When Kinshari taps into her power to protect them, there is a POV switch that is a bit confusing since we spend the majority of the time in Jalen's head. I wonder if it would be more powerful if you described what she was doing from Jalen's POV.

    The biggest thing for me is that I would have preferred to have the paragraph "Mystics were people that could tap..." earlier on in the story so that I could understand who Jalen was (a mystic), what is his place in your world (under the secret protection of the Magi), and why the Sentinels would be after him (he's illegal). I think this would increase the tension overall because then I would know the stakes and why we should be afraid of the Sentinels and him getting caught.

    Interesting beginning to your story!

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    Replies
    1. Gina,

      I appreciate your insight. I think they're spot on.

      Delete
  3. Hi Michael,
    I enjoyed your descriptive writing, I felt as if I was sitting in the dormitory too.

    He is terrified one moment but then thinking about how good Kishari looks, and he is grinning. That brought the tension and the urgency down for me. If you want to keep all of that description, I would wait to announce that "They’re coming for you!” after once she's in the room. Then build up the intensity.

    As mentioned in another comment, I too noticed a change in POV from the two characters.

    Thanks for sharing, looking forward to the revision!

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  4. Hi Michael!

    I loved your opening paragraph. Your imagery really put me in that dorm room with Jalen as it stormed outside.

    Aside from unfamiliar places, the first several paragraphs could read like historical fiction. I wonder if you could mention the Magi straight away... why not tell us what test he is taking? Maybe even hint at the danger of his position?

    I also think you could drop some hints in these first few paragraphs about who Jalen is. He is a Magi or at least studying to be one I assume, aside from that I don't know much about him.

    There is a lot of explanation in the latter part of the pages that I am not sure is needed yet. Especially when we get into the Church of the Illuminator. I want to be more immersed in the magic of those immaterial wings. I think the rest can wait until later.

    I am very intrigued by your world of the Magi and would definitely read more!

    Thanks,
    Star

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  5. Star,

    Thank you for your observations!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Michael,
    Thank you so much for sharing your pages with us! You have a real intriguing premise here. I think with some trimming and tightening you'll be in great shape!

    The initial opening is confusing. You start with Jalen studying. Will the tests be important? What is riding on it - you tell us a lot, but I don't know what. Why does no one stay long? You give us a lot of information and no stakes. I'm assuming the inciting incident is the sentinals coming from him. I'd suggest starting right before then - as you do - but in a different place. Perhaps he's missing his brother, discovered as a Mystic and taken away. There you could set up the world a bit, and the danger and stakes, and that would avoid the info-dump paragraph where you explain what mystics are and the political system.

    When Kishari arrives, bringing warnings and danger, he should not spend 3 paragraphs thinking about how gorgeous she is now. It completely deflates the tension. 

    Be careful with pov. Until the paragraph that begins Kishari hesitated, you were in Jalen's head - close third. Here you switch to Jalen's. It's possible to switch back and forth, however I'd suggest signaling the change by skipping a line or something, and spending longer in each person's head. If that's not your plan, then revise to Jalen observing her reaction.

    I love the part with the hawk - it was so intriguing! 

    I look forward to reading your revision!

    Best,

    Erin, 1st 5 Pages Mentor

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    Replies
    1. Erin,

      Thank you so much for your feedback. You've given me a lot to think about...

      Michael

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  7. Hi, Michael! What a great beginning what feels like will be a phenomenal story. Your description, especially in your opening paragraph, is really well done. I get a sense of his room and the mood. I like his voice a lot.

    There are a couple of big things that stand out, which I think most of the comments above have covered, but I'll revisit them again.

    First off, not only is the description of Kishari repetitive and long, but it sinks the tension you've built up. You've done a lovely job establishing the mood being dark, eerie, and even terrifying at times, but then he gets all goo-goo over this girl. If I were editing this, I would limit you to one, maybe two, sentences regarding how she's changed. Not only that, but instead of him grinning about it like a 7th grade school boy, I'd instill surprise about how his childhood friend has become a woman, and a fierce one to boot.

    Along with over describing, your paragraph about how silent it is in the room could use some tightening. We get that it's quiet by the very first sentence, and three sentences later, I feel a bit hit over the head with it. As a reader, I sense something coming and I just want to get to it...not be reminded about how quiet it is.

    The POV change was problematic for me. I know you're trying to go for an omniscient point of view, but it just didn't seem to flow. We are well established in Jalen's head and abruptly are in Kashari's head. That sudden change jolts the reader from that nice flow that you want.

    As far as the technical part, you have a few cliches and errors. "But if was Jalen that they were after" is one of them. I think there could be tightening up of some sentences that don't flow well. "Which was why when he heard the sound of someone knocking on his door, he thought he had imagined it. " I think it would read better without the "Which was why". Also, after Jalen lies down and feels the wings around him, you go into a lengthy expository describing the world a bit. Again, this slows down the scene and detracts from the tension. I think this is information that you can give the reader in a more quiet scene.

    I know this was a lot and I'm being super, over-the-top picky. But hopefully a few of my thoughts will help with your revision. I can't wait to see what you come up with next week! Good luck!

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    Replies
    1. Wendy,

      Thank you so much for your feedback. This workshop is really helping me see my story through other eyes.

      Michael

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  8. Hi Michael
    I was delighted to come upon this swords and sorcery fantasy here. I’m an absolute sucker for this genre and an avid reader of it!
    These opening pages take us through three story steps. They introduce the world, the central character and his situation. Then they introduce a second important character and the element of attraction. Finally, they put these two characters together in a high stakes dramatic situation which tells us something about the broader conflict in the world and the novel. I thought this was very well done.
    You do, however, fall into a trap common to the genre - of over-description and information dumping.
    Consider your first sentences:
    “The storm ravaged the island city of Santivar. In a dilapidated dormitory situated in the densely-populated, southern part of the city, Jalen Talos felt the whole building shake with the buffet of each gust.”
    The picture of Jalen at his desk which follows this is very evocative and engaging. Don’t put us off that with these overly complex opening sentences full of too much information. Consider something like: “Once again, Santivar was in the center of a storm. Jacob Talos felt his dormitory shake with each gust of ocean wind.” (That isn’t brilliant but you get the idea!) The rest of the info here – the island city, the exact (southern) location, the adjectives – can wait. Get us to your character and his situation. This is what will engage us.
    Likewise: “Ever since his older brother left five years ago, Jalen had had a revolving door of roommates.” No need for “He currently resided by himself.” This is implied and will become obvious.

    The following paragraph contains too much information and it isn’t quite clear in any case.
    “Jalen hadn’t seen Kishari Ashcroft in a couple of years. Was she his new contact? The Magi had kept a close eye on him, ever since his brother’s hasty departure five years ago. This was standard Magi procedure. Jalen was just discovering his burgeoning mystic talent and the Magi had taken over his training. If he ever needed protection, his contact was to point him in the right direction.”

    You are situating Jalen’s character journey here, but some of this can be conveyed through scene, action and dialogue as you move along - as for example in the ensuing conversation with Kishari.

    As for the introduction of Kishari: “My word, she’s stunning” says so much more than the entire preceding paragraph and as a bonus puts us straight into the character’s emotions. In general, don’t interrupt your action with too much description of character or scene. The physical description of Kishari could be pared down to one or two symbolic details. This would involve your reader more by inviting us to imagine the rest.

    Finally while the characters wait under Kishari’s protection spell you take the opportunity to explain the world situation in terms of the Sentinels and the Church of the Illuminator. Again, a good deal of this information could be culled, I think. Allow some of it to be revealed through interaction and event as the story unfolds. In the space of a whole novel, you have plenty of time!

    This story did really intrigue me and I liked your character very much. The world seemed very well imagined. Very best of luck with this!
    meredith

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    Replies
    1. Meredith,

      Thank you so much for your observations and pointers. You've given me a lot to think about.

      Michael

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