Sunday, January 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Moskalenko Rev 1

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

“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.”

Breaking the green surface on the sea of ferns, the hikers left two rippling trails amidst tall pine trees. The sun was high. 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 anybody. What kind of a brother am I?”

“NOW you are worried?” Annie arched an eyebrow. “After we’ve been walking for hours? Why did you tell me, if you’re so beholden to your promise? Ha? Why did you tell me, Matty?” She spun to him, squinting, but he turned away. “You better think twice if you want to get me in trouble, brother. I’m not one of those blind kittens you like to drown. You’ll go down with me.”

Matty said nothing, his hat hiding his face. Annie shrugged.

“Besides--what’s the harm we’re doing? 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.” Annie kept her pace and her nose high.

Matty scurried to keep up. “You look plenty healthy. What do you want with her?”

“Ah, I would tell you, Matty, I would. But with your conscience so tender, I’m afraid you’d worry yourself sick,” Annie sniggered.

“Whatever you need, I doubt she can do it. She only healed once or twice, far as I know.”

“All I care about is if she has powers… the craft… whatever their kind call it.”

“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 about ‘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!..”

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 plaits it, or anything.” Matty shook his head. “It’s not right.”

Back at the village, a girl would get a good whipping for that hair. 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 plaited 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. “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.

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 bit her lip bloody to throw 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 started 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 she has 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 Sophie,

    Your revisions are great. I do understand this a lot better than the original submission. This is set in a sort of medieval-type universe where witches are outcast and the rules of society are strict. Sort of like a fantastical ‘The Crucible’, or ‘The Scarlet Letter’. Great! I’m instantly more grounded and can picture what’s happening. Your imagery is still wonderful: ‘Breaking the green surface of the sea of ferns’. Your dialogue is also realistic and each character does have a different tone to each other. It’s definitely a pacier start and there’s clearly a lot about to happen in the future pages.

    To make this even stronger I have two main suggestions. Firstly, and I’m sorry if this is just me repeating myself from last comments, I was still a bit confused while reading this. It’s not an easy read in the sense that I instantly know my protagonist and her goals and the main conflict. Just to confirm from reading last time’s comments, is Lauren the main character? There was a lot of back and forth between Matty and Annie and I think that’s what confuses me. I’m not sure where they’re going, or why Annie’s brother is there, or how no-one else knows they’re there, or why they’re going in the first place. Where are they going? Why now? Why, if Annie used to know Lauren but now knows nothing about her, not even what she looks like, does Annie want to go? If her brother is with Lauren, surely she’d know a few more details? Who is Lauren and why is she with their brother? As you can see, I have a lot of questions and because I had so many questions I kept coming out of the story and had to re-read, or just read on while a bit confused. It takes the enjoyment out of it because everything is there that needs to be (pacing, description, dialogue, character, voice), I just need a bit more clarity.

    My second suggestion is to make the 3rd person narration even closer. Right now, we start with Matty and Annie chatting (which is good!! An initial back and forth is okay, it just seems to go on for pages which could be cut) but then we’re told ‘the hikers left…’, and suddenly I’m pulled out of the story, tugged away from the characters we’ve just met, and I’m watching from afar rather than enjoying the forest with them. Also, if Lauren is indeed the main character, we really need to start with her. Or, at least, when she enters the scene, have her the main character in the scene. If this scene is a prologue type of scene that’s setting up the next bit, then could it be from Matty of Annie’s point of view? If it must be from Lauren, could she be watching them approach from afar? Is there a way to bring her in even more?

  2. Hey Sophie,

    Great job on your revisions. I can definitely get a better sense for the characters and the world in this pass.

    I agree that picking one character to tell the story would add a lot. There are points where the omniscient point of view gets confusing, especially when all of the characters are interacting and when Annie leaves Matty to follow Lauren. If you told it in Lauren’s point of view she could be spying/eavesdropping on Matty and Annie so that she overheard their conversation. You could add in how Lauren feels about them coming, what she thinks of each character, etc. Just a thought.

    I think one other thing that would make your passage stronger is to delete most of your exclamation points.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Sophie,

    Really nice work tightening and focusing this opening. I can tell you were thoughtful in moving the scene forward more quickly. That said, It still feels very much like Annie is the narrator. I think I understand that you want the reader to understand that Lauren and Luke are hidden away from their normal society, but perhaps that can be done through conversation after Lauren opens the door. It would also benefit from some inner monologue from Lauren.

    Let me know if you have questions!


  4. HI! Nice job revising, but I think you should go even further. Really push yourself to rewrite the opening through the eyes of Annie if that's who you choose, but if Lauren is the MC for the remainder of the book, maybe you should even rewrite it from her own POV. Again - it doesn't have to be first person, it can be close third, but doing even a page in 1st as a writing excersise can really open up the character for you going forward. You probablyl know all there is to know about her, but if she's the one I'm reading the book about, then I don't really want to be introduced to others in the very beginning. Does that make sense?
    Also I'd love you to show us the dimensionality in the characters or at least hint at it. For example, if you stick with Annie, right now she is not very likable. Give us a moment that makes us wonder why she's acting this way or that shows how much she cares for someone. that will add depth to her character and connect us a little better.
    I can't wait to read the next iteration of this! I really do like the idea and think you have talent.

  5. Hi Sophia,

    I like that you’re starting with dialogue. Especially, starting with Matty saying he shouldn’t be doing something. That automatically draws me in, making me wonder what he is doing and why he shouldn’t be.

    The line “I’m not one of those blind kittens you like to drown.” made Matty unlikeable for me. Since Annie is portrayed as unlikeable, it might be good to show more about Lauren so that we have a character to support and like. Or add something to make Annie more sympathetic.

    I still wish we could get more information about what the story will be about. From this version I wouldn’t get that Lauren was the main character unless I thought about the title.

  6. Hi Sophia,

    I like your changes and I feel like this flows a lot better than your first draft! There are still a few areas where I feel like you can tighten up the dialogue a little bit, occasionally there are repetitive moments. For instance, the paragraph that starts "after we've been walking for hours," Annie says several things in a row that seem like they're all expressing the same idea. I also think the paragraph of dialogue that starts "you need to ease up, little brother" could be clearer. It makes me want to know what she's going to ask Lauren, why Lauren will never want to see her again, and why Annie is so sure that Lauren will see her again-- and I think that's too many questions for just a few lines of dialogue, I come away feeling more confused than I do curious.

    Also, Annie talks to Lauren like she (Annie) is older than her (Lauren), but since Lauren is married (?) and "all grown up," I don't understand how Annie could be older than her if she's the protagonist and this YA (unless Lauren is, like, 16 and married, which I guess could be possible given the point in history, but if so I think that needs to be clearer). I'm curious about both of their ages, I guess.

    I agree with the comments above re: the POV still needing to be clearer.

    Looking forward to reading your next round!

  7. Hi Sophia, (Part one of two)

    You've done some good work on this revision, but consider really taking advantage of this workshop by paying more careful attention to the notes that the mentors are giving you before the agent steps in on the next revision.

    One of the skills that authors have to learn as we go through the query ing process for traditional publishing is that of revision, digging deep, not being afraid to throw out entire chapters or even versions of a book to get to the core of the story in a better way. Working with first an agent and then an editor helps us learn to do that, but honestly, we don't even get an agent's attention until the manuscripts we submit demonstrate that we understand the conventions and requirements of the genre and age group for whom we're writing.

    Please don't sell yourself short. You have a great opportunity to get feedback from an agent next week, but you don't want to have that feedback be the same as what you've already gotten.

    Here's where I still feel you need significant revision:

    1) Deciding who your main character will be and giving us this chapter in a much deeper point of view. It's okay to start with Annie even if she isn't the main character, provided that she is going to give us some specific insight into the story that we can ONLY get from her and that will set us up for getting a deeper understanding of your main POV character. But since I don't see that you've given us much more depth into Annie, nothing significant in the way of a more unique perspective, a closer view of her world, something to make us want to root for her--or root for or against Lauren--then I don't feel as though you're serving your story with this. At this point, having waited to see what your revision would look like, I would like to suggest that maybe you listen to the other mentors and consider starting in Lauren's point of view. You could still accomplish the same thing--have Lauren in the woods maybe, have her hear voices and be afraid that her persecutors are coming to find her--give us insight into her fear--and then she can overhear much of Annie and Mattie's conversation as she follows them back to her cottage and tries to decide whether she's going to show herself, whether she is going to trust them. But since it's YA, having Lauren as the main character is going to be a bit problematic since she's married, so you'll want to make it clear that she's very young--she could totally be 16 or even 14 and be married in a middle ages type of fantasy.

    But whoever your main character *is*, it is imperative that you really know her and make it clear to us in these first five pages that you've thought the story through well enough that we can just sink into your story telling and enjoy the ride. We want to be swept away into your main characters thoughts and see, smell, feel, touch, and taste the world and her experiences through her eyes.

    2) While the dialogue remains excellent (though still inconsistent) the language still reads really young. The short sentences, the exclamation points. Please pick up a YA fantasy--Robin LaFevers Grave Mercy, for example, or Jodi Meadows' Orphan Queen that have this medieval feeling to them, or Jessica Spotswood's witch series, or Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns and see how vivid and descriptive those sentences are, how deeply immersed we instantly become into those worlds. Even simple word choices make a difference. The word "hikers" is not one that sets the right tone and mood because it feels too modern. And again, you won't find many exclamation marks in a YA book, nowhere near the frequency you are using. More than one or two in the first five pages is going to be an automatic "no" from most literary agents. (Read Noah Lukeman's THE FIRST FIVE PAGES--a quick read available for purchase on Amazon.)

  8. Part Two of Two

    3) I still don't know what your story is going to be about? What do your characters NEED that they don't have and where's the conflict? Is Annie your antagonist, or is she going to risk exposing Lauren and her husband to the antagonists? We need a better sense of the danger and the deep desires that your main characters are going to pursue no matter the risk.

    You can do this. I know you can. I see the hand of a talented writer in here, but it feels as though you don't quite have a grasp on your characters or your story yet. Please go back over all the comments from last week as well as this week.

    I look forward to reading more!