Saturday, January 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Moskalenko

Name: Sophia Moskalenko
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Lauren’s Light

The sun was high, and the woods buzzed with the sounds of insects and birds. Somewhere a woodpecker was busy drumming a rhythm. Tall pine creaked, swaying. At their base, two people hiked through a sea of ferns, breaking its green surface, trails rippling behind them.

“I shouldn’t be doing this,” Matty said. “He will be so mad at me! At you too, Annie!”

“Oh, shush!” Annie waved away his concerns like a fly. “When will you grow up and stop shaking like a fall leaf? Sixteen years old, and you’re still acting like you’re five.”

Matty lifted his wide-brimmed hat enough to wipe sweat with the back of his hand. On someone with broader shoulders and prouder posture, the hat may have looked dashing, but it mocked Matty.

“He told me never to tell nobody. What kind of a brother am I?”

“What’s the harm we’re doing?” Annie persuaded herself as much as Matty. “You said it yourself, she’s been healing. And getting paid for it, too. Why wouldn’t she help family? God knows, we’ve suffered enough on her behalf. She owes us.”

 “It’s not like she’s been doing it a lot.” Matty scurried to keep up with his sister’s long strides. “It only happened one or two times, far as I know.”

 “I really don’t care if she only does it once every new moon, or whatever time their kind keeps.”

 “Will you stop it!”

 “What? What do you want me to stop, Matty?"

 “You know what. Stop calling her a witch! Or I won’t take you there, I swear!”

 “I didn’t call her a witch, you dumb chicken!”

 “Stop talking ‘bout ‘her kind,’ too! Luke will kill us both… me first, probably.” Matty kicked a pine cone, tripped, caught himself, and stole a sideway glance at Annie from under the brim. She met his eyes with a haughty smile.

 “You need to ease up, little brother. What’s this drastic talk? Nobody will die. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll do what I ask. Everyone will be happy, and she’ll never see me again. Probably… Oh, who are we kidding? She’ll see me again!”

Annie laughed a melodic, contagious laugh. Matty slouched more, his face taking on a greenish tint. She continued her musings.

“Tell me, what are they like? It’s been what, four years? The plague was in 1658, right? Has Luke changed a lot? Is he handsome? I don’t think he’s handsome. Probably not. Probably still pretty short, too. Is he?.. Matty!.. Are you deaf?”

Matty did not want to talk. But standing up to Annie was not something he could muster. Not just to Annie—Matty was a famous pushover, doing favors for anyone who asked. When he even imagined refusing, beads of sweat swelled up under his collar, his turmoil told by his gurgling innards. It was easier to just to oblige.

This time, however, he was bringing danger to the one person who believed in him. Oh Luke, why did you make me keep your secret? It was just a matter of time until someone from the village would track me. What would happen to me then? Did you think about that?

A sharp jab of Annie’s elbow under his ribs brought Matty back.

“What? What do you want from me?”

“I’m asking you, what are they like?”

“Luke’s got a beard now. Looks pretty much same as back then. Lauren… Yeah, she’s all grown up. She’s too skinny for a girl. And that hair! It’s almost down to her knees. She never braids it or nothing. It’s not right.”

The olden, traditional Alsacean way, called for a part down the middle, and two braids. The latest, French fashion out of Metz, was to pull hair back, collect it into swirls or braids, and adorn it with a cap.

Annie braided hers into a crown.

She jabbed him with her sharp elbow once again.

“What?!” He yelped. “You, annoying creature.”

“This it?” Annie pointed to a clearing in the woods. Smoke was rising over the tops of birch trees. A line of willows followed banks of a creek in the distance. Tall grass rustled in the breeze.

“Yeah. That’s it. I won’t go with you. You can find it easy enough from here.”

Annie laughed. “Oh, no. No chance, laddie! You are coming with me! Or I’ll tell the whole village that you kept this hideout secret. No, little brother. You’ll do what I tell you. We’re going together.”

With these words, Annie started toward the clearing without so much as a backward glance. After a few seconds, Matty hung his head and followed her, picking a pimple on his neck with two fingernails.

“Lauren!... Luke!” Annie yelled at the top of her lungs. “Where are you? I’ve missed you!”

She climbed over a fallen tree and saw a small house. One side of it was all sloped roof covered in moss. There were two windows with dried deer stomachs stretched over the frames, a fenced garden, and a chicken coup.

The door of the house swung open. The sounds of the woods ceased. The air stilled.

That fool Matty lied!

Lauren was beautiful.

Sure, Annie was more like what men desired, more polished. But Lauren... Even this far away, her blue eyes pierced and pulled. Her golden hair moved gently with the breeze. Fields of ripe wheat swaying under azure August skies filled Annie’s vision, and she found herself swaying gently, a sleepy blur clouding her eyes.

She shook off the spell.

“Lauren, my dear! How you’ve grown! It’s been too long! And what’ve you done with my big brother? Have you” --Annie made a horrified face--“have you sent a plague on his poor head like you did all those other people?”

Ignoring Annie’s performance, Lauren turned to Matty, worried. “Matty! Is everything alright? Is Aunt Symonne well?”

Matty shriveled to half his size as Annie answered for him, “Mom’s fine. Matty here couldn’t refuse me when I begged him to take me to you. He’s such a good brother. Aren’t you, Matty?”

Lauren folded her arms on her chest.

“Alright,” Annie said, “I see we won’t have a nice conversation like I wanted. Are you going to invite me in? And where’s my big brother, I asked you?”

“Luke’s hunting.”

“Ah!” A barely audible sigh of relief escaped Annie. “It’s too bad. Next time, then. Tell him I came by, won’t you?” Annie made a few steps toward Lauren.

“Stop right there.”

Annie kept right on walking.

“Annie, stop!”

But Annie marched straight on, staring Lauren down.

Lauren extended her arms by her sides, tensed fingers outstretched. Then, with two fists, she jerked her arms to the sky, and Annie felt her feet yanked up from under her. Her back met the ground with a loud thump.

Breathless from the fall, Annie sat up, gawking at Lauren over the grass, then burst with laughter.

“A-ha-ha! Ouch!” She rubbed her backside. “Ah-ha-ha! I told you, Matty! I told you! D’you see it? D’you see it? Oh, this is great!”

Matty started to back away, but Annie shouted after him, “where’re you going? Sit down and wait right here. I won’t be long.”

With disarming confidence, Annie walked up to Lauren, grabbed her elbow, and pulled her into the house. Inside, she looked around, nose crinkled, lip curled--an expression Lauren remembered too well. Snatching a glass jar from the windowsill, Annie demanded, “what’s this?”


  1. Hi Sophia! I love reading about witches and this looks really interesting.

    I think that it might be more effective if you start with the dialogue. Maybe consider switching the first paragraph and the first line of dialogue so we jump right into the story.

    Annie is an interesting character. She's not quite likeable at this point and her actions are a little confusing. You could use some of her actions, like laughing after being lifted off the ground, to hint at why she is so unfazed by everything. Why is she so desperate to get a cure for something? Otherwise, she just comes off as manic.

    I don't think it's necessary to tell us that Matty is a famous pushover. You do a good job of showing us several times that he has a hard time saying no. Those instances are way more effective.

    I hope that my comments are helpful. Good luck!

    1. Haleigh, Thank you. I will take your suggestions as a starting point. Matty is a very important character, but I give only a glimpse of him in the early chapters, mostly because the events that will crystalize him have not yet happened--he is not quite developed yet as a person. I will try taking out the characterization as you suggest, and see if the prose flows better. Thanks so much!

  2. Hi Sophia,

    Thanks for sharing your writing with us.

    Your first paragraph is well-written and creates a lovely image but the second is so much more attention grabbing. The dialogue instantly makes me sit up and go, ‘oh, what’s happening??’ Could we have some of the lovely description from the start filtered throughout the dialogue and begin with the second paragraph?

    Annie is such a big and vibrant character and Matty is quiet and a worrier. Your characterisation is great but the the narration is really far away from both characters. Is it possible for you to keep the third person but to zoom in on either Annie or Matty? Let us into this/her heads, rather than the narrator. You also move from character to character. Would it be possible to stick with one character for a chapter and swap narratives in another chapter if you definitely need both?

    The dialogue did confuse me a bit. It took me a while to really understand what is going on. I didn’t feel truly grounded in the world because I was never really sure what was going on. I think we need more time to learn about your characters, and where they’re going and why. If we had all this, along with the lovely characters and descriptions you already have, this would be a very strong opening.

    1. Kirsty, thank you for your comments. I was so scared to check the critiques, I had to circle the computer for a few minutes. But your comments just made me tear up with gratitude. I am eager to make some of the changes you suggested. Thanks so much for being so friendly and constructive!

  3. Hi Sophia,

    Here’s what I thought it was about:

    The story takes place in a world where witches exist, and are known to exist, but aren’t liked or at least aren’t respected. Two witches live out in the woods: Lauren and Luke. Matty, their relative, knows about them and reveals their secret to his bullying sister, who wants to take advantage of their situation in some way.

    I’m definitely interested in learning more about the witches and their magic, but I’m not sure what to expect next. My guess is Annie will try to extort the witches and conflict will come from that.


    I think you do a good job showing Annie as the bully and Matty as her little brother who’s frightened into doing whatever she says. Annie also has a nice creepy factor by the way she shakes off spells without worry.

    Sometimes Annie and Matty’s dialect brought me out of the story. It seemed like the way they spoke changed from line to line and that sometimes made me pause and reread.

    I’m not sure who the main character is. I thought maybe Matty because we got his thoughts, but then we followed Annie into the cabin without him, so I wasn’t sure.
    Reading the title, I thought maybe Lauren, but if so, I’d recommend beginning with her.

    I’m also not sure what’s at stake. It seems like Lauren and Luke are in some danger, and that’s why they are in the woods, but I want to know more about their situation.

    1. Mandy,
      Thanks so much for your suggestions. I will try to address some of the confusions you had. You got the relationships right, which makes me happy, and you guessed correctly about Annie's intentions. Lauren is the MC, though both Annie and Matty are integral to the whole story and stay in focus until the very last pages. You gave me a lot to think about, thanks so much!

  4. Hi Sophia,

    Thank you for sharing your work with me! I love a good witch story and this one intrigues right off the bat. Secret relationships always make for great tension in a book.

    I was confused by the POV here. I wasn’t clear if this is Annie’s story, which is my assumption, or Matty’s, which is also possible. There’s a lot of good dialogue here and I’m glad you’ve shown us many details about the relationships, but I think you could pare it down and give us even more through some additional description or inner monologue from the MC.

    A few other small points:
    - Watch the ableist language, like “deaf.” It might be worth doing a pass through the whole manuscript for these words.
    - Punctuation was wonky in a few places and should be cleaned up.
    - Agree with others who say begin the scene with the dialogue. The description is well-written, but unnecessary.

    Let me know if you have questions or comments!


    1. Christina,
      thanks for your insights! Lauren is the MC, but the story is about the three people in the opening scene: Annie, Matty and Lauren. Each of them will have the stage at a pivotal point. With Matty especially, as I give only a glimpse of him in the beginning of the book, I need to plant some seeds for the readers to grow into an understanding of his later motivations and actions. That said, I understand the confusion and will try to remedy it.
      About "deaf." Annie is insulting. She is a bully. She is not necessarily bad--she is not the antagonist in the story. But I want to give the readers a view into her manners. She likes to shock people by language and actions. I understand your sensitivity, and sorry to trigger it. If I wanted to show that Annie insults Matty, isn't it appropriate to use language that is insulting? Later in the book, I have Gypsies and Jews, and people use slurs against them--by design. Would you suggest cleaning up those bigoted words as well? Sincerely conflicted...

    2. I would not have guessed Lauren is the main character from this opening. Would it be possible to start with a more Lauren-centered theme? I see you've gotten some additional comments on POV, so it may be worth playing with a way to make it super obvious right away. As for the slurs, as I understand it, best practice is that if your character cannot achieve the same effect without the slur, they should be called out on it on the page and corrected. I think in this particular instance, you can rephrase, remove "deaf" and still have Annie come across as a bully.

  5. Hey Sophia,

    I'm really intrigued by your opening! You do a great job of setting up complex relationships that I'm curious to learn more about. I'm also really curious to learn more about the role of witchcraft in this society, and to find out who needs to be healed and why. I like the tension between Annie and Matty, and I find Annie to be a very vivid character.

    I would agree with the comments above that mention POV, shifting back and forth between Annie and Matty was a little confusing. When Annie walked into the cabin and the focus shifted to Lauren, I felt overwhelmed. I think it would be more impactful to stick with one POV and/or to switch off by chapter. It would be especially interesting (from my perspective) if you focused in on Annie in this opening chapter, because her motivation is less clear than Matty's right now.

    I really liked a lot of your dialogue, but I felt like the register was somewhat inconsistent. Some of the dialogue sounded pretty formal, and some was pretty casual. I prefer the latter, but I think that consistency (within each individual character) is the most important thing. I also think that occasionally your word choices are a little distracting, e.g., "his turmoil told by his gurgling innards. It was easier just to oblige," I think would flow better with simpler language.

    Just a little thing, but there's a moment where you switch to Matty's first-person thoughts ("Oh Luke, why did you make me keep your secret?"), I'd put those in quotation marks or italics or something to make it clear that they're his thoughts. I had to re-read it because I thought it was a POV shift.

    Thanks so much, I enjoyed it!

    1. Emma,
      thanks for the suggestion. I will try to stay with Annie's POV. Thanks also for the specific example of what kind of language felt formal to you. I will go back to it and massage. I did have Matty's thoughts in italics, but the formatting got lost when I posted the pages onto the workshop's website. And yes, I can definitely see how that would add to the confusion. Sorry for that. Thanks a lot!

  6. HI! Well, first of all, it's clear from this sample that you do a wonderful job weilding words. The idea of the set up, the time-frame, and the characters all intrigue me. Here's what I think you should work on to make it the best it can be: 1. POV: Most YA's are done in either first person or close 3rd and do not "head hop". The reason I think you should pick one character (at least per scene) to stick with is it will allow the reader the get to know and become invested in your MC. Right now, I'm not 100% sure who that is. Matty I assume? Let us experience the story from his POV. Or Lauren's if that's your intention. Even if you don't want to do 1st person, it's always a great character building excersize to do a page that way. Which brings us to... 2. Character: I like your characters so far, but I have to be honest and say they feel one dimensional - like characterizations more than people. Take your time and let us get to know them. Show rather than tell what they're like through their dialogue and behavior. Also their ages were unclear to me. I know you say he's 16, but his language and behavior, as well as Annie's, make them feel much younger - more MG. I think that will be fixed when you slow things down, use more subtlety by showing and not telling, and fix the POV.
    I know this feels like a lot, but really I believe once you start working on that close POV, everything else will fall into place.

  7. Hi Sophia,

    I REALLY enjoyed this. Great setup with a lot of tension right up front, and you clearly have a gift for dialogue.

    The omniscient POV in YA these days generally requires much more of a "voice" -- i.e. Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle -- otherwise it can be easily seen as head-hopping. I didn't see anything in this opening that couldn't be accomplished from a single POV, so consider tightening the camera lens to really put us into the skin of one of the two main characters in this piece, doing a close third deep POV. Really use all the senses to put us inside the skin of that character.

    Next, while for me the dialogue is by far the greatest strength in this piece--and as I said, you have a gift for it--I would recommend going through line by line and making certain that the dialect is consistent and that you're going to be able to maintain it throughout the book. It tends to come and go a bit in this section.

    For me, the non-dialogue portions of this, including the very beginning, were a bit less successful, primarily because the short sentences felt younger than typical YA fantasy. Some of that can be addressed by getting rid of 99 percent of your exclamation points (look at any published YA book and you'll see how very few exclamation points you can find) and varying your sentence length, but chiefly I feel as though what's needed in those pieces is the element of surprise, observations that aren't something that just anyone can present to the reader, language and setting and sensation that is unique to your world and phrasing that is unique to YOU. Certainly in the beginning paragraph--especially the opening sentence--you need to draw the reader in with something new and unexpected.

    Also, as it is, your opening paragraph isn't making the best use of the all important real estate of an opening. In addition to setting, that first paragraph needs to provide the set up for the overall piece with a hint of the story question and the theme, and certainly with more suggestion of mood and tone. We get the genre very quickly, but I don't feel we have enough of the rest just yet.

    That said, you've accomplished a great deal in five short pages, including making me interested in continuing to read/ I have every confidence that you've got the skill and story necessary to achieve a really solid and wonderful opening, and I'm looking forward to reading the revision!