Saturday, September 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop- Toran

Name: Katherine Toran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Witch and the Demon

Ebba’s soaked dress clung to her skin, wind and water competing to freeze her into a corpse as she ran through the moonless night. If she fell, she might not get up again. Keep moving. Get as far away from the witchfinder as possible, may he be reincarnated as a drunkard’s chamber pot.

Heedless of direction, she climbed up the mountain, away from her village. Blood oozed from her lips and fatigue numbed her legs. A tree root caught her ill-fitting clog. Her ankle bent sideways with a crack.

Waves of agony crashed over her as she hit the dirt. Mustn’t stop moving. Though she strained, her body refused to rise. She wanted to scream or cry. Instead, Ebba took a deep breath. To focus her mind, she pinched her cheek, right on top of the scabs left by the witchfinder’s pins. The itching of fatigue behind her eyes, the burning in her throat, the blistering sores—she pushed it all away.

Her right hand oozed pus from the burns on her palm, so she used her left one to sit up. When she touched her swollen ankle, the resulting stab told her this was more than a sprain. Her breath came faster. No, no! This couldn’t happen now. If she’d broken a bone, she wouldn’t be able to run, and then…then…

Ebba had no idea. She’d never had a plan past escaping her cell.

The forest’s silence unnerved her. No owls hooted nor insects chirped. An ancient demonic invasion had left this place magic-cursed. After the wolves had first descended, only those too poor to leave remained in Fort Jhaarth. Ebba shivered. She told herself most wolves avoided humans, and the red-eyed wolves only came once every few years.

Alone in the darkness, this argument became less convincing. She refused to be devoured like her mother. Perhaps she could sneak back just long enough to steal a knife and some food. She’d been too panicked in her flight, afraid the witchfinder might wake up…

Memory shuddered through her. He’d started with pins, directly on top of the mottled red birthmark covering her left cheek. If it was the mark of a witch, supposedly she wouldn’t feel pain there. Giant hands had held her down, his nails filthy and his liver spots as big as spiders. His too-close breath had reeked of onions.

“Confess,” the witchfinder had ordered after every pin. Each time, she’d refused. They’d kill her if she confessed.

The second day, he’d brought out the hot iron. The third day, the dunking. She’d nearly drowned. Pain and terror blurred her memory, though peculiarly, what she recalled most distinctly was the smell of sausages. Mad Gill, the local beggar, had gone around selling them to bystanders. The pleas she’d made to her neighbors had only been met with disdain or titillation.

No, she wasn’t going back.

Trees supported her limping journey. It hurt to breathe through the dryness of her mouth. Still, each step forward was a small victory. The deeper she got, the less likely anyone would dare follow. She refused to die at the hands of a sadistic charlatan who killed orphans and spinsters to take their property.

Her legs stiffened with each step and her belly ached. Ebba groaned, licking her dry lips. Water…she craved water. Just one drop to ease the burn in her throat. And while she was dreaming, she also wanted a hot cross bun. A hysterical giggle escaped her lips. Or a nice, juicy apple…Stop it. Coughing up lake water had left her with a throat too sore to swallow, anyway. Her world narrowed to placing one foot down and dragging the other after.

Too bad she wasn’t actually a witch—then she’d be able to cause water to rise up from the earth. Since witches made wells dry up, surely they could do the opposite. Next, she’d blight the crops of every neighbor who’d “forgotten” to pay her for doing their laundry.

Nearby, a burble of water broke the oppressive silence. Gasping with joy, Ebba turned and staggered towards it. The spike of pain that speared her ankle with each hop could almost be forgotten as the rushing sound grew louder.

Ahead, an unnatural crimson light gleamed. Thinking of the red-eyed wolves, Ebba slowed.

But dammit, her ankle was killing her, and she deserved a lucky break. There must be a way to reach the stream. She stepped gingerly, her heartbeat shaking her body with its power. The scent of ash drifted to her nose.

A fire, in this deserted forest? A chill skittered like a beetle down her spine. She hobbled forward, using trees to hide her body. Just one look to assess the danger, and then she’d decide whether to continue or flee.

Peering out from behind a tree, she beheld her first demon.

He lay against a rock, his arms and legs splayed out. Black bat wings spread over his head. The air reeked of a cloying, metallic scent. Blood.

A hole gaped open where his heart should have been.

Yet even with his rib bones exposed, his hand twitched and his gaze flickered. Somehow, he still lived. His blood burned like fire, so brightly that everything in the clearing—rocks, bushes, and straggly trees—cast red shadows. He was the very flame which had drawn her here like a moth. The gory light accented his glistening black hair, pale skin, and slim, high cheekbones. His slender form reminded her of an angel with the wrong type of wings. He could be called beautiful, in an inhuman way—a little too symmetrical to be real.

She must have made a noise because his head shot up. “Who’s there?”

Ebba remained frozen in shock.

The demon inhaled deeply. “I can smell you, sheep. Come out where I can see you.”

Some sorcery in his deep, melodious voice enthralled her into taking a few limping steps forward before she stopped herself.

“Look deep into my eyes.” The demon fixed her with a predator’s gaze. “Give me your heart.”

Ebba stammered, “My what?”

“Listen, sheep! I am Kryptos of the Crimson Flame, one of the twelve demonic gods. I command you to offer your heart to me.”

“I-I’d rather not.”

“You dare defy me?” The demon’s arms jerked, making Ebba jump. His legs scrabbled for purchase against the dirt. Strange for him to move at all, with a missing heart, but he only seemed able to thrash, screaming, “Stop! I—argh—gave you an order!”

Ebba’s back hit a tree.

His face turning from angry to calculating, the demon purred, “Come back, little lamb, and bargain with me. All I need is to borrow your heart until mine heals. I offer you untold riches. Every jewel in this world will belong to you.”

His voice dripped sin like blood trickling from an open wound. Only a fool listened to a demon. The stories called them liars, tempters, and soul-stealers. If he expected her to believe she wouldn’t die from having her heart removed, “crazy” should be added to the list. Afraid to look away from the creature, Ebba edged away, her arms stretched out behind her to avoid the trees.

“I offer you power. I will make you ruler of this world and all your kind, if you will just strike a deal with me…”


  1. Hi Katherine!

    Great example of in media res! You throw us right into the action.

    There are some inconsistencies that pulled me out of the narrative here and there. From your first paragraph, I imagined that was cold and raining-like she was running through a storm, but later, after she's hurt her ankle, she mentions how she would do anything for some water and my thought was that she was surrounded by water- not the easiest way to drink, but if its raining hard enough, she could lick her lips and get a little something

    Her broken ankle wouldn't swell that fast, it would probably take about 20-30 minutes depending on the severity of the break. When she manages to get herself up again, can she break off a tree branch or find one on the ground that she could use as a crutch? I think it would make her escape more practical

    I'm intrigued by the fact they think she's a witch, but she's not a witch. Like I want to know why they thought this and how often real witches are actually caught and all that- I don't think this needs to be answered here, but this is where my mind is going as a reader, so your pages are totally making me interested and wanting to know more!

    Does Ebba know where the next village is or a specific place that she might find genuine sanctuary (whether it really is or not) that she might think of as a more specific goal rather than just to get far away?

    Does she have any loved ones she left behind who might be wondering where she's escaped it-This may or may not fit into your pages here, but I feel like a bit more background on Ebba might endear her more to the reader. right now all I know is that she is running from the witchfinder and she isn't really a witch. She seems fairly tough and determined, but I'd like a hint at a bit more, at what her endgame might be (save her family? ease tensions between witches and non-witches? Kill the creepy demon she meets in the woods?)

    Your description of the demon is lovely! I had a great visual in my head as I read and I like that he was missing his own heart and wanted to take hers. The demon ordered her to give him her heart- he seemed surprised when she wasn't compelled to do so. I kind of expected that Ebba would feel something, a little tingle or something of that nature that would indicate the demon was trying to possess her, but she fought it off or because of who she is (I feel like she is a witch or magical and just hasn't discovered it yet?) it didn't take effect.

    And I want to know what the deal is because I feel like it will be deliciously evil....

  2. I find the beginning of this very heavy with told feelings. She's cold, wet, tired, hungry, in pain (in several areas), bleeding, oozing, aching, thirsty, stiff... I know you're trying to show us that she's not doing well, but what it's doing instead is making us dizzy. Focus on the strongest thing--probably pain because that usually makes a person forget everything else--and then spend more time on what she's doing and why. We want to be in her head, not in her actual skin.

    Also, watch the places where you're telling us what she's thinking/feeling rather than showing it with internalization. For example, "Ebba had no idea." This is telling us that she doesn't know when she could just think, "Then what?" That would show us that she has no idea instead. Another example is "Ebba remained frozen in shock." The frozen already shows us that she's either in shock or scared. You're turning this into telling by adding the "in shock."

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Katherine!

    I had trouble establishing myself in your world, for a variety of reasons. From the beginning we’re almost overloaded with the physical agony that Ebba is currently in – lots of pain, lots of evidence of horrible things happening to her, some depictions of torture… I think this risks having readers or agents put down your MS simply because from the get-go, they’re looking for reasons to connect with your MC. Not to say that this won’t have a place further into your manuscript – you just might have people choose to not to continue reading.

    Overall I think you’re a strong writer, but do watch for instances where you ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’ – Holly hit it dead on with her examples from your text.

    I think it’s a very interesting twist that Ebba was being tortured by the witchfinder when she in fact is not a witch – I was ready to read that she was, and finding out she wasn’t I think adds a layer of depth to her character!

    I think my favorite part of your first five pages was Ebba finding the demon and the demon itself – is this a second world fantasy with angels and demons the same as your standard person would recognize? It reads that way to me. But I found the demon humorous and a little whacky, which I actually liked! I was smiling when I was reading his outlandish manner and dialogue and ordering Ebba around, and she’s like “Guy… nah.”

    I’ll be very interested to see what you do with the revision!

  4. Hi Katherine,
    Great start! I am intrigued by your story and its premise - a fantasy about (possibly) a non-witch. That said, I feel like you've packed a bit too much exposition and description into these first pages. A bit more character-development and deeper POV work would balance things better and keep readers more strongly connected to Ebba. So, with kudos to you for a worthy first draft, here are some thoughts to hone an even stronger D2.
    1. I'm thrown off by 'may he be reincarnated as a drunkard’s chamber pot.' - Would a girl in such dire straits make such a joke in that moment? Would Ebba, specificially? More broadly, after starting with this early internal aside, you rather let this convention go and replace with a lot of 'she said/she thought/she felt.' I'd play with subbing out more Ebba-voice internal monologue lines.
    2. Love [Ebba] 'had no plans beyond escaping her cell.' Gripping sentence. Although slightly passive in structure, this is a great insight into Ella. Can we get a specific instance (a memory, perhaps) which shows this hot-headedness in action in another moment?
    3. PP 6 feels a bit expositional and complicated. Wolves? Eaten mother? Magic-cursed?
    4. Cries met with disdain or [titiliation] ? Although I get what you mean, I'm not sure if this is your strongest word choice for that moment.
    5. DEMON feels a bit out-of-the-blue. Thought we were in a witch world. If this is a multi-fantasy-character environment AND Ebba is honestly not a witch, I feel like we need to know a touch of this before the 'heartless' moment. WHAT ARE THE MANY THINGS/CREATURES/WORRIES/FEARS from which Ebba runs? What is the worst? What might she be running toward? What WISH for help/salvation/friend/family might she have? Who TELLS THE STORIES warning folks from demons? Why would she trust the stories if she has no friends/family? Might she be tempted...?
    IN SUM...Not going to line edit further. I think a terrific exercise for honing this entry would be to make an outline of all the plot and world-building points you make in these salvo paragraphs and then pick-and-choose the best, saving some for later. DO WE NEED all the wolf stuff, the eaten mother, the horrid neighbors yet? Consider starting Ebba's run NOT in the forest but at the edge of town where she can perhaps see SPECIFIC neighbors and recall their unkindnesses in detail. This would give us some village info PLUS a tighter focus.
    I'm super-intrigued and look forward to your revision.
    All best wishes and Happy Labor Day!

  5. You do a great job of immediately making us understand the stakes. She's alone, she's hurt and she absolutely can't go back. This opening is pretty strong, but I'm wondering if the first sentence could be shortened to make it zippier and easier to catch the reader's interest.

    There's some great humor in there too to lighten the mood. I love the line about blighting the crops of every neighbor who'd forgotten to pay her for laundry!

    The demon's dialogue is very formal. If it was a person, I'd say too formal, but do demons talk like that in this world? Just a note to consider. I wonder also, if the tension needs to upped a little in this scene. You do such a great job describing her thoughts and struggles earlier. The bit with demon seems to progress along pretty quickly. It almost feels like we lose the connection we had with Ebba earlier. Perhaps find a way to show her emotions/thoughts a little more?

    I really enjoyed reading this! Great work!


  6. I love this! Your opening sentence immediately drew me in. Ebba is a feisty character, and I liked the subtle humors in your writing style.

    She clearly has a very dark past, and your descriptions of what have happened help to sympathize with her as a reader. The story starts off with a bang, with her having nowhere to go and being unable to turn back. I like her vindictive spirit, wanting revenge on the people who treated her so badly. Ebba really has me rooting for her.

    Your pacing is good as well. The demon comes in at just the right part of the story. I might suggest drawing out details of Ebba's past a little more. You sort of put it all in at the beginning, and feeding the readers tidbits as they go along can help with both keeping them curious and avoiding info-dumping.

    Best of luck with revisions!

  7. Hi Katherine,
    Thank you for letting us read your pages! You've got incredibly high stakes and tension here, with a lot of important action. Clearly meeting the demon is key, or at least it's signaling to us that it's key, so I love how early you get that rolling.

    I agree with the comments above about telling and holding off on the backstory and so much worldbuilding until we get grounded in the who, what, where, and why.

    My biggest comment is that I would rethink how this story opens. Our very first moments with this girl are as she's running from terrible things. It's an escape scene, and just like a chase or attack scene, that sets us up for problems because it requires a lot of explaining to understand what's happening, which means a somewhat slow beginning, even though the nature of the action means we want a fast pace. Also, we haven't connected to the character enough to care that she's in danger and running away when it opens-- it asks us to immediately care about whether she lives or dies when we know almost nothing about her. So it sets a really high bar for the character development. And unfortunately, that's really hard to meet, because unless your character is Jason Bourne or a superhero or someone who would react very differently in this situation, most people will react the exact same way to running from something so terrible. We'll be afraid, glance behind us, trip over things, panic, etc. So, since the danger is so present and the stakes so high that the character is focused only on saving her own life, she reacts the way most of us would. Meaning, the character development doesn't actually show us anything to truly set this girl apart-- other than what's in the backstory, but that weighs down the escaping. Finally, it makes me wonder where the story can go from here. Opening with life and limb at stake like this makes me think there's no where for the stakes and pacing to go but down. And we want suspense and stakes to build, instead of going downward, in the first chapter.

    The most interesting moment to me was where she met the demon. That's a really interesting moment for character development! I just wonder if there's another way we can enter into the story. Maybe for example, she escaped days ago, and she's been surviving in these woods for three days? We could see the little shelter she's built, see her smarts and creativity at work, and wait to hear all the horror she escaped from until it matters, just knowing it was terrible enough to send her into cursed woods. Then you could get to the demon even quicker in the pages to give us a little more time with it, too. Of course there are several ways to solve this issue, depending on where the story goes from here! You've got some fascinating content here so I'm looking forward to seeing where you take it in revisions!