Sunday, June 11, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Woods Rev 1

Kristina Woods

Young Adult Fantasy

The Isle of Apples

“But I do not love the king,” Rhiannon murmured to herself from the stool she was made to stand upon.

Looking out the large open balcony, Rhiannon Romando watched as dark, ominous clouds came down from the mountains of her home, the home she was preparing to leave behind. After years of being paraded in front of suitor after suitor, she was now betrothed. Though she was a woman by the Goddess, just now seventeen, her soon-to-be husband was more than twice her age. Hopelessness and dread filled her with such fierceness, Rhiannon could scarcely breathe.

Admittedly, a small part of that could also be the corset the dressmaker forced her into.

Her stomach twisted violently just thinking about her coming union. What more could she say? She already begged, pleaded with her father until she could no longer speak, but for all the entreat on her part, it did no good. It only gained her a bruise across her cheek from her mother. One she wore for days on end until the king arrived, and only then did her mother cover the dark mark with a glamour spell.

“You’re pinning it too high,” Lady Caroline said, sweeping across the room to where the circle of seamstresses and maids were fitting a dress to Rhiannon. 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 from the maids before bowing in expediency.

While her mother may not have seen it, the fear in the seamstress’s eyes was poorly hidden. It seemed the rumors about her mother made it beyond her own realm. In addition to the punishments Caroline used to keep Rhiannon in line, there was also the fact that she and her mother were one of the few left in their land gifted with magic. A sorceress what many of the subjects of their land called her as her mother despised being called a witch.

Rhiannon caught her mother’s eyes and held them. She could still remember Lady Caroline’s words from when she was young. “Witches are poor, useless things. The only power they possess is what magic they can brew from the herbs they gather with their filthy hands,” she 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 knew better though.

What she wouldn’t give to be a witch. Rhiannon would draft a potion to rid herself from feeling anything. Even more, she would gladly hand over all the gold and jewels of her future husband’s kingdom to escape the life she’d been cursed to lead.

“And her hair,” Caroline began, thinking out loud. Clicking her tongue, her eyes narrowed, and she hummed. Rhiannon could only imagine what her mother would suggest. “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 hair in his hands, he pulled it away from her shoulders into a knot at the base of her neck. His small, round eyes took her in, slipping from her hair further down making Rhiannon’s jaw clench. “Mm, yes, I do see what you mean.”

While true Rhiannon did not possess her mother’s “talents,” what she did have her nursemaid called her enchanting beauty. Her power gave her the ability to captivate not only their eyes but their minds as well. Her gift from the Goddess her parents used in their favor to persuade many lords and dukes alike to donate generously to her father’s kingdom.

Barden snapped his fingers at one of the seamstresses who continued her adjustments while another pinned up her hair. Soon her bare neck would be covered with jewels and pearls, and atop her head, a crown made of gold. Adornments she never cared for would no doubt feel heavy with burden and injustice. She inhaled sharply as the strings of her corset tightened around her once again.

Be still and breathe, she told her herself. Pulling away her attentions, Rhiannon 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. 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.

“No, no. Stop. You’re doing it wrong,” Lady Caroline scolded, gesturing with a wave of her hand that had the blonde seamstress stepping aside. Walking up to Rhiannon, her mother took the dress and pushed the bodice down and back, making Rhiannon’s bust ever more prominent.

Rhiannon’s cheeks flooded with heat. “Mother!”

“Quiet, Rhiannon.” Her mother continued adjusting the bust this way and that until finally satisfied. “There, you ignorant girl,” Caroline chastised the young seamstress. “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 looks of pity and sympathy from the ladies gathered around her, all no doubt thinking the same thing as her. She was far too young to be marrying their king.

“Oh for the-” her mother’s voice snapped Rhiannon’s attention back to the here and now, and Rhiannon watched as Caroline paused, catching her tongue from uttering the name of the Goddess. Had Rhiannon been the only one in the room, her mother would have taken the Goddess’ name without a second thought. But the room was filled with maidens and King Hector’s personal couturier, all of whom were faithful to the Christian God. “Rhiannon, hold up your chin and stop looking so sullen,” Caroline chided while taking Rhiannon by the shoulders and gripping her tightly. “Have you forgotten you’re going to be a mother soon? Will you teach the princess these behaviors?”

Rhiannon held her mother’s eyes or the briefest of moments before settling back on the view of her kingdom. Had she forgotten? If only she could forget. Raising her chin, Rhiannon answered, “Of course not, Mother.”

Her voice was hollow even to her own ears yet her mother was not bothered by it.

“That’s my girl.” Caroline smiled at her and raised her hand to rub her thumb across Rhiannon’s cheek. To an outsider, one might believe this to be a gentle moment between mother and daughter, but for Rhiannon, it was a reminder, a dark painful reminder. Caroline turned her attention to the mirror across the room where she gazed at their reflection. “Soon, my dear you will be queen, and we will never have to worry again.”

Rhiannon reluctantly looked to the mirror and stared at herself in the wedding dress. She let her eyelids drop closed as she inhaled. You will not cry, she commanded herself. Not now.

Rhiannon would wait until later that night when she was alone. On the night before they left her home to journey to another. Only then would she let the tears she’d been holding back fall.


  1. Hi Kristina!

    This is a fabulous edit. This time around, the characters truly stand out. Each of them feel distinct and more lively. As a result, I was way more invested in what was going to happen. Good job!

    I have to say, I loved the opening paragraph of your first edit. It really set the tone for me and gave me the immediate sense that this story is a fantasy. I miss that. I'm not sure I love the opening line, "But I do not love the King" as an alternative. Firstly, there are so many stories that already exist about a woman who is forced to marry a man against her will. I think you should open your book with something that is more unique and shows how this story is going to be different.

    Also, I was craving for more fantastical elements in the first five pages. If the mother is a sorceress, I'd love to see her do some crazy magic in the beginning to start it all off with a bang. Maybe the opening starts with the fallout of some magic spell the mom has just performed. Whatever you decide, I think sprinkling in more of what makes the characters special, like exaggerating Rhiannon's beauty, will help to set this story apart.

    This may be a slightly unpopular thought, but Rhiannon Romando doesn't feel like a royal name to me. Perhaps if you add in a few middle names it could work. Just food for thought! I hope this is helpful!

    1. Hi Elisha!

      Thank you for the comments, I completely understand where you're coming from with them. If I'm honest, I miss the opening as well. So I'm probably gonna work on it a bit more see if I can make it balance more between the two. And as for opening it with magic, the only reason why I wouldn't is because its during a time when magic is looked at as witchcraft and could get her and Rhiannon burnt at the stake in King Hector's land while Pravda hasn't embraced Christian beliefs, its more lax. Anyway, that's the story behind that. Haha. Also, her name, I understand that as well. I've been going back and forth on her first and middle name. Perhaps, I should add the Vittoria in there as well? Again, thank you for the feedback! I love it.

    2. I see what you're saying about the magic. Maybe there is an exciting way to introduce this conflict earlier on!

    3. Yeah, there might be. I have a few ideas so I'm definitely going to try!

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  3. Kristina, I like how you've trimmed the backstory to its bare bones. We really do not need any more. Everything is clear.

    I will say, though, I do not like the first line. Rhiannon wouldn't say that out loud in front of her mother AND her husband-to-be's waiting staff. Especially since toward the end, she is the epitome of obedience with her "of course not, mother." And the fact that no one even acknowledges her words makes the sentence obsolete.

    Also, consider clarifying that the barden and the seamstresses have come to help with he wedding preparations. Because at first I thought they were her mother's servants, then, when you mentioned they were her fiance's, I thought she was already at his castle. But then you mention she'll be leaving her home, so I go back to thinking she's still in her castle. If you make it clear the women made a trip specifically to work on Rhiannon's wedding dress, you'd clear the confusion up.

    In the 4th paragraph, you can easily cut: 'but for all the entreat on her part', leaving 'but it did no good'. You already tell us she was pleading with her father. Reads repetitive.

    I think you have a remnant/stray/extra word here: While (true) Rhiannon did not possess her mother’s “talents,”

    I want to know more about Rhiannon's gift. You mention her beauty can captivate minds as well as eyes. What exactly do you mean? Can Rhiannon manipulate people's thoughts or simply bewitch them with her beauty, making them pliable? And if so, how come she didn't try that trick on her father or her fiance to get out of the arranged marriage? Her mother having powers would make her immune, right? You should specify this somehow. Or is Rhiannon's gift more of a curse in that she can't control it? Does it make men fight for her and lose their minds? Doe sit make Rhiannon a trophy to be won?

    I think putting a bit more emphasis on Rhiannon's and her mother's powers (btw we know nothing about what her mother can do, besides making the bruises fade) and less on pinning her hair up, etc. etc. will be a much better choice.

    'Pulling away her attentions, Rhiannon 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' - this sentence is way too confusing. It made me think, for a moment, that Rhiannon actually tried to walk away (remove herself). Make it clear that she wishes to get out, but the only way she can do it is inside her mind, her memories.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Gea! I can see what you're saying and I feel like I have a better grasp of what's working and not. The distinction between Rhiannon's magic and her mother's does need to be explained more, I agree. I'm going to be focusing on that more this next round. Again, thanks for the thoughts!

  4. Good job making this tighter. You bring us further into the story more quickly. A couple of consistency issues I noticed. The first line from Caroline re: pinning it too high. It feels like this is misplaced not sure if it’s about pinning the hair, or the bodice, both of which are referenced later.
    “Her power gave her the ability to captivate their eyes,” it’s not clear who “they” are, I think this is out of sequence.
    I think you have the right idea to try to give Rhiannon a voice, but I’m not sure if her murmured line, opening out of the blue like that, is the way to do it. It would help to have her speak up, however weakly, in reaction to something you’ve already shown the readers. Like one of Caroline’s lines, ‘far too innocent,” could certainly prompt a reaction.
    The religion idea. This might be just a distraction, this early into the story. I don’t know. See what others say. I like the idea, myself, but it feels a bit out of place right here.

    I felt you really did well with Lady Caroline's bossy prodding of Rhiannon. This part drew me in more so than her Rhi's thoughts in the beginning. Perhaps rearranging a bit will help there.

    You've made a lot of progress with this, it was fun to see.


    1. Hey Maria, thank you!

      I feel like I need to explain why Caroline isn't using her magic or why she's holding back as much as she is because there are visitors from another land where witchcraft is considered heresy and for that the punishment is of course, death. While it is a fantasy and magic is exaggerated more than say realistic pagan practices, because the story revolves around a Crusades/Avalon theme getting that out up front I feel is important to the story. I'm going to play with it some more and see if I can make it a bit more subtle. Perhaps that might help? Anyway, thank you again!

  5. Kristina,

    This is so much improved! Great job! This reads so much more interesting now, with the intriguing details foregrounded. HOWEVER, I still think there is too much exposition. Although you have moved the interesting details up, they all still occur in her head, and the outside scene -- her being outfitted for her wedding -- is still a bit typical. Try reading only the dialogue and action alone, without the exposition, and I think that you'll see that there's nothing really unique about this scene. I would strongly suggest that you make the scene interact with her thoughts. Have the characters TALK about the talents or lack thereof, have her mom snap that she won't tolerate being called a witch, and have the servants lower their eyes submissively and say, "I mean a soceress." Do you see what I'm saying? If you try to incorporate the backstory into the present, not only will the scene feel more active, but it will also make for a more interesting and unique opening as well.

    Hope this helps! Good luck!

    1. Hi Pintip!

      This does help tremendously, thank you! I never thought of taking out exposition and reading it that way before. I'll be using that with the rest of the book as well. I have quite a few ideas from this and think I have a better way to tell it now. Thank you so much for the suggestions. I'll be crossing my fingers the next one will make you proud.

  6. Hi Kristina,

    This flowed a lot better for me, personally. However I agree with Pintip. She had a lot of great ideas. I worked with her before on pitch madness so I know she knows what she's talking about! Her idea of the witch/sorceress thing is brilliant! Along with that, I think you could tell her story about the bruise more concisely too and in doing so may make it seem less like exposition. Maybe it didn't happen so long ago and she can still feel it is tender, and then she gets a dark thought about how if she had the powers of some witches she could flatten the whole kingdom so she wouldn't have to marry this drip but alas she only has the beauty power she does and that doesn't work on him or her father--if written something like that you will have condensed a couple pages worth of exposition and now have more room to let the story unfold! or, if you want to start with dialogue--Does she have anyone with whom she confides? If so, maybe start the dialogue with them and when her mother comes in this person leaves. Or maybe it's not even a person--could be a spirit or a deity.

    I think you've got a great start and a great revision--now it just needs to be tightened up so we get more in the first five. Take this as a compliment--we want to know more. Give us more in the space allowed! Other than that, I think you're golden.

    1. Ah Jason, thank you!

      It's that crazy thing of mine I want to hang on to my backstory so tightly and just saying goodbye to it makes me so sad. I see where you're all coming from though. I have quite a few idea's and I think I have a way to make it work better without having to sacrifice my darlings. Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it so much.

  7. Kristina, I love the changes you made. I knew Rhiannon was more than you were letting on. While she's like a caged bird, I sense a fieriness in her. I'm so glad to see that come out. It's important to reveal your main character with a significant problem, but still give them a glimmer of strength beyond their situation. With hitting the nail on the head with the Snow White theme, the one other thing that came to mind this week is that this is a young girl that has just about everything she wants. Royalty, riches, beauty. But she lack freedom from the stone walls she lives in. I'd love to see that longing for being able to break free. Whether it be that as she looks outside the window into a forest that she's never experience. Or intrigue about what lies beyond it. Does she wonder what other young maidens her age, "normal" ones. Not princesses, have to go through to meet their husbands? The caged bird, the girl stuck in the corset is a lovely comparison. Maybe a bird perches on the window and she wonders what visions the bird has scene...I don't know...just ideas. But I'd love to see more of that duel "I'm a prisoner, but what I wouldn't give to escape this world I live in."

    I'm not sold on the first line. I think your next paragraph is stronger. While I love the line, I think it should be put a little bit later. We have no idea who is saying this and why, so I'm not invested in her plight quiet yet.

    I am HEARTBROKEN that you pulled the literary comparisons out with the purity, innocence, and white snow. While I picked it up quickly, it's because I write fairy tale retellings, so I'm already on the lookout for things like. Call me jaded. But I think readers love those Easter egg "aha!" moments even if they're subtle. I have secret fairytale running through all three books that so few have found, but when they do find it and ask me...they're excited that they were right.

    Kristina, you did a phenomenal job on this revision. It's clean. It's intriguing. I have to nit-pick to find suggestions. I'm so excited to see where this goes. If you ever need advice from a sister retelling author, hit me up! I have my retelling mentor. It's only fair to pay it forward. Looking forward to seeing the second revision.

    1. Wendy!

      I too was just gutted to takes those references out BUT I think from all the feedback I've received I may have a way to bring them back. Also, when you mentioned her looking out the window into the forest that gave me the best inspiration because the forest is going to play a big part in the book! I'm excited to see what I can do with this from all of your advice, and cannot wait to get started on it!

      And YES, I would love to hit you up! There's so much to retelling that I would absolutely love to have someone to, for want of a better word, fangirl/seek advice with.

      Thank you, again!