Monday, September 11, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Toran Rev 1

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

Ebba’s lake water-soaked dress clung to her skin as she ran through the moonless night. The wind and the water left from her near-drowning competed to freeze her into a corpse. 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 and everyone in it. 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. 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.

Her right hand oozed pus from the burns on her palm, so she used her left one to sit up. When she touched her 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…

Absolutely nothing came to mind. She’d never had a plan past escaping her cell.

The forest was dead silent, no owls hooting nor insects chirping. 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. Most wolves avoid humans. Except for the red-eyed wolves. The ones generally found deeper in the forest. Anabiel’s crap.

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. 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 wide-eyed fascination.

No, she wasn’t going back.

Groping around, she found a stick to support 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 a bullying charlatan who killed orphans and spinsters to take their property would dare follow.

Blood trickled from her dry lips. Water…I need water. Just one drop to ease the burn in her throat. And while she was dreaming, she also wanted a nice, juicy apple…Stop it. Coughing up lake water had left her with a throat too sore to swallow, anyway.

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. The scent of ash drifted to her nose. A fire, in this deserted forest? A chill skittered like a beetle down her spine.

But dammit, her ankle was killing her, and she deserved a lucky break. There must be a way to reach the stream. Probing with her stick, she hobbled forward, using trees to hide her body. Her heartbeat shook her body with its power.

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.

Her walking stick came down against a rock and snapped in two. His head shot up. “Who’s there?”

Ebba remained frozen.

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 could stop 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. The demon’s words echoed like a bell, soothing her and making her limbs heavier—but failing to override her survival instinct. She could shake off the compulsion merely by focusing on what he was actually saying.

Face turning from angry to calculating, the demon purred, “Come back, little lamb, and bargain with me. 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 thought he could charm her into letting him rip out her heart, “crazy” should be added to the list. Afraid to take her eyes off the creature, Ebba edged backwards, 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…”

Maintaining eye contact had been a mistake. He had a hypnotic stare, irises red as a sunset and pupils slitted like a cat’s. Ebba forced her gaze downward, to where his molten blood hit the ground with a crackling hiss, horrifying her enough to break the spell.

“I will give you beauty untold and the ability to entice anyone with your words. Every mortal you desire will throw themselves at your feet.” The demon’s voice broke in pain. Ebba flinched out of pity, even as her feet kept sliding away.

She barely heard his last, whispered words. “Please, help me…”


  1. I had a much clearer picture of what she was doing and the weather- great revisions.

    I think you could cut this line: The deeper she got, the less likely a bullying charlatan who killed orphans and spinsters to take their property would dare follow.

    Only because it takes focus away from the witchfinder. I feel like simpler will make the impact more powerful here.

    At the end, could Ebba react specifically to something she does want? Like the demon hits on something specific, some deep, closely guarded desire of her, almost like he could read her mind. Right now he offers up several appealing, but general offers of things he can give in exchange for heart. IF he were to hit on what she truly wants, it would make her struggle to accept or deny his pleas stronger.

    Nice revisions overall!!

  2. This is an improvement, but I still feel a little whiplashy. I think you're trying to create a fast-paced scene that evokes fear, but what we have is fast, slow, slower, super fast. I also still don't get the feeling of fear because she's cold, wet, thirsty, in pain, scared... For a single scene, we need one pace and one strong emotion. I think you need to figure out what that is and focus on building only that. My recommendation would be to choose slow since you're trying to give a lot of detail and backstory here and you can't do that in fast pace, but it's your story so your call! It would also work in fast if you removed a lot of this.

    Also, watch for your use of emotion words (ie, joy, agony). These should be replaced with showing, not telling.

    Good luck!

  3. I can see you did a lot of work on this to get us to the demon faster, cut back on the torture, and trim backstory. It's definitely improved! However, in my opinion it's still suffering from a structural problem. Opening with a chase/escape scene is a red flag for most editors and agents, simply because we don't know enough about what they're escaping and who they are to invest or care about the main character. It also makes it hard for us to feel her fear because we don't know what's happening right away. If there's any way to not have her running away on page one, I think it will be much easier for people to immerse themselves in the scene and feel what she's feeling.

    The other issue I'm seeing is a lot of telling emotions and her thoughts, rather than having them shown to us. There are two really great articles below with examples of how to solve this. But just for specificity here are some areas I noticed this in your pages: "waves of agony crashed over her" "she refused to be like her mother" "memory shuddered through her" "gasping with joy."

  4. Hi Katherine,

    I really enjoy seeing how your pages evolve as the workshop progresses! I really think cutting down the descriptions of the torture was an excellent choice, as it helps the story move quicker.

    Is there another way to start the story, or another place in Ebba's journey? I think the consistent feedback you've received has a point. It's a big change to totally change a scene but perhaps you can do it by Sunday.

    The biggest thing that stands out for me is the mechanics of your writing, where 'telling' is a big thing (echoing feedback already given). Specific instances are -
    'He had a hypnotic stare, irises red as a sunset and pupils slitted like a cat’s' to 'His hypnotic stare, irises red as a sunset, narrowed together.' Or something like that.

  5. I liked the demon/human interaction a lot better in this version! And we understand her desperation even better when we know her neighbors, who probably knew her from childhood, refused to help her and instead bought refreshments to watch the torture. Good detail!

    I also wonder if this is the right place to start the story. What it started earlier? Perhaps the moment of betrayal? Or somewhere else. You know your own story best, so maybe there's some reason it needs to start here.

  6. For the record, I'm not ignoring everyone's feedback on finding a different place to start my story; it's just that I originally started at the witch trial, and the feedback I got then was that I should move up the beginning and make the meeting with the demon happen sooner. I think it's somewhat a matter of personal taste, since some people like to begin in media res and some people like slower beginnings. My own gut is that I like my new beginning more than my old one.

  7. Hi Katherine,
    Better. Tighter. PP 1 still feels a bit loose. You use the word water 2 sentences in a row and it's a little skittish. Sentence #2 is stronger than #1--maybe start there?
    Now that you've tightened this chapter, I wonder if there might be something to explore in the comparison/contrast between the witch finder and the demon. Both want something from Ebba. She seems to run 'from the frying pan into the fire' and there's something intriguing there in a literary sense. Play with it. BE aware of it.
    Finally, I find the demon less than fully compelling b/c he sort of comes out of nowhere and doesn't seem tied to Ebba's running away, her birthmark, her past. Nor do I get the sense that Ebba WANTS beauty and enticing talents before DEMON offers them.
    I'd consider developing Ebba's character a bit more precisely in these opening paragraphs so when DEMON makes his OFFER, readers know IF/WHY/HOW this offers temptation to Ebba. Otherwise, it feels a bit out of left field.
    Don't be discouraged. You are definitely moving forward. This writing thing is HARD WORK. It takes me absolutely years and dozens of revisions to hone a story. Hang on and stick with it. You've clearly got the chops to get there! :) - Stasia

  8. Hey there!

    So I know that a lot of the comments are saying the beginning feels a little rushed, and I partly disagree with that. I love your opening paragraph because I felt that the descriptions were intense, it showed that Ebba was obviously in distress, and her comment about the witchhunter showed that she's a little prickly, but also witty even in extreme situations like this. She's a very fun heroine and I love her.

    However, the encounter with the demon did come a little fast. In a book, it would be on about page 2. I think that if you can find a way to build up to that, the pace would be smoother.

    Nice job on the revisions!