2022 New York Pitch Conference Assignments Meredith DeMarco First Assignment: Write your story statement. He took our land. He took our souls. He tried to suppress us. Finally, she has arrived. The Illumination Trilogy’s protagonist, Iris, is a 14-year-old American girl accidentally thrust into a magical world. She is an introverted and reclusive teenager in the series opener, titled Iris and the Enchanted Black Book, who has a deep-seated history of losing herself in the pages of novels. Iris’s mother is severely sick with a mental illness and when reality becomes particularly hard to handle, Iris finds the most comfort in reading. During a summer break from school at her grandparents’ house, Iris’s mother begins to have a particularly terrible breakdown and her parents’ arguments become worse than normal. To escape the sound of yelling reverberating through the house, Iris slips into her favorite place, the library; a room that few others spend time in apart from Iris. She decides to climb a ladder meant for reaching the highest shelves and sees a gap between two books out of the corner of her eye. Iris buries her nose in the space to investigate and notices a glimmer of gold leaf writing belonging to a book deep inside. When Iris touches the book’s spine, a slight shock, like a jolt of static electricity, courses through her fingers. Intrigued rather than scared, she flips through the book’s pages and realizes that there is no writing in it apart from chapter numbers and a singular dedication: “For Iris”. Iris releases her grip on the ladder to flip through the remaining pages with two hands, immediately loses her balance, and crashes to the floor several rungs below. She wakes up in a forest clearing in an entirely different world called Sagan and with the enchanted book lying beside her. Iris immediately meets a new creature upon arrival, a drachenfly most closely resembling a miniature dragon, who tells Iris that she had a dream about her. In the dream, a voice prophesied to the drachenfly that Iris would set out on a quest to defeat the country’s most wicked force, a sorcerer-like being named Malum, whose necromancy powers enable him to conjure the souls of the dead to help him remain in control of Sagan. Throughout her epic adventure, Iris is guided by the enchanted book, which is able to write about Iris’s journey in real time and provide invaluable information and insights for her to learn from. She also builds a team of fantastical creatures around her all with a common goal: to rid Sagan of the series antagonist, Malum. Iris’s core group of allies includes an elf, a centaur, and a warlock, as well as species completely unique to Sagan like the drachenfly. Over time, readers will see Iris mature from the delicate flower of her namesake into a wholly different version of herself. No longer an introspective, withdrawn bookworm, she becomes a fierce warrior capable of saving, or taking, lives, as well as restoring Sagan to its former glory before Malum. Despite unforgiving landscapes, encounters with dangerous adversaries, and experiencing deep love and loss, Iris’s strength not only grows but remains steadfast, transforming her into one of the fantasy genre’s newest and sure-to-be most beloved heroines. Second Assignment: In 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them. The antagonist in The Illumination Trilogy is a sinister character called an Archaic. The Archaic, named Malum, has necromancy powers in which he’s able to conjure the souls of the dead to do his bidding as well as manipulate the living. His primary goal is to remain fully in control of Sagan, including its unique landscapes and the creatures that inhabit them. Malum’s history is tricky. He wasn’t born evil. Rather, the betrayal by both a woman he loved and a young man who he once considered a son turned him into a merciless force. Malum is an antagonist that certainly fits the bill for a vile villain but doesn’t look like the anti-heroes we traditionally see in fantasy novels and films. Rather than appear terrifying like Voldemort from Harry Potter or Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Malum is extremely handsome, charming, and charismatic. He is also an undeniably incredible sorcerer, unlike any in Sagan before him. Because he was so deeply hurt by the loss of people he loved, Malum becomes wicked. He asserts his influence over the creatures around him physically, mentally, and emotionally and will stop at nothing to stay Sagan’s sovereign power. Third Assignment: Create a breakout title. Series Title: The Illumination Trilogy Book 1 Title: Iris and the Enchanted Black Book Fourth Assignment: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why? Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Comparable #1: Eragon by Christopher Paolini Synopsis: “When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the empire may rest in his hands.” Similarities: Iris and the Enchanted Black Book is similar to Eragon in a few ways. Like Eragon’s title character, Iris’s life is turned upside down when she is thrust into a world full of magic and ultimately discovers that she is “the one”; the only one who can defeat the series antagonist if she’s able to find the strength within herself. Also, like Eragon, Iris’s once simple life becomes increasingly complex in a matter of moments. Iris must face obstacles that she’s only heard of in stories that include magical creatures, unique landscapes, powers for good, and powers capable of pure evil. Comparable #2: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi Synopsis: “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.” Similarities: Iris and the Enchanted Black Book and Children of Blood and Bone have similar elements. For starters, the protagonists in both novels are strong teenage female characters who transition into fierce warriors capable of destroying the trilogies’ antagonists. The settings of Sagan and Orïsha are also both home to newly created creatures. They are equally vibrant worlds full of legend, magic, and a monarch, and the problems often associated with them including abuse of power and violence. Like Zélie, Iris also has certain innate strengths that she has honed but now must learn new skills, and develop as an individual, if she is to become the heroine of her story. And lastly, I foresee Iris and the Enchanted Black Book, as well as the remaining novels in The Illumination Trilogy, adapted to the screen with landscapes and characters so beloved by the audience that they feel transported to Sagan and truly invested in the story. It’s my goal to amass a YA (and beyond) fan base where no matter what the reader/watcher is going through in their lives, they will be comforted and intrigued by Iris and her adventures. Fifth Assignment: Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound. Logline: A withdrawn teenager named Iris is thrust unexpectedly into a magical world where she must transform herself into a fierce warrior, knowing that the only way she can return home is to defeat its most wicked ruler: a sorcerer who conjures the souls of the dead to remain in power. Sixth Assignment: Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. Inner Conflict: Though she’s quite withdrawn, preferring to read rather than spend time with friends, Iris has a confidence about her that is rare in girls her age. A large part of that confidence is intrinsic, but a fair amount has also come from the tight bond she’s formed with her grandfather. They spent many memorable summers together where Iris was taught valuable life lessons from him, whether that was learning general survival skills like building a campfire or whittling a weapon from wood, or finding the inner strength needed to deal with her mother’s illness. Despite her innate and learned confidence, Iris’s internal conflict lies in both wanting to be a part of social settings, yet to also be by herself and remain an individual. For example, Iris is consistently ostracized at school by a group of girls, one of which used to be a close friend of Iris’s but chose popularity over their friendship. The girls make fun of her by laughing and pointing when she walks by them in the hallways and purposefully try to embarrass her. In a particular scene, one of the girls trips Iris in the cafeteria and she falls to the floor along with her backpack and full tray of lunch (and, of course, in front of the entire school). Though she would rather be alone given situations like this, Iris knows that if she were different – if, perhaps, she was more outgoing or talkative or charming – maybe she would be more easily accepted. As a result of her introverted behavior and because she’s so rarely a part of the social circles around her, Iris struggles to feel comfortable relying on others for support and guidance since she’s so used to doing everything on her own. She also struggles with trusting people not to betray her, like her close childhood friend did, which creates several conflicts for her throughout the story. Interestingly, though, being an individualist (what makes Iris’s life difficult at home) will ultimately help her in Sagan. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it? Secondary Conflict: Iris encounters several conflicts throughout the series involving her social environment, namely her love for two different characters, as well as being part of a team whose members don’t all get along. The first love interest of Iris’s is the elf Ciaran. Iris meets Ciaran in the opening chapters of the novel and her attraction to him is instant. He’s physically stunning and has an air of mystery about him. Her second love interest, a young wizard-like character named Venarius (Ven, for short), is a different story. Iris meets Ven in the latter half of the first book and she develops feelings for him over time. Their connection is different from the one Iris has with Ciaran in that it’s more platonic, playful, and takes a while to develop from friendship into romance. Ideally, the audience will care deeply about both characters and be ultimately split on whether Iris should end up with one over the other. A tricky element to Ciaran and Iris’s love story, in addition to the existence of Ven, is that a third party is also involved. Ciaran’s best friend, an elf named Seren, is secretly in love with him as well and she purposefully tries to get in the way of Iris and Ciaran’s relationship by showing obvious disdain for Iris. For example, Seren does everything in her power to avoid providing advice or assistance to Iris and withholds important information at critical times. Throughout her journey in Sagan, Iris will face several conflicts involving Ciaran and Ven, namely because as their love for her grows, so does their hatred for one another. Seventh Assignment: Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Iris’s journey through the mythical land of Sagan is filled with distinctive landscapes and magical creatures. Some of Sagan’s inhabitants have been referenced in literature before such as elves and centaurs but many are unique to Sagan, like the antagonist archaic Malum, and the drachenfly named Aderyn, both core characters in the series. Aderyn, for example, is nearly six inches tall with an identical wingspan and a body structure that most closely resembles a miniature dragon. She is covered head to tail in emerald scales with piercing blue eyes and wings that are outlined in black yet translucent in the center. Aderyn has certain magical abilities, particularly a heightened sense of sight and smell, that make her a strong ally for Iris. Aside from the creatures who live there, certain landscapes are found only in Sagan. For example, at one point in Iris and the Enchanted Black Book, Iris and her team must cross a river filled with the memories of creatures who died in it. If she accidentally touches the water, Iris will be drawn into a particular memory. If the memory happens to be an undesirable one and she’s not strong enough to escape it (through physical and/or mental resilience or the help of her team), Iris’s fate may end up exactly like the ones who perished in the river before her. Perhaps most importantly, though, Sagan is unique because it was created by a group of three individuals called the Makers. The Makers were almighty forces akin to gods in Greek mythology. When the Makers created Sagan, they also created a sorcerer-like being called an Archaic to rule and establish order in Sagan. Malum is Sagan’s most recent Archaic and the only one in the line so far that has turned evil. In addition to the Archaics, the Makers conjured a relic capable of ensuring the world would survive past their lifetime: the enchanted black book. The enchanted book, whose existence remains hidden unless Sagan is in grave danger, gives Iris a distinct advantage on her journey. It has the exceptional ability to write Iris’s story in real time and provides clues to help overthrow the series antagonist, Malum. Iris can also ask the book specific questions and it will give her answers. Although its responses may be indirect and, at times, up for interpretation, the book ultimately gives Iris the invaluable opportunity to shape her own narrative.