Sunday, June 4, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Woods

Kristina Woods
Young Adult Fantasy
The Isle of Apples

A bitter chill clung in the air as winter began to shift into spring. Frost still hung heavily to the late blossoming trees, even as the sun rose overhead, refusing to melt much as the Wintertide rejected the bloom. Dark heavy clouds continued to come down from the high mountain, with no sign of relenting. As her nursemaid would say, Ostara had seemingly forsaken the rebirth.

In this place, there was a castle that sat high up on a hilltop surrounded by a vast apple orchard, called Pravia. It had been her home since birth, which she was preparing to leave behind. She had no choice in the matter, as she was now betrothed. Hopelessness and dread filled her with such a fierceness, Rhiannon could scarcely breathe.

From the stool on which she was told to stand, the weather outside held Rhiannon’s vision, but it was her mother’s high booming voice which commanded her attention.

“You’re pinning it too high,” Lady Caroline said, sweeping across the room to where the circle of seamstress and maids were fitting a dress to her. Her mother, a petite woman with dark hair and eyes, features of her northern Scottish heritage, shook her head and gestured with a finger. “No, that won’t do. Lower still.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” came the obedient reply.

“And her hair,” Caroline began, thinking out loud. Clicking her tongue, her eyes narrowed and she hummed in thought. “I think we should pin it back. Leaving it down over her shoulders gives her far too innocent a look.”

Barden, the dressmaker, stepped up to Rhiannon. Taking her long, dark locks in his hands, he pulled it back away from her shoulders into a knot at the base of her neck. “Mm, yes. I do see what you mean.”

“Now, if we were to….” Her mother’s reply faded as the dressmaker’s hands let go of her hair to adjust the pearl white material more tightly around her chest.

White. She was dressed in white.

Intricate stitching over lace and silk that ran through her fingers like water. Soon the bare, fair skin around her neck would be covered with jewels and pearls, and atop her head would sit a crown made of gold. Adornments she never cared for would no doubt feel heavy with burden and injustice. All for a day every young girl looked forward to. The dress, the dancing, the guests looking at you in awe as you walked up for the man you loved to take your hand in marriage. Rhiannon closed her warm, brown eyes as Barden’s hands moved down to adjust her corset. She inhaled sharply, as the strings tightened around her once again and pulling away her attentions, attempted to remove herself from this place. Recollecting a time when she was little more than a child, attending the wedding of Princess Anne and Prince Philip.

She’d been so young when she whispered to herself, “Look how beautiful she is,” and “I can’t wait to be in love.”

But that was years ago, when she was naive enough to believe that everyone who married had been given the chance to fall in love. Looking back now, she could see that Anne and Philip had been a special case. They, unlike many couples, were never forced to marry, not for riches or thrones, or in Rhiannon's case, a preservation offering. A bargain made in the dead of night between kings, one king on the verge of losing his country and the other wrought with grief and anger over losing his most beloved queen.

Opening her eyes, she stared forward seeing nothing and everything all at once. Her dark brown eyes dropping slowly, focusing on the intricate lace and pearls of her dress as her maidens fussed all about, hemming the dress to fit her perfectly while her mother barked out orders.

“No, no. Stop. You’re doing it wrong,” Lady Caroline scolded, and gestured with a wave of her hand that had the young blonde seamstress step aside. Walking up to Rhiannon, her mother took the lace corset and pushed the bodice down and back, making Rhiannon’s bust ever more prominent. “There, you ignorant girl.” Caroline narrowed her eyes at the seamstress, making the girl blush crimson before stepping back up beside the queen and making the necessary adjustments. “The way you were covering her up made her look like a child. And she’s not. She’s a woman about to be married.”

Caroline’s dark painted red lips smiled widely around at everyone. Rhiannon could feel the tension in the air, the looks of pity and sympathy from the ladies gathered around her, all no doubt thinking the same thing as she. She was far too young to be marrying their king.

Though she was a woman by the Goddess, just now seventeen, her soon-to-be husband, however, was more than twice her age.

In the face of this, Rhiannon kept silent. What more could she say? She’d already begged, pleaded with her father until she could no longer speak but for all the importune on her part, it did no good. Only gained her a bruise across her cheek from her mother. One she’d worn for days on end until the king arrived, and it was only then that her mother had covered the dark mark with a glamour spell.

There was no use in begging any further or running away for that matter. In addition to the punishments Caroline used to keep Rhiannon in line, there was also the fact that her mother was one of the few left in their land gifted with magic. A sorceress was what many of the subjects of their land called her as her mother despised being called a witch.

“Witches are poor, useless things. The only power they possess is what magic they can brew from herbs they gather with their filthy hands,” her mother would say to her with her nose scrunched and her mouth twisted into a grimace that resembled one who had just taken a bite from a lemon. “Sorceress are trained, educated in the ways of the old.”

Rhiannon disagreed, though she kept her mouth tightly closed. What she wouldn’t give right now to be a witch. She’d draft herself a potion to rid herself from feeling anything. Even more, she would gladly hand over all the jewels of her future husband’s kingdom to be numb the rest of her days, or escape this life she had been cursed to lead.

Unfortunately for her, Rhiannon did not possess her mother’s “talents.” Not really, anyway. What Rhiannon did have, her mother and father only used for their own selfish gains. It was her nursemaid who told Rhiannon the Goddess had blessed her with enchanting beauty. That was her talent as a sorceress. Her gift, if that was what one wanted to call it, helped persuade many Lords and Counts alike to donate more than generously to her father’s kingdom. And over the years, they’d gotten by on these offerings, but money was running out in her country and to keep using Rhiannon would be dangerous. There was word Rhiannon had become a topic among social circles around the kingdom, more and more people began questioning the suspicious nature of the young princess’ visits with her father. Questioning not only her ties to the old religion but her virtue as well.


  1. Hi! I enjoyed reading this. The most interesting part of your opening, comes in the final paragraph. And it is so interesting, I think it needs to take a more prominent part in the story. Because a fantasy story about a princess forced to marry, is nothing new. A princess with a secret magical ability to influence people and who has been/is being manipulated by her parents? Now that’s the story I want to hear. (I’m abbreviating Rhiannon because, lazy typing, and keep wanting to spell it wrong).
    You start and end with Rhi’s thoughts on what her nursemaid would think. Maybe it would be good to present more of that relationship throughout these pages. There is a lot here that feels like backstory. In the present moment, Rhi is silent, and actionless, only musing on her past, and it makes it hard to embrace her as a main character (in fact in your first paragraph, you mention Ostara, and I wasn’t sure WHO was the main character).
    Perhaps there would be a better place to start this story, where Rhi has a more active role. But this scene could work too. It is certainly a tense moment, but I want to see more of Rhi’s perspective on why she feels silent and perhaps what kind of alternatives she is considering. Or, again, something about the nursemaid resonates with me, and so perhaps you can use that character more to draw in to what Rhi’s goals, frustrations, and intentions are. Why is she powerless, and what does she want to do about it?
    Other thoughts :“The weather outside held Rhiannon’s vision, but it was her mother’s high booming voice which commanded her attention.” This struck me, because the things that command your main character’s attention, should also command the reader’s attention. The weather is secondary to Rhiannon, and so it shouldn’t be the first thing the reader sees either.
    If you can spend more of Rhi’s musings on her “talent” or gift and how that relates to her parents and her current circumstances, and less about the weather and dress, it will definitely make this more intriguing.

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Maria! I do see your points, taking a step back I see how it would be better opening up with more of Rhi having an active role. I'll definitely be working on it this week! Again, thanks!

  2. Kristina, I have a soft spot for witches, so your entry is right up my alley :) You did a good job setting up the scene where the conflict is apparent right away. We feel for Rhiannon and her helplessness, we dislike her controlling mother. We eagerly await an opportunity for Rhiannon to break free, which we know is coming. The only suggestion I have is to remove the 1st paragraph + 1st sentence of the 2nd as they read unoriginal and really add nothing to your story. We don't need to know in the 1st paragraph it's spring. We can figure out the events take place in a castle from the way you set the dress fitting scene, so mentioning it is unnecessary. And you can easily weave in the name of the kingdom later on, when you mention the suitors and the deal her father made with another king. I know I shouldn't focus on line edits, but I found the repetitive sentence structure a bit distracting. You use "Subject predicate AS subject predicate" structure a lot. In fact, you use it 3 times in the first 2 sentences. Varying the sentence structure will help with the flow. Great job and good luck!

    1. Thanks, Gea! I see what both you and Maria are talking about and am going to get to work on those sentences. You guys have given me great things to work on. Thanks again for the feedback!

  3. Hi Kristina,

    I agree with Maria. A lot of this feels like backstory, important back story, but still, without a real sustenance to the character, and yet I can't help but wonder if that's what you were going for--her feeling like a child, unable to do anything about the situation that is spinning out of control around her...I say don't necessarily change the scene, change your approach. Include her thoughts, she's telling us about other people's thoughts but not how they are making her feel.

    This scene could work so well, it could but show more than tell. WE could gather that she is getting married if she fidgets with her ring and has the negative thoughts about her betrothed and then the fitting fiasco swirling around her. I think it would be much more interesting that way as well because as it is now you tell us what she is about to go through and then show us, ax her monologues and keep some mystery. It's like that relative who tells you not only the ending of a movie but also everything in between and then trying to get the same wonder out of the film when you actually get to see it. You are excellent at description but voice gets lost in your beautiful and rich setting.

    I also agree that you have set up a very different witch and princess in this story, she's an ass-kicker behind a veil, just waiting for the right butt to putt and I personally am looking forward to seeing her in action.

    1. Hi Jason!

      It really was what I was going for. Her feeling small and not having any control f anything going on around her. I love all your suggestions and am working on a way of incorporating those into the visions. Thanks again and I look forward to reading yours!

  4. Hi Kristina!
    In my first read of this, I thought that Ostara was the name of the lead character. Then, all of a sudden Rhiannon popped out of nowhere and I was confused enough to double back. Obviously you don’t want to pander to the audience, but since you use a lot of unfamiliar words in the opening paragraphs, be sure to make it clear what they are. Otherwise, these names can be introduced later on so it is not so much at once. With that being said, I love your opening and the way you describe this land. It’s really lush and wonderful. Good job!

    I don’t have too many notes as I found the world and characters very engaging. The mother is especially interesting and complex. I can tell there is a great story ahead. Maybe however, there is a better button line for the end of the chapter to leave the audience on a bigger hook.

    1. Hello Elisha,

      I completely agree! it really wasn't the end of the chapter but what I could fit into the 1250 words. I'm working on making it work though, so hopefully the ending is a bit more satisfying for everyone. Thank you for the comments!

  5. Hi Kristina!

    I think you have the start of a really intriguing story! The most interesting parts for me were at the end of the pages, when we get into the information about the Magic and about Rhiannon's talents. However, this part is buried in "telling" exposition, while the only present action of the story is her mother ordering the seamstresses around. I would suggest that you rewrite this scene to try to include some of the back story into the present action. Center their dialogue and action around how her mom despises being called a witch, how her parents use Rhiannon's talents for their selfish gain, how she was blessed with enchanting beauty. You could even connect these things with why she's being forced to marry (if they are connected.)

    As much as possible, you want to avoid dialogue that doesn't have much weight and you want to incorporate backstory into present action, so that you aren't weighing the story down with lots of exposition. You can tackle both problems by doing what I suggested above.

    A few other thoughts:

    I think you could tighten the opening a little. You have lots of dependent clauses, and that makes it a little hard to sink into the descriptions. I also think you need to introduce the POV character properly before you start using the pronouns "her" and "she" because we don't know who you're talking about, and it makes us feel ungrounded.

    Watch your distancing language... "there was a castle" and "it was her mother's high booming voice." These constructions aren't necessarily bad but make sure you have a good reason for choosing to use them.

    It is strange how her mother doesn't notice the white dress until after several lines of dialogue. Unless the dress was covered somehow, I would think she would notice it right away.

    Watch POV. It you are in Rhiannon's POV, she wouldn't describe her own eyes as "warm, brown."

    I question including a flashback so early in the pages. I think you could include her thoughts about Princess Anne and Prince Phillip *without* her closing her eyes, flashing back, and then opening her eyes and coming forward again. The amount of set up you currently have slows the pace down.

    Great job! I look forward to see where you'll take this!

    1. Hello Pintip!

      After reading your suggestions and looking over the story I see what you're talking about. It is a lot of backstory and I should be trickling it into the story, so I am working on doing that while also giving you a clear picture of who Rhiannon is. I know I have a bit of rewriting to get done, but thanks to your tips, it's only going to make it stronger and I'm looking forward to the challenge. Thank you so very much!

    2. Kristina! I'm intrigued! I want more! And that's great. I'm so into the emotion you've evoked in this scene. The sense of be "tied" up with the corset, unable to breathe, unable to speak her mind, caged like a bird. The symbolism is lovely and works so well here. It makes me eager to see how you will continue you this simple, but effective writing tool.
      Rhiannon comes across as silent but defiant, which I love so much about her. There is very little self-pity, but the acknowledgement that her situation is unfair and that she's worthy of more. I would love to see this play out a bit more in dialogue. She can be "silent", but still defiant. She can mutter her disapproval, react physically to the way she's being tugged and yanked about, be shushed when she is non-compliant. In fact, I think this would work better than sheer silence, because the silence shows she subservient and giving into those who think they own her. By small acts of defiance, you model her displeasure of being that caged animal.

      Voice was a little weak for me here, but I think it's because of the passive verbs and descriptions. Clean it up to bring through that concrete voice. Especially since your character is strong in her own right. Get rids of the "hads", the "was" plus verb, the "there was a castle". Make it clean, bold, and concrete.

      You pull in a little second person with the "you's". I'm on the fence with this. I personally don't like second person. When I read, I want to be engaged in the story, not spoken to. That said, this is your story and I think it really depends on how often you use the pronoun "you" throughout the story. If it isn't consistent, I'd recommend getting rid of it.

      Barden is only mentioned once. However she's surrounded with maid servants. When the queen scolds them, there is no reaction. In fact, he's never mentioned again. I wonder how he feels about his seamstresses being treated so poorly.

      Like the other commenters have said, there is a lot of backstory given in exposition here. The back story is always important, but making it active is key to pulling it off. The reader doesn't want to be told everything they need of backstory within five pages. You ruin the mystery in how this girl came to be where she is. I think some of it can be included later into the story and the little bit we do need to know (that she's marrying against her will, that she wishes she had the skills of magic like her mother had, etc) can be conveyed in shorter pieces. Everything else will be revealed eventually anyway, but don't spell it out to the reader. These kids are smart and want the intrigue and mystery. Let them figure it out throughout the story, through action, plot, and dialogue.

      Beginning paragraphs, although they are absolutely lovely in description, it's too much. I'd suggest keeping the weather references to just a few sentences. That being said, in taking into consideration of the title of your story and the setup you've given us, I'm wondering if this is a Snow White retelling. If that's the case, I can understand where you're going with this. Can we take those beautiful descriptions and disperse them throughout the chapter? She's often staring off. Can she "see" the things described in the opening paragraphs and long to be free? To disappear into the cold, purity, white, etc. You probably could come up with some great uses of escapism and innocence with the weather and surrounding.

      Absolutely, phenomenal job. Especially if I'm right that this is a Snow White retelling. Being a fairy tale retelling writer myself, I see so much beauty and symbolism in your writing. Very well done!

    3. Hi Wendy!

      Thank you so much for review and for your suggestions. I can see what you're getting at and am going to be spending a lot of time on it over the next few days. I do want to readers to see her as a very strong, defiant woman because she is but right now she is trapped. I smiled when reaching the end of your comment because you hit the nail on the head and I didn't think many would get the small references but you did! (High-five!) I'm looking forward to these revisions and hearing more from you!

      Thank you, everyone!