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Rafaelito Sy

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    I was born and raised in the Philippines. I migrated to the United States to earn a BA in English from Tufts University and then an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Currently, I volunteer as an essay coach and editor for First Graduate, a nonprofit organization that guides immigrant students to be the first in their families to earn a college diploma, and ghostwrite memoirs for https://storyterrace.com/.

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  1. 1. Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done? To assert her presence in a society that dismisses her as invisible and voiceless 2. 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 antagonistic force is the Philippine class system as embodied by various characters. Among the primary ones are members of a wealthy family – Bart (father), Elena (mother), and Rina (daughter) Borgas. Bart is the president of a bank that is under the control of a dictatorial government. His status rewards him with a wealth and recognition that absolve him of past failed business ventures. Elena comes from poverty. With her chicanery, she has buried her history with fabrications of a privileged upbringing and is now a dominating force in high society. Rina is trapped between her own wishes and those of her mother. She shares sincere feelings with her beau, who hails from a pedigreed family. When he proposes marriage, her mother considers this a personal triumph, scoffing at Rina's insistence that it is love, not social standing, that joins them. There are three maids in the Borgas mansion. Elena and Rina treat them with imperious airs. Bart is genial but with an ulterior motive. The brunt of their target is a maid named Celeste (protagonist). Plain and poor, with an independent spirit and the mettle to speak her mind, Celeste represents a threat to the social hierarchy. 3. Create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed). A Voice in the Storm Because of You Music Beyond the Stars 4. 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? The Girl from the Coast by Pramoedya Ananta – This is the tale of a poor girl from an Indonesian fishing village who is forced to marry a wealthy man. Little communication occurs with her husband. She is nothing more than his possession. Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig – The novel explores human relations in the midst of a political drama. The protagonist is Burma's first beauty queen, who survives a civil war and a dictatorship. My novel is set in the Philippines during the final year of Ferdinand Marcos's 20-year dictatorship (1985-1986). The protagonist is a provincial girl who moves to Manila to pursue her ambition of becoming a singer. She first earns her keep with a wealthy family, then flees their mansion after the master of the family attempts to violate her, finding her community in the tourist district, where as a club singer, she voices the woes of the working Filipino. 5. 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. Invisibility for being plain and poor ignites the creative fire: songstress Celeste shines with music that unites Filipinos against a despot. But she will betray her country if she succumbs to love with an American and flees West. 6. 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. Celeste's American lover has proposed marriage and promises a life of comfort and happiness in America. She has accepted but has misgivings. Lyndon is also half Filipino. Accounts of discrimination when he was new to America as a child informs her that, even if she were to take on his American surname and be granted American citizenship, Americans may not be so welcoming of her because of the color of her skin. She also sees through daily media coverage of Western pop celebrities – Madonna, Schwarzenegger, an ever-whitening Michael Jackson - that she and her music would have no place in the United States. Though the love between her and Lyndon is true, Celeste realizes that her place is in the Philippines. The everyday working folks and Filipino laborers are whom she wishes to touch with her songs. She needs them and they need her. 7. 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? Celeste's father has run for mayor in their small town. Her grandfather was once mayor before World War II, and her father wants to reclaim the family name. At the same time, the current mayor has been promising the town a better life, but his promises remain unfulfilled. She sings to win her father votes, but he loses due to corrupt voting tactics on the part of the current mayor, who eventually plunders the town in search of gold purportedly buried there during the war. Celeste vows to avenge her father and to restore the town's pride by making something of herself with her voice. 8. 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. Calinte – A hilltop province. Homes are made of wood and stone. An 18th-century church constructed of volcanic ash with a belfry dominates the town square. Fauna grows through the belfry fissures, and the crucifix affixed on the façade spire resembles a giant X against the dizzying clouds and blue sky. Celeste's home is a ramshackle structure the gray of gravel and grime. It was once a mansion, for her maternal grandfather had been an influential man with wealth. World War II brought the family to ruin. The only remnants of the home's former glory are a stained glass window in the living room and the ceiling socket from where once hung a chandelier. The furniture is now plastic with duct tape that seals tears, an old Singer sewing machine, and a makeshift altar of Jesus and Mary. The family quarters on the second level are furnished with bare essentials. Bunks beds for the boys and girls. (Celeste has three sisters and three brothers), a cot for the parents, and a bureau in each room. Forbes Park – A high-class residential area in the capital of Manila. A high gate and stone walls border the Borgas mansion, with a long driveway that swerves up to double portals. The mansion has limestone walls and a patio with French doors that open into a garden. Mango and palm trees are in full bloom, and beds of bougainvillea plants and hibiscuses line the walls and dot sloping hillocks. Portraits of Ma'am Borgas's ancestors adorn the living room. A statue of the Madonna stands in the patio. Dining chairs and furniture in the living room as well as in the family quarters on the second level are upholstered in brocade. The maids quarter downstairs consists of a sitting area with an oven and a black and white TV. Celeste's room has a bunk bed and a drawer set. A calendar that bears the image of Jesus Christ is tacked on the door along with a magazine cover cutout of her favorite singer, Nora Aunor (a Philippine musical icon). The images of Jesus and Aunor are directly across from the window for daylight to shine on upon each sunrise. Ermita – The red-light tourist district. Ermita was once a high-class district before World War II. It contains abandoned lots with crumbling palatial homes juxtaposed with drive-in motels, karaoke bars, plastic encasements above brothel entrances, and money exchange venues. Buildings are covered in grim with laundry hanging on window grids. Cherry Bar – The first establishment where Celeste earns a reputation for her voice. It is a low-class bar that caters to the working class and laborers. A placard with scratch marks and an illustration of double cherries hang on the front door. The inside is dimly lit in red light, with four tables and chairs on the right, a bar to the left, and a stage behind the bar. Posters of Conan the Barbarian and other Western media icons are taped on a mirror wall behind the bar. Her own room has a cot, a ceiling bulb with a cord switch, and a door mirror that has a horizontal crack at the middle. White Palace – A high-end establishment that Celeste later works at. It is a white structure with a harem-like dome and opaque windows to black portals. Inside, strobe lights illuminate the stage, which is adorned with papier mache trees and plants. The dining area consists of tables covered in floor-length cloth. Her own room is painted white with a bed, a bureau, and a color TV. The juxtaposition of wealth with decay makes for a dramatic backdrop for a story about class, oppression, and race.
  2. 1. Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done? To assert her presence in a society that dismisses her as invisible and voiceless. 2. 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 antagonistic force is the Philippine class system as embodied by various characters. Among the primary ones are members of a wealthy family – Bart (father), Elena (mother), and Rina (daughter) Borgas. Bart is the president of a bank that is under the control of a dictatorial government. His status rewards him with a wealth and recognition that absolve him of past failed business ventures. Elena comes from poverty. With her chicanery, she has buried her history with fabrications of a privileged upbringing and is now a dominating force in high society. Rina is trapped between her own wishes and those of her mother. She shares sincere feelings with her beau, who hails from a pedigreed family. When he proposes marriage, her mother considers this a personal triumph, scoffing at Rina's insistence that it is love, not social standing, that joins them. There are three maids in the Borgas mansion. Elena and Rina treat them with imperious airs. Bart is genial but with an ulterior motive. The brunt of their target is a maid named Celeste (protagonist). Plain and poor, with an independent spirit and the mettle to speak her mind, Celeste represents a threat to the social hierarchy. 3. Create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed). A Voice in the Storm Because of You Music Beyond the Stars 4. 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? The Girl from the Coast by Pramoedya Ananta – This is the tale of poor girl from an Indonesian fishing village who is forced to marry a wealthy man. Little communication occurs with her husband. She is nothing more than his possession. Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig – The novel explores human relations in the midst of a political drama. The protagonist is Burma's first beauty queen, who survives a civil war and a dictatorship. My novel is set in the Philippines during the final year of Ferdinand Marcos's 20-year dictatorship (1985-1986). The protagonist is a provincial girl who moves to Manila to pursue her ambition of becoming a singer. She first earns her keep with a wealthy family, then flees their mansion after the master of the family attempts to violate her, finding her community in the tourist district, where as a club singer, she voices the woes of the working Filipino. 5. 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. Invisibility for being plain and poor ignites the creative fire: songstress Celeste shines with music that unites Filipinos against a despot. But she will betray her country if she succumbs to love with an American and flees West. 6. 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. Celeste's American lover has proposed marriage and promises a life of comfort and happiness in America. She has accepted, but has misgivings. Lyndon is also half Filipino. Accounts of discrimination when he was new to America as a child informs her that, even if she were to take on his American surname and be granted an American citizenship, Americans may not be so welcoming of her because of the color of her skin. She also sees through daily media coverage of Western pop celebrities – Madonna, Schwarzenegger, an ever-whitening Michael Jackson - that she and her music would have no place in the United States. Though the love between her and Lyndon is true, Celeste realizes that her place is in the Philippines. The everyday working folks and Filipino laborers are whom she wishes to touch with her songs. She needs them and they need her. 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? Celeste's father has run for mayor in their small town. Her grandfather was once mayor before World War II, and her father wants to reclaim the family name. At the same time, the current mayor has been promising the town a better life, but his promises remain unfulfilled. She sings to win her father votes, but he loses due to corrupt voting tactics on the part of the current mayor, who eventually plunders the town in search of gold purportedly buried there during the war. Celeste vows to avenge her father and to restore the town's pride by making something of herself with her voice. 7. 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. Calinte – A hilltop province. Homes are made of wood and stone. An 18th century church constructed of volcanic ash with a belfry dominates the town square. Fauna grows through the belfry fissures, and the crucifix affixed on the façade spire resembles a giant X against the dizzying clouds and blue sky. Celeste's home is a ramshackle structure the gray of gravel and grime. It was once a mansion, for her maternal grandfather had been an influential man with wealth. World War II brought the family to ruin. The only remnants of the home's former glory are a stain glass window in the living room and the ceiling socket from where once hung a chandelier. The furniture is now plastic with duct tape that seals tears, an old Singer sewing machine, and a makeshift altar of Jesus and Mary. The family quarters on the second level are furnished with bare essentials. Bunk beds for the boys and girls. (Celeste has three sisters and three brothers), a cot for the parents, and a bureau in each room. Forbes Park – A high-class residential area in the capital of Manila. A high gate and stone walls border the Borgas mansion, with a long driveway that swerves up to double portals. The mansion has limestone walls and a patio with French doors that open into a garden. Mango and palm trees are in full bloom, and beds of bougainvillea plants and hibiscuses line the walls and dot sloping hillocks. Portraits of Ma'am Borgas's ancestors adorn the living room. A statue of the Madonna stands in the patio. Dining chairs and furniture in the living room as well as in the family quarters on the second level are upholstered in brocade. The maids quarter downstairs consists of a sitting area with an oven and a black and white TV. Celeste's room has a bunk bed and a drawer set. A calendar that bears the image of Jesus Christ is tacked on the door along with a magazine cover cutout of her favorite singer, Nora Aunor (an icon dubbed the Barbra Streisand of the Philippines). The images of Jesus and Aunor are directly across from the window for daylight to shine on with each sunrise. Ermita – The red-light tourist district. Ermita was once a high-class district before World War II. It contains abandoned lots with crumbling palatial homes juxtaposed with drive-in motels, karaoke bars, plastic encasements above brothel entrances, and money exchange venues. Buildings are covered in grime with laundry hanging on window grids. Cherry Bar – The first establishment where Celeste earns a reputation for her voice. It is a low-class bar that caters to the working class and laborers. A placard with scratch marks and an illustration of double cherries hang on the front door. The inside is dimly lit in red light, with four tables and chairs on the right, a bar to the left, and a stage behind the bar. Posters of Conan the Barbarian and other Western media icons are taped on a mirror wall behind the stage. Her own room has a cot, a ceiling bulb with a cord switch, and a door mirror that has a horizontal crack at the middle. White Palace – A high-end establishment that Celeste later works at. It is a white structure with a harem-like dome and opaque windows to black portals. Inside, strobe lights illuminate the stage, which is adorned with papier-maché trees and plants. The dining area consists of tables covered in floor-length cloth. Her own room is painted white with a bed, a bureau and a vanity, a full length mirror, and a color TV. The juxtaposition of wealth with decay makes for a dramatic backdrop to a story about class, oppression, and race.
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