First Page Friday #44: YA Fantasy

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

YA Fantasy – by Karyne Norton

It always started with a spell. Something simple, like a cup of ale. But her power had its limits. Every time they asked for magic, Julana knew how it would end — with her blood.

“Be a dear and fetch us some stew,” Luna said. The blue sky teased Julana from the tiny window. So much for a free afternoon. It was too dangerous to refuse them. When she was fourteen they’d killed her pet goat because she rebelled. It would take longer than three years to get over that lesson.

“Yes, Aunt Luna,” Julana said. Luna wasn’t really her aunt, but in order to keep up the facade, the Ellexes insisted Julana practice at home. The tiny farmhouse held only two rooms and a loft, so she reached the kitchen in five steps.

“And Julana…” Alazer’s deep voice made her pause. She didn’t turn to face him; she knew what he would say. “Be sure you use magic. There’s no reason for you to make us wait all night.”

Julana’s stomach dropped. “Yes, sir.” It was a test. Why did they always test her limits? They had just as much magic as she did. That never changed. And unlike her, they enjoyed using it.

The stew was easy enough. She drew energy from her blood to summon water from the well. The sight of water soaring through the air made her grimace. If anyone happened to see, they’d all be hanged for witchcraft. Was it really worth it to the Ellexes? That same energy brought the water to a boil. The cupboards were well stocked with carrots and potatoes and Julana sighed in relief. Very little magic was needed.

“Where is the meat? We want venison stew,” Alazer said. He pushed away the bowl she served, his mouth twisted in a scowl. “Honestly, you can be so dense.”

“Sorry, Uncle Alazer,” Julana said. Tears pricked her eyes, but not over his reaction. She would have to make an unecessary kill. His beefy hand shot out to grab her wrist and the familiar sense of invasion swept over her. His tracking spell.

“Be back before the sun’s sleep.”

She pulled her cloak around her shoulders and grabbed her bow and quiver. A blast of cold air hit her face, but she found it refreshing. The sun defied the wind and enveloped her in its rays. In a few weeks it would be warm enough to leave her cloak behind.

A twinge of pain flashed across her foot. Her time was limited by his spell. The Ellexes had been her guardians for as long as she could remember. More like her prison guards. They used their magic to control her, but they used her magic to get what they really wanted: money, power, revenge. It didn’t matter they were only requesting venison stew this time. She’d seen them use her magic for unspeakable things, and she refused to be caught in their web of desire. She would never use magic by choice.

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

 

YA Fantasy – by Karyne Norton

It always started with a spell. Something simple, like a cup of ale. < This reads as if you’re saying that the simple spell is a cup of ale (rather than a request for a cup of ale), which is confusing. But her power had its limits. Every time they asked for magic, Julana knew how it would end — with her blood. < If you use this hook, then everything that follows should support it, but how her blood is associated with the magic is never clearly explained and this opening seems to deviate largely into other topics.

“Be a dear and fetch us some stew,” Luna said. The blue sky teased Julana from the tiny window. So much for a free afternoon. It was too dangerous to refuse them. When she was fourteen they’d killed her pet goat because she rebelled. It would take longer than three years to get over that lesson. < This is telling something that I’d rather have shown. Show consequences through a threat or an implication of a threat or show her fear with her behavior.

“Yes, Aunt Luna,” Julana said. Luna wasn’t really her aunt, but in order to keep up the facade, the Ellexes insisted Julana practice at home. The tiny farmhouse held only two rooms and a loft, so she reached the kitchen in five steps. < The orange highlighting in this section is also telling. If it were not so close to the telling above, it wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But combined it feels like too much.

“And Julana…” Alazer’s deep voice made her pause. She didn’t turn to face him; she knew what he would say. “Be sure you use magic. There’s no reason for you to make us wait all night.”

Julana’s stomach dropped. “Yes, sir.” It was a test. Why did they always test her limits? They had just as much magic as she did. < What does the amount of magic they have have to do with them testing her? Why would having magic themselves affect whether they tested her? I’m not sure what point is being made. That never changed. And unlike her, they enjoyed using it. < Why doesn’t she enjoy it?

The stew was easy enough. She drew energy from her blood to summon water from the well. < What does it mean that she “drew energy from her blood”? What does it feel like? Is this dangerous?  The sight of water soaring through the air made her grimace. If anyone happened to see, they’d all be hanged for witchcraft. Was it really worth it to the Ellexes? That same energy brought the water to a boil. < I assume the well is outside and that she boiled the water inside? This could be much clearer. The cupboards were well stocked with carrots and potatoes and Julana sighed in relief. Very little magic was needed. < Why is less magic needed because they have carrots and potatoes? Is it because she can chop them by hand? Is it because she doesn’t have to go dig them up?

“Where is the meat? We want venison stew,” Alazer said. He pushed away the bowl she served, < This reads a bit awkward because you’re jumping so far ahead in time. The vegetables are already cooked and seasoned and Alazer has sat down at the table. Describing those things occurring would create a much clearer transition and be less jarring for the reader. his mouth twisted in a scowl. “Honestly, you can be so dense.”

“Sorry, Uncle Alazer,” Julana said. Tears pricked her eyes, < It’s too early in the novel for crying. I don’t know enough about the character for this to not feel like an overreaction. but not over his reaction. She would have to make an unecessary kill. < What makes it unnecessary? Does she not believe in eating meat? His beefy hand shot out to grab her wrist and the familiar sense of invasion swept over her. His tracking spell.

“Be back before the sun’s sleep.”

She pulled her cloak around her shoulders and grabbed her bow and quiver. < She isn’t going to use magic to kill the animal? A blast of cold air hit her face, but she found it refreshing. The sun defied the wind and enveloped her in its rays. In a few weeks it would be warm enough to leave her cloak behind.

A twinge of pain flashed across her foot. Her time was limited by his spell. < Is the pain in her foot associated with the spell? This isn’t clear. The Ellexes had been her guardians for as long as she could remember. More like her prison guards. They used their magic to control her, but they used her magic to get what they really wanted: money, power, revenge. It didn’t matter they were only requesting venison stew this time. She’d seen them use her magic for unspeakable things, and she refused to be caught in their web of desire. She would never use magic by choice. < This feels like  a lot of telling to me. Why not show them using her powers for something unspeakable? That would likely make for a much more gripping opening scene and would also require much less telling (and a lot more showing).

My Overall Thoughts

I think you have an interesting idea, but it isn’t getting room to shine here. Perhaps you are trying to introduce too many concepts at once and thus your ideas are getting muddled.

Leading with a hook about the magic taking her blood will lead the reader to expect near immediate follow through by showing exactly what you mean.

Key Places to Improve:

  • I’m confused about why she doesn’t like magic. Magic is cool! Readers love magic! It’s totally fine for your protagonist to hate magic, but readers are going to want to know why right away. Is it because it draws from her blood? Does that hurt? Or is it simply because she’s seen it used for evil? If that’s the reason, doesn’t she ever enjoy magic in private or for reasons that are more positive?
  • I’m confused about why she doesn’t want to kill for the stew. Is this related to not wanting to use magic? If so, why does she get a bow and arrow (indicating that she isn’t going to use magic)? If it’s unrelated to the magic, I would consider cutting it because I think you’re muddling the intention of this opening by introducing too many concepts.
  • I’d like to see just a bit more personality from Julana. It doesn’t need to be a ton, but I want a positive trait to latch onto. Clarifying the two areas of confusion above could potentially take care of this for you.
  • You may want to clarify the setting. Is this set in the past or do they just happen to have a well and kill their own meat?

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

I don’t feel like I’ve been given enough information to be drawn into the story. I also don’t feel a connection to Julana (mostly because I don’t understand her – as mentioned in my notes above). I can tell you have a cool idea. I just want it to be clearer.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Connect with Karyne

You can connect with Karyne on Twitter and on her blog.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently OPEN to submissions)

***Please read this entire section before submitting***

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Submissions will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and I will no longer be scheduling posts in advance. I will review submissions once a week and choose a first page that I feel provides the best learning opportunity for readers. This means that as much as I would love to respond to every submission, you probably won’t hear from me if I don’t select your first page. It also means that I may select your first page months after you submit it (you are responsible for updating or pulling your submission as needed).

To Submit, send the following information to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com or if you have trouble with that email address (as has been the case for some of you lately), send it to editorbrock@gmail.com:

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About the Editor

Ellen Brock is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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8 thoughts on “First Page Friday #44: YA Fantasy

  1. Kristin Russ says:

    Ellen, your feedback hit on the same ideas I was thinking as I read this. Why doesn’t she like magic? What makes her so afraid? A bit too much telling. But an interesting concept for sure. Keep going, Karyne.

  2. Adrian Christiansen says:

    Ellen’s feedback is spot on. There is a lot of “telling” in these 500 words, as if you’re in a hurry to get us up to speed, although, curiously, as a result, we’re left with a lot of questions. Perhaps, by showing rather than telling, you can create a kind of “slow reveal”, which you could use to build up tension. I also wondered how, by telling us so much at the start, you could sustain the story – a lot of the material here could be used to build the story later. I agree that the whole magic/blood/energy relationship needs clarifying in some way. The first paragraph hints that using magic involves some kind of price to be paid (I thought of blood sacrifice when I read this), but when she uses magic, she seems unaffected except for her discontent – there seems to be no other physical or emotional effect.

  3. Kate Sparkes says:

    I thought the feedback was great, too. A dramatic opening showing her using magic and the consequences of that (her feelings or physical/external consequences) would be gripping, and all of the explanation could come later. If I’m interested in the character and the situation, I can wait a bit on back-story. A bit of mystery helps keep me reading, as long as things aren’t too confusing.

  4. Lara Willard says:

    Right away I thought the concept was cool. For some reason this girl’s magic has direct, physical consequences, and doing magic is a form of punishment.
    The first thing I noticed that you might think about changing is that all of the names sound similar with their As and Ls. Julana and Luna are so similar I wonder if they really are related (I know a few pairs of Nathan / Jonathan that are fathers and sons).
    I agree there’s quite a bit of telling, but that didn’t bother me so much as the cliches “beefy hand,” “envelopes,” and “twinge of pain.”
    I did like “the sun defied” and the “familiar sense of invasion” parts. I think you’ve got a great concept here, but there’s too much telling in some areas and not enough in others. However, I liked the “unlike her, they enjoyed it” because if you answer every question, there’s no reason to read on. I wanted to keep reading to have that question answered.

  5. Julie Griffith says:

    You had me at magic. I like the idea of a girl who has magical powers, but doesn’t want to use them. I really want to know why she doesn’t. But like others, I was confused about her particular brand of magic. The connection to her blood is not explained, and why these people posing as her aunt and uncle would want to use hers, when they have their own is not clear. I hate to just repeat what others have said, but I think it’s good to know it’s a problem several readers had, and something that really does need to be addressed. So I hope this was helpful for that, anyway. Good luck with your story.

  6. strangewriter says:

    Karyn; I polled that I liked it as this story intrigues me. As I read this, I felt like you were giving away all the mystery at the start; I would prefer to discover that her guardians are horrible people by how they treat Julana and her reaction to them when they speak (tension, anxiety, cowed). I would prefer not to know their relationship straight away (the goat, the fact they’re not really her aunt & uncle).

    I like the less-used perspective of blood magic and that Julana’s not keen on using it. I don’t need to know why she hates it so much if that’s something you intend to share later but like the other commenters above, I would like to know how she feels when she uses it.

    Jumping in time around in the scene was jarring for me also. I don’t mind taking my time to read a scene as it develops as long as it’s interesting.

    Ellen; thank you for your editing explanations. I always learn something whenever I read through them, even when they’re not my words.

  7. karyne norton says:

    Thanks everyone for all your thoughtful feedback. It’s so helpful to see different perspectives after I’ve reworked and stared at the thing so many times. I can definitely see the benefit to making the suggested changes and I’m excited to incorporate them!

    And thank you, Ellen, for taking the time to improve not only my writing, but so many others as well. It was such a fun surprise to see that you chose my first pages when I just found your site earlier this week! I’m looking forward to perusing through the rest of your posts.

  8. Rob Walker says:

    seems like you wanted to get as much info in the first page as possible, to open as many questions as you could and introduce the fear and mistreatment as a way to get the reader hooked in. the problem with this has been stated a few times in the comments and addressed by ellen. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you did this to make sure the first page was’nt bland and slow and went a little too far. it does feel like alot of the info was crammed in. The bit with the goat could have been really touching and heartfelt if it had been built up well. not enough time had passed to really care about her, let alone her goat. i think the idea is great, i ‘liked it’ i would like to see this again 🙂

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