Sunday, February 16, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Wagerman Rev 2

Name: S.A. Wagerman
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: The Potioneer

If Laura Ingalls were trained in potions at the school of the Witcher, you’d have Zephyra Fenn, the youngest military Potioneer ever.  Zephy never planned on enlisting -- until her brother was grievously injured protecting her from bandits.  Now her only hope is to brew the magical draught “The Goddess’ Kiss,” said to cheat death itself.

Except that no one had ever successfully made it.

Zephy spends every stolen moment hunting down leads and experimenting in the lab.  But when her mentor is killed in battle against a man calling himself Truthbringer and his potion-enhanced milita, the Transfigured, everyone expects her to take up the mantle and protect the town. 

Struggling to fill her mentor’s shoes, Zephy can no longer pursue the Goddess’ Kiss.  When she learns that Truthbringer plans on overthrowing the rightful government, she’s unwillingly drawn into a bigger conflict than she cares to be part of.  When the Transfigured return, will Zephy be ready to fight?  And when Truthbringer offers her information on the Goddess’ Kiss, will she honor her responsibility to the people she’s sworn to protect or the promise she made to her brother?

The Potioneer is a MG fantasy complete at 54,000 words.

Drawing from Zephyra’s field notebook:
Ruta Gigas or Great Rue Flower (Parts labeled)
USES: Bane potion.  Just add a piece of whatever you want to keep away!
NOTES: smells like old shoes.  Do not get on skin!  Causes an awful rash.

Normally, I liked the rain.  But today I reckoned it might be the death of me.

It wasn’t that I was bothered by the wet or the cold.  My military uniform, complete with tight gloves and tall black boots, was water-resistant.  And the hood of my sage-green Potioneer’s cloak was pulled up over my dark hair.  It was that we had spent the entire morning encircling the town of Esk in Bugsbane, and now the rain had washed it all away.  So it was the giant Armored King Crickets that would probably do the actual killing.

“The pump sprayer!” Amestra called over the patter of rain and the creepy chittering of the bugs.  My mentor didn’t dare take her eyes off the two horse-sized insects she was fending off with her sword. A bad sign, since Potioneers fight with potions.

I dashed for the sprayer.  We had no idea what had driven the pair of crickets from the Flowering Desert and into town.  There’d been concern when chickens and sheep had started disappearing, but when they tried to carry away the farrier’s daughter, we had to get involved.  We were stationed in Esk on other business, but part of a military Potioneer’s job is to protect the people of Iostria.  We couldn’t just sit there and let giant crickets snack on townspeople.  

I grabbed the handles of the pump sprayer and my heart sank.  Almost empty.  It bumped awkwardly on its front wheel as I pushed it through the endless rain-slick grasslands where we’d rushed to head off the bugs before they got too close to town. I splashed to a stop as close as I dared.   Amestra was patting down her uniform with her free hand, probably trying to take stock of what she had left, but there isn’t a lot in the Potioneer’s inventory that works well during a rainstorm.

I pointed the nozzle and pumped the handle for all I was worth, releasing a spray of Bugsbane at the insects.  I wasn’t sure how much good it would do with sheets of rain cutting through it.  Sure enough, they hardly reacted. King Crickets always attacked the most dangerous target first, which tells you what they thought of me and my pump sprayer.

“Not them,” the Grandmaster snapped, slashing down with her saber to clip off the creature’s long antennae.  “Me!” 

“But…”  Bugsbane was meant for bugs, not people.  I’d gotten some on myself by accident and I can tell you it itches like crazy.

“I’ll take the rash, thank you,” Amestra said, grey eyes flashing.

I aimed the nozzle right at her. But nothing came out except for a gurgling rush of air and a dribble that was immediately carried away in the downpour.

Stinkweed and nettles!  Now we were in trouble. My mentor was very organized but she wasn’t one for improvisation. On the other hand, improvisation was why -- two years ago at only 10 -- I had been the youngest person ever accepted into the Military Academy of Phytotheurgy.  I’d have to come up with something. 

“Canter?” I yelled, palming the violet potion that gave its user the ability to sprint like the wind.  Our uniforms were lined with pockets, and my hooded cloak held even more. 

“No good!” Grandmaster Amestra said, backpedaling from the bristling legs and mandibles of the nearer cricket.  “They’ll just follow us back to town!”

“Fireflow?” My hand hesitated over the vial in the bandolier across my chest.  It was a dangerous potion to miss with, and Amestra was no stranger to my atrocious aim.  

“Only as a last resort,” she said, waving her sword warily.

One of the crickets tried to climb atop Amestra with its spiky legs, pushing her down to grasp her head in its mandibles.  That proved a fatal mistake: they were armored on the top and sides, but not underneath.  Amestra drove her saberpoint in beneath the jaws of the monstrous insect and yanked it free again.  Green-black bug-blood joined the rain beading up on Amestra’s uniform, and the Cricket fell atop her, legs still kicking.  I rushed towards her.

“Stay back,” Amestra commanded, struggling out from under the twitching insect.  But even as she did, the second Cricket gave a terrible hiss and made a lunging snap at her neck.  Thrusting her arms up, hands clasped, the bug locked its serrated mandibles around both of her wrists instead.  Hard
She gave a sharp gasp.  Thank the Flowering Fields she’d insisted we slather ourselves with Strongskin before putting on our uniforms.  Otherwise that would’ve been her arms clean off!  Still, the potion did nothing to stop the muscle and bone underneath from being crushed.

“Zephyra!” was all Amestra could manage through gritted teeth.

I snatched my sling from its loop at my belt but couldn’t bring myself to draw the vial of Fireflow.  If I hit my mentor instead of the King Cricket -- or if I hit them both -- she’d wind up nothing but a pile of bone splinters and ash. 

Mind racing, I plunged my hands into pockets and pouches, searching by feel.  The Armored King Cricket shook its head like a dog worrying a bone, and the Grandmaster moaned, her saber dropping from her hand to the ground with a rattle. Tossing her aside like a broken doll, the giant creature turned its red, agate-marble eyes to me.
Now I was its most dangerous foe.

I dropped my hand to the hilt of my saber, but I already knew that fencing with it was impossible.  It reared up and plunged spiny legs like javelins down upon me. 

 “Zephy!” Amestra shouted.  But I’d already leapt aside and rolled, popping back up in the waist-high grass off to the creature’s side like a gopher.  My mentor struggled upright, but without her arms, neither sword nor sling was of use to her.

The cricket spun and snapped at me.  I dropped like a marionette with cut strings, and the cricket came away with my cloak -- and a mandible full of my corkscrew curls.

What about Calcify?  It crystallized on impact, but would it work in the rain?  If only there were a way to increase its volume?  I dove through the grasses, scattering additive compounds behind me like birdseed.  Saponin powder… saponin powder… there!

I looked up just in time to see the cricket bearing down upon me, mandibles wide. One hand in my pocket and the other clinging to the packet of saponin, I jumped back -- and slipped, landing on my backside in the grass.  Was this how it all ended?  As a snack for a giant bug? 

With a crunch, Amestra barreled into the creature from the side, toppling the two of them into the muddy meadow. 

Frantic, I got to my feet, adding the foaming agent to a jar already half full of Calcify and stoppering it.  Hands shaking, I settled the jar into the leather cup of my sling, hoping that my spinning figure-eight would be enough to mix it.  The mud at my feet began to bubble and foam where I’d spilled white powder in my rush.

With a cry, I stepped into my swing and released my makeshift potion.


  1. S.A.,

    Bravo on this revision. You addressed my only point of feedback from last round with one sentence, but still went the extra mile by incorporating a lot more pressure on Zephy during the battle. Now I really understand why she was the youngest ever admitted into the military academy. I also liked the improved dynamic between mentor and mentee. In the previous versions, it almost felt like Zephy was of no use, and her mentor was just there to protect her. In this version, we actually see the tag teamed coordinated efforts of both which, in my mind, elevates the level of respect for both characters and also demonstrates that they’ve worked well together in the past. The one line that kind of disrupted the flow for me (and I go back and forth on this), was, “Now I was its most dangerous foe.” It seemed like overkill when I reread it the second time since the point about how the King Crickets decide where to focus their attention was already established earlier. But I do see how this might help push other readers along (I’m biased as I love when an author allows room for me to draw the connections myself).

    As far as the pitch, I had trouble reconciling a few of the plot lines described. The major one for me was the balance between time and urgency. In the first paragraph, the hook is that her brother was injured, but for me, I couldn’t tell the level of injury. You mention the Goddess’ Kiss which is said to cheat death, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that her brother was dying. It was unclear to whether his life was at stake and if so, how much time does he actually have to live? I thought that his life might actually be threatened until I read further that she becomes distracted by taking up her mentor’s mantle instead. The only way this made sense to me was that her brother’s life wasn’t threaten to the point of death (because if it were, why would she abandon her pursuit of the Goddess’ Kiss) but maybe it was just his quality of life that suffered. I know it’s hard to provide clarity without giving too much information in a pitch but I think the reader could benefit with a bit more orientation to time, specifically some clarity around whether or not her brother’s time is running out.

    1. Hi, Jide! Thanks for your excellent feedback. I feel so dumb: my original pitch said that Zephy had basically put her brother into a forced coma after he was nearly killed defending her. It's so much clearer there that I don't know why I changed it to something more ambiguous. You're right again.

      I'm glad you noticed the new ending to my story... I really agreed with your feedback that it would be more interesting to see her under pressure, so I rewrote the fight and I'm so happy I did.

      It's been great working with you. Check your email! I sent you a note a few days back. =) I hope we can keep in touch. All my best!

  2. Hi S.A.!
    Your Pitch: you need three main details for a pitch to be effective – character, goal, and conflict. And within each, you need to show as much tension as you can in a concise way. Saying this, I see more than one conflict and goal in Zephyra’s world. I know she might have more than one antagonist pecking at her and more than one thing she’d like to accomplish, but in your pitch, you need to show the main goal/conflict that threads throughout the story. You can add an important detail about your world to this part, too. *I kind of see what you’re trying to do with the Laura Ingalls angle, but I’d cut that out and get right to your MC, her goal, and the main element that stands in her way. This is what will draw agents/publishers to ask to see your work. (Psst…I’m still loving the title of this story! So MG.)

    Your pages: Ooh, I love the opening! You’ve done a wonderful job cleaning and tightening it up. You’ve dropped the reader directly into your MC’s thoughts, world, and action in a short-and-sweet manor. Nicely done. It might have been there before, but I heard a bit of humor in your MC’s tone this time around. I really, really like this add. Very effective in MG. The only thing I could still suggest would be to add a bit more sensory details exchanging between the cricket(s) and Zephy while battling. I found myself wanting to smell what was going on, hear it more intimately, even feel the textures of the ground, etc…

    It was a pleasure reading this and seeing all the changes you made.

    Great job!

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Sheri! I was really curious about that pitch opening -- I sort of took this as a good opportunity to experiment with it, and I'm glad I did. Because now I know: not so much. When I revise it, I'll get right to introducing Zephy, since she's who agents need to care about.

      It's been wonderful working with you! My pages have improved thanks to your feedback, and I'll keep your advice in mind as I move forward from here!


  3. Hey S.A.,

    Here we are again 😊

    I like how you have tightened your words in the revision. For instance, starting off in the third paragraph, you removed “Which was a sign that the battle wasn’t going our way” and minimized with “A bad sign, since Potioneers (love this term) fight with potions.” This really sounds great and succinct.

    I love that you turned the focus of the cricket toward Zephyra. This amps up the conflict and makes your reader be more invested in her coming out alive. Very good revision. The whole last page has turned into a fast-paced, exciting action of fighting these darn crickets. I love it.

    I really don’t have more to add, since this is a fabulous revision. Bravo. Also, I have to remark that your filed book notes got past me until this reread but I love them.


    I couldn’t follow your pitch but I totally get how hard these are to do. I tend to add too much, which I think is what you have done. The first two comments gave you some good advice so I won’t repeat. I do like the sound of the Goddess’ Kiss. Sound intriguing and I want to read your whole story.

    1. And I forgot to add thank you for working with me as you gave insightful and useful suggestions.


    2. I can see why it's so hard to write a good pitch now: Iiiiiiiiiiii know EXACTLY what's going on in my book. Iiiiiiiiiii know EXACTLY what I mean. Too bad everyone can't just read my mind, right? LOL. I definitely need to do a better job conveying my stakes and story clearly.

      Thank you so much for the support and feedback over the past weeks! It's been wonderful working with you. I wish you the best of luck in all your writing endeavors! Please do keep in touch!


  4. Hey S.A.,

    Thank you for all your wonderful feedback on my story – your messages were so helpful in me figuring out where to go next. I wish I hadn’t been so rushed on this past round. I feel like I didn’t get the time I needed to address everything in my story, but I will take your thoughts and continue to edit for the final round. It has been a pleasure working with you! 😊

    I love your opening line for the pitch but tend to agree that perhaps the Laura Ingalls reference might throw readers off – more because the younger generation may not be familiar with Little House on the Prairie, but the folks you are pitching to will be, so I am torn… I love the dramatic tension you set up in the pitch with her taking on a role she didn’t plan to because her brother was seriously hurt protecting her – always a great premise for a story!

    Wow! I was not expecting Amestra to be killed – the stakes are high in this book!! Can’t wait to read more. I was a bit confused when you set us up with the Goddess’ Kiss then tell us she has to abandon that work, but then receives information about it and has to make a hard choice – I’m wondering if you might leave off the line about abandoning the work – we’ll learn that as we read the novel but perhaps it is a detail we don’t need up front. Learning that her enemy has information on the potion is enough to give me chills and make me want to find out if she takes this information, and at what price? Your story premise is exciting!

    I love your world-building and helping us to ‘see’ Zephy in the first lines and how you let the reader know she is a Potioneer. Well done! I think you made some edits to the line about spraying Esk with Bugsbane but now it could be misleading to an MG reader as it may sound like Esk is a town in the province of Bugsbane; that Bugsbane is a place, not a protective potion (even though you mention Bane in the notebook). Easy fix, but thought I would mention it.

    I love how you addressed concerns around the King Crickets not going after her – great line and full of humour: ‘…which tells you what they thought of me and my pump sprayer.’ 😊 When you tell us of the hooded cloak she wore being lined with pockets, you might say something like; ‘meaning I had many options to choose from but little time to find the right one.’

    Yes!! It is more intense and the stakes higher when the King Cricket turns its attention to Zephy!! Well done!! You had me on the edge of my seat. And great descriptions of the action scene – visually rich! Great new lines: ‘and a mandible full of my corkscrew curls’ and ‘I dove through the grasses, scattering additive compounds behind me like birdseed’.

    I love how the two of them worked together in this version to defeat the beast! And because we now know that Amestra will die, this scene is even more poignant, because her mentor saves her. I am really impressed with your revisions and like the pacing and flow of this version. Congratulations and good luck with the final round! It’s been a pleasure learning from you and working together! 😊


    1. Thank you so much for all your weeks of encouragement and feedback - it's been a pleasure working with you. I'll keep all your great advice in mind as I move forward with my edits! And apologies for my brevity today - workload doubled this week and I'm drowning a little! Just squeaked by today getting my comments here in on time. But you know where to find me if you want me. =)

  5. Pitch

    It sounds like there’s a lot of exciting things going on here! Pitches can be so tough, though, and I do have a few suggestions to make this even stronger:

    As much as I love Laura Ingalls, I’m going to suggest leaving the reference out. I don’t think it adds enough to the pitch and I think that it creates confusion—the connection isn’t immediately clear.

    I think it would be good to clarify why brewing the draught is her “only hope.” What will happen if she can’t do it?

    For the sentence, “Except that no one had ever successfully made it,” I suggest changing “had” to “has.”

    In the last sentence of the third paragraph it says, “everyone expects her to take up the mantle and protect the town.” I think it would be good to clarify what she’s protecting it against, and what would happen if she fails. How is it in danger and what are the stakes?

    In the fourth paragraph it says, “…she’s unwillingly drawn into a bigger conflict than she cares to be part of.” Perhaps there’s a better way to say this? I think, “than she cares to be part of” might minimize the situation and the stakes.

    Opening Pages

    There was a great sense of tension in these pages and a great narrative pace – bravo! I also love how you begin the chapter with a note about the flower. I have very few suggestions on a line-by-line level (there was a minor typo with “it was a dangerous potion to miss with,” – I’m assuming it’s supposed to be “mess” with?). But one thing to consider is that sometimes it can be hard to draw the reader in with an action sequence. It seems counterintuitive in that there is so much excitement going on, but it can oftentimes be more effective if we already feel a connection to the character, which then gives us more reason to root for her. With that in mind, perhaps it would be possible to add a detail or two within the opening paragraphs, something about her backstory, that would increase our sympathy or that would be intriguing? I don’t suggest including anything too drawn out—as mentioned, I think the pace of this is fantastic and I wouldn’t want you to sacrifice it!—but perhaps a line or two that includes a subtle reference to an aspect of her life that the reader would find interesting and compelling? All in all, though, I thought these pages were strong and the action sequence was very well done!

    1. Andrea, I appreciate your time and feedback so much! It's a really rare opportunity and it's been invaluable.

      Boy, pitches are hard indeed. I really appreciate your feedback on the "Laura Ingalls" opening - I've written a number of pitches and was curious to try this one out. And now I know! I also know that I need to do a better job focusing down on my one central conflict/stakes instead of getting overexcited and including too much.

      The pages are a tough balance! I've heard not to stop the narrative flow with backstory, but I absolutely agree with you that, you know, why would a reader care that this kid is fighting some bugs if they don't know anything about her? I will try to figure out that sentence or two I can add early on that shows why you should be interested in Zephy and what she's here for.

      Once again, thanks so much for your time and attention! Best wishes,


  6. Hello S.A.,

    Great job with this revision. I think you've done a great job!

    I appreciate that you've clarified that it was Zephyra who was steering the pump sprayer, which made it easier for me to visualize the scene. Also, I love that the giant cricket looked up to Zephy and began attacking her. This definitely amped up the stakes for the main character and added to the tension in the scene- she had to come up with an idea fast!

    I have nothing else to add regarding your first 5 pages. I think your hard work on this part of your manuscript definitely shows here. I enjoyed watching this scene grow and evolve with your revisions.

    Regarding the pitch: Overall I enjoyed reading about the big picture concepts behind your story. In general, I liked that you were very specific about the conflicts that Zephy would encounter in this novel, not leaving much vague or ambiguous. However I'm wondering if you want to be more clear about the stakes here. It sounded like the Goddess' Kiss was important to Zephy because of her brother's injuries and the Goddess' Kiss was capable of cheating life... How severe were her brother's injuries? Was he at risk of death and essentially Zephy was trying to save his life?

    It's been great exchanging comments and feedback during this workshop! :)

    1. Sophie, it's been a pleasure! Thank you for your thoughtful feedback each week! You're absolutely right about my pitch - it needs some work, especially in terms of what the stakes are for Zephy's brother. Maybe you can help me... your pitch was outstanding! =)

      I'd love to keep in touch so please do, if you like!

      Best wishes,

  7. Congrats on all your hard work this month, and I’m so glad I got to read your work!

    Pitch: I think the first line isn’t very catchy, and I get that it’s using comp books but I would consider deleting it. “Zephyra Fenn is the youngest military Potioneer ever.” Would be a great start. I’d save the comparisons to the last sentence. I wouldn’t put “the goddess’ kiss” in quotes either. I love the sound of this plot, but for a pitch it might need to be a little pared down. The main things are: what does your MC want, what stands in their way? How will they get it? If she wants to cure her brother (also, is he dead or just injured? If he’s injured… how much time does she have?) that should be the main focus. I think the last paragraph needs the most revisions, and the first part of it, aside from what I mentioned earlier, is pretty catchy.

    I’d make the last paragraph show that she’s struggling to fill her mentor’s shoes, yet preparing for a fight. However, when Truthbringer offers her information on the Goddess’ Kiss, she must choose between honoring her people, or the promise she made to her brother.

    (Don’t have all those rhetorical questions in there. Just state it.)

    Pages: This is a great revision! I love how it turned out compared to the first one. It’s full of imagery and action and really grounds me in the story. I like how you clarified when the giant cricket turned its attention to her, and now she’s even more a part of the action. It really makes the entire scene even better than before. Great job!

    1. Thanks Cheyanne! I can really attribute a lot of my improvements over the past weeks to your feedback. I'll try and keep your voice in mind as I continue revising! I found your blog, so I'll continue to learn from you even after this is all over!

      Ugh, pitches. I wrote four of them, and (of course), now I wish I'd submitted one of the other ones instead! I definitely need to do a better job focusing down on the single theme (her saving her brother at all costs) and make it clear both that he's in dire straits and that there's a ticking clock. And I did want to "test out" the opening that started with "If Laura Ingalls were trained as a Witcher..." and I'm glad I did! Because everyone unanimously said, "yeah, no, don't do that." So it was a good learning experience! You gotta fail to grow and improve.

      Thank you so much for your mentorship over these past weeks. It's been invaluable.