Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #2

Name: Cayla Norseman

Genre: Fantasy

Title: Dragons In Our Hearts

35 word pitch: Tangled/X-men: Awkward inventor Perrien, possessed by a dragon, and three similarly cursed teens are exiled to wastelands. He has to find a cure before his curse forces him to destroy his friends and family.

You cannot avoid it.
Perrien tugged a huge clump of the ground, feeling it crumple through his fingers, and threw it away behind him aimlessly.
You were wrong.
He ignored his own thoughts and looked up, squinting in the sunlight streaming overhead through the trees and leaves. Perrien let out a deep breath.
He didn’t want to believe it, even though it was the truth.
Three scars that buried deep into and stretched across his face, from his forehead down his left eyelid and down his cheek told him the truth. Just as his eyes had.
Perrien automatically rubbed his eyes and let out a sigh, blinking out the dirt that came off his fingers and snuck in.
It was their fault he was too afraid to show up at his dad’s celebration ceremony. His dad had been elected the Baron of Grotesque by King Lidane and now the entire city was at the city hall, celebrating and feasting.
Except for Perrien. Normally, he would’ve gone. Until last night, when everything fell apart for him.
Perrien’s family had celebrated his dad’s election with a special dinner after the news was announced. He'd been the most excited.
He had seen the election as a chance to become special and important, and most of all, have a group of friends, like everyone else his age. He had always been looked down on by everyone, except his parents, considered the punching bag for his school peers.
But last night, he had dreamed he had been eaten alive from the inside out by a dragon and woke up with the three huge scars covering his face and weird eyes. The weird eyes… that were not his.
Something was now dwelling inside him.
Perrien shivered and hugged his knee, digging his face into them.
He had always kind of known since he turned sixteen and weird things began happening to him. Along with after the time his hands suddenly grew long black claws and scarlet scales as he broke out into an unexpected fit after ranting to his mother about the bullying peers.
For six months, he tried to find ways to explain the event with theories and gave excuses to his ‘friends’ for his anger boiling quicker every time someone ticked him off. He also spent hours trying to convince himself the exact same excuses.
But then, he woke up with the scars and eyes, which he could see through but didn’t belong to him.
Perrien tugged out more grass and tossed it over his shoulder.
He had escaped his parents and school peers from finding out and seeing the strange, cursed looking eyes, hiding in the forest behind his old school building, and avoiding his dad’s ceremony.
So far, it seemed no one had gone out to find him.
“Now,” Perrien told himself, on the thought. “I just have to avoid being elected as the hero of the city.” He tossed more grass behind him, getting some of it in his hair.


  1. So, in the first sentence what is he tugging. Grass? It's just awkward wording and it immediately throws me out of the narrative. I'd also watch how many adverbs you're using. Rather than having him toss the clump aimlessly, show us how it lands, breaks, etc.

    I think you could skip him telling himself he's wrong and just get to the scars. Those are the hook, the interesting bit here. I'd linger on those instead of the surroundings. Like how do they feel to the touch? How does his face feel? Does it hurt?

    You also start several sentences with Perrien's first name. I sort of get the sense you're trying to do something stylistic with this, but it's honestly just reading as repetitive. You can get away with mentioning his name once, but three times is a little much.

    Saying he'd escaped from people finding out his issues is a really awkward way of saying it. Maybe avoided? And here, at the end you've got another telling statement. We know no one has come to find him b/c you don't show someone coming to find him. You don't really need to tell us.

    Overall, I really like the premise here, but there's just a lot of telling going on. I'd really work on going deeper with Perrien's POV
    So he's sneaking into his dad's ceremony? I missed that on the first read through. I'd bring that a lot more forward. Also, you can hint at what's going on with his dad but baldly stating it is a bit too much telling for me. We don't need to know what the ceremony is for, or why it's happening. We just need to know this a big deal for his dad and he's missing it. How does that make him feel. Show us how he clings to the shadows. Let us hear part of the ceremony in scene and then we'll know without being clubbed over the head by the details. I'd cut most of that backstory, it's not essential.

    Now, get to his dream. That's interesting. I want to know how he feels about this. What it's like physically having something eat him from the inside. Go deep with this and it could be very interesting.

    I'd also back up on explaining all the weirdness that's been happening to him since he turned sixteen. It's important information for sure, but the delivery needs some work. Like you could go with something like, "this wasn't the first time, but it was certainly the worst." or something like that.

    And now we're back to more backstory. We don't need anything but a hint of the bullying, his family problems and his short temper. Show us. This is scary, and since his transformation seems to be triggered by stress and bad feelings I'd really work on showing us. Also, maybe be could transform a little bit more.

    Okay, so he's back in the grass? I thought he'd snuck into the back of the ceremony. Did I miss something?

    And at the end you don't show people looking for him, so we know people aren't looking for him, you don't need to tell us.

    Overall, you've got a cool premise here. Weredragons are pretty nifty in my opinion, and there is some cool imagery and a few sparkling bits of voice especially the part where he's looking through eyes that aren't his. But, you do need to work on the telling vs showing. We're pretty far removed from what Perrien's thinking. There's a lot of information about the situation, but a lot less about how terrifying and awful this must be for him. I'd really work on digging deep into his character to find his voice and his thoughts and work on weaving the backstory organically into the narrative instead of just laying it out for us. Good luck and I hope this helps.

  2. Starting from the top!

    Genre: You have just fantasy, say "High Fantasy" since it's alt world, it'll help!

    Pitch: Drop the comps. They feel like they should help, but in 35 words there are better uses for those two positions! Love the "awkward inventor" but you lose me at possessed by a dragon. As a fellow fantasist I know the eternal struggle between worldbuilding and teasing the story itself. Who cursed him? How was he possessed? Did he do it himself? Was it malevolent? Is that the story? If he's exiled, how can he destroy his family and friends?

    I think you may be trying to get too much of the story in here, and you'd be better off (more powerful) if you focus on how the story starts and tease us. Focus on Perrien and his dragon-ness that'll give more personal stakes.

    Text: You've definitely got a cool concept, and overall the writing is good. It could use a little tightening, try to replace "had" with active past tense verbs. (Nitpick: the sentence "Along with after the time" reads a little awkward.)

    But, while this isn't terrible, it reads more as an adult fantasy than a YA. And this is a rough line with High Fantasy.
    You may want to re-evaluate the first few sentences and focus more on getting inside Perrien's head, closer to his feelings and his problems. OR, jump ahead to a scene where more is actually happening. The point you start is where I'd start if I were writing the next "The Name of the Wind" but not the next "Graceling" both high fantasy. Both awesome. Both MCs in their late teens. But Rothfuss is definitely writing adult while Cashore is definitely writing YA.

    If you want sympathy on this point, ask our lovely hostess! I've had the exact same convo with her! And she's even still talking to me!

    OK, so, now, standard caveats, my goal is to give you a new set of eyes on your piece. My suggestions are for you to react violently against so you know what right is for YOU (Not for me, I don't matter!)

    Hope I've been of any help at all!

    -Lana (@muliebris)

  3. Hi Cayla,

    This sounds like a great premise and I think you have a strong MC in Perrien. I’m by no means an expert, but I read a reasonable amount of fantasy and this story sounds very original to me.

    My interpretation of your opening, when Perrien is tugging at the grass, is that this is the dragon side of him coming out. Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood, but I think you want to convey that Perrien is confronting the fact that he might be part dragon with disbelief and plenty of frustration. It’s not an easy thing to do and you are almost there. Perhaps you could find some way to make it a little clearer, because in the following paragraphs we see that he is a boy with normal hands, but perhaps he’s now much stronger than a normal boy.

    “It was their fault he was too afraid…” I had to read this a couple of times to work out who/ what “their” referred to. I think it is the eyes and I think you could change the order of your piece a little here. You could expand on why it is the fault of his eyes. Maybe by putting this line here, “The weird eyes… that were not his.”

    I like the way you’ve included some world-building and I assume the characters and places you have named are important to your story and that’s why you’ve got them in early. I think it’s a great idea to get some key world-building elements into your opening and I really like your names. We can see that your world is a kingdom, but perhaps you could find a way to include a small detail that shows us something unique and special about it.

    I think the back story about Perrien and how he hasn’t many friends and tends to get picked on can be left for later. I’m not sure that the reader really needs it at this stage. The physical transformation that has been taking place in Perrien’s body since he was 16 is much more interesting and makes a better hook. I think you could give more detail on this. Can he see better, hear better, smell better? How did he get the scars? I do like your opening, and I think you’ve done a great job on it but I think you can make it even stronger.

    Hope this is of some help!

  4. I'm actually going to disagree with Lana. I love the comps, and they don't take up much room. The premise of this book is totally something I would read!

    I think Perrien comes across as an easily likeable character, even in the short space. My major recommendation would be to make the opening pages do more showing and less telling. I feel like I'm being told a lot of information. There needs to be more action, with the back story woven in.

  5. First off, I LOVE this idea. Humans turning into dragons NEEDS to be done (I've actually tried it myself) and I really like the subtle way you've shows us moments of genre, from his father's banquet to the flash of claws, and the eyes that aren't his. I think the writing is great.

    The helpful:

    I think you could start this story in a more active place. Right now all that's really happening is he's siting and thinking about backstory, which is a sign to me that you may be starting in the wrong place. Could you start at the moment the scales flash? Or as he's stepping into the banquet, and has a bolt of pain, and see's claws and then looks in a reflection and see's the wrong eyes before he runs into the forest?

    I'd be hooked for sure if I actually got to live the moments you are using to hook us, as it is I'm only casually hooked.

    Best of luck!

  6. First off, I LOVE this idea. Humans turning into dragons NEEDS to be done (I've actually tried it myself) and I really like the subtle way you've shows us moments of genre, from his father's banquet to the flash of claws, and the eyes that aren't his. I think the writing is great.

    The helpful:

    I think you could start this story in a more active place. Right now all that's really happening is he's siting and thinking about backstory, which is a sign to me that you may be starting in the wrong place. Could you start at the moment the scales flash? Or as he's stepping into the banquet, and has a bolt of pain, and see's claws and then looks in a reflection and see's the wrong eyes before he runs into the forest?

    I'd be hooked for sure if I actually got to live the moments you are using to hook us, as it is I'm only casually hooked.

    Best of luck!

  7. Hi Cayla!! ;)

    As far as genre goes, I'd only label this as epic fantasy if your word count is on the higher end. I'd talk less about his missing his dad's celebratory whatever and focus more on his terrifying nightmare.

    Great pitch :D

    Okay, so for the first 500:

    Basically a lot of what you want to show the reader could be condensed down into a few sentences. There's also a LOT of wordiness going on. Many of these sentences are clunky, some grammatically queer, and a lot could be restructured to flow smoother. Read your prose out loud. It should sound smooth and conversational. Find more colorful adjectives to set us in his surroundings and his emotions at the moment.

    I can't add much to the previous comments, both because they summed up some of the other things that could use work and also because I happened to beta your first draft XDDD

  8. On the pitch-- I wasn't sure about the comps in the pitch. I would use them; just not in the pitch itself. Otherwise, I was really able to understand who, what, when and how. The stakes are clear. I could take lessons from you on how to do this!

    On the first 500--I had a greater understanding of the story because your pitch was so clear. Fantasy isn't really my thing and you had me intrigued. I wanted to read more. I got a little lost for a second regarding whether this had happened to him the night before or 6 months earlier. I figured it out though. I did want to know more about his feelings. Why doesn't he have any friends? How is his dad's election going to help? Is he planning on hiding forever?

    Obviously, 500 words isn't enough to tell the reader everything they want to know. These critiques can be a bit tough. I'm no expert, so please only take what you need from this; or nothing at all. I hope this helps. :)

  9. Hi Cayla!

    I think others have already given you a lot of good advice, so I'll try not to be too repetitive. I think the pitch is great and with some tightening, you definitely have the makings of a promising start.

    More than anything I just wanted to get closer to your MC in these opening moments. Something truly terrifying is happening to him! It's interesting! Right now we see him sighing, breathing hard, blinking, thinking… But what's he really feeling right now? What is this insane experience like? What other weird details (small ones even) about being possessed by a dragon can you create for us to peak our interest? That's going to hook your readers a lot more than the backstory at this point--which I think could probably be pared down to hints for now.

    Also--it seemed like maybe he was searching for something in the dirt? Maybe you can hint around at what's driving him to dig…

    Very cool concept!! Best of luck,


  10. Hi-

    I love the idea of turning into a dragon and I agree with all of the above, let us feel what he is feeling, does it hurt? Do things look different when he's looking out of the dragon's eyes? Is he freaking out about it more than just being disappointed he can't attend his father's ceremony?

    Your pitch is good, I am on the fence as to the comp titles. Part of me says leave it, but another says with losing them you have extra words to either describe the teens like Perrien or, perhaps, even more about Perrien's struggle. Either way the pitch makes me want to read the story and with a little tweaking to the 500 it would make me want to turn that page :)

  11. This is a very interesting premise. You can take the idea in so many different directions and it could be fantastic! But first you have to start with something happening, because nothing at all is happening in this first 500. I don’t have any idea what it might feel like to have a dragon inside. Is it trying to claw it’s way out? Can it control Perrien’s mind? Is it talking to Perrien in the opening sentence? Do they have conversations? Probably too much to answer in 500 words, but at least give the reader some idea of what is going on. I would delete all references to throwing grass unless he’s throwing it at something for a reason. Also, deep breaths and sighs. Delete in an opening sequence. You only have one chance to entice a reader. Thrill them with the possibilities. Most of what you written is backstory. You as the writer need to know it. The reader needs to know it too, but not all at once. Give out backstory piece by piece like its super expensive, rich chocolate. Good luck!

  12. I don't read other people's comments until I've written my own. I noticed a few readers wondered if the digging in the earth is due to the dragon with-in. If this is so, then keep but make it more clear. It comes across as just sort of mindlessly digging while thinking things through.

  13. Cayla,

    Yay, dragons!!

    While super well though-out, I almost feel like this story is starting in the wrong place. There's a lot of back story right off the bat, and I want to get into all this cool action you're mentioning instead. If the family dinner, getting bullied by peers, and the first time he grew scales and claws are important moments, I'd like to see those more in-scene :D That would be exciting. As it is, I feel like I'm entering the story too late, and am already behind on what's been going on.

    I think Perrien is a cool name. I also really like the feeling of aloneness that he's exuding; it's very sad and I sympathize with him. I feel like Perrien needs a hug.

    Thanks for letting us look at this!

    -Molly (@mollycluff)

  14. Started off with some great texture. But much of the rest is telling what's going onside inside his head instead of showing. And maybe too much introspective. I'm not one who needs to know a lot about the MC personality and struggles right of the bat. Just a taste. Introduce bits and hints as time goes. We ourselves don't even know what's going on in our heads at any given moment.