Sunday, July 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Alyssa C Rev 1

Name: Alyssa C
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Winter King

I was just a child when I first heard of the king’s stolen heart.
Gossip often entered the Princess and Ploughman, my uncle’s bookshop where I lived and worked. None had ever been so intriguing as this.
“Is it true that our king has no heart?” I prodded my uncle after closing that night. I tidied the shelves while he traveled back and forth from the stockroom with armloads of books. “And that’s why we’re almost at war and why the guilds are always trying to outdo each other?”
My uncle couldn’t help but laugh, rich and loud. I had been waiting until the shop closed to broach the mysterious subject, and he had noticed my skittishness despite my best efforts.
“This is what has got you so agitated, little mouse?”
I nodded seriously, a bit stung by his mirth.
He set down a stack of books and braced himself against the nearest shelf. As time went on, Uncle Dusan grew steadily rounder as I grew more nearsighted and only slightly upward. “Well, it was about ten years ago,” he said slowly, “just after you were born. It was—”
“So then it’s true?” I put in wonderingly.
“I never said so,” Uncle Dusan said in a way that assured me it was true. “It was ten or so years ago. Winter, with a thick snow such as we have not seen since. The canals were iced over and frosty snow clung to every spire. From the hills the city’s colors looked like a platter of sugared fruits.”
It was an enchanting image, but I too had experienced the city in wintertime. “What about the king?” I insisted.
Uncle Dusan made a contemplative face. “It was a bone-chilling night when it happened, so it is said. Late in the night while the city slept.”
I found a perch on a tall pile of books and settled in, anticipation fluttering in my chest.
“Someone inside the castle worked a dark enchantment and escaped into the cold with one thing—the very heart of our king.”
I leaned forward and nearly upset the books beneath me. “Who did it, Uncle?”
He only shook his head. “To this day no one is sure. It was the night of the royal masquerade ball, then an annual event, so of course the castle was filled with diplomats and nobility, ambassadors and tradesmen from across the world. The perfect opportunity for anyone cunning enough to claim it.”
The idea intrigued and overwhelmed me. So many people from so many places—it was little wonder no one had yet uncovered the culprit. I eyed my uncle shrewdly. I knew he was a wise man, for anyone who commits their days to the running of a bookshop can be no fool.  “Who do you think it was? Who stole the king’s heart?”
Uncle Dusan turned his head and looked past the front of the shop, out the wide windows and into the twilit street. “It’s difficult to guess. Of course the Guild of Scientists practically declared war on the Guild of Alchemists the next day, once the news had spread. Some even blamed the queen, that she should have guarded the king’s heart more closely.” He stood and picked up a few more books to be stocked, slotting them haphazardly wherever there was room. “Others thought Peshtan spies were to blame, or their allies...” After sliding a book into the last bit of open shelf space he glanced out the windows again, then suddenly came out of the reverie and met my eye. “And now it is suppertime.” He smiled. “Some stew on this chilly autumn evening?”
For a few years afterward, I had childish aspirations of being the one to return the king’s heart to him. I would craft elaborate scenarios for myself and my friends—the warriors and sorcerers, peasants and princesses of my favorite books. Once, on a particularly daring mission, I went sneaking into the stockroom where I was not normally allowed, only to become distracted by the papers with strange symbols and mysterious maps littering the long wooden table. I set down my candle, climbing onto the table to better peruse the documents.
That was how Uncle Dusan found me asleep hours later, curled on the table like a cat, my spectacles mushed against my face. Language books were strewn about where I’d left them as I attempted to decode the cryptic messages, which turned out to be mostly dry alchemical theory.
“Katka—child!” he sputtered, then collected himself. “What are you doing on that table?”
I nearly began to cry, I was so disappointed with myself for disobeying him. “I saw them and I wanted to read them,” I explained quietly, adjusting my spectacles and gathering the books into my arms.
Uncle Dusan stood in the doorway surveying the scene, then began to laugh.
I was shocked. I had expected a reprimand, perhaps a padlock on the storeroom door and a lecture about how I should know better at my age.
“Voracious. You shouldn’t read everything that is in front of you, child,” he said kindly. “Words have great power, but they hold danger too. Some books are better left closed, yes?”
I nodded solemnly and made my way down from the table, balancing the books in my arms.
“Don’t those belong here?” Uncle Dusan asked.
“No,” I said, perplexed, “I brought them in to translate.”
He was very still for a moment. “Translate what?”
I turned back to indicate the documents on the table. “Those. The alchemy essays and the strange recipes.”
He came into the room, shucking off his large overcoat and standing by the table. “Sit,” he said simply, an odd gleam in his eye as he perused the papers and selected one.
I didn’t know whether to feel excitement or dread as I set down the books and clambered back onto the large table.
He handed me the chosen page and began to light more candles, positioning them to give me better light. “Can you read this?”
I studied the text hungrily. It was a long passage broken toward the end by strange symbols that weren’t letters of any kind I’d ever seen. The words themselves looked to be Zemyan, from the northern mercantile lake country or one of its colonies. I checked the spines of the books beside me, Uncle Dusan watching my every move with childlike wonder, and opened the Zemyan dictionary. I found the extra paper and quill I’d been using to take notes and set about the task. My page of notes grew steadily as I worked and within a few minutes I was able to read the passage aloud:
“Research at the University of Zemya has found that the practice of medical alchemy may greatly complement conventional medicine. Most recently, Zemyan alchemists have undertaken such experiments as—”
As I read, Uncle Dusan put his head in his hands.
“Uncle?” I whispered, setting down the page.
He raised his head, eyes shining. “All these months I have been collecting these works in the hopes of finding a translator… and now I find there has been one in my own home all along?” He reached across the table and seized my shoulders. “Child, your skill will be useful indeed!” Then he sobered. “But heed what I have said—some words are better left unread, and some,” he placed a hand on the Zemyan paper I had put down, “are better left unremembered.”


  1. Hi Alyssa! I think this is a great improvement over the last version. We get to know the main character and what she's interested in much earlier on. Also, Katka? That's a cute name. I'm still not entirely sure where this takes place, but I get an eastern Europe feel from it.

    This line in the beginning didn't quite ring believable to me. “And that’s why we’re almost at war and why the guilds are always trying to outdo each other?” To me, it's basically, "As you know, Bob..." I liked the reveal of the war among the guilds later on, but it didn't work for me right at the beginning. I'm not sure how old she was then, and I liked that she was more interested in the king's heart, but the consequence of warring guilds doesn't strike me as something a young kid would really be all that interested in just yet.

    I am curious about her gift with languages. It seems like it comes out of nowhere for convenience's sake, especially if her uncle wasn't aware of it before.

    You have a few instances of "began to," so try to cut these out and go straight to the verb.

    Katka's relationship with her uncle is endearing, and I think it comes off much better displayed in scene like this.

    Let me know if you have any questions :)

    1. Hi Adelle. Glad you liked the changes overall. That's a good point about the gift with languages—I think I cut the previous mention of language books, whoops! It's a big part of her character, and the plot, so it definitely isn't just convenient in this once instance, but I can see how it could have come off that way. Thanks for pointing out "began to" as well, I'll have to keep an eye on that!

  2. Hi Alyssa! I really enjoyed the changes. I was able to connect so much more with your main character, Katka. And I second Adelle's comment about the name. Super cute!

    Katka's gift for languages is very interesting. However, I was also left wondering if she'd suddenly looked at the pages and could read them. If not how did her uncle not know?

    I found myself drawn into the relationship between Katka and her uncle much more. Great job developing it further. The one thing that threw me was her wanting to cry for disobeying him. That seemed extreme and made me question how he'd reacted in the past when she'd done something wrong.

    I'm guessing the beginning is still meant as your prologue, however the start of the second part reads like a continuation of the first section. "For a few years afterward" feels like we are still in Katka's memories, and maybe we are?

    I like being able to focus in on the king. The comment that the queen should have guarded the king's heart better made me wonder how she was supposed to know. Did he lose his heart physically or emotionally???

    All in all I think you've made great improvements, Alyssa, and can't wait to see the pages next week!

    If you have any questions, please let me know.

    1. Hi Stacy, thanks for the comments. About the crying, in my mind it was because she was upset with herself and ashamed at having disobeyed him, because that's so unusual for her. Perhaps crying is too strong of a reaction though. This does still take place in her past (we catch up to her present about a page later) so she's still young here which may make more sense than a teenager bursting into tears, haha. Would it help to include that this is the first time she's really broken his rules by going into that room?

      The line about the queen was meant to have a sort of figurative and literal meaning, but I can see how it didn't quite land. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. OK, first of all – love the new opening line!

    I think you have a huge opportunity to add voice or a cool turn of phrase with your second line. For example, “Gossip often entered the Princess and Ploughman, my uncle’s bookshop….” can turn into…. ”Gossip often careened around my uncle’s bookshop, the Princess and Ploughman, like a…” then add you favorite world-building simile, like a monkey on acid, like a drunk sailor, like a twirling ballerina, etc.

    This line: ““And that’s why we’re almost at war and why the guilds are always trying to outdo each other?” sounds like you are feeding backstory. If she is saying this as a child, would she have the presence of mind to think this way? I think you can remove it and the opening will still be compelling. Besides that one line, the MC sounds like a little girl when she is asking Uncle Dusan questions about the King’s heart.

    Overall, I am so happy that you are starting in-scene with the MC up to something. Curious, sneaky. All good things.

    I still really want to know her name before the first scene break. Perhaps when he calls her Little Mouse you can use her name, and then a little further down the page you can insert the nickname in the uncle’s dialogue.

    I love this imagery: “From the hills the city’s colors looked like a platter of sugared fruits.” Very nice.

    By the end of the first scene, I was left wondering how anyone could steal a heart. I wondered if it was physically rent from the King’s body, or if it was more metaphorical and the King’s heart was something like a gem.

    There’s more showing in this round. Keep doing what you are doing!

    We are told that the second scene begins a few years later, but I don’t have a good sense of Katka’s age. I know she’s a child in the opening scene, let’s say 10. A few years later she’s 13? Or maybe younger.

    I’m not so sure why the Uncle was so impressed with her translations. He had Zemyan documents. There was a Zemyan dictionary. Why is that a challenge? Looking something up in a dictionary – as Katka did – sounds very straightforward. Is there something magical happening that we, the reader, don’t know about…but the Uncle does?

    Quick note on adverbs…you’ve got something like 15 or so adverbs. I am always removing them from my narrative. It’s so hard to do, but worth it in the end because it forces you to show instead of tell. My CPs and I try to hold ourselves to a rule of 1 adverb per 1000 words but there’s no way I pass that criteria consistently! (See, I just used one)

    Overall, very nice improvements! Let me know if you have questions.


    1. Hi Danielle, you totally got me on the adverb addiction! I'm ashamed to admit it but I do love to use them. I'll work on reining that in for the final revision.

      I think I've had other comments about the line where she sounded older, so I'll rework that one for sure because I can see it's a bit explain-y.

      As far as the translations go, in my head she's about twelve here, and already has a talent for picking up languages quickly. It's more about the speed and intuition for structure/grammar than being able to use the dictionary. Do you have any suggestions for making that clearer?

  4. Alyssa,

    You’ve done some really nice work here. I love the opening line. Also, I love the way you’ve crafted the start so it has a storytelling feel - your world is one in which characters sit down and tell stories. We understand from the tone, and even from your choice of a beginning with the narrator telling a story of her past, that stories will intersect and influence each other in this tale. The little glimpses of the girl, like the glasses mushed to her face, are nicely woven in. This opening now focuses on what’s vital - the emotional interactions of the characters, rather than the dispensing of information.

    I did wonder about her age in the second section. Maybe clarify this. Keep in mind, too, that you’ll want to get her to the age she’ll be over the course of most of the story quickly. I don’t mean she has to be that age here, but going forward, make sure she gets to that age sooner rather than later.

    At the end, I wondered if her uncle would be more surprised by her ability. She can do something that no one’s taught her. How? Most things in life don’t work this way. If she has an innate ability, I’m not sure how I feel about that in regard to reading. Reading effectively depends on a complicated set of skills, and she reads/translates perfectly. Has she taught herself over the years with a variety of texts? Maybe she is a savant in this regard, but then wouldn’t her uncle be amazed that she’s so gifted? Is he at all disconcerted or troubled? And wouldn’t his response cause her to feel amazed or self-conscious or something because she didn’t realize that everyone can’t just sit down and learn, as she can?

    In terms of lines, watch out for places in which you’ve jumbled chronologies in sentences and sentence sequences. For example:

    “Is it true that our king has no heart?” I prodded my uncle after closing that night. I tidied the shelves while he traveled back and forth from the stockroom with armloads of books.

    Try instead: After closing that night, I tidied the shelves while my uncle traveled back and forth from the stockroom with armloads of books. I prodded him for answers. “Is it true that our king has no heart?”

    Or, for example, we find out she’s skittish only after the shop has closed, but she was skittish before. For another example, she tells us she expected a reprimand after she’s done expecting the reprimand. Why not simply tell us while she waits for him to respond?

    In terms of sentences, watch for places where you tell us something that’s already clear. For example:

    “It was an enchanting image, but I too had experienced the city in winter time.”

    “I put in wonderingly.”

    “The idea intrigued and overwhelmed me.”

    I often think of these kinds of sentences as helping me to discover what I need to know, and they’re signals to me to look at the dialogue, gesture, and actions near the statement. Do I really need the line or is everything clear without it? SHOULD everything be clear without it? The same can be said for adverbs. Do they serve an important purpose, or does their presence mean I need a stronger verb?

    With this revision, you launch us into the story effectively. I look forward to seeing your work for next round.


    1. Hi Laura, thanks for your feedback. The jumbled sequence of sentences isn't something I'd really realized, so thanks for that. I'll be taking a careful look at that for the next revision. I also appreciate you pointing out those places where what's said in description is already clear through dialogue, again I hadn't noticed it I suspect because I've read over this scene too many times!

      As for what you said about adverbs, would you be able to give an example of an adverb that serves a purpose versus a superfluous one? I think I tend to rely on them too heavily for descriptive purposes when maybe I should give the reader more credit, but I'm having a little trouble with which are completely unnecessary and which (if any) are okay to stay.

    2. Alyssa, I think the first step is to circle all the adverbs to give yourself a visual, so you could see how many you're using. This will also show you verbal tics, words you use over and over. Minimize or eliminate the repetitions. Also, any adverb that modifies an action verb might mean you need to choose a more active verb. (I eyed my uncle shrewdly.) With a sentence like, I asked wonderingly, well, don't we always ask wonderingly? To be honest, my rule of thumb is to cut out almost all of them and only leave the few that do essential work. - Laura

  5. Hey Alyssa!

    Nice job on the revisions. I really love getting into the fact that Katka is a translator! Really cool. And I love the notion that some books are better left unread or unremembered. Really awesome. You have a lot of insight into your story world and it's rich and amazing.

    I also love the idea of the king's stolen heart (as I said before) and that she wants to find who took it.

    A couple of things for you to think about for this next revision:

    Will most of the story take place when she is older? I assume so because of your genre and because it comes across as something written in the POV of an older girl looking back rather than the age she is when this is happening.
    I wonder why the story is written more like a memory than a real-time prologue. Also, is there a reason these two childhood events can't happen at the same time (same day perhaps?) and real-time as in a prologue.

    The reason I ask is because of phrases like: Once, on a particularly daring mission, I went sneaking into the stockroom where I was not normally allowed, only to become distracted by the papers with strange symbols and mysterious maps littering the long wooden table.
    For a few years afterward, I had childish aspirations

    My suggestion: try writing this whole opening as her POV at this age. See if you like it. If you don't, and really like the idea of her older self telling these stories, you can always keep it as is.

    I personally think that writing the scene out in real-time POV will help cement the scene and give us a better feel for Katka's character (i.e. why does she feel like crying when her uncle finds her on the table, he didn't seem the domineering type) and focus less on the past and more on what's happening now--letting those story-world details come out organically.

    See what you think. I'm looking forward to seeing the revision.