Sunday, November 6, 2011

13 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Entry #3

Gabriel M Clarke
YA parallel world historical fantasy

That morning, the boy woke up and remembered medicine and pain and men standing over him arguing. He must have been very ill.
He lay in a four poster bed with a red and gold canopy, adrift in a vast room with crimson walls and a ceiling covered in complicated moldings. Heavy curtains hung the full length of one wall and a nightlight burned on a silver tray at the foot of his bed. He put a hand up to his head and found a bandage there. He wondered when his mother and father would come to see him.
He couldn’t remember their names.
That wasn’t right, that couldn’t be right. He tried to summon up the images of their faces and failed. He tried to think of his own name and could not and a hole full of darkness began to grow in the centre of his head. Perhaps he was mad. Was this what being mad felt like? He turned over and buried his face in his pillow. His stomach began to twist and knot, tears filled his eyes and a deep painful sob began to force its way up from somewhere below his chest.
He heard a key rattle in a lock and a squeak of hinges.
“Good morning, Master Jerald. Time to be up and at them.”
So that was his name. Jerald. He forced back the tears. He could feel that the hole was still there, waiting to swallow him if he lost control for an instance, but he had to find out if the man knew where his parents were. Until he found out who he was and what had happened to them and to him, he needed to be careful.
“Jerald” he said out loud.
“That’s your name, young master. Ever since you were born, eh?”
The man was bustling about the room. Jerald heard him set down a glass on the tray then stamp around drawing curtains and pulling open drawers and cupboards. He sat up, pushing the weight of the brocaded bedding off his legs and swung his feet onto the floor. The man was gathering an armful of clothes from a long wardrobe set into the far wall. He marched across the room, dumped them on the end of the bed and picked up the glass.
“Your drink, Master Jerald.”
Jerald took the glass and sniffed the yellow liquid suspiciously.
“What is it? It stinks.”
“For your health and well-being, young sir. You’ve been through quite an illness and the quack - begging your pardon - the pharmacist says it’ll rebuild your strength.”
He watched closely as Jerald drank it down. It tasted of earth, with a trace of honey, and left grit on his tongue. He winced and the man chuckled.
“Time to get into some clothes,” he said. He was much older than Jerald and wore a drab grey uniform with a white sash threaded with scarlet. A broad black belt held a hefty wooden and leather object Jerald recognised as a holster. I can remember things but not people, he thought.
“Is there a gun in that? Why do you need a gun?”
“I’m here to protect you. You may be in danger from the same people who attacked you and your family. Can you stand up yet, sir? Easy now.”
Jerald stood up and swayed. The man took his elbow.
“Attacked me? Who attacked me?” He began to fumble at the neck of his nightshirt and the man helped him draw it over his head. He handed Jerald stiff black clothes frogged with braid.
“Rebels, we reckon. Ne’er-do-wells and Shapers. Scum from the Black Mountains or worse.”
Jerald’s legs wobbled and he almost lost his balance pulling on the black trousers. The man steadied him.
“So are you a soldier? Are you here to protect me?”
The man chuckled.
“I’m just a servant, sir, name of Sandis. There are quite a few of us - you’ll see us hanging about, here when you need us. You’re quite an important young man. Now, the finishing touch.” Sandis handed him a red sash threaded with purple. Jerald tried to drape over one shoulder and somehow got it tangled up. The man gently helped him sort it out.
“Thank you,” Jerald said.
“We live to serve.”
Jerald looked at him but there was no trace of sarcasm on the weathered face.
“My sash is different from yours.”
“Because you’re the Regent’s son, sir. Like I said, an important young man.”
Jerald touched the purple threads. Purple evidently meant something.
“I feel much better now. I think I should see my parents?” he said.
Sandis coughed and looked at the floor.
“I’m sorry, sir. That’s probably all the answers as is good for you, begging your pardon. Maybe your tutor will explain more.”
Jerald felt tears prickling again. He blinked them away and rubbed at his eyes with the back of one hand. Something had happened to his parents. He’d been attacked - had his parents been killed? He touched the bandage again. He sat down to pull on the socks and boots the servant had set out by the bed. Sandis was over by the windows opening one and breathing in theatrically.
“Lovely day, Master Jerald. You should see if you can get outside for a bit. Do you a world of good.”
Jerald walked carefully over to the main window, looked over the man’s shoulder and gasped. Beneath them, a wide green lawn, dotted with shrubs and patches of snow, sloped down towards a high stone wall.
Beyond the wall, woodlands. Beyond the woodlands, fields. Mist fringed the trees and the distant meadows, and a steam tractor clanked noisily towards a gate in a wall. The air was cold and Jerald shivered.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
Sandis led him out of his room and along a wide, dusty corridor lined with sombre paintings and door after oak-paneled door. Opposite the doors, deep set windows letting in shafts of pale light alternated with dusty alcoves edged with dirty white paint . Draughts rattled the the old, loose window frames and Jerald hunched his shoulders in the thick cloth. A narrow, winding staircase descended to a broad landing.
It was hung with a huge tapestry of a city tumbling into an abyss as mountains crumbled in flames and waters thundered in. The population were no more than tiny motes of two or three stitches - all the weaver’s craft had gone into the flames and clouds of ashes. Jerald stopped in front of it. It seemed significant but he couldn’t place why.
“Is this a story?” he asked. Sandis shook his head.
“It’s the end of Old Galla,” he said. “When the old Shapers tried to break the world apart and do for us. Some of our cities fell, Angle broke off from the mainland and the sky was black for a decade but the Society held things together. Well, the Society and the Empire. One and the same, really.”
“It’s horrible,” Jerald said. “What happened to the…the people that did this?” Sandis shrugged.
“Blew ‘emselves up and good riddance. They rocked the world from top to bottom and left everything colder, that’s what the Society says.
Them that calls themselves Shapers these days aren’t much more than water gypsies. They reckon they’re descended from those old sorcerers but I can’t see it, for all the trouble in the countryside they go around raising for us. ‘Us’ meaning you, eh?”


  1. I think starting the story with the boy not remembering anything was a very good idea. I really like that it goes straight to the problem. The phrase, "Time to get up and at them." didn't sound quite right to me though.

  2. Hi Gabriel,

    You have a very strong writing style. I love how you let your story flow naturally through action and dialogue!

    Your descriptions are wonderfully detailed and help me to see your world.

    Here are a few specific suggestions for where I think you can strengthen your writing even more:

    "He put a hand up to his head and found a bandage there." I'd suggest you add one word to describe the head, like pounding, throbbing, or sore.

    "He wondered when his father and mother would come see him." If you want this more immediate, deeper into his POV, you could turn it into a question -- When would his father and mother come see him?

    What exactly does a hole full of darkness feel like? I'd like just a bit more sensory feel here -- not much though.

    "He heard a key rattle and a squeak of hinges." Again, to make it deeper POV -- A key rattled in the door. As it opened, the hinges squeaked.

    "He could feel that the hole was still there, waiting to swallow him if he lost control for an instance." First, I think that last word should be instant. Again, to make the POV deeper -- The hole still (grew, throbbed, darkened - just one word) inside, waiting to swallow him if he lost control.

    What I'm going for with these examples is to help you see how you can write from deeper inside his head, which I think is what you're going for and are mostly there. But words like "he wondered," "he heard," "he felt," are unnecessary and somewhat intrusive if you're really letting the character tell his own story.

    If you like this idea, and you haven't studied it already, you can read online about deep POV and will find many well-written articles. Basically, it's writing the story from as deep inside one character's POV as possible. Some writers say it's like writing in first person except you use third person pronouns. In fact, one exercise is to write your story in first, and then simply go back and exchange out the pronouns.

    (to be continued...too many characters!)

  3. (continued from above...)

    "It tasted of earth, with a trace of honey, and left grit on his tongue." Wonderfully done!

    Your dialogue is also wonderfully done, quite natural. The only part that tripped me up was: “That’s your name, young master. Ever since you were born, eh?” This to me sounded unnatural in that I wonder why would the servant inform him of his name unless he knew he couldn't remember. Perhaps this will be explained later. Perhaps it's a clue as to what is to come. But at this point it sounds a bit like unnatural dialogue to simply tell the reader the boy's name.

    Likewise Sandis' telling Jared that he is quite an important young man, the Regent's son. If these statements are coming because Sandis already knows Jared has a memory loss, then I think you should make that clear upfront. As a reader, seeing only what's in this section, it feels to me that something is missing along the lines of, "Why are you asking me these questions? You know I need the gun to protect you from the rebels." Or, if he knows of the memory loss - "The memory loss you're experiencing most be quite scary, but the quack assures me it will return. Until then, your name is..."

    On a minor note, you have a couple of places where you need commas - "He began to fumble at the neck of his nightshirt and the man helped him draw it over his head." Comma needed after nightshirt.

    You also have a couple of places where I think you need to start a new paragraph -- such as "I can remember things but not people, he thought."

    I didn't quite understand why Jared gasped when he looked out the window. Because it was a lovely view? Because it was cold? Or because of the richness of the setting? I could see a couple of possibilities and didn't have enough indication as to which it was.

    "The population were no more than tiny motes of two or three stitches - all the weaver’s craft had gone into the flames and clouds of ashes." Nicely done!

    Your last paragraph is a bit confusing. Maybe your quote marks are messed up; I know you're missing one at the beginning. But I think you also need to emphasize that last line, "'Us' meaning you, eh?" by offsetting it before with an action tag - Sardis looked at Jerald. "'Us' meaning you, eh?" but with something better than looked.

    Again, you have a strong writing style and an intriguing beginning. I like the air of mystery and the questions you raise. I want to read more to know what is going on and what will happen to him. I'm also curious as to whether Sardis is truly on his side or not. My suggestions here are fine-tuning, not sledge hammer type of edits.

    Remember, these are merely my opinions. Others may think differently. I look forward to hearing how other readers react in the comments, and also to seeing what revisions you choose to make.


  4. It is a very interesting start and I like the story line, but I am not connecting with Jerald yet and I hoped to after 5 pages. It seems that Jerald and Sandis are not making enough of a deal about him not remembering anything. If I forgot my name, etc. I would be in a panic.
    Just a suggestion. Thanks!

  5. Curious about the Shapers. They sound like they have perilous potential. : ) I felt my best connection with Sandis as a character, although he's not the main character. (I'm hoping he doesn't turn out to be a villain.)

    I have a question. How old is Jerald? It says this is YA, but I get the feeling that he's 11 or so in age. Maybe it was the use of the word 'boy,' which makes me think of someone younger, or maybe it's his reactions. I don't think an older boy would have to fight tears quite as much. It also seemed to me that if he couldn't remember his parents he wouldn't waste much grief on them or be as concerned about them.

    : ) Looking forward to see where you go with this.

  6. I think it's an intriguing opening, but there were a few things that rang "off" to me.

    For example, what is the extent of his memory loss? He can't remember his parents' names, he can't remember his own name, he doesn't seem to know much about the world he's in. However, you write "Until he found out who he was and what had happened to them and to him, he needed to be careful." Why? The "normal" reaction, it seems, would be to say that he can't remember his name. (Also to ask for help.)

    From there, I'm surprised that the servant takes it all in stride. The servant addresses him with familiarity, but doesn't seem to notice that Jerald's asking weird questions (just joking off the name question, explaining about the sash difference, etc.) That doesn't make sense to me. Even if it's a servant who hasn't helped Jerald directly, wouldn't the things the servant is telling him be things Jerald should already know? If the servant doesn't realize Jerald's memory is impaired, wouldn't he question this?

    I really enjoy the tone of this, and the set-up. I think that if Jerald only remembers that there's danger and he can't trust anyone, that might work even better. I'll look forward to seeing how this unfolds.

  7. I'm at work but just wanted to say "thank you" for all the thoughtful comments so far. There's a long list of things I'll be addressing in the revision...

  8. First off, like some of the other commenters have said, I love your direct style. I'm the kind of person who rambles on forever with a gagillion useless details; you're the exact opposite. You get right to the point. Well, maybe not the exact opposite, since you do have some lovely details, like the drink, and the brocade fabric of the bedcover. I also like the style of dialogue; it immediately gave us a sense of the world.

    I did find the writing a little jarring at the beginning, since there were a lot of sentences that began with 'he.' Switching them up a little bit would make it less choppy.

    And for some reason I really didn't care for the sentence: 'So I can remember things but not people, he thought.' Or something like that. Since this is written in third person limited, you could probably just write it as 'It seemed like he could remember things, but not specific people.' Or you could actually just leave it out entirely, since it's kind of obvious from the description that he can remember things.

    Also, I'm just a tad confused at this point. Is the boy actually Jerald? Or did he just wake up and find himself being Jerald? (this was my initial perspective.) I assumed that was the case until he asked about his parents, and then automatically assumed that something had happened to them b/c the servant, who he didn't seem to know earlier, is cryptic about them. Anyways, I like the idea of him waking up not knowing who he is (Very The Maze Runner) but I'm confused at this point.

    All in all, you've got a great hook, a direct writing style with some wonderful descriptions, but it's just a tad confusing and perhaps moves a little too fast. I can't wait to see your revisions, b/c I want to figure out more about this interesting set up!

  9. Thanks, everyone - sounds like one of the main problems I have to address is confusion!

    Though it occurs to me that the problem might equally be framed as keeping the reader confused but engaged until the right moment for the first reveal. At the moment, I seem to be confusing you all and causing DIS-engagement as a consequence.

    The servant does indeed know about the memory loss and that could certainly be expressed in a much more upfront way, somehow. I'll probably take addressing that and rethinking the details of how Jerald expresses his awareness of his memory loss as starting points and see where I get to...

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  11. I get that the boy is in a disjointed state, and if he was of a different class, he may have been well trained before the accident to keep his emotions in check until he has all of the facts. My only issue, really, is that I don't think you need the additional "Are you here to protect me?” statement when Sandis had just affirmed that a moment ago.

    For some reason, this reminds me a little of Dune, in a good way. I am greatly intrigued with your story, and I would like to read more as soon as possible.

  12. You've got a great opening followed by good dialogue. You've spaced out the information so it doesn't feel like an info dump, and you've got an intriguing story. Keep it up.
    -Max Brunner


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