Critique Group – Spectrum


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Spectrum, Book The First, Heartborn Chronicles – by Amy

Spectrum willed her heart to still as she peeked out of the sparse thicket. A small Tillke dragon was timidly creeping into the light, his green eyes darting around and changing shades rapidly. His six-winged body was changing color almost as quickly to match his surroundings, and sometimes Spectrum had to concentrate to see where the dragon started and the underbrush stopped. At the moment he was a dusty brown to match the forest floor.

The size of his wings and the length of his tail told her he was about three years old, and the shining green eyes signified that he was male. With his age he probably had a mate nearby.

The Tillke spotted the pile of bitterrum seeds she had laid out, and tentatively sidled up to the snack, using two of his sparkling eyes to keep watch, and the lower two to pay attention to the food.

His two tongues flickered out and brought one seed at a time to his scaly lips. His head was about the size of Spectrum’s, though he didn’t have her frenzied hair. If he stretched out he would be about her length, but on all fours he only came to her knees, she estimated.

Spectrum could never describe the feeling that came over her when she was with dragons. It was not a fantastic thrill, nor was it a awed fear. It was more or less a calm respect, and a confusing feeling of ultimate belonging.

The one time she had tried to describe the feeling to her mother she had been laughed out of the house. “Oh, Spec, you are so ridiculous! To think that you of all plain girls could tame or even ride a dragon is fantasy! You have no special talents, I’ll be the first to say!” Her mother had cackled. So Spectrum had pretended that the mockery hadn’t stung, and resolved to never tell anyone again. Except Brin.

The Tillke raised his snout in the air, sniffed deeply, then turned in her direction. His nostrils flared, and Spec knew she was spotted.

She quickly willed that hidden corner of her heart and mind to activate, and she straightened where she crouched. Calm, beautiful music flowed from her heart into the air around her, and immediately the Tillke started to purr. Spec also felt her heart purring and thrumming. The strange inspired feeling coursed through her, gently infiltrating her veins and her brain. Soon she could see the music, the sad notes a beautiful bleeding blue.

The joyous strings painted the air with bright yellows and oranges. The graceful, relaxing parts were shimmering greens. And lastly, the passionate and emotional-filled pieces were flaming reds and pinks.

The raw music surrounded the two, veiling the outside world. Now it was just Spectrum and the entranced dragon. Spec herself felt entranced.

She remembered Aunty Grace saying, “Of all the things that enchant dragons, music is the strongest. That is why all musical instruments were burned, for witches and warriors with evil hearts used them to control and influence the dragons. They were quelled by the few Taltnar warrior dragons, the lords of all dragons. The Taltnar themselves make music, and it cannot enchant them.”

Spec had been scared of her talent since them. But today is different. Today I turn fifteen, and it is well time I master my unnatural blessing…or curse.

The Tillke was still purring, eyes wide, scaly ears pricked forward.

Spec stood gradually, still crafting the beautiful notes. The Tillke’s trance flickered for barely a second, then refocused. Spec slowly lowered her hood, and then she knew she had the Tillke’s full loyalty. His green eyes flashed as they darted over her colorful hair.

Spec smiled as she watched the creature. It was so innocent, so enraptured and excited.

She could see her rainbow hair reflected in his eyes. Her silver eyes flashed back at her.

The passion was flowing through her, and she knew she was quaking from the emotions.

Overwhelmed, she stopped the music and yanked her hood back on.

In a flash the dragon was gone, and only the shrunken pile of bitterrum seeds evidenced his presence. Spec stood gasping, heart feeling shredded and raw. It always felt like closing a door on someone she loved and hated, when she stopped the music. I must practice more, or I will always feel like I’m drowning in my talent. I must learn to master it, lest it master me.




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17 replies

  1. Amy,

    A story with a mysterious and amazing creature is a good idea. Your descriptions are vivid and fun, and Spectrum’s powers are intriguing. You handle a lot of writing techniques quite well.

    One issue that concerned me is the lack of revealing of Spectrum’s purpose at the beginning. Why was she attracting the Tillke? We get some idea later, that she was practicing her gift, but even then I was wondering why she was practicing.

    I don’t know what it means to drown in her talent, and I see no sign that she might be mastered by her talent except for a vague reference to being overwhelmed. How could that happen? Why was stopping like closing the door on someone she loved and hated? Why was her heart shredded and raw? Since she wasn’t really overwhelmed and was able to stop when necessary, none of her worries made sense to me.

    Also, because we aren’t introduced to Spectrum before this scene, you had to drop into back story quotes a couple of times, interrupting the progress of the story.

    I would like to see Spectrum at home trying to exercise her gift and facing the problems you mentioned so readers can see the trouble before she sets out to try to solve the trouble. Show her vulnerabilities, such as really being overwhelmed so that someone has to pull her out of her reverie because she is literally causing damage. Maybe she comes close to revealing her power, and that risks danger from those who would persecute her.

    Then show verbal abuse from her mother. Just explaining it in a back story quote isn’t as powerful. In other words, show us her ordinary world with its challenges.

    After that, when Spectrum sets out on her quest to master her gift, readers will sympathize with her and understand her purpose as she scatters the seeds and hopes for the appearance of a Tillke. As it stands, I didn’t care about her or her quest at all.

    Now for a few details. For the most part, you did a good job, so I will mention only a few items that stood out and let others point out the rest.

    In the first two paragraphs, you used “was” five times. Usually “was” (or “were”) indicates a weak verb phrase that can be made better: “was timidly creeping” can be “crept.” The verb itself and his body language show his timidity.

    Instead of “was changing color” you could write “his six-winged body’s color transformed almost as quickly” and that avoids repeating a form of “changing.” Instead of “he was a dusty brown,” maybe “At the moment, his dusty brown skin (or scales) matched the forest floor.”

    A phrase like “Spectrum had to concentrate” sounds like a narrator and removes readers from the intimacy of the moment. I suggest: “Spectrum squinted. Where did the dragon stop and the underbrush stop? The hues blended in perfectly.”


    The size of his wings and the length of his tail told her he was about three years old, and the shining green eyes signified that he was male. With his age he probably had a mate nearby.

    “Told her” is another narrator phrase, and you have another “was.” You also gave no hint for how big the wings are or how long the tail is. Also, “with his age” sounded a bit odd. I suggest the following:

    His wingspan, four or five handbreadths, and his tail, perhaps twice that, indicated an age of three years. She focused on his eyes—green. A male. Considering his age, he likely had a mate nearby.


    Spectrum could never describe the feeling that came over her when she was with dragons. It was not a fantastic thrill, nor was it a awed fear. It was more or less a calm respect, and a confusing feeling of ultimate belonging.

    It’s kind of jarring to read that Spectrum could never describe something and then she describes it. Also, “Spectrum could never describe” is a narrator phrase. It is better to show this by having her attempt to describe it and then become frustrated at the effort.

    As I indicated earlier, I would delete the back story with her mother and show it in Spectrum’s ordinary-world scene.

    Watch out for more narrator phrases, like “she estimated” “Spectrum knew” “Spec also felt her heart” “she could see.” Show these happening. Just have her estimate. If she mentally states something, then we know she knows it. Describe the feeling, then we’ll know she feels it. Describe the visual, and we’ll know she sees it. Taking out the narrator phrases increases intimacy and makes readers feel inside her skin.

    The joyous strings painted the air with bright yellows and oranges. The graceful, relaxing parts were shimmering greens. And lastly, the passionate and emotional-filled pieces were flaming reds and pinks.

    This is a good opportunity to avoid the weak “were” phrases as well as vague nouns. Try this:

    Joyous strings painted the air with bright yellows and oranges. Graceful, relaxing hums splashed the foliage with shimmering greens. And passionate crescendos blazed across the forest in flaming reds and pinks.

    I took out “emotion-filled” because I thought “passionate” meant the same thing. Sometimes less is more. I also removed uses of “the.” I think it reads better that way. “Lastly” seemed unnecessary, because it is clear that this is mentioned last.

    Just a couple of more notes:

    “Spec herself felt entranced.” Show her being entranced. Don’t just tell us.

    “She remembered” is another narrator phrase. Just raise the memory.

    I would try to put the thoughts of Aunty Grace somewhere in the ordinary-world scene I mentioned earlier, along with the potential danger of Spectrum’s gifts. Show the danger. Don’t just mention it in a memory.

    “Spec had been scared” is another “telling” narrator phrase. When you show the danger, show Spec’s fear. Don’t just report it.

    “she knew she had” and “She could see” are narrator phrases. Just show what she knows and sees. Don’t tell us that she knows and sees.

    Next: The passion was flowing through her, and she knew she was quaking from the emotions.

    You can avoid these “was” phrases. Show the emotions. “As passion flowed through bones, joints, and sinews, her arms and legs trembled. Heat coursed across her skin—delight. Pure delight. Could heaven itself be so rapturous?”

    Next: “Overwhelmed, she stopped the music and yanked her hood back on.”

    Why would being overwhelmed incite her to stop? Being overwhelmed means that she can’t control what she is doing? She wouldn’t be able to stop.

    Amy, you’re a good writer. If you employ some of these hints, I think this will be a fantastic story.

    • Thanks so much! I’ll for sure work on that. I didn’t notice how often I wrote as narrator. You did a thorough, insightful critiquing, as always. Thanks!
      I guess I meant in those places that she was BEGINNING to feel overwhelmed.
      I think I tend to narrate memories and past experiences because half my brain wants to get to the action sooner. 🙂

  2. Wow! You’ve got me entranced! I want to hear more and learn about Spectrum, her abilities and these wondrous beasts! Excellent work! 😀

    • Quick question though… You said that once the dragon saw Spectrum’s hair she had its full loyalty, but when the music stopped and she pulled her hood up, it immediately disappeared. I would have thought that loyalty would make it a friend for life, and not be limited only to its time enchantment. Maybe use a different word…?

    • Thanks so much! This is a mega-series I’m really excited about. 🙂

  3. Amy, I loved how descriptive it is! It painted a very vivid picture in my mind, while still leaving a lot I didn’t understand in order to keep my interest. Your creativity is evident in not only the idea of the story itself, but also the way you tell it. 😊 I really enjoyed reading it!

  4. Just like all of your books these few paragraphs were amazing. I can’t wait to see where this story ends up. I love your books and read them so much. I think she should fight not with a sword or bow but with a harp, lyre, or flute. Wish me good luck because tomorrow I go to my state championship science fair!!!!!!! Once again I really love all of your books

  5. Good job! Your descriptions are very vivid and natural. I was able to get a clear picture in my mind of the Tillke and the surroundings. One thing continuity wise was you started by calling her Spectrum then shifted to Spec after she called herself that. I would suggest you start by calling her Spec since she thinks of herself that way, then when she talks to herself say Spectrum since it’s an important moment. I’m a little confused how the music is heard by the Tillke. Is the music coming out of her in an osmosis way or does she sing? In the last paragraph you say Spec always felt this way, but there’s no specific mention of her using her gift with other dragons. You have her emotions when she’s around dragons but we don’t know what she’s done with the dragons. It sounds like she’s never tried because of the fear her aunt instilled in her. Over all though it was well done and I hope to read more.

  6. Amy, great job on the story, I enjoyed it, especially having dragons in it. =)

    • Thanks. 🙂 I’m using this book to explore into my imagination when it comes to hundreds of types of draconic creatures. 🙂 Glad you like it.

  7. I adored this piece! I really liked the description of the dragon! it’s unique and different, and it definitely catches me. Her powers of music and how they affect dragons is intriguing as well. If this were a book I just picked up, I would definitely keep reading!


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