Sunday, January 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Welch Rev 2

Name: Mandy Welch
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The First Witch

In the kingdom of Falder it’s believed women shouldn’t have magic. So Aviana hides her abilities, only using them to help at the family bakery by freshening old ingredients and baking breads to perfection.

But when she turns sixteen, she shortens her name to Avi, disguises as a boy, and, with the help of her friend Gavin, enrolls at the kingdom’s university. If she gets caught, she and her family will become outcasts. If she doesn’t, she could spend years crafting magical objects, experimenting with potions, and learning from the best professors in the realm.

But as her time at the University progresses, Avi stops worrying about getting caught and starts wondering if she should reveal her secret. She’s freely using her gift while others like her live in hiding. Women are given a second-class status because they supposedly lack magic. Gavin’s sister is locked up due to her abilities.

If Avi reveals she’s truly Aviana, she risks her new life and her family’s place in society. But maybe people will finally understand women have magic as men do. Maybe Gavin’s sister will be set free. Maybe witches will finally be able to stop hiding.


“No lumps please,” Aviana said to the ingredients she was mixing. “I want a smooth batter.”

Smells of fresh bread and pastries wafted over from the table of cooling goods next to her. The cinnamon bread was especially fragrant, reminding Aviana of Sunday mornings in the kitchen with Father. Cinnamon bread had been his favorite, and it was one of the first things she asked to make after he taught her the basics. He’d be happy to know she still used his trick of asking the cinnamon to create pictures in the bread. The townsfolk loved it.

It had taken her seven tries before she got it to work. Waiting for the bread to cool enough before slicing had been painful, but Father didn’t allow her to rush, and she was glad for it in the end when she sliced the loaf to reveal a slightly wobbly leaf sketched in the bread.

Aviana poured the smooth batter into a waiting pan and slid it into the oven. “Cook well. Don’t burn.”

When was the last time she burnt something? Asking things not to was one of the first things Father had taught her. Right after telling her to start recipes by asking the flour to not make a mess. That had saved her a lot of cleanup over the years. She wiped her hands on her apron and saw that a dusting of flour still covered them, the white powder paling her light brown skin. Asking nicely didn’t guarantee perfect results.

Walking back to the worktable Aviana grabbed Father’s old cookbook, her cookbook now. They had always planned to write one together, but now writing her own notes alongside his recipes was the closest she’d get.

They had planned to do a lot of things. He was supposed to teach her how to use her gift once she turned sixteen. The University of Greenwood’s Bakery, he called it, just like the University of Elleer. She laughed. Not exactly. Nothing could compare to the University. Students came from across the kingdom, across the realm, to attend.

Aviana sighed. Male students. Attending the University had never been an achievable dream, not as a girl, but learning from Father had been. And she’d been silly enough to think it might still happen, even now that he was gone. She’d spent the past years hoping, thinking maybe he’d planned something for her, left her notes to follow or his old books to read through, but her sixteenth birthday came and went without any big surprises.

The worst part was Mother knew Aviana was disappointed. She’d been acting strangely ever since, not wanting to talk about Father or his time at the University. Not that she ever enjoyed discussing his time in Elleer.

Aviana flipped the cookbook open. She needed to work, but maybe she could have a little fun, do some practicing. That wouldn’t hurt would it? She turned to the pantry. “I need flour, eggs, sugar...” As she read the rest of the list, ingredients began hopping off the shelves and into the room. They stopped their march when they arrived on the table in front of her. “Very good. Thank you.”


She jumped, her stomach dropping.

“You know you aren’t suppose to do that.” Mother stood in the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips.

Aviana’s face burned. Yes, she knew she wasn’t supposed to, but watching the ingredients parade across the kitchen was so much more fun than carrying them across herself.

“I’m sorry, Mother.”

“You promised. Only little magic, nothing noticeable."

“I know. I know,” she said, tugging on her braid. “I’ll stop.”

“I’m just trying to protect you, honey.” Mother shook her head, making Aviana’s face burn brighter. “Take a break and let me fix your hair. You have flour in it.”

She walked over and undid Aviana’s long braid, gently finger combing the straight hair before slowly twisting it to form a plait. Aviana didn’t mean to make her mad; she just wanted to use her gift. It was part of her, and part of her that came from Father.

It wasn’t fair. If he were here, he’d teach her. If she were a boy, she’d be studying at the University. Instead she was stuck trying to teach herself. Father couldn’t come back, but people could change. He used to talk about it, that maybe someday people would accept female spellcasters.

“Why can’t people understand that we have magic too?”

Aviana sighed. There seemed to be endless reasons why people thought females couldn’t. And a whole slough of excuses they’d use if a female did show herself to have the ability. She’s cursed or ensorcelled, controlled by someone else. She got her magic in some evil way. Aviana rolled her eyes. The list went on and on.

She knew it was dangerous to use her abilities where people might see. She did. But she couldn’t just hide it. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in the bakery, talking to ingredients and pretending it was just an eccentricity. There had to be something else. She loved Mother and she loved the bakery, but she wanted to learn more, to see more, to meet more people than the townsfolk she’d grown up with.

Mother finished braiding Aviana’s hair and turned her around. “Let’s bake something. That always puts you in a better mood.”

She was avoiding the question, avoiding the conversation. Maybe because Aviana knew the answer, or maybe she still didn’t want to talk about magic. But Aviana had just been scolded, so probably she should just go along with it. “Okay. I’ll go put the sign up.”

After putting up the sign telling customers they were in the back, she picked Mother’s apron up from the counter. Something rumpled under the fabric. An envelope, crumpled from where she had grabbed it. Smoothing it out she saw it was Mother’s handwriting, and it was addressed to Nero Greenwood. A relative? No one she had heard of before.

Aviana froze. Elleer. The address was in Elleer. Who did Mother know there? It was a big city, sure, but it was best known for the University.

She hurried back to the kitchen. “What’s this?”

Mother looked up, eyes widening as she saw what Aviana held. “A letter.”

“It’s addressed to someone in Elleer. Are they associated with the University?”

Mother reached to take the letter, but Aviana backed away. They never kept secrets from each other. What was she hiding?

“Give it to me, Aviana.”

She handed it over, but didn’t give up her questioning. “Do we have a family member in Elleer?”

“A great uncle. Your father’s.”

What? How had she never heard of him before?

Mother looked down, turning the letter over in her hand. She was acting so strangely; it had to do with the University. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“He’s a professor at the University.”

He worked there. Did that mean he could train her? Had this been Father’s plan? He wasn’t here to train her, but his uncle could? “Why are you writing him?”

“Your father said I should contact him when you turned sixteen.”

This was it. This was his plan. She hadn’t been silly for hoping. But why was Mother keeping it from her? And why did she still have the letter? “I turned sixteen weeks ago. Why haven’t you sent it yet?”

“I planned to. I just can’t convince myself.”


  1. Mandy,

    Great job on your revisions and pitch! I think the conversation you added at the end works really well to show Aviana’s confusion and her moms hesitance. I think the paragraphs starting “Thry planned to do a lot of things” and “Aviana sighed” could be combined to make things more concise. Maybe she thinks about how her Dad was one of the few at the University who believed women should be able to attend.

    I still don’t fully understand why people don’t believe women can have magic. Are only men supposed to be born with magic, so any women claiming to have powers must be a fraud? Your pitch sets up the story well and looks very strong to me. If you could clarify a little more I think you will be golden!

    Good luck!

  2. Pitch comments:

    The biggest problem with your pitch is that your main character has no tangible goal. You've given us a summary of the plot as well as the stakes, but we have no idea what she is trying to achieve by going to university. Without this goal, we don't understand why she would risk her family's safety. It would also help to know what/who is going to stop her from achieving her goal. As written, there is no clear antagonist or antagonistic force.

    Aside from that, I do think you can tighten this a bit. We don't need to know about Gavin's goal or stakes in this pitch unless his POV is in the story.


  3. You've done a great job at creating a much closer POV. Bravo!

    A couple tiny things:
    -The entire part between "in the kitchen with Father" and "sketched in the bread" needs to be put into past perfect so we know this is happening before present time. Check that any other references to the past are also done this way.
    -Go through your pages to check where you're missing commas (ie, After "Walking back to the worktable" and "Smoothing it out"). This is especially important when you have a slow paced chapter as your don't want to leave your reader feeling rushed.

    Best of luck!

  4. I feel like it would be nice to have more of a hook in the first line. One of Aviana's universal truths that would tie in the theme and wrap up the story conflict in a couple of lines. Something about how her true self was hidden in the magic, cinnamon-shaped heart of every cupcake. The townsfold loved it, as long as they didn't know. It could be a lot improved, but that's something I would work on.

    I like the pitch. I'd get rid of the 'maybes' and turn them into statements:
    If Avi reveals her identity, she risks her new life and her family’s place in society. But if she doesn't, people won't ever understand women have magic, Gavin’s sister won't be set free...

    Try to eliminate the passive voice and ask yourself if you really need the stuff about the university. It's a lot of telling. And I think the letter is much more interesting and pulls us through the story faster.

    This is so much improved! Good luck with querying!
    Heather Cashman

  5. Hi Mandy!

    Please note (and I'm saying this to everyone): I'm reading these pages cold, meaning I'm not reading the earlier versions or comments from others before commenting myself. This may mean that some of my comments repeat what other have said or contradict them - and that's OK! Publishing, in many ways, is a subjective process. It's up to you as the author to take in (sometimes contradictory) information, consider it, and then decide what makes the most sense to you and your book.

    What fun and charming first pages - the magic (asking!) is so sweet and unique. You're giving just enough of it to make it enticing for readers to keep reading. Good job.

    Watch out for a few things:
    -The tense of then v. now a bit hard to follow - when are we in a memory and when are we with her in the present?
    -I like to get a sense of the stakes at the outset but it's too much telling. Perhaps better to spend some more time bit more getting to know Aviana and less just presentation of the stakes? You can hint and reveal them more naturally over time as you discuss the university - or go right to the letter and then slowly fill us in. Aviana is the core here, and if we fall for her we're going to want to keep reading.

    Good job and good luck!

  6. Excellent work! The revisions from the last round really smooth out the concerns I had. My only comment today is what Holly said - what is her motivation? I'm sure it's there, we just need it more up front. Good luck with this!

  7. Hi Mandy,

    I really like your revisions, especially the fact that the appearance of the letter has become a little more complicated and we get a better sense of Aviana's confusion and her mom's ambivalence.

    Your query is clear, but I think you could make it stronger by starting with your protagonist (in the first sentence) and finding a catchier hook. I'd also make the stakes at the end more definite. It sounds like she's risking a lot, to risk it all for the chance of something good happening seems kind of foolish. Does she have a reason to think that public opinion on women using magic is ready to change? Is there some dramatic event that pushes her into revealing her magic?

    I agree with other comments about there being a little too much telling-- we might not need all of the details we're currently getting about the University, etc.

    But overall I really like this, I find your story really sweet and compelling! All the best with everything!

  8. Pitch:

    I really liked the pitch. I love the concept and it sounds like there’s a lot of conflict. I wonder if specifying exactly how and when Aviana could reveal herself (at a ball? at a dinner? during graduation? To who? And who would see her reveal and thus change the rules?) would heighten the conflict?


    You’ve done a great job in revisions here. It’s come on so much that I don’t think I can offer anything else to make it stronger. I’ve really enjoyed reading your work and, as I mentioned in someone else’s comments, Sophia and I are going to try and keep our critiques going, which you’re welcome to join. If not, thanks for letting us read your work and good luck!

    1. I'd love to continue with critiques. Just email me the details at mwelch0423 (at) gmail (dot) com

  9. Hi Mandy. I like your concept (my MC also has to struggle against powerful men who don't believe she has magic). Aviana is lovely, too--very likable from the first words she says. I like the kind of magic you are showing in the opening pages. Unlike others, I didn't have any problem seeing what your MC wanted.

    For me, the biggest area of improvement would be in the writing. It's little things, but they slow down pacing and distract from the beauty of your story. For example, this paragraph
    "She was avoiding the question, avoiding the conversation. Maybe because Aviana knew the answer, or maybe she still didn’t want to talk about magic. But Aviana had just been scolded, so probably she should just go along with it. “Okay. I’ll go put the sign up.”

    I would ask--do you really need it? You take the reader on a see-saw of Avianna's thoughts, and then end up with her ending up doing nothing. What if you dropped it. Instead of telling, show Avianna's hesitation in something we can see, then end with her saying, "Okay...." Something like, Avianna opened her mouth to say something, but looked at her mother's furrowed brow, and pressed her lips. Then she said, "Okay.."
    I have found one book immensely helpful, maybe you'd like it, too--"Stein on writing" by Sol Stein. Actually, I'm still reading it.