Sunday, January 6, 2019

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Passerotti

Name: Katie Passerotti
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Lost Souls

Mud splashed, sending rivulets of brown water dripping down Rook's boots as she chased after her younger sister. Rook reached for Mareah's arm, but her sister moved too quick and slipped away, weaving through the trees. Mareah's dark hair disappeared, her echoing laugh all that remained.

Despite Rook's warning, her younger sister had taken off, forcing her to give chase. As the responsible one, the adult, Rook should have made more of an effort to stop her. The forest was not the place for games. But Mareah's laughter, luminous and contagious, unfurled the bud of tension nestled in Rook's heart and she couldn't fight the smile that stole across her lips.

Brambles snagged on Rook's clothes as she burst into the small clearing. In ten strides she'd reached the massive Daelen tree that called the meadow home. She pressed her palms against the rough bark and a welcoming warmth prickled through her fingers. Sucking in a lungful of crisp, fall air, she looked for Mareah.

The wind whispered through the waist high grass of the meadow and warbling birds called to one another, but Mareah wasn't there.

"Where are you hiding?" Rook called, rolling her eyes. Her sister was always playing jokes--a mischievous streak she'd inherited from their father.

She stepped back from the Daelan tree, her eyes sweeping the surrounding forest. The dense rows of trees beyond the clearing were nearly devoid of leaves, their branches scraping at the clouds like skeletal fingers. Bracken filled the space between their trunks, making it impossible to see deeper.

Rook had gone beyond the clearing only once. The memory of that mistake shivered through her, leeching the warmth of the midday sun from her skin. The creatures that inhabited the inner forest--imps, banshees, dragons, and worse--were not to be taken lightly. They were dangerous.


The clearing was barely a kilometer from the forest's edge, but still farther than most dared to come. Mareah knew better than to go past the Daelen tree.

"Mareah!" The name echoed back and unease skittered along Rook's spine. She let her hand trail over the Daelan tree as she paced around its trunk.

The tree was massive. Its bark, a mottled grey and black, twisted together to create irregular ridges and more knotholes than she could count. Unlike the rest of the trees, it hummed with energy. Pale blue buds unfurled along its branches, brought to life by the autumn sun. While the rest of the forest drifted into its winter slumber, Daelan trees bloomed.

Reaching the other side, Rook's hand dropped to her hips, fighting the misgiving prickling at her heart. What had she been thinking by allowing her sister to come along on her foraging trip?  Her sister wasn't there; there wasn't even a whisper that she'd been there.

"Mareah," Rook admonished, her voice catching on the last syllable. She looked back the way they'd come. "We don't have time to play games. If you don't show yourself--"

A hand grabbed her shoulder and Rook screamed. She whirled to find Mareah doubled over behind her, trying to subdue her fit of laughter.

"You never thought to look up," she managed between giggles and pointed into the branches.

Rook crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, her gaze flicking from Mareah to the Daelan Tree. "You cheated."

The wind shifted, sending a flurry of petals spiraling through the air. They whispered against her skin like an apology. Rook frowned and turned her stern look to Mareah. "You promised to behave if I let you come with me. The forest is dangerous, there are creatures--"

"I know," Mareah interrupted, her expression suddenly too serious for a ten year old. She worried her lower lip with her teeth. "I'm sorry."

Rook shook her head, her irritation fading. Mareah's apology was sincere, she hadn't meant any harm. When had her little sister started to grow up? "Don't leave the clearing. Stay where I can see you."

Mareah grinned, grey eyes sparkling, and took off, her arms outstretched, raven hair flying behind her. Rook turned her attention back to the tree. She drew a pair of thick leather gloves from her satchel and pulled on the right glove, but not the left. Stepping closer to the tree, she ran her bare fingers lightly over the trunk, searching for a place to harvest its sap.

This was the only Daelen tree Rook knew of, the only one she'd ever found. If there were more, they were deeper in the forest, inaccessible and guarded by whatever dark creatures dwelled there. A sharp pain sliced through her thumb and Rook jerked her hand away. A thorn jutted from the tree, a bright drop of crimson trembling on its tip.

Odd. In all her years collecting sap, she'd never encountered a thorn. She brought her thumb to her mouth and sucked at the small wound.

Where did the thorn come from?" she murmured, pressing her hand to the bark once more. The Daelan tree didn't answer and Rook sighed. Warmth pulsed beneath her fingers and the question was forgotten.

She marked the spot with her nail and pulled on the other glove. Raw, the sap would turn her skin red and leave blisters that would take weeks to heal. It wasn't safe to handle until she'd refined it. After that, it became a potent remedy and the apothecary gave her a healthy cut of the profit from its sale. Money she and sister desperately needed.

Rook drew the knife from her belt. The late afternoon sun flashed off the polished blade. It was shaped like a hawthorn leaf, wide and round at the bottom before tapering to a fine point. She drove the tip into the pulp of the tree. Rich amber bubbled from the wound and she deftly replaced the knife with a small tube attached to a glass vial. The golden liquid moved slowly and Rook stepped away.

She sank to the ground, pulling her gloves off as she settled herself. The Daelan tree was a second home, she always felt safe and welcomed when she was nestled amongst the tree's massive roots. She hummed quietly, watching as Mareah collected snakeroot and hummingbird blossoms. When her hands were full, her sister bounded over and dropped the plants between them. Plopping down next to Rook, she began to weave them into a crown.

Words gathered on Rook's tongue. There was so much she needed to tell her sister, but she couldn't bear to burden her with the fact that it had been two months since she'd last heard from their mother. Two months where Rook's meager earnings from the apothecary had barely been enough to feed Mareah. That she'd taken to begging scraps from her friend, Bettina, who worked at one of the taverns in the city.

The tree creaked and Rook tilted her head to look up through its branches. Her gaze fell on the thorn and she straightened.

A moth perched on its tip, its fragile wings bright scarlet with a burst of blue around the edges. Laughter bubbled from her at the sight of the creature cautiously unfurling its wings, testing them out as though it had only just emerged from its cocoon. It drew a slender leg to its mouth and flexed its fuzzy antennae.

"Mareah, look," she whispered. "A baby dragon."


  1. Hi Katie!
    You did a great job building this world, which is so important in fantasy. This reminds me of Alison Croggon’s novel, The Naming. A lot of visual imagery is used. I envisioned Mareah, the youngest sister, running through the forest, playing a mischievous game of hide-and-go-seek. At first, I wasn’t sure what a Daelen tree was, then you described it in the next few paragraphs, letting the reader know it is essential to the story.
    Katie, I have a few questions:
    Protagonist’s age: When you mention Rook is the adult, does she feel like she is the adult? Did someone in her family state it? Or, did she turn 18? I’m asking because the responsibilities of a young adult in a fantasy world may be different. Some Fantasy YA’s classify teens as adults when they are 15, others 17, 18, etc. I’d like to know more, why is she the adult? Or is she raising her sister alone? You do mention a father figure. And a mother that is not present. I’d like to know how Rook fits into that role (the adult). If your intention is to relay that information further along, then it makes sense.
    Regarding the line: "Mareah," Rook admonished, her voice catching on the last syllable.
    Perhaps using simple dialogue tags like, “Mareah,” Rock said, or whispered, can move the reading along, since the reader is trying to envision this new fantasy world. The word “admonished” didn’t quite flow for me. Of course, it’s up to you.
    I like the relationship between these two characters, Rook does behave like the adult here. The ending line: "Mareah, look," she whispered. "A baby dragon” gives the reader a deeper sense of Rook’s persona. Not only does she look after her sister, but she teaches her along the way. Very touching.

    1. Thank you!
      I forgot to change the word 'adult' back to italics--I don't know if that's enough to help clarify her age, but Rook is 17. I'll see if I can make clearer in these pages as far as what's happened to their mother and father--but it does get explained later on more fully. Thanks again!

  2. Hi Katie, I enjoyed reading. Your descriptive language drew me in and then the story took over. I immediately got a sense of concern when Mareah was missing. I was concerned for her safety and curious about the reference to "deadly." I could picture the Daelen tree. I love stories about wild-crafting. It reminded me of a book, Where the lilies bloom." I got a sense of your two characters and their differences. I'm slow, so it took me a moment; but I like that the thorn was a dragon. I look forward to hearing more about your characters. Thanks, Jeannie Lambert

    1. Thank you! I'll have to check out that book you mentioned--comps are like the bane of my existence so I'm always on the lookout for books with the same feel.

  3. Hi Katie,

    You have beautiful, active descriptions and lyrical prose. I love the way we start the action with an immediate goal – Rook’s sister slips away and she needs to find her, which leads to an introduction to the forest, the deadly creatures in it, the way Rook makes a living and the reason she needs money. It also introduces us to Rook well by showing us she cares about her sister, which makes her likeable.

    To tighten it up a bit, I’d suggest looking at where you might be repeating yourself. For example, the second paragraph seems to be a more detailed account of the last sentence in the first paragraph. Finding spots like this to trim will tighten it and increase pacing. I’d also love to understand a little more of what Rook is feeling in the beginning. Based on the first paragraph, I thought she was worried because she was the adult and the forest wasn’t a place for games – but then she rolls her eyes a little later which makes it seem lighter, and when she finds her the first thing she says is, “You cheated” before she goes on to scold her. Clarifying what she’s feeling when will help. Perhaps start with her feeling like it’s a joke and then getting more worried as she remembers the threats and realizes she can’t find her?

    Great start to the story! Looking forward to seeing the revisions next week.

    1. Thank you! I'm very guilty of being repetitive! LOL.
      As for the "you cheated" bit--she's actually saying that to the tree because the tree was helping Mareah to hide--I will see if I can make that more apparent without being super overt about it, but Rook has the ability to communicate with the earth/plants

  4. Hi Katie!

    I agree with what the others have said, your excerpt was filled with lovely imagery and I’m curious to find out more about the world (and the dragon!!) I would’ve loved to feel a stronger connection to the characters from the start. Dropping little hints about who Rook is by maybe describing the world around her through her eyes, ie “The smell of the trees reminded her of…” or maybe a small description of her clothes could give us a clearer idea of who she is (just a suggestion).

    The pacing was a bit jumpy, it started in the action, but the tension was quickly lost when we got to the descriptions of the forest. I loved the first paragraph, but I think the first sentence of the second paragraph should go, and be followed by a reaction from Rook as she searches for her sister (and to show us her feelings (worry/dread) so we can connect with her from the start). Then you could gradually add to the tension/fear she is feeling by mentioning the trees that look like skeletal fingers (spooky!), the creatures, etc.

    Looking forward to your revision!

  5. Hi, Katie! There are sooooo many things that I LOVE about this piece. This sisters trope. The fantasy of dangerous creatures beyond the border, which would lead a wide-eyed, adventurous type itching to explore. I'm fairly biased to the big sister looking out for little sister with no parents storyline. It's a theme in my own writing.

    That being said, I do hope the parents come back into the picture. In my own writing, that didn't least not entirely. I feel like the Cinderella syndrome has been done and done again. I'd love to see a sister duo save mom and dad in whatever capacity that entails.

    Your writing in beautiful. It's descriptive. The sensory is almost all there, although I'd love to see more audible and smells. Especially with the sap. If she's unable to touch or taste it, does it give off a sweet aroma that lures wanderers to death? Sort of like the berries in Hunger Games. They seem insignificant, but once eaten causes death. Just a thought.

    Along with the writing, it's very flowery. Lots of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. I'd go through and thin down some of them. Also, we've been given a clue that her sister is younger at least three times. There's one point you describe Daelon trees (plural) but later suggest that this particular tree is the only one known. Basically, this piece needs to be tightened up.

    By five pages, I should have a good clue what the conflict is and what the protagonist's goal is. I think the fluff detracts from this and fills up pages so that the reader doesn't get a sense of what's going on quick enough. In many cases, you'll either lose your reader or the critique you get is "it starts slow," which are both no good.

    Overall, the writing is beautiful. The story is intriguing. I can't wait to see what you do with the amazing input you've gotten so far from the other critiquers.

  6. Hi Katie! There is so much that I enjoyed here. I'm very intrigued by this tree. I want to know more! You have a lyrical flow to your words and sentences that drew me in instantly. You do well with your descriptions, painting visual images in my mind as I read. This is important in any story, but especially with fantasy. Saying that, use caution when using description or creating descriptive paragraphs that don't move the story forward. Try to keep in mind that the story must always be moving forward. What you wrote might be an amazingly beautiful piece, but if it doesn't do much to project the story toward the climax it probably should be taken out. (Sorry! I know; that's painful. Ex: 6th paragraph) In the first pages, I'm always looking for character, goal/desire, and conflict. I can tell that Rook is a responsible character, who wants to do good and do the right thing. Is this the reason you refer to her as the adult or is it because she feels like she has to be responsible? OR is she truly the adult in the family? (Reading on, you mention her father & mother, so maybe not.) Clarifying this will give an even clearer picture of who she is as character. What's missing is her goal and conflict. Obviously, the forest poises dangers that will, I'm sure, result in conflicts. But I don't know what she wants. Was Rook's only reason to venture toward the tree to play hide and seek, or was there something more? Was it to gain material to sell to the apothecary? I'd be great if you could add/clarify this.

    Small Notes: a few areas don't show but tell for instance: you don't need to waste words telling us that Mareah's apology was sincere. Trust that the reader can tell this by the interaction you've created between the two sisters.

    Toward the beginning, you refer to these special blue blossoming trees in the plural, like there are more than one. But later on, you state that this Daelen tree is the only one Rook has ever seen or knows of and if there are others they must be in the forest. It's a little contradiction, but it's there.

    I'm really excited to see what you do with this! Rook has amazing potential to be a great character.


  7. This is Erin, posting for Amy:
    Greetings, Katie – happy to meet you online and read your work.

    The pages start out in a vividly described setting where sisters, Rook and Mareah, live. There are “dark creatures” in the woods. We know a fair amount at the outset: the sisters are different in age. They are subsisting, foraging, which may be standard in this world, but we don’t know that yet. They are living in diminished circumstances.

    The narration is third person, close to Rook’s point of view, and the tone of the language is formal/high (“rivulets” “forcing her to give chase”) which tell the reader about Rook in contrast to her younger sister who has taken off, weaving and laughing. We don’t yet know if Rook is formal by personality, necessity, or if she’s a stick-in-the-mud. In contrast to Mareah’s hijinks it implies at the very least a conflict between the two which may or may not have consequences.

    In addition to the “Deadly” creatures inhabiting the inner forest, there are two clear hints at danger ahead: “branches scraping at the clouds like skeletal fingers” and the unforeseen, now bloodied, thorn on the Daelan tree. As with Chekkov’s gun (each element in the story must be necessary or removed), the appearance of Rook’s work knife with its polished blade in such close proximity on the page to her bloodied thumb, suggests a future use of the knife in more perilous circumstances – an exciting contract to keep! These elements, the suggestion of future danger, hint at stakes for the characters, but these stakes are something I’d like clearer at the outset.

    Tell me more about Rook to help me feel invested in her and this story. Right now all I know is that she’s responsible and caring for her sister. Both sisters, in fact, are flat so far. Mareah is mischevious and energetic like her father, and Rook is burdened and responsible. But what makes them special to each other? To us? I’d love more character development. I know, from the marvelous tactile, physical details you give (I can feel the bark on that tree) that you’re skilled at using a single image to imply something larger – I encourage you to do the same thing with your characters so they move from simple dichotomy into something dynamic and complex. We need to know why this story about sisters in peril is the one we should read/care about. What are the stakes? And lastly, the baby dragon’s great as a possible page-turner, but why do I care about it in this context beyond cuteness? What does it mean for the sisters? Where’s the hook to pull me in?

    Also, minor, but a stumbling point for me – if the meadow is so quiet Rook can hear the wind in the grasses, how does she not hear Mareah drop down behind her from the tree to grip her shoulder?

    As with any critique, these are one person’s impressions/suggestions. I look forward to seeing what you do next.