Sunday, December 14, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Manning Rev 2

Name: Katharine Manning
Genre: MG fantasy

This is a story I don’t like to tell. Not for how it starts – the beginning is exciting, 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 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 from Chicago – and crept up to the firefly. I reached for it, but it darted past the shed. I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes. You’re not getting away that easy, mister.

I followed the firefly into the woods. Little sticks and sharp pebbles replaced the soft July grass under my bare feet. That should have been a sign – the woods knew I didn’t belong there, and tried to urge me away. I didn’t feel that then, though, or didn’t care. I clattered into that hallowed place without a thought for anything but a tiny flashing light.

 “Jen-ny,” Billy called. He was nine, two years younger than me, and always wanted me near, especially now that our parents were so far away. I felt no such tether to my little brother, and left him behind.  I left them all behind – my grumpy grandparents and their boring old house, my parents a million miles away.

The firefly 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 guess Billy wasn’t the only jumpy one.

As I got up and brushed myself off, I saw that I’d torn my skirt. Darn. It was my very favorite skirt, long and purple with silver threads running through it. It was nearly threadbare 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 in Maine and I hadn’t seen anything more exciting than The Price is Right.

The forest sure was pretty, though. 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.

These woods 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 grew thick overhead. Some purple flowers nestled 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. Just then, though, I heard a noise in the bush to my right.

I gasped. I had expected a squirrel, maybe, or a bird. Instead, there was a person. She was really smal, the size of a kindergartener, but her face wasn’t a kindergartener’s. It was an old woman’s, with deep wrinkles. She had messy gray hair that fell in thick ropes past her shoulders and clothes that blended in with the bush around her. Her dark brown eyes watched me intently

I froze. How did she get there so fast? Then she spoke, in a voice 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 class, and only had Winnie by half an inch – but I tried to look as big as I could. I tightened my ponytail and said in a strong, brave girl voice, “Who are you?”

“Name’s Magda,” she said. She was fussing with her hands and 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. 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. Magda kept pestering me to go faster. “Come, now! Almost there, almost there.”

“Where are we going?” I called 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. I was going too far. 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 looked back toward Magda. It took a second to find her slipping through a honeysuckle bush. A light shone beyond her. A clearing, maybe. The moon must be up. Was that it? Were we there?


  1. Hi Katherine - great job on the rewrite! Jenny's voice is shining through, and you've given us a good taste of who she is in these pages.

    Loved the "That should have been a sign - the woods knew I didn't belong there" line! I love how it hints of bad things to come.

    Congrats on such a great rewrite!

  2. Katharine - you've done such a wonderful job with your revisions! So many wonderful additions to this post! The only thing I'd suggest would be to read lots of middle grade fiction. Jenny's voice is such an improvement from your first post, but sometimes it still feels a bit old to me. Just my opinion. I think overall, this is great and a topic MG readers will love! Best of luck with this!

  3. Katharine-

    Your first paragraph is much improved. It packs a lot of emotion into a short amount of space and compels me to read on. “The woods knew I didn’t belong there”. Nice. The next sentence is a bit awkward with “that then, though” all in a row. Try to avoid “that” whenever possible. And the sentence isn’t really needed anyway.

    “That hallowed place”. What hallowed place? Are you referring back to the woods or some other place?

    “Three weeks in Maine and I hadn’t seen anything more exciting than The Price is Right.” I just love this sentence but I’m wondering if kids even know about the Price is Right? You might have to add something like “Gran’s favorite TV show”.

    You’ve used the word “seemed” three times. Remember to show how things ARE not how they SEEM. It makes for stronger writing to just let a verb speak for itself. Then go back and count how many times you’ve used “was” or “were”. Sometimes it’s certainly necessary and fine, but can you replace a few with an action verb?

    As for the storyline, you’ve got a lot of things going on that middle-grade readers look for in a story. Magic. Boring grandparents. A thirst for adventure. Unicorns!!! I think if you tighten up your sentence structure your natural storytelling ability will shine through.

    Best of luck!

  4. Katharine, this is really starting to come together wonderfully. There's so much detail you've got in here. I'd now strongly suggest you read this whole thing out loud. Some of the sentences are a little clunkier than they need to be and I think you'll start picking them out if you read it out loud. Especially things like 'that then, though' as previously mentioned (and yes, do a search in your manuscript for words like 'that' and try to get rid of as many as possible...I've actually put together a list of words I use in first drafts that I do searches on to get rid of them. Highly recommend keeping your own list of words you might overuse).

    I'm not a huge fan of your very first paragraph, but can't really put into words why that is. It just seems a little unnecessary I guess.

    All in all, this is fabulous. LOVE Jenny, great job with her!

  5. Katharine you've done a wonderful job with this revision! I love the details you've added, such as the ominous shift from grass to wood, the knotted trees like her grandfather's knuckles - wonderful! Read this aloud and look for words you don't need and cut mercilessly - the reader doesn't need to know the bush is to the right, for example.

    I still think the voice needs some work. At times it is shining through clearly - but at other times it seems older than 11, and a bit distant, almost as if looking back on this event. Voice is so hard to nail. My best advice is pick a fantasy or adventure book with a similar aged protagonist, and read it primarily for voice.

    Best of luck with this revision - it is off to an exciting start!

  6. Hi Katharine! this is my first time reading this, and I did not read the previous drafts.
    You have a real talent for description. I got a sense very quickly of the woods, and what Magda and Jenny looked like. You also have an exciting beginnign of your story.
    My one big concern is the voice--this slips between sounding like MG, YA and adult. That first paragraph sounds more YA than MG. This: "I clattered into that hallowed place without a thought for anything but a tiny flashing light." Sounds adult. You have several other places where the voice does not sound MG. MG is the hardest voice to get right, so please don't get frustrated.
    One other small concern: Jenny calling the elf "this little one"--it sounds old fashioned. You have several references that make me think this is modern day (or at least in the past few decades) but could you give us a more concrete sense, earlier, of what time period we're in? Thank you! I very much enjoyed reading this.

  7. Hi! You're revisions are so amazing. You're really improving with each one. I can only echo what was said above about the voice. It's the most frustrating thing to get right, but so amazingly worth it when it clicks. I'd still lose that first paragraph and there are TONS of great character exercises you can find online (I think the AYAP website has some links). They're pretty fun too! So take some fun time and get to know your MC a little better. She's obviously almost there, she just has to break through and you have to let her loose on the page. Sorry if this is so abstract, just the best advice I can give. :D Thanks for sharing your wonderful story!

  8. Thank you all so much for the wonderful feedback! I have had a major breakthrough in this course. I will keep revising the rest of the manuscript into first person, refining the voice as I go, and then see if I want to keep it that way or turn it back into third person while preserving the voice. I am so grateful to all of you. Thank you again, and happy holidays!