Sunday, June 10, 2018

1st 5 Pages June Workshop- Oh Rev 1

Name: Christine Oh
Genre: Young Adult (Fantasy - Time Travel)
Title: The Handmaiden

A long time ago, there once lived a king who loved his queen very much.  The young queen was noble, wise, and above all else, loved her people.  The king often deferred to her judgment much to the dismay of his royal advisors and thus, a plan was hatched amongst the court to remove the queen by death.

The queen soon learned of the plot and trusting no one but her closest handmaiden, she devised a plan of escape that would expose the conspirators while keeping the king’s trust.    

On the eve of the attack, three riders were dispatched to alert the queen of the safest route from the three coasts.  But upon receiving the scrolls, the queen was betrayed by her most faithful--

“Excuse me.”

An annoyed voice cut through Rebecca’s attention and her head snapped up in response.  She turned away from the inscription to see a group of anxious American tourists, all angling to take a picture of the display Rebecca was clearly blocking. 

“Oh, sorry!”

Rebecca sidestepped to the right and felt the wave of elderly women usher past her to the display.  The exhibition celebrating the ill-fated Korean queen was closing in ten minutes, and the exhibit’s usual reserved mood suddenly turned desperate with visitors’ last minute attempts for mementos. Amidst the posing and loud chatter, Rebecca continued to study the subjects beneath the glass display from the corner of the crowd.  Despite sustaining her attention for most of the exhibit, she couldn’t subside her apprehension over the three scrolls.

Rebecca had been in Korea barely over a week before she discovered the exhibition in her father’s hometown.  After her father’s funeral in Seattle, Rebecca and her mother had boarded a plane back to his hometown, her father’s ashes in tow. It was the first time she had visited Korea, but as soon as she set foot outside of Incheon Airport, she felt an overwhelming ease settle over her as if she were being welcomed back home.  Already, the chaos and noise of bustling Seoul made her grieving heart take a back seat, and as she steered her mother to their awaiting extended family at the arrivals gate, her duties as filial daughter overtook her.
Rebecca spent the next grueling week paying respects to relatives she hardly knew to dealing with funeral arrangements in a land with foreign traditions.  Once the last far-traveling relative said goodbye, she finally felt like she could catch her breath.  With her mother resting at their hotel, Rebecca decided to take a walk to clear her mind.  It was the first moment she had completely to herself, and she felt the need to get lost in the unfamiliar chaos of a new city.  Rebecca didn’t get very far before a poster for the local exhibition stopped her in her tracks.

The poster was a black and white photo of a young woman wearing a simple Korean dress.  Her hanbok gave no indication of the woman’s social class; the dress lacked embroidery and the fabric was made from cotton not silk.  The woman was not someone the majority of Korean population would deem beautiful.  Her eyes were not almond shaped, her skin was pockmarked, and her forehead was too wide.  And at first glance, Rebecca didn’t think much of the girl, let alone imagine her to be royalty until she noticed the ornate pins tucked in the mounds of hair that was braided and piled on top of her head.  

What had struck Rebecca was the young queen’s expression.  She knew that expression well; she’d seen it written plainly across her dad’s face many times when he was on the cusp of getting angry.  The picture captured the young queen defiant – her brow was furrowed and eyes narrow.  Her lips were pressed into a straight, firm line as though she were biting back her tongue.  In Rebecca’s attempt to alleviate her grief, she’d forgotten all about that face until her walk and found her father’s expression staring back at her in black and white.  Her stomach turned as she saw her father’s eyes peer down at her.

Rebecca always knew that her father was different.  Unlike most Korean men, Rebecca’s father was delighted to have a daughter, and her mother would often tell stories of his excitement over Rebecca even before she was born.  Her father often credited the absence of daughters in their family lineage as the reason why he was so tickled to have a girl.  Rebecca knew her mother always wanted a son but was unable to have any children after her.  

Ever since she was young, her father often spoke of tradition and how strict her grandfather was on specific Korean customs.  Although Rebecca’s father wasn’t as severe, he still made sure those traditions were passed down to her.  Speaking and reading Korean fluently was a must and how to respect your elders was naturally a given.

Both her dad and Rebecca had a sweet tooth, so it was their ritual to get ice cream when her mother would make dinner too spicy or salty.  

“It’s because your mother’s people are from Jeolangdo,” her dad would joke as they gulped down water after taking a few bites from her mother’s specialty Korean dishes.  “They always add too much to everything to overcompensate for the fact they are from the countryside.”  

Still fanning her mouth, Rebecca’s mom would often swat at her dad’s head with a dishcloth and glare at him while she went around refilling everyone’s water glasses for the third time.

After ordering their cones, Rebecca and her dad would sit on the bench outside Molly Moon’s and he would always start the story of the doomed queen.  He’d been telling her this story as long as she could remember, and always as if he were reading from a script.  When Rebecca was younger, she would ask for the tale but as she got older, she would groan whenever her father would start without her prompting.  

“It’s important that you listen, Ahgah.  This is our history and you can’t forget where you come from, even though you call yourself an American.”  Then Rebecca’s dad would lightly chuck her under her chin for giving him sass and continue anyways.

After Rebecca got her driver’s license and found more excuses to not be home, the trips to get ice cream became less frequent.  But when her father got sick, he told her tell the story one last time.  She held his hand in the hospital room as he told her the tale of the doomed queen and though it had been a few years, Rebecca found herself reciting the tale along with her father.

And it wasn’t until Rebecca discovered the exhibit, did she read the story again since her father’s death.  But the longer she ruminated over the display with the three scrolls, the more troubled she became.  For in her father’s version of the story, there were four.


  1. I think you've done a better job in tying the scrolls into the story more and making us care about them. I also think you've cut down some of relationship details between Rebecca and her father that could better be saved for later. I think you could go a little further in highlighting the scroll and what makes it special (I assume it's more than just a possible escape route).

    Occasionally, you have a sentence that could be simplified and shortened while making the same point, such as "Despite sustaining her attention for most of the exhibit, she couldn’t subside her apprehension over the three scrolls." or "And at first glance, Rebecca didn’t think much of the girl, let alone imagine her to be royalty until she noticed the ornate pins tucked in the mounds of hair that was braided and piled on top of her head."

    I think you've definitely moved in the right direction. Good luck.

  2. Reading this a second time, I already know that the story at the beginning is being read by Rebecca at the exhibit. But for a first time reader, I feel like there’s still not enough of a clue that lets a reader know this is what she was reading before she was interrupted.

    I like that you’ve introduced the scrolls sooner in the story about the queen. But as it’s written, I’m not sure of their context in the story. You mention “the safest route from the three coasts” so I’m wondering if the scrolls are related to three routes. But I only know the connection to “three” because I’ve already read this. I think a few more details about the scrolls in this first story will help heighten their significance and mystery.

    In this sentence, “Rebecca always knew that her father was different. Unlike most Korean men, Rebecca’s father was delighted…” to avoid repetition, I’d change “Rebecca’s father” to “he.”

    You go back and forth between “dad” and “father,” and I wonder if that is intentional? I think “father” seems to fit well because of the emphasis on respect that he taught her.

    I think there are a few extra words in this sentence: “But when her father got sick, he told her tell the story one last time.”

    You’ve done a nice job of building Rebecca’s character and her relationship with her father. The discrepancy in the number of scrolls for me is the real hook, so maybe consider adding a few more details about them, especially in the first story about the queen.

  3. These are a few thoughts I had while reading. I like the new revision. Mentioning the scrolls sooner makes them seem less like they just popped up out of nowhere. It also makes me curious as to why they're important. Nice hook.

    I still like the story at the beginning, but I think putting it in italics would help readers understand that it's something being read/remembered than the beginning of YOUR story.

    The line "her head snapped up in response" leaves a weird image in my head. Maybe I'm reading it wrong but it seems like her head literally snapped (which I know isn't the case). Also the paragraph about the the young queen’s did Rebecca know it was a young queen? Or does she know? Do the pins give it away? You also use "young queen" twice in the same paragraph. I do this too sometimes. Maybe try changing it up with "the woman" or something. Same with "her father". I think " she saw his eyes..." would work fine.

    In the last two pages or so, you switch from mother and father to mom and dad. Not sure if this was intentional or and error. I wanted to point that out in case you wanted to stick with one or the other.

    Reading this a second time I noticed how much backstory is given. We know a lot about Rebecca's father and their relationship but we know little about the mother. I think you can cut back on the backstory and sprinkle it in over time. That way we can get back to why the scrolls were so important. (I have this issue too, giving a lot of information up front).

    For me, knowing that Rebecca is in Korea for the first time because her father died is important. Knowing that she recognized her father's potential relative in a poster is interesting. Even getting some information about their relationship such as how they would go get ice cream and he'd tell her the doomed queen story. But maybe you can streamline that a bit. The rest of their loving relationship can be shown throughout the novel as I feel her father, even after death, plays a big part in this.

    You're headed in the right direction! Good luck.

  4. I wish I had something more to offer, but the other comments said everything I was thinking. You're doing great!

  5. Some lovely changes in this revision -- I felt more of the place and her reaction to it in the version. For the next version, I would take it down to the sentence level and really look at each of your sentences. Read them out loud to yourself and ask yourself if they sound as varied and tight as you'd like. Look for places to use more active or sensory language -- nothing major, just small places where you can use language to amplify the story.

  6. Hi Christine!

    I think you did a great job on this revision. I just have three notes for you.

    1. I think this is lacking in voice. Reading it again, I realize that even after these five pages, I don't know anything about Rebecca's personality, really. And I should. Part of that, I chalk up to the way you word things, which I'll talk about next. But even when you use third person, the narrative still needs to reflect the voice of the main character. Right now, I don't feel like you're explaining things in the way Rebecca would, if that makes sense. And even just doing that would make a huge difference.

    2. There are some syntax issues here, and in part, I think they come from your use of more complicated sentence structures (though, some are just errors). For example:

    -- ...with visitors' last minute attempts for mementos..." Mementos are physical objects, and the women you're referring to are just trying to read/view the exhibit, right? If they're pushing past Rebecca to get to a souvenirs table, then definitely say that instead.

    -- "she couldn't subside her apprehension..." Subside is an intransitive verb, so it can't have an object. Kind of like the verb "sneeze." A nose can sneeze, but you wouldn't say, "She sneezed her nose." So her apprehension can subside, but she can't subside her apprehension. Also, that whole sentence is super complicated and I think simplification would make it much cleaner.

    -- " wasn't until Rebecca discovered the exhibit did she read the story again since her father's death." This is a really complicated way to say, "Seeing the exhibit was the first time she'd though about the story since her father's death."

    And this ties into my first point about voice, because inserting voice into your narrative is also about creating a more conversational tone to your writing, whatever that tone might be to your main character. And we all tend to be more simplistic in our conversation. So I'd encourage you to look at some of your more complex sentences and think about how you'd describe that to your friend in conversation.

    3. I know I said something to this effect last time, but I still think you should write this with a more linear approach. As written, it's missing Rebecca's interiority, which also circles back to why we don't know much about who your main character is. And I think that will change if you start with her walking the streets, trying to clear her head and let us discover the exhibit with her and see her drawn to the scrolls.

    Doing that puts us in the moment with Rebecca and makes the flashback to the ice cream parlor and memories of her dad seem less like backstory and more like organic memory stirred up from this exhibit.

    The cinematic opening is clever, but I think it might be getting in the way of a more powerful start that could give us a better sense of who Rebecca is and more emotional engagement with her story.

    I hope that helps a little! Good luck on your next revision!!

    Heather Petty (Sorry if this shows up as a guest account. My macbook is at the genius bar, so I'm on my daughter's computer...)