Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA BONUS Entry #23: The Witch and the Demon

Name: Katherine Toran (@bookgirl_kt)

Genre: Fantasy

Title: The Witch and the Demon

35-word pitch: 
Fleeing a witch hunt, Aspie Ebba surrenders her heart to a dying demon, becoming embroiled in a deathmatch to stop a demonic invasion. Whacking him with a severed head accidentally starts an equally violent courtship.

First 500 words:

Ebba ran into the moonless night. Her soaked dress clung to her skin, wind and water competing to freeze her into a corpse. Tree roots clawed at her feet and fatigue crept up from her shaking limbs to numb her brain. If she fell, she likely wouldn’t get up again. Keep moving. Get as far away from the witchfinder as possible—may he be reincarnated as a diarrheic drunk’s chamber pot.

In the darkness, directions blurred. She focused on climbing up the mountain, away from her village. Faster, faster, faster. Her lungs took on the weight of iron.

Her knee finally gave out—right when another root caught her ill-fitting clog. Her ankle bent sideways with a crack. She hit the dirt.

Waves of agony crashed over her. Mustn’t stop moving. Despite her straining muscles, her body refused to rise. She wanted to scream or cry. Instead, Ebba took a deep breath. To focus her mind, she pinched her face, right on top of the scabs from the witchfinder’s pins. The itching behind her eyes from too long without sleep, the burning of her throat, and the blistering sores on her hand—she pushed it all away. First, get up.

Her right hand oozed pus from the burns on her palm, so she used her left one to pull herself into a sitting position. The merest touch to her swollen joint was torture. Through the pain, the rational part of her noted this felt worse than a sprain.

Her breath came faster as panic clawed at her self-control. No, no, this couldn’t happen now. If she’d broken her ankle, she wouldn’t be able to run, and then…then…

It occurred to Ebba that she had no idea what to do next. She’d never had a plan past getting out of her cell.

The silence of the forest unnerved her. At the very least, there should have been insects chirping. But this was a magic-cursed place. She’d fled here because no god-fearing villager would venture into the forest. Ever since the wolves had first descended, only those too poor to leave remained in the region. Ebba shivered. She told herself most wolves avoided humans, and the red-eyed wolves really only came once every few years.

Alone in the darkness, with wolves theoretically a hand span away, this argument became less convincing. She didn’t want to die the same way her mother had. Perhaps she could still turn back.

Ebba glanced over her shoulder, uncertain which direction “back” would be. A great wall, ten times her height, blocked out any trace of light from her village. Only holes worn by trees, weather, and thieves had allowed her to slip through. Once, the wall’s upkeep had been part of every villager’s religious duty to the Supreme God Anabiel. But it had been a thousand years since the last demonic invasion.


  1. You may want to think about changing your MC’s name (you call her Ebba anyway). Aspie is a term for people with autism, so her name threw me.

    I think you could take a step back and start this sooner to help ground us, instead of en media res.

    1. She actually is supposed to have Asperger's Syndrome. I shortened it to Aspie trying to save words. I could use autistic but it doesn't have the same meaning. Maybe I'll cut it. Thank you for pointing out that it could be taken as her name. That honestly never occurred to me, but several people have said the same thing, so I've got to change it.

  2. Hello Katherine!

    First off, you have a great voice and I loved the pacing and emotions you managed to weave into the scene here. Especially in the opening.

    You pitch is a bit confusing, since we don't know if she's actually a witch (but right now I'm assuming she is) and half of me thinks courtship means like a court trial and the other half thinks of it as a date, as if she's now in a romantic relationship with the demon possessing her. It's also not very clear exactly why she needed the demon to escape. Especially with an invasion coming.

    You mention she's running, but then she's running to village, so that part was a bit confusing for me. Also, it'd be nice to have a hint at what happened to her mother during her death, that way we see a little more of what she's exactly afraid of.
    The last line about the demon invasion feels out of place right now. You''ll either have to cut back a bit on her running and ground us more on what happened before she escaped wherever she came from, or just wait a bit before tossing it at us, since we're still left trying to get to know her origin and situation. You could always fix this by starting when she actually breaks free, but that's up to you.

    Hope this helps! :D

  3. I enjoyed reading your entry! My input below. I hope this helps!

    Your pitch:
    Since it’s YA, should you mention Aspie’s age? Death match is two words, not one. “Demon” and “demonic” sound a little repetitive in the first 22 words. Can you find an alternative for “demonic?” I LOVE the second sentence of the pitch because it sets a humorous tone…if your MS is humor-heavy, well done!

    Your first 500:
    This sounds a tad awkward: If she fell, she likely wouldn’t get up again. It might just be stylistic preference, but I would have worded it as “If she fell, she’d not get up again.”

    The word “diarrheic” caught me off guard a little because it sounds a little formal given the language thus far and actually broke the flow for me. I think if you deleted this word and just said “drunk’s chamber pot” the humor is even punchier. Point is…don’t make the reader work too hard  Totally your choice.

    “Directions blurred” might sound better as “Her vision blurred in the darkness.” Because directions don’t blur, but visions DO blur.

    “She focused on climbing the mountain…” delete “up” because “climbing” suggests going up, so redundant.

    When you say “her knee gave out,” I am assuming her knee is already injured. Maybe if you say “Her injured/bruised knee gave out” it would be clearer. Also, recommend to delete the word “finally.” I consider that one of the words-that-shall-not-be-used in a MS, especially in the opening page, along with suddenly, very, and really.

    This sentence is very compelling: To focus her mind, she pinched her face, right on top of the scabs from the witchfinder’s pins. And I love it!

    You are missing a word here: “The itching behind her eyes from going too long without sleep” – insert the word “going”. For tighter phrasing, say “her burning throat.”

    When you say “there merest touch to her swollen joint was torture,” can you be specific? I think you are talking about her palm, but you might be talking about her knee or her ankle.

    I think you mind want to insert “mind” in this sentence: “…the rational part of her mind noted this felt worse than a sprain.”

    Suggest to only use one “then” here: “…she wouldn’t be able to run, and then…”

    Instead of the word “past” consider “beyond”, and instead of using the past perfect tense, I think you can stick to regular past tense here, but maybe someone else can weigh in on this: She didn’t have a plan beyond getting out of her cell.

    For tighter phrasing, consider: The forest’s silence unnerved her.
    “At the very least” sounds like filler, suggest you delete. Then the sentence becomes: There should have been insects chirping. Just sounds tighter and keeps up the tension.

    A lot of people are torn about using present tense words in narrative that is principally past tense. Those words would include “this” “now” “here.” Personally, I don’t want to give an agent or an editor any reason whatsoever to reject my MS, so I avoid these words for consistency in my entire MS. You’ve got a couple of instance in your first 500 words. Your choice, of course, but something to be aware of.

    I love the added note about the threat of the wolves. Good stuff! Same with the information about her mother.

    Suggest to delete the word “really” here: “…the red-eyed wolves only came once every few years.” You don’t need it.

    When you say “only holes worn by trees…” I had to think about what kind of holes a tree would make. Then I realized you meant holes in the wall, but I still wasn’t sure about how a tree could make a hole. I love the bit of world-building you include when you say holes created by thieves. I think sticking to that alone would make a lot more sense in the narrative.

    Thank you!

  4. I really like your first paragraph! It puts us right in the action and makes me want to know what's happening. The tension is great until "The silence of the forest unnerves her." I'd like to see it through her eyes instead of being told. Maybe have random sounds or tiny movements create tension and make her think of the wolves.

    The pitch confused me a little. I'm not sure why she's invested in the demonic battle. Maybe you could add her personal stakes.

    You're obviously a great writer! With a little organization, this could be a great story! (I'd read it, and I'm not particularly a fantasy person.)

  5. Hi Katherine,

    Pitch: Interesting premise, but I'm left a bit confused. Fleeing a witch hunt doesn't seem to be related to the part about surrendering her heart to a demon. Generally, you want to use a structure like, When Aspie Ebba flees a witch hunt, a demon offers to help for the price of her heart... (or something like that). Also, your second sentence – "whacking him with a severed head" is hilarious, so much that I want you to be able to keep it in the pitch. However, I don't understand what it means in relation to the stakes of the story.

    500 words:

    Looks really good to me and I agree with a lot of what was said above, so I mostly have nitpicky things.

    Repetition: 2 instances of starting paragraphs with "in the darkness" or "alone in the darkness," Several paragraphs beginning with her something: her knee, her right hand, her breath.

    I like the comment about the diarrheic drunk’s chamber pot, but I agree it could cause readers to stumble. You don't often see the adjective variation of that word!

    Some overuse of filter words I think you could condense to make the writing tighter. "It occurred to Ebba..." (just say she had no idea what to do next), "She fled here because..." (instead just say no god-fearing villager would venture), "she told herself..." (not needed).

    I'm curious about the red-eyed wolves and wish we got another line or two about that. Since the last line about the demons is a little confusing relative to the rest, I think you could cut that, at least for a 2 page sample.

    Definitely an intriguing start. I would read on!

    Julie (#3)

  6. Pitch: This is a bit confusing. I know you are limited with only 35 words, but I felt like I had way more questions than an idea of the premise. I feel like you have a lot of potential with your story idea.

    500 words: Oh my goodness do I love your first paragraph! Your word choices and her thought about how the witchfinder should be reincarnated are fabulous! Right away I love your voice and style of writing!

    Maybe right before the line about her knee finally gave out, add a specific detail the fatigue in her legs? I know having done several endurance hikes/races after so long my legs feel like jelly.

    Maybe move the "Waves of agony crashed over her." line up with her hitting the dirt and conisder italicizing the "Mustn’t stop moving." line (if that is what she is thinking). Same thing for other parts where it seems like I'm reading her thoughts consider making them italicized so it is clear to the reader.

    Yep, I really enjoyed reading your start. It is so strong and overall quite well written.

  7. This opening is very vivid. You have opportunity to tighten the writing as others have mentioned. My questions are more about the logic of what's going on with Ebba. She's fleeing frantically, to get away from the witchfinder--faster faster faster, climbing the mountain. This makes me feel like someone in is hot pursuit, and when she can't get up, it seems dire--someone might actually catch her. But then we learn she's fled to the forest because no one would venture there. And suddenly she's worried about wolves and curses, and even considers turning back. After the intense description of her torture wounds, I can't imagine why she'd even consider turning back. If her broken ankle can take her back down the mountain to prison and torture, it can certainly take her further away. I feel like she's giving up too easily. It seems like maybe that's a excuse to have her look back and describe the village wall. I like that description very much, but perhaps she can look back on it as she attempts to bind up her ankle or something.

    I love the setting, and the elements and your description, but it seems like Ebba's actions and thought processes aren't aligned quite right.

    Regarding your pitch, when you mention "surrenders her heart to a dying demon" for some reason, I think of the traditional "deal with the devil" where she gives up her free will in exchange for a demon's promise. But later, you mention courtship, and it seems like a romantic surrender? But it's not clear. I'd suggest you reword so we know if this is a romantic encounter from the start, or if it was a more pragmatic deal, and the romantic elements come in later.

    Fianlly--humor. I love it. Make sure it's proportionally consistent through the book if you're going to use it. With only one "chamber pot" reference in this sample, it's not clear if that's just a one off line, or if you're going to keep it up. Give us one more, towards the end if you can, and we'll know that's what to expect going forward. Sounds like this could be a lot of fun, so sprinkle that in with the torture and intensity if you're going that way.

  8. Katherine,

    Your pitch sounds interesting, though the last line (to me) is confusing but also makes me say hmmm..?

    I LOVE this line Oh Em Gee, “Her lungs took on the weight of iron.”

    I think you do a great job of setting the scene and describing the actions, but I am left wondering, which is a good thing! But I think it could help to ass things in, like a hint about her mother’s death…and where she’s trying to get to. I think there may have been a flashback and she was running back to a wall that the village tended to, but where she’s running from and going gets confusing for me. Otherwise, I’m super interested in the story and I think you have some great writing here!

  9. Hi Katherine!

    Your pitch is great - especially the funny second line. It gives me an idea of the wit your story will likely have, and makes me want to read your book. I like Julie’s suggestion for a pitch, too, so there might be a way to strengthen it.

    500 words: I like the opening. Again, I like your doses of humor! I agree with others about taking out diarrheic since it might make the reader stop for a moment, lessening the humor. But it makes me like Ebba more, hearing her sassy inner thoughts.

    I agree with Maria S. about italicizing the lines Ebba is thinking, and also about having
    something right before “Her knee finally gave out.” It seems too abrupt and you could add some action, let us feel the fall rather than just hearing it happened. Just my opinion, but it seems like this is a catastrophe - her escape is potentially ruined - and it’s a very minimal description of that moment.

    I agree with Deborah about the silence of the forest. The way I’m imagining it, she’s been running and making her own crashing sounds, but for the first time, as she sits there, she realizes how quiet the forest is. It might be nice to hear more about how she becomes aware of the lack of sounds.

    “she told herself most wolves avoided humans” -- What if we hear that thought in her own voice? Keep us as close to her as possible. Same with, “She didn’t want to die the way her mother had.” Saying it that way distances us (this was pointed out to me on mine, too, and I’m starting to see how it creates emotional distance)

    It’s called filter language (Julie’s comments mentioned this, too, I believe). Here’s an example from the web I looked up:

    Sarah felt a sinking feeling as she realized she’d forgotten her purse back at the cafe across
    the street.
    Sarah’s stomach sank. Her purse—she’d forgotten it back at the cafe across the street.

    I agree with Maria M. about the logic of her decision to turn back. Perhaps this becomes clear as we read on, but in the section, it does seem strange. Maybe the wolves are that much worse than the witch finder?

    All these comments are small suggestions, but I really like the tone and feel of your pages. Your writing is great and I’d love to read more. Best of luck!

  10. Hi!

    I love the tone of the whole piece. It's dark, and creepy, but the little flashes of humor act as bright lights to get you to sympathize with Ebba. I also had confusion over her name thinking it was Aspie and how that ties to Aspergers, but I saw you commented about fixing it. I think that's a great character detail, but it can be introduced in a clearer way. Ebba having Aspergers adds a nice layer to this that I really enjoy.

    Most of my critiques have honestly been covered! Don't use the word 'dark' as much--we know it's dark so show us HOW dark. Clarify why on earth she'd want to go back to a place that hurt her so badly. Also if you can tighten up a bit to give you room to clarify why she was running so hard if she knew she likely wasn't followed. Was it fear? Panic? Precaution? Or did she just not know if she'd been seen? That will help a lot.

    Otherwise I really loved this!!!


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