Sunday, February 9, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Wagerman Rev 1

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

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!  Raises blisters.

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 curls.  It was that we had spent the entire morning ringing 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 sound the bugs made.  “See if there’s anything left in it!”  My mentor didn’t dare take her eyes off the two horse-sized insects she was fending off with her sword.  Which itself was a sign that the battle wasn’t going our way.  Potioneers fight with potions.

I didn’t waste time responding.  We had no idea what had driven the pair of crickets from their burrow in the Flowering Desert and into town.  There’d been concern when chickens and sheep had started disappearing, but then one of the bugs had tried to carry away the farrier’s daughter, and 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.   

The pump sprayer bumped awkwardly on its front wheel through the endless rain-slick grasslands where we’d rushed to head off the bugs before they got too close to town.  But it was awful light -- I knew we’d used most of the potion up.  I splashed to a stop only feet away from where Amestra still battled the two giant insects, patting down her uniform with her free hand.  She was probably trying to take stock of what she’d slipped into her pockets earlier this morning, 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 up at the two insects.  I wasn’t sure how much good it would do with sheets of rain cutting through it, but I kept right at it until I heard Amestra shouting at me.

“Not them,” the Grandmaster snapped, stepping aside and slashing down with her saber, clipping off one of the creature’s long antennae.  It skittered back, shaking its head.  “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 pumped the lever again, aiming the nozzle right at her. But nothing came out except for a gurgling rush of air and a weak stream 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 away from the bristling legs and mandibles of the nearer cricket.  “They’re enraged.  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.  I followed, keeping my distance.  One of the crickets tried to climb atop Amestra with its spiky legs, pushing her down to grasp her head in its mandibles.  But 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 cried out.

“I’m fine,” Amestra said, struggling out from under the twitching insect.  But even as she did, the second Cricket made a terrible hissing sound and snapped its jaws closed over Amestra’s forearm.  Hard.  She went pale and 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 arm 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 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.  “Zephy!  Hurry!”

What wouldn’t get washed away by the rain?  A potion I take instead of one I throw?  Vigor would give me a burst of strength… maybe I could pry the mandibles off of her arm?  But then what?  Stupid bugs!  I wish I could just step on you!  But if there was a potion that made you bigger than a King Cricket, I’d never heard of it.  

Calcify might work, I realized, eyes landing on the sky-blue liquid.   It crystallized on impact, but would it work in the rain?  If only there were a way to thicken it, increase its volume?  I pulled additive compounds out of my cloak, scattering them on the ground like birdseed.  Saponin powder… saponin powder… there!

Amestra gave another cry, and my heart almost stopped in my chest.  The Cricket had released its grip on her forearm just long enough to make a lunging snap at her neck.  Thrusting her arms up, hands clasped, the bug locked its serrated mandibles around both of her wrists instead.  My mentor’s face was tight with pain and determination. 

Frantic now, I filled the jar half full of Calcify potion, added some saponin -- a foaming agent -- and stoppered 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.

The dark clouds lit from underneath with a crackling branch of lightning, and the entire scene was illuminated bizarrely in blue-white light and long shadows.  A rumble of thunder followed.

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


  1. Hello S.A.

    Just like last time, we are thrown right into the action and because there are only the two main characters fighting the King Cricket, it is easy to follow. It is an exciting and fast-paced adventure that I hope to continue reading (beyond the first five pages). You have great pacing and creativity, that draws readers into your novel.

    I love how you easily weave revisions into the story (with such subtlety that they almost go un-noticed); the black curls to show that Zephyra is female, and bringing in sensory details, like the chittering sound of the bugs. I feel that the last line of the second paragraph about the bugs doing the actual killing, worked better as a stand-alone, like you had in the first draft. It then becomes book ends with the first sentence. Taking out some of the other extraneous details from the last version helped us stay ‘in the action’ of this entire revised story. Well done!

    Shifting the detail about her being the youngest accepted into the academy to an earlier part of the story makes sense and I flee it fits better. When Amestra’s grey eyes flash and she comments that she’ll take the rash, is it because she knows what Zephyra was about to say after the word, but… or does she read minds? In magical worlds it is always good to ask those questions! ��

    Yes! Having Amestra just say Zephyra’s name and not tell her what to throw makes it less of a command and now readers will see it as a strength (and improvisation), rather than a disregard for her mentor’s suggestions. This doesn’t have to be changed, but because a few details come between the King Cricket biting Amestra’s arm and the sentence about him shaking his head, perhaps you could add ‘and the Grandmaster still caught within his teeth moaned…’ Just to remind the younger reader.

    Perhaps it should also say, ‘a jar’ instead of ‘the jar’ in the first part of the sentence in the third-last paragraph. I’m not exactly sure how the spinning figure eight works, but it sounds cool! And the same question came to mind with ‘the swing’ in the last line, unless you meant ‘a swing’ as she prepared to throw the potion? But, wow! What a great revision and I am hooked! Sorry I don’t have more to offer for suggestions, but that is a testament to your revision work!


    1. Thank you, Cristy! These are excellent observations I feel I can easily fix. I'm curious about Amestra's "mind reading." Would you buy it if I simply told you that -- as a Grandmaster Potioneer -- she knows as well as Zephy does that Bugsbane causes blisters if it touches the skin, but is asking to be sprayed with it anyway? ...Maybe I ought to change it to, "I'll take the blisters, thank you!" to match the field journal entry at the top.

      I appreciate your feedback!


    2. Of course, that makes sense! :-) I think I was wondering if that was an additional skill, but I like the idea of matching her use of words to the journal entry, which Zephy would have diligently copied down from her trusted teacher!

  2. S.A.,

    I think this first revision does a great job at great pace as well as providing enough information for the reader to keep up with the story. The first paragraph is a hooker and the way the first five pages ends keeps the reader (at least for me) on the edge of his or her seat. I know there was a lot of feedback given during this first round, some of which could have been conflicting. Great job of incorporating everyone’s thoughts in a way that augments the overall story that you’re telling.

    One aspect that really bugged me (pun 100% intended), was the fact that the Armored King Crickets never attack Zephyra. At first, I thought she was too far from the battle for them to notice her, but then she attempts to spray them with bugsbane which leads me to believe that she is close enough to do some damage. She also can hear her Grandmaster’s words, so she has to be up close and personal to a certain degree that the killer bugs would notice her too, especially after she attacked them. So why don’t they?

    I think this also bothers me because I get the feeling that you want Zephyra to come off as quick wit, thinks well on her feet or when backed into a corner, and is good at improvisation. I think the story you have now tries to get that message across through a lot of her internal dialogue, but I would like to see the stakes raised for her in the storytelling as well. How would she perform under the pressure of the bugs attacking her as well? This is just a thought. But I do think it’s strange that the bugs pay her no mind even after she sprays them with something that is potentially lethal to them. If they are smart enough to kidnap a human, then I would think they would also be able to notice a threatening attack.

    1. Darn it all, Jide, if you aren't right again.

      In the original version (that is, pre-1st 5 pages, even), I had a line in there about her keeping far enough away as to not attract attention, and about Amestra keeping at them with their sword so they wouldn't attack Zephy. I took them out because I'm wordy as it is, but I see now that it leaves a fair question in the reader's mind.

      I don't know if I want to try and weave those lines back in, or have Zephy get attacked and have to dodge away to safety/dribble the last of the bugsbane on her cloak to repel them...? I don't want to extend the fight scene longer that it needs to go with Zephy fighting off the crickets as well, but it might be cool to see her under that pressure, as you say.

      I appreciate your incisive observations! And your puns! =)


  3. S.A.

    The slight changes you made at the opening make a huge difference. I hear even more voice then I did during your first version, your MC's thoughts are more concise and really easy to read, and the teeny world elements you've mention set the reader in this world nicely. Building this story foundation will prove effective to keep readers reading.

    Just a few things I noticed about telling/showing. I read your second paragraph a few times. Although I like the sentence 'Potioneers fight with potions', I think you can show this information instead of telling that in the paragraph. As I reread and got to this sentence again, it was almost as if my brain went back to the beginning to envision this when Amestra yells about the pump. There's nothing wrong with that sentence, just wanted to point out what I was thinking and see if you can find other areas similar to this. (Such as ...made a terrible hissing sound. You can show this by simply saying 'hissed'. As I read your character's interaction with the crickets, I couldn't help but want more reaction from the crickets such as pain or a smell when the potion hit them, etc... Intensifying this could also help deepen your MC's fear/knowledge that the rain will ease the crickets' pain. I also wondered how this made your MC feel. Did she like killing these things? Did it bother her? How deep do her feelings go? Did she feel bad/exhilarated/indifferent? That could be used by you later on as she grows/changes.

    I like where this piece ended, and I'd love to read what happens next.


    1. Thank you, Sheri!

      From one S.A. to another, I gotta tell ya... you figured out my weakness: internality. But it's not that I'm bad at it. It's that I do too much of it! And I've heard so often not to slow the momentum of a stressful scene with internal thoughts/feelings. So I carefully cut them all out of this excerpt! I will have to think hard on what to put back in, and where, because I like where the piece ends now as well.

      You gave me a lot to think about. I appreciate your feedback!

  4. Hi S.A.

    I like that you added in the action in your second paragraph of them “ringing” the town but if I had not already read your pages, ringing would have me confused. You might want to use a different word or phrase.

    The addition of the “sheets of rain” and “splashing” made me feel the torrential rain coming down.

    “Stinkweed and nettles.” I love this expression and it lovely depicts Zephyra’s character voice. But I do wonder if others will know how awful these weeds are and that’s why your MC uses them. But I’d leave it in either way. I LOVE IT.

    Your sentence, “My mentor was very organized, but she wasn’t one for improvisation.” To me you should use “so” instead of “but” to make the contradiction between the two phrases. I also like how you moved Zephyra’s characterization up into this paragraph as it flows very well with the paragraph’s topic of improvising.

    I like how you added Zephyra’s reasoning in on how she can best help Amestra, but as I said before, I still feel her thinking through too much takes away from the urgency of Amestra being bitten and soon to be chomp food. In this version, you have added in more lines of internal thinking, so the pace is slowed even more. Perhaps showing her making a snap decision would not only up the pace but show her ability to pick the right potion as a great character trait.

    Great changes here. I really like how you moved some of your information up into the first few paragraphs. These work well in giving us vital material from the get go. I look forward to your next revision.


  5. Hello S.A.,

    Great job with this revision. I enjoyed the first draft and I like this version even more. I definitely agree with one of the comments above that you were able to work in the suggested revisions quite seamlessly.

    I liked that you had inserted more physical description up front ("dark curls") so it is easier to visualize what the main character looked like. I also liked that you had clarified that there were two crickets involved in this battle (during the last draft I wasn't sure if there had been an army of them haha.)

    I did like the sentence "Potioneers fight with potions" in the previous draft. However, reading over it in this draft, it sounded out of place in the paragraph. The sentences before this one talked about how they were fighting a losing battle. It felt like an abrupt switch to talking about potioneers. Not sure if there is a better place to fit this sentence.

    The sentence "The pump sprayer bumped awkwardly on its front wheel" tripped me up a bit; I was wondering whether the pump sprayer moved on its own or whether it was being pushed by the main character. If it was Zephyra who was pushing this machine, it might be a good idea to point this out.

    I liked the descriptions of where the main character hid and stored all her potions. This was an interesting detail that made me more curious about the Potioneer job!

    I noticed that some of the paragraphs were quite long (for example, "Only as a last resort..." and the paragraph after) which I felt slowed down the pacing. Since this is an action scene, shorter paragraphs might help the scene read faster.

    I liked the last part where the main character took the situation into her own hands to mix a potion of her own. You've definitely finished the 5 pages on a cliffhanger and made me curious about what would happen next. Great work! Looking forward to your next draft and your query!

  6. Hi S.A.,

    Great revision! I love the opening, and you’ve done well with describing why they’re there battling the giant insects when it wasn’t their official mission. We’re thrown right into the action and given just enough information of Zephyra’s life to understand what’s going on, including the little descriptive details of her hair color that give me a better mental picture. I think the overall plot works really well, and I like that you cleaned up the improvisation part, having her come up with her own idea instead of disobeying an order. The Grandmaster’s “only as a last resort” line works really well here!

    The ending really works well, and you’ve given us a sense of urgency and frantic energy, yet shown us that Zephyra knows her stuff and is scared yet confident and willing to get the job done. This makes her a great protagonist.

    I do wonder a little bit how she can be so close to Amestra and not be getting attacked herself, or not have her own sword out slashing away and trying to help? At one point it says she’s just a few feet away, but then later on it says she keeps her distance. Still, do the crickets react to the bugsbane spray or does the rain wash it all away? Surely they’ve noticed her? OR, are they the kind of bugs that just latch onto one target and stay too focused to notice anyone else? That could work well here and explain why Amestra is being bombarded while Zephyra is able to hang back and try a few different things.

    Because I don’t see any issues with the structure/plot, I’ll just point out some technical things you can do to tighten up the writing.

    I love the sarcastic line about the rain being the death of her, and then saying it’ll probably be the crickets, but the “do the actual killing” line throws me off because that sounds more serious and not as lighthearted/voice-driven. It might sound better to reword it to reword it to something like:

    “So the giant Armored King Crickets would probably be the death of me.”

    Instead of “creepy chittering sound the bugs made” you could say: “the creepy chittering of the bugs.” Or “the bug’s creepy chittering” to nix the telling words “sound & made”

    The phrase “But it was awful light” reads awkwardly to me and has me picturing a bright light color, not a non-heavy light. Maybe say something like: “But it was so light it had to be almost empty” or “without the weight of a full tank, it was too light to push around easily”

    In the phrase: I wasn’t sure how much good it would do with sheets of rain cutting through it, but I kept right at it until I heard Amestra shouting at me.

    There are too many “I”s.. I’d change the last part to: “until Amestra’s desperate cry caught my attention” (or something)

    “Mind racing, I plunged hands” makes me visualize dozens of hands, lol, so I’d change it to “plunged my hands” or “my hands plunged”

    Overall, this is a great revision. I love the visualization of her not having time to mix the potions and hoping they’ll mix themselves in the sling. It also shows off her talents, knowledge, and improvisation skills. This was an exciting read. Can’t wait to see your pitch!

  7. Sorry for not replying to everyone for the insightful comments that are now informing my revisions. I did not expect this work week to be so demanding when I signed on to do this workshop and I realized my time is short for getting the rewrite done. When I am finished, I will address each of you individually to thank you but I hope for now, this will suffice. Off to finish the edits so I can post them in time! Good luck to all with finishing yours and preparing your pitch! Can’t wait to see them all.


  8. I still like this. The small improvements you made work well. Just a few comments:

    It was that we had spent the entire morning ringing 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.
    I don't really get this. By "ringed" do you mean that they were encircling the town and then the rain washed the town away? And I don't understand the next sentence in context to what comes before it:

    So it was the giant Armored King Crickets that would probably do the actual killing.


    The pump sprayer bumped awkwardly on its front wheel through the endless rain-slick grasslands where we’d rushed to head off the bugs before they got too close to town. But it was awful light --
    Awful light is strange here and I'm sure there is a better way to describe this:

    The pump sprayer bumped awkwardly on its front wheel through the endless rain-slick grasslands where we’d rushed to head off the bugs before they got too close to town. I could tell there wasn't a lot of spray left...

    Overall, I really like this piece and feel you're onto something really good!

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