Sunday, December 7, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Manning Rev 1

Name: Katharine Manning
Genre: MG fantasy
Title: THE GREAT WOODS


This is a story I don’t like to tell. Not for how it starts – the beginning is lovely, fun and magical. But for what happens next – for the grief, and the dying. For what I did and all it caused. But you’ve asked, and so I’ll tell you.

It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. I was out in the field behind my grandparents’ house with my little brother, Billy. We were chasing fireflies. Billy never catches them, he’s too jumpy, but I know the secret: Find a good one, and stick with it.

I had a good one. It was swollen from the hot day, flying low and lazy. I held tight to the blue jar my father gave me – one of the few things I brought with me from Chicago – and crept up to it. I reached for it, but it at the last second it darted right and past the shed. I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes. You’re not getting away that easy, mister, I thought.

I followed the firefly into the woods. Little sticks and sharp pebbles replaced the soft July grass under my bare feet. I looked everywhere for that flashing yellow light.

“Jen-ny,” Billy called. I smiled, but left him behind. I left them all behind – my grumpy grandparents and their boring old house, my parents a million miles away. I only had eyes for that firefly.

It flashed just past a low bush. It was close, I could get it. I tiptoed toward it. It sparked and like that was a signal, I launched myself over the bush. I came down hard in a mess of leaves and legs and dirty red ponytail. The firefly looped off unharmed. I smirked at myself. Billy wasn’t the only jumpy one.

I got up and brushed myself off. That was when I noticed that I’d torn my skirt. Darn. It was my very favorite skirt, long and purple with silver threads running through it. I got when I was nine, two years earlier, and Mom kept wanting to throw it out, but I liked how soft it was. Well, maybe Gran could sew it up for me.

I tucked the jar into my pocket and looked around. I was farther into the woods than I’d thought. I had to get back. Gran told Billy and me the woods were off-limits when we arrived. Of course, everything interesting was off-limits here – the barn, the shed, the attic. Three weeks here in Maine and I hadn’t seen anything more exciting than The Price is Right.

The forest sure was pretty. The sun was going down and it made the green leaves look almost golden. They waved like butterflies as I walked. I inhaled the smell, like pine needles and honeysuckle, and tried to hold it inside. Maybe I could stay for a minute longer.

The woods here were different from the ones back home. They seemed older. The trees were knotted as Grandpa’s knuckles. It got a little darker as I got farther into the forest and the leaves got thicker overhead. There were some purple flowers snuggled in the roots of a tree that split in two and grew over itself like crossed fingers. They were so pretty, like little purple stars. I bent down to pick a few for my hair, but then I heard a noise in the bush to my right. I thought it might be a squirrel, or maybe a chipmunk. What I didn’t expect was a little person. Really little, like the size of a kindergartener, but her face wasn’t a kindergartener’s. It was like an old woman’s, with deep wrinkles. She had messy gray hair that fell thick past her shoulders and clothes that blended in with the bush around her.

It was such a shock I just stood there. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know who on Earth she was or how she got there so fast. Then she spoke, in a voice was low and grumbly as a lawnmower. “Ah, ye came. Knew you would, knew you would. Best go now, can’t wait.”

I straightened up, so I was looking down on the little woman. I’m not tall – I was the second shortest in my sixth grade class, and only had Winnie by half an inch – but I tried to look as big as I could. I said in a strong, brave girl voice, “Who are you?”

“Name’s Magda,” she said. She was fussing with her hands and her dark eyes kept looking around us. “I’m a Keeper. Elf, you call it. Must come now, ‘e’s hurt.”

An elf? Well, she’s a silly little one. Was she trying to be funny? She was probably a dwarf. That’s what they were actually called, right? And she wanted me to come help someone? That was ridiculous. I wasn’t even supposed to be there. I should turn right around and go back to the house. I looked back at the house - the boring old house where nothing ever happened and no one did anything.

“He needs you, no time to wait,” the woman said, and she turned and walked away.

I stood there for a moment, playing with my horseshoe necklace. She was asking for my help. She didn’t seem dangerous. And this was certainly interesting. I’d been stuck in that house for so long with my annoying brother and barely a word from my parents. A little adventure wouldn’t be so awful, right?

I’d go. Just to see, just for a minute. I wouldn’t go far, and then I’d come right back. Billy wouldn’t even miss me. I gave my necklace a quick kiss for luck and ran after.


She was fast, this little one. She seemed to glide over fallen tree trunks and through bushes. I stumbled along, trying to keep up. A branch scraped my face and stung my cheek, but I kept going. Magda kept pestering me to go faster, to keep up with her. “Come, now! Almost there, almost there.”

“Where are we going?” I called out to her.

“Going to Kharoun,” she answered. “Old nag. Never stays where he’s supposed to. Got ‘imself caught.”

“Who?” Who were these people? Kharoun? Magda? Were they foreign? Where was she taking me?

“You’ll see, you’ll see. Move along. Got sap in your legs, eh?” She made a sound like a car engine backing up that I realized after a moment must be laughter.

It was getting dark. I slowed down. I was going too far, this was too much. Billy must have noticed I was gone by now, and maybe he’d even told Gran and Grandpa. I was going to be in such trouble. My stomach hurt at the thought of it. Gran and Grandpa were really strict. I got in trouble the second day just for grabbing some chips before dinner. I had to go back. This little woman and whatever help she needed – well, she’d have to figure it out on her own.

I turned around. I didn’t know where to go, though. We weren’t on a trail, and all I could see were trees and more trees. I didn’t even have a flashlight. What was I thinking following a stranger into the woods?

I turned back toward Magda. It took a second to find her slipping through a honeysuckle bush. Then I noticed a light shining beyond her. A clearing, maybe. The moon must be up. Was that it?

7 comments:

  1. Hi Katharine. Definitely intrigued by the new opening. "What I did and all it caused"....now I'm dying to know what happens.

    I liked the switch from 3rd person to first. I think that definitely helped me get a better idea of who Jenny is. Great job on that! I loved the "I hadn't seen anything more exciting than The Price is Right" line. Great voice there. I would have loved to have seen more of that, so I could figure out her intentions and motivations better. For example, when Billy calls her name and she smiles but leaves him behind....why is she smiling? Because she loves her baby brother and that he's calling for her? Is it a smirk at his childishness. etc? Just a few little tweaks and showing us a bit of her would really make this pop. For some reason (and it could be just me) but I was really curious as to her relationship with her brother. Is she protective, especially now that they're somewhere her parents aren't, or is he just annoying the mess out of her and she begrudgingly watches over him?

    Great job on the revision. This is good!

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  2. Katharine - I love the switch to first person! The beginning intrigues me and gives a darker foreshadow that I didn't catch in the first post. I like that a lot. My only suggestions would be to show more than tell and tighten up some of the description. There were parts I found myself skimming. Overall, you've done a wonderful job with your revision!

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  3. Katharine, Great job! Love it in 1st! There are still sections with too much telling, but with a little tightening you'll be on to something special.

    Minor things: (looking at one paragraph here)

    "I had a good one. It was swollen from the hot day, flying low and lazy. I held tight to the blue jar my father gave me – one of the few things I brought with me from Chicago – and crept up to it. I reached for it, but it at the last second it darted right and past the shed. I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes. You’re not getting away that easy, mister, I thought."


    'I brought with me from Chicago' can easily be changed to 'I brought from Chicago' so you're not repeating 'me' too often: "I held tight to the blue jar my father gave me – one of the few things I brought from Chicago – and crept up to it."

    Small things like that make a big difference.

    'it darted right and past the shed' makes perfect sense...but reads oddly since 'it darted right past the shed' also makes perfect sense. 'it darted right' makes perfect sense. You've created an action that has a few different 'visual' clues in the reader and anytime you can simplify things you should. 'it darted past the shed' is fine, since we really don't need to know the direction. You're telling too much.

    'I thought' is never ever needed* in 1st person POV (*there are exceptions to every rule, of course).

    Finally, there are 6 sentences in this paragraph. FOUR of them start with the word 'I'

    As I said, with a little tightening this'll be great, but there are little things you need to keep an eye on. Believe me when I tell you these are mistakes I've made, and only after a TON of revising are they things I now 'see' in my writing. Unfortunately, I'm not actually at the point where I don't still make the same mistakes. I just fix them :)

    Fixing the mistakes is what the revision/editing process is all about. And what I've learned is that every single time I fix something, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem, it makes my writing better.

    Best of luck with this!!!

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  4. Katharine-

    I really like your opening sentence. Clearly this is going to be a story filled with conflict and emotion. Good job. Think about taking out the word “lovely’ from the first paragraph. It’s not a word American kids would use. Besides, fun and magical are intriguing enough.

    “I held tight to the blue jar my father gave me – one of the few things I brought with me from Chicago – and crept up to it. I reached for it, but it at the last second it darted right and past the shed.” Remember that the pronoun ‘it’ should refer back to the previous noun, in this case that’s ‘blue jar’. Replace the first ‘it’ with the word ‘firefly’ for a more clear sentence. Yes, I know what you meant but a reader should never be yanked out of a story to wonder. Then go back and count how many times you’ve used the word ‘it’ in the first five pages!

    “Little sticks and sharp pebbles replaced the soft July grass under my bare feet.” This is really a nice description and makes me feel I’m there too!

    “Of course, everything interesting was off-limits here – the barn, the shed, the attic.” This is great! I really get an idea of who Jenny is, and it hints at an adventure to come. You have so many wonderful descriptions. ‘The trees were knotted as Grandpa’s knuckles’ is another one.

    Jenny is clearly off on an adventure, which is a great way to start a novel. Nice work!

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  5. Hi! GREAT job switching the POV. I'm glad you liked first better. I usually prefer that myself. ;) I think you can get even deeper in places. I love that someone else pointed out how awesome the "Price is Right" line is! More please!

    I have to admit I prefer the second paragraph as the opening. I feel like the first paragraph is just exposition. Drop us right in the story and capture us with your MC.

    In this paragraph: "I smiled, but left him behind. I left them all behind – my grumpy grandparents and their boring old house, my parents a million miles away. I only had eyes for that firefly." I want to know WHY? What was it that made her focus on the firefly and decide to ignore what they said? We don't know if she does this sort of thing all the time (running off, not listening, etc.) or if this is new? Was there hesitation? Or was there a straw that broke the camel's back? Did her brother say something extra annoying for example? Was she thinking about her parents and got angry? IDK just some thoughts. A little internal monologue now that you have the story in her head is just what the doctor ordered. :D

    Great revision!!!

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  6. I love the switch in POV – wonderful job! Like Lisa, I prefer starting with the second paragraph. The first one does hint at things to come – but we lose the immediacy as she reflects back on a time in her life:

    This is a story I don’t like to tell. Not for how it starts – the beginning is lovely, fun and magical. But for what happens next – for the grief, and the dying. For what I did and all it caused. But you’ve asked, and so I’ll tell you.

    Also – words like lovely take me right out of the middle grade voice. And really, the beginning isn’t lovely fun and magical – it’s mysterious! And that’s a good thing!
    I like the hints you give us about everything being off limits – but I think you can amp that up. My weirdly obsessive gran who keeps a padlock on the attic door – that type of interior thoughts/questions can give us more of your MC, let us hear her voice, and also add to the intrigue.

    I agree with Peter that this can still use some tightening. And like Peter, I still make these mistakes! I find if I read my pages out loud I catch more of them. Take this paragraph:

    It flashed just past a low bush. It was close, I could get it. I tiptoed toward it. It sparked and like that was a signal, I launched myself over the bush. I came down hard in a mess of leaves and legs and dirty red ponytail. The firefly looped off unharmed. I smirked at myself. Billy wasn’t the only jumpy one.

    In addition to too many “I”s, it is too much of a blow by blow. I did x and then y and then z. If you change it to:

    The dragonfly flashed just past a low bush, sparkling like a signal. It was almost within reach. Holding my breath, I tiptoed forward, and with hands outstretched launched myself over the bush. I came down hard in a mess of leaves and legs and a dirty red ponytail. The firefly looped off unharmed. I guess Billy wasn’t the only jumpy one.

    The flow is improved, and the reader is more present in the story. Also, I smirked to myself doesn’t sound natural – most people don’t think about their expression like that.

    You are off to a great start! I can’t wait to see what you do with it next week!

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  7. I love:
    POV shift-I'm more attached to the character.
    The beginning really has me hooked. I love the curiosity it has inspired.
    I really like how your MC now questions the fact that she's leaving with a stranger. I think it's more realistic now and flows better.

    I still think the meeting with Magda needs more shock. Not where she tells us she is shocked, but let her actions show us. Also, she is in the middle of a forest alone and sees a creepy-ish old dwarf woman standing there. I'd have a heart attack while scary music played in my head. I want to see that side more than the too-calm at first.

    Nit-picky things:
    "The beginning is lovely, fun and magical.": I'm an Oxford comma person, so I'd love to see a comma after fun. Or take out the lovely, since most Americans don't use it that much (though I try to).

    "Billy never catches them,": Instead of a comma, use a semicolon here. It is between two complete thoughts.

    "I got __ when I was nine.": You missed the 'it'.

    Excellent revisions; I can't wait for the next!!

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