Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #4: THE PENDRAGON'S SON

Name: Kelly Barina (@kbarina113)
Genre: Fantasy
Title: THE PENDRAGON'S SON
35-word pitch: 
Seventeen-year-old Prince Vael has spent much of his life in isolation, but he befriends his long-lost brother. A man who is destined to destroy his entire kingdom. A man he may have to kill.
First 500 words: 
As I hurried down the castle’s vast stone corridor to meet my half-brother for the first time, his name echoed around me, whispered like a curse: Mordred.
Likely no one else in Camelot shared my outlook, but that did not matter; his haunted name brought me no fear. Finally. Finally. I had a brother. Family. Surely he would not shun me as the others had. Surely he would understand what it meant to be an outcast in one’s own family. All other thoughts were whispers on the breeze compared to this resounding truth—I had to meet him, had to know him.
I approached the vaulted doorway of the Great Hall. Straightening, I walked toward the raised dais, careful to keep my pace steady, though my legs urged me forward. A prince must always be calm and collected. My muscles strained, but I reined in my eagerness. The dais seemed so far away.
Knights and soldiers filled the hall as I passed. Most paid me no heed, too absorbed in poisonous gossip.
“How is that coward still alive?” one said, wringing his hands.
“Vermin never did die easy,” an armored knight said with a sneer.
Yet another said in a trembling voice, “It’s the prophecy, I tell you! It protects him! It won’t let him die, not until he slays the king and rains death on Camelot!”
I bit my tongue, not for the first time this day. The hall had witnessed many such words since the news of Mordred’s arrival. All over an unfounded—and unreliable—prophecy made decades ago. My steps clipped the stones, leaving the boorish speakers behind. How did they dare to speak thus? My brother was still a prince—the son of Queen Morgan LeFay of the Orkneys.
Light cascaded through the arched windows lining both sides of the hall. The ornate tapestries hanging between the windows depicted the accomplishments of the Round Table’s most prominent knights. With more training, I would one day join their ranks as a valuable asset to Camelot.
A stained-glass window displayed the image of a red, flaming dragon directly behind the throne, behind the mighty Pendragon himself—King Arthur. His stern eyes did not meet mine once, even as I stepped onto the dais and walked past him. I cast my gaze down as I took the less decorated seat to his right, studying the tiled floors and struggling to maintain a detached expression despite my churning stomach.

Merlin, the king’s advisor and my mentor, strode through the Great Hall toward us, his blue robes trailing behind him. As he passed the bystanders, they gave a respectful nod or bow. Before he assumed his place beside King Arthur, the white-haired wizard offered me a smile, which I returned. He bent toward my father’s ear, and the two murmured softly. I leaned in—not enough to be obvious—but could not hear what they were saying.

REVISION:

As I hurried down the castle’s vast stone corridor to meet my half-brother for the first time, his name echoed around me, whispered like a curse: Mordred.
The vaulted doorway of the Great Hall loomed ahead, and my steps slowed then stopped. Pushing back my shoulders and making my back straight, I marched toward the raised dais, careful to keep my pace steady. As calm and collected as a prince should be. My muscles strained as my legs urged me forward. Every step was still too fast. And the dais seemed so far away.
Armored Knights and soldiers had filled either side of the high-ceilinged hall, and I passed, my gaze focused ahead. Poisonous words infused the room, burning my ears and making my jaw set.
“How is that bastard still alive?” one said.
“Vermin never did die easy,” a knight said, sneering.
Yet another said in a trembling voice, “It’s the prophecy, I tell you! It protects him! It won’t let him die, not until he slays the king and rains death on Camelot as foretold!”
I bit my tongue, not for the first time this day. Such disrespect, all over an unfounded—and unreliable—prophecy made decades ago. My steps clipped the stones, leaving the boorish speakers behind. My brother was still a prince—the son of Queen Morgan LeFay of the Orkneys.
All of the rumors were whispers on the breeze compared to this resounding truth—I had to meet him, had to know my only brother.
Light cascaded through the arched windows lining both sides of the hall. The ornate tapestries hanging between the windows depicted the accomplishments of the Round Table’s most prominent knights. With more training, I would one day join their ranks as a valuable asset to Camelot and become more than a sheltered prince—a mere fixture on the castle walls.
A stained-glass window displayed the image of a red, flaming dragon directly behind the throne, behind the mighty Pendragon himself—King Arthur. My father. His stern eyes did not meet mine once, even as I stepped onto the dais and walked past him. I cast my gaze down as I took the less decorated seat to his right, studying the tiled floors and struggling to maintain a detached expression despite my churning stomach.
Merlin, the king’s advisor and my mentor, strode through the Great Hall toward us, his blue robes trailing behind him. As he passed the bystanders, they gave a respectful nod or bow.
Before he assumed his place beside King Arthur, the white-haired wizard approached me with a relaxed smile. “I trust you will be ready for training today, Vaeldhei? You’ve been unfocused as of late.”
Only since I received word of Mordred’s return. But I’d not let excitement prevent me from practicing my magic again. “Today will be different.”

            “Indeed.” His smile faded and his voice dropped an octave. “But we shall speak more later.” Then he walked toward the king, his steps slower. 

11 comments:

  1. Pitch:

    I like the framing and the voice, but it isn't giving me a lot of what's special about YOUR story. It feels familiar and in this kind of pitch you're looking for what's different.

    Pages:

    There's a lot of telling here, which I'm not one of those people who screams show don't tell, but I was at a convention recently and they kept invoking what they called "Emma Bull's Rule":

    Anything the reader figures out they'll remember better than anything you tell them.

    So this stuff about who he is and how he feels, how isolated and hopeful he is, is the kind of stuff that it's stronger to show because you're establishing character. Don't use it for unimportant things, but do consider evaluating how you can replace the straight up description with some loaded word choice and blocking.

    Hope this helps!

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  2. Pitch: This sounds like an exciting book. I’m assuming Prince Vael doesn’t know the truth about his bro until after they’re friends, right? Try removing the hedge of “may” have to kill for higher dramatic effect.

    500: King Arthur stories are so much fun! But since it is a retelling, you’ll have to work extra hard to make the story stand out and come alive in a new way. #bringiton

    The first couple of paragraphs are telling graphs. There’s really nothing wrong with telling, but modern YA is intolerant to explanations. The first two paragraphs here rush to explain things to the reader—characters, setting, motivation, conflict. If you’re trying to fit all that in the first two paragraphs, there’s going to be quite a bit of telling involved, haha!

    Personally I’d recommend simplifying. Stick to introducing Vael, some details about the setting, and (the critical difference) *showing* that he’s excited, without explaining the deeper motivations of his heart. (One of the best pieces of writing advice I got was to never explain to the reader what the characters are feeling. It should be obvious.)

    It feels like you hit your stride when you start talking about the prince’s stride (har har). The story immediately takes on an easier rhythm.

    The graph where we see King Arthur, and he doesn’t look at Vael…awwww. :( This moment endears me to his character and invests me in the story.

    I really like how the last paragraphs in this clip show the relationships Vael has with some important characters, even without having them speak to each other.

    Overall I think your biggest challenge will be making your retelling shine brighter than the others. Be bold and have fun. You have the makings of a great story here, great job!

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  3. Pitch: I agree with the others that your pitch still needs that defining element to separate it from the pack. Maybe add a note about why he has been isolated? And what it means to have a brother in his life now, and how being deceived by this connection he’s lacked impacts him?

    500 word: I love this idea of focusing on King Arthur’s son. I’m not too familiar with other Camelot related YA novels (although I did binge watch the BBC’s Merlin!), so to me that seems fresh!

    It does seem like a lot of info is given to you in such a quick span of words. I don’t think I’d present the reason behind everyone’s hesitation with Mordrid so soon. Even though most readers already know he has a villainous nature, I think it would be cool to keep the focus on Vael’s hopeful attitude towards his half-brother.

    Also I’d take out words that lessen the impact of a sentence, for example:
    “Likely no one else in Camelot shared my outlook….”

    I think saying it more definitively is more powerful: “No one else in Camelot shared my outlook.” That would add to his feelings of isolation.

    I hope this is helpful! Great job overall and I can’t wait to see where this goes!

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  4. Pitch: good, short and pithy, and even though it doesn't tell us a lot about the plot itself, the premise is interesting, it's got rhythm, and the last line is great. I'm guessing Vael is Arthur's son? My one suggestion is to replace the period at the end of "long lost brother" with a dash or comma. I feel like it would flow better that way. "Seventeen-year-old Prince Vael has spent much of his life in isolation, but he befriends his long-lost brother--A man who is destined to destroy his entire kingdom. A man he may have to kill."

    500 Words:

    "Surely he would not shun me as the others had"--interesting. I'm wondering why Vael's family is shunning him. I'm also curious as to whether by "others" he means other siblings, or just his family in general.

    "It won’t let him die, not until he slays the king and rains death on Camelot!”--I'm curious; if the prophesy says Mordred is going to kill Arthur, then why would Arthur invite him to his palace? And for that matter, why would Mordred come if he knows everybody hates him?

    "I would one day join their ranks as a valuable asset to Camelot."--I like this. It hints that his father sees him more as an asset than a person, which fits with why he feels lonely and unloved.

    "Merlin, the king’s advisor and my mentor, strode through the Great Hall toward us, his blue robes trailing behind him. "--interesting. In all the adaptions I've seen, Merlin is an old man when Arthur is a teenager or in his 20s. Maybe your version is different, if he's still alive by the time Arthur's son is 17.

    "the son of Queen Morgan LeFay of the Orkneys"--I thought Morgan was Arthur's sister. Maybe it's different if your version. (I really hope so. I don't think incest is quite accepted in YA as much as in adult fiction.)

    Overall, I think this is an interesting piece, and the relationship between Mordred and Vael is a unique twist that should be fun to see unfold. The voice sounds kind of formal and older, like traditional high fantasy, which this seems like it is (the voice sounds Tolkien-ish, as opposed to the more contemporary YA fantasy like the Mortal Instruments books and the like). That's personally not my preference, but I think others will like it. Good work and good luck!



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  5. To start off, I haven't read a Camelot story in a while, but I would echo Ash with the unique (but hopefully welcome) challenge of making it distinct from other Arthur tales out there. I love them but they have to shine with something special.
    As for the pitch, maybe reworking some of the pieces a bit? You have good parts, but I'd move them around until the combo fits in the most dramatic way. Here's a sample:
    After spending most of his life in isolation, 17 yr old Vael finally gains a friend, but it's a man destined to destroy the kingdom, his half-brother he might have to kill.

    I think your strongest paragraphs are the final two...and my main suggestion, in addition to the great feedback you've already received, would be maybe put a version of those first? Start with Vael already waiting on the dais, tense but excited, almost squirming. The cold indifference of Arthur, the warm welcome of Merlin...the light from the windows, the gossip all around him. Run through those key moments, but instead of walking there, it's a sense of observation as he's wrapped in anticipation. And definitely highlight the line about the round table, and him wanting not just a spot there, but an honored spot because he did something(s) noble.
    I love the idea of Mordred being basically universally loathed/feared and the young prince, desperate for companionship, not only giving him the benefit of the doubt but seeking genuine relationship. Great set-up for tension and forcing the MC to make difficult decisions.

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  6. Pitch: This sounds like a cool idea, but I think the pitch should definitely mention that it’s inspired by King Arthur’s court! It’s evident from the title, but it’s still a great hook that would be worth elaborating on in the pitch, particularly about how this story is going to be different from other stories about King Arthur and Merlin etc.

    500 words:
    Your opening is well written and easy to read, and I like the main conflict that is set up in the first few lines with the introduction of Mordred to the court. It makes me interested to know why Vael is so willing to befriend a stranger that everyone else thinks is evil. Vael’s motivation might be strengthened a bit by showing a few more hints of his isolation that is mentioned in the pitch. The people around the court dismiss Mordred, but do they treat Vael the same way? Is this why he sympathises with Mordred? I don’t think it would take much, just a few little suggestions to help the reader understand why Mordred’s potential friendship means so much to Vael.

    It would also be good if there was a little more information about who Vael is in the opening paragraphs. I don’t think it’s mentioned that the main character is a boy or what his name is. It could also be clearer that he is King Arthur’s son, as the first time King Arthur is mentioned, he’s described as “the mighty Pendragon himself” where it would be more natural for Vael to think of him as father, as he does in the rest of the paragraphs. Again, it would only take a couple of little changes to make this clearer.

    Overall I really like this idea and I think it’s a good start to a chapter :-)

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  7. Hi!!

    Remember that all crits are subjective and that you are welcome to use or dismiss mine as you see fit for your story! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Good pitch!! Strong stakes going on there.

    Your first five hundred is an easy smooth read. However, I have some tips to polish it into professional perfection. For one, you have a lot of sentences with body parts taking a life of their own. Don't do that. The literalist zombie-fic lovers will read it literally (her eyes dropped to the table is the classic example) and it puts your MC in a more passive position. In your first few pages, you don't want your MC to be passive, even in relation to their own body parts.

    Secondly, I think you could add a lot of suspense by not saying who is coming. Sure, mention it's his half brother in the first sentence, but maybe hide that it's Mordred until he comes into the room. Your Arthurian nerd readers will guess correctly probably, but everyone else will be like "WHO, WHO, WHO?" like a bunch of excited owls. They'll want to turn the page.

    I'm going to guess from your MC's voice that this is Upper MG. If not, maybe consider maturing and strengthening your MC's voice so that there's no real doubt that this is a teenage guy speaking.

    Otherwise, great job!! It's the definitely the right place to start! Happy writing :D

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  8. Pitch: Dramatic, but maybe make it flow a bit more, with Vael's emotions added to the opening? That could help anchor us, too.

    500: I think there's a lot here that could be cut or saved for later. I had so much of the same type of thing in my draft, too, and it took several times combing through to tighten it (and I'm sure it's still not perfect!). I think it would be more intriguing to just have people whispering about the brother. Yes, we want to get to know our protagonist, but maybe save the explanations and his specific views for a bit later, to draw us in? You could even keep some of the feelings, just trim them, leave them a little cryptic. I'm a sucker for that kind of tantalizing opening.

    But I think you chose a strong starting point. I can just feel the tension and coming conflict. This sounds like a really cool premise, with the two brothers. I'm writing an Arthurian story as well, so maybe I'm biased, ha. I love your descriptions of the castle, the stained-glass dragon, and how Arthur doesn't look at Vael. Great start!

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  9. Hi Kelly!

    Well, this is right in my wheelhouse as I'm a huge fan of anything Camelot-related. I think your decision to tell a story about Arthur's sons really makes your story unique--capitalize on that as much as you can! The descriptions of Camelot as a court full of back-biting gossipers and of Arthur as a stern and distant figure piqued my interest--you're differing from the standard Camelot fare, of the court as a place full of chivalrous nobles and Arthur as a kind, benevolent figure. I LOVE that.

    I do agree with some of the previous critiques which point out that you're doing a lot of telling instead of showing. Doing so tends to distance your reader--while I loved the setting and the way you're changing the expectations we have of Camelot, I didn't feel very invested in Vael, or like I had much of a connection with him. If you can find a way to strengthen his voice and to really make us *feel* what he feels along with him, as opposed to just telling us what his emotions are, this opening would be incredibly solid. Sorry I don't have very specific advice as to how to accomplish that--as the writer, it's just one of those things you'll have to work out yourself!

    Thanks so much for sharing your words. What interesting take on the traditional Camelot legend!

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  10. Charis M. EllisonJuly 2, 2016 at 12:54 AM

    I think your pitch is a good start, but the way it's punctuated feels a little strange. At first I thought 'A man' was introducing a third person. You might consider '...until he befriends his long-lost brother--a man destined to destroy his enire kingdom. A man he may have to kill.'
    Your pitch doesn't give any indication that this is Arthurian, although I'm not sure if that's good or bad? (I've been warned that fairy-tale retellings are a hard sell, maybe Arthuriana is too?)

    I think that your opening is great! The voice and descriptions are all really good, and the pacing feels solid so far.
    I was surprised that we're in Camelot--because of the isolation mentioned in the pitch I was prepped for the setting to some rural castle where Prince Vael had been raised in banishment or something similar. That's not a problem necessarily, just an observation.

    Great job! Best of luck <3

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  11. Hi, Kelly! Awesome concept of retelling!

    Pitch: Like others before me have stated, the pitch needs more polishing to stand out among the crowd of other retelling. What is it about your story that's different from others, that the readers won't find in other retelling books? Show us that in the pitch. Retellings are harder than other books considering so many are being written now.

    500 words: Contrary to others, I don't think yours told more than showed. Though I'd have liked to meet Mordred already, now that I'm two pages into your story. I'd like to meet Mordred myself and judge him myself.

    Another thing that stood out to me was Vael being a black sheep in his family. Why is he? Is he not as talented as his father? Show us.

    Otherwise I'd love to read more of it. Best of luck with revisions!

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