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New York Pitch and Algonkian Pre-event Assignments - 2021


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Seven short assignments for the New York Pitch conference in June 2022:

 

Assignment One – Story Statement

Uncover the identity of a serial killer, who may actually be her friend

 

Assignment Two – Antagonist

He murders women for the power he feels and the pleasure derived from acting on his urges, but also to receive praise and approval from his mentor, the King. After he kills, he photographs the body and puts the pictures online for the King and others in his group to enjoy. Early on, the reader learns that he is someone who works at the United Nations mission with the main character, Stella. He does not draw attention to himself, but he enjoys exploiting his position as a foreigner and feels superior to his peers by operating outside of the rules that restrict them. Because of past mistakes (which are revealed as the novel progresses), he is compelled to prove to the King that he is worthy of the second chance he was given. He is physically strong and reasonably successful, yet he needs to cover his insecurity by proving he is smarter than others. He has little respect for women, especially those who work in the sex trade. Interspersed chapters told from his perspective provide details about who he is and how he thinks, but his identity is only revealed at the end of the story.

 

Assignment Three – Title

Blood in Bangui

Under Cover of Chaos

Murder on the Banks of the Ubangi

 

Assignment Four – Comparables

This book is similar to the Archer and Bennett series by Candice Fox in that it centers on a female protagonist who follows the trail of murderers, but Stella, the protagonist of this novel, is not a cop – she is an accidental detective by virtue of the situation and her curiosity/overly analytical mind. This book is also similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in that it is part of a trilogy in which each book describes a complete story with a different setting and main antagonist. However, while each novel in this series stands on its own, there is an underlying plot line that links all three books and is resolved in the last novel. One of the themes this book discusses is how foreigners with means can exploit lawless or chaotic conditions in developing countries for nefarious purposes, a theme also discussed in To The Lions by Holly Watt, and with respect to level of violence, these two books are also similar in that, while murder is central to the plot, there is relatively little explicit violence.

 

Assignment Five – Hook Line

A young woman working far from home stumbles upon evidence that may link her colleague to an ongoing murder spree and finds herself caught between trust and friendship and her desire to bring the killer to justice.

 

Assignment Six – Inner Conflict and Secondary Conflict

Inner Conflict: Stella is torn between revealing the information she has found out about her friend Eric’s connections to a string of murdered woman and potentially letting him get away with killing more women. As both a supportive friend and colleague, he has never given any indication that he might be violent or unhinged, let alone a serial killer. However, she questions whether you can ever really know someone, especially in a place like a UN field mission where anyone can become whoever they want, since their background is unknown to their new circle of friends and acquaintances.

Secondary Conflict: There is an ongoing tension throughout the novel between the underlying violence and unrest in the country and the characters’ ability to make friends and enjoy themselves. Despite the terrible things that have happened in the country and continue to occur, the people who live in Bangui refuse to give up or give in, continuing  to live their lives and find joy where they can. The local population continues to work, dream, and take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way and Stella makes great friendships, finds love, and has unforgettable experiences in the midst of death and chaos. 

 

Assignment Seven – Setting

The story is set in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries on the planet, where Stella works for a UN peacekeeping mission. When she arrives, the violent conflict has slowed as there have been truce agreements between the two main fighting coalitions and the government. However, clashes between armed groups still occur in the outlying regional areas and violence sometimes breaks out in the capital.

 

Scenes in the novel occur at the following locations: 1) the best hotel in the city, where Stella gets a glimpse into the nightlife and her coworker Eric’s lifestyle; 2) the main headquarters of the UN mission, where Stella interacts with her coworkers from around the world and meets her new best friend, Phillipe; 3) on the roads of the city, where life and death not only occur but are on full display; 4) at her apartment complex near the Ubangi River, where she spends time with her friends and colleagues and discovers some of their secrets; 5) at one of the restaurants that foreigners frequent, where she goes for a date with her love interest, Rachid; 6) at the tennis club next to the river and 7) a party at an NGO house, both places where she blows off steam with her friends and sees her coworkers during off hours; 8) on a cruise on the river, which takes her outside of the city limits; and 9) back at the tennis club at night when it’s dark and secluded and there is no one around to hear the screams.

 

The setting of Bangui and Stella’s work in the peacekeeping mission provide the opportunity to show the reader a place and type of work with which they are probably not familiar. The backdrop of the conflict and the peculiarities of life in a peacekeeping mission also help to drive the action by reinforcing the fact that, in a chaotic place without a fully functioning government or justice system and plenty of secluded places, violence can touch every life, often going unresolved, and also by showing how, in an intense operational situation in a conflict zone, the close interaction between personal life and work life make knowing more than you might want to about your coworkers, for better or for worse, inevitable.

 

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Assignment One:  Story statement.

A crew of misunderstood FBI agents freelance as Deep State guardian angels.


Assignment Two:  Statement on the antagonist.

My novel’s antagonistic force is a bewildering talent possessed by the agents in FBI Unit 13, which they self-depreciatingly call “it.”  Unit 13’s agents are idiosyncratic students of human behavior and nonverbal communication, leading some FBI colleagues to apply the label “psychic” -- a label they reject emphatically.  The Unit 13 agents believe there’s nothing supernatural about their abilities; they’re based in neurology, not magic.  The problem is that “it” sometimes provides the agents with troubling insights, even though they are powerless to act.  But, when Unit 13 is firing on all cylinders, “it” is a formidable tool.  

In a world increasingly characterized by self-absorption and digitized communications, the Unit 13 agents stand apart, bringing to bear their heightened powers of observation and empathy, which they do with a sense of dark humor and irreverence.  Operating under the radar and not entirely by the book, Unit 13 encounters an array of narcissistic bullies (some redeemable; some not), as they tackle seemingly unrelated cases involving a bizarre uptick in train track suicides, mistreatment of asylum seekers at the Mexican border, and a morale crisis among public corruption prosecutors investigating a shadowy political figure.

Assignment Three:  Proposed titles.

The Quiet Car

It Goes Without Saying

The It Squad

Assignment Four:  Genre and comparable works.

Genre:  Literary fiction (elements of detective story/buddy story/suspense/dark comedy).

My novel is comparable to No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, sharing common themes involving law enforcement officers as they confront a mysterious tide of inhumanity with stoicism and bemusement. Likewise, my novel bears resemblance to The Sportswriter by Richard Ford in its elevation of commonplace New Jersey settings to iconic significance.  In advancing the story, my novel includes narrative echoes of David Foster Wallace (simplified for mere mortals like me) and dialog influenced by the Coen Brothers.

In terms of visual media, my novel could be described as a present-day reimagining of the film, Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders (guardian angels watching over Berlin) combined with the quirky, humanistic squad room antics depicted in the 1970s television comedy series, Barney Miller (which, remarkably, still gets extensive, cultish play on cable channels).  Rustin Cohle from the first season of True Detective and Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks might also feel at home in Unit 13.


Assignment Five:  Hook line.

A pair of aging FBI operatives struggle to preserve the Unit they run, hoping their young protégés can continue the Unit’s unofficial, altruistic charter as they confront a sinister tide of cruelty and indifference.

Assignment Six:  Protagonist conflict sketches.

Primary conflict.

My novel features two protagonists, whose fates are intertwined -- J.W. Winchester and Charlie Barrow, the FBI operatives who run Unit 13.  J.W. and Charlie are endowed with the heightened awareness, empathy, and communication prowess associated with “it.” Because of their abilities, both developed a sense of hyper-responsibility to use them for the greater good, even when doing so is anxiety provoking, personally burdensome, and not exactly consistent with FBI protocols.  Misunderstood by the Agency at large, J.W., Charlie, and the Unit 13 crew make short work of standard, official cases and focus instead on their preferred guardian angel projects, doing what they can to stem society’s pernicious tide.  It’s tough work but, hey, someone’s got to do it.

Protagonists’ inner conflict.

J.W. Winchester is the FBI’s oldest active woman, by far.  Nobody knows exactly how old -- and she isn’t telling -- but smart money has her closer to 100 than to 80.  Decades earlier, J.W. came to the attention of Unit 13’s revered founder, who told anybody who would listen that she was the best natural detective he had ever encountered.  J.W. was a pioneer “when there were few women working at the FBI, let alone pregnant women, let alone pregnant woman without a husband, let alone pregnant women without a husband who had assumed high supervisory authority in the absence of any official title because, at the time, the FBI wasn’t calling any women ‘Special Agent.’”   Being a pioneer came at a cost:  J.W. had a challenging relationship with her daughter, Meredith, who was afflicted with psychiatric illness and ultimately died as a young adult, leaving a daughter of her own behind.  Years later, J.W. still struggles with how she might have done better.  J.W. also feels the daily weight of responsibility to ensure that Unit 13 will thrive after she is gone.

Charlie Barrow is a charming eccentric approaching sixty, preoccupied with his expanding prostate and waistline.  Charlie’s marriage to his law school girlfriend is deteriorating, although he maintains a close relationship with his two children, including a daughter, who, like her father, recognized that she had “it” since early childhood.  After J.W. Winchester assumed the helm at Unit 13, she took note of Charlie’s talents and persuaded him to leave his position at the U.S. Attorney’s office to be her second in command.  Growing up in the 1960s and 70s as the son of a Jamaican father and Italian mother, Charlie became attuned to the frustrations of incomplete progress and learned to see things from the outside.  Charlie’s experience as an outsider, coupled with “it,” led him to become a tireless observer of humanity, and one of his favorite perches for study is the New Jersey Transit quiet car during his daily commute.  In an early scene from the novel, an unpleasant dispute concerning the ambiguous “quiet car guidelines” causes Charlie to become bombarded with ominous concerns about people in imminent danger, helpless to do anything about it -- for the time being, at least. 

And when Charlie Barrow is bombarded, J.W. Winchester is bombarded….

Secondary conflicts.

The use of “it” as J.W. and Charlie’s preferred policing tool ultimately gives rise to several secondary conflicts, including confrontations with various memorable villains as Unit 13 works to rescue potential track jumpers, relocate courageous refugee families, and convince demoralized U.S. Attorneys to hang in there for another election cycle.  The narrative also includes rivalries (and pranks) among Unit 13’s quirky young agents, as well as unconventional, unexpected love triangles.


Assignment Seven:  Setting.


With respect to time, my novel is set in the ominous three months preceding 2020’s arrival.  Catalyzed by unorthodox police work, chance encounters, and romantic entanglements, several disparate story lines converge as the novel marches toward its New Year’s Eve conclusion that serves as a fitting, nostalgic farewell to 2019 and pre-pandemic, pre-insurrection times.

With respect to geography, the novel’s primary locations are metropolitan New Jersey, Lower Manhattan, and venues along the border of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Several New Jersey locations and motifs are integral to the novel’s themes, including the byzantine, claustrophobic confines of the NJ Transit system, where Charlie Barrow does some of his best thinking and where some of the novel’s most suspenseful and gruesome scenes unfold.   The Dunkin’ Donuts storefront in Hoboken’s Lackawanna Terminal is where we meet several key secondary characters and where several of the novel’s comic subplots originate.

Throughout the novel, Charlie serves as the composer of a gritty love song to New Jersey and its diverse, resilient inhabitants, and we frequently find Charlie and other characters in recognizable, real-world New Jersey locations (notably, bars and pizzerias).  Charlie is a longstanding resident of Montclair, a town that was once celebrated as the best place in America to be a biracial couple, and Charlie’s nuanced affection for the town serves as a platform to address racial issues that arise.  And, of course, the novel includes several compulsory settings reminiscent of The Sopranos (e.g., a female psychiatrist’s office and a seedy hotel near the Resorts casino in Atlantic City).

Across the river in Manhattan, several of the novel’s scenes take place in a high-ceilinged, ornate courtroom that J.W. Winchester secured as Unit 13’s headquarters after most of the Southern District judges moved their chambers to a newly constructed federal building.  Many gatherings of Unit 13 transpire in that magnificent, slightly deteriorating space.  Other NYC scenes take place in J.W.’s Varick Street loft which, not surprising to anybody, she managed to buy at the exact bottom of the real estate market. 

Throughout the novel, physical settings are enhanced by projecting the narrative against pop culture backdrops that include film, sports, and music references.

 

 

 

 

 

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Assignment one: Write your story statement.

Seventeen-year-olds Mason, Sarah, and Patrick must learn to believe in themselves and decide whether or not to rid a dystopian world of its magical and destructive human senses. 

 

Assignment two: In 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story.

Everyone in the world of Fovea has the Sight (moving objects with one’s eyes), but some are born with the Hearing (hearing people’s thoughts), the Taste (tasting one’s blood and knowing exactly which Senses they posses), or the Scent (smelling premonitions). Over the years, some new Senses emerged—the Ceptors. These are powers of Pain, Balance, and Temperature. Prince Lance Acheron, and his army of supporters, the Crossmerry, are desperate to protect these powers from the one individual left in Fovea with the power of the Touch (the ability to take away power and rid the world of all the magic Senses). The individual with the Touch must always pass it on before they die, otherwise it will be gone forever. Lance, consumed by his fear of losing power, has gone so far as to murder the last ruler of Fovea—and his own sister—who both threatened to use the Touch to destroy the Senses. After discovering that his murder did not destroy the Touch after all, Lance and his army are desperate to seek out whoever is hiding with it—and kill them. 


 

Assignment three: List three options for a breakout title.
1. Unsensational (spelled out like unSENSEational)

2. A Song of the Senses
3. Unheard, Unseen, Untouched

 

Assignment four: Develop two smart comparables to your novel.

1. Scythe — Similar in writing style, this YA work follows the POVs of two teens who, like Mason, Sarah, and Patrick, are thrown into the middle of a conflict between two very opposing factions. Instead of deciding whether people should wield the power over life and death, the protagonists within my work are presented with the decision of magic senses or no magic senses. Both stories feature politics, murder, and protagonists discovering who they really are.

2. Seasons of the Storm — Comparable to my work is this YA’s unique magic system. Whereas this story has the physical embodiments of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, my story consists of the physical magical embodiments of the human senses (Sight, Sound, Taste, Hear, & Touch). Both works also speak on themes of love, friendship, death, and rebellion.

 

Assignment five: Write your own hook line/logline with conflict and core wound following the format given.

When three teenagers battling self-doubt, loss, and trauma find themselves in the midst of a physical war over the fate of the world’s magic human senses, they must overcome their own demons and ultimately decide which side they are on.


Assignment six: (A) 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. (B) Sketch out a scenario for the “secondary conflict” involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? What is the nature of it?  


Because I have three main protagonists, I will do this for all three of them:
 

1. (A) Mason has never been good at his Sight. In a world where he could have been more with a more remarkable Sense (perhaps the Scent, Hearing, or Taste), he wishes more than anything that he could at least be good with the one he does possess. It makes him feel like an embarrassment and failure in his society. When Mason tries to use his Sight to rescue a stranger and fails, his actions result in his close friends being captured by the Crossmerry and then catapult him into being involved in a political war. Mason blames himself and his lack of skill completely, and it fuels his need to be the one to rescue them.
 

(B) Mason teams up with a rebel group called the Unseen, led by a charismatic and gregarious Garth, and his caretaker, Timp, who both put him through rigorous training with his Sight. Despite Mason’s participation and determination to make his caretaker proud in the grueling training, Timp and Garth won’t let him join them and the Unseen on their mission to stop Lance because of his lack of skill and progress.

2. (A) Sarah struggles to come to terms with and accept her mother’s death by suicide. Since her mother was a huge inspiration for confidence, without her, Sarah feels that she has none at all. At home she needs: to be considered cool amongst her peers, the constant distraction of social media, and a small ballerina figurine that reminds her of her mother in order to feel okay. So when she finds herself in Fovea and thrown into a war without most of these distractions, she battles with processing, feeling, and moving on from her traumas and finding the strength and courage from within herself.
Example scene: During a heartwarming conversation with Mason, where she is being vulnerable about her past, she decides to let him hold onto the ballerina figure she holds tightly to her chest. When Mason tries to get it to dance using his Sight and the ballerina falls, Sarah panics.

(B) Sarah winds up with the Unseen alongside Mason, and develops feelings for him despite knowing that their paths will ultimately fork.

3. (A) Patrick grows up in the modern world a misfit. Having been really born in Fovea, Patrick possesses magic powers: the Sight, and all three Ceptors (Pain, Movement, Temperature). Due to him hiding his powers from everyone for his entire life out of fear of being a freak, Patrick is reclusive and for that he is a subject of constant bullying. The only person who ever stands up for him and has his back is Sarah, and it is because of this that he is completely and unrequitedly in love with her. When Sarah discovers the world of Fovea and goes missing, it sends Patrick into a spiral of destruction and morally grey decisions as he realizes just how much he is capable of with his powers.

(B) Patrick discovers that his true family and heritage is in Fovea and that Prince Lance Acheron is his blood relative. Finally feeling like he belongs somewhere and that he is applauded for his powers instead of being coined a freak, Patrick must choose between belonging and doing what is right.
     

Final Assignment: Sketch out your settings in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story?


The story takes place in two worlds: The world of Fovea and modern day Massachusetts. Most of the story takes place in Fovea though, with the only scenes in Massachusetts happening in the first and second act. Those include scenes at a local high school, a local concert at a dive bar, and a mysterious underground chamber behind Patrick’s house that is filled with curious antiques, junk, and the base of three massive converged trees.

Fovea is a dying world ruled by these powerful human senses. There are devastating draught, scarce food, and ruined villages due to negligence and the destructive nature of some of the magic-bound senses. Because the people of Fovea have relied so heavily on their magic, they have not quite revolutionized the way the modern world has. Thus, they get around in horse and carriage, write with quills, and send letters by bird.

The story begins in one of the villages of Fovea, where Mason and his other orphaned friends live in a home run by a caretaker. Despite the loving family nature of the home and its caretaker, the home is dirty and there is barely enough food to feed everyone. Everyone sleeps in shared dormitories on cots.

In Mason’s village square, as with many of them, everything is grey and dirty. The small, well-spaced wooden houses of the village grow into huddles of cramped, stone buildings, empty storefronts, dusty pubs, and abandoned merchant’s carts.

Mason’s actions in the village square send him and his friends a few hours' ride out past the square, over the Singing Mountains, and through a valley beside the only green part of Fovea—the Iris Forest. Beyond the forest, they arrive at the Crossmerry’s headquarters, the Cept. The Cept is a giant sandstone building with polished, arched windows that are paneled and barred. Swarms of black carriages sit outside its steel, web-like gates and a massive, pitch-dark door painted with the Crossmerry’s crest is its entrance. 


Inside there are glossy marble stairs and Crossmerry in their umber-colored uniforms bustling about. There are many hallways with many different labeled rooms. It is within this building that the Crossmerry perform questioning of their prisoners, use their Tasters to test people for the Touch, and train new recruits to their cause.

The inevitable escape from the Cept takes the reader deep inside the dense and vibrant Iris Forest, where we visit an old Tatster’s wooden alchemy cabin, overgrown with plants.

From here we journey to the Sanctum of the Unseen, which is the base camp for the rebellion shielded by a protective canopy of vegetation. Over a dozen timber cabins and straw huts dwell here, lined neatly in rows with fire pits dusted between them. In the center of the camp is the Inner Sanctum, a church-like structure with a splintery, arched doorway and a bow roof. This is where the leader of the Unseen stays.

The story guides us west past dried-up gulches garnished with yellowing, brittle weeds, to where the Crossmerry live. Here, brick barracks with red tin roofs circle an immense stone tower.

From here we travel to the castle, where King Acheron and the prince, Lance, live. The castle stands high in the sky with five towers and a door that is also branded with the crest of the Crossmerry. A wooden drawbridge separates visitors from its cobblestone entrance. It is heavily guarded by members of the Crossmerry, who often have to skirmish with local insurgents who view the king and prince as traitors for what Lance had done to the previous king. Inside, the high loft ceilings are painted gold and the walls are flanked with engraved oak doors.

And lastly the end takes place back in the Iris Forest, where the imposing converged trees from the modern world also exist. This is the only entrance between the two worlds.

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SEVEN SHORT PRE-EVENT ASSIGNMENTS

1. The Act of Story Statement

If you could go back, what would you tell your teenage self? 

2. The Antagonist Plots the Point 

Maisie Rudenko is the mean rich girl who has it all. Through jealousy and pure sport, Maisie makes Lenny's days a living hell. Her misdeeds finally push Lenny enough that she starts engaging in revenges of her own, but not taking these new humiliations well, Maisie deals a very public, very personal blow that drives Lenny right to the edge. 

Dr. and Mrs. Vikram Birk, or Bhapujee and Biji, are the rich and famous grandparents Lenny can't please. She isn't brilliant like her brother, and she reminds them of her father, their deceased son. While Lenny's grandmother does evolve, helping her truly shine for the first time, her grandfather can't separate her from the fractured relationship he had with his only child, and thus his own parenting failures. When Bhapujee's secret of the truth of Hollis' death comes to light, Lenny discovers just how like her unstable father she really is. 

Cecilia Birk, Lenny's mother, unable to cope with her husband's death, drinks and completely withdraws, leaving Lenny on the hook with adult duties she isn't ready for. Mired in the past and harbouring her own guilt, Cecilia's darkness further isolates the child who needs her most. 

3. Conjuring your Breakout Title 

Title One: My Name is Lenny Birk 

My first alternate title is a verbatim theme throughout the story. The main character often runs this line through her head to make sense of her surroundings, remind herself of what she feels she needs to do, and maintain her grip on reality. 

Title Two: The Songs Repeat

My second alternate title is from Thomas More's poem Echo. It draws on the heavy musical presence throughout the story, as well as the theme for repetition, or constantly repeating one's actions only to come up with the same result. This rings true for several of the characters in the story, and the paths they have chosen. 

Title Three: Until I Come to it Again 

My third alternate title, also inspired by poetry, is this line from Christina Rossetti's Shut Out. This poem speaks of a soul departed from this life, "thirsting" for those they've left behind. It also speaks of how what we have lost attains its own status simply through being lost. We want what we cannot have. Wanting what we cannot have is an integral theme through this story, for the protagonist and most of the pivotal characters, as is the "spiritual" aspect; there is the heavy reminder of Hollis Birk, Lenny's father, now almost one year dead, and the near-constant presence of the mercurial Ruby, who Lenny feels may be a ghost. I also like the literal meaning of this line/title as it speaks to me of work unfinished, which is yet another crucial element to this story. 

4. Deciding your Genre and Approaching Comparables 

My first comparable is You've Reached Sam, by Dustin Thao. 

Much like the story I've written this is a heartfelt coming of age novel, and a debut one at that, of love and loss, the tangled process of grief, letting go, and the impossible task of moving forward even when it seems all the odds are stacked against you; all with a touch of magic. 

My second comparable is Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur. 

The fluid writing of this collection, for me, blurs the lines between poetry and prose, and talks of love, of family, pain, mental health, being a minority, what it means to be a girl, how there is sweetness everywhere if you try and see it, and what it is to live. 

5. Core Wounds and the Primary Conflict 

Lenny Birk wants to die. But with the help of the mysterious blue-haired girl who lives in her room, she may figure out how to live. 

6. Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels 

Lenny's main theme running throughout the book is that she thinks she wants to die, stemming from the inner conflict that she believes she truly is her father's daughter. Although told her father died of a brain aneurysm just one year prior, deep down Lenny knows he killed himself. Her constant battle is the one she has with herself, where she believes that like her father she will only ever be a failure, and the only good she can contribute to this world is to leave it. 

Lenny's social environment illustrates her secondary conflicts, be the people badly or well-intentioned. There are the battles she has with her antagonists: Maisie Rudenko, the girl who bullies her, isolates her and makes her feel ugly; Lenny's grandfather, to whom she can never measure up; the school's headmaster, who never believes her, and her basket case mother, all contributing to Lenny's own feelings of worthlessness. But then there are those who want the best for Lenny: her genius brother, Liam Dubray, who eventually becomes her boyfriend, her English teacher, (eventually) her grandmother, and Ruby, the blue-haired girl/entity who lives in Lenny's room. But despite their good intentions Lenny can't believe what they see in her until she tries to see it for herself, nor can she understand the true danger of the path she is on, until Ruby shows her. 

7. The Incredible Importance of Setting 

This book is set in 2018, primarily in the fictional town of Emerson in upstate New York, Finger Lakes region, which I loosely based on two towns: Ithaca, New York, and Hamilton, Ontario. In the center of Emerson is "The Hill," an area separating the upper southern and lower northern portions of the city, or, the ultra wealthy from everyone else. Lenny and her younger brother live at the bottom of The Hill along with the rest of the middle-class but go to school at Knox Academy, the prestigious prep school at the top of The Hill, with the kids of Emerson's elite and where their father was once a teacher. Other areas within Emerson used as setting are Lenny's house, Liam Dubray's house, Maisie Rudenko's house, Skiff Market, Farmer Hutchins' pumpkin patch, the Imperial Arms Hotel and the very real Seneca Lake. 

New York City is where Lenny's grandparents currently live and where her parents once lived. It's the special place Lenny shared with her dad, and the city of his greatest disappointments. 

London, Beaconsfield and Eton College in the UK are past settings, mainly in family flashbacks, illustrating the stratospheric rise of the Birk grandparents, and Hollis Birk's misery growing up. 

India is where Vikram and Parvati Birk grew up, only mentioned as past setting. 

Berkeley, California, also used in family flashbacks, are where Hollis and Cecilia Birk met, and where they went to school. 

 

 

 

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Assignment 1: Story Statement

Sylvia must recreate herself by bridging the gap between fantasy and reality.

Assignment 2: Antagonist/Antagonistic Force

The antagonistic force (which I now realize I must personify in a character) is Sylvia’s inability to define herself as her own person and claim that status in her life. She does what society tells her to do to have a happy, meaningful life: get married, have children and live happily everafter. But she doesn’t go beyond that to foster any talent or inclination of her own. Who is she beyond being a societal expectation? Even her husband who is living his counterscript is striving toward something.

Adonis is the personification (dream) of romantic fulfillment. Sylvia commits to this fantasy. It owns her. Then it threatens her reality such as it is.

 As she struggles to define herself, she is opposed by both her husband and Adonis.

Assignment 3: Breakout Title

Sylvia’s Anniversary Ring

Vest-Pocket Dreams

Ringing Camouflage

 Assignment 4: Women’s Fiction Comparables

Persuasion by Jane Austen

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

(The fact that these are in paperback for less than $10 at Amazon is ominous.)

 Assignment 5: Core Wound And The Primary Conflict

Feeling lost and empty, a woman finds refuge in a fantasy lover only to have the affair threaten her sanity and her marriage.

 Assignment 6: Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels

Sylvia lives the life society has prescribed but it leaves her feeling empty. Her core wound is her poor self-image. The celebration of her 25th Wedding Anniversary was to have been the culmination of marital bliss but it leaves her unfulfilled. The tipping point occurs when her husband only begrudgingly gives her the much-coveted anniversary ring,

 A secondary conflict emerges with her fantasy lover who refuses to accept the end of their affair.

 Assignment 7: Setting

A small town near a regional hub city. The family lives in a suburban type environment. The husband works at a local car dealership which will participate in a regional auto show.

 

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Neoma navigates through the pain and negative emotions of healing from her traumas in order to control her powers, thereby defeating the fae and freeing humans.

 

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 antagonists are the fae. They were originally created by humans and witches to defeat the abusive gods in an attempt to bring peace to the world. However, the power the fae were gifted went to their head. An ability to compulse humans, taking away free will and unparalleled speed and strength rotted most of them to their core, creating another oppressive rule over humans. A majority of the fae deem their kind superior and have hunted the witches to near extinction and forced humans into indentured servitude. While not all of their kind are bad, the ones in charge hold the fate of everyone in their hands. Their ultimate goal is to rid humans and witches altogether.

 

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

Starshine

Of Fae & Gods

Rising Sea, Fallen Star

 

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?

A Court of Thorns and Roses Series by Sarah J. Maas - Both are set in another world and deal with a kind believing they are superior. They also share similar attributes in the main character overcoming her emotional baggage and righting the wrongs of the world set in place by others who came long before her. 

From Blood and Ash series by Jennifer L. Armentrout - Both are set in another world with warring people. And there is a huge mystery surrounding those ruling. The main character also discovers something about herself and realizes she holds the key to saving the peace of their lands.

 

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.

After a catastrophe destroys her town leaving her as the lone survivor, a young woman deals with the unintended consequences of her actions while finding a way to save humankind. 

 

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.

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?

Neoma’s pain and suffering comes from losing everyone she loves after a tsunami and eathquake destroy her town, leaving her the lone survivor. After she is thrust into indentured servitude to the fae, she struggles with survivor guilt and numbs out with the aid of alcohol. Eventually, she is forced to confront the pain when she finds her best friend and other survivor of the town in the woods one night. He begins to slowly unravel the truths of the existence of the fae and humans, revealing the answer to their salvation lies with witches. As they travel to find the witches, it’s revealed Neoma is a child of the gods, and her powers are tied to her emotions and the elements around her. When she is sad, it rains. When she’s angry or afraid, there’s lightning or an earthquake. The night her town was destroyed, she was being assaulted by a man, causing her to panic. Unbeknownst to her, since prior to this her powers were dormant, she started the earthquake leading to the tsunami and destroying everything and everyone she loved. The knowledge she caused her suffering adds to her emotional turmoil, but to control her powers, she must navigate her emotions. 

The secondary conflict around the social environment comes from Neoma’s best friend and other sole survivor of her town, Ravi. He’s known for a long time of her godly parentage. However, he’s hidden it from her because he doesn’t think she can handle the truth. His underestimation leads to her feeling betrayed, and she banishes him. But it causes a core conflict within herself. She doubts herself, having relied on her best friend for reassurance. Since he didn’t trust her to handle the enormity of her powers, she calls into question his reasoning. Is it substantiated?

 

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 land of Oria is surrounded by water. In the northern center of the town is Boerboeline, the capitol city of the ruling fae. Tall fortified walls protect Boerboeline, and it sits in the middle of a dense forest. All other cities in Oria sit on the coast at east, north, and west. These are the cities where the humans reside, the coast providing an easy access for them to work and provide food for the fae and rations for themselves. The southern part of the world is seldom traveled as most believe it’s only a forest leading to a barren valley set in front of a treacherous mountain range. The witches’ haven lies beyond the mountain range, hidden by spells. 

At the start of the story, an earthquake and tsunami destroy Neoma’s home, the city on the western seaboard and unbeknownst to most, lined with iron, the source of suppression for a fae’s powers. Neoma is saved and discovered in the woods where the guards take her into custody, forcing her into servitude of Helike, a town on the western seaboard. The docks of Helike house the fishing boats as well as larger boats designed for faes’ pleasure. Most of the humans work the docks, either hauling in catch or sailing into the sea. And at the end of the workday, humans are relegated to poorly constructed homes, stacked one on top of the other. Neoma has found her home in the woods, a shack depleted and offering only the comfort of a small fireplace and a mat on the dirt floor. Her late entrance in the town doesn’t guarantee a home with the other humans, so she’s isolated from them. 

Before Neoma finds her best friend in the woods, the other lone survivor, she spends her nights warming the beds of others who provide her the necessary liquor to numb out from her traumas. In one particularly hard instance, as the liquor from the night before fades, she sneaks onto the impressive boat of a fae intending to steal their supply and help her survive the day. On the vessel, a man interrupts her, hoping to warn her of the owner boarding momentarily. The man’s beauty shocks Neoma into silence and she grudgingly accepts his warning, wary of hidden motives. 

Weather and the elements play a large role in the setting. The main character notes several instances of a deepening chill in the air and an unexpected increase of heat. Sometimes a random rainstorm makes an appearance or a fire burns brighter. In the beginning, the main character notes these simple changes and, along with the reader, are unaware the changes directly align with her shifts in emotions. It’s her powers coming to light, a setup of a reveal in the novel as Neoma, her best friend, and her protector travel to find the witches. Once it’s revealed Neoma’s emotions are affecting the elements around her as she is a child of the gods, she realizes a detrimental truth. On the night of the events destroying her town, she was running away from a man sexually assaulting her. Her fear and anger caused the ground to rumble, triggering the tsunami. At the point of discovery, Neoma and her traveling companions are in the forest, heading south to the witches, and the pain of her destruction unhinges her emotionally. Her powers rage, and lightning and thunder build, taking down trees of the forest and almost causing a fire. As she recovers from her emotional rampage, Neoma promises to navigate the hurt to heal instead of furthering her self-inflicted damage through the aid of alcohol. They resume their travel, heading deeper south, and enter into a large valley sitting in front of a great mountain range. Her best friend, Ravi, informs them they must travel through the mountain range to meet the witches. 

They pass through the mountains and are met with another forest. Ravi instructs them to build a fire while he casts a protective circle to summon the witches. They wait for the witches who appear shrouded in mist. Once it’s determined Neoma and her companions mean them no harm, the witches take them to their haven, protected by enchantments and surrounded by water to ensure no fae find them. 

Entering the witches’ haven reminds Neoma of home, although it’s not set on the sea. But the peace and tranquility offer her a safe space as she comes to terms with her powers and works on managing her emotions to harness them against the fae instead of causing further destruction. The land of Arcana is separated into three parts. Upon entering, there is a village, filled with small cottages of other witches. Set off to the left is a large waterfall in front of a cavern. The waterfall flows into a creek running through the middle of the village. Beyond most of the homes is a field sitting in front of another mountain range. To the right of the field is another forest, shrouded in the mist of the witches. It is in the forest where Neoma and her companions find a large cottage. The witches inform them it is their home as they are the daughters of the High Priestess who rules over their land, keeping them safe. 

Neoma spends time in the land of the witches, training to prepare for the ultimate fight of the fae, knowing as a god, their powers of compulsion have no effect on her. While she is safely tucked away from the prying eyes of the fae and free of servitude, something happens to move up their timeline, requiring Neoma and her friends to travel to the capitol of the fae in the center of the forest. The capitol, Boerboeline, is only a place for the fae. Humans who are sent to the capitol are sentenced to death and spend time in the dungeons. Surrounding the capitol are tall walls, higher than the trees, deterring any breakout of humans captured. And now it’s up to Neoma and her friends to break in and rescue one of their own. Reaching the walls protecting the capitol, Neoma uses her emotional powers to create a small earthquake, breaking a portion of the wall and allowing them to slip in. They must move quickly and unnoticed under the cover of darkness to reach the dungeons as the small earthquake surely alerted someone. 

The end of the novel occurs in the capitol during their rescue of a friend, and during the climactic moment, Neoma summons her powers, destroying the capitol and the fae in it, sacrificing a friend in the process. 

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