Sunday, June 19, 2016

1st Five Pages June Workshop - Bartlett Revision 2

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


Valka is a double amputee who wields illegal magic. Linne’s a soldier that got caught masquerading as a boy. Neither of them expected to be used in the war effort. But the Union of the North needs bodies, and Valka and Linne are sent to fly experimental aircraft with a newly formed women’s aviation unit. There they must learn not only to combat the enemy, but to defy the stereotypes the men of the base have for their new female comrades.
Success means earning their right to die. Failure means living down to the expectations of what women do and how they behave. By day they do twice as much work as the men to receive half the credit, and by night they risk their lives for the same men. Their allies wish they didn’t exist, their enemies would do anything to get rid of them, and they can’t even stand each other. But they are the Night Witches, and nothing short of death will bring them to the ground.
NIGHT WITCHES is a young adult dieselpunk fantasy of 90,000 words.
Revision 2

When the war came to Valka, she didn’t even notice. She sat at her post like a good Union girl and let the organized cacophony of industry fill her to the brim, oblivious to the oncoming storm until her supervisor appeared beside her.
Her stomach twisted when she saw Mrs. Rodoya. God, she thought, even though good Union girls weren’t supposed to think about God anymore. I’m fired. They’d only taken her 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, shining beetle 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 fumbled as she waited for Mrs. Rodoya’s judgment call.
“We need to evacuate,” Mrs. Rodoya said. Her usually tidy hair had fallen from its bun and lay half unfurled on her square shoulders. The leg fell back on the belt with a sharp clang. “Get your things.”

Valka forgot her work. “What’s happening?” she said. But Mrs. Rodoya was already spinning away, running around the belt to the girls on the opposite side.

She knew what was happening. If Mrs. Rodoya said evacuate, it meant the Elda were coming. Valka’s breath caught as she imagined regiments of blue and gray men, marching through the smoke in their monstrous gas masks, bringing the hard mercies of conquest. But that was a stupid fantasy. The Elda wouldn’t march into Tammin. They’d  obliterate it from the sky. And everyone in Tammin Reaching knew that when the Elda finally attacked, 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. 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. Now silence descended like a blanket of snow. It felt like a promise broken.

For a moment it seemed as though that the 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 doubled.

“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. Her hands slipped on the wheels, shaking and slick with oil and sweat.

Mrs. Rodoya stood in the middle of the hall, tall and 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. She probably cared less about their impending death by fire than about the shame she’d feel in allowing 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’d worn prostheses for years, but Mrs. Rodoya had doubted her ability to stand on them day after day, and had insisted she come to work in a chair.

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. Except it wasn’t safe here. It would be better out on the street, where she could see the Elda dragons and their bombs as they came to kill her. The others formed a line of pairs, hands clasped, throats bobbing as they swallowed their panic. They bent their heads together. “Maybe they’ll pass over,” the girl just in front of Valka said. Her friend gave a reassuring squeeze.

Valka had no partner. She got to be at 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 shushed each pair as they went through. Valka moved forward and Mrs. Rodoya grabbed the back of her chair and began to push. Valka had asked to push herself during practice raids, or at least walk like everyone else. “Now, now, we want speed over pride, don’t we?” Mrs. Rodoya had said. Now she had to stop herself from reaching back for Mrs. Rodoya’s hand.

The factory girls took measured steps, moving in a regulated dance. 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 building, down a street lined with 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 city’s skyline.

A shudder ran through her. 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 the doctors 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 how selfish it was, 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’s pulse throbbed in her ears, drowning out whine of the aircraft as they swung about. The girls ahead quickened as the balance between order and panic began to twist and destabilize. “Calm, girls.” Did Mrs. Rodoya have to keep saying that?

They pressed on in the growing darkness, past buildings that were uniformly squat, uniformly square, and uniformly grayish-brown. Tammin would never be a wonder of the world. It was most beautiful during snowfall, but the city hadn’t been built for beauty. It had been built for one purpose, and that purpose was industry.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Clair, I like your pitch a lot. Nice compare and contrast, with stakes clearly defined. Good job.

    I also really like what you've done with the first five pages. It's different than before, but equally good. You make excellent word choices, and your style is smooth and easy to read.

    There's really not much I can add except for two things:

    The paragraph that begins "Valka had no partner" took me out of the story. It's almost like a mandatory explanation in a place where there's such great action and flow. Perhaps work on that a bit more to see if you can either ditch that part or make weave it in so that it doesn't stand out so much. Know what I mean?

    Picky point-- "drowning out _____ whine" I think the word "the" is missing?

    Other than that, it's wonderfully written, packed with action, and is narrated by a very likable character who we want to root for.

    Great job!

  3. Claire!

    Your pitch is super interesting and really well done. I am rooting for your story because it has such great feminism potential and that ALONE is what makes your story awesome, among other things.

    Some things (Reject as you see fit):

    1. Good job on correcting that first sentence. It makes your beginning make much more sense. I love your descriptions and prose. Very well done. Also, your mc is likeable and has a good voice.
    2. “It felt like a promise broken” read very weird to me. Your story was flowing really nicely and then that sentence came and I was taken aback by it? It didn’t mesh in well with everything you had before it.
    3. Good job on adding some dialogue to the other girls. It made the story a bit more real and helped the setting be a bit more ROOTED IN. The reader is solid - smack dab in the middle of the world now.
    4. I was surprised to say the least when I began to read new content. I see that you’ve cut out some stuff or added more and the story is a lot more fast-paced and the threat is more immediate and urgent. Really, just very good. However, I’d like a clearer image of the factory and the physical description of it. The parts/legs being built and constructed add to the aesthetic, yet I felt a bit disjointed from the story because I wasn’t getting a clear image. (might just be me).

    Overall, this is very good. Your writing is really nice and it seems you’ve finished your story. Up and onward, is what people might say. Good luck on everything!

    Whoop Whoop,


  4. Hi, Claire,

    This is a really strong revision. You took care of the timing problem at the beginning and now the action unfolds in a logical, easy-to-follow through line. Good work! I do have a new comment, which is about the factory's production of legs. I think because this revision is so much clearer, I could pay more attention to this detail, and I found that I was confused. If Valka is a double amputee making legs, why isn't she wearing them? I know that Madame Rodoya doesn't think she can stand wearing them all day, but I inferred to me that their prosthetic technology wasn't great. So why are they devoting an entire factory to making only legs? For me, you could take care of this by having the factory make prosthetics of various sorts, mixing it up a bit--arms and legs, feet, hands--and adding a detail about their quality. I got so hung up on this I lost some of my focus, and kept looking at the story for clarification rather than falling into the story.

    I also agree that some specific details about this world would give the story more immediacy--what the squat buildings look like, even what her chair looks like. What Valka looks likes.

    That said, I think your pitch is excellent. You know your genre, that's for sure. It will be easy for an editor/agent to see your big picture. I'll miss reading your pages. I have truly enjoyed reading about Valka and her imminent adventures.

    Congratulations on fine work. Thank you for sharing it with me!


    1. Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for all the feedback and kind words! I'm breaking my rule of no replies because it seems that my thing with the legs isn't well telegraphed. I'll have to work on that! I showed the first five pages to my husband and he had similar issues.

      Valka is wearing legs, but her work requires her to be in the chair. The legs the factory is making are designed for insectoid war machines, so not for humans. I'll work on clarifying that further in the pages themselves.

      Thanks so much again for all your help. I've gotten so much out of this and really appreciate how everyone's taken the time to provide really thoughtful feedback.

  5. Hi Claire,

    Thanks so much for your feedback this workshop and your wonderful story - both have been incredibly helpful and a great learning experience!

    I absolutely love that your story is dieselpunk - so cool. Your world sounds so wonderful and it makes me really excited to read more. It's so insanely feminist and I love it. I think what would improve it just a little bit is having maybe Valka or Linne's voice come out just a pinch more in the pitch to give them more control over the pitch and demonstrate the agency they clearly have in the story (even more than it currently does).

    I really enjoy that we get more world building and specifics in this draft. One thing I think you should be careful about is repetition, though: in the paragraph when Valka is talking about the Elda marching into Tammin, Tammin and Elda are repeated quite a few times to the point of distraction. (Very knit-picky, but I think that's a good sign!)

    Your first five have come so far in the past couple weeks, and you should be super proud of how far they've come. Good job with the rest of your draft and your writing journey!


  6. Hi Claire,

    From the first and second lines of your pitch you had me going “GOD CLAIRE THIS SOUNDS SO GOOD CAN I JUST READ IT?!!?” Although I did think Linne was a guy at first. So I was confused by why it was a bad thing to be masquerading as a boy. Since Linne is kind of a gender-neutral-sounding name then maybe change “soldier” to “female soldier” or maybe just “girl.” Idk, just clarify it your own way :). I liked the first paragraph of the pitch, but the last paragraph didn’t live up to the awesomeness of the first paragraph. I guess I’m not fully appreciating the stakes. Why is it important to them that they earn recognition in the army?

    This bit in paragraph 6 is kind of spoon-feedy “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.” I think the reader should be smart enough to figure this out on their own. Like, I’m really digging the way the narration is going, and being told this slows it down.

    Just one thing: it was clear to me that the legs produced in the factory are for war machines.

    Everything is just wonderful, there’s not much I can say. I’m wowed by it. Good job!

    So thanks for joining me in this critique workshop! I learned a lot from your comments and everyone else’s. I hope my critique was of some help :). I wish you the best of luck with your story!


  7. Claire! WOW! This is amazing! I *love* your pitch. I think it's the strongest one of the bunch, and I don't have anything I'd change about it. It's powerful and illustrates the world, the characters, and the stakes. It makes me excited to read this book before I even get to the pages.

    Similarly, I think you've done and EXCELLENT job with the opening here. The beginning paragraph is way clearer now, and I understand Valka's situation without confusion. I also feel like I already know her as a character, and I *want* to spend the rest of the book with her. I'm already rooting for her, and I want to know more.

    Honestly, I don't really have anything else to say about this. It's really superb. I'm super impressed. Thank you for working with us in this workshop!

  8. Hi Claire,

    This is such a winning concept -- I really love the set-up and world here. I particularly loved when she wished that the bombers might fly on and find some other place to attack, noting, "She knew how selfish it was, hoping that someone else could die so that she might live." This opens a thread for a really compelling examination about wartime morality. Great job!

    A few smaller, line edits I would suggest:

    There were a few places where the language got a touch wordy. The paragraph beginning "She knew what was happening," ends up feeling a little crowded, and so you might look for a way to dial-back or break apart some of that info.

    Delete "It felt like a broken promise." My thinking here is that it's a nice sounding sentence, but perhaps a little too authorly and you've already described the silence as being like a blanket of snow, so it seems a little bit like simile overload.

    Avoid echo of brave/bravery here: "Don’t be such a coward, she told herself. But she hadn’t been brave in a long time. Sometimes she felt like when the doctors cut off her legs, they amputated her bravery as well." (Perhaps courage can be used)

    Thanks for sharing -- I definitely wanted to keep going when I reached the end here!