Sunday, July 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Simonelli Rev 1

Name: Danielle Simonelli
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Title: The Blood of Runes

Pippa rolled the dice and winked.

She slid a tafl pawn three spaces across the checkered board, eyeing the
prize knife. Elaborate scrollwork snaked around its handle and a curious
rune decorated its blade. Her older brother, Jamie, would love to add it to
his collection. He always sought weapons with character.

A ruffian sat across from her and scratched the faded scars puckering his
nose. He leaned over the game board and rolled the dice. Six marks. Sailors
trying to earn some quick coin exchanged bets and told him to move this
piece or that. They shouted drunken suggestions at Pippa too. She ignored
them, because she already had a strategy to capture the King-piece. Her
opponent moved a white pawn by six squares and muttered something in Norse.
His sharp gaze met hers with a look that said “That’ll show you!”

She’d relish his moment of shock when he lost.

“Hmm, tricky move,” Pippa said. She bowed her head to hide an impish smile.
Jamie had taught her how to master tafl, which her opponent foolishly agreed
to play. He originally suggested a test of riddles, but the last time Pippa
attempted a riddle contest she lost a silver bracelet.

She scanned the mead hall, making sure Jamie wasn't around, because she
wanted to surprise him with the weapon.

Her father would have been furious at her for gambling. Furious, but proud
when she won the knife. Many young women played tafl—Pippa wasn’t an
exception—but she did it often. Maybe too often. Playing the game required
focus to anticipate future moves, and during those brief, intense points of
concentration, Pippa forgot her father’s crazy beard and warm smile. The
missing stopped.

At least for that moment.

Longing for her father’s smile made her chest ache, so Pippa lifted a cup of
frothy ale. The faint scent of aged oak conjured images of summertime
mischief with her brother, when they had snuck a taste of ale from the
brewer’s barrels. She drank it with a single swallow and banged the emptied
cup next to the game board. Everyone around her cheered. She reached for a
nearby flagon and refilled her cup. Pippa could enjoy two drinks, maybe
three, without muddling her senses.

She tapped her foot to the warbled rhythm of a panpipe, thrilled with her
imminent win. With her turn came a squall of suggestions from the crowd, yet
one spectator remained aloof. The figure stood near the fire. He fussed with
voluminous robes until they lay just right. By the look of his unscathed
leather boots and the flashing gold rings on his fingers, he wasn’t a farmer
or seafarer. She squirmed under his stare. A heavy hood framed his face, but
his eyes glimmered as he watched the game…and her.

She turned back to the board and rolled the dice. The ruffian was an idiot,
but he needed to think he had a chance. Otherwise, he might end the game.
She started to reach for a red pawn, hesitated, made a show of sighing and
tugging on her bottom lip, and then reached for another. Pippa moved it
seven squares, diagonally. He’d fallen for her act, but her heart still

The ruffian cracked his fat knuckles. “I need a break.” His voice sounded
harsh, like the jagged edges of raw, unforged steel scraping against stone.
A raider, no doubt. Fresh from a viking. Just passing through, like everyone
else in the buzzing mead hall. He clearly didn’t expect to lose to a
sixteen-year-old girl.

She pretended to shift uncomfortably on the wooden bench. “Já, I could use
time to think on my next move.”

He slapped his knee in agreement and retreated to the fire with his friends.

She shut her eyes. She would have won two turns ago, if he hadn’t bumbled
into a lucky move. If she won the game, she’d claim his knife. If he won the

She shuddered, determined to avoid that possibility.

Pippa stole another glance at the hooded stranger.

With a flick of his wrist, the stranger beckoned the innkeeper to him. They
spoke, huddled, heads bent. The innkeeper, a short man with a beard like a
bird’s nest, cocked his head toward Pippa.

The stranger smiled at her and nodded. Pippa looked away, reaching for her
ale and burning to know why she had garnered his attention. She held the
drink to her lips and watched him over the rim of her cup.

He hardly noticed the girl who served him a horn of mead before she scurried
back into the crowd. Then the stranger moved to a remote corner. Away from
the music and gaming and girls casting suggestive glances. With his eyes
fixed on Pippa, he waved a lazy hand over the mouth of his horn, and a thin
column of mead coiled up from the vessel.
She blinked. With a quick, twirling finger, the mead made a loop in the air
and wove between his fingers before splashing back into the horn.

Pippa dropped her cup. Ale drenched her lap and trickled down her trousers.
Disbelief must have shown on her face, because the stranger chuckled and
tipped his horn to her. She wiped away the ale and fidgeted with her cloak,
not understanding what she had witnessed. Pippa had seen extraordinary,
incredulous things, but nothing like twirling mead. She worried her lip.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come alone. She may have enjoyed too much ale after
all. Though, the room wasn’t tilting and the faces around her weren’t
smeared in a blend of drunken color.

Ale soaked her shirt, too. Even if Jamie didn’t find her in the mead hall,
he’d certainly smell it on her.

A rowdy lout scooted down the bench to sit beside her. He leaned close—too
close—and draped an arm around her shoulders. The lout smelled like pickled
fish. She crinkled her nose when he slurred gibberish in her ear. Pippa
might have shrugged him off if she wasn’t so stunned by the stranger’s

A heavy hand landed on her back.

She turned to find Jamie looming over her, his face scrunched in an
unpleasant grimace. He flung the lout’s arm off her shoulders.

“What are you doing here?” Jamie asked, sounding both relieved and
frustrated. He didn't wait for a reply. “You’re leaving.”

He had no reason to be upset. “I'm fine,” Pippa said. “Besides, I have a
present for you.”

“She's not going anywhere until the game’s finished,” the scarred ruffian
said, emerging from the far corner. His eyes flicked from her to Jamie, who
returned an unreadable, glassy stare.

“You.” Jamie pointed at Pippa and then the door. “Out.”

“If I win I get his knife.” She jutted her chin toward the game board,
wanting him to see how close she was to victory. “And if I win in less than
fifty moves, I get his fox fur as well.”

“What if you lose?”

Pippa’s cheeks warmed.

The ruffian shrugged. "I claim her best dagger.”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at her.

“But if she doesn’t succeed in fifty moves,” the ruffian continued, scars
wrinkling as he leered in her direction, “she still gets the knife, but I
also get a little…private time…with her in the back room.”

“What!” Jamie’s face flared.

Pippa pinched her eyes shut and cursed under her breath.

Jamie’s fist landed in the man’s jaw, snapping his head back and knocking
him off his feet.


  1. Hi Danielle! I'm trying to avoid looking at your previous version, but I think this clears up a lot about whether Pippa is a special tafl player, if her brother is older, etc. I didn't notice any awkward, confusing sentences this time around.

    However, I am much more intrigued by this hooded figure. I can't even recall him in last week's post, but he does sound really interesting, and I'm interested in his role.

    I don't have much to say, otherwise, so please let me know if you have any questions!

    1. Oh gosh, if you can't recall the hooded figure from last week I must have really failed! LOL. I will continue to work on it. Thank you for reading.

  2. Danielle, I really like the little additions you made! I love what you put in about why she plays so much tafl. It made my heart go out to Pippa. Which is great, since she is so cheeky and sly. It gave me an emotional link to her I didn't quite get from the bar scene in the previous version.

    A small note. I was a bit thrown when the stranger went from fussing with his robes to staring at her without ever looking up. I'm being nit-picky here. :)

    I was left wondering about Pippa's experience with magic. Has she seen it before? If so, why did it shock her so much to see the mead trick. Had she only heard about it? She seems shocked but not necessarily scared, so maybe. Had she never heard about it? If so does the trick frighten her?

    That's about it! I think the little tweaks you made brought the scene further to life. Great job. Can't wait to see the finished product next week.

    If you have any questions about the comments, please let me know.

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! Answers to you Pippa's experience with magic questions: No (so it shocked her), No, No, Not really, more shock than fear. I was trying to play up the "what the heck is going on over there with the creepy guy and his mead?" I still think that bit needs work so I will keep plugging. Thanks so much!

  3. Dear Danielle,

    I like the changes you’ve made to this. You’ve clarified some straightforward things in straightforward ways. The raiders’ purpose here is clearer. I have a clearer understanding, too, of Pippa’s situation in the room, in terms of gender norms.

    In the paragraph, “Her father would have been furious at her for gambling…” Try a stronger line at the end of the paragraph? “The memories disappeared” or something. “The missing” is kind of an odd noun. I know what you mean, but I had to think about it.

    This section of exposition goes on for a while, which makes the game seem very, very slow. Then the ruffian gets up to take a break. At that point, I’d lost track of the game altogether. Maybe Pippa should make a move before the paragraph that starts with her tapping her foot?

    In terms of the stranger, I wonder if she should notice him much sooner. Maybe even a glimpse of him in the second paragraph when you offer some description of the crowd? You don’t have to make this a large glimpse. Perhaps he’s attracted her attention because he’s staying out of it all? A line or two will set up what comes later.

    With “She shut her eyes...”, suddenly she seems concerned about the game, when before she was brimming with confidence. I actually think you could cut from “She shut her eyes…” to “She shuddered, determined to avoid that possibility.” Get us quicker to the important stuff. You could mention at the start what she’s offering if she loses, and she could think then that Jamie would be furious if he ever found out.

    Then we get the magic glimpse. I’m still not convinced by this magic glimpse. I’m not convinced others wouldn’t notice, particularly because Pippa’s responses suggest that magic isn’t usual. If the guy’s a trickster or something, maybe he would take this risk. Most of what I’m suggesting here is some tightening up, some cutting and shifting lines. Keep up the good work.

    LauraStill, why hold oneself apart but then do something that risks attention? These two sets of actions don’t seem to make sense together.

    Then she worries that Jamie will find out where she’s been because of the ale smell. Earlier in this piece, integrate a little more concern about him searching? At the start, she only seems concerned because she wants to surprise him with the weapon. You could follow that line with her desire to keep this mead hall/gambling trip secret from him.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Laura, thank you for the feedback.

      So that line "The missing stopped," caused so much debate in my writer's group! (It was previously on page 7 or 8 and I moved it up). Three words initiated a weekend-long Facebook chat. I'm happy you picked up on it. I will try an edit.

      Yes, I moved things around and now I've got some exposition. I see it. Will fix.

      That stranger's introduction has been all over my first chapter: beginning, middle, end, not at all. It's been tough to include him in an organic way. Like Heather had said in her feedback, the scene is like Karen Allen in the beginning of Indiana Jones...and now inject a hooded stranger in the back corner - how does she (Marian) react?

      I like your other suggestions as well. I will play around with them and see what comes of it!

      Earlier versions of this chapter did not have the stranger work magic, but I see it still needs massaging. I will capture everyone's feedback this week and see how I can better streamline it. That will be a big focus of my next revision.

      Thank you so much again!

    2. Quickly - Sorry some of my response is a little jumbled. I'm working remotely this week and the computers available to me have some mouse/cut-and-paste issues, clearly!

    3. That's ok!

      I'll tell you. I'm struggling with this "magic glimpse." The only reason it is in here is because an agent once said something like...there's magic in this book? I need to know that early on - page 1 or 2. Not chapter 2 or 3.

      My mistake is that I assumed that fantasy => magic, so this little bit was inserted. If it's not working, I'm wondering how bad it would be to take it out...

      Thank you again for all the great comments!

  4. Hi Danielle!

    Amazing job on these revisions. You did such a great job of giving your strong, cunning character a vulnerability in just a few words, and that shows some serious skill!

    Tiny/picky notes first:

    "He originally suggested a test of riddles..." should be "He’d originally suggested a test of riddles..."

    And when she says, "He’d fallen for her act, but her heart still
    thrummed." How would she know that he'd fallen for it?

    Okay, now I'm going to focus here:

    Longing for her father’s smile made her chest ache, so Pippa lifted a cup of
    frothy ale. The faint scent of aged oak conjured images of summertime
    mischief with her brother, when they had snuck a taste of ale from the
    brewer’s barrels. She drank it with a single swallow and banged the emptied
    cup next to the game board.

    I love the added nostalgia here, and the way you wove in emotion about her father’s death. But this section could use some smoothing. More specifically, you need a transition between the memory and coming back to present, otherwise it creates a stumbling block for the reader, while we try to figure out where we are.

    And now this section:

    With her turn came a squall of suggestions from the crowd, yet
    one spectator remained aloof. The figure stood near the fire. He fussed with
    voluminous robes until they lay just right. By the look of his unscathed
    leather boots and the flashing gold rings on his fingers, he wasn’t a farmer
    or seafarer. She squirmed under his stare. A heavy hood framed his face, but
    his eyes glimmered as he watched the game…and her.

    I think you can do better here. Focus in on the moment when their eyes meet. Show us Pippa smiling dismissively at the crowd and their suggestions, only to be stopped short as her eyes meet his. Or maybe his robes make him stand out? Something needs to draw her eye, and we should be living that with her a little more. Make this a moment so that her reaction to it seems natural--so that it's more believable when her gaze keeps coming back to him, even though she should be focused on the game because of the high stakes for her.

    Other than that, I think it looks great. There are still some choppy sections, because you use a lot of short sentences all in a row. When you're done with this revision, take a few minutes to read it aloud to smooth some of that out a bit and up the flow.

    And good luck to you!! I really hope this one finds its way onto the shelves soon. (For selfish reasons.)

    5 Pages Mentor

    1. Hi Heather,

      Oh yes I see now what you mean about the flow in these two sections, and where it needs to be smoothed. So obvious now that you've pointed it out. Here's where it pays to have fresh, critical eyes looking at my work!

      So the choppy parts are where I've got short sentences in a row? Alright, I will look for those. You know, I did read it aloud, but I think I'm too "intimate" with this material now, if that makes sense. I am going to have someone read it to me (i.e. will force husband) so that I can hear how it sounds, and maybe I'll better pick up on the choppiness and fix it from there.

      Thank you so much, I really appreciate your help.

  5. Hi Danielle,

    I think this revision did a nice job of incorporating everyone’s suggestions from last week. I got a much better sense of Pippa’s place in her society and that cleared up some of my questions from last time. I also loved the motivation for her somewhat obsessive tafl-playing habit. The mysterious stranger definitely stood out more in this revision, and made me even more intrigued about his motives.

    There were a few sentences or passages that sounded a bit awkward to me. In one case I was curious and went back to your original submission. I saw that you’d split one sentence into two for the revision, which I felt broke the flow of the words. Perhaps this is just a matter of personal preference on my part. However, I’d suggest reading the whole five pages out loud to yourself to see how it sounds to your ears. You may find places where the rhythm is off that are harder to identify while reading silently.

    Great work, and I look forward to reading your next revision.


    1. Hi Alyssa - if there's anything that sounds awkward to you, can you be specific so that I can fix it? Thank you so much!


    2. Hi Danielle—sure. I noticed a couple of places where there were some shorter sentences in a row, so be careful to vary sentence length in general.

      Here's one specific case where the flow of the narrative was interrupted for me:

      "Then the stranger moved to a remote corner. Away from the music and gaming and girls casting suggestive glances."

      The second sentence doesn't seem like a complete sentence. Maybe try something like "The stranger moved away from the music and gaming and girls with suggestive glances, to a remote corner." The use of three already works well rhythmically, and this way the thought finishes with the stranger in the corner rather than the glancing girls, if that makes sense. Another part was:

      "The figure stood near the fire. He fussed with voluminous robes until they lay just right."

      In the first submission, you'd written:

      "The figure stood near the fire, fussing with voluminous robes until they lay just right."

      I don't think it was problematic originally, and I think the original one-sentence version even flows better. Again, this is all just my opinion. Hope it isn't too nitpicky!


    3. Thank you that clears it up great!