Sunday, September 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Toran Rev 2

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


Fatally injured by a witchhunter, eighteen-year-old Ebba flees into a magic-blighted forest and stumbles upon Kryptos, a demon whose heart has been ripped out. She didn’t realize he was one of twelve dark gods planning to invade her world, or she never would have sacrificed her dying heart to keep his beating.

After Kryptos resurrects her, he makes her his mortal champion in Hell’s deathmatch to determine which deity will lead the conquest. Bound by their contract to fight or die, Ebba plots to sabotage Kryptos, only to accidentally initiate a courtship. How was she supposed to know throwing a severed head at him would be taken as a proposal of marriage? Kryptos turns out to be charming, handsome, a bit awkward—and utterly dedicated to world domination.

As her heartless condition erodes her conscience, it becomes harder and harder for Ebba to deceive the demon who possesses her heart in more ways than one. Doing the right thing has never felt so wrong when she must betray her love to save her world.

THE WITCH AND THE DEMON is a 76,000 word YA fantasy novel where Terry Pratchett meets Leigh Bardugo. Both the heroine and I have Asperger syndrome.


Ebba’s soaked dress clung to her skin as she ran through the moonless night. The wind and the lake 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 had her hands flying up to protect her face. 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 the charlatan of a witchfinder 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. With a cry, Ebba turned and staggered towards it. The spikes of pain spearing 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 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 trusted a demon’s bargain. The stories called them liars, tempters, and soul-stealers. If he thought he could charm her into letting him rip out her heart with outlandish promises, “crazy” should be added to the list. Not about 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. Horror broke 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.

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



    I find the change in tense in the first paragraph quite jarring. Does the sacrifice happen before this starts because that's how it reads? If so, I think you need to put it first and keep the tense the same as it's really confusing since she's referring to a heart that we think is already gone. If this happens after she finds him, it needs to be the same tense.

    In the next paragraph, I don't understand what she's being resurrected from (but maybe this is because I'm not sure if she has a heart or not here, or if not having one matters to her survival). Also, you change to his POV and then back to hers in a single paragraph which is a bit confusing. If this is double POV, I'd suggest you focus on either one character or separate them to start and then show how they intersect.

    Finally, you finish with a goal (save her world) but this is the first we hear about this goal. The goal is supposed to be incited by the change/incident. So normally, we get NEED > INCITING INCIDENT> GOAL and then we get another paragraph of STAKES and CONFLICTS/OBSTACLES. The romance is only relevant in how it fits into one of these areas (which is probably CONFLICT here).


    1. Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop! I got a lot of good advice out of doing this. I especially appreciate you identifying where I slip into passive voice.

  2. I think you could clarify the cause/effect in your pitch, trim down on some of the extra info and really get into the conflict. You could leave out the witch hunter bit (unless this bit comes to more prominence than giving her a reason to be fleeing into the woods) and I think you could clarify why she gives him her heart. The way its stated now it makes her seem like the ultimate good Samaritan who runs across a demon and willingly gives up her heart. What does he promise her?

    I like the comparison to Terry Pratchet- I definitely see the similarity in your humor, very tongue in cheek.

    I'd still like to see the demon hit a nerve with Ebba in his offers of jewels and riches and beauty. Something that snags her attention and makes her pause.

    My only other question is about Mad Gill. she calls him the local beggar, but he's selling sausages, so I'm not sure beggar is the right word to describe him since he's selling something to make a living rather than asking for alms.

    I love Ebba's voice and the way that she curses those she doesn't like, I think playing that up more would be awesome.

  3. Hi Katherine,
    The pitch is a bit complex--especially the 'betray her love' part since there's no mention of love/romance otherwise in the pitch. I'd narrow the pitch down to only interrelated components (it's perfectly fine to omit a few elements in the service of really capturing the gestalt of the novel).
    As you work through this manuscript, I'd encourage you to pay attention to pacing and exposition. For example, in the pitch you say Ebba doesn't know about Kryptos's true identity/motive yet, right in the opening pages you have this text: 'I am Kryptos of the Crimson Flame, one of the twelve demonic gods. I command you to offer your heart to me.' Not only is this rather problematic because it's telling not showing, this also suggests that you may have more to work out w/r/t Kryptos's role in the novel past the first five pages. Write, write, write. Develop Ebba's deeper characteristics. Get a fully-fleshed-out sense of what her wants/needs/weaknesses are that make her vulnerable to Kryptos's demands and WHAT emotions/loyalties/dreams she struggles to retain as she dives into her heartless state.
    Best of luck with this great effort! - Stasia

    1. Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop! I got a lot of good advice out of doing this. Thanks for identifying specific lines which are problematic, etc.

  4. Hi!

    This query material is really interesting, but I think focusing on a few things more intently and parring back others would help. We get little sense of who Ebba is from these sentences, or what she wants – survival, revenge, etc. I think Kryptos is an interesting character but I’d still like to learn more about Ebba, her stakes and what she has to face more than him.

    Still love the humor that comes out with your wording and style!

    1. Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop! I got a lot of good advice out of doing this. I especially appreciate you identifying where I slip into passive voice.

  5. Hi Katherine!

    This was a great query--clear, concise, full of voice, high stakes. Loved it. Also, this line made me laugh out loud, which isn't easy to do! : "Kryptos turns out to be charming, handsome, a bit awkward—and utterly dedicated to world domination."

    Your pages and super exciting, though I think you might be starting either a bit too late, or with a bit too little context. I wish I knew slightly more about where she was running from, and how she got where she is (both literally and figuratively). I'd also like to see you introduce the demon with a bit more purpose--it happens so fast I almost read right past it. Finally, I'm concerned that it feels a bit too convenient that she happens to run into him just as she escapes and just as he's dying, especially since she wouldn't have stopped at all had it not been for twisting her ankle. What if instead of tripping on a tree root, she actually trips over him? That would at least remove one of the convenient elements.

    Okay, I think that's it! Really good work. Whenever you're ready to query, please send me a query and first 15 pages to with First 5 Pages Workshop Request in the subj line :)

    Lauren Spieller
    TriadaUS Literary Agency

  6. I love that Ebba sacrifices her heart to keep the demon's beating. My biggest question is why. From how he comes off in the pages, he's not at all inspiring compassion. He seems harsh and cruel, and if she went to all the risk of escaping, she must value her own life enough to keep trying. So I might show more clearly why she'd be moved to help this demon. He seems cruel and mean to her-- demanding, calling her a sheep, clearly manipulating. And since this is clear so early in the MS, I'd also show us more clearly in the pitch why she would fall for him when he shows such negative traits right away. I'm sure it can be done, I'd just show us in the pitch why she falls for him, and make him more someone we can feel for in the pages right here.

    Best of luck to you in the query trenches!

    1. Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop! I got a lot of good advice out of doing this. I especially appreciate you identifying where I slip into passive voice.

  7. Great query! Your story sounds very interesting and complex, with promises for lots of action. I would like some more details on this championship though, as it seems like it's a big deal. If it's not a big deal, I'd say it doesn't need to be mentioned.

    As for your pages, I really like the changes you've made to your introduction. It still starts off just as well, but we get a bit more detail about what Ebba went through. You've portrayed a lot of pain, and it definitely made me as a reader sympathize with her.

    Best of luck with your writing,

  8. I like this! The one way I see to make your query stronger is to make it clear what Ebba's motivation for surrendering her heart is. Is she tricked? Too weak to protest? Does he offer her something in exchange?
    I think seeing how she reacts in that moment will draw readers into the rest of the story and strengthen the query.
    Best of luck with this!