Saturday, September 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop- Passerotti

Name: Katie Passerotti
Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy
Title: Warmaker

Jennica shoved the captive forward. With his arms bound behind his back, he wasn't able to stop his forward momentum. He whimpered as his body sank into the thick mud of the stable yard.

When he made no attempt to stand, she looked past the grey stone wall surrounding the stable yard at the dark clouds and pulled her hood tighter against the rain. Even now, having returned to the keep, the man was nothing but trouble. Irritation surged through her. She preferred killing her marks to taking them captive. It was efficient. Captives meant listening to them beg for their worthless lives.

"Whatever Matthew wants with him had best be worth it." The irritation in William's voice mirrored her own feelings.

She glanced sideways at him. His coat clung to his lanky frame and water dripped from his dark hair. He'd done nothing but complain since the moment they'd set out to retrieve the man. Her lips curled as she studied him, wondering how much of her ire stemmed from being stuck with his company for the past five days.

He grabbed the man's arm and hauled him to his feet. Their prisoner shivered. He hadn't been dressed for the weather when they'd taken him and Matthew never said anything about delivering him unharmed.

The mud sucked at their boots as they navigated the rest of the filthy yard. Jennica pulled open a door and William guided the man inside. She followed, a grey wolf slipping in beside her.

The wolf stepped closer to William and shook, sending water droplets flying from his thick pelt.

"Keep your damn mutt away from me," William growled.

Nakama snapped his jaws in William's direction and Jennica gave a half-hearted laugh. She appreciated her familiar's humor, but she was too tired to care. The rain, William's complaints, and the prisoner's incessant pleading had worn on her. All she wanted was to curl up in her own bed, warm and dry.

Brushing back her hood, Jennica ran a hand over her damp braid. She took several steps down the hall before she realized William wasn't following her. She looked over her shoulder, raising an impatient eyebrow.

Will gave the man a gentle push. "Surely you can handle him from here? You don't need me to keep him subdued, do you?"

Jennica whirled, her fingers tightening into fists. "You're the one who nearly let him escape."

"And I'm the one who caught him." He placed a hand over the man's wounded shoulder and squeezed. The prisoner winced, his knees trembling.

"If you were any good at doing your job, you wouldn't have needed to put an arrow in him," Jennica snapped. She backtracked and grabbed the prisoner's arm.

William shrugged and gave a mocking grin as he started in the opposite direction.

Wind and rain rattled against the windows as she guided the prisoner through the narrow halls toward Matthew's study. The keep had been restructured over the years, becoming a hybrid of a fortress and manor house. William's departure fed her frustration. He'd barely raised a hand over the past five days.

I hope Matthew's interrogation is quick, she spoke silently to her Familiar. I want be done with this.

Nakama didn't respond, but she sensed his disapproval. The prisoner wasn't the sort of mark she usually went after. Most were criminals in their own right, not a principled businessman. Truth be told, the man's pleading had gotten under her skin. Two days had been enough time to learn more about him than she'd ever wanted to know. He had a family--two children with a third due in another month. It took her threatening to cut out his tongue to silence him.

The door to Matthew's study was open and she guided the man through, pausing to close it before pushing him towards the desk at the far end of the room. Matthew stood as they approached, a look of disgust on his face as he took in the man's soiled clothing.

Jennica dug her fingers into the tender flesh of the man's wounded shoulder. He moaned and collapsed, his knees striking the stone floor with a satisfying crack.

"I expected you back last night." Matthew's assessing gaze turned to her. Dark hair framed an intelligent face and he was impeccably dressed, looking more a noble than the charlatan he was. He prowled around the massive mahogany desk with animal grace.

Jennica unbuttoned her coat, peeling it away from her lithe frame as she strode towards the hearth. Her familiar trailed after her and settled near the fire. She stepped nearer to the flames, appreciating the warmth as it traveled across her skin, soothing her annoyance.  

"Blame Will," she shrugged.

Matthew's pale blue eyes were colder than the wind outside as he studied the prisoner. "Do you know why you're here?"

The man shook his head.

"Your brother-in-law wants you dead. Something about taking over the shares you own in a shipping company."

The man blanched. "He wouldn't--"

"But he does."

Jennica untied a leather purse from her belt and tossed it to Matthew. "His brother in-law's payment."

Matthew caught it and weighed it in his palm. "However, it seemed only fair to offer you the chance to outbid him."

Jennica raised her eyebrows. Matthew didn't need the wealth. What could the prisoner possibly offer that would justify this ruse?

The man's expression glimmered with hope. "Name your price. Anything."

"What do you have to offer me?" A quiet smile tugged at Matthew's lips.

Jennica bit back a warning. The man didn't know Matthew well enough to recognize the malice in his eyes. To know that the kinder he became, the more cruel his intentions.

"I can give you double whatever he paid."

"It's going to take more than money. What else?"

The man licked his lips. "I have ships."

"How many?" Matthew considered.

"Fif-fifteen. I'll sign them over to you."

Jennica raised an eyebrow and glanced sideways at Nakama. When did Matthew decide to take up piracy?

Why not? Her familiar's voice rumbled through her mind like thunder.

Unless... She crossed her arms. Matthew didn't need to move cargo. He wanted warships. Commissioning fifteen ships would take years and it would never go unnoticed. Stealing them however could be done quietly, quickly. Fifteen ships, crewed with his men would be enough to block the harbor.  

He's going to try and overthrow his father. Nakama's lips curled back, revealing razor sharp fangs.

Matthew had never hidden his jealousy of his legitimate siblings. He hated that they'd inherit the empire he'd built by doing their father's dirty work. But she never expected him to actually act on his resentment.

The man hesitated, as though realizing the flaws in his bargain. He would be alive, but penniless. He could return to his family and if he were lucky, he could rebuild. He squeezed his eyes shut, perhaps wishing he would open them and this would all be a bad dream.

"Or, if you'd rather, I'll allow Jennica to finish what she started." Matthew gestured in her direction.

In a heartbeat, Jennica was behind the man. She grabbed his hair, pulling his head back, and pressed the edge of her knife to his throat. His pulse hammered against her wrist. Rich brown eyes, filled with terror, stared up at her. Satisfaction thrilled through her.


  1. I like this. You bring the reader in nice and gently - two characters and an 'object' or functional character (the prisoner). Reasonable bit of tension between the Jen and Will, then a smooth transition to what seems to be a more significant character of Matthew, (other than, I assume, Jen).
    Writing wise, yes, could be sharpened - phrases and sentences reduced, words replaced etc, but overall, the clarity and flow is quite good.
    However, the Familiar...
    I assume this device/ character is throughout the novel, and likely not subject to removal, so that been the case, I would strongly suggest you don't introduce the Familiar until later, and as a very specific chapter with just Jen and the wolf, because such a concept is tricky and potentially confusing in an opening chapter(s).

  2. One small extra thing. Try to give the 'man' a moniker of some kind. For instance if his face is swollen or something, call him Swollen Face, until we find out his name. 'man' or prisoner is a bit weak and renders him a little invisible.
    This def makes me want to read more so far, so , well done.

    1. Thank you for your feedback! I'm glad that it caught your attention :)

      Yes, the familiar is present throughout the story and I was afraid if I left him out of this first chapter, it would make readers wonder where he was since he and Jennica function as a unit of sorts. I'll try to clarify some in my rewrite.
      And I'm hesitant to give the man a name only because *spoiler alert* he's not going to make it past this chapter and I already have four other names be-bopping around there. I'll work on coming up with a a different descriptor to get away from "man" and "prisoner"

  3. Hi Katie,

    This opening is so intriguing. I honestly like that you toss us right in with Jennica and you don’t hold back on her ferocity – she is what she is, likely from what she’s experienced, and she’s obviously a brittle and rough character to start with. Some people I think wouldn’t relate to a character this ‘tough’ from the start, so you might consider that, but I’m intrigued so far!

    I feel the pacing is a little slow or too extended, from the first line to when Jennica finally brings the prisoner to Matthew – it’s dialogue and description that I don’t think is necessary at this point. I think the real interesting material, that will keep readers wanting to continue, is the dynamic between Jennica and Matthew, who I also am intrigued by. That being said, the details given about Matthew don’t hit the emotional beats I think you’re aiming for, mostly because we don’t know anything about him – mentioning his need for warships, his ‘empire,’ etc. Jennica, to me, is obviously the main character but Matthew is sort of outshining her at this point.

    The world is slightly confusing, mostly because we’re introduced to Nakama as Jennica’s Familiar (is this capitalized, or is it not?), I get the sense that Jennica is some sort of witch? Or a hybrid witch/bounty hunter/henchman of some kind? Making this clear from the start would be a good idea, IMO. And I’m actually going to differ from Stuart’s feedback regarding the Familiar concept – I got it right away, so I don’t think it’s all that confusing. Plus I think it adds an air of mystery.

    Good job, I can’t wait to see what you do with the revisions!

    1. Thank you!!! I've tried to make her more likable in these first five pages in my revision. I may have overdone the darkness part, LOL, but it makes a lovely hole for her to potentially climb out of.
      Most of the rest is revealed in the following pages, I'll have to see what I can rework to put sooner.
      Thanks again! <3

  4. Hi Katie,

    Your action and pacing are excellent. It pulled me right along through the story. Very well-written and well done! The dialogue is punchy as well.

    I didn't know the term familiar, but caught the gist of it. That wouldn't have stopped me from reading further.

    My only comment is: I don't get emotionally attached to any of these characters. Maybe that's just me? But Jennica doesn't give me anything to root for, and neither does William or Matthew. We don't know enough about the prisoner to root for him either. I'm guessing Jennica is your main character, the one we should be rooting for. We see her wish she could kill the prisoner because he's inconvenient and we see her fighting with William. What are her redeeming qualities? I think a hint of backstory (what are her motivations here? What does she want besides going to sleep?) might help humanize her. Or maybe a moment where she's being kind to the wolf/familiar? Give us something to root for in one of these characters.

    All in all, you've done a good job of pulling us into their world. The reader is left with questions that they'll have to keep reading to find out the answer to!

    1. Thanks!!! In my revision I've really tried to make Jennica more likable. I love characters like her so this is definitely a challenge for me, hopefully I can get it sorted by the end of the month! :)

  5. Great place to begin your story. Great descriptions of the characters and the setting. I get a clear picture right away of Jennica and William’s acrimonious relationship. Also, the violence of Jennica’s actions is stone-chillingly good.

    The prisoner never talks. Could you make him gagged? That would fit with what she said about not wanting to listen to prisoners and be easier than claiming he’s cowed into silence. It would also give you a chance to joke that he only goes silent once the gag is removed, after talking non-stop for two days.

    Normally assassins live and die by reputation, so they can’t offer to let their victims go. (Plus there’s the problem of the victim going to the authorities to report them once free). I think Jennica should be more surprised Matthew is making this offer, unless she knows he’s not sincere. It would also make sense for her to have more of an opinion about Matthew going against his father, since she's not likely to be able to stay out of the fight, especially not if Matthew is openly revealing his schemes in front of her.

    1. thank you!
      Yes! I will try to work in some of those things earlier if I can. As the chapter progresses she considers some of these things. I'll see what kind of finagling I can do to get it in sooner.

  6. Hello Katie!

    This is a really great and interesting opening.

    I had a little trouble in the beginning grounding myself in the story. There were too many characters and names, I think, and you start referring to a character with a pronoun immediately after you name him. It was a little hard to follow. I would consider deleting William as a character in this scene -- I'm not sure how much he is adding, and this would give you more room to delve into Jennica's character. (More on this later.)

    I could've used more grounding on what exactly the circumstances are. For instance, only a lot later did I realize she had been with the prisoner for 5 days. I thought he was taken out of prison, rather than kid napped out of his home. What exactly is Jennica's role? What is she? You mentioned a familiar, and talking to animals in her mind, but there is no other reference to the paranormal? During my first reading, I spent most of the first half of your entry trying to figure out what was going on. I think if you ground the reader first, then the reader can actually pay attention to the details of the story.

    This is all relatively minor, however. I think you can fix this with a few tweaks. The bigger problem I had was that there was no character for me to empathize with. Let me explain. We are seeing this scene (I think) through Jennica's pov. In the second half of the scene, she is merely a witness to someone else's conversation. This can work to have the POV character as simply an observer, but we need to view the dialogue she is witnessing through her lens. Unfortunately, I don't have a good sense of Jennica as a character. I barely know anything about her, other than that she is some kind of assasin/kidnapper, she's annoyed at her coworker, and she relishes inflicting harm (which we only get at the very end). You get at her almost-sympathy for the captive, which is good. I would like more of this, more thoughts, more feelings, more reactions, more of who she is. If that means she's a cold hearted assassin, fine. But I think we really need to have a much stronger sense of who she is. Otherwise, the scene just falls flat. You want the reader to really care what is happening, and you can only do that by having us empathize with the POV character (even if she is an anti hero).

    Great job, and good luck! Hope this is helpful. -- Pintip

    1. Thank you! I've tried to make her more relatable and hint at why the reader would want to empathize with her. Its definitely been one of my struggles in the first few chapters before she really starts to change. I'm hoping I get closer in this weeks revision!

  7. Your writing style is strong. I like Jennica as a character, she's tough and matter-of-fact. However, I did feel that the story kind of jumped into things too quickly.

    The opening sentence felt as if it could be in the middle of a page. I personally thought it was abrupt, and not the best introduction to your story. Matthew and William interest me as characters, as well as their prisoner, but the pace felt a little off. I think you could build more on the suspense of Matthew doing something out of the ordinary, make the readers more curious, before you reveal what his plans are. Maybe have Jennica speculate, instead of out-right stating that she knows what he's going to do. Interest is a key component in keeping people reading, and while the deal Matthew's trying to make generates plenty of it, immediately answering the question of why he's doing it takes away the curiosity that can keep readers engaged.

    Hope these suggestions help, good luck!

  8. Hi! Great story and writing. let me get right to the beef so to speak: Right now, as is, your characters are unlikable and I have no reason to follow them. Your MC comes off as not only evil, but with nothing particularly redeeming to balance it. Perhaps if you start with her internal struggle when he begs for mercy? She doesn't have to show it on the outside, that's what deep POV is for. :D We can see her question why he's not like her usual targets and go from there. If we know she usually kills criminals then that helps. I'd like to understand who she is though. Why does she work for this man who also seems most evil and unredeemable? What does the world look, feel, smell and sound like? What does she notice around her and WHY is it she notices those things. The best way to build world is through your character's eyes.
    My other comment would be that thus far I'm not sure I see this as YA. But that could be the placement of things. I LOVE the familiar btw.
    You're clearly a good writer and I can't wait to read your revision!

  9. Also - sorry - I want to know her goal. It doesn't have to be huge right now, but what is it she wants? Other than a nice warm bed?

    1. Thank you so much!
      I'm totally on the "make my characters more likable" train and I've tried to work in some hints at why readers should care and that she's not entirely evil, my fingers are crossed that I'm headed in the right direction.

      I've also tried to put in some more hints at her age in these first five pages- this is something I've honestly struggled with a lot. I have her at 18, which is the upper limit for YA, and I wouldn't mind making her like 20ish, but I feel like that's a no-man's land for character ages and I don't know as though the rest of my story fits into the A category. My CPs/Betas have come back with 8/10 saying YA so that's where I'm pointing it at the moment. But it's seriously a question I go back and forth with on the daily.
      I'll try to hint at her overall goal in the first five pages, its there by the end of the chapter, but I'm sure there is a way I can fit it in earlier- at least a solid hint.

  10. Hi Katie,

    Thanks for a fascinating read! There's a lot to like here. I loved the Familiar and that hooked me and kept me reading. I had to check to make sure this was YA, though, since there wasn't much establishing age or that young adult perspective in the pages themselves.

    I agreed with most of what's commented above, especially with Pintip's comments about needing to empathize much more with Jennica. I was more on her captor's side than hers, and all the stakes seem to be his, too. So I want to know more about why I should care about her and what's at stake for her in these pages so I have something to root for.

    I also noticed quite a bit of telling instead of showing, like "appreciating the warmth as it traveled over her skin, soothing her annoyance." You can show us feeling returning to her fingertips as the warmth thaws her, for example, and her relaxing her shoulders. That would show us the same info in a way we can feel, with specifics, rather than telling us facts that are hard to feel and relate to.

    If you can boost the YA perspective, dig into stakes and empathy for Jennica, and do more showing than telling, I think this will really come alive! Best of luck to you in revisions :)

    1. Thanks for you feedback!

      I'm hoping I hit on your suggestions in my rewrite or at least get a bit closer. At the very least I think I'm taking my pages in a better direction! Thank you again!

  11. Some great comments there. I would caution a little about 'justification' of action, (ie, Jen's aggressive nature), as it can sometimes render a character inert. However, I concede some humanizing of Jen wouldn't go amiss.
    Re the prisoner, yup, assumed he's a gonner, but my point, and i see you understand it, was to find a way to avoid man/prisoner overuse, as it begins to stand out too much, for someone that is essentially a story vehicle.