Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #17: EMBER

Name: Charis M. Ellison (@agreyeyedgirl)

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Title: Ember [working title]

35-word pitch: Cinderella retold with a fat heroine: Ember found an unexpected friend in Prince Rian, but the prince is slowly dying, and Ember suspects the mysterious woman who dances with him at midnight is the cause.

First 500 words: When the knock came at the front door, the future Duchess of Mellyn was standing in the drawing room fireplace, trying to clear some of the soot from the chimney. Mostly she had managed to cover herself in ashes and spiderwebs. The knock came again, booming through the empty rooms of the house. Ember climbed out of the fireplace. No one had used the front door in more than a year, and it took both hands to drag it open before she could poke her head out into the bright winter day. 
A boy of about fifteen stood on the steps, dressed in a red coat so new that it almost sparkled. His crisp posture drooped a little when he saw her.
"I would like to speak to the butler, girl," the boy said stiffly.
"I'm not a girl," Ember said. "I'm at least year older than you, maybe two, and there isn't a butler. What do you want?"
"I have a royal message for Lady Elliana of Mellyn."
"Well, then give it to me."
The boy stared at her. "Give it to you? You'll get it dirty! If there isn't a butler then I'll only give this message to the lady herself!" He stuck out a hairless chin defiantly.
"Then you can still give it to me," Ember said. "I am the lady herself."
He snorted. "You are not. I won't move from this spot until you go and fetch a proper upstairs servant, one with clean hands."
"What's going on?" Annie demanded, coming out of the hallway that led to the kitchens. "Why are you letting in such a draft?"
Ember shoved the door open wider, so that her stepsister could see the red-clad courier. "This is a royal messenger, with a royal message for Lady Elliana," she said. "Maybe you can get him to give it to you."
"Why won't he give it to you?" Annie asked, but the messenger was already interrupting.
"I won't give the message to her either! She's covered in flour! And this initiation has real gold leaf on the edges!" He sounded close to tears.
"Then give it to me."
The voice came from the grand staircase, and Ember turned to see her stepmother come stiffly down the last few steps, ivory cane rapping hard on the marble floor.
"Mother, you shouldn't be up—" Annie began, but Lady Catherin held up a blue-veined hand.
"What do you have, boy?"

The courier looked relieved to have someone condescending to him. He saluted. "A royal message, my lady, for the Lady Elliana of Mellyn. It comes from the hand of the king, my lady, and it's for a ball, my lady, to celebrate the coming of age of the prince, and all young nobles are commanded to attend, my lady, and it's to be held tomorrow!" This spill of information came on the wave of one long breath, and the boy held out a stiff white card that glittered magnificently around the edges.  

REVISION:

Here's my revised pitch and 500 words! Thank you so much for hosting this event, it has been a huge help <3



Pitch: Fat and freckled, Ember finds an unexpected friend in Prince Rian. But he is slowly dying, and Ember doesn't trust the mysterious woman who dances with him at midnight of every ball. Cinderella retold/subverted.


A boy of about thirteen stood on the steps, dressed in a red coat so new that it almost sparkled. His crisp posture drooped a little when he saw her.
"I would like to speak to the butler, girl," the boy said stiffly.
"I'm not a girl," Ember said. "I'm at least four years old than you. And there isn't a butler. What do you want?"
"I have a message for Lady Elliana, future Duchess of Mellyn."
"Well, then give it to me."
His eyes flicked over her disdainfully, taking in her disheveled appearance. Streaks of ash obscured Ember's heavy freckles, while the worn dress she wore did nothing to minimize her plump, heavy figure.  " You'll get it dirty! If there isn't a butler then I'll only give this message to the lady herself!" He stuck out a hairless chin defiantly.
"You can still give it to me," Ember said. "I am the lady herself."
He snorted. "You aren't! I won't move from this spot until you go and fetch a proper upstairs servant, one with clean hands."
"What's going on?" Annie demanded, coming out of the hallway that led to the kitchens. "Why are you letting in such a draft?"
Ember shoved the door open wider, so that her stepsister could see the boy. "This is a royal messenger, with a message for future Duchess of Mellyn. Maybe you can get him to give it to you."
"Why won't he give it to you?" Annie asked, but the messenger was already interrupting.
"I won't give it to her either! She's covered in flour! And this invitation has real gold leaf on the edges!" He sounded close to tears.
"Then give it to me."
Ember turned to see her stepmother come stiffly down the last few steps of the grand staircase, ivory cane rapping hard on the marble floor.
"Mother, you shouldn't be up--" Annie began, but Lady Catherine raised a blue-veined hand.
"Well, boy?" she snapped.
The courier looked relieved to have someone condescending to him. He saluted. "A royal message, my lady, for the Lady Elliana of Mellyn. It comes from the hand of the king, my lady, for a ball to celebrate the prince's coming of age, and all young nobles are commanded to attend, and it's to be held tomorrow!" This information spilled out on one breath, and the boy held up a card that glittered magnificently around the edges. 

12 comments:

  1. Not much to add here. Since it’s in very good nick.

    I worry Cinderella retellings are a hard sell. If so, don’t take it to heart because it's a good opening and you clearly have skill.

    You clearly state Cinderella is fat in your pitch, perhaps you could mention that in the opening somewhere, since that's a big aspect to differentiate yourself.

    I liked the messengers voice, I think it was great how he kept harping on about the invitation gilt edging.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pitch: Love this!

    This is in great shape! I couldn't really see any problems or issues.

    The reference to the boy 'sticking out a hairless chin defiantly' is superb. Every character feels alive because of the details you've chosen to reveal.

    The only suggestion I have (and this is me being really picky) is that you refer to the MC as Ember, the future Duchess of Mellyn and Lady Elliana of Mellyn. Her having three different names/titles in use during the opening may confuse some readers.

    Good luck with this one! Based on your first 500 it sounds like a great story. I'm sure you'll do well in Pitch Wars if you choose to enter!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Pitch: Love the pitch. The first 6 words set up the premise (and quite the unique one at that! Don't see that many fat heroines around in YA lit, but looks like that's about to change), the rest explains the plot clearly and concisely. The line "they mysterious woman who dances with him at midnight" makes me wonder if there are multiple balls, since the dancing seems like a continuous thing.

    Pages:
    Here are some things I noticed/liked:

    "When the knock came at the front door, the future Duchess of Mellyn was standing in the drawing room fireplace, trying to clear some of the soot from the chimney."--love this first line. The juxtaposition of the formal "duchess of Mellyn" with the very unformal thing she's doing is funny. Is "Mellyn" (I'm imagining it's pronounced like "melon", correct me if I'm wrong) supposed to be a play on words?

    "I won't give the message to her either! She's covered in flour!"--interesting. So the stepsister has to work too. And she and Ember seem to be getting along pretty well.

    "And this initiation has real gold leaf on the edges!"--Ha! I almost flagged this as a mistake, then realized it was a joke.

    "A royal message, my lady, for the Lady Elliana of Mellyn. It comes from the hand of the king, my lady, and it's for a ball, my lady, to celebrate the coming of age of the prince, and all young nobles are commanded to attend, my lady, and it's to be held tomorrow!"--nice. I can really picture the boy's flustered tone of voice.

    TBH, there's really not much to add here. Strong voice, clear plot, and some funny scenes too, with the page. I'm excited to see what happens next.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think this is really compelling! I know fairy tale re-tellings can be kind of a hard sell, but I never seem to get sick of them!

    I only have a few critiques. This is a super small thing, but I would separate "No one had used the front door in more than a year, and it took both hands to drag it open before she could poke her head out into the bright winter day." into two sentences ("No one had used the front door in more than a year. It took both hands to drag it open..."

    The servant boy also says "my lady" quite a few times. I get that it is likely a nervous tick on his part, but when you only get 500 words to make an impression, I do feel as if you could delete a few of the "my lady"s and use the extra space to add an extra line that helps establish the setting or Ember's character a little more fully.

    I would also consider moving the first line of your 35 word pitch, to the last line of your 35 word pitch (instead of starting with "Cinderella as a fat heroine." end with it.) I think this is ultimately a decision of personal preference, though.

    I love the dialogue and the nervous servant boy and the fact that it begins with Ember literally in the fireplace. Great job!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Pitch: I love fairytale retellings. I like that this one features a Cinderella with a different appearance from the norm. It also sounds like there’s a little bit of a 12 Dancing Princesses mashup here too. (Does someone dance with him every night, or is it the one night?)

    500: Nice opening, this is a fun way of taking the cinder part of Cinderella literally. Minor suggestion to add to this moment—talk about how she’s fat. If she’s cleaning a chimney, quarters would be cramped for anybody. It’s an ideal moment to show her unique beauty.

    The teenage courier is adorable, though he seems younger than fifteen.

    “The courier looked relieved to have someone condescending to him.” Haha, love that line!

    Like with other retellings, the challenge here is making yours stand out. What I like about your approach is that you’re starting further along in the story than most Cinderella retellings. You skipped past the part where we see how bad Cinderella has it, explaining her relationships to her stepfamily and her deceased parents, and brought us closer to the ball from page 1. This suggests that there will be much more to the story after the ball happens—not just “the shoe fits, they lived happily ever after.” And that’s exciting!

    The opening is slightly hard to follow because of four characters being introduced one after the other, but that’s easy to adjust with some well-placed descriptions and some extra polishing.

    Great job, this book is off to a great start!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Woo, love this! I would be desperate to read the rest!

    Loved this line - "The courier looked relieved to have someone condescending to him." Hah!

    I was a bit confused by the multiple names she has in the first 500 words - maybe stick to two and introduce the rest later?

    I wanted to see more of your pitch in the first 500 words - Cinderella is a known story so grab me with what's unique about yours!

    Hope this helps!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Gonna focus on your pitch:

    You have a compelling direction you're taking your story and a lot of clear ways you set it apart.

    That said, I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance going on with your pitch. You say it's a Cinderella retelling, but then you say the dancing at midnight is killing the prince. That doesn't read Cinderella to me. If you used Cinderella as a jumping off point rather than the events of the story as signposts leave that out of the pitch. Let YOUR story take the forefront rather than someone else's.

    It would also be stronger if, rather than saying fat heroine, you worked that into the pitch itself. Using those same words to say, "Servant-for-Life Ember may be a little chubby, but she's found..." obviously my words are wrong (they're supposed to be) I just wanted to show the format I was suggesting.

    Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Strong, descriptive writing with excellent sentence variance that smoothly introduces a variety of characters. Well done.
    The pitch is a bit disjointed to me, the opening line reads like part of a tweet pitch but the rest reads like a traditional pitch defining the MC and narrative arc. I'd play with it some and see if through rearranging some parts you can capture all that you want to say with a consistent tone.

    My favorite line in the first 500 was:
    No one had used the front door in more than a year, and it took both hands to drag it open ...
    Because that's so true! The unused front door ALWAYS sticks!
    And the only real clunky description to me was near the end:
    "This spill of information came on the wave of one long breath" Maybe simplify that one?
    (Although the gold-trimmed invitation made up for it ;) )

    Interesting set-up here for the Cinderella re-telling...interested to see how radical the re-telling is...good job :)


    ReplyDelete
  9. The pitch is great. You differentiate yourself from other Cinderella retellings right away.

    The beginning with the hilarious messenger is great too. I love how right away we see the stepsister and stepmother are not the clichéd evil characters. Your subtle use of description in just a few words is also strong. A couple picky comments: I would cut “almost” from the second paragraph because it weakens the sentence and “initiationinvitation” and “Catherin” are misspelled.

    But I can’t come up with any major criticisms because this is great. It tickled my funny bone and really made me want to read more. I like this beginning and would not alter it in a major way.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi, Charis! Nice story. Fairy tales aren't my favorite at all but their retellibgs definitely are.

    Pitch: The first line threw me off. Firstly because it should be at the end of the pitch where comparisons are made. Secondly because the word 'fat' may upset some people. Try "full-figured". Eleanor from "Eleanor and Park" was "fat" too but other than in pejorative form, the word wasn't used by the author herself to describe her physique.

    500 words: I loved this part. Very very comical. The supercilious messenger was annoying. I really wished for a few lines more to see his expression when he finds out how he insulted the future Duchess of Mellyn.

    I'd suggest you to use either future duchess of Mellyn or Ember in this. Using three distinctive titles is a bit confusing.

    Otherwise, I'd love to read more. Best of luck with revisions.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I really liked your first version so I didn't think you had much room for improvement. But I like the new one even better. The description of Ember fit in seamlessly with the dialogue. You also did a good job clarifying the gold leaf.

    The only real comment I have is this: I liked your original version of the pitch. "Cinderella retold with a fat heroine" was very funny to me. On the other hand, I realize you changed it because of other people's comments. I think it depends on the readers sense of humor. Some people are just going to laugh at that and think "this sounds like fun." And some people are going to see it as too flip and maybe be offended by "fat heroine." It's difficult to say. Your current pitch might appeal to a wider range of people so perhaps it's better as it is. Humor is a hard line to walk. I do say, don't give up the word "fat." It's meant to be aggressively out there with no shame.

    I really love this and I hope it gets published so that I can read it. In fact, if you're ever looking for a critique partner, reply to me! (I'm entry number 15 if you want a look at my writing.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charis M. EllisonJuly 4, 2016 at 9:43 PM

      Thank you so much Katherine! I really appreciate your feedback <3 And I thought your 500 words were great, I'd love to be CPs! you can email me at charis.m.ellison@gmail.com :D

      Delete