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  1. Opening Scene- Establishes setting, protagonist, antagonist, and primary and secondary conflicts. CHAPTER 1 “Only one in forty are venomous.” The murmured reminder did nothing to banish the trickle of bright adrenaline down my nerves as the breakers began their telltale frothing beneath the water’s surface. I should have felt badly for skipping my voice session, but I was too sated on the sand’s warmth and a full belly to much care. Strands of hair coaxed on the sea’s winds floated across my copper cheeks, and I did not bother to restrain their path over slitted eyes which watched the ebb of the surf- waiting. The coiling of my stomach had little to do with breaking the unspoken rules governing my days, but what I now contemplated as I watched the equine creature emerge from the roiling waves. I began to hum and then to sing, my ability to voice two notes simultaneously drawing the animal near in swells of melding chords. She beckons with misting fingers Tantrums of thrown limbs Join the waves, the wind, the storm Listen to her hymns Embrace her darkness, kiss her depths Taste salt upon your lip Your neglect of dawn’s blood skies Cost more than just your ship Closer it came across the sand, ears perked at the old sailor’s ballad as I wove the chorus in the air around us. Half a dozen coves carved Cretoria’s coastline in aggressive gouges, but Oren and I had claimed this one. Tidal pools of varying sizes reflected the slouching sun like pieces of shattered mirror embedded in the dark rocks on the west end, while nothing but golden sand comprised the remainder of the small crescent. Neither the locals nor the summer sunbirds from the nearby capital city of Mytikas enjoyed traversing the narrow ledge of a trail down the slate cliffs over the cove, leaving this place to us most days. Dusk had coalesced in fading golden shafts suspended in the leaden hour of the evening- the hour in which wild sea horses sometimes swam onto shore here to fling their manes of kelp as they pounded across the sand. I had never approached one until now, the longing to run my fingers over its flaring pink gills overpowering the conviction that such a thing is never meant to be tamed or even touched by civilized hands. My hands were not soft by any means, not like the lavender oil-scented ones of those in Mytikas. But they were human hands, and humans tended to ruin things they loved. I would only touch its muzzle, just for a moment. My notes fell softer as it approached. The hard plates of its nectarine-hued body rose and fell in ridges capped with skeletal knobs, ending in a curled tail. As it danced closer, my eyes drifted to its saddle fin, which rose high on its back tipped in lethal spines. Those needle-sharp points, and the smaller ones embedded in its ridges, contained a venom the barest amount of which would paralyze your limbs with creeping stealth as you were impaled further and dragged into the sea by the carnivorous animal. It was said that during those moments, the venom caused a euphoria, and you didn’t mind your imminent death approaching on the white-tipped depths. Her gills fluttered as she stretched her neck towards me, my nostrils catching the briny scent of kelp which hung in layers of twisting jade ribbon and bulbous air pockets along her neck. The orange of her shell absorbed the sunlight slanting across the cove like my own skin did. I was always famished for sunlight, for cool seawater, for the sound of the tide shushing my staccato heartbeat. She and I were kindred. The tips of my fingers brushed her fluted nose. A familiar voice sliced through the carefully cultivated haze around me. “Oppi? What-” The horse reared back, tossing her head as she shimmied backwards and turned away from me. “Curse you, Oren!” I yelled as the creature sprinted for the surf, thundering into the undertow. I whipped towards him, eyes squinting to see the outline of his rangy limbs. The wheat gold of his hair caught the sunlight and, for the briefest of moments, gave him a haloed aura which had me snorting. Deific at first glance, perhaps, but I knew the crooked angle of his lower front tooth and the origin of the scar beneath his sharp jawline- an incident involving sea urchin spines and decidedly mortal indignity. His eyebrows weren’t even symmetrical, the right one slightly more arched than the left, undoubtedly from raising it at me so often. “What’s the matter with you?” my friend called, long legs ambling over the sand towards me. “Were you about to touch that thing?” I crossed my arms as he approached. “Maybe.” The white of his eyes showed as he sighed. “Did you skip voice lessons?” What was he, my mother? Kalliope, her lilting voice wavered in my mind. I won’t have it said you’re shirking your duties to the Opera… Anxiety curled in my gut, but I clobbered it down with an imaginary piece of driftwood. The Phoerian Opera could go rot today. I was not yet in its gold-fisted grip- or so I told myself. Rolling my eyes in answer, I picked up the lobster tail I’d been roasting and tossed it to him. “Found four today.” I didn’t mention I’d spent two hours diving for them, but they were his second-favorite food, so I didn’t mind. He caught it with a soft swear and then dropped the scalding crustacean in the sand. Flicking his nimble fingers as if to rid them of the heat, he commented casually, “Suppose it’s a good thing you’re here already.” He paused, and I almost threw sand in his sun-bronzed face before he finally spit out what I’d been waiting to hear. “My contact at the Nautilus Citadel replied to our inquiry.” Everything in me suddenly focused to a razor-sharp edge, my urge to ream him for the ruined lobster abandoned. We’d been waiting over a month for a response from Oren’s friend who served as an Ensign in the Royal Navy. This was it. The only answer to the only question that mattered. “Yes?” My hands twitched as I contemplated the urge to strangle him. “What did he say? The one-dimpled smile which crept across my friend’s face raised the hairs on my arms. “We leave in the morning for the Solstice Trade.” My breath hitched. It was true. The vanished peoples of Gomethra’s mainland were real. The Solstice Trade was real. And we were going to crash it. No rule for what we were about to do existed, but if it had- I’d break it faster than a sea horse could drag me beneath the indifferent waves, euphoric to the bitter end. **** The edge of my awareness drug on unfamiliar ground, a hem fraying further with each barefoot step we’d taken inland to arrive at the wastelands of Gomethra. Though the boat in which we’d traveled was only a mile away through the forest, I forced the image of its hull bumping against the rocks through my mind like a talisman. “Do bones burn to ash as well, or are they still beneath us?” Oren mused. Patience had never been my strong suit, but I could think of a thousand things I’d rather be than patient, so I wasn’t going to fill the Amphritis Sea with tears over it. My cheeks stung as I dragged ash-encrusted nails down them. The imbecile beside me had clearly forgotten the need for silence as we crouched on the edge of the vast, grass-covered Ash Plains, anticipation taught as a lyre’s strings in our veins. “Shut it,” I hissed, sending his larger form toppling over from where he crouched next to me. The azure of his eyes widened as he froze at the lofty grass rustling around us. I prayed to Chrosos no one in the envoy had seen the ripple in the silver vegetation. The company of a hundred soldiers waited in stoic silence a stone’s throw from us as they faced the undulating waves stretching out for miles in front of them like a sea of mirrored anemones. My shoulders dropped in relief as they stood unmoving against the cloudless skies. “Thought you were bringing more food,” Oren growled, his mutinous wheat hair slipping over one eye. I heaved a token sigh, inhaling and exhaling the smell of burning leaves still lingering in the soil after all this time. His nattering didn’t matter anyways while the breeze and the grass spoke so freely around us, drowning our words in their whispered song akin to velvet brushing over my ears. “No matter how long we wait, seeing dragons will be worth it,” I reminded him, pulling a leather thong tight around my mass of lightning pale hair. There had always been rumors the dragons still existed. The official word claimed they had gone extinct from disease and starvation after The Scything, the war waged eight centuries ago between Nyskos and the northern kingdom of Volnyrocq. The mainland had not always been the wasteland of cursed grass which stretched before us. Oren had heard through his connections in Mytikas that some Rocqes still lived beyond the Ash Plains and that an exchange of goods happened each year near the summer solstice. Yet none of the things we’d speculated about came close to the reality before us. Half a dozen cargo ships were tethered on the wide river mouth which flowed alongside the plains, and the massive caravan of goods sitting behind the line of guards could have fed the capital city of Mytikas for a month. Nyskos had amassed hundreds of barrels of salted and smoked fish, live lobsters and crabs in enormous glass tanks pulled on wagons, towers of crated wine and sweet liqueurs, bottles of olive oil, sacks of grain and kafe beans...The smell alone carried over on the wind caused my mouth to water. I’d skipped breakfast for this (more like Oren ate mine on the way) to meet him at the docks and arrive here by the sun’s highest point. A distant rumble began to shake the ground beneath my knees, and I looked up to see the hazy outline of black forms marching through the grass. Those who believed in the tales of the Rocqes’ existence said they had lost their ability to breathe fire or fly, just as we, the race of Nereiden, had lost our sirenic traits over time. Whatever form they wore caused a rhythmic trembling of the grass around us, and we watched as the first row of two dozen black plates of armor came into focus. Their pace would bring them to us in moments, but that wasn’t what caused Oren to swear. “Holy mother of tentacles,” he breathed. Behind the Rocqe soldiers were massive carts pulled by beasts I had only read about in one of the texts from my mother’s collection. Unlike most cart animals, the heads of the bone lynxes with their twitching feline noses stayed angled high in the air, looking out over the soldiers of the retinue in front of them. Black spikes of bone longer than my arms rose in pairs from the ringed white fur on their backs, chains connecting them to the carts pulled taut from the manacles encircling them. They moved as if the weight of the house-sized carts didn’t affect them in the least as they stalked forward with fluid grace. My head tilted. “Is it wrong I have an urge to see how soft their ears are?” “T’would be a noble death,” Oren replied. “I'll sing your song in the Nautilus Citadel.” Oren’s voice was terrible, so I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. More intriguing than the bone lynxes were the men encased from the waist up in armor of glistening jet black with horned helmets. As they drew closer, I could see the iridescent scales which made up the armor shifting over each other. There were what appeared to be wings for epaulets, flaring out beyond their shoulders and ending in a single talon at the tip. In contrast, the golden armor of the Nereiden almost blinded a person when looking at it in full sunlight. I was pleased to see that our representatives didn’t move a muscle in reaction to the approaching envoy. One of the bone lynxes snapped its head in our direction, looking straight at us through the grass. My lungs seized. Ducking back down, I pulled Oren with me. “Do you think it sees us?” Oren’s eyes were not teasing now. “I have no doubt it does.” Shivers chased over my scalp. Or perhaps the shiver had more to do with the way he lowered his voice to a baritone murmur that had developed of late. It was strange to realize Oren’s lanky form had filled out into broader shoulders and his face had developed new angles to it. He’d always had beautiful features, and I’d teased him mercilessly for being prettier than any of the girls on Cretoria. But now he was beginning to strike me as something different. When the retinues finally came face to face, it was rather anticlimactic. Two soldiers simply exchanged scrolls, and then we watched for almost an hour while they loaded and unloaded goods from the bone lynxes onto the ships and vice versa. My stomach grumbled as time wore on, but I refused to look away. “They managed to cross the Ash Plains unscathed,” I commented, sifting gray dirt through my fingers as I sat on the packed earth. Drawings on old parchment surfaced in my mind, images of the warped creatures which hunted in the grasses of the plains and made crossing a suicidal endeavor. Oren raised a brow at me. “I would imagine it had something to do with the giant cats they brought,” he drawled. “Even if the shadow wolves are as big as they say, nothing would attack those things.” He had a point. As we watched yet more containers and barrels being hefted onto the flat carts of the bone lynxes, Oren voiced a question of his own. “Do you think the Prince of Volnyrocq truly started the war? That he burned an entire city to the ground?” I’d thought about the answer to his question a thousand times. “Wouldn’t blame him if he did.” Oren gave me a look like I’d grown another head. “Just because one person died doesn’t mean you can-” “She didn’t just die, Oren. Her fins were cut from her body and her heart ripped out.” We’d had this argument countless times, but I was more than happy to rise to the occasion again. “If I found the person I was supposed to marry like that, I might go on a fire-breathing rampage too.” Oren frowned. “He should have known better than to bring a nereid to the Winged Court. The Rocqes were barbarians, even without the danger of a Kymaera being produced from their union.” I shrugged. “Forbid something, and someone will inevitably be stupid enough to try it, daemon spawn or not.” He paused, then looked at me sideways. “You still believe those stories? I doubt any of us could shift into dragons or mer, even eight-hundred years ago. And the Kymaera were probably just deformed children, not monsters. I pity them.” I turned my body towards him, jaw dropped. “What are you talking about? You’ve seen the Draekenmor Reef the same as I. The bones are piled from the sea floor to the surface. Thousands of dragons. They were pulled from the sky in The Scything.” He shrugged. “But what if it’s just casts and molds? Carvings? What if it doesn’t reach to the sea floor, Oppi?” “I can't even hear you over your own horsecrap,” I hissed, struggling to keep my voice low. He didn’t deserve to use his pet name for me. “What besides dragon fire could have created the Ash Plains you’re sitting on?” Those scrolls are not stories, Oren. They're histories. How can you deny that? He sighed, leaning back onto one elbow. “Mytikas has different texts now, ones that are more accurate based on actual research. Your mother’s scrolls are probably just a collection of tales that were never meant to be taken seriously.” My fingers curled into the ash beneath us. He was suddenly revealing this misbelief now, of all times? Those stories of dragons and mer were an unshakable part of us- so I’d thought. I was going to push him off a cliff when we got back to Cretoria. “What nonsense have those in Mytikas been spout-” A screech rent the sky in the distance, raising the dusty hairs on my body to stand. It was a shrill cry, ear-piercing in pitch and ending on a hopeless, echoing note like the last song of a dying glasswhale. We lifted our heads up out of the grass. All of the soldiers had stopped to listen too, and the bone lynxes had shifted to crouched positions as low as possible in their harnesses. Their great yellow eyes watched the sky to the north, and I turned to look at well. Another desolate shriek sounded, and I saw the vague outline of something high in the air- something too big to be any sort of bird. “Is that…?” I couldn’t say the words, my heart pounding so loud the bone lynxes could probably hear it with their tufted ears. “It can’t be,” Oren whispered. “It’s impossible.” The creature was too far away to make out anything more than the outline of wings and a sleek body, but I knew. It was a dragon. Apparently, the soldiers thought so too. Shouting began, and swords were pulled from sheaths as the Nereiden guards faced their dark counterparts. It was clear this wasn’t part of the plan. The Rocqe soldiers also drew their weapons from their backs, wielding two wickedly curved onyx blades in response. “We need to get out of here,” Oren rumbled, taking my hand. “Now.” I couldn’t agree more, though I was dying to stay and see what happened. But if fighting occurred, there would be no predicting where the soldiers would go, and they could run right into us. I wasn’t stupid enough to think we would be spared by even our own soldiers in such a precarious situation. Looking up to the sky once more, I saw the shape of the dragon- or whatever it was- growing closer. I had never in my life wanted to stay put more than I did in that moment, whether I was burned to a crisp or chopped into pieces. “Kalliope, now!” Oren dragged me towards the forest with more force than I expected. Tearing my gaze away from the black spec in the sky, I followed him, awkwardly running while bent over as low as I could. When we were almost to the tree line at the edge of the Ash Plains, another primeval screech struck our ears as the clang of swords rang out, and we both abandoned our stealth for speed as we sprinted for the shelter of the trees. As we reached the first few steps under the forest’s canopy, I turned back. All I saw before Oren jerked me forward again were flashes of gold and obsidian striking each other. “Wait, Oren, I want to see if-” “No, you don’t,” he snapped, and I blinked at him. He never spoke to me in that tone, but the hard set of his jaw silenced any argument I had planned to use. Still- I looked back one last time before jolting into movement… The elegantly curved blade of a black-suited soldier plunged into the space between his opponent’s armor where the shoulder met the golden breastplate. I watched as it was forced deeper, piercing sideways into the man’s chest. My own ribs seemed to constrict inwards as I pictured the perforation of his lungs, his heart, blood filling the cavities in between. The Nereiden’s cry was so small compared to the creature’s above and yet echoed through my nerve endings. It was final. It was desperate and fearful and knowing, his last sound. The gold-clad body fell to Ash Plains and did not rise. My blood had frozen, but it pounded in my ears nonetheless as Oren pulled me away. We sped over the forest paths back to where our small fishing boat waited. As we shoved off for the sail back to Cretoria, I thought I heard another wailing cry, and I caught my breath at the loneliness of it. Or, as Oren insisted on the way home, it was probably just the wind.
  2. First chapter below. This chapter serves to introduce the protagonist, give a little bit of background about her, and set the tone for her attitude. It also introduces the concept of magic, grounds the reader in the first of three main settings for the work, and sets the main conflict in motion. I'm also attaching this via PDF in case that's easier to read, because the formatting on this forum is a little wonky whenever I try to copy and paste my work into it, and I cannot get it to single-space for the life of me. Apologies in advance for my technological inadequacy 1. When Bryn woke in the morning, she was already late. Did it even count as morning if you’d only slept two and a half hours? She stumbled out of bed and discovered that her ankle hurt. Really hurt. She could barely put weight on it. She’d collapsed in her jeans, too tired to deal with undressing, and now peeled them off to glimpse the damage. Even she had to admit it was pretty bad. Swollen to twice its normal size, puffy around the edges, hot to the touch. She’d scraped it up good. She didn’t feel any broken bones when she probed at it, but what did she know? She’d never broken an ankle. It must have been from jumping out of the window at Ottessa’s Trinkets. The drop was farther than she’d gauged. She had landed crooked, when she thought back on it. Just what she needed. How was she supposed to wait tables? Her consolation was the dragonfly pendant, now tucked safely into her box of treasures, and the knowledge that she’d gotten out of Ottessa’s Trinkets without anyone catching her. She showed up to her shift anyway, limping the whole way. She didn’t know the daytime bartender well yet -- she’d only been working here for three weeks, after all -- but he seemed nice. She petitioned him for a swap, begging for mercy. “Luke, I feel like such an asshole for even asking,” she said. “It’s just that I really need the money. I swear I’ll do all the barback work.” Luke stared hard at her for a minute. They worked at Hardigan’s, an Irish pub that sold breakfast but did most of its honest business in booze and bar food. This shift was usually dead anyway, no matter if you were waiting on the booths or bartending. Bryn was here as a new hire, and still paying her dues on the shifts no one else wanted. She had no idea why Luke volunteered for this time slot so often, but he normally manned the bar from open till four. “Fine,” Luke said finally. “What’d you do, anyway?” “Twisted my ankle on the stairs. It didn’t seem that bad last night.” Bryn dragged one of the barstools behind the register so she could take her weight off the ankle. Her gut ached for a shot of whiskey. That’d take the edge right off, guaranteed. "You hear all the commotion downtown last night?” Luke said. “No,” Bryn said, without batting an eye. “What happened?” “Someone broke into Ottessa’s. Stole some jewelry or something.” “Oh, wow. I didn’t think things like that happened in a small town like this.” She reached for a rag to wipe down the bar. “Oh, please. We’re suburban, not immune to crime. Somebody stabbed a psychic at one of her readings last month not that far away from Ottessa’s.” “Stabbed a psychic?” “Yep. Some little old Korean lady, read tarot or something. It ended up being the daughter’s ex-boyfriend.” “Must have been before I moved here.” "Maybe. Where are you from?” Luke glanced at her. He’d never asked her this many personal questions before. Someone was feeling chatty. “Florida,” she said. “Beach town. Waitressing gigs were always good near the water. All that salt air makes people hungry.” “I’ve never been to Florida,” said Luke. “I don’t recommend it,” she said. “Couldn’t stand the humidity or the jackass frat boys. Or the alligators.” She shuddered. Primeval, lurking monsters. One used to sun itself on the lawn across from her apartment complex, and she’d watch it warily from her bedroom window, transfixed by its alien eyes. “I only stayed there for six months.” “Where were you before that?” “Texas.” She reached for the paring knife and started to slice limes to paper-thin slits. The bar was still empty, but she wasn’t feeling any more inclined to talk about her past. "Moved around a lot, huh?” Luke plopped down in one of the chairs and swung it around so he could sit backwards and face Bryn while she worked. He had exceptionally long legs. “Not always.” “Where’d you grow up?” “What’s with the Twenty Questions?” “What’s with all the avoiding answering them?” Luke grinned. “You’ve been here for the better part of a month, but no one knows anything about you.” “That’s so not true.” Bryn’s knife slipped, and she hissed, put her hand to her mouth to suck at the sudden splash of blood. “You okay?” Luke jumped up. Before she could answer him, the bell on the door jingled and the day’s first customer walked in. They heard a low exchange with the hostess, who was unusually sober for someone who always got high in the bathroom on her lunch, and then the customer headed into the restaurant and hooked toward the bar. She slid a coaster over to him. The man looked at her. He had the darkest eyes she’d ever seen, the pupils and irises bleeding into each other. His hair was dark and trim—too long for the military even though he had a martial demeanor. She didn’t know why, but something about him made her blood run cold. "Can I get you a drink?” she said. The man placed his hands gently on the bar in front of him, as if putting down weapons. “Coffee,” he said. “With a double shot of Jameson’s.” “Coming right up,” Bryn said. She couldn’t stop staring at his hands. His fingers seemed, just for a moment, to have an extra joint. Obviously impossible. He locked his cool gaze onto hers. She swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, and turned quickly to grab fresh coffee. Her ankle screamed. “What’s wrong with you?” the man said. Bryn’s spine iced up. She poured carefully. The familiar scent of coffee grounded her. “Sorry?” she said. "You're favoring your left leg,” the man said. She set the coffee mug on the bar and grabbed a shot glass to measure his double. How closely was he watching her? “I sprained my ankle,” she told him. “Seen a doctor yet?” “No rest for the wicked,” she said with forced cheer, smiling stiffly as she poured the Jameson. He accepted the mug, wrapped those long fingers around it. Part of the whole bartending gig entailed small talk with customers, and sometimes with customers you would literally never speak to on a normal day. Bryn was usually good at it, even though everything about this guy was off putting. “Long morning?” she asked the guy with the same forced smile. What was wrong with her today? “Long week. Long life.” He snorted. “Too long.” He took a long sip of what Bryn knew was scalding hot coffee, but showed no discomfort at all. Just swallowed and set the mug back down. “Uh, well, enjoy? Let me know if you need anything.” A few more guests trickled in after a minute or two. They ordered the more conventional brunch items, and Bryn busied herself with making mimosas and Bloody Mary’s, keying in the eggs benedict and Irish fry up orders from the bar. And the man just sat there and gulped his coffee, staring broodingly into the mirror that lined the back of the bar. He took great big mouthfuls of his drink but didn’t ever seem to need a refill. Then it got absurd. It had been more than an hour since he’d first come in. He’d been drinking steadily from his cup since then, but hadn’t needed a single top off. She paused in front of him. “How are you doing?” He met her gaze and the intensity in his eyes hit her again. “Fine,” he said. “Maybe a refill? Double shot again.” He pushed his mug to her side of the bar. As it slid over, Bryn watched it happen. Right in front of her eyes, the liquid in the mug drained as if by magic, and where a mostly full cup had been not a moment before, now he offered her a slightly stained but definitely empty vessel. Bryn stared. She could have sworn his eyes twinkled at her. Everything felt knocked off kilter. She pushed down hard on her injured ankle, sending a spike of pain through her nerves. It steadied her enough that she could grab the mug, the coffee pot, the liquor. What the hell? “You should really see a doctor, you know,” the man said. “Thanks for your concern,” she snapped, and shoved the guy’s coffee at him, harder than necessary. “It looks like you’re seeing things,” he said. Bryn stopped cold. “Not good for your health,” he continued, voice low. “Seeing things and stealing things. Both high risk.” “Excuse me?” she said. “You heard me.” His hand shot over the bar and caught her by the wrist. She jerked back, but he didn’t let go. “Be careful,” he said lowly. “They’re taking notice. And they want you back.” “What?” she whispered, eyes wide. "They sent the huntsman. He’s out of the Near Lands already. See a doctor, and then run.” At this, she yanked hard away from his grip. This time he let go. His nails scratched at the tender inside of her wrist. She stumbled, then fell, hard. Her arms windmilled and her ankle faltered beneath her weight before she landed square on her ass. Great; more body parts that would ache later. She scrabbled at the rubber mat flooring behind the bar, shooting upright. The mug sat empty and accusatory before her. The man was gone. His barstool was tucked in, neat and perfectly aligned, as if no one had ever been there. Bryn couldn’t remember the first time she heard about the Near Lands. Maybe in the first foster home. Maybe her real home, before that. What she did know for sure was that she’d been told the stories by someone else. The memories felt to her like drowning in white noise, submerging yourself in cicadas or static or waves. They all began with, “Once upon a time, in a faraway land,” but then they diverged. A quick summary of the tale you thought was coming, then a reversal. And what a reversal! The Near Lands were the antithesis of Fairyland. Grim and dark and bloody. These weren’t the sparkling, sanitized tales of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty for children. Bryn told herself the stories over and over again. She’d never been so entranced by anything in her life, not even Barbie dolls or Power Rangers or Pokemon. Sometimes — like with the dragonfly story — she knew a new story, or a new detail about the Near Lands. They blossomed into being, out of nothing, like they’d always been there. Many exasperated foster parents and case workers had marveled, What an overactive imagination! The obsession with a fantasy world had caused her a lot of problems. Enough that a normal person would likely have given up on the Near Lands long ago. Her few friends were a little creeped out by her intensity. Caretakers suspected her of having some kind of obsessive delusion about this alternative fairy tale universe. They gave her tests. They sent her to counseling, where a woman with cats’-eye glasses asked her repeatedly if the stories were metaphors for Bryn’s life. The way she knew these stories couldn’t be explained. They felt like gospel to Bryn. They made her feel loved; they gave her a feeling of purpose. She was a curator of lost objects. In a world where adults frequently forgot her, and other kids routinely shunned her, she was a guardian of lost words. In the fourth grade, Bryn’s class had done a unit on ancient Greece. In one of her worksheet packets, Bryn found a drawing of an old crone inside a cave, huddled over a steaming fissure in the earth. The caption said, “The Oracle of Delphi hears prophecies.” She’d known instantly she, too, was an oracle, hearing stories from another world. But she made the mistake of telling her teacher, and she was in mandatory sessions with her guidance counselor by lunch. She finally had to lie and tell them she’d just been trying to freak out the other kids. She’d wanted attention from the teacher. She would not lie again. Eventually she learned to keep it to herself. That was why she’d valued Ronnie so much when he first took her in. He told her other people didn’t matter, but if the Near Lands meant something to her, then they did. Once he’d won her loyalty, once he started pushing her into work, the flattery ended. Near Lands Chapter 1 - NY Write to Pitch 2022.pdf
  3. Genre: YA Fantasy Logline: A spoiled noble girl with a good heart rebels against her parents to join a dethroned prince on his journey to build a team capable of reclaiming his throne and ridding the magical Islands of Rune of the injustices that plague them. Comparable to: It's can't think of anything with a similar storyline off the top of my head. I feel more comfortable saying I drew inspiration from Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Inuyasha, One Piece, Ouran High School Host Club, and Bridgerton. Pitch: A spoiled noble girl with a good heart named Josie has grown tired of the way her parents treat those beneath their station. While she certainly enjoys the luxuries of being nobility, she sees no reason for senseless violence or to treat others in an undignified manner. One day, she meets Malachi, a half-demon, dethroned prince from the magical islands that lie off the coast of the kingdom she is from. He sees the kindness in her heart and invites Josie to join him on his journey to build a team capable of reclaiming his throne and ridding the islands of the injustices that plague them. When her good heart and longing for adventure pushes her to accept, her parents disinherit her as a result. Josie and Malachi begin traveling from island to island on his boat. Early on in their journey, Josie finds out that her line is descended from a great priestess that defended the mainland in a war long forgotten by her people. She reconnects with her roots and throughout their journey she develops her own spiritual powers. As the team grows, they are joined by Johanna, a warrior who can speak to nature spirits and falls hopelessly in love with Malachi, Kai and Cal, who possess ground runes and become involved in a poly relationship with Josie, and lastly, Jameson, Malachi's half-angel cousin who is also prince whose family is still in power and possess water runes. As the team comes closer to completing their goals, they find that they are sacrificing a lot in the name of the greater good. For some, it is their freedoms, for others, it is any chance at true love, and some even sacrifice their lives. Josie finds herself lost in a sea of pain and rage as a result of this, that is, until she is given new hope by a great chief who informs her that the prophecy he once gave her has not yet been fulfilled. When a visiting prince comes to negotiate a new alliance, the team sets out on a new journey to solidify it. Josie has another mission in mind as well: to find answers about the prophecy. This leads into the second book, which I've already titled 'Runes in Rallem'. Chapter One: In a world much different from the one you know today, a world of ancient ways and the most fascinating of skill sets, there lies the land of Loft. Loft used to be an average kingdom at the time they held no magic and because of that, the people of Loft were almost dangerously unaware of the truth about the world they lived in. Just a few miles off the coast was a group of five islands. These islands were called the Islands of Rune. They were beautiful and full of magical runes but hidden well beyond a cloud bank that never left. It protected the people of the islands from the people of the mainland so that mainlanders would never find out the truth about the islanders. Both the mainland of Loft and the islands had been riddled with many injustices, that is until one man decided to make a difference. Today, I tell the story of what happened all those years ago for the first time. In my old age, I have come to fear that if the histories of our lands are not passed on, future generations will come to repeat the mistakes of our past. Of course, hiding the truths of the world is how things got so messed up to begin with, so it makes sense I would feel this way. Therefore, I am writing this to document the truth of what occurred when the team now known as “The Inter-Kingdom Board of Peace and Foreign Relations” was formed. In truth, we started out as a group of kids with an impossible dream and a boat. I was about nineteen at the time. As most of you reading this will know, I was highborn. My father was first cousin to the Queen of Loft, his title was Duke, and I was the heiress to the title of Duchess. I was a spoiled child who had little regard for those beneath my station, though, even I was kinder than my parents in that sense. I suppose it did not help that my mother and father were who they were, they made me believe that my behavior was normal. They also saw being kind-hearted or caring as a flaw. They were also not the nicest people I have ever known; I honestly cannot say if they meant harm by what they did or if they were just ignorant to the harm had they caused because of the world they knew. It is not my place to judge whether harm was intended though, I did come to find that no matter one intentions, if harm if being done it is my place to stop it. That, my friends, is everyone’s place. Perhaps my biggest regret is never having an honest conversation with them. The beginning of this story goes back to a single moment, on a day that changed my life, I was walking through town when I met him for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was young and my views about the world were so limited, my biggest concern was figuring out how to rid myself of the guard my parents had following me so I could have an adventure. Eventually, I produced a plan to disappear into a large crowd after creating a panic. I pretended to faint and people crowded around. The guard was overwhelmed trying to keep them all back, so I slipped away and made a run for it. He realized quickly, so I kept running in an attempt not to get caught. However, I turned a corner without looking much and ran into a young man. I fell into a puddle and got mud all over my clothes. I scoffed at him and said, “Watch where you are going, peasant!” He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, my lady, but I do believe you ran into me.” Then, he reached out his hand to help me up. I rolled my eyes and stood up ignoring his hand. I began to answer him, but then my guard caught up. He saw the state I was in and overreacted, grabbing the man by his shirt. “How dare you do this to my lady?” I saw where it was going so, I quickly interjected out of fear that my guards would harm him, even back then I was not a fan of senseless violence. “Put him down, now!” On my orders, the guard put the man down and said. “But my lady…” “But nothing!” I interrupted him, “This man did nothing wrong. It was a stunt I pulled so I did not get in trouble for running off. Now, leave him be.” I turned to the man. “My apologies, sir. Please, join my family and me for dinner tonight so that we may offer you a proper apology.” The man nodded. “Thank you, I’d be honored.” I nodded and began to walk away before turning back. “It’s the biggest house on Main Street, it should be easy to find, seven o’clock, okay?” Then I continued about my day. Right on time, he came to the house. I welcomed him in, saying, “I don’t believe I got your name earlier, sir.” “Please, stop calling me, ‘sir’.” He sounded annoyed, “My name is Malachi, I’m from the Island of Tendu, and you?” I gasped. “You’re from the Islands of Rune! I have always wanted to go! I hear no one from the mainland has ever been to one of the islands. You have to tell me all about them!” Malachi laughed. “Jeez, I just asked your name. What are you, crazy?” I froze in embarrassment for a moment, then pouted. “Hmph! I am Lady Josella Marie Spade Lucietta III. My friends call me Josie though.” Malachi rolled his eyes as we sat down. I guess he thought I was a bit obnoxious. I do not suppose it would have been complicated to think such a thing. We sat in silence for a few minutes waiting for my parents. It was an awkward silence. I did notice though, Malachi carried himself differently than most other peasants. I wondered about him. He was rather handsome. He had a bronze complexion and his skin was perfectly clear, but he was muscular and his hands were callused from labor of some sort. His hair was untamed, but kind of gorgeous in a way and he had blood red eyes. They looked unreal. When my mother and father entered, my mother said, “I am so sorry my dear, we got a bit caught up with the Kightington family. And you must be the young man my little Josie inconvenienced earlier. I am so sorry about her; she’s always been a bit eccentric for a noble lady.” Malachi looked surprised, “No, actually I find her quite lovely. She’s an exceedingly kind and brilliant young woman.” I was honestly a bit shocked that he came to my defense, at the time, I did not think he liked me much. As it turns out, Malachi did like me. My mother replied, “Well aren’t you just a gentleman? You better not flatter her too much, my dear boy. She already has an ego ten times her size.” Then my father added, “He is rather well-spoken too. For a peasant boy, that is.” “Father! That’s rude!” I exclaimed, “Both of you stop. I am not a child anymore and you can’t just speak to Malachi like he’s beneath you because of who his parents are.” “I am absolutely astonished at you, Josie.” My mother said, “We have a guest, and you are having these ridiculous outbursts. I’m sure Malachi understands his place in the world perfectly fine.” Malachi spoke up, “With all due respect, Madame, Sir, I do understand my place in the world. I am the man who is going to change it, once I assemble my team of course. I came here to find someone to represent the mainland and I decided that should be your daughter, Josie.” My mother and father laughed. “Young man, you will not be taking our daughter anywhere and you will not be changing a thing.” He chuckled in return. “Again, with all due respect, I do believe that is Josie’s decision to make. By my estimate, she is legally able to make those decisions for herself, am I correct?” At that moment, I do not know if it was spite, or just for the thrill, but said to him, “Of course, I’ll go. Thank you for the offer. Out of curiosity though, why me?” He explained, “Even though you act like one of those arrogant nobles, it truly is just an act. On the inside, you are driven to defend anyone you feel is being done wrong. That is why you stopped your guards and that is why you stood up to your parents. In a world like this, there are not many people I would be willing to put my faith in. But you have my full trust, even if I’m still earning yours.” I nodded and we left my parents’ home. I did not really believe in what he was doing at the time, but it seemed like the type of adventure I needed in my life. My parents disinherited me. All I had to my name when I left was whatever I could fit into my travel trunk. I did not know where I was going, but I knew I was not coming back to that house. Malachi and I spent a few days after that stocking up on supplies and loading them onto his boat. I never knew how much went into sailing; I had never paid it any mind before. Malachi asked me as I was looking at some spices, “Can you cook?” I replied, “Yes, of course. I am a woman. Regardless of social class a woman should know how to cook. My mother feared that if I did not learn to perform womanly duties that I would not marry well, therefore I was trained by the best all because I am not as eye catching as some of the other noble woman, particularly in the bust and the romp. I can’t help it that I have a smaller frame though.” He nodded. “I agree, but I can’t cook. So, do you mind doing the cooking on the ship? If I do, it'll taste terrible every time.” I giggled. “Well, of course. I figured I’d have to pull my weight.” He laughed. “I honestly didn’t plan on having you do anything. We are friends, friends take care of each other. So, even if you did not have anything to offer, I’d take care of you.” “Friends, huh?” “You’ve never had a friend before?” “Not really.” “It’s okay, I’ll teach you.” We smiled at each other. Given the circumstances; Malachi seemed like a nice guy. There was something magnetic about him. He was the type of guy who was just good-natured. I started to think that if someone could fix all the things wrong with the world, it would be him. I then thought, it was impossible for anyone to do, even with a team behind them. Reality is the world is a horrible place because people suck. I was sure even Malachi had major downfalls. Perhaps he was a liar, cheater, thief, or something of that sort, either way I felt that genuinely good people were far rarer than they are. Not to say that good people are not still flawed, but they try to correct their behaviors and do better. By the time we finished readying the ship for departure, it was late and we were both tired so we decided to rest for the night to get a fresh start and a full day at sea tomorrow. Malachi showed me to my cabin on the ship and made sure I had everything I needed. After he left, I sat on the bed and looked around. I started to doubt myself. Could I really live in such different conditions from what I was used to? The cabin was so small, the bed was hard, and I could feel a draft. But then it hit me, Malachi really lived like this every day and he still felt he had enough to share with me even though I had no money without my parents? I must do this; it is the right thing to do. From that moment, I had made up my mind, I was going to walk this path and be strong enough to face everything ahead of me, no matter how impossible it seemed. After a while, I fell asleep with a powerful resolve in my heart. Early the following morning, Malachi knocked on the cabin door. He called out, “Josie! It is time to get moving! Wakey, wakey!” I groaned, “Ugh, okay! I’ll be out in a minute to start breakfast!” I stumbled out of bed and got myself together for the day. When I went on deck, Malachi was hard at work to get the ship out to sea. He paused when he saw me and said, “Well, good morning. You finally decided to join the land of the living. We have a long trip ahead of us so make sure you make a good breakfast.” I asked, “Where are we going next, out of curiosity?” “I think we’ll go to Pallentine first; we can collect another teammate easily there. The Pallentinians are rather friendly if you do not judge their culture. We should be cautious though, Pallentine is hard to navigate. The rainforests there are so thick that only the natives bother. Once we dock, we should try to always stay with a guide from the village. Otherwise, I can’t promise we will find our way back to the ship in one piece.” That made me far more nervous to hear than I cared to discuss with Malachi. “Okay, well, I’ll go start the food. Just eat once we are set on course, I guess.” I became anxious as I thought about the possibility of getting lost in such a place. I wondered why anyone would want to live in such a place. Then I caught myself, I was judging them without even realizing it. I thought about it and concluded that there had to be difficulties to living anywhere. I could not look down on others for their lifestyle choices. Besides, who knows? I was free of my parents finally; I had no clue what kind of place I would choose to settle down in once we finished our journey. Malachi nodded then continued messing with ropes as I headed toward the kitchen. After a little while, the boat began to move. Malachi called out, “Hey, bring the food up here and eat with me!” So, I made some plates and carried the food up to the deck where Malachi had a table and some chairs set up for us. I sat down with him and looked out at the sea as we started our journey. I smiled and said to Malachi, “We should make a toast.” “To what?” “We’re two friends set out on a magnificent adventure to change the world, take your pick.” “I’ll drink to that.” I raised my glass to his. “To friendship and adventure!” “To friendship and adventure!” And with that, our adventure began. We had many challenges to come. We would cry many tears, meet many people, lose other people, laugh, and cry in the weeks and months to follow. However, one thing was for sure: our friendship and our hearts would set the course for a new future, a better future. I could not wait to find out what was next. At the time, I had no clue how ill prepared I was for the journey I had agreed to go on. ---------- Contact: marialevato6@gmail.com
  4. Angie D Greenwyn adgreenwyn@gmail.com Fantasy/Horror The horrifying Lovecraftian love child of Neil Gaimen's The Sandman Comics and The Dark Crystal, set in a created fantasy universe. Hook Line: One god’s hunger for power comes at a mortal cost; with friends in jeopardy and a dying world in the balance a young girl must become the monster she feared to save the ones she loves. Pitch: On a mission to save her friends and family, naïve small-town girl Remeus Blakesley encounters a divine messenger on his death bed, who changes the trajectory of her life forever; entrusting her with an important parcel, Remeus is unwittingly thrusting into the tangled plot of an ancient evil hiding in the flesh of a companion. This entity, Morgrul, the red god seeks to recreate the world in his image but to do so he will need power, souls. For each day Morgrul is allowed to continue his plan, the world, and the creatures in it are born with less, turning the realm into a living ouroboros. Remeus wants nothing to do with it, but the moons chose her to stand in Morgrul’s way, now she is trapped between two hard choices: she can save her friend or abandon them to take a stand against a god. The Lost Blade: Book One Prose Example (opening chapter) After a week of festivities, the people of Kald should have been sleeping off the twice-cooked pork, the sticky yam dumplings, and the sweet salt wines of Mawa, but instead, they were screaming—fleeing their squat white houses in the wee hours of morning as the spoken fire overtook them. The fire danced across the wide streets and the sweltering heat caused the white paint on the houses to bubble and blister. Sickly green flames at first but as they burned hotter green gave way to bright yellows and searing oranges. It surged, washing over the townhomes, stacked on top of each other like building blocks. When the town had first been founded almost a century ago, the design was clever, it had saved them space before, only now as the buildings collapsed in on themselves, swallowing the unlucky townsfolk still inside, holding its occupants captive under smoldering rubble—now it seemed a trap built by the death gods, a quick trip to the blind mother's hallowed halls. Those fleeing the fire could see the charred silhouettes already protruding out of the rubble their burnt bodies like the blackened limbs of fallen trees, their twisted forms clawing out, pleading for help. Thick tendrils of noxious black smoke billowed from the round pane-less windows; watching on Lord Darrow couldn’t help but think of the withered one, reaching into the windows with her blackened hands to save her people, he laughed at the notion, there would be no savior for these people. The withered one would not come. The crackle of the hungry flames was almost louder than the screaming, almost. The fire skipped through the streets of Kald, plucking townsfolk up like sacrifices to a ravenous god. They could feel the heat of the fire on their faces as if they were standing in the heart of the Ureaplos star, they could feel the hot pin-prick kisses of the heat blistering their faces, licking their tears away, leaving behind trails of burning salt on their dark cheeks. Above them the three moons were staring down at the town, their ghostly eyes watching in silent horror as the silver-haired citizens of Kald cried out for their gods—it was a shame none seemed to be in a listening mood. Lord Darrow continued to watch, looking on at the chaos he had brought to the town from atop his horse. He closed his eyes and listened: listened to the sounds of women begging for the lives of their children, to the sound of steel against flesh, to the sob of fresh orphans sobbing in the streets. If anyone asked him, he would have told them, he didn’t take pleasure in his work, that it was nothing more than a necessary evil, but there in the dark, at the very edge of town among his men, he could be honest—Lord Darrow enjoyed his work, he was serving Aertis’ himself, and who could not be happy doing the bidding of a god? His men captured children and women and some men, the qitareeni people were fierce everywhere they met them, but the sons of Aertis were more so. Behind him were the pleading moans and cries of captives caged behind iron bars, like most of the children of the other gods the iron burned them; Lord Darrow could hear the sizzle of their flesh behind him as they grabbed at the bars, desperate for his attention. He gave them none. Women ran with their crying children, doing their best to put on brave faces as they hurried to the temple, a big windowless building made of clay, clutching the trembling hands of their children who struggled to keep up what with their oversized cloaks and ragged dolls hugged close to their tiny chests. Some of the townsfolk carried woven baskets atop their heads, filled with what belongings they could carry: clothes, food, things they deemed important in one way or another as they, with their soot-covered faces hurried to the opened hallowed doors of the temple. Lord Darrow’s men, dressed in white armor decorated with blue and oraqish gold; they carried with them long swords at their hips, though some of them carried pikes the size of a full-grown elve. They took turns, beating the villagers, intercepting them before they made it into the temple. Darrow’s men, with their white steel gloves, grabbed children by the hair and dragged them, kicking and screaming from the burning town and into the deep dark of the woods, where the cage lay waiting for them. The men of Kald tried to help, they pushed themselves between the women and the children, and invaders, chests puffed, armed with small dirks and clay bricks. They were met with laughter and steel. The air became tinny and thick, like breathing into a damp hot rag, the smell of blood along with the scent of burning flesh and beneath it all the faint aroma of burning bread. Hidden in the dark, Lord Darrow watched, smiling as he played with one of the fingers around his neck, he wore a wreath of blackened hands around his neck like a necklace, and he rotated one of the fingers on it thoughtfully between his own fingers—unlike his men, he didn’t wear gloves, or armor, he made no distance between himself and the cruelty he oversaw. He sucked in a deep breath, letting the char and death settle in his lungs, invigorating him in a way. A few of his men returned to him, most on horseback, most towing women and children behind them, some of whom weren’t moving; they had dragged them from town to camp by the hair or by the legs kicking and screaming. Lord Darrow glanced over his shoulder, as his men continued filling the cage behind him with their “prizes”, he would have rathered them killed, but the curator always needed more hands it seemed. Somewhere in the village, he heard a rallying voice cry out, “Quickly get to the temple! Quickly now!” and the smile on his thin lips faded. Beneath him, his horse shifted, the growing flames were making it uneasy, but he ignored it as he rose his hand. “Archers!” he called out to the bowmen at either side of him. He didn’t need to say more, not a moment later a flurry of arrows whistled through the air, landing with heavy thwunks into their targets. He could hear it clear as day from where he stood and he drank it all in, like a fine Mawan wine. “Into the temple, before we lose them!” with a single cry, the remainder of his men rallied, hurrying into the town, slaughtering anyone who got in their way. The fires cast horrible shadows across their bodies that made them look like wraiths on ghostly horses. The doors of the temple were closed and peppered with arrows. Lord Darrow and his men arrived just in time to hear the door being barred with a loud ker-chunk. Lord Darrow snorted, half-amused and very quietly, almost calmly as if he were asking someone to pass the salt over dinner, said, “Break it down.” His men threw themselves at the door, making battering rams of their bodies. The door groaned under the weight of the men and the walls of the temple shuddered; still, they kept at it. Lord Darrow watched them, his gaze focused on the door as if he were staring through it. “They’re getting away,” Lord Darrow said through clenched teeth. “We’re on it, the door is almost…” the man trailed off as he threw himself against the door a final time. A splintering crack echoed into the night and Lord Darrow slid off his horse. The door was still standing as he took slow careful strides over to the door; with a touch, the door fell to the ground with a loud resounding thunk. The temple was a long colorful room and he looked around at the blasphemous tapestries of green and gold that hung from mosaicked walls depicting stories of a war between the gods. A barricade of wooden pews stood between him and where the last of the people of Kald. His men moved quickly to demolish the barricade, flinging wood benches across the wide space. Lord Darrow stood in the middle of the temple, his eyes narrowed, the people of Kald were disappearing, fleeing into their secret tunnels. There was a loud thuwnk sort of sound, like a heavy door closing, and a man stood up, he was silver-haired and defiant. He was too late, Lord Darrow realized, and he walked forward, taking hurried steps towards the barricade. He didn’t care if it was cleared or not; he clicked his teeth, annoyed, as he climbed over the pews like walking up a rocky hill and as he did so the last man of Kald sat down. The last qitareeni man was a priest, one of the qitareeni black hands. He was kneeling on top of what Lord Darrow knew was a door, a round stone door that looked like a medallion of sorts, the image of a snake eating itself was meticulously carved and painted into the stone along with the eerie words “Mae Voktis Mic,” Lord Darrow found those words in every heathen temple he and his men visited. When he stood before the man, the man didn’t seem to notice or if he did, he didn’t react. “Open the door,” it was a polite command. “No,” said the black hand priest raising his head to look up at Lord Darrow, he seemed at peace in a way, calm when he should have been scared. Lord Darrow frowned and touched one of the fingers of the wreath of black hands around his neck, it was a threat, and a promise, though the priest hardly seemed afraid of either. “No?” Scoffed Lord Darrow. “You will open the door— the priest cut him off short. “Or what? You’ll take my hand? You would take my hand even if I did open the door. The door will remain closed. So, you’ll just have to kill me,” the priest rose to his feet as he spoke, he and Lord Darrow were the same height. Lord Darrow at first snorted, it was nearly a laugh but not quite and his mouth twitched into a sour smile. “Kill you?” repeated Lord Darrow. “No. No, I learned a long time ago there’s no point in killing your kind. You besani worship death. Killing you is exactly what you want. You won’t open the door? No matter, in one way or another I’ll rid Aertis’ green earth from your ilk soon enough.” Lord Darrow’s words left a sour taste in the priest’s mouth, he could tell by the priest’s twisted expression; he was disgusted and defiant, but never fearful. Lord Darrow made a gesture, and his men swarmed the man, and beat him: they broke his ribs, and blackened his eyes, they kicked the teeth out of his mouth, but the defiant look in his swollen eyes remained. When his men had finally stopped beating him, the priest spit out a glob of red onto Darrow’s boots and spoke, “You can torture me if you want, but it won’t do you any good. I know men like you. You think you can do whatever you want, that the atrocities you sew will never fruit, but they will. They are. I’ve seen it. It’s already happening you don’t even realize it. My suffering will be temporary…I may endure now but soon; she will rise and you and yours will have to speak for what you’ve done.” Lord Darrow glared at the man, his rage made evident by his shaking hands. He listened as the priest sucked in a shuddering breath, let the ashes fill his lungs and the tin taste of blood coat his tongue. Behind him, he could hear his men speaking to him, asking him something that he couldn’t for the life of him make out. Lord Darrow rested his trembling hand on the hilt of his sword. With every breath the besani priest took Lord Darrow could feel the withered one around him, she was like a noose slowly wrapping around his neck—like smog in the air. She would not rise, he told himself, not if he had anything to say about the matter. She would stay forever dead and dreaming. “I’ve listened to enough besani drivel for one night. If he won’t open the tunnel, have him branded and thrown in with the others, the curator could always use more hands.” Said Lord Darrow, watching steely-eyed as his men dragged the black hand priest away. Besides him, the sound of fluttering wings caught his attention; Lord Darrow turned his head to see a man standing beside him, tall and pale-faced, wearing all black save for the red cravat at his throat. “My my, Lord Darrow one would think that you were enjoying yourself.” “Vizier,” Lord Darrow bowed his head. “Who said one couldn’t mix business with pleasure.” “As long as that pleasure is getting you closer to one of the fragments,” said the vizier, Lord Darrow didn’t answer and perhaps he didn’t need to. Vizier’s sharp mouth twisted into a smirk and with that, he was gone.
  5. Hello Everybody, Pasted below is my opening scene for my story. It introduces the victim, a suspect, and The Zenith, the location for most of this tale. All feedback is greatly appreciated. Further in this first chapter a pivotal character is introduced and the protagonist comes into the story at he beginning of chapter 2. I'd love to share more, but keeping it to the opening scene for now, Cheers guys! Day One: The Zenith was synonymous with death, particularly during times of war. Murder was unprecedented. Serving as a gateway for all walks of life, passing from one kingdom to the next, The Zenith was a peaceful place for centuries. Permanent residents occupy the modest settlement inside the great fortress’ walls, while temporary accommodations are available for those with short term plans or simply passing through. Whatever their path or direction, The Zenith is a sanctuary for all comers. The murdered girl changed all of that. ***** Rain pounded down, saturating anything uncovered on the Upper Level, transforming the Rim Road to slush. Sarmras, a humble peddler and a regular visitor of The Zenith, trudged through the mud toward the Southern Gate, burdened by the weight of a backpack, containing his possessions. Each footstep sinking deeper into the road than the next, his feet becoming harder to retrieve with every lunge. “I can’t get out of this place soon enough”, he said to himself, bringing his eyes up to determine how much further. The colossal wooden gate was near, but currently locked, as was the custom for both entry/exit points during the moonset hours. The Kosolm Mountains dwarfed The Zenith from two sides. Above and around the peaks, portentous clouds could be made out, their presence obvious by the lashing they were handing to the famous citadel below. Sarmras hoped the emerging dawn might part the dreariness and end the persistent rain teeming down on him and his burden. He needed to justify his decision to leave this early, if even to himself. The mountain range ran from coast to coast, creating a natural border. The immense alps too tall and too cold at their apex to traverse on foot. The Zenith was the only way through to either kingdom by land. Once at the gate, he could dry off as an appointed registrar would set up and the nomad could sign his departure record into the visitors’ ledger, something he had done many times. He passed frequently from realm to realm, acquiring and trading wares from both kingdoms. Hauvnath, the kingdom that lay north of The Zenith, and Dimyrr to the south, which was where he was headed this time. Completely soaked, Sarmras arrived at the girl’s feet. He’d seen her multiple times during his visits, and remembered Silete by her distinctive long white hair and a skin that was paler than bones. She was faced down in the mud. He assumed, given his encounters with her were in The Tavern, she was drunk and passed out. Silete’s clothes were sodden, clinging to her skinny frame. Sarmras turned her over to check on her welfare, quivering from his gruesome discovery. Her eyes had been cut out, both sockets now filled with wet mud from The Zenith floor seeping down her pallid face like dark tears. He reeled away in horror, the momentum and weight of his pack caused him to fall backwards into the mud. Not caring that everything he owned was now covered in remnants of the Rim Road, he looked at her closer. Sarmras noticed her fingers on both hands had been sliced off. Struggling to regain his feet he whipped his head around but could not see anybody else at this early hour. He knew how The Zenith functioned. If there was trouble, a Prefect should be notified. Dropping his heft into the slop Sarmras ran away from the victim, in search for help. He knew a Prefect needed to be woken at once so they could bear witness to the crime and decide any course of action to follow.
  6. AS II – Module 8 Book Reports "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner (a great primer for this commercial program) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? This is the second time I’ve read this book. It should be the first book any writer reads on the craft of writing. It validated the areas of craft that I’ve been studying for the past eight-plus years. The book taught me that you have to know the rules of craft and master them before you can break them or create your own. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. The technique for telling a story through multiple points of view (a technique masterfully used by Larry McMurtry in Lonesome Dove).The most effective way is to have the character do an action. This signals the reader that they are about to enter into another character’s mind. Then, just as we learned in AS II – Module 1, use the four levels of POV to draw the reader closer to the character until we are in their mind. b. Removing needless explanation; or as we like to say in my local writers group: Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE). You find these excess words usually at the end of sentences. Or as Gardner writes, “Needless explanation or explanation where drama alone would be sufficient are other irritants. c. Avoiding dialogue tags that attempt to prop dialogue; e.g., “he hollered” or “he exclaimed.” A simple “he said” works just fine. The same for “he questioned.” If the character says, “Where are you going?”, no need to say “he questioned” as the the questions is already obvious and the dialogue tag is redundant. “He said” works just fine. 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? I’m not sure I’d say it conflicts, but Gardner leaned toward the three-act Syd Field model of storytelling. While it has some similarities, it doesn’t prepare you fully for the two-goal six-act novel that is at the heart of the novel writing program. However, every novel has to have structure, the bones that allow it to stand on its own. When I took a novel writing extension course at the University of Oklahoma, my professor tried to teach me structure. I didn’t grasp the concept and my writing suffered. I’ve since learned structure, and the readings in the novel writing program have also added innumerable amounts of structure that will benefit me as I continue to write and improve in the craft. "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maass (another good primer) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? Like Garnder’s The Art of Fiction, this was the second time I’ve read Maass’s book. What I really enjoyed was learning about the relationship between writer and agent and writer and editor. He presented not just the craft side, but also the business side. Many writers believe that once they’ve finished writing, that’s it, just schedule them for the book tour and off they go. Not even close. I’m fortunate to know NY Times bestselling author Steve Berry and his wife Liz. I’ve followed his career and whenever Liz talks the business side of writing (she’s one of the best at it), I listen and I learn. This validates the lessons Maass is trying to teach. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. Stakes. This is an important chapter in the book. Maass wants writers to ask themselves, “What the worse that could happen to your character? What’s worse than that? Even worse than the second thing? This simple exercise allows you to think about events that will have the most impact and true character is revealed in crisis. b. Multi-dimentional characters. Maass refers to these a layers, like an onion, the more you peel it, the more you discover. The writers who don’t publish have protagonists that don’t act, but react, or antagonists that have no redeeming qualities so the readers can’t connect with them. People are complex. Our characters should be, too. Who wants to read about a character who’s always happy, has no problems, and life is good. Boring. People have flaws, ticks, or as Rocky Balboa said, “don’t get mentally irregular.” c. Maass said, “a useful princple for making place an active character is to give your characters an active relationship to place.” He says writers have setting just to have it, to paint a picture. But fiction is action, like a movie, and the place, like the character, needs to propel the story. The exercises in novel writing program enhance this point and the exercises were wonderful at developing this important technique. It’s an area that’s still a weakness, but with practice, I can turn it into a strength. 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? I didn’t see anything that contradicted or conflicted with the lessons or readings. In fact, a good deal of what Maass writes is reflected in the modules. What I like about the novel writing program is the structure of the two parts, eight modules each, with each module building toward the next until the final module where we put it all together. "Write Away" by Elizabeth George (a no nonsense primer, and humorous) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? My favorite of the four books. The two areas I wanted to improve dramatically in were the preparation phase before writing the first draft, and then self-editing the draft to a ready-for-publication work. Ms. George book had exactly what I was looking for when it came to preparing to write a novel. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. Dialogue tricks. Getting the dialogue to work for you, to create emotion, reactions, and most importantly, propel the story forward. b. Step Outline. Ten to 15 scenes from start to finish of the novel. I’ve actually done this with other novels I’ve written, but Ms. George focuses the process, giving it structure that will be useful going forward. c. Attitude. Voice, is what Ms. George refers to. The story has a sound, a rhythm, a feeling. That was very important in my novel because of the time and place. d. Bum glue. It really works (even for Novel Writing Programs). 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? Ms. George plotting process is different than the two-goal six-act process, but it still contains the important plot points, pinch points, minor reverals, major reversals, climax, and denouement. She did address MacGuffins, which was a plus. "The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard (a look at the struggle) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? The main thing from this book is that it confirmed a lesson my local writing mentors has said numerous times: don’t butt write. What Ms. George did was to experience life and when she did, she was able to give her words life on the page. This was especially telling when wrote about Dave Rahm, and aerial demonstration pilot who flew airshows and gave Ms. Dillard the ride of her life. I’m very familiar with these performers as they flew at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville (Florida) air shows every other year. Some good friends that I came to know are no longer with us, just like Mr. Rahm. This part of her book was spot on and beautifully written. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. No matter the adversity, you can perservere. She spent a good deal of time in primitive conditons that today’s writers would find objectionable. Probably the toughest of all is writing long-hand. Who does that these days? And when you meet someone who does, what’s your reaction? It proves that writers who really want to write, can do it anywhere, anytime, and don’t have to wait until inspiration strikes. In fact, you have to use the bum glue, sit, and force yourself even when you think the writing is awful. Keep going. Never stop. Or my favorite saying, “Always forward, never backwards.” b. I enjoyed her writing, her metaphors, the imagery she created, and the courage to go after what she believed. She possess great courage. I hope that type of writing is present in my work. 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? No conflicts. An enlightening look at the writing life of a Publitzer Prize writer.
  7. Criteria Ratings 1-5 as follows: 1. Uncertain 2. Understand, But Item Needs More Work 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive 4. I Believe This Base is Covered 5. Superb and Clicking With Velocity You must apply the above ratings to each of the criteria below, one at a time, and post the results here in your own personal topic. You must also support your ratings with references, discussion, and examples as appropriate. For example, you will simply not say, "Yeah, I'm good at dialogue, and I give myself a high five." No. You must reference the module that demonstrates the great dialogue. If you are reading this now while still working through your modules, you might want to consider this process ahead of time. NOTE: This is my second time through the Novel Writing Program. It's been outstanding in that it reinforced the lessons I learned the first time through. It also forced me to be objective (as much as any writer can with a project they've worked on for nearly 4 years) on craft and storytelling require to make my novel a commercial and sellable piece of fiction. HIDDEN TREASURES is my 10th novel. I've been with my local writers group for more than 9 years and with AS since December 2011. I have no problem continuing to pay my dues until I prove I'm ready to be a working writer. Thank you. The category of MARKET VALUE is most crucial. _____________________________________________________ MARKET VALUE: Originality, freshness, high concept ​4 - While pitching LUCIUS AND THE ONLYS at the NYC Pitch Conference, Caitlin Alexander asked about my 2nd place for HIDDEN TREASURES that I'd won in a 2007 writing contest (an earlier version of the novel). When I pitched the log line, she said the story was HIGH CONCEPT. I still believe that's true today. HIDDEN TREASURES compares well to my comparables INKHEART and INKSPELL by Cornelia Funke, and NEVER ENDING STORY by Michael Ende, because the protagonist is pulled into imaginary worlds that he must fight his way through in order to find the meaning of the story. [*]Clear target readership ​4 - I'm confident the story works well in the Young Adult Fantasy market, especially as it relates to those first adolescent emotions of love. In such constant peril, Christopher has to trust someone, and while he's hesitant, that person is Becka Wellington. The combination of the unique worlds and situations, combined with the relationship of the protagonist and the love interest, will entice a diverse group of readers. While Christopher is pulled into the stories just as Meggie is in INKHEART and INKSPELL, it's the originality of The Reader's Hole spinning and with the help of Harcourt Thigpen's imagination that will engage readers. It's also the unspoken message of how reading inspires the imagination that can attract middle and high school teachers to add the book to their reading lists. [*]Hook ​5 - Strongest part of the book is the idea of a bookstore carved into a magic white oak tree. A bookstore with no breaks, cracks, or dividers, created in one single piece. A work of magic and imagination. STRUCTURE: Act Zero backstory development ​Somewhere between 3 and 4 - With Christopher unable to rescue Becka from the stories by the end of this book, it's obvious that this is a series. In AS 1 - Module VIII, it was asked: What are the loose ends remaining? Anything left unresolved or unanswered? There must be some. There were a host of them (see below). Why did Tess Hamilton leave Becka Wellington in the stories? Why did Tess Hamilton visit HIDDEN TREASURES? Will Christopher go back and rescue Becka? What is the secret of the white oak that will save Becka and free Harcourt Thigpen? What will Harcourt Thigpen do if he is free? Turn to ash? Or turn the real world into a fictional one? Will Roger still be able to talk is he is free and doesn’t turn to ash? Will Thornbridge die or find an heir to replace him as the Keeper of stories? If Christopher rescues Becka, will she be a teenager or as old as his mother upon her return? ​The initial backstory was provided in AS 1 - Module VI and I'm very confident in that backstory and the ability to answer the above questions as the series progresses. [*]Concise, effective setup with inciting incident ​5 - Module VI asked about the inciting incident. It begins en media res in the opening of the story when Christopher is imaginatively pulled from his class and finds himself with Harcourt Thigpen aboard the Mayflower floundering on a stormy sea. By the end of the chapter (long, but it clearly establishes the beginning of HIDDEN TREASURES) the reader learns it's all an elaborate invitation. [*]Plot line arc, and subplots (if appropriate) ​5 - a high score, but here's why. Each character has their own wants and desires and that creates conflict. See the list below. ​Christopher - Doesn't want to read. Tess Hamilton - Wants her son to be a good student; but doesn't want to know that she'd been to HIDDEN TREASURES and left Becka Wellington, her best friend, behind. Barrister Thornbridge - He needs an heir to maintain the long line of Keepers. Harcourt Thigpen - He needs Christopher to discover the secret of the white oak so he can be free of his attic prison. ​Becky Wellington - Wants to escape HIDDEN TREASURES to get back to the real world. [*]Well designed reversals (major and minor) ​3 to 4 - Going through this again I feel there may be have sufficient reversals. The major reversals are when Christopher has to read in order to learn the secret that will open the invisible door in The Reader's Hole. The second major reversal is when Thornbridge changes the story during KRAKEN'S MAZE thereby changing the rules. Christopher attempts to do the same, but fails during SNATCH. I'm worried I may be too close to the story, even after letting it sit and coming back to it through the Novel Writing Program and that another set of eyes is required to help decide if the reversals are effective. [*]Pinch points (at least two) ​4 - In Module VII I listed the pinch points: While making their way to the North Pole, Peary (Thornbridge) wants to rescue Christopher and allow Stonewall (Thigpen) to die. Lord Kraken (Thornbridge) changes the story in an effort to cause Christopher to fail to rescue the princess. And then Sammy (Thornbridge) lays a trap for Christopher at the Gin Mill where the mob boss is holding his mother. [*]Catalytic situation driven ​5 - This relates to theme in AS 1 - Module 5. This is a coming of age story where Christopher discovers himself (as most people do in crisis). What I like about this theme is that the knowledge is not on the surface, it's underneath (the words or inside the person). [*]Conflict, tension, rising action, ​4 - In AS 1 - Modules VI and VII, the goal is to avoid the lazy, sleepy middle that kill novels. There are opportunities for the reader to catch their breath, but for the most part, Christopher is in constant jeapardy from the opening scene until Thornbridge lets him leave HIDDEN TREASURES. The driver of that is that each character has a different want or desire. [*]Every scene relevant (i.e., to driving plot forward) ​3 - This may be the area that needs attention. The primary target will be KRAKEN'S MAZE. It's the longest of the three stories and the most fantasy-driven. What makes it relevant, again as AS 1 - Modules VI, VII, and VII attempt to teach us, as that each action as to be tied to Christopher's discovery of who he is. He sees things about himself (like his ability to know things without being told, like the classified code on the paper in his father's office), but yet he struggles with Becka because he has no real experience when it comes to girls. The key to his escape is learning the meanings of the three stories (again, a good model that school teachers will want to share with students) to learn the secret to open the invisible door. Question: Is there too much story that deludes the main goal of finding the clues that leads to the stories meanings? Or, as with most good stories, the meaning is under the words as a whole, grasping the inference rather than being directly told. I believe it's the latter, but need another set of experienced eyes to confirm it. [*]Effective, believable climax ​4 - It appears as though when Christopher escapes The Reader's Hole he's free, but Thornbridge has yet to understand that the boy must choose to stay on his own, not be forced. That's why the ladders disappear and then Thornbridge is even willing to destroy that which he's supposed to protect in order to make Christopher stay. It's when Christopher shows little regard for the books, dropping them, that Thornbridge realizes his mistake, catching the books and returning them to the boy. [*]Resolution ​4 - If the reader is looking for a concrete ending, they won't be satisfied as the remaining questions from AS 1 - Module VIII will not have been answered. However, if the reader is hoping to read more about Christopher and HIDDEN TREASURES, then they'll be happy to know the stories will continue. CHARACTERS: Antagonistic force ​5 - Thornbridge works as an antagonist as outlined in AS 1 - Module II, but he is sympathetic enough because of the job he has and how long he has to do it (a thousand years). However, his brusque and formal nature has a sharp edge that's not well received. Also, Harcourt Thigpen is Thornbridge's unwitting antagonist foil because he too wants something from Christopher (as all the characters in the story do). Thigpen plays well against Thornbridge because they both want different things and that creates conflict with Christopher stuck in the middle. [*]Consistent opposition ​5 - Because of each of the characters wants something from Christopher, this creates constant tension and conflict. The conflict is compounded as he deals with these characters in the midst of three stories that by their nature are inherently dangerous. Even Thornbridge at on point questions Thigpen about whether his story choice was right for a child. Then again, they want to know if Christopher is "The One," so the most strident test is required. Protagonist’s goals ​5 - Christopher has two goals. His first is not to read. When he's trapped inside The Reader's Hole, he has no choice but to revise his goal by reading the books to he can learn the meanings of the stories and discover the secret that will open the invisible door (so he can escape - his revised goal). [*]Sympathetic protagonist ​5 - In Module IV, I noted five things that made Christopher sympathetic using direct verbiage from the story. There is a line that needs to be crossed for a young reader between boredom and imagination. Once you tilt them to the imaginative side, then they'll read the story. That's what happened to Christopher and that's what I believe will happen to young readers who discover HIDDEN TREASURES. [*]Protagonist’s arc ​5 - In Module IV, I outline the character arc for Christopher, much of it having to do with building his confidence and his relationship with Becka. There are no major leaps in his character as this is the beginning of the series; however, by the time he enters SNATCH, he has the courage to challenge Becka to admit she's not a character in the story. He's more willing to act and has the confidence to even deal with adults. [*]Supporting characters ​5 - Harcourt Thigpen, Tess Hamilton, and Becka Wellington round out the small supporting cast. The characters are unique, they have their own dictionary in their head, they don't sound alike, and they each want something from Christopher. Having a talking mouse was risky, but I believe Roger Williams works because he serves as the protagonist's sidekick, a Robin to a Batman, and the mouse's strong English accent and sense of humor add levity and support throughout the story. It's another level of the fantasy element, but with much of the human foibles we see in people. NARRATIVE DEVELOPMENT: Scene length and structure ​4 - A good deal of effort and attention was placed on the end of scenes, ensuring an interesting hook that would induce the reader to keep going. Story breaks within chapters were clear due to a change in time, location, or POV. The scenes tend to be longer because the unique worlds Christopher traveled to required greater attention to detail. The concrete detail added verisimilitude and pushed the story forward. [*]Effective transitions ​4 - Careful attention was paid to POV and time and place. Story breaks were effective transitions. Staying with the focal POV character rather than mind-hoping avoided reader confusion and keeps the reader tight in the story. Also, based on AS 2 - Module I, I applied the techniques using all four levels of 3POV. A good example was the River King Model applied to Thornbridge on board SS Roosevelt plowing through ice-covered seas and then drilling down until we are in his mind showing his aggravation that Thigpen has pulled him into such an intemperate climate. [*]Clarity of spatial set ​This is not clear in the module (unless I missed something). I went back through my modules and couldn't find this listed. So answering this would be a guess. I remember having trouble with this during my first time through the Novel Writing Program. If I could receive a better explanation, I would be able to answer this area. [*]Comprehensible prose narrative ​5 - The FIGHT CLUB exercise in AS II - Module V is my favorite. I reposted what I'd written the first time because I'm very happy how that came out. The River King model narrative was a pleasant surprise. Like so many of the exercises, I wasn't sure going in, but as my confidence grew, I attacked the exercise, and the result was good enough that I knew I needed it to be part of the current story. The best part of the exercise is that I proved to myself that I could do it. [*]Tension on the page ​5 - A high score, but I'm confident because each of my characters wants something different and when they do, tension is on every page. [*]Dialogue mastery ​4 - AS 2 - Module I was good at forcing me to write a scene from different character POVs. It also should be reflected in they way they spoke. Each character has their own dictionary in their head. It's developed based on where they come from, who they interacted with, and even what they've read. It drives how they speak. Remembering that ensures that characters sound different. Even Thigpen, when he is in the role of Nickerbaud Stonewall in ICE WORLD speaks with a heavy Scottish baroque. The key to good dialogue is that it's the essence of what is said, not everything that's said. Also I try hard to avoid direct answers to questions. The dialogue, like all the other parts of the craft, has to push the story forward. [*]Exposition delivery ​5 - Just as was required with the FIGHT CLUB exercise, it's evident that the reader will be tight in Christopher's mind, or in the minds of the other characters when the story demands it. My goal - which I believe I accomplished the majority of the time, was the reader will be so deep into the fictive dream that when Christopher sees the twenty-foot-tall Lord Shido Kraken, the reader thinks I just saw twenty-foot-tall Lord Shido Kraken. [*]Narrative composition (quality of set, tension, cinema, character interactions) ​4 - There may be more opportunities for the River King cinematic approach. Moving through he 3POV model through all four levels helps heighten the tension and highlight the interactions between characters. A significant improvement to setting from the original to the revised version. Character interactions are the strongest as each has their own wants and desires and that creates tension and conflict. [*]Cinematic imagery (static and dynamic) ​4 - The FIGHT CLUB and River King exercises brought out the best in this area as shown by the version from my novel using the River King model. It allowed me to revise the story looking for opportunities to enhance the cinematic imagery and make the scene more dynamic and true to life. [*]Proper point-of-view ​5 - I'm pretty confident that I avoided POV issues, and was happy at how I applied the four levels of 3POV. Based on my first time through the course, I paid close attention to the use of the characters' names and pronouns to avoid potential reader confusion. [*]Wise use of craft technique ​4 - Anyone who claims a "5" even after the final 100 pages is lying. Sorry. Just a fact. I can always improve my craft. Even after I'm published, the craft of writing will be a continuing study. I have confidence in my ability having studied the craft of writing for the last nine years with my local writers group and three years with AS. The main goal is the mission of AS, to write stories that agents and editors will fall in love with. [*]Interior Monologue and rumination ​5 - I placed A good deal of effort on drawing tight into the minds to feel-taste-hear-smell-see what the characters do. From the confusion that Christopher faces when he's first pulled into Thigpen's story on Mayflower, to Thornbridge's aggravation at having to be in Thigpen's stories, to Becka's reticence about telling Christopher that she'd been was left behind.
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