Monday, November 14, 2011

9 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Entry #3 - Rev 1

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. The back of his head itched. He raised a hand to scratch it and found a bandage there. Had he been in an accident? His mother had been with him, he was sure, but he couldn’t remember where or why they were travelling. Had his father been there?

He couldn’t remember their faces. 

That wasn’t right, that couldn’t be right. He tried again 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, reaching out to drag him in. 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.

A key rattled in a lock and hinges squeaked.

“Good morning, Master Jerald. Time to be up and at ’em.”

Was 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 instant, but he had to keep calm. Until he found out where - or who - he was and what had happened to him and to his parents, he needed to be careful.

“Jerald?” he said out loud.

“That’s your name, young master. It’ll all come back to you bit by bit, they tell me.”

Jerald. The name seemed to fit. He heard the clink of a glass set down on the tray then the sound of the man stamping around drawing curtains and pulling open drawers and cupboards. Jerald took a deep breath and sat up, pushing the weight of the brocaded bedding off his legs, and swinging 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.”

Jerald drank it down, aware of the man watching him closely. 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?”

The man chuckled.

“I’m just a servant, sir, name of Sardis. 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.” Sardis handed him a red sash threaded with purple. Jerald tried to drape it 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. If my parents are here, I think I should see them,” he said.

Sardis coughed and looked at the floor.

“I’m sorry, sir. That’s probably all the answers as is good for you, begging your pardon. Keep him calm, that’s what the pharmacist said. Maybe your tutor will explain more.”

Jerald felt tears prickling again. He blinked them back and closed his eyes. Something had happened to his parents. He’d been attacked - had they been killed? But the servant had only mentioned his mother. He struggled to remember and again a dark, blank space reached out for him. He opened his eyes and touched the bandage. For the moment, he would do what he was told until the memories that seemed to be missing began to return. But what if they didn’t? He thrust the thought away and sat down to pull on the socks and boots Sardis had set out by the bed. The servant was over by the windows, opening one wide 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 and looked over Sardis’ shoulder. 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.

Sardis 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 of his uniform. 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. Sardis shook his head. 

“It’s the end of Old Galla,” he said. “It’ll come back to you, by and by. 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?” Sardis 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.” He nudged Jerald sharply in the ribs. “‘Us’ meaning ‘you’, eh?”


  1. I like that the servant's aware of the memory loss... his reactions make more sense, and the backstory delivery becomes more fluid, a touch less forced.

    This is a tiny point, but the opening paragraph reads very distant for me, as if in omniscient narrator, because of the word choice. You might consider altering it a touch, to something like: "When he woke, his first thoughts were of the bitter taste of medicine, the shadowy figures of men standing over him, arguing... and pain." Don't put "the boy" in. Personally, I'd drop the last sentence, too, or change it to something like "Medicine. Had he been sick? He couldn't remember. Why couldn't he remember?" (Okay, that's wordy, but you get the idea... it's basically similar to what you're doing in the following paragraphs.)

    The only other thing: Jerald is coming off as fairly weak in this, with the tears and the fact that he's simply doing as he's told. He says he needs to be careful, but he drinks down the stuff Sardis gives him. I'm not getting a sense of menace here. Should I? Should I be questioning whether Sardis can be trusted or not? And if Jerald really does feel in fear of his life (which he probably should, what with the head injury and all) I think I want to sense that a little more. You've got some great description here. Could you perhaps shade in a little more emotional atmosphere? If I feel like he's genuinely in trouble right now, I'll connect more to his outcome. Otherwise, I just feel like something bad happened, but at least he's safe at home, even if his parents are dead or whatever.

    I'm still interested in this story, but I'd like a stronger hook.

  2. Hi Gabriel,

    First, just one little detail -- you say in Jerald's POV that the servant had mentioned his mother, but actually Sardis mentioned the rebels attacked his "family." It was in Jerald's POV early on that he thinks his mother was with him. Unless I missed another mention elsewhere.

    I agree with Cathy about the beginning. In fact, I'd say that there's a bit of distance throughout the first pages, but mostly at the beginning. I think it would be great if you could do a read-through totally focused on Jared's POV and emotions and wherever possible take it deeper into his head and show his emotions a bit stronger here and there.

    Otherwise, I think this is great and the pacing is good. I'm curious as to what happened and remain curious as to whether Sardis is hiding a secret or not.

    Good job!

  3. Thanks, both! I'll step back and mull this over for a bit. I agree about the emotional content and I think it's going to be one of those things where I creep slowly towards the right tone re-write by re-write and (hopefully) get there eventually. I do intend to try Susan's suggestion of a first person rewrite just to get the feel for it before returning to fourth (though I'll be keeping that to myself!)

    Jerald's weakness is another kind of problem. This is someone who as a character needs to grow into being an autonomous, strong individual for a number of reasons (Sorry, spoilers, as River Song would say) and I want the menace to creep in over the first couple of chapters rather than all at once. But I can see that there's a difficulty in terms of a character that people would be prepared to go on a journey with from page one onwards.

    I have a LOT of work to do on that first paragraph, at any rate.

    I do have another, fairly drastic possibility in terms of dealing with the first five pages, mind...

    And, hey, aren't boys allowed to cry sometimes? :)

  4. Fourth = first - sorry, been a long day!

  5. I like this better than your first version, because I have a better picture of what's happening and who the characters are. I'd also like to know if I can trust Sardis. He seems like he's going to be a trustworthy person so far, but if he isn't, it would be nice to have a little foreshadowing of this.

    The first mention of the dark hole in his mind could be smoother, I think. Boys are allowed to cry, but in MG or YA fiction, it would probably take more than discomfort or frustration to bring it about. It might take despair, but Jerald isn't to that point because he's uncertain about his own past and future as well as that of his family. It does make him appear childish rather than YA.

    Also agree first person is a good thing to try here.

    I know you want the menace to creep in over the first couple of chapters, but you might not have that much time to hold your audience. If you keep them curious about Jerald, then you might.

  6. First off, I LOVE the idea. You've made it a lot clearer in this revision, and I can now say that the premise of this story- guys wakes up having lost all his memories, so he doesn't know if he's in his real life or not- is definitely s omething I would read. This is a great opening for that kind of story, and the small changes you made really help get the idea across.

    That being said, this doesn't feel like YA to me yet. As a teen, someone who reads and writes almost exclusively YA, I find this hard to fit in. First of all, most YA is written in first person (more on that later.) Secondly, I'm really disconnected from the story so far. The first half, where we figure out what's going on, was great, but as the story progressed you started talking about names and places that I didn't get. Lastly, to do with both of those, you don't have your teen voice down yet.

    To elaborate, YA is often first person because YA is all about character. I once heard that the definition of MC was that it was about saving the world, but YA was about the character finding themselves. So far, despite the fact that the story opens with a character losing his memory (a personal problem) the story feels to me more like MG, like the main problem is the world, not the character.

    Personally, I don't think you should write this story in first person. Fantasy (or parallel historical fiction, whichever your story is) is a broader story, so third person works better. However, your plan to try writing it in first person sounds like an excellent idea. This will allow you to get a better feeling for the voice. 'Voice' is crucial in YA; editors describe it as the single most important thing they look for. If your story doesn't have an authentic teen voice, they won't want it.

    Basically, you need to make it feel less distant. We need to care about your main character. Right now he's confused, we get that, but it could help if he was a little less of a crybaby. He doesn't need to be perfect by any means, but he needs to be a little bit more there, more active. Perhaps he refuses to drink the medicine? Or maybe he draws a sword off the wall and demands answers? Whatever you decide to do, making your hero more active will make the story much more interesting.

    All in all, you've got a great hook and I'd love to read a story set in a parallel world about a guy who's lost his memory. However, the voice of the story and this main character could use some work.

  7. Max Brunner said:

    You've got a lot of talent and do a great job of blending action and dialogue. The first paragraph pulls me in with a great hook. I wouldn't mind another strong hook a little further along to keep us going. That's about it as far as criticism goes. You're better than me so I don't really feel like I have any right to give you any advice.

  8. Hi Elanor

    Thanks for the comments and in the last minute revisions I'm about to tackle, I'm definitely going to try and address the POV problems. Voice is definitely a problem.

    I'm probably not trying to write a YA novel at all in a lot of ways and I originally had it pegged as MG. But MG doesn't quite work either...

  9. Hi Max - thank you but I don't consider myself better than anyone!!!
    The hook point is interesting - how much should one give away in the first 1250 words? Possibly I'm not giving away enough.


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