Sunday, July 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Simonelli

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. Scrollwork snaked around its handle and a curious rune
decorated its blade. Her brother, Jamie, would love to add it to his
collection. He always sought weapons with character.

The ruffian sitting across from her 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, but 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!”

“Tricky move,” Pippa said. She bowed her head to hide her 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. Longing for his 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 cheered as 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, relishing 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, fussing 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. Seven marks. The ruffian’s
an idiot, but he needs to think he has a chance. Otherwise, he might end the
game. Pippa started to reach for a red pawn, hesitated, made a show of
sighing and tugging on her bottom lip, and then reached for another. She
moved it seven squares, diagonally.

The ruffian cracked his fat knuckles. “I need a break.” His voice grated,
like the jagged edges of raw, unforged steel scraping against stone. A
raider, no doubt. He clearly didn’t expect to lose to a sixteen-year-old

Pippa feigned unease by shifting 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 a remote corner with his

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. Even though the mead hall buzzed
with revelry, she swore the innkeeper mentioned her father’s name.


As hard as she tried, she could not escape the memory of her father and
banged her fist onto the table.

The stranger smiled at her and nodded. Pippa looked away, reaching for her
ale and burning to know why he had asked about her father, unless she was
hearing things. 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. The stranger waved a lazy hand over the mouth of his
horn, and a thin column of mead coiled up from the vessel. Pippa 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. She had seen extraordinary,
incredulous things, but nothing like twirling mead. This is why I shouldn’t
have come alone. She may have enjoyed too much ale after all. Although, the
room wasn’t tilting and the faces around her weren’t smeared in a blend of
drunken color.

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

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 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.

“If she wins, but doesn’t succeed in fifty moves,” the ruffian continued,
leering 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. The ruffian flailed his arms as he tumbled. An avalanche
of wool and leather and men heavy with alcohol fell with him. Jamie flipped
the game table with a crash, splashing ale and flinging pawns across the
room. Pippa fell backwards off the bench. The wood floor smacked into her
back, forcing air from her lungs in a rushing gasp. She rolled to her side
and tried to run, but the stinking lout caught her arm and yanked her back.
He was drunk, and she was quick. She hooked a foot around one of his legs
and shoved him to the ground.

The ruffian stumbled to his feet.


  1. Hi Danielle! First of all, I have a feeling that there should be italics in this excerpt, but they didn't translate through copy/pasting?

    After reading through it twice, it's growing on me. Pippa seems like a fun, spunky, yet reckless character. I can't QUITE place the time period, but I can definitely picture an old, dim, stinky tavern. You set up the immediate stakes pretty well, and it's telling of her risky nature that Pippa would gamble her dignity for a really cool knife. I also like what you've done setting up her relationship with Jamie.

    When I first read this, some of the modifiers were throwing me off. I felt like there should've been something before "scrollwork" in this sentence: "Scrollwork snaked around its handle and a curious rune decorated its blade."

    In this sentence, I think it would've been clearer if it started with his position, such as, "Across the game board, the ruffian scratched the faded scars puckering his nose." The flow could just be a personal peeve of mine, though.

    Anyway, let me know if you have any questions and if you'd like me to clarify anything. Good luck with revisions :D

    1. Hello Adelle! Yes, there were a few italics (tafl and some of Pippa's internal thoughts) that didn't transcribe in plain text.

      The time period is only identifiable via "Norse" and "mead hall." I might have to slip "viking" in there somewhere to better anchor it.

      Thank you so much for the comments! Your feedback is very clear.

  2. Hi, Danielle! I really love the world you set up here. I got that old Norse tavern feeling by the sights and smells.

    I can tell Pippa will be a fun and spunky character to go on an adventure with. I was a bit thrown finding out she was sixteen and drinking with the men, but considering the world you are setting up, I get the feeling that isn't so odd.

    I also wanted to know about Pippa's dad. Your comments were just enough to make me curious to keep reading and find out more.

    A few comments I have would be I'm not sure Pippa referring to her own smile as impish reads that well. This could be a personal thing. It just struck me as odd.

    I believe in the paragraph where she calls the ruffian an idiot slips from past to present tense.

    Two things I wanted to know as I was reading; was Pippa's move a good move? I assumed that was why the ruffian wanted a break but I wasn't sure. I (personally) also really wanted to SEE Jamie when she turned toward him. You have a great flow going, building up to some action, but maybe just a quick sketch of his appearance?

    Looking forward to seeing this again next week! Please let me know if you have any questions about my comments. Good luck.

    1. Thank you Stacy!

      Yes, she's in a mead hall with grownups, but in 880 AD Pippa would probably be married by now, LOL.

      And yes, the paragraph tha switches tense is because it's Pippa's internal dialogue...didn't italicize in plain text. I'll have to fix that in a revision.

      Nice idea about her seeing Jamie! I might try that.

      Thanks so much,

  3. Hi Danielle,

    You’ve got a setup here that’s already full of suspense and conflict, as well as a bit of mystery. Because of the genre and setting this could easily have gone very trope-y, but it was handled well and didn’t feel that way, so kudos!

    Something I liked immediately was the introduction of a brother and the connection with Jamie having taught Pippa tafl. The fact that she was playing to win him a knife he’d like was also a great indicator of their relationship. I also loved some of the detail and description in these pages—the stranger "fussing with voluminous robes” and the innkeeper "with a beard like a bird’s nest”.

    There were a few things I would’ve liked to see more detail on. The mention of Norse and the use of another language by Pippa threw me a bit. Since I know this is a fantasy story I assumed it’s not set in our world. If it is, I’d like a little more grounding. Maybe explicitly name the country or city where they are to indicate to the reader that this isn’t a made-up world.
    I also wondered about Jamie’s age. We’re told Pippa is sixteen and I got the sense that Jamie’s older because of his protective actions, but I’m not sure. I wanted to know if this was the case or if they were twins, or even if Pippa was the older sibling.
    When it's mentioned that Pippa has seen "extraordinary, incredulous things”, I was waiting to hear what those were! If there’s a way to briefly mention two or three things without having to include a lot of detail, it would help flesh out the world she’s in.

    Something I really wanted to know more about was gender roles in this world—is it normal for young women to be gambling in mead halls, or is Pippa the exception? If so, is this ignoring of usual roles always tolerated, or does she face opposition for doing what she does? Also, her wager with the ruffian had me a bit perplexed. She’s clearly very close with her brother and wants to win him the knife, but is she so very sure in her abilities that there’s no way she’ll lose? If not, is it worth it to her to barter herself to this stranger just to win her brother a new token for his collection? I wondered if she’s made similar wagers before and doesn’t view it as such high stakes, but the mention of her shudder at the possibility doesn’t make me think so.

    Hope these comments are helpful for your revision!


    1. Hi Alyssa,

      Thank you for the comments. Perhaps I should have specified that this MS is historical fantasy…so, our world with magic. This city is Viking-controlled Jorvik, which today is called York in Britain. Also, back then it’s not Britain, it’s Northumbria. These things are mentioned on page 5, exactly 6 lines passed the max words for submission 😊

      I can mention Jamie is older. His explicit age is on page 11 of the MS.

      One of the “extraordinary things” I allude to is first mentioned on page 7…but I don’t state it all at once. You don’t get that until page 15ish. I tried to reveal it slowly. Otherwise, it comes off as backstory, which my Cps and betas did not like at all. I don’t know if I want to bring it up sooner just yet.

      Good mention regarding gender roles. Though Viking women enjoyed more freedoms than most, there is still quite a bit of debate among historians so I definitely took some liberties there. Though, as you suggest, I might mention some of this to ground the reader.

      Thank you so much for your help!

  4. Danielle,

    This definitely kept me reading because Pippa has much at stake. We’re not entirely clear how important the game is overall, but winning definitely matters to her. She’s endearing, too, because she wants to win this knife for her brother. She’s caring, but also seemingly up for an unnecessary risk. She’s clever, smarter than the men she’s with, but maybe a little over-confident.

    Some of the other readers have pointed out that the world is a little general. Norse. A dirty tavern. But what makes it distinctive? You’re writing in a close third, so you don’t want to write a lot of description of things she wouldn’t actually notice. Also, the pacing is working well for you. Still, is this place strange to her? She’s in a not-entirely-safe situation, so it would make sense for her to notice things in the tavern, to be a bit watchful of the people and/or the place itself. If the tavern is familiar, is anything out of the ordinary that she might notice? Or is there anything she’s kind of checking on or looking out for? I don’t think you need a lot more description in this brief portion, but I think a few more well-chosen details could enliven and specify the world.

    The way she carries herself as a young woman, what she does and expects from those around her, could also tell us more about your world. Is it normal for women to take this role, or are the men surprised by her? They obviously expect to beat her, and she’s stringing them along because of this expectation. Still, do they see her as freakish or normal? Does she have a kind of job or identity that is outside the usual norms for women but still is socially accepted? Or is she really odd? The ways they speak to her and what they say might reveal a bit more about this.

    I was intrigued by her concerns about her heritage. Is she always on the watch for judgement in those around her, judgement relating to her father? If this is an important part of the story, we might see more about her father at the table itself. If these guys do know about her father, how do they feel about playing against her? About dealing with her in this way (winning/losing)? What about the suggestion of having time with her alone as part of the deal? Does any of this relate to her identity as her father’s daughter, or perhaps as her brother’s sister? Yet, if the father isn’t that important, why does he come up at all?

    In terms of the stranger, he’s mysterious and kind of brazen here. His magic is unusual, but he doesn’t care if it’s noticed or not? He’s staring, but he’s not actually trying to speak to her? Or he’s not trying to avoid her so he can watch her? I guess I’m wondering if he’s acting in a way that’s a little convenient for you as a storyteller, but maybe not in line with his motivations. What does he want from her and what does he want from his time here? This might not ever be clear in these pages, but his actions should align with those drives regardless.

    A few tweaky suggestions -

    "Her father would have been furious at her for gambling. Furious, but proud
    when she won the knife. Longing for his 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."  - There’s a lot in here, the father, the brother, her past. Maybe cut the brother reference and just have her drink?

    "As hard as she tried, she could not escape the memory of her father and
    banged her fist onto the table." - Watch out for overuse of moving body parts. Gestures can be revealing, but sometimes they can be distracting and repetitive. Also, with this one, then the stranger smiles. Is he guessing her feelings somehow? How would he know she’s overheard him? And why would he want her to? If he wants her to know he’s interested in her heritage, why not speak directly to her?

    I think that’s it for this round. You have some shaping to do, but it’s a very readable opening.

    Take care.

  5. Hello Laura,

    Thank you so much for your comments! I really appreciate it.

    I’m so glad of your impressions of Pippa, because what you stated is what I was going for. And yes, the mead hall is familiar to her, which is why that stranger stands out to her. I can try to make that clearer. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Regarding gender roles. This is technically a historical fantasy, set in 880 AD Britain and Scotland. The story starts in Viking-controlled Jorvik in Northumbria (today, it’s York in Great Britain). I researched the role of women in Viking-era Britain, and though there is debate among historians, I can definitely ground the reader in terms of expectations.

    Her relationship to her (missing, presumed dead) father is critical to the story. She struggles to come to terms with his disappearance…and when her brother disappears in a similar manner, her quest is set in motion. The folks she is gambling against don’t know her father, and we don’t see them again in the MS. Gambling and taking risks is how she copes with the loss of her father – this is explained/shown on page 6. Do you think that is too late?

    The stranger approaches Pippa and her brother on page 8…reveals his identity, and brings them a message from their father. He is also a Celtic Bard (Druid) who works magic, which he shows her on several occasions. So, as you say, his motivations and wants and purpose are revealed by the end of the first chapter (10 pages) but not in the first 5. Is this too late? From a pacing perspective, I didn’t want to load so much too early.

    Noted on the overuse of gestures. Roger that!

    Regarding the stranger, and him guessing her feelings, whether he knows she overheard him, etc. How do I do this in Pippa’s POV? I suppose I could have her wonder what he’s thinking…? I'm trying to be conscious of word count and pacing.

    Thank you so much!

  6. Danielle,

    I don't think you need to explain that she copes this way in these pages. But if this is a place she's familiar with, would she recognize any of the men she's gambling with? Would they have any kind of past interactions, since she's a gambler and so are they? And whether she does know them or not, you're beginning with essentially a throwaway scene. It tells us about her, her relationship to her brother and her father — all of which is great. But these guys don't matter. I wonder if at least one person at the table should. Like maybe the Druid?

    I don't think you need to explain the Druid's motivations here, but I think he should act in a way that reflects his motivations. If he wants to keep his magic hidden, why show her the way he does? And if he wants to speak with her, why not come up to the table? Maybe he hangs back in a way that raises her suspicions, even if her suspicions are a bit off-base? Maybe he even participates in some large or small way? If, instead, he wants to avoid her, maybe he tries, but she's too smart for him. She has her eye on him during this game, and she's speculating about his intentions? And, again, her speculations might not be entirely correct.

    Hoping this helps,

  7. I really enjoyed this. Most of what I would have commented on has been covered (most notably, italics that didn't come through in formatting which would explain changes from past to present tense). I did not feel like we needed more description on a time frame since this was labeled fantasy. I got a Nord-like, Skyrim (video game) vibe and went with it.

    I would have liked to see a little more internal emotion from Pippa, in the sense of a reaction or her feelings. We see her thoughts and she's methodical, and rounding that out with a few more hints of emotion would be great. for example:

    >Pippa feigned unease by shifting uncomfortably on the wooden bench.

    There's nothing wrong with this line, though it reads a little distanced. Maybe bring the unease into a closer point of view. A sense of unease slid through her. She wiped her palm on her knee and readjusted on the wooden bench... Something that puts us a little closer to her internal feelings, but shows that she is keeping control best she can. I don't think you need a ton of this, otherwise you have constant stomachs in turmoil and it gets melodramatic!

    Nice job! This is one of the strongest submissions I've read since I've been mentoring with the blog :)

  8. Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for reading. More emotion + closer POV - got it! It's something I must always seek to improve. And thanks for the positive vibe. It's nice to hear that once in a while (especially while we are in the thick of contest season).


  9. Hi Danielle!

    You had me at tafl!! Vikings do not get near enough love in YA, and Vikings in Northern Britain is an amazing idea! Vikings + Druids? It's like you're writing just for me.

    I think this scene is a great way into Pippa's world. It reminds me a little of Karen Allen's drinking scene at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You've done an amazing job of showing us a lot about your main character without telling us much. Just her involvement in the scenario exposes so much. Well done!

    Here are a few of my suggestions/notes:

    1. Writing Flow
    Right now the writing reads a little choppy to me. I think that mostly has to do with repetitive sentence structures and a lack of transitions between thoughts and actions and ideas. I'd suggest reading this aloud and trying to vary some of your sentence lengths to improve the flow of the reading. You may also try reordering some of your sentences to make the flow better.

    2. Believability
    There were some details didn't read true to me. For example, I didn't buy that she'd be able to hear a whispered word between two men across the room in a noisy pub. Not even one word. And I don't really think you need that detail for the Druid character to be intriguing to her. As a 16-yr-old girl in a rough society like that, just having some stranger's eyes on you would be suspicious. To notice them probably asking the pub owner about you would compound that.

    I also didn't buy that she would be the only one to see the Druid's magic in a crowded pub. If you want his display to be just for her, maybe show him hiding it behind a sleeve of his cloak, or holding the horn down by his side to do the trick, so it's shielded from view by most of the people around them...etc, etc. Or even have him sitting in an alcove that's a little dark and hidden, so only she can see.

    3. Sensory detail
    You do a really great job of providing us with visual detail, like her opponent scratching the scars on his nose, as one example. But I think you could really make this scene much more rich by adding more sensory details. Let us live the scene with Pippa. Is it hot in there? Muggy? Is it cold outside, so the heat of all the bodies gathered around feels good? Or is it too hot? Does it smell? I loved the detail of how the creeper smelled like picked fish, but I assume there would be more scents in there. At the very least, spilling her ale would make her smell like a brewery. Is she worried her dad will notice later? Her brother? Also SOUND is a great way to give flow to your work, and you've given yourself a great sound opportunity with the music you reference. If there's music playing, take advantage of that. Have someone do something to the rhythm of the song. Have the musicians stop playing or botch a note to bolster the intensity of the fight scene.

    These details may not seem like much, but they all contribute to this feeling that your reader is there with Pippa in the scene, and that goes a long way to keep people reading.

    Also, as a side note: While you did well in staying consistent in how you reference the men in the pub, a few visual cues might help the reader to keep the strangers straight. I got a little lost a couple of times between "the ruffian" and "the stranger" and "the lout." Consistency is good, but additional clues will help to solidify who is who, and keep your switching between them from becoming a distraction for the reader.

    Finally, I second the notes others gave about upping her emotions in the scene and closing the POV. I won't reiterate, because they said what I was thinking.

    Overall, this is really great. Good luck in your revisions! I can't wait to see what you come up with.

    5 Pages Mentor

    1. Thank you so much Heather for your comments! Your feedback is very helpful. I know what I need to do to improve.


  10. Thank you for everyone's comments this round! I hope I show some improvement...sending off my revision shortly.

    (Then the trick will be to repeat all of this for the full 300 pages).