Monday, June 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Bartlett Rev 1

Name: Claire Bartlett
Title: Night Witches
Genre: YA Fantasy
Revision 1

Valka heard the hum of warcraft too late. The organized cacophany of industry filled the factory to the brim, leaving her oblivious to the oncoming storm from the south until her supervisor rushed over, flushed and gasping.

Her stomach twisted. God, she thought, even though good Union girls weren’t supposed to think about God anymore. I’m fired. They’d only taken her on out of a sense of charity, and she’d been waiting three years for Mrs. Rodoya to realize her mistake. How could a girl with no legs work in a factory that made them?

Slim, multi-jointed metal legs drifted past on the conveyor belt, twitching and trembling with traces of magic. Valka picked one up and checked the joints, tested the gears, working her fingers along its oily bones. She tried to calm the leg as she worked, but her hands shook with fear as she waited for Mrs. Rodoya’s judgment call.

“We need to evacuate,” Mrs. Rodoya said. Her tidy hair had fallen from its bun and lay half unfurled on her square shoulders. The leg fell back on the conveyor belt with a sharp clang. “Get your things.”

Valka gripped the sides of the conveyor as fear flashed through her. “What’s happening?” she said. But Mrs. Rodoya was already spinning away, running around the conveyor belt to the girls on the opposite side.

No drill had been scheduled for today. Valka looked over at the line of posters glued to the wall, sticky with old oil and dust. REMEMBER GOREVA. The Elda figure had been reduced to a shadow, gripping the neck of a woman even as she shielded her baby with her body. If Mrs. Rodoya said evacuate, it meant the Elda were coming. And everyone knew that when the Elda finally attacked Tammin Reaching, they’d aim for the factories. The Union army relied on the high quality production of the factories in Tammin, which meant the army relied on Valka. Which meant that when she abandoned her post, she’d abandon the Union.

The hissing, ratcheting, clanging of the factory faded until every machine on the floor had stilled. Silence descended like a blanket of snow. Whispers swept around the room in soft, hissing syllables as the machines wound down for the first time in years. Even when Valka finished her shifts, another girl came to oversee the machines as they ground through the night, churning out parts for the army. The silence felt like a promise broken.

For a moment it seemed as though that whole world had turned off like a radio. Then she heard it - a low hum, like some enraged cloud of insects. Elda aircraft. Elda witchcraft. The fear returned doubly strong.

“Girls!” Mrs Rodoya’s trembling voice rang out over the factory hall. Valka turned her wheelchair away from the conveyor belt and pushed towards the sound of Mrs. Rodoya’s voice, oily hands slipping on the wheels.

Mrs. Rodoya stood in the middle of the hall, ramrod straight, her hands clasped just over her belly. “We’ve practiced this before, girls. Let’s make an orderly exit, please.” Mrs. Rodoya loved order. Sometimes Valka thought she’d rather let a bomb fall on the whole factory than allow her girls to disturb the precious order.

Valka pushed her chair towards the door, fighting the oil on her hands and the metal filings and barbs that the chair had picked up from the factory floor. Slivers of living steel bit into her palm. She grit her teeth. She’d been able to walk for years now, but Mrs. Rodoya had only hired her on the condition that she stay in her chair. “We can’t have you overworking yourself,” she’d said.

The girls lined up - neatly, of course. Their shelter was a ten-minute trip, and right now Valka wanted nothing more than to stay where it was warm and safe. They want to bomb the factories, she thought, trying to convince herself to go out where she could see the Elda dragons and their bombs as they came to kill her. The other girls formed a line of pairs, hands clasped. At least they had a friend to hold on to. Valka got to go to the end of the line, and Mrs. Rodoya was her partner. Everyone assumed she’d be too slow to keep up.

Mrs. Rodoya opened the factory door and counted each girl with a bob of her head as they went through. Then she grabbed the back of Valka’s chair and began to push without asking. A lot of people did that. Even when Valka had asked to push herself during practice raids, and even when she’d asked to walk like everyone else. “Now, now, we want speed over pride, don’t we?” Mrs. Rodoya had said.

Valka wanted to leap out of her chair and run for the shelter. Never mind being calm, never mind letting Mrs. Rodoya literally push her around. But even if she could disentangle her feet without catching them in the chair, even if she could escape Mrs. Rodoya and the factory girls, she’d cause chaos, and chaos was the enemy of the Union.

The factory girls took measured steps, moving in a dance that declared regulation against panic. Valka and Mrs. Rodoya followed behind, half lurching as one of Valka’s wheels caught on a loose stone at the edge of the road. They moved away from the high concrete building, down a street lined with the standard issue factory blocks that churned out legs, carapaces, rifles, helmets and other army equipment. Twilight deepened the cloudless sky above. The moon hung like a fruit, a fat crescent surrounded by stars. On an ordinary night Valka might watch it thread its way to the horizon. But there were other things in the sky tonight, things that hummed and growled, things that promised fire and hid behind the horizon of factory blocks. A shudder ran through her, and she wasn’t the only one. The line of girls undulated as the dance began to unravel. “Calm, girls,” Mrs. Rodoya said. Did she even know the meaning of the word? Calm was easy during a practice raid. Just hold your head high and follow the War Ministry’s approved path to the shelter. When the hum of aircraft resonated against the buildings to either side of them, holding her head high was a whole lot harder to do. Valka folded her hands in front of her, clenching them until she couldn’t feel them shake anymore. Don’t be such a coward, she told herself. But she hadn’t been brave in a long time. Sometimes she felt like when they cut off her legs, they amputated her bravery as well.

They’d make it to the shelter. They had to. Mrs. Rodoya would see her through. Maybe the Elda would just pass overhead, on the way to do reconnaissance or bomb another target. She knew she shouldn’t sit here hoping that someone else could die so that she might live. But the farther they got down the street, the more relief filled her.

They made it to the end of the street before the first explosion hit the edge of town. Two girls screamed. Valka managed not to. Then again, screaming had never been her way to show fear. She preferred to run.


  1. Claire, belated welcome to the workshop! Sorry I missed your pages last week.

    This opening is very, very strong. I loved the opening line. Hum of warcraft in the first few words? Awesome. I am absolutely intrigued by a main character who has no legs. To me, this brings automatic empathy: we want to root for her. She's likable.

    You do a wonderful job with imagery and engaging the senses (metal shavings, the sound of a blanket of snow).

    This opening is beautifully written, but also packed with tension. My only beef was the part where she was upset about being pushed in the wheelchair. It seemed a bit "complainy" and took me out of the story for a flash. Plus it conflicts with her later statement about lacking courage. It seems courageous to me that she'd prefer to wheel herself out during an emergency.

    Other than that, I think this is wonderfully written. Good job!

  2. This revision added a lot of tension and momentum to the unfolding drama--great work! I have a bit of a quibble about the opening line, which I have debated telling you about because I really love that opening line. But the issue is that it telegraphs what is *going* to happen and so it confuses. She's going to hear the hum of warcraft too late. She hasn't yet. So when I read that line, and then the supervisor rushes in, and Valka's first thought is, "I'm fired," I didn't follow her line of reasoning. I thought, "Girl, you're not going to fired. You're going to be blown up!"

    My other thought was the lack of specificity of the Elda threat. In the poster, all that is shown is a shadow of an Elda with its hand around the neck of a woman. Later, the aircraft are a black cloud. You could satisfy my need to know a bit more about the enemy by describing the hand in the poster or giving some details about one of the aircraft. Something to make the Elda feel more immediate and on the page.

    I agree that it felt a bit out of place for her to be kvetching about being forced to use her chair. It diminished the sense of urgency somewhat. Just a nitpick, though. This was a great read and I want to know what happens next!


  3. Hey Claire!

    Just wanted to let you know that your writing is fantastic! I really like the descriptions and your mc is super likable.

    Some things that I noticed:

    1. If you want to keep the beginning line, "Valka had heard the..." would probably work and it'd make a lot more sense. (In terms of what Nancy said above)

    2. I don't know, but for me, having the Elda threat so up front and early was kind of like a slap in the face. Because I was expecting a slow and steady build of tension and suspense rather than know the villain/antagonist right off the bat. Unless it's something/someone else than by all means ignore my comment. But I think what you had before was good enough to build the tension. There's already so much going on and Valka is focusing on her chair and the girls are getting up and doing their march, it's like the tension is pretty palable already.

    3. I feel like if you added a bit more dialogue from some of the girls and not just the supervisor, it'd give this story a sense of grounding. I understand the need for order and speediness but having some of the girls whisper or give each other alarming looks will add a bit of personality and solidarity to the story.

    Your writing is again super good! Really intrigued about the direction you're going to take this story! Can't wait for the next revision.

  4. Hi Claire! This revision is headed in the right direction. There is so much tension so far. If I had the whole book I wouldn’t be able to help myself from turning pages. Your writing is wonderful as well. Despite introducing us sooner to the conflict, you still do a good job immersing us into the story.

    Some things I’d like to mention for future revisions are:

    The opening line is a good one, but I do feel like the opening paragraph takes me to one spot in the story, and the I’m wrenched back to an earlier point, where Valka sees Mrs. Rodoya and thinks she’s going to be fired.

    I was confused at the part where she’s saying how she wanted to leap out of the chair and run for shelter. I get that’s the fear in her. Then Valka went on to say “even if she could disentangle her feet…” It made me see that she had feet, that she could walk. And before that we’re told she’d been able to walk for years. But then later on we’re told her legs have been amputated… Just clarify on that so the reader doesn’t have to work too hard to understand Valka’s situation. Is she able to walk with prosthetics? Maybe let us know a little earlier so we’re not confused.

    I did feel like the poster with the Elda came a little too soon, since I was still assimilating the scene. Even if I don’t immediately know who the Elda are, I would still care that the building where the MC is at is going to be bombed. There is still tension even if the bomber is kept a mystery. When you brought up Elda aircraft and Elda witchcraft I immediately had a picture in my mind of the menace, only the poster didn’t contribute much to it.

    I like Valka. I like that she cares about contributing to the Union and that she’s annoyed about being pushed. She’s an awesome MC and I would love to continue reading her story.

    Nice job,

  5. Claire,

    Wow! This is much stronger!! I love your prose and I would absolutely read this book. Additionally, I feel like Valka is a character I want to get to know better.

    I agree that the first line, while supremely cool, throws me off. I don't understand at first why she thinks she's going to get fired if the sound is coming from witchcraft--it makes me think her job was to listen for witchcraft/oncoming attacks at first.

    I think the part about the poster and the Elda was a bit confusing. It seems like an attempt to clarify what the enemy is, but it lost me because I felt Valka wouldn't be concentrating on a poster in an emergency.

    Additionally, I think this scene could benefit from an infusion of emotion. Valka says she's afraid, but I don't actually get that sense at all. Can you show me how she's really feeling and make me feel it too?

    Lastly, I think it's much stronger now with mention of her actual ability to walk, not having legs, and being stuck in a wheelchair because of the people around her and their prejudice. However, I found myself wondering *why* everyone thinks it would be faster for Valka to be pushed out if they know she can walk.

    I love this revision, and I think it's definitely headed in the right direction. I'm excited to read the next one!

  6. Hi Claire,

    Thanks so much for sharing with us again. I'm really liking these revisions.
    I'm glad that we know that she doesn't have use of legs earlier this time. It adds the suspense so much and we know what we're getting into.

    I think the tension build in this draft is so much stronger, but Claire is right that this would be better with more emotion. To me it seems like we're with Valka but we aren't feeling at all with her, which makes the story sort of disjointed!

    I think we also need more specificity about the threat as well, like Nancy mentioned. Because it's not as specific as I'd like, it leaves me feeling like I don't quite know the world and don't feel the threat quite yet. I want to know what makes this threat stand out in comparison to the multitude of threats that happen in YA literature.

    Other than that, I agree with what everyone else has said. You're a wonderful writer - good job and thanks for sharing.


  7. Hello Claire,

    Thank you for sharing your revision with us today!

    You've addressed many of the issues I raised previously, and the selection is becoming more clear to us now. There are some spots where we lose the voice--and our emotional connection to Valka--but those can be ironed out in a polishing pass.

    I recommend you read this aloud. It's quite typical to lose the voice as you revise, and then to amp it back up again. I love the way the pace builds in this selection, but some of the phrases don't sound like Valka's voice. Those are opportunities to be more specific, and to let us hear her emotion.

    For example:
    "The other girls formed a line of pairs, hands clasped. At least they had a friend to hold on to. Valka got to go to the end of the line, and Mrs. Rodoya was her partner. Everyone assumed she’d be too slow to keep up."

    The last two sentences in this selection tell us very clearly what's going on, but are almost clinical in their emotional detachment to the scene. Either we do not need those sentences, or they need to carry Valka's voice more strongly.

    I will also play devil's advocate to some of the above advice: it is VERY easy for us to desire a full understanding of this world in this short selection, but that would require info dumps. As long as you settle us clearly into the moment--her thoughts, feelings, reactions and actions--we will come along for the ride, so I do not think you need more detail about the enemy and the world. Just ground us very clearly, with deep and layered emotion into this scene.

    Well done!

    First Five mentor