Sunday, November 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Pounds Rev 2

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


Trapped in an endless forest of ice and frost, a nameless girl rides her horse, seeking her freedom. With no memories of her life before, a stallion, with mysterious crimson eyes and a coat as black as obsidian is her only companion. The two rely on one another for survival, spending their days having to flee from the plagued beasts, hunting scarce game, and searching for a way out of the woods.
 Nearing starvation, the girl meets a strange old man. He too is caught within the invisible walls of the winter wood and warns her that her fading memories of her past life will soon disappear completely the longer she remains. But having been imprisoned for many years, he shares with her the few secrets he has uncovered.  
 With her skills of bow and arrow and his magic, they devise a plan to find a way out. However, when the exit appears, the girl must choose to face the tragic truth from her past or lose more than just her name, her mind as well.
 RIDER IN THE MIST is a Frozen meets Wintersong dark YA fantasy.


The nameless girl and her horse trudged through the swirling snow of an endless winter. As they had done countless 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 marched along the snowy trail. A trilling melody of a bird echoed from far off in the forest. 
She wondered what a bird like that with such a beautiful song could be called. The girl could picture the bird, a striking crimson with yellow feet. And yet, she could not remember the name. Some things she remembered at once, like the trees that grew in the forest; spruce, aspen, fir. But others left her, the words slipping just out of reach as she grasped for them. 
But just as her own name was lost to her, so was that of the pretty bird.

Much was lost to her.

Although there was no road to travel on, the animals that lived in the woods had left a path 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.

But she’d grown clever during her time in the forest. 
She let out a deep sigh when they rounded a thick trunk, 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 added 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. 
She’d lost count of how many days she’d been here. Always to keep traveling, pushing to find 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 quickened 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. Her horse was fast, but only in wide-open clearings where he could stretch his legs at full speed. Among the dense trees, a gallop wouldn’t only be difficult, it’d be deadly.
She stole a glance over her shoulder, squinting through the falling snow for any sign of movement. But behind them was only a curtain of white, shrouding everything but the darkest silhouettes of trees.

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. And 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 but it was the pair of intelligent garnet eyes that had so swiftly fixed their gaze upon her that captured her attention. She did not like to remember the time before, the days she’d wandered this cursed forest...alone. 
Raven arched his neck and 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. 
Suddenly, Raven reared and the ground fell away beneath them. 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. 
Unnatural. Nothing like the fluffy pelts she remembered used as rugs in front of hearths but matted and torn, as if moth-eaten. And like melted honey, a dark yellow liquid oozed from the wounds on its sides.
The beast growled as Raven’s hooves slashed at the air just above it.


  1. I still love all of your descriptive work here - and glad that we get to see the (moth eaten!) wolf a bit more.
    I imagine you could stuff more into the pitch, tightening it up by cutting some description and laying out a few more story or theme points to illustrate what will make your story stand out. The last line of the pitch is good though - you express a lot about your story with good comparisons like this.

  2. Hi Sarah!
    Great pitch! My one bit of confusion is about the memories. The first paragraph says she has no memories, but the next says she has fading ones that will disappear if she doesn't get out. If she does still have a few memories, maybe change the wording of the beginning of that second sentence? Other than that, I love the pitch. It's full of mystery, with just enough details to make me itch to read the full story!
    I especially like using Raven's name more in this revision. I feel more connected to him as a character, rather than just a nameless animal. Overall great job, I've really enjoyed reading all of your work!

  3. Great seeing a little more of the story, I was really intrigued by the wound in the wolf (and the idea of plagues beasts from the pitch!). Your words are beautiful, and you have done such a great job tightening it.
    In terms of the pitch, it is great to see where it was going. The stakes seem pretty interesting, and of like the idea of her losing her memories but having things she doesn't want to remember.
    I'm not sure about the specific description of the horse, if he is an important character I want more about his personality than his appearance. I love the idea of the old man and her teaming up, both lost and forgetting and working together. I'd like a little bit more of a sense of her personality in the pitch, given she is nameless, I think it is extra important to get her as a character through some more details or more voice in the pitch.
    Oh and for me frozen means ice powers or sisters, not snow. So I wonder if it works as a comp.
    Thanks for sharing your story, I really enjoyed it.

  4. Hi Sarah,

    Absolutely love the voice of this! The bareness of the world almost makes me see this as a Fantasy The Road meets Wintersong rather than Frozen. Huge props to being able to craft such wonderful imagery and voice without having a name for her and without repetition of "she" that becomes overwhelming to the reader. That's a hard thing to accomplish.

    My only worry is that the first five pages are mostly all description. It's a great internal tension, so I won't say it lacks action, but we don't see much actually happen in this opening. I wished I could see just a little bit of a lead to where the story goes, rather than simply focusing on surroundings and memories. But still. Definitely exciting and draws the reader in.

    Kaitlyn Johnson
    Associate Literary Agent
    Literary Agency

  5. I love the changes here. I think the introduction of the bird flows better. Overall, the prose just really flows well. The pitch is well done. I love the name of your novel and can't wait to meet the old man!

  6. Great voice in these pages, Sarah! I like the pitch with its desolate world feel, but I'm wondering if you could be a bit more specific about who she is at the start. You mention that she's seeking freedom, but if she can't remember her life how would she know she needs to seek freedom? And freedom from what? The beasts? That sounds more like survival than freedom. Does that make sense. Maybe I'm way off here.

    I love descriptive work and you've definitely done that service here. Nicely done. I like the relationship she has with the horse. There is a lot of inner movement forward, which is good. The readers gets to see what's going on and motivating her. Is there something that happens later on in the story that you could add a snippet of here to add some physical action - action that relates to her inevitable story goal? I think adding something like that (just a little bit) could bring this piece to life a little more, especially when added to your lyrical way of structuring sentences. Thank you for allowing me to read your work. All the best to you!


  7. Oh, Sara Jane – that synopsis! I wish I could read the full ms immediately! It’s just as atmospheric as the full text, and it retains the same ethereal voice too. And you’ve added in two PERFECT comp titles too. Well done! (and yes, I’ve recommended that all the others read your comp titles so they can do them too!)

    My only comment on the query is that the second sentence is too complicated because it’s almost all subclauses. Can you rework it so that it is easier to follow, even if you have to add in a few extra words to do so. I only understood it because I’ve already read in the pages about the stallion, but if it’s literally the second sentence I’ve read of yours, I’d be confused.

    As for the text, having described the girl as “nameless girl” in the query, I don’t think you need to include “nameless” in the opening sentence. “The girl and her horse trudged…” is so much more direct and we’ll see she can’t remember her own name soon enough, so don’t double up on it.

    Otherwise, I think all your changes have turned this from an interesting opening into an utterly beguiling one. I’m sure you’re going to get some great interest from the agents you send it to. Well done, and thanks for letting me read and try to help!