Sunday, July 21, 2019

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Abdow Rev 2

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


A single knife throw separates seventeen-year-old Esper from knighthood. But when she looks into the eyes of Prince Rain—silvery like his namesake—she misses the target she’s trained for her entire life.

It’s not because he’s beautiful, although he is.

It’s not because she loves him, although one day, she might.

It’s because, unknown to Esper, his eyes hold the secret to how the kingdom’s spiritual leaders, the Planters, maintain their vicelike grip on minds of Rain’s people.

Prince Rain is determined to kill the immortal Planters, who harvest the world’s lifeforce, silver ether, through the roots of crystal trees, wielding it to enforce regressive doctrines. Unfortunately, the Planters are plotting to kill him first.

When rebels learn the prince is in danger, they recruit Esper to become Rain’s protector. Esper drinks a blood potion that transforms her into Sebastian, a famous knight, and takes his place in Rain’s band of elite warriors. As Esper accompanies Rain on the journey to choose his queen, she must fight to free herself, her kingdom, and Prince Rain from the Planters’ power, a battle that appears impossible when she discovers Rain’s lifeforce is entwined with the very beings he seeks to destroy.


Standing alone at the edge of Deadener’s Peak, Esper tugged her father’s oversized wool coat tight. Twelve years after his death, the scent of him still lingered, pipe smoke and peppermint sticks.

She curled up her toes, stuffed in his too-large, leather boots, and tipped forward, peering down into the darkness. So far up, it seemed almost soft. She hoped, for her father’s sake, that falling had felt like flying.

This morning, a knight had arrived at her mountain village’s iron gates with news that reopened the father-sized hole in her heart: King Roran was dead.

Esper’s father, Lord Aeric, had served as King Roran’s chief advisor until he perished in the first Bloodrose attack, and the king had waged a war of revenge against the red-cloaked rebels. With King Roran went one of the last pieces of Lord Aeric’s legacy.

Esper 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 the blade. She’d been only five.

He’d held the knife out, hilt first. A flower blossomed at its 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. 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 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 cliff’s 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 thrust her elbows back, 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 to die fighting.”

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 backwards. His head knocked against a bulge of crystal root protruding from the mountain.

“Oof,” said Faean.

Esper pinned Faean’s elbows to the ground with the weight of her knees—her favorite victory position, only because it drove him mad.

“I’ll give you worse than an ‘oof,’” she said, and pressed the point of her knife to the tip of his nose.

Faean winked even as he winced. “Spare my freckles. My mother says the Grower blessed my cheeks with the constellations.”

Esper twisted her knife in a futile attempt to induce fear. Faean knew the worst she’d do was try to slap the silliness out of him with the flat of her blade.

“At least let me have one last dessert before I die,” Faean said. “I’ve got some honey on my chin.”

He stuck his tongue out, struggling to reach a sticky patch of amber on his pale skin, and Esper exhaled, letting her anger evaporate. Tonight, of all nights, she needed Faean’s humor.

She raised her knife above her best friend’s forehead in the emptiest of threats. “Any last words? Speak, before I cut off your hair.”

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

“Grower’s Seeds.” Esper rolled off him, trying to ignore the twinge of irritation. “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 stuck out her tongue. “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, he huddled with other crippled workers in the mines scraped dry of treasure, shredding his palms on crystal shards. The shards were said to make each breath of thin mountain air sing with life but reduced those who found solace in their gifts to shadows of their former selves.

If Faean’s father could read, he might have made a living by lending seeds or recording trades. But reading was a blessing reserved for the innermost ring. And because families achieved an inner-ring only through paying heaps of golden seeds in tribute to the Grower, Faean’s family tree couldn’t be replanted closer to the crystal Grower’s Tree.

“You won’t be in an 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 performing a memorized dance amongst the crystal roots, which flickered with silver ether, the world’s lifeforce. The ether 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 silver light with a translucent crystal outline. Inside the bright white hollow lived the Planter, the Grower’s immortal messenger, whose veins drank the tree’s harvested ether and whose single drop of silver blood could cause a family’s frostbitten garden to flourish.

Esper blinked, the shape of the Grower’s Tree searing the underside of her eyelids, and Faean landed a blow to her jaw. Her teeth snapped together.

“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, eyes watering.

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. Hey again, Emily!

    This is a great pitch! I can actually envision some of it as jacket copy, it's so engaging. I have a couple thoughts on the pitch itself:

    1) Prince Rain is determined to kill the immortal Planters, who harvest the world’s lifeforce, silver ether, through the roots of crystal trees, wielding it to enforce regressive doctrines. Unfortunately, the Planters are plotting to kill him first. <- This chunk is very dense. I don't think you need ALL of this detail here; perhaps ditch the tree roots and tighten overall.

    2) While the transformation to Sebastian is very cool, the shifting pronouns are a bit confusing. Maybe tighten like this:

    After drinking a blood potion, Esper--now transformed into a famous knight named Sebastian--joins Prince Rain's band of elite warriors. Just a thought; you'll know what to do.

    Other than that, I really have no suggestions. I've been a fan of this piece (and your writing) all along, and I'm impressed with this latest revision. You've very skillfully brought back some essential details of the tree and crystals, without slowing the pace of the story or bogging it down with too much exposition.

    You've got great instincts and real skill. If I were an agent, I'd definitely be interested enough to request more based on these very promising first five pages. I look forward to spotting Knives and Ribbons on a bookshelf one day soon!

    All best with the submission process!


  2. I like the writing of this piece but I am a bit confused about the world building. Has she not seen her father since she was five? How does she, say, remember how he smelled then?

  3. The pitch: It had solid writing, but it was a bit confusing, and I had to read it a few times to understand it. Saying that Esper is supposed to throw a knife at a prince makes me think she's more of an assassin than a knight. I also think there's a lot of world building put into the pitch that slows it down, and the last paragraph is a bit hard to follow.

    In all, I think it's a good start, but could use some clearing up, and I like the first few sentences.

    The story: Your writing is solid and clear. The action is better now. I like how you handled the father being dead in the first few sentences in this revision. But maybe go with something other than scent? Twelve years is a bit long for a scent to linger.

    There was also some redundancy. You mention that the father has been dead twelve years more than once in the space of a few paragraphs.

    I think you could do some editing with all the saids as well. "His green eyes widened. 'Me?' he said." comes off as a little repetitive. We already know Faean is talking from the action of his eyes widening. Another example might be, "'Ah,' Faean said. His eyes glinted." It could just be "Ah." Faean's eyes glinted.

    Minor thing, but something that is easy to miss is that after you mention Faean's father losing his arm, palms is pluralized.

    When they're sparring, the idea that the boots are performing a memorized dance sounds like it's choreographed. I get that you mean they know where the roots are, but it's easy to misinterpret that.

    I think if you switched the sparring and watching the tree around, Esper would seem like a better warrior. As it is, she sounds like she's easily distracted. They're sparring. They're fighting and exchanging banter. Then you go into the tree description, which seems to take away from the action and makes Esper appear scatter-brained.

    I think you've got an interesting story here. It could do with some editing, but you obviously know your world, and I like the way your currency and everything is tied to plants.

  4. You have obviously done some work and I think it’s paying off. Good job reworking the opening scene at the cliff. Same is true of the characterization of his freckles and the star on his face. Reads very clearly now.

    The opening line of the pitch is confusing to me. Sounds like she tried to throw a knife into Prince Rain but missed and therefore didn’t get a knighthood. I understand his eyes have some kind of special power but she loves him, or might, so why would she try to kill him with a knife and why would her miss cost her knighthood? I think the pitch would be better, clearer and more intriguing, without the knife throw and got right to Rain’s eyes holding the secret of the Planters holding a grip on people’s minds.

    Is there a better way to say how much she misses her father than a ‘father-sized hole’? Odd phrase.

    I still have trouble picturing a five-year-old feeling the pattern of calluses pressed to the back of hand. Maybe she could look at her bloodied hand and he would show her the matching calluses on his own hand.

    If she hadn’t seen her father in twelve years how did she get his boots? And why?

    Esper has the point of her knife to Faean’s nose. Then she twists it. Wouldn’t that do some damage?

    The sparring scene at the end of the pages would flow better without so much backstory intertwined between movements.

    You have some tag lines (he said, she said) that aren’t needed and clutter the writing.

    I hope something I offer is helpful.

  5. Hey Emily

    Great work on your revision, and your pitch sounds super intriguing! I love how unique your story sounds, and the language you use throughout is beautiful. I’ve no doubt you’ll get picked up by an agent 

    I like the sentences you’ve pulled together for the pitch too, they sound beautiful, I just found it a little hard to follow, and was wondering if you maybe you’d like to condense the plot a little? Something I noticed was that the plot doesn’t begin until the last paragraph, the paragraphs before that are more backstory. Can you start with the plot?

    The parts that had me confused were the sentence about a knife throw separating her from knighthood, and what? I found it unclear who was on what side too, because she tried to kill Prince Rain, and then the pitch talks about Planters trying to kill Prince Rain, when I thought he was a Planter, and now I’m wondering which type of people he is prince of? It just made it a little hard for me to follow logically, especially when the last paragraph seems disconnected to the previous ones.

    Also, I’m wondering how much agency Esper has a character, as the way the pitch is worded, it talks about Planters’ motivations and Prince Rain’s, but Esper’s part in the plot isn’t clear till the last paragraph. It is also a bit odd to mention details that Esper wouldn’t know, such as Prince Rain’s eyes holding secrets.

    I don’t have much to comment on about the pages, you’ve done a wonderful job revising them,  It flows so well throughout and I can follow what’s happening very clearly, plus I get a great sense of who the characters are here. Good luck on your journey! Really can’t wait to buy it off the shelf :D