Sunday, July 14, 2019

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Abdow Rev 1

Name: Emily Abdow
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Knives and Ribbons

The toes of Esper’s boots, once her father’s, tipped over the cliff’s edge.
She leaned forward, peering down into the darkness, and shivered. So far up, it seemed almost soft. She hoped, for her father’s sake, that falling felt like flying.
From the royal city of Balmyra to where Esper stood, on the mountain of Deadener’s Peak, the people of Allaysia mourned. A knight had arrived at the iron gates this morning with the news: King Roran was dead.

At night, Esper’s sadness snuck upon her like an ambush. It drove her here, to the sheer, jagged drop; the only edge of the village not walled in by slabs of gray stone. She didn’t mourn for a king she’d never met, but for her father, Lord Aeric, who had served as King Roran’s chief advisor. When Lord Aeric perished in the first Bloodrose attack, King Roran waged a war against the red-cloaked rebels in revenge. With King Roran went a piece of her father’s legacy.

She wrapped her palm around the hilt of Kabar, her knife, feeling the familiar bite of the engraving on the hilt. She remembered the day her father had given her Kabar. She’d been only five.

He’d held the knife out, hilt first. A flower blossomed at the blade’s tip, stem snaking onto the hilt where thorns rose in angry points.

She’d opened her soft palms and cried out as the thorns pricked her skin, drawing blood. When she’d tried to let go he’d wrapped his hand around hers, forcing her fingers to the metal. She’d felt the press of his calluses, hardened patches in the pattern of her fresh wounds.

“As long as you wield Kabar,” he’d said, “I can keep you safe.”

That was the last time she’d seen him, twelve years ago. In those twelve years, her own palm had callused like his. When she missed him, as she did now, she clenched the hilt and dared her skin to give. But now she was too hardened to bleed; it was a hardness that ran soul-deep.


The shout startled her. Her boots crunched as she tilted further than she’d planned. A pair of arms wrapped around her middle, hauling her back from the edge. His body was hot against hers, his skin sugary with the scent of his mother’s sticky snow candies. But tonight, she was in no mood for sweetness. She brought both elbows to his stomach, breaking through his embrace.

“Grower’s seeds!” she said. “Faean, you could have killed me.”

His green eyes widened. “Me?” he said. “Kill you?” He shook his head, his hair, sunrise orange, flopping against his forehead. “You’re the one trying to die the same way as your father.”

She gritted her teeth. “I would be proud,” she said, “to die fighting Bloodroses.”

Faean sighed. “I meant falling off a cliff.”

“He didn’t fall,” Esper said. “He was pushed.”

“Ah,” Faean said. His eyes glinted. “You’re waiting for a Bloodrose to push you. Let me go get my red cloak and—”

Esper slammed her shoulder into Faean’s chest. The impact sent him sprawling. His head knocked against a bulge of crystal root protruding from the mountain.

“Oof,” said Faean.

He deserved a knot on his head for his humor. He deserved worse. She pinned his elbows with her knees, her favorite victory position, and dug her weight into the bone of his joints.

Faean winced, face flushing and puffing.

“Spare my freckles,” he wheezed. “My mother says I’ve got the southern star above my left nostril.”

She pressed her knife to his pale throat. She wouldn’t cut him, of course, but she'd slap the silliness out of him with the flat of her blade.

“At least let me have one last dessert,” he begged. “I’ve got some pine sap on my chin.”

He stuck his tongue out, struggling to reach a sticky patch of amber on his pale skin, and her anger evaporated. She raised her knife, so it hovered above her best friend’s throat, now just a formality.

“Any last words?” she said. “Speak, before I flay you for my own dessert.”

Faean made a show of gasping for air. “Send Clara my love.”

“Grower’s Seeds.” Esper rolled off him, onto her back. “Couldn’t you pick better last words? How about, ‘Esper, you’re destined to be the greatest knight in Allaysia.’”

Faean rubbed the back of his head where a knot was already forming. “But you’re already so certain of that. Why waste my dying breaths making you more insufferable?”

Esper countered. “Why waste your dying breaths on a woman you’ll be too dead to marry?”

“It’s the same as wasting my living ones,” Faean said. He picked at his nails, gray with rock dust from the mines. “Clara will never choose someone from an outer ring. She’ll marry someone who reads, or Prince Rain himself.”

Esper hated when Faean talked like this, like he was worth less than those in the inner rings. His father had mined ore for barely five copper seeds a day before losing his arm in a mining accident. Now, Faean labored beneath the mountain, and his mother did her best to help by selling her sticky snow candies for a half copper each.

If Faean’s father could read, he could have made a living by lending seeds or recording trades. But reading was a blessing reserved for the innermost ring. Because one’s ring was determined by how many seeds one paid as tribute to the Grower, Faean’s family tree couldn’t be replanted in a ring closer to the Grower’s Tree.

“You won’t be in the outer ring forever,” Esper said. “Not once you become a knight.”

Faean was quiet.

“Come on.” Esper rose to her feet, holding out her hand. Faean took it and she pulled him up. The moment he steadied himself, she slid her fingers from his and delivered a blow to his shoulder. This one was not powered by rage but tempered. After all, she needed her training partner to be well enough so that she could batter him again tomorrow night.

They sparred, boots slipping and sliding on thick crystal roots. The roots flickered with silver ether, the world’s lifeforce, which flowed from deep beneath the mountain into the trunk of the Grower’s Tree.

Even by the cliff’s edge, Esper could see the great tree towering at the center of the village, a blur of bright silver light with a translucent crystal outline. She looked away, blinking, the shape seared into the underside of her eyelids.

Faean landed a blow to her jaw.

Her teeth snapped together, dark spots joining the light. She dropped to a crouch and spun, sweeping out her boot. Her foot connected with the back of Faean’s knees, and he fell forward, hands splayed against a root.

He was up before she could pin him. They circled each other, boots performing a memorized dance among the roots.

“That’s the only time I can get you,” Faean said. “When you’re distracted by the Grower’s Tree.”

“It’s blinding,” Esper said.

Faean raised an eyebrow. “Not if you don’t look.”

“Of course,” Esper said. “I’ll just ignore the divine source of life. The one so powerful only the Planters can be trusted to protect it.”

“I don’t trust the Planters,” Faean said, matter-of-factly.

Esper stumbled over a root.

Faean didn’t use her weakness to strike. “It’s time they shared their power,” he said.


  1. Name: Emily Abdow
    Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
    Title: Knives and Ribbons

    You’ve cleaned up a lot of things I had questions about in the first draft. Well done. The latter pages clearly establish the conflict.

    I think it would be helpful to identify who her father is in the opening. Here’s a suggestion you can play with: The toes of Esper’s boots, the pair once worn by her father, Lord Aeric, hung just over the cliff’s edge. As she peered down into the darkness where he had lost his life, she hoped for his sake, that falling felt like flying.

    When Esper says her father died fighting and Faean replies, “I mean falling off a cliff” that seems like a cruel thing to say. Does he not believe that her father died fighting? Does he believe her father stumbled off the cliff by accident? Is there a conflicting story about his death throughout the village?

    ‘He deserved a knot on his head for his humor. He deserved worse’ These passages are written as if they are Esper’s direct thoughts. This deviates from your third person narrative.

    I could not picture how she ‘dug her weight into the bone of his joints.’

    I understand that the vocabulary is unique to this land and setting. ‘Spare my Freckles’ and ‘Growers seeds’ are taken as expressions of exasperation and work fine. The ‘southern star above my left nostril’ seemed very specific but confusing and ‘flay you for my own dessert’ sounds like she’s going to eat him.

    I hope something I offer is helpful. I am not terribly familiar with fantasy so please forgive my ignorance of some things.

  2. Emily, you've made some excellent revisions here! I'm impressed with what you've let go in this second version-and how the cuts tighten the narrative and allow you to sharpen focus on important details.

    There's still a strong sense of world, voice, character, and really great hints at backstory. I have just a few small suggestions.

    1) In reference to Emily's second comment above, could it simply read:

    She gritted her teeth. “I would be proud,” she said, “to die like him.”

    Faean sighed. “Falling off a cliff?”

    “He didn’t fall,” Esper said. “He was pushed.”

    This would make it less cruel, but still allow her to get miffed at him.

    2) What if these thoughts: He deserved a knot on his head for his humor. He deserved worse. became sort of a taunting declaration? Could they be speech ("You deserve..."), maybe split with a tiny bit of action?

    3) So, about the Grower's Tree. There was quite a bit of detail about it--and the addictive properties of the crystals--in the last version. You've done an excellent job cutting/revising. You've definitely addressed the stuff that felt too "contemporary" (which was basically a matter of word choice).

    While you were right to cut that detail, I think we could use a bit more about the tree itself. It's cool that it distracts her in the middle of their sparring, but I want more--in that moment--rather than only her mention that it's the divine source.

    3) The class system stuff about the miners and the drug-like properties of the crystals, while too much in version one, did add heft to Faean's situation, so if it's possible to allude to that briefly in your first five pages, I think it would give him more layers. It might also make the conflict a little more high stakes.

    That's about it from me. I'm really a fan of this piece, and of your skill as a writer. I hope I've given you something you can use.

    All best,


  3. This is still good. It seems like you cut a lot of the right pieces such as the crystal use. For the most part, the action is clean and understandable, and the world feels real.

    A few things. First, the book starts off sounding like Aeric recently died and that Esper is now in mourning. Then it says he died twelve years ago. This isn't a discrepancy really, but it is a bit odd. Either she hadn't seen Aeric since she was five, in which case it sounds like he abandoned her, or she started mourning when she was five and hasn't moved on. But it just reads like his death was a recent thing.

    Also, it kind of sounds like she hates the king to me.

    I'd consider chopping a few dialogue tags here and there. They start to sound a bit excessive in parts when it's obvious who is talking. Things such as "Esper countered 'Why...'" sound superfluous.

    I know I mentioned this last time, but every time I hear Kabar, I think this is a post apocalyptic world and the actual Kabar knife, used frequently by the USMC, has taken on a legendary status. Again, that might just be me, or it might be on purpose.

    I agree that the tree might need some explanation. What's so fascinating about it, that it would distract Esper in the middle of sparring? She's obviously seen it before.

    "She brought both elbows to his stomach, breaking through his embrace," is confusing to me. Do you mean to say she elbowed him? If so, I'd consider a more powerful verb. Just bringing elbows to some's stomach won't break a good grip.

    You get the sense that Esper practices fighting a lot. But she seems easily distracted, and some of the sparring seems a bit weirdly worded.

    Anyway, these are minor things. All in all, it's a good story with an interesting world and good characters. It also does a good bit of world building, but keeps enough hidden to make you ask questions.

  4. Hi Emily

    Great work on your revision. I had said I was confused in your last version by the backstory and the world-building, and this revision clears all those things up, well done! I love love love your writing and feel so immersed in your world. The added visual of the grower's tree sounds so beautiful and epic, it really draws the reader in. I think you've found a great balance of the world-building while keeping the scene present in some action.

    My comments are things you could consider, but nothing major at all. One comment I have had in previous versions of my work is to be careful of too many flashbacks, as they can interrupt the flow of the story. I think you have a good number though, and it didn't feel jolting, moving from the present to memories and back. My only comment here though is to maybe make it clear when it is a memory or flashback, e.g. it should be 'Esper's sadness had snuck upon her' and 'It had driven her here'.

    A minor thing was that you've used both semi-colons and colons, and I think you could be consistent and choose one over the other.

    I found it repetitive saying mountain of Deadener's Peak, as peak implies mountain and you could just say the top of the peak.

    I also find you use her pronoun 'she' a lot, sometimes starting sentences three times in a row, and you can interchange this with her name, Esper, to vary the beginning of your sentences, and to remind us what the character's name is.

    I did find some of the scene transitions slightly jolting, as it was an emotional moment over the cliff edge, then a very jovial moment next talking about sweets, and then they start sparing. I wondered if she would still be feeling emotional? Perhaps you can have them exchange a sentence or two as she rolls off him? About her being ok?

    Which reminds me, I did get a little confused about the sweets, and why he would talk about his freckles suddenly, or what the southern star was referencing. Also the comment about her flaying him for dessert?

    The last thing was that I couldn't quite picture pinning elbows with her knees, and it may be worth clarifying if she is pinning him with his back to the ground. And joints between bones being cartilage rather than bone.

    All in all I'm really loving your piece and would be super keen to read your whole story if you need another beta reader :) Let me know. Excited for you!!!