Sunday, June 17, 2018

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Oh Rev 2

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


Rebecca Lee is a Korean-American teenager who gets sent back 200 years in time to Korea due to a family curse.  Rebecca discovers that her one of her female ancestors, Hera, was an instrumental player in helping the queen escape from evil conspirators, but she makes an error and the queen is caught and killed.  A mysterious shaman intervenes and casts a spell that whenever a daughter is born into Hera’s bloodline, the girl is sent back on her 19th birthday to try and fix the mistake, but every daughter ultimately fails and dies.

When Rebecca goes back to the Joseon era, she finds her way into the royal court as a handmaiden and befriends her great ancestor, Hera.  As Rebecca adjusts to the court life, she realizes that the fairy tale her dad told her growing up is more than just a bedtime story; it’s filled with clues to help Rebecca when she goes back.  The closer she gets to the queen, Rebecca's questions whether Hera is at fault and learns more about the shaman's curse in bringing her back.

First Five Pages:
Rebecca tucked her chin into her scarf as she walked into the biting cold air.  It was almost winter in Seoul, and she could practically smell the unfallen snow as she left the hotel.  She thrust her hands in her thin windbreaker and cursed herself for not wearing her down jacket instead.  Her mom had been right about the weather, but Rebecca was too stubborn to go back in and change.  She’d rather freeze to death than go back to her hotel room and face her mom.  They’d been fighting all week and Rebecca didn’t want her to have another chance to say she was right.
Rebecca pulled her phone from her messenger bag and switched it to airplane mode.  There, she thought defiantly.  Now no one can tell me what to do or ask me anything else about him.
For a brief moment, Rebecca faltered in her resolve to not think of him, but she shook it off and started to walk. 
Despite the cold, the streets were bustling with people, heads bent over their phones as they made their way through the crowds.  Loud neon lights cluttered the building walls, listing everything from restaurant items to karaoke rooms.
Rebecca stopped in front of a small stall with an elderly woman crouching over an almost dead fire, picking over a mound of roasting chestnuts.  As she stared at the prices listed on the handwritten sign to her left, Rebecca knew the ajumma was looking her up and down, trying to figure out if she was Korean-American.  
The ajumma had guessed correctly and spoke to her in English.  Like most people from Seoul, she knew that despite looking full Korean, Rebecca was not raised in the motherland. 
“Hello.  Can I have a small bag, please?”  Rebecca responded back in perfect Korean and the ajumma’s eyes widened in shock.  She passed over the small bag of peeled chestnuts and collected three won from Rebecca, all the while peering even closer at her face. 
“But how do you speak Korean so well?” After a week of being asked the same question by relatives, taxi drivers, and random acquaintances, Rebecca replied back in Korean sassily, “Because I’m Korean.”
She walked away and popped a hot chestnut in her mouth, blowing through her teeth as she bit into it.  Pushing past standing crowds and stalls selling street food, Rebecca turned left onto a quieter street.  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.  She 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 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 her 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 she 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.
She scanned the poster and saw that the exhibition was nearby but closing in a half hour.  Rebecca phished out her phone and switched the mode back from airplane.  As she opened her Google Maps app, her phone vibrated as her mom’s texts came flooding in.  Groaning, she swiped the texts away, resolving to respond once she got to the exhibition.  She typed in the address and followed the blue arrow on the app down the street.     
Thoughts raced through her mind as she speed-walked to her destination.  Is it just that I miss him?  Am I turning into one of those crazy people who start seeing dead people everywhere?  I might actually have to take up Aunt Jimin’s advice and go talk to someone.     
Rebecca reached the museum’s front entrance and pushed through the glass doors.  The exhibition was small and only a lonely security guard scrolling through his phone seemed to be in charge.  She walked towards him and the guard looked up at her with a bored expression.  Sensing her question, the security guard pointed toward a sign that simply read FREE and went back to his phone.   
Rebecca ducked into the next hallway and walked into the first room.  She made her way through the displays of silk robes and jade hair pins, but paused when she came to a painting of a young woman kneeling on the ground.  Despite the painting giving away no distinctive features of the woman, Rebecca knew instantly it was the queen. 
She began to read the description below the painting.    
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 of escape.  But upon receiving the three scrolls, the queen was betrayed by her most faithful--
Rebecca paused.  She had heard this story before.  Multiple times in fact.  It was the only story her father had told her growing up.  For a while when she was young, he told her the story of the doomed queen almost every night.  But there was something wrong.  In her father’s version of the story, there were four scrolls, not three.  


  1. I like your story a lot from reading the pitch. I think the language needs some tweaking to be tighter and stronger. For example:
    Delete “in time” from the first sentence.
    Delete the first “her” in the second sentence.
    Rewrite the first sentence to be more active vs passive, e.g., “a family curse sent her back…”
    “An instrumental player” could be simplified to “instrumental”.
    Maybe tweak this sentence: “A mysterious shaman casts a spell that sends any daughter…”
    Do you mean “every daughter SO FAR has failed and died.” ?
    Try: “The closer she gets to the queen, the more Rebecca questions…”

    I like the second paragraph of the pitch, but it feels like it ends abruptly. If she can find the error, does she save the queen? I think you need to end with something about the stakes.

    Regarding your pages, I really love how you’ve restructured this. And your first paragraph draws me in instantly! I think it would help to know where she’s headed, or if she’s just trying to get out for a walk. In that regard, she’s a bit aimless right now, without a clear goal.

    I was confused how she would know that the ajumma was looking her up and down, trying to figure out if she was Korean-American. How could she tell that from a look?

    Where you use “phish” I think you mean “fish.”

    I think it’s good that you added her questioning herself about seeing her dad in the poster woman’s expression.

    The way you describe the exhibit and have her read the story is so much clearer! Great job, overall. Good luck!

  2. I'll start with the pitch. I think the first paragraph can be tightened a lot and open more dynamically, for example: '200 years ago, 19 yo Rebecca's great many times over grandma made a mistake that cost the Queen of Korea her life. Now, Rebecca must go back in time and save the Queen or die.' The second paragraph can give more detail but should have higher stakes than her learning more about her grandma or the curse. Maybe give more info about what villains or monsters she has to overcome.

    I think the writing on your rewrite is much improved from the earlier versions. We get a better feeling for Rebecca and more on her personality. There's also more action and the whole exhibit is better explained.

    Good luck going forward.

  3. Christine, this new opening is soooooo good. I love the way you've revised it and brought us into her world and the conflict in such a powerful, immediate way. This has grown so much in such a short time. As for the pitch, I agree that some tightening could make it more dynamic -- read it over and consider how you would want to hear your own work distilled down to its essential story arc. Your writing has so much energy - make sure the pitch reflects this. Best of luck in your next steps! It was a pleasure to read your work.

  4. I love the premise of the story and your edits. As for the pitch, I think you could give more voice. Right now it reads like a synopsis instead of a pitch. While there are some interesting points, it doesn't quite hook. You could also tighten up the first paragraph a bit.

    The new opening is much better. I get a chance to know more about Rebecca. One thing stuck out, when you point out what the ajumma was thinking. There's no way Rebecca would know what she's thinking. Also, I agree it could be tightened a bit in some areas. Like when she switched her phone from airplane mode.

    Other than that I think you've done well with the edits. Good luck!

  5. Hi Christine!

    I'm so sorry these are late. I was in bed sick most of yesterday, and just realized this morning that I'd never actually posted the notes I have for you.

    I agree with others that this is reading a little technical right now. In fact, it reads like the technical documentation version, when a pitch is supposed to be a marketing tool.

    To that end, I'd suggest you focus more on what main decision Rebecca is going to have to make (the turning point of the book) and the consequences of that decision (the stakes) for Rebecca. And then give us just enough information about who Rebecca is and the context of the decision to make the pitch make sense.

    The whole purpose of a pitch is to entice the Agent or Editor to read the pages of the book. So you want to write this in such a way that they are desperate to read and find out what choice she makes.

    The Pages:

    THIS. IS. SO. MUCH. BETTER. I can't even tell you how much more enticing these pages are now. You have done amazing work here. And in doing the work you've told us so much more about who Rebecca is, her relationship to Korea, her relationship to her mom...everything.

    Unlike others, I actually love her interaction with the Ajumma selling the chestnuts, because teens (and adults) always make assumptions about what others are thinking of them. I think with just a word or two added, you could enforce the idea that she's assuming that's what the woman is thinking and doesn't know outright, but other than that, it's a great part of the scene.

    My only real note is that the end of these five pages feels rushed to me right now. I know you were probably trying to include the mystery of the three vs. four scrolls into the five page limit of this event. But on your real pages, I'd suggest slowing down her trek through the exhibit and showing the reader the three scrolls under glass before she starts to read. Then, maybe after you could even include some of the memories she has of her dad associated with the scrolls like you did in the previous version, etc, etc.

    The pages are great, though! And I am really desperate to see this book on shelves, because I want to read it so badly!! Good luck to you!


  6. From Danielle:

    This concept is SO cool. I love the fairy tale/family lore elements. I love the multigenerational elements. I love the Korean history. I love the court intrigue and the heroine breaking a high stakes curse. I definitely think this concept is a winner.

    Having read your pages, I think you're opening this novel in the wrong place. A character thinking about the weather as she walks down the street is a fairly generic opening, as is the vague reference to a family conflict. The more specific you are, the more interesting your story will become. It is vital, when querying, to have an opening that smacks the agent across the face and grabs attention. You want to really draw the reader in from the very first paragraph and, as it stands now, you're not opening with the thing that makes this novel unique. There is so much richness in your concept and I think you can leverage that for an incredibly cool first paragraph. Why not immediately make the connection that the protagonist is the descendent of a queen? Why not emphasize the legends about a family curse? The opening can really effectively set the tone of a novel--it is a promise to the reader about what they can expect from it. I definitely recommend experimenting until you land on something a little more immediately intriguing.

    Perhaps you can open with her intentionally seeking out the exhibit about her ancestor rather than stumbling upon it? That will giver her agency as a character and immediately provide you with a motive to focus the scene around. It flips the switch from passive to active.

    I really like the details about the protagonist's language skills and the fact that she enjoys subverting expectations. (Though be careful about adverbs--sassily, etc.--it weakens your writing.) It sets her up to be successful when she goes back in time!

    I'm just going to throw this out there and you can take it or leave it, but it feels to me as though you're straining to stay in third person when the story wants to be in first. You're writing in a very close third person and you even add italicized character thoughts at one point. I wonder how this narrative voice would shift if you allowed Rebecca to be the person talking. I think it might be worth experimenting to see how the story reads if you switch POV. If you don't like the flow as much after trying first person, by all means stay in third, but I can feel Rebecca trying to tell her own story. I think it is at least worth the experiment!

    Great start! I really think you have something here with this concept!

    -Danielle Burby