Sunday, November 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Pounds Rev 1

Name: Sarah Jane Pounds
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Rider in the Mist

The nameless girl and her horse trudged through the swirling snow of an endless winter. As they had done a hundred times before, they passed under the arching canopy of ancient spruce and pine. The girl maneuvered the horse through the familiar grove of aspens. Their spindly, naked arms bowed under the burden of fresh powder. The stallion's nostrils flared, puffing little clouds of steam as they trudged through the snowy trail. A trill call echoed from far off, deep in the forest. 
The girl knew it. Could picture the bird, a striking crimson with yellow feet. And yet, she could not remember the name. Surely it had a name, as did every living creature. Some she knew at once. Like the trees; spruce, aspen, fir. But others left her. The name slipping just out of reach as she tried to speak it. She wondered what a bird like that with such a beautiful song could be called. 

But the name itself was lost.
Much was lost to her.

Although there was no road to travel on, the animals that lived in the woods had left a path for them to follow. The girl peered over the side of the black horse, glancing past the heel of her leather boots, and watched as the horse’s hoof prints were left behind.
There was no way to know for certain if they’d come by here recently due to the fresh snowfall last night. New snow fell here every night, erasing all signs of those who’d passed before, including them.

But she’d grown clever over her time in the forest. 
She let out a deep sigh when they rounded a thick trunk, and her gaze tracing up the backside of the tree.Like a grisly wound, long strips of bark were peeled away revealing the softer, flesh-colored wood underneath.

The same marks as yesterday.
And the day before.

And every other day she’d been trapped here, in this winter wood.
Fragments of a world outside the trees teased her when she slept, shuffling images of grassy meadows and rows of stone houses perched along a wide road. 
It had to exist. She felt the truth, a longing etched in her bones. And until her last breath, she’d never stop searching to find it. 
Find a way out.

She pulled the horse to a stop and climbed off. Her boots sunk up to her knees in the snow as she trudged the few steps to the enormous tree.
She took the small dagger from her belt, one of the precious few items she owned. A rare gift she’d found in this cursed wood. The knot in her belly twisted, and she bit her lip while scraping the blade into the bark. When it was finished, she tore her eyes away for fear of counting the number of marks that she’d made on days past.
Today, however, she’d had to start a new line.
A new row beneath dozens of others.
Quickly, she turned and mounted her horse.

“Easy, boy,” she said and patted him on the neck. Her voice cracked as she spoke from its rare use. She tugged her hood back just enough so she could search the surrounding brush and branches. The snow drifted down in spiraling pirouettes from the gray sky. 

She’d lost count of how many days she’d been here. Day. Night. Day. Night. Always to keep traveling, pushing to find the edge. The invisible wall or door that separated her from the rest of the world. 

There must be other people, other places, besides this. Yet, as she’d made her marks on the tree, she ignored the sinking feeling that she was going in circles. Caught in an endless loop. She fought the urge to succumb to the fear that perhaps this was all a dream, and there was no hidden wall. 

Perhaps, she’d never make it out.
All sunshine was muted through the thick cloud cover, an infinite sea of gray above an endless blanket of white. 

It was the memory of blue sky that pushed her, kept her from collapsing under the brutal weight of despair. Forced her to wake up every morning, saddle her horse, and continue on.
The horse’s pace picked up and his ears flicked front to back, listening.

Her legs tensed, gripping the saddle a little tighter. She stilled her breathing, hearing nothing but the soft thump-thump of his hoofbeats and her pulse thrumming in her ears.
The bird no longer sang his tune. The forest had fallen silent.
Thump, thump, thump.

They continued onward. An urge bubbled to the surface. 
Move faster. Find a way out.

The primal drive to survive pushed her. She wasn’t safe in the trees. The horse was fast, but only in wide-open clearings where he could stretch his legs at full speed. Among the dense trees, a full gallop wouldn’t only be impossible, it’d be deadly.
She’d stolen a glance over her shoulder, squinting through the falling snow for any sign of movement. But behind them, lay only a curtain of white, shrouding everything but the darkest silhouettes of trees and hedges.

The stallion snorted and the girl leaned forward, feeling his body tense between her legs. She didn’t speak this time. When he acted like this, it was best to keep quiet. His hearing far exceeded hers. She trusted it.

Trusted him. 

Raven she had called him when she’d first discovered him desperately scraping at the deep snow. Like her, he’d been hungry. Scared. Lost.

While his past was still a mystery to her, she knew the stallion was not a creature of the forest. His origin belonged somewhere else, somewhere warmer where food and shelter were never a worry. The girl had imagined he’d belonged to a fair noble lady or perhaps a knight. She wondered if he’d ever seen the battlefield or had been required only to accent a royal carriage during a parade.

Raven had been the only word she could use to reflect such a coal-black color. He wasn’t the midnight blue-black of the night sky or the residual spent ash from a campfire, but black as the darkest recesses of a cave. The inky surface of the water at the bottom of a deep well on a moonless night. A creature void of color save but for a pair of intelligent garnet eyes that had so swiftly fixed their intense gaze upon her. She did not like to remember the time before.  The days she’d wandered this cursed forest...alone. 
The stallion arched his neck, his mane whipped her face, stinging the tender skin on her cheeks. 
From the veil of snow—a giant beast of ash and smoke emerged— crawling towards them. Its amber eyes glowed from the gray muzzled head. Raven’s body lifted up and the ground fell away beneath them as he reared.

She clutched a handful of mane with the reins, struggling to keep from sliding off the back of the saddle. The stallion grunted, lashing out his forehooves at the creature. 
The monster lowered its head, snarling.


But the image the name conjured in her memories was not the same as the animal that stood before her, teeth bared and eyes possessed.
The massive creature’s long, slender tail twitched like an irritated cat. But the most peculiar detail was its fur coat. It was...wrong. 


  1. I like the introduction details about Raven a lot better this time through. I get a real feel for what he's like, and I think that the best couple of paragraphs of description (even though the description is very good throughout).

    There is an opportunity here, when you say "Surely it had a name, as did every living creature". Would she ponder why she herself has no name?
    Some little things:
    " trudged through the snowy trail." should probably be *along* the trail.
    There is an unneeded comma in here - "But behind them, lay only a curtain of white"
    And you should axe either save or but from "void of color save but for a pair of"

  2. Hi Sarah!
    Great job again. I'm so glad we got to get into the action a bit with the introduction of the wolf. It's intriguing and would definitely cause me to flip the page as a reader!
    I enjoy your descriptions of the forest, the girl's time there, and the horse. My only thought is that perhaps we could get to the wolf just a tiny bit sooner? Although you paint such a beautiful picture, I was most engaged as a reader when conflict arose, the wolf. That's just my opinion as a reader though. As I writer I'm so inspired by your beautiful descriptions!
    Also, unless there is a reason you don't want to discuss the girl's name (or lack thereof) yet, I agree with Pat that that is a great spot to bring it up.
    Overall a wonderful piece that I would certainly continue reading.

  3. Great job! It definitely seems to flow better and has a clearer direction. I particularly liked the starting a new line for her marks.

    A few little things. She calls him the stallion, even after revealing his name. Just grated for me a bit. And though your prose it beautiful, I think the scene could be tighter. When the wolf arrived I was so ready for something more to happen. I think if you tighten it slightly, maybe cutting out some of the description, we can get further into the story sooner.
    But I love the tone and you have done a terrific job making the changes and when the fur of the wolf was wrong I gasped and was so disappointed that it ended!

  4. I do like the new opening, and I think the descriptions are really nice. I think the pacing could still be tighter. I would suggest removing the bit wondering about Raven's past life still being a mystery, unless at some point, you plan on having someone recognize the horse as part of the plot.

    I like that more details have been added about the wolf. Previously I had expected that it was some mystical beast. Very nicely done!

  5. Oh, my goodness, Sarah Jane, what a difference! You have managed to heighten the tension at the beginning, add to the confusion that she feels and then make something big happen, and that’s everything I asked of you. Well done. In fact, as I was going through, I realized that the only real comments I had were line-edits, which I’m supposed to be avoiding. But really, I think your bigger picture reads so well now, there’s not much more structural work to do.

    I love the addition of her dreaming of the other place – especially the line, “Fragments of a world outside the trees teased her when she slept” – but I’d love you to add one more example in, perhaps the blue sky she mentions later (and when that mention comes, make it ”that blue sky” so it refers back).

    On the lines about her adding to the cuts in the trees, I’d swap ‘line’ and ‘row’ around, to make it easier to understand but I love that additional text to explain how long she’d been there.

    In the para about the horse’s name, I think you have great descriptions of the colors, but I think you need to make the exact color relate to raven feathers, not recesses of a cave, otherwise the open line about “Raven was the only word she could use” doesn’t make sense. So perhaps keep what you have, but add in the raven feathers: “He wasn’t the midnight blue-black of the night sky, the residual spent ash from a campfire, or the darkest recesses of a cave, but to her, he was the SOMETHING SOMETHING of the SOMETHING raven’s feathers.” Or something of that sort.

    I absolutely love that we get more of the threat and some action before the five pages cut off, and this thing is creepy! But be careful that you signal the change in pace. I know people often say you should avoid using ‘suddenly’, but sometimes you need to, so we get that “gasp, something’s about to happen!” moment before the thing happens. Otherwise, we are half way through the horse rearing before grasp the change, and we have to go back and read it again. So add in either ‘suddenly’ or ‘before she knew what was happening’ or some other transition word before the stallion rears. (Also make sure that’s the start of a new paragraph – you might have done that, but the blog formatting made it look like it ran on.)

    And finally you say the horse’s body “lifted up… as he reared”. The lifted up isn’t clear that the horse is lifting himself away from the threat – it might have been an explosion or eruption lifting him – so why not tighten that sentence to have “Raven reared up, and the ground beneath them fell away.” Much more powerful.

    And you’ve totally got me with the wolf . . . but not a wolf. I’m so intrigued to find out what it is! So well done!

    For the next revision, could I suggest that you read your piece out loud to yourself (or someone else) several times. That’s the best way to hear echoes of repeated words or sounds, changes in tense (“She’d stolen a glance” needs to be put back into present tense), or misplaced pronouns (there’s a ‘them’ that relates to the girl and horse, but sounds like it relates to the animals on the path.) This is time for nit-picking every word, and making sure every sentence carries its weight.

    See you next week!