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Posts posted by ZacharyShermanP6

  1. Hey Sonja,

    First, I like your writing. Incorporating all the elements of fiction into scenes is hard, but you have a good balance throughout the sample I've seen. The quirkiness of Aurora's first thoughts and the introduction of Genevieve also help to set a light-hearted tone. 

    My main critique is similar to Mike's. Aurora's shock and denial is understandable, but predictable. Maybe there is a place to start where Aurora is further into her afterlife. She has accepted that she is dead, and is trying to piece together her past. Then, when Genevieve suddenly appears, Aurora is taken off guard by the presence of another person. Or perhaps she encounters something from the Other that is dangerous. narrowly avoids disaster, and then meets Genevieve? (I'm just throwing things at the wall here. Without knowing the structure of the rest of your novel, the suggestions might be utterly off the mark). 

    I think, as a reader, one of the things I need to know as soon as possible in a story is what is at stake for the protagonist? Aurora is dead, but--as you have hinted--she is still in danger. If we start at a place where she is reeling from her first death, her second one might seem more like a relief than anything else. But if she has come to terms with her existence--or at least, understands that there is something far worse than what she is already experiencing--that amps up the tension.

    Back to my first point. Excited to see where you go with this, and for your progress on it.



  2. Opening scene/first chapter. Introduces protagonist and one of her antagonists (twin sister). Also, tries to highlight the two different segments of society that the two are about to inhabit. The protagonist, has a desire that is thwarted, and must then come to terms with that colossal failure.

    Chapter One

    The sprawling metropolis that was Acragas stretched before Evelyn, the building sparkled like fallen stars that had taken up residence on the earth. Evelyn looked over her shoulder at the massive spire that stood in the center of the city. It strained towards the sky like a finger pointing the way to heaven. To ascend. To be even a little like one of the ancient gods was the dream of every citizen of Acragas—of every human on the planet. Today, that dream would come true for Evelyn.

    It was the day of Ascension.

    Everywhere, flags depicting the golden bear of the Ursus line flapped in front of buildings, like friendly waves. It was as if they were all waving just for her, saying You did it, Evelyn. You did it. Evelyn couldn’t keep from bouncing on the balls of her feet as she walked along the city’s thoroughfare.

    Gwen shot a glare her way. “That is no way for a princess to act. We must be collected and dignified.” She rolled her eyes at her sister’s bouncing. 

    Evelyn couldn’t believe how poised Gwen was. Her twin was only a minute older, but her air of confidence and authority made her seem years beyond Evelyn—who felt as though she would burst from the excitement within her.

    “You be collected and dignified, I’m going to be excited,” Evelyn said.

    As Gwen and Evelyn passed through the streets, their practical army of soldiers kept them hemmed in, keeping to the tightest of formations. Evelyn wondered if she could move erratically enough to get them to leave even the smallest crack in the circle of protection that surrounded her and her sister. Somehow, she doubted it. Leave it to Dad to not even trust us to walk across the city without an armed guard. Thankfully, once they were joined with an aspect, she and Gwen would both enjoy more autonomy.  

    “I hope I'm joined with life. Oh, I hope it’s life,” Evelyn said to herself, repeating it like a mantra. She knew that it was likely that she be joined bond with the aspect of life, but nothing was guaranteed during the Ascension.

    “Ugh, so you’ve told me every day for the past eighteen years. Really, Ev, you need to stop worrying so much. It will either happen or it won’t, talking about it incessantly won’t change a thing,” Gwen’s eyes roved the spaces between the streets, marking every flaw in a building, and noting any potential strangers or dangers in the area. Gwen always knew what was happening, which meant that Evelyn didn’t have to.

    “Look,” Gwen said, with a disgusted shake of her head, “there are Scabs on the streets. Why do they let them in on Ascension Day? It just ruins everyone’s mood.” She pointed to a group of twelve ragged people. They clustered together, pulling the gray cloaks that revealed them to be Rassa tight around themselves, almost as if for protection.

    “Don’t call them Scabs,” Evelyn chided, her cheerfulness dulled for the first time since leaving the Spire. “Weren’t you just lecturing me about setting an example as a princess? When you’re queen, you’ll need to represent all your people, even the Rassa.”    

    “Fine,” Gwen said. She tilted her chin into the air, her long red braid lifting with her head ever so slightly. Her hair, even braided, stretched the length of her back and shone like a flame brand. Evelyn envied Gwen’s hair. It was distinct, purposeful.

    “I’ll call them what they are; the Rassa shouldn’t be allowed in the city on Ascension Day because it makes the hopefuls nervous and could only serve to bring up bad memories for the Rassa who didn’t make it.” Gwen emphasized the word twice just to annoy Evelyn.

    “You know why they’re here,” Evelyn whispered. She eyed the group of Rassa with pity. “They just want to help the people who… you know.” It was hard to say aloud what everyone feared so greatly. During the Day of Ascension, young hopefuls were joined to the aspect of magic that would guide them through the rest of their life. But those who were not joined with any of the six aspects would become anathema. These outcasts were known as the Rassa—the derogatory term was Scab, since such individuals were seen as a wound on the face of society.

    Evelyn peered closer at the group of grey-cloaked stranger. One of the Rassa was seated in a makeshift wheelchair, her legs missing below the knees. The chair itself was a shoddy wooden contraption, cobbled together from spare parts, cockeyed, with one wheel entirely missing. The man pushing the wheelchair had to tilt it back, almost like a wheelbarrow in order to even move the object. To be a Rassa and crippled. Evelyn couldn’t even imagine. 

    Evelyn signaled for her contingent of guards to stop, and made her way to the young, spindly girl. The guards wouldn’t let her through at first, and she had to shoot a few glares their way to finally get them to budge. Sergeant Bernard was the first to move.

    “What are you doing?” Gwen hissed, “Don’t go over there.”

    Evelyn ignored her sister’s protestations and made her way to the crippled girl. “What’s your name?”

    “Daisy,” the girl replied cautiously. The other Rassa backed away, worry flashing in their eyes.

    “Well, Daisy, your chair has seen better days, hasn’t it?” Evelyn smiled warmly. “I’m on my way to the Ascension, right now, so I don’t have long to chat, but why don’t you take this.” Evelyn slipped one of the rings from her finger and gave it to the girl. Daisy gaped at it, holding it almost reverently in her palm. The other Rassa crowded forward, gawking at the ring. It was probably the most valuable thing one of them had ever owned.

    Evelyn turned to the group and tried her best to channel the stateliness and authority of her father. “I am Princess Evelyn; I insist that this girl use my ring to get her wheelchair repaired. After that, however Daisy decides to use the remaining funds is her choice. Who here will make sure this happens?”

    The man who had been pushing the wheelchair raised a tentative hand. “I’m her uncle, ma’am. Name’s Teneb. I’ll see to it that what you ask is done.”

    “Daisy and Teneb. I will check in tomorrow to make sure this occurs,” Evelyn said. Her heart was galloping like a prize stallion. She normally didn’t get to do things like this, to interact with the people. Evelyn scanned the faces in front of her, trying to appear as authoritative and serene as she could. When her gaze settled on Daisy, she couldn’t help but let her expression soften. “Good luck, Daisy,” she whispered. She wanted to put an encouraging hand on the girl’s shoulder, but knew that would be inappropriate. A royal shouldn’t touch a Rassa.

    “You done, Evie?” Gwen growled, “or are we going to spend our whole Day of Ascension playing with Sca... with Rassa?” 

    Evelyn flushed all the way to her ears. “Fine,” she mumbled, “let’s go.”

    The guards ushed them onward through the city and towards the Temple of Ascension. If it had been any other day Evelyn would have sulked about Gwen’s treatment of her, but there just wasn’t time. Their entourage joined with the streaming lines of others entering the temple; they walked up the temple steps as one.

    The temple itself was a circle—as all is. The design was such that the top of the temple looked like overlapping waves, each one etched with symbols of the six aspects. There was no way to trace the beginning or end of any of them in the tumult, for all influence the others. Other than the royal Spire, the Temple of Ascension was the largest structure in the city.

    They entered the inner sanctum, and Evelyn’s heart leapt towards the sky. In the center of the room was a raised dais: the Wheel of Balance. The six aspects were inscribed on the dais with icons for each: life was depicted as a blooming tree, death as a sickle; fire, water, air, and earth were represented as well. The aspects were on the other side of their opposite, but in the center of the dais was an image of a scale, a reminder of the importance of balance.

    The High Priestess of Life, Zoae, always presided over the ascension—much to the chagrin of the other priests. Evelyn thought it was fitting that this was the case, though. After all, what is the Day of Ascension if not a new birth?

    But the most important person was in the center of it all. The king looked down with magnanimity and grace at all of the gathered hopefuls—a hundred or more, by Evelyn’s count. Evelyn couldn’t imagine a better ruler than King Theodore Ursus. And to think that she had the privilege of being his daughter.

    The king rose to his feet to address the crowd, “Over one thousand years ago, the first joining happened here, in this very spot, in the Golden City of Acragas. Since that time, our society has flourished, our people have flourished. You are all about to become part of that great society, and even greater story, one that stretches back across centuries. You have all been trained in the ways of magic, but your abilities will increase greatly when joined. Do you swear to use these newfound powers for the good of all humanity and your kingdom? If so, say that by the six aspects we do swear.”

    “By the six aspects we do swear!” The room cried out as one voice.

    “Balance, more than anything else, is the foundation of our society. Speak to the center, for all your life, and you will bring honor to yourself and your people.”

    King Theodore nodded to Zoae. “We are honored to have the high priestess of life here. Long have the priests of life overseen this sacred ceremony. Today, they give you a new life, use it well.”     

    Zoae walked to the center of the platform. She removed a key from her belt. Its head was a hexagon, inscribed with images of all six aspects. Zoae placed the key in the center of the dais and whispered a spell. Then, the priestess stepped onto the icon of life and was bathed in a pale-yellow light. 

    She stepped away from the dais and the light faded. Then, she gestured to Gwen and Evelyn. “Proceed,” was all she said, the singsong lilt of her voice glided through the air like a lullaby.

    Of course, they would be going first; they were the princesses of the kingdom—Evelyn should have realized that sooner. Still, even though she was eager to be joined, the thought of being first in line made her stomach twist in knots. Thankfully, Gwen stepped forward without any hesitation. She made a beeline straight for fire. That was no surprise. Aspects were often determined by personality as much as the hopefuls skills or desires. Gwen was brazen, unyielding, unpredictable. Just like fire.

    Gwen made it to the platform and stepped onto the icon of fire. Instantly, a red-orange glow enveloped her. It was so bright that Evelyn had to shield her eyes against the blaze. In seconds, it was done. Gwen had been bonded with fire.

    Outwardly, she appeared no different than before, but Evelyn knew that her spirit had been touched by something magical. Her abilities would manifest within a few days, and she would begin the long process of learning to understand and direct those powers. It was an awesome responsibility.

    Gwen stepped to the side of the dais and smiled encouragingly at Evelyn—or at least, as encouraging as Gwen ever was.

    Evelyn stepped tentatively onto the dais, planting her foot down on the wheel as if it were thin ice, rather than solid stone. She knew that she should just head for the icon of life, but she wanted to stretch this moment out for as long as she could, to feel the full weight of its glory. After all, it only came once in a life, and she had looked forward to it for so very long.

    She stepped onto the icon of death, knowing that it was the least likely for her to bond with. Then she moved to fire, earth, and air. She was zigzagging from icon-to-icon, and heard her father chuckle at her antics. But no one made a move to stop her. Being a princess had its privileges.

    None of the first four icons lit up, which was no surprise to Evelyn. But water was a toss-up. She could see herself bonding with that aspect almost as easily as that of life. Thankfully, the will of the individual had something to do with the decision from what she had heard. Evelyn stepped onto the icon of water, paused for a moment, and then—when it didn’t light—made her way to the final icon, the one her heart desired more than any other: life. 

    She hesitated, her toes on the lip of the icon, as if she was about to dive into the ocean, rather than simply step on a picture. The three-foot icon was covered in an intricate spiderweb of images; a blooming trees with pearl-like fruit was the central image.

     Evelyn moved onto the space. She waited for the yellow-white light of life to wash over her, imbuing her with its power and binding itself to her for the rest of her life. She waited with gleeful anticipation for the weight of that mystical glory to descend upon her, folding itself around her like a blanket; she waited for light, light, light…

    But the light didn’t come.

    Evelyn stumbled back in surprise, as mutters sounded through the crowd. Something must have gone wrong. She must have done something wrong. She realized. She walked quickly from one icon to the other, focusing on them, trying to get one of them to light—any of them to light for her! She had to be joined—even to death, if it came to that. She made it all the way back around to life with no success. Should she go around again? Was there something she was missing?

    Then, she felt her father’s hand on her shoulder. The king wasn’t supposed to leave his throne during the Ascension. This was all wrong!

     “Evie, you have to move aside. Other people need to go now,” he whispered.

    “But I… I didn’t bond with any aspect yet.” Her heart pounded like a deep drum. She felt far away, hollow.

    “I know,” her father said. Gently, he took her by the elbow and guided her to the side of the dais. It was the opposite side from where Gwen was standing. It was the wrong side. It was the side that the failures were sent to, not people like her. That was when the terrible truth hit Evelyn like a tidal wave. She hadn’t been chosen. She would go her whole life without being bonded to an aspect. She was a Rassa now.

    Evelyn was a Scab.     

  3. Hello Michael,

    My answers to these prompts are below. If any ought to be reformed, please just let me know. Thank you.

    FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

    • Evelyn seeks to defy the leader of a group of zealots and gain the power to save those she loves.

    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.

    • To be joined with a magical aspect is the goal of every citizen in this story. When Evelyn fails to do so, she is forced from her royal lifestyle and into the slums of the Mercy District (known as “Misery” by its inhabitants). In this way, the environment and social prejudices of the people are her first antagonist.
    • But the most significant antagonist is the person of Alec Zabar, a religious zealot who has ample reason to desire revenge against Evelyn and her family. Zabar enters the city, seeking to turn the Mercy District against Evelyn’s family and violently uproot the religious and social mores of the society. Even when exiled, Evelyn loves her city and her family, and will do anything to stop Zabar. Throughout the book, their immediate and long-term goals are constantly at odds; any victory for one results in a defeat for the other.

    THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

    • The Septarch
    • Daughter of the Golden City
    • Weighing of Souls

    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?

    • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (2009)
      • My novel and Warbreaker both are high fantasy, feature a strong female protagonist, have a hard magic system, multiple POVs, battles between diametrically opposed forces, political intrigue, class disparity, and involve, at points, the main characters coming to terms with their own biases and prejudgments. 
    • Crown of Feathers by Niki Pau Preto (2019)
      • Crown of Feathers is YA; however, it is geared more towards older teens, and I believe that work and mine would attract a similar audience. Both my novel and Crown of Feathers share a strong female protagonists, multiple POVs, a high fantasy world, a focus on two sisters, and issues of privilege and equity (mine is based on class; whereas hers is based on sex). Sale projections for the two could be similar. 

    FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

    • A banished princess attempts to come to terms with the injustices her family has wrought, while seeking the power to stop a religious fanatic from destroying everything and everyone she loves.

    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.

    • Evelyn is torn between caring for her family (the nobility of the world) and advocating for the Rassa (the lowest class in this society). After a turn of events one-fifth of the way through the book, Evelyn returns to her family. Initially, she is overjoyed to be back in the midst of luxury, but soon she can’t help but compare the excesses of her station with the poverty of the Rassa. She does not cease to love either group--indeed, it is her love for both and their juxtaposition over and against one another that causes her such agony; ultimately, it is also this unflagging love that drives her forward. 

    SIXTH ASSIGNMENT (B): 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?

    • Evelyn is attracted to a man she meets in the Mercy District named Ransom. However, he uses her trust to manipulate her for his own ends. There is tension between them throughout the novel as Ransom learns to be less selfish and finally rely on others; while Evelyn tries to come to terms with whether she can forgive him for his betrayal or not.
    • In addition, Evelyn’s sister is poised to become queen. She looks down at Evelyn for her failure to join with an aspect, and considers her to be an embarrassment to the crown.

    FINAL 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? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

    •  The book is set on another planet. Therefore, it is essential that the setting is revealed in bite-sized moments. First, I take the reader to the Golden City of Acragas. This is where the protagonist grew up. She descends into the underbelly of the city, the Mercy District, and learns that even in a magical world that is purportedly predicated upon balance inequality still exists. 
    • From there, layers of the world are revealed: the continent of Seera and its City States, wherein humanity has achieved a republic by supplanting the continent’s first inhabitants, must be dealt with carefully by Evelyn’s sister, Gwen. The Goodmen (religious fanatics who reject balance and magic) are the worst embodiment of Evelyn’s fears, and she is constantly at odds with them and their leader, Zabar. And finally, Evelyn encounters and learns about a variety of magical creatures and places in her journey through the book. Some of these are allies; while others add to the tension she is experiencing with her society and her mission.
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