Ancient legends and the monsters of myth intrigue Dr. Vander Velde, who holds a B.A. in English and Theatre from the University of Portland, an MSc in Medieval Studies from the University of Edinburgh, and a Ph.D. from Boston University. Her work involves the Plinian races, fairy lore, the Arthur legends, sixteenth-century alchemists, and traditions surrounding giants and dwarfs. Wendy has taught in both the classroom and the gym (where kickboxing is her passion), and is proud to serve as a board member of ORACUL (the Organization for the Research of Ancient Cultures). Her love of the mountains, photography, and the Great Northwest led her to Portland, OR where she is currently working on books. Her writing fluctuates between creative and academic, yet there are nearly always monsters involved.
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Market Value Originality, Freshness, High Concept: 3.8 - Set in pre-Arthurian Britain (a time of the fairies, giants, and gods, when no humans yet inhabit the realm) this is an origin story of Excalibur, the Philosopher's Stone, and the warrior goddess Morgan le Fay. There are many Arthurian sagas, but this is a pre-Arthurian cycle, introducing Great Britain's most famous relics and icons, while leaving room for subsequent stories. I initially scored this category a four, yet the subject of fairies appears quite popular at the moment. Nonetheless, my novel interweaves actual British mythology and my own inventions in a manner that (I hope) exceeds its rivals. If furthermore offers a unique spin on Morganna (the prototype of Morgan le Fay), and portrays the Celtic Gods. Clear Target Readership: 3.5 - My novel will appeal to readers of High and Low Fantasy who enjoy whimsy, mythology, and adventure (sans the hard-core violence of Game of Thrones). I score this category as a 3.5 because, while I believe the right audience is there, I freely admit I need to complete more due diligence regarding demographics and marketing. Hook: 3.5 - The conflict with the giants (and the potential threat they pose) is presented right off, but their actual reappearance may come later than it should. This is something I'd like advice on before proceeding to make further alterations. Structure Act Zero, backstory development: 4 - I have a clear sense of Morganna's backstory, stakes, and motivations, and the seminal conflict of the giants and gods is relatively well developed. Nonetheless, I need to further establish the connection between worlds (Morganna's home planet and Earth) that existed prior to her arrival in the Emerald Realm. I have the groundwork for that connection, but am still building upon it. Concise, effective setup with inciting incident: 3.5 - The conflict between the giants and gods is divulged in a concise manner in the opening two paragraphs of the novel. Gogmagog, the antagonist, is the first character we meet, yet (as mentioned above) the catalyst to his reappearance, along with the other giants, may need to occur earlier than it currently does. Or maybe not, since there is foreshadowing early on. I'm sincerely not sure. Plot line arc, and subplots: 3.5 - The primary plotline is self-contained (within one novel) while leaving the potential for sequels. The arc has a clear trajectory and is (I hope) compelling, yet I give this a 3.5 because the subplots (e.g. Caliburn's history on Earth, and Atlantis) still need fleshing out. Well designed reversals (major and minor): 2 - The reversals and surprise twists (as well as the stakes and motivations they entail) are substantial, yet I give this a two since I haven't fully worked out how (and at what point) my subplots will unravel. Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. Pinch Points (at least two): 2.5 - The first pinch point comes early on (in the opening of the novel) when we witness Gogmagog's desire for power, control, and Llyr's golden trident, as he battles the gods. The second comes around page eighty-five, as Gogmagog contemplates Llyr's palace from a distance (while internally seething). I give this a lower score because Pinch Points are a new concept to me (as of this course). I did read the material regarding them within the workshop, but don't know that I've adequately executed them. Catalytic Situation Driven: 3.5 - I reiterate a concern mentioned twice above. There's an appropriate and well-established catalyst to the primary conflict (the return of the giants and the threat they pose to the Emerald Realm), but the inciting incident (a megalith falling into the sea) may need to come a bit earlier. Conflict, Tension, Rising Action: 4 - When Llyr's mighty trident is stolen, the gods know their only chance of defeating the giants is by use of natural forces at their command. Unfortunately, using such forces (which aren't entirely in their control) would throw Nature off balance and precipitate disaster (as it did once before). Their only viable solution to saving the realm would inevitably be its demise. Hence, the burden lands on Morganna (whose power exceeds the earthly gods). Every Scene Relevant Driving Plot Forward: 3 - I feel each scene is integral to world building, character introduction/development, backstory, and/or driving the plot forward; nonetheless, I may need to step away for a bit and come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes in order to more efficiently edit. The scene introducing the Lurikeen, for example (on Midsummer's Day), serves a purpose (introducing the Lurikeen, lol.), but might need to be altered. Effective Believable Climax: 4 - The gods' collective might is insufficient to quell the giants (unless they again initiate a cataclysm), so Morganna must make a choice and sacrifice one world (the chance of returning to her home planet) for another (saving the Emerald Realm). Her confrontation with Gogmagog (and their respective weapons, Grym Mor vs. Caliburn) ensues. Resolution: 4.5 - It's a bittersweet ending for Morganna, who knows she may not return to her home planet to reunite with her mentor. Nevertheless, she's found a new home to cherish and is crowned the realm's Great Queen. Moreover, she has her dragon back, and (with his mighty fire) has forged the world's most epic sword! Characters Antagonistic Force: 4 - As a villain who was once "the good guy," Gogmagog has layers. He's ancient, yet has been in suspended animation for centuries, so he (like Morganna) is essentially a stranger in the Emerald Realm. Both intellectually cunning and physically powerful, he constitutes a formidable foe. Consistent Opposition: 4 - The current level of opposition could be heightened and infused with more verve. That being said, opposition throughout the novel comes from multiple sources. 1) In addition to the giants (the primary concern), Deva (the Goddess of the Storm) feels threatened by Morganna's might. 2) Morganna is a pariah on her distant world, where her mysterious origins marked her as suspicious from the start, and is yet an outcast on Earth. 3) Gobann (the God of the Forge) has his own struggles with feeling isolated and marginalized. 4) The world beyond the Emerald Realm is a hot-mess, ever encroaching on the blissful home of the Fays. 5) The forces of Nature, if set askew in an effort to help save the realm, could instead precipitate disaster. The conflicts of Man (or rather Goddess) vs. Man, vs. Nature, vs. Society, and vs. Fate all apply. Protagonists Goals: 3.5 - Morganna's goals are clear and consistent, but must ultimately be transformed in order to save the Emerald Realm. Sympathetic Protagonist: 4.5 - Although she's a criminal on her world, Morganna's backstory as well as her current circumstances, vulnerability, sense of loss, and kind heart make her a sympathetic character. Protagonist Arc: 3.5 - Morganna has vacillated between extremes (the vengeful savage vs. the martyred pacifist), but finds her true self in the Emerald Realm. At last stepping into her power, she becomes the Great Queen. I feel the overriding arc is compelling, but I could use some help (regarding the layout of the twists, reversals, etc.). Supporting Characters: 5 - Many of the characters in this story (primarily the gods) were created in the first book I wrote five years ago, and have evolved as I've continued to write. I accordingly feel I know (most) of them well. They've been with me a long time, and I have a good sense of who they are and their respective desires, fears, personalities, relationships, roles, etc. Ironically, while I've always known Morganna is a key figure (from day one), she was the character I had the hardest time perceiving. I knew she was powerful and vital to the story (and to Excalibur), yet had difficulty harnessing her essence. Like the powerful goddess she is, she seemed mighty but distant, mysterious, and unknowable. Obviously she has to be knowable (or at least become knowable) if she's the protagonist. I've fortunately made some significant progress in that arena. The current novel is a complete rewrite of the novel I took to the Pitch Conference, which revolved around Bancroft the Magician. Thanks to Michael's helpful advice (he told me, "Bancroft won't sell this novel, Morganna will") Bancroft is no longer in this book (but will appear in its sequel). Heeding Michael's advice, I spent time seeking Morganna. I even ventured to Ireland to do so! She (and her backstory) at last arrived in my head and my heart (Hooray!). I feel confident that she will continue to manifest, and to make her mighty presence known. Narrative Development Scene Length and Structure: 3 - Adequate, but requires improvement. Effective Transitions: 3.5 - Most of the segues and transitions seem natural (I think), but some of them may be too linear. Clarity of Spatial Set: Banana - I'm not certain what "Spatial Set" means (but the score "Banana" seems fair, if not somewhat generous). Comprehensible Prose Narrative: 3.5 - The first book I wrote (a Middle Grade novel titled The Peculiar Adventures of Sylvia Banks) had a strong voice that came rather naturally. Both the narration and dialogue flowed almost effortlessly by comparison. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the nature of the story itself, or because it was a Middle Grade novel, a style which may have just come more naturally. Or perhaps because nearly every character had a British or Scottish accent, and (for whatever reason) that also comes naturally. I could feel the story, see it, and hear it as well; hence, the writing seemed to pour out. While I believe in my current story (its world, subject matter, and characters) with my whole heart, and feel they have great potential, I've been struggling to find the novel's voice. I know the story and can feel it, and I can see it visually, I just need to figure out how to hear it, and convey what I'm hearing (if that makes any sense. It's hard for me to describe). Tension on the Page: 3 - Plenty of room for improvement. Dialogue Mastery: 3.5 - Good (I hope) yet, as I mentioned regarding the Prose Narrative, I feel something still needs to be harnessed to help it excel. Exposition Delivery: 4 - At first this was lacking, but after rewriting the opening (several times) the primary exposition is established early on. Narrative Composition (quality of set, tension, cinema, character interactions): 4 - The tension needs to be heightened, yet the epic scale and diversity of the set, and of each respective god, offers the potential for vibrant and engaging cinema. Cinematic Imagery 5 - The sets range from the depths of the ocean to the distant stars, and all the realms in-between, allowing for stunning visuals and surreal landscapes. The Emerald Realm functions as type of character itself. I've spent a long time in this world (it predates the current novel). Cinematic Imagery is one of very few categories I'd currently score a five; however, after rereading my descriptions I realize I've overused certain adjectives (e.g. glimmering, astounding, resplendent, etc.). I can fix that. Proper POV: 3.5 - This was something I began paying more attention to thanks to the modules. As such, I've implemented more POV shifts, but am open to suggestions for improvement. Wise Use of Craft Technique: 3 - Working on it, which is why I'm seeking help. Interior Monologue and Rumination: 3.5 - I'm not certain if flashbacks land under this umbrella or not. Regardless, some of the characters could likely employ more of this technique. I appreciate your guidance and help upon this journey! Thanks for having my (anti)bac. :-)
The Art of Fiction While rewriting my manuscript (from basically a clean slate), I've been more mindful of making my current draft publishable. The learning curve in doing so has been necessary and useful, yet my progress on this draft (as opposed to my original) has unfortunately been much slower. John Gardner's advice not to sacrifice your writing's "delight" was helpful, as that's one of my motivating factors when writing (and one that is sometimes lost when I feel overwhelmed about strategically perfecting something as opposed to simply writing it). Gardner reiterated that good writing should shift in and out of various POV's, as opposed to limiting the narration to the thoughts of the primary character. This has been helpful to me. His section on Common Errors is also very useful (although I need to comb my manuscript again to watch out for his cautionary oopsies). Garnder's notion that "...the reader who loves great fiction is willing to put up with an opening as slow as that of Mann's Death in Venice" (Gardner, 78) seems somewhat contradictory to Algonkian's view that the first few moments of a sellable novel must be full of fireworks and verve (of some sort or another) right off. Writing the Break Out Novel I appreciate the way Maass explains a principle, then breaks it down (in his workbook) to become personally applicable to your novel. My subplots currently need better development. Maass's notion of plot vs. layers is insightful and should help me with that. While this book is very useful, I honestly feel that most of its vital material is covered (in a slightly different fashion) in Algonkian's writing course modules. Write Away Chapter 13 "Knowledge Is Power, Technique is Glory," was a welcome read after concerns that my current novel is coming along far too slowly. My previous two manuscripts seemed to flow more effortlessly from a visceral place. The story and world of my current manuscript feel tangible and exciting to me, but the execution (of writing it) has been a much slower process. This chapter reassured me that being strategic (while sometimes laborious) will (hopefully) help craft a better novel. George's advice is for the most part aligned with the workshop, but I feel her guidance could be more concisely distilled. The Writing Life I found this book (and its many analogies) somewhat tedious (and a little annoying), but the take-aways were helpful. Dillard primarily reiterated the importance of trimming the fat of a novel, to get to its six-pack abs. Although I'm not fond of the following term, the concept of "killing your babies" is essential when editing. The book helpfully advises to retain (from previous drafts) only what vitally supports your best story and craft. That portion resonates, as I've already dropped much of the previous manuscript, while retaining key characters and the world the original story created. The opening of Chapter Six also resonates. The instruction in this book (while very different in form) doesn't seem to conflict with the workshop modules. Regardless, the Algonkian modules were presented in clearer, more efficient manner (and they didn't irritate me, while this book kind of did).