Sunday, February 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Smit Rev 1

Name: Rochele Smit
Genre: YA High Fantasy

Pheobie paused at the edge of the forest, peering around a gnarled trunk to make sure no one would see her, before sprinting across the open field. Smoothing down her wrinkled dress when she got to the road, she adjusted her apron to hide the slight bulge of the rabbit carcass hanging within. She began her walk back to the village, each step throwing up a dusty cloud from the parched ground. When the sound of hoofbeats rose from behind her, she cursed her timing and stepped off the road, watching as a regiment of mounted soldiers approached.

Keeping her eyes glued to her feet, she prayed they would pass her by. Luck was not with her, and soon she found herself staring at the prancing hooves of a grey stallion.

“And what is such a fine young lady as yourself doing out on the road alone?”

Her eyes lifted to the owner of the gruff voice and she groaned when she realized he was a general, heavy set with a fiery red beard and ruddy skin. She tried to come up with a good excuse; being unaccompanied out of the fort’s boundaries was a punishable offense.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, breaking the silence. “If you let me give you a ride back to the fort, I’ll keep your secret.”

He extended his hand and she hesitated. No matter how badly she wanted to refuse his offer, she knew she had no choice; her father would be enraged if she came home with a fine they couldn’t afford. Sighing, she reached out and he pulled her up in front of him so that she was practically in his lap. He wrapped a thick arm around her waist and pulled her against him.

“Onward!” He shouted to his men as he kicked his horse forward.

Pheobie stared ahead, keeping her back rigid as she tried to ignore the fleshy hand now sprawled across her belly. Thankfully, that was the only liberty he took and she breathed a sigh of relief when the stone walls of the fort came into view. As they drew nearer, she let out a gasp at the newly erected tents that stood in the field next to the fort.

The general noticed and proudly pointed that way. “Two more regiments arrived today.”

Anger flashed through her. All year, troops had been steadily increasing their numbers at the fort, and the village had been hard pressed to support soldiers as it was. After two months of drought, many were going hungry; now it would only get worse.

The general reined his horse to a stop at the immense iron gates, and as Pheobie slid down, he caught her hand. “Now, make sure you stay close. It’s more dangerous than ever before out there, and we wouldn’t want anything to happen to that pretty face.”

She curtly nodded, then turned and fled into the village, feeling his eyes on her back until she ducked between two homes. As she walked, she took in the ragged appearance of the simple stone cottages around her. Even in the fading light of dusk, it was impossible to miss the tattered thatch roofs and unkept yards that showed just how much the village was hurting. Due to the curfew that had recently been imposed, there were not many people outside, and she quickened her pace.

Once home, she began to tidy up the small space, sweeping the earthen floors with a worn broom. She skinned the hare and set about making a simple stew. Most of the villagers did without meat these days, barely surviving on the meager rations the army allowed. The forest was full of game, but no-one ever ventured there. Except Pheobie.

Her father came home later than normal and Pheobie frowned as he sat wearily at the table. His hair had greyed over the last year and deep wrinkles lined his exhausted face. They had never been close—especially after her mother died and he cracked down on her ‘wayward’ behavior—but she couldn’t help the responsibility she felt toward him. Eyeing the meal in front of him, he swirled his spoon in the wooden bowl, picking out a piece of rabbit.

“Where did this come from?” He asked, menace lacing his words.

“Father, please don’t question me. You’ve been working too hard these days. Eat, you need the nourishment.”

Pheobie jumped as he slammed the spoon down to the table and glared at her. “You went back into the Forbidden Woode, didn’t you?”

Pheobie stared in defiance at him, and he shook his head.

“How many times do I have to tell you that you are prohibited from going into that wretched place?”

“We have no choice! How long can we survive off of tubers and moldy grain alone?”

“Don’t raise your voice at me!” Her father’s voice was cold and she shrunk back. “If I catch you in that forest again, I’ll have no choice but to beat some sense into you.”

There was a sharp knock on the door, and grateful for the interruption, Pheobie hurried over to open it. As it swung open, she caught her breath upon seeing the general from earlier.

“I’m here to speak to your father.”

Pheobie’s heart dropped. If he told her father she’d been caught on the road, she would be certain to get that beating.

“What’s this all about?” asked her father as he pushed up from the table and strolled over.

Looking her up and down with a gleam in his eye, the general finally turned and acknowledged her father, reaching out to shake his hand.

“I’m General George Skahill. If you’d be so kind, I have an important matter I’d like to discuss in private with you.”

“Of course,” her father nodded, confusion evident in his voice.

They walked outside and as soon as the door shut, Pheobie retreated to the fire, wringing her hands. After what seemed an eternity, the door opened and both men strode back in. Surprisingly, her father looked pleased, not angry as she’s expected.

“Pheobie, my girl, come over here,” he said, his voice a little too bright.

Warily, she approached, trying to figure out what had transpired outside. When she came to a stop in front of them, her father grabbed her hand. As soon as he took the general’s hand in his other, she was overcome by a wave of nausea; there was only one thing this could mean. She listened in detached horror as her father spoke the traditional words.

“With this handshake, I betroth my daughter, Pheobie Eversong into an everlasting bond to this man.”

Pheobie felt her world shatter. The general tightened his grip and she lost the ability to breathe. She wanted to yank her hand away, to scream no, but she couldn’t. If she showed disrespect toward one of the most important men in the fort, there would be dire consequences.

“You may have your kiss.”

Her eyes widened at her father’s abrupt words, and she had to swallow back the bile that instantly rose as Skahill pulled her roughly against him. The dreaded kiss would seal the engagement and she briefly wondered if she could stall by fainting. But it was too late, he slid his hand behind her neck and leaned in.


  1. Hi, Rochele!

    Wow—this reads like another story. I think starting with this opening is much stronger than the prologue.

    I liked it better because I felt instantly drawn to Phoebe and her plight in this village world. The description of the forest and the rabbit carcass reminded me of THE HUNGER GAMES. Is that one of your comparative titles?

    Your first paragraph is strong with great descriptions, that you carry throughout the chapter.

    The only place where I stumbled with the wording was here…. “Her eyes lifted to the owner of the gruff voice…” I thought that it could be re-worded to... “Her eyes lifted to the man with the gruff voice….”

    Also, later on when the father says, “You went back into the Forbidden Woode, didn’t you?” Is that supposed to be into the Forbidden Woods?

    Excellent work! I definitely wanted to continue reading by the end of this piece. I felt so terrible for Phoebe and hope she finds a way to get out of the marriage!


    1. Thank you! Full confession: I've never read HUNGER GAMES! EVEN THE DARKEST STARS by Heather Fawcett and Mary Pearson's THE REMNANT CHRONICLES are my comps :)

  2. Hi Rochele,

    I commend you for trying a new start to your story this week! This new opening is very strong. The reader is easily able to picture this run-down village, and you've introduced the sources of conflict. That's so important to have in the opening pages, so nice job. Also, the last line is GREAT. I wanted to read on.

    I feel like we could almost do with a little less of the backstory, and more of what's going on with Pheobie. With the images you create, and by choosing your details carefully, the reader can fill in some of the story for themselves. So we get a good sense of her situation, but what about how she feels? What is her emotional response to the cruel treatment from her father, being practically assaulted by the general, the state of her world in general? What stands out to her the most when she looks at her broken down village? I like Pheobie as a character, so you might be able to just take her up a notch. I'd also like to know how old she is.

    Feel free to reach out with any questions in these comments before the next round. I'm really looking forward to reading your pitch.

    All the best,

    1. Thank you Beth! It was a hard choice to axe the prologue, but I'm glad I made it!
      Regarding her age, I originally had her walking home from the gate and having a run in with some villagers that shows how she's considered an outcast, then her aunt brings up an incident that happened when she was ten which we find out was seven years before and the villagers haven't forgotten. I decided to move that scene (1.5 pages worth) behind this one, so that the betrothal happens in the first 5 pages. I'll find a way to get her age mentioned sooner!

  3. Hi Rochele!

    Wow, totally different from what we first saw!

    This takes us down to our main character and her slice of the world. It orientates the reader quickly and gives us someone to root for.

    Right off the bat, we know who the main character is. I feel like she’s a young teen (maybe 14?) from the description, given her timid behavior with being caught with the forbidden rabbit, but I assume she’s an older teen due to the engagement to a dirty old man? Haha! I don’t know, I think maybe I picture someone older saying something to get out of trouble? She seems quite submissive. I get that it’s to keep a low profile, but if the general rides her back regardless, maybe we can see some kind of interaction between the two?

    I also feel like we get a good idea about her father, the general, but not enough about Pheobie other than she’s a sweet girl who will break rules for the right reasons, but her personality comes off as shy. Which I guess is the point, she needs to grow. But maybe we can get more internalization, as Beth mentioned?

    Overall, I like the conflict and stakes and would like to see what happens next! Great work!


  4. Rochele, I love this!!! Your writing is still fabulous, just like it was in your previous entry, but I love this “new” character (I’m sure she was there all along haha) and I love this starting point!

    Some minor notes:

    When the soldier says “fine young lady” I thought perhaps she was rich or of some higher class. Perhaps he should just say “young lady” instead of fine, since it’s then revealed that the family is rather poor? Unless, of course, she is from some upper class and just doesn’t actually have money.

    You also use a lot of semicolons where I think you could just split the sentences. I paused first at “No matter how badly she wanted to refuse his offer, she knew she had no choice; her father would be…” I think that could be two sentences. The other one that caused me pause was “After two months of drought, many were going hungry; now it would only get worse.” Totally me being nitpicky, but just wanted to say to be careful not to overdo it, and sometimes I think two sentences can have a stronger effect on the reader. :)

    I personally don’t think “menace” is the strongest word you could use in this sentence: “Where did this come from?” He asked, menace lacing his words.” I think “anger” or “threat” or something might be stronger? Again, I’m totally nitpicking.

    Another nitpicky suggestion—this sentence: “Pheobie felt her world shatter.” I think it might be stronger if you have instead “Pheobie’s world shattered.”

    One last thought: Pheobie’s father seems cruel. Is his cruelness caused by his environment, aka the drought and the soldiers and his wife’s death, or has he always been cruel? I ask because I’m not sure I understand why Pheobie would be so willing to risk getting beat or fined or worse going into the forest to have good food for her father if he’s such a mean guy. If he’s kind or has been kind in the past, it would make more sense to me. It would also change my interpretation of his giving Pheobie away to the general—is he doing it to get rid of her or is he doing it because he sees it as a way to protect her? Of course, it’s also probably good that I have all of these questions because I definitely want to keep reading!

    Great job!!!

  5. Rochele,

    Much stronger opening! You can always find a way to put the other scene in later, but this opening gives us a much better sense of what's to come, and a character to attach to.

    I feel like you give a good balance of story and backstory here. The ending makes a really nice twist. It might come a little fast...I'm not sure. You'd want other opinions on that. There could even be room here for a little more on Phoebie--her age etc.

    That's it! Good stuff!

  6. Is this the same book?! I am so amazed. Wow. I am literally so astounded at how much better this is. I don't even want to say one thing.

    Tightening. We find out that her luck isn't with her, so don't tell us. 'She realized' is distancing language and actually makes us feel further from the MC than closer because you're reminding us we're having to realize something.

    She soon found herself staring at the prancing hooves of a grey stallion. It's rider leaned down and spoke with a gruff voice. “And what is such a fine young lady as yourself doing out on the road alone?”
    She groaned. He was a general, heavy set with a fiery red beard and ruddy skin. She tried to come up with a good excuse; being unaccompanied out of the fort’s boundaries was a punishable offense.

    I think if you said, breaking her silence it would add to the foreshadowing. I love the innuendo here of him making her keep a secret. Ugh. I hate him already.

    She knew is also distancing.

    Instead of passive was, try and replace them with active verbs.

    I'm wondering if she's worried about the rabbit when he pulls her up, where does it land, and does she think he might feel it or see it?

    Anger flashed ... it would only get worse.
    This is all telling. Is there a way through a conversation or the fight with her father that we could find this out? Or she could notice someone old being taken out on a stretcher. They've starved. Just ideas.

    I feel like she's thirteen. Especially when she runs into the village. I'm imagining this rabbit banging against her legs, but again, it's the innocent she killed and perhaps should be more of a reminder to us that she's doing what she has to compared to the general who takes what he wants. Maybe just play these ideas off one another? Again, only take these if you want.

    I feel like she'd skin the rabbit before she sweeps.

    You can save words by letting actions be the dialogue tag.

    “What’s this all about?” Her father pushed up from the table and strolled over.

    I am literally cringing back as the last line finishes. You've done such a wonderful job.

    Heather Cashman

  7. Hey Rochele,

    I love the new start to the story! It definitely grabs my attention and your writing is wonderful. One suggestion I'd add is how she identifies him as the general - perhaps from his familiar clothes or some sort of badge? Small details help add to the scene. You can also add one line or two about the war when discussing the arrival of the new soldiers - this can help add in the fantasy element.

    Your descriptions are vivid and paints a wonderful picture. I'd suggest going over the dialogue structure also. Eg. '"Of course." Her father nodded...' You can also add more depth to Phoebe's emotions while she's waiting - show us her anxiety and what she thinks will happen. This helps add more background to the story in a subtle way, too.

    The adverbs in the chapter can also be replaced with more descriptive language, bringing out more of Pheobie's inner conflict. In the last part, try adding a line or two about the General's facial expression so that we get a sense of the whole scene. Perhaps broaden the "dire consequences" so that it highlights the stakes at hand.

    Overall, I absolutely love the new start and I'm honestly eager to read more!