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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

New York Pitch The below seven assignments are vital to reaching an understanding of specific and critical core elements that go into the creation of a commercially viable genre novel or narrative non-fiction. Of course, there is more to it than this, as you will see, but here we have a good primer that assures we're literally all on the same page before the event begins.

You may return here as many times as you need to edit your topic post (login and click "edit"). Pay special attention to antagonists, setting, conflict and core wound hooks.

And btw, quiet novels do not sell. Keep that in mind. Be aggressive with your work.

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


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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?

What must this person create? Save? Restore? Accomplish? Defeat?... Defy the dictator of the city and her bury brother’s body (ANTIGONE)? Struggle for control over the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST)? Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)? Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)? Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)? Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive the plot line (see also "Core Wounds and Conflict Lines" below).

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 



Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

Since the antagonist in nearly all successful commercial fiction is the driver of the plot line, what are the odds of you having your manuscript published if the overall story and narrative fail to meet reader (and publisher) demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict? Answer: none. But what major factor makes for a quiet or dull manuscript brimming with insipid characters and a story that cascades from chapter to chapter with tens of thousands of words, all of them combining irresistibly to produce an audible thudding sound in the mind, rather like a fist hitting a side of cold beef? Such a dearth of vitality in narrative and story frequently results from the unwillingness of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash.

Let's make it clear what we're talking about.

By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).


att.jpg 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.



What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. A poor title sends the clear message that what comes after will also be of poor quality.

Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours. Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.

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



Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables? When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each publisher's or agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.

Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps. There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.

Most likely you will need to research your comps. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way. Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!

By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

att.jpg FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Read this NWOE article on comparables then return here.

- 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?



Conflict, tension, complication, drama--all basically related, and all going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to damnation. You need tension on the page (esp in fiction), at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create (or find them in your nonfiction story) conflict and complications in the plot and narrative. Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve.

And now, onto the PRIMARY CONFLICT. If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information regarding the history of conflict in storytelling: Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter") and the antagonist (a more recent term), corresponding to the hero and villain. The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on.

Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her. The above defines classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.

For examples let's return to the story descriptions and create some HOOK LINES. Let's don't forget to consider the "core wound" of the protagonist. Please read this article at NWOE then return here.

  • The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones
  • A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.
  • Summer's Sisters by Judy Blume
  • After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinn who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any. Also, is the core wound obvious or implied?

att.jpg 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.



Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category."

att.jpg 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.

att.jpg 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?



When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you're able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story. A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier. Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.

But even if you're not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so. If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don't forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.


att.jpg 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.


Below are several links to part of an article or whole articles that we feel are the most valuable for memoir writers.

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



Are you thinking of writing a memoir but you're stuck? We've got the remedy. Check out our beginner's guide on writing an epic and engaging memoir.



MEMOIR REQUIRES TRANSCENDENCE. Something has to happen. Or shift. Someone has to change a little. Or grow. It’s the bare hack minimum of memoir.



When it comes to writing a memoir, there are 5 things you need to focus on. If you do, your powerful story will have the best chance of impacting others.



Knowing how to write an anecdote lets you utilize the power of story with your nonfiction and engage your reader from the first page.



Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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1.Story Statement:  Lara Arducci is abducted from her small town and whisked across the country by an affluent man. Her captor, Jon, wants her to assume the identity of his missing daughter. Lara is hesitant and fearful of going along with this delusional plan until she receives some coaxing from an unknown person. Reluctantly, Lara takes on the role of Jon’s missing daughter only to discover he is hiding more than anyone could ever imagine. His secrets are the key to her freedom and reveal secrets from her own family’s past she never knew existed.

2.Antagonist: Jon Alderidge is a man of wealth and power who plays by his own set of rules. Money is no object, and he uses it to line the pockets of anyone he deems useful. If you stand in his way, he has no qualms about committing murder to get what he wants. His narcissistic personality drives him to believe he is untouchable. He is a widower who never remarries. With the death of his father and sister, all he has left is his daughter, Natalia. After he forces Natalia to disappear, he is unable to deal with her absence, so he abducts Lara to replace her. Jon believes that he has charmed Lara into going along with his plan, unaware that she has her own motivations. When Jon discovers her betrayal, Lara finds herself fighting for her own life.

Another antagonist is Lara's father, Mitch Arducci. Mitch is similar to Jon. He is a powerful attorney who is used to getting his way. Coming from meager beginnings, he was driven to obtain more and went to extreme lengths to get it. He is the catalyst that sets everything in motion back when Lara was only a few months old. Mitch sells Lara's twin sister, Lilly, to gain the financial stability he needs to be successful. Through a series of events, Jon ends up with Lilly, who he renames Natalia. Mitch is also the person who brings the private eye in to search for Lara. This leads to the discovery of what Mitch did and is who ultimately brings Lara home. The revelation of Mitch's actions changes Lara emotionally and affects her future relationships with friends and family.

3.Title: Secrets unraveled

            A second chance

            A daughter’s revenge

4.Comparables: A Reason to Live: A Marty Singer Mystery by Matthew Iden

5.Hookline: Thrust into a world of privilege, where there are no rules, Lara must uncover the secrets of her captor if she ever wants to make it home alive.

6.Conflict: Lara’s primary conflict surrounds the entire situation with Jon. She struggles on many levels. Jon terrifies her, but she knows that she has to uncover his past for her sake and for his victims. Jon brings her to the brink of death, but she still feels the need to help those he has already hurt. She knows Jon needs to be stopped and that she is the only one who can do it.

Lara’s secondary conflict surrounds her emotional state. She is a strong, driven woman, but she is very fragile in the current situation. Jon breaks her down in the beginning by keeping her confined to a single room. The isolation is almost too much for Lara to handle. Once free from her confinement, she struggles with the guilt of not returning to her family and the turmoil she knows she is causing them by not going home. She is also struggling with the breakup she had with her boyfriend the day before she was abducted and the new man she meets while with Jon. She knows that she is sacrificing the chance at love by not revealing her true self.

7.Setting: The story follows Lara on her journey to uncover the truth and the private investigator hired to find her. Each chapter of the story takes place in a different setting. It begins in a small motel room and moves on to Lara’s hometown in coastal Maine. Primarily the main backdrop focuses on present-day California. The story travels from Big Sur to Los Angeles during the peak of the wildfires. Most of the scenes take place in areas of confinement-Lara’s room in Maine, her room at Jon’s house; at one point, she is in a makeshift dungeon. Most of these scenes are about what is discovered in the rooms and the emotional state of Lara. After Jon’s arrest, the backdrop turns into the Monterey County Sherriff’s Department, where he is interrogated. Jon’s trial follows, and the story concludes back in Maine.

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1. Act of Story Statement for The Saint of Byberry:

At the outbreak of World War II, an Army recruit inclined to pacifism struggles to survive his unjust imprisonment in a notorious state mental asylum after refusing to fire his weapon on the boot camp firing range. His mission to rectify injustice and expose hospital atrocities dovetails with a secret plan by Byberry conscientious objector-attendants to do the same. Ed’s quandary sets his devoted young sister Mary on a journey to uncover the circumstances that led to his baffling institutionalization and downfall, and restore his honor.

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2. Conflict/antagonist: institutional malfeasance and corruption in the form of platoon sergeant, Sgt. Stanley Kaczynski, and Byberry attendant, Buster Keating. In some ways, Ed’s resolute attachment to principle also unwittingly contributes to his downfall, as does the family penchant for secrecy and shame.

With the war looming, Camp Crofton drill sergeant Stanley Kaczynski is determined to get his men battle ready in record time. After learning of Ed Hohlfeld’s pacifist leanings and half-German descent, he questions Ed’s loyalty. He rides and goads Ed, testing his ‘manhood’. Ed withstands the harassment and performs his duties well, but he struggles to reconcile his patriotic duty with his pacifist principles. He finally takes a stand on the practice-range, calmly refusing to fire his weapon when ordered to do so. An infuriated Kaczynski beats Ed over the head with his rifle, and Ed lands in a state mental asylum as a prisoner of war, though he is diagnosed as schizophrenic. 

Byberry is a land of horrors—managed by corrupt and/or incompetent administrators. Except for the conscientious objector-attendants, most Byberry attendants, including ex-con Buster Keating, are untrained and abusive. The hospital is overrun with neglected patients, some of whom are misplaced or social misfits, while others are seriously mentally ill, and in some cases violent. Ed tries to survive in this strange  world, and hold on to his sanity. He plots an escape with his young friend Joseph, a throwaway gay kid hospitalized because of a suicide attempt. Buster targets Ed and his friend Joseph, corralling them in the toilet room. He beats and manacles Ed, and sexually assaults Joseph in front of him. Buster’s act intensifies Ed’s desire to escape, both to save himself and Joseph, and to bring Byberry atrocities to the attention of Father McFadden, the parish priest. 

Ed’s best friend Chappy thinks Ed is too stubborn for his own good. Even though Ed has complied with the draft, his conscience plagues him, and he finds he cannot go through with it. His commitment to his anti-violence principles, against Chappy's advice, set him on a collision course with the sergeant and the military establishment.

Once incarcerated, Ed has no one to turn to. After he is committed to an insane asylum, he is abandoned by all but his mother and young sister Mary, who are ignorant and powerless. Family ignorance, shame, and secrecy unwittingly contribute to Ed’s conflict.



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4. Comparables:

Like Matt Bondurant’s The Wettest County in the World generated by his uncle’s experience, The Saint of Byberry stems from a family story. It works from historical facts, and uses fiction to fill in the gaps. The  older brother of my Aunt Mary (by marriage), Edward F. Hohlfeld is the protagonist. The character of Mary Joyce who visits Ed in the mental hospital, and secrets out Ed’s sketches of Byberry atrocities, is based on my aunt, and this novel began with her recollections and artifacts. Like Bondurant’s story that features a magazine article by Sherwood Anderson about the event, this story intersects with a published report in Life magazine, based on a secret plan orchestrated by conscientious objectors working at Byberry.

The Saint of Byberry also explores an obscure corner of World War II history, similar to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, and historical events are told through the lens of a family story.

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5. Hook Line (log line):

Torn between duty to country and obligation to his pacifist conscience, a World War II Army recruit struggles to survive his unjust imprisonment in an insane asylum and expose institutional corruption, setting his younger sister on a decades-long journey to exonerate him. 


Caught between the need to prove his patriotism and a desire to live up to his pacifist ideals at the outbreak of World War II, a young man makes a fatal choice on the boot camp firing range which pits him against military authority and lands him in an insane asylum, setting his younger sister in a decades-long journey to seek justice and restore his honor.


While a just war rages abroad, another one simmers on the homefront, and one man of conscience makes a fatal choice and pays the ultimate price, leaving a complicated legacy for his sister to unravel.

6. Inner conflict and turmoil with specific example:

 With war on the horizon, the call for patriots is a strong one. Ed, who did a stint as sergeant in the Civilian Conservation Corp, wants to serve his country. He also wants to prove himself to his pro-war friends and family, especially his exacting father who thinks Ed is too soft. Ed’s conscience pulls him in a different direction. An avid proponent of Dorothy Day’s The Catholic Worker, he abhors violence and does not think himself capable of killing, however just the war.  An internal debate ensues, but after being drafted Ed reluctantly reports to boot camp where his conscience continues to gnaw at him. Did he make the right choice? What other choice did he have after being turned down for CO status? His friend Chappy advises him to suck it up and stop being so stubborn with respect to his principles. Ed demurs, but when ordered to shoot his weapon on the firing range, he takes a stand. He refuses to fire his weapon when ordered to do so. This choice pits him against the military that brands him a prisoner of war, and lands him in a horrifying and dangerous state mental asylum. 

Secondary Conflict: 

 At home, secrecy and shame shroud Ed’s predicament. Once the pride of the family, Ed is no longer discussed except in whispers between adults. His perplexed younger sister Mary is left trying to figure out how her once healthy, happy brother ended up in a strange hospital, and longs to help him. She visits him at the hospital with her mother, but Ed is tight-lipped. Ed needs to talk to his father—to explain what happened, and to get his help to rectify the terrible injustice he has suffered at the hands of the military and the hospital. Out of ignorance or stubbornness, his father refuses to visit or hear him out. By the time Ed escapes months later and makes it home, having been traumatized by an attendant’s brutal assault, his mental and physical health have declined. When the MPs arrive to cart him back, the neighborhood cop, Tim McGee, offers to send them packing, believing they lacked the authority to take the man from his home. Tragically sealing Ed’s fate, Ed’s father—stunned by his son’s deplorable condition, tells them: “You broke him. Now you take him back until you fix him.”

Final Assignment--Setting:

 1. Port Richmond/Kensington, a friendly, working-class Philadelphia neighborhood, the two towns separated by a train trestle. Ed, unmarried, lives in a crammed three-story brick row-home, comprised of parents, older brother, four younger sisters and two cousins (taken in by the family) that he helps to support with his job at the nearby American Can Factory. The neighborhood tavern is a couple of blocks from Ed’s house. Mary, along with her younger sister and friend, collect coal along the railroad tracks to bring home. They also walk to the pretzel factory in center city at the behest of Mary’s mother to purchase, and then sell, pretzels to make money.The kids play stick-ball in the street, and everybody knows Tim McGee, the beat-cop. St. Anne’s, the parish church and the rectory where Ed meets with his friend and advisor, is a few blocks away. Ed takes the #52 trolley to and from work, and his little sister Mary greets him at the trolley stop at the end of the day, eager for the pennies Ed is sure to give her for candy, along with a playful toss in the air. Ed makes homemade root beer for the family and neighborhood kids in the back yard, and volunteers at the church carnival. 

2. The train to boot camp, boot camp, the camp hospital, and the car on Ed’s ride back, with MPs, to the Philadelphia federal courthouse. The train, from Philadelphia to Camp Crofton, SC, is jam-packed with high-spirited but nervous GI-recruits. Boot camp consists of the clean and orderly but rustic bunkhouse where Ed and his best friend Chappy are assigned, and the firing range where Ed has his showdown with the sergeant. Just miles from Ed’s home and the promise of safety, are the hallowed halls and pristine rooms of the courthouse in the Philadelphia courthouse, where Ed is adjudicated as a prisoner of war. 

 3. Byberry is a fleet of brick buildings on the northeastern edge of the city. Impressive from a distance, inside is a different matter. The men’s wards are overrun with naked or ill-clothed patients who are corralled like animals, and treated like prisoners in a concentration camp. Except for the admission area and administrators’ offices, which are clean and well-kept for the public, the walls of the dayroom are covered in feces and urine and the flooring is deteriorating. The building is ill-heated in winter and suffocating in summer. One toilet room serves 400 men. The sleeping area is packed with filthy cots, and vermin have free reign throughout the building, especially in the cafeteria. The bunking quarters where the Quaker and Mennonite conscientious objectors serve as attendants is spartan but clean. Separated from the main building, it gives the men the privacy they need to hatch their plot to blow the lid off of Byberry, as does the nearby tavern-restaurant where they recreate and blow off steam from their high-stress job at their abhorrent workplace. The hospital grounds are dotted with picnic tables, and this is where family members like Mary and her mother, visit Edward—never seeing the inside of the repulsive hospital.

4. The bedroom in married-Mary’s suburban Fairless Hills home where she re-discovers and finally opens her deceased mother’s metal box that contains clues to the riddle of her brother’s Edward’s tragic fate.


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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.


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.


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


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 Indonesia 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.


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.


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.


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 seal 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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JUDITHPawn of Kings

1.    Story Statement – Defy the powers that seek to control you and find the strength within yourself to forge your own path.

2.    Antagonistic Force –  Three kings view Judith, the protagonist, as a valuable pawn in their political games to attain or retain power.  Each king exercises his will upon Judith – some more benignly than others.  All significant choices as to what she will do, where she will live, whom she will marry or even whether or not she will bear children are taken from her.  Each of the three kings is blind to, or in absolute opposition to, Judith’s need to make her own choices in life.  As kings, they are accustomed to being obeyed without question.  They view their world as a dangerous place where one must constantly defend one’s holdings, using any tool at hand – no matter what the cost.

3.    Book Title
A.    JudithPawn of Kings (title taken from the scene in which Judith suffers her core wound)
B.    Judith of Francia, Baldwin of Flanders
C.    Princess, Queen and Countess

4.   Genre/ Comparable work 

Genre: An upmarket biographical novel with international appeal. (If a biography and a historical novel had a baby, that would be the genre.)

Comparable: Similar to Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series, Judith-Pawn of Kings is set in the ninth century. Written with an emphasis on the political intrigue rampant throughout the Holy Roman Empire in both England and on the continent, the book distinguishes itself from Cornwell’s series by having a female historical character as the protagonist.  Told mainly from Judith of Francia's perspective, the book brings to life the previously untold story of a ninth-century heroine who participated in the founding of three countries: France, England and Belgium.

5.    Hook line – A young princess, forced into marriage by her politically-motivated father and widowed twice by age 15, and a brave knight - determined to serve his king and country – find true love in defiance of king, church and political pressure.

6.    Primary Conflict – Eleven-year-old Princess Judith is raised in a secure and wealthy environment tightly controlled by her father, King Charles II of Francia.  Shortly after her twelfth birthday, her father arranges her marriage to the fifty-year-old widower, Aethelwulf, King of Wessex.  We see Judith’s reluctance, but she obediently moves to Wessex with her aging husband.  King Aethelwulf, who married Judith for political advantage, dies after little more than one year of marriage.  

Widowed at age thirteen, Judith enjoys for the first time a short-lived taste of independence.  However, instead of allowing her to return to Francia, her father insists that she remain in Wessex and marry the twenty-four-year-old son of Aethelwulf, - King Aethelbald.

Judith despises Aethelbald, finding him to be proud and selfish.  She is conflicted between her aversion to the marriage and her duty as her father’s daughter.  Judith attempts to resist the marriage by raising legal objections and using delaying tactics.  Finally, she relents, and the marriage takes place.  

Cruel and emotionally abusive, King Aethelbald seeks to destroy Judith's will and self-esteem during their nearly two years of marriage.  King Aethelbald points out to Judith that she has never been anything but a pawn -used by her father King Charles, her first husband King Aethelbald and now by him.  Any resistance Judith presents King Aethelbald results in swift punishment.  

When King Aethelbald dies unexpectedly, Judith experiences a true sense of freedom.  No longer an innocent child, Judith is determined to reject all efforts to control her future.  Packing away her grandmother's tiaras, she vows never again to be forced to wear a queen's crown. Without seeking permission from her father, she returns to Francia and refuses his demands that she marry again for political purposes.

King Charles confines Judith within one of his palaces - seeking her submission.  Does she want freedom from the confines of the palace or the freedom to choose the direction of her life?  Following months of visits from her brother Louis and his companion – a knight named Baldwin Iron Arm - Judith wants both.  Judith and Baldwin fall in love and risk everything in a daring escape from the palace assisted by her brother Louis.

Their flight and King Charles’ pursuit will take them to Flanders, Aachen and finally to Rome where they successfully plead their case before Pope Nicholas I.  King Charles submits to the pope’s decision, but in a final attempt to control his daughter, he sends Baldwin and Judith north to Flanders to guard the frontier borders from the devastating Viking raids. Removed from her father’s influence and married to the man she has chosen, Judith's determination has finally paid off.  At last free from the political pressures of the Frankish court and in control of her own destiny, Judith joins with Baldwin in establishing what will become modern Belgium.

Secondary Conflict #1 – Baldwin Iron Arm’s sworn desire is to serve well his king and protect the king’s family.  He despises treachery and the many people who betray the king.  However, when Baldwin falls in love with the king’s daughter, he becomes conflicted.  Does his pledge to protect the royal family include protecting the king’s daughter from her own father?  Or does adherence to his oath require strict obedience to the king’s wishes?

Secondary Conflict #2 – Since his youth, King Charles has been beset on every side by forces threatening to take his kingdom: his half-brothers; the rebel lords of Aquitaine; and the Vikings.  Experience has taught him to make use of every political tool at hand, including his family.  His goal is to survive from year to year, sometimes from month to month.  He sees Judith as a valuable political tool and views her assertion of independence as a form of treachery and rebellion similar to that of the rebel lords of Aquitaine - who remain a constant thorn in his side.

7.    Setting – The book is divided into three parts: Part I - Judith of Francia, takes place mainly in the kingdom that is modern-day France. Transported by the historical events within the story, the reader experiences a wide range of settings within the ninth-century - including battlefields, churches, roadside inns, Viking strongholds and palaces.  Part II - Judith of Wessex, encompasses Judith's time as Queen of Wessex - now, southern England, where she explores the rich culture and customs of her new kingdom, goes on hunting trips and even attends a council of the Witan at Stonehenge.  Part III - Judith of Flanders, covers Judith's flight to Flanders, Germany and eventually to Rome where she and Count Baldwin plead their cause before pope Nicholas I. 

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Algonkian Writers Conference Assignments


  1. Story statement: Miaoyi Yu demands to live life on her own terms and fights a war to save the soul of China. 

  2. The antagonist, Liu Bang, grows up as best friend to the protagonist’s childhood friend and later husband, Xiang Ji. Both are sons to powerful warlords, Bang from Han and Ji from Chu. But Bang is a cruel misogynist who wants to control everyone and everything. He even asks Yu to be one of his concubines. She turns him down but accepting is her great friend, as well as the most tender and tragic figure in the book, Li Luli. He proceeds to manipulate and terrorize Luli, turning a once loving and kind woman into a broken and obedient slave. He stands for everything Yu fights against. The three friends will end up fighting to win control of China, Yu and Ji against Bang. With the war lost and staring in the face of a China directed by men such as Bang, Yu will make her most difficult choice. And the fate of China, then and now, hangs in the balance.

  3. Breakout Titles: Surrounded By Chu Songs; The Soul of China; Mandate.

  4. Two comparable novels: Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, and The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck.

  5. Hookline: A poor young peasant woman, born into a misogynistic world controlled by the rich and powerful, fights to live life on her own terms and win the war for the soul of China. 

  6. Inner turmoil: Miaoyi Yu is in love with her friend, Xiang Ji. But she also demands to live life on her own terms. He is forced to marry a woman--Xi Shi--who is the daughter of another powerful warlord. So he asks Yu to be his concubine. This puts all of her feelings into conflict. Adding to it all, her parents are poor and dependent on Ji’s dad for support. One day, the person they will count on will be Ji. Still, Yu chooses her own self-worth over her intense love for Ji and all other considerations, not least of all is a life of poverty and loneliness. 

  7. Social Conflict: Yu and Ji do become a couple and take a quasi-honeymoon through the Seven States to see the flora and fauna. Towards the end they stop at a small town controlled by the owner of the only business, a slaughterhouse. The working conditions are sub-human and the workers little more than economic slaves. Yu and Ji decide they must save the town and set off to do so. By the end of their efforts, we get a vision of how China would be run if they were to win the coming war.

  8. Setting: The book is set in the ancient Chinese state of Chu, and the primary location is a secret, idyllic garden behind the warlord’s large home and that of a family of his servants, the Miaoyis. There, Yu and Ji meet for the first time, grow up together, talk about philosophy, practice fighting, and fall in love. Another large portion of the book is set inside the warlord’s home, where Yu is a servant. She meets her great friend, Luli, who goes on to be the most tragic figure in the book. She also meets the Chef, who provides the comedy relief. It is also there that Bang asks Yu to be one of his concubines. But she is also always under the watchful eyes of Madame Furen, Yu’s school teacher, and a mysterious figure whose motivations and loyalties are unclear. The two take a trip through China during which they encounter tigers and dugongs and lie by a lake watching a mother panda feed her cub. During the trip, they visit a canyon that Ji visited as a child. This canyon is where the final scene takes place, deep inside a snowstorm. 

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1. Story Statement- When a Voodoo God of Death abandons the Underworld to entertain himself, death spirits are being killed and humans can’t die.


2. The Antagonist- After Baron Samedi abandons his duties for a life of debauchery in the human world, death spirits are being randomly slaughtered. As a result, humans cannot pass into the afterlife, having been forced into longer excruciating deaths. A young Jamaican high school student, Taroen Stewart, trying to impress a girl by stealing graveyard dirt, encounters a Congolese spirit, who, along with an assortment of other grim reapers, force him to search for Baron Samedi to compel him his return to the Underworld. Taroen is uniquely unqualified for the task, having no experience in the voodoo or the occult. He resents being pressed into service and hostilities dramatically increase when he finds out that he actually the son of Baron Samedi.


3.  Breakout Titles-Death Spirits Rising: The Books of Samedi

      When Death Walks Out

 The Voodoo Prince

4.  Stormfront by Jim Butcher, the Netflix Series Lucifer


5.  Hook line: Dead people bore him, sunrises intrigue him, but when death quits his job, the living will suffer.


6.  Inner Turmoil: Taroen Stewart wants to be a normal teenager, but instead he is forcibly dragged into an world he wasn’t aware even existed. With his life on the line, and forced to deliver a wily, wanton voodoo death god to a cemetery, Taroen is terrified when certain powers arise in him. He later learns that an entity he is the son of Baron Samedi.


7. Social Conflict: Baron Samedi has taken over the body of handsome thirty something lawyer.He spends time enjoying human carnal, culinary and intellectual pleasures. He has no desire to the “go back to dead guy land.”


Other death spirits, an Irish banshee, a French grim reaper, and Charon the Greek Ferryman, cannot fulfill their respective duties, escorting the newly dead to heaven, hell or purgatory. The death spirits are as terrified as Taroen because they are being killed by the necromancer who possessed a knife that kills them. A Catholic priest from Taroen’s school who is familiar with all the parties involved attempts to strike a balance between the spirits, Taroen and Baron Samedi.


8. Setting- Dark Spirits Rising enters world of dark, urban fantasy.


The story occurs in urban cities of Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey. The opening scene occurs in the Underworld as the Baron is digging a grave for a newly executed murderer. After he sends the murderer’s soul to hell, he then sees the open grave as an entrance to the living world. Assuming the body of a young handsome lawyer, he seeks out a voodoo priestess to enjoy expensive booze, sex, fine cuisine, and interacting humans in the city streets. One of the Banshees is murdered on the streets of Chelsea by the same necromancer who is responsible for the killing other death spirits.


The final scene in the book takes place in an old, converted gymnasium in Jersey City where the death spirits led by Samedi fight the necromancer to prevent Taroen’s girlfriend from being a human sacrifice for the necromancer.



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Assignment 1: Story Statement

I must overcome my self-destructive urges in order to free myself from the throes of alcoholism and codependent love.


Assignment 2: Antagonist

Readers of my memoir would perceive Veronica and alcohol as antagonists because of the obvious harm they are inflicting upon me. I am only sixteen years old and madly in love with an abusive older woman, so I am unable to see how much she is hurting me. I am also madly in love with alcohol, and I don’t care what it makes me do because it dulls all the jagged edges of my unrelenting anxiety. Like any addict, my perception is flawed. 

When my mother forces me into treatment against my will, I fight tirelessly against everyone and everything keeping me away from Veronica and alcohol. I perceive recovery as my enemy because it forces me to feel my emotions, which are unbearable at times.

My perception of what is hurting me and what is helping me fluctuates as the story progresses, but the main antagonistic forces in my memoir are ultimately my own trauma, addiction, and mental illness.


Assignment 3: Breakout Title

The title of my memoir is Take Her Down.

I have not decided on a subtitle yet. A couple of my subtitle ideas are:

-Take Her Down: A Memoir 

(Short and has a nice ring to it, but may not be descriptive enough)

-Take Her Down: A Memoir of Trauma, Underage Drinking, and My Battle Against Recovery

(More descriptive, but might too long)

I am also considering not having a subtitle.


Assignment 4: Comparative Titles

It was challenging for me to come up with comparative titles because Take Her Down has so many unique elements I had trouble finding in other published books. Involuntary youth treatment is fundamentally different than inpatient treatment geared toward willing and compliant adults or older teenagers. Take Her Down is also unique in that it features a queer protagonist. I was unable to find any published memoirs about domestic violence in a same-sex relationship, and I couldn’t find any other coming-of-age addiction memoirs by queer authors. 

Bad Girl: Confessions of a Teenage Delinquent by Abigail Vona (Rugged Land, 2004) is the most similar memoir I could find in terms of subject matter, but it is now quite dated. Like Take Her Down, Bad Girl is a coming-of-age memoir about involuntary youth treatment. Bad Girl tells a similar story to the one told in Take Her Down, but with a different tone and writing style. Bad Girl is written in the voice of an angry teenager, whereas my memoir concentrates on looking back from a more mature and wise perspective. Take Her Down offers an in-depth look at my inner world and the core issues behind my behaviors, while the narrative in Bad Girl is primarily focused on external events. 

One Hit Away: A Memoir of Recovery by Jordan P. Barnes (Island Time Press, 2020) is a more current comparative title. Like Take Her Down, One Hit Away takes the reader on a tumultuous journey from seemingly hopeless addiction to the freedom of recovery. Both memoirs are written in a mature voice and include insight into the author’s mindset, as well as wisdom about the cycle of addiction. I wouldn’t have entered treatment without my mother, and Barnes’ parents also played a significant role in him getting clean. Barnes, however, entered treatment willingly as a young adult, rather than being forced into rehabilitation as a rebellious teenager. Another key difference between our stories is that One Hit Away is about heroin addiction, whereas Take Her Down is about alcoholism, self-harm, trauma, and mental illness.Nonetheless, because of their shared themes and similar styles of writing, readers of One Hit Away would likely enjoy Take Her Down.

A couple people in the publishing industry have also compared my subject matter and writing style to Running with Scissors and Dry by Augusten Burroughs, which I took as very generous compliments. I’m hesitant to list these books as comparable titles because Augusten Burroughs is such a successful author.


Assignment 5: Hook Line

An anxiety-ridden sixteen-year-old girl struggles to find the motivation and inner strength to escape the binds of alcoholism and an abusive lesbian relationship. 


Assignment 6 (Part 1): Primary Conflict

At sixteen years old, I have already lived through the tragic death of my father and the trauma of my mother’s addiction. I have been plagued by severe anxiety and panic attacks since early childhood, and I am desperate for a way out. When I fall in love with Veronica and she introduces me to the miraculously numbing effects of alcohol, I am hooked. Veronica becomes abusive and my drinking spirals out of control, but all I want is more. Although I experience some inner conflict as my alcoholism and Veronica’s abuse both worsen dramatically, I don’t believe I can live without them.

I get arrested, and my mother offers me an ultimatum: a ten-day psychiatric evaluation at a treatment center in Minnesota, or I’m on my own without any financial or legal support. Seeing no other option, I agree. I fully intend to fake my way through it and return home to Veronica and the sweet relief of alcohol. My inner conflict grows when I enter treatment and meet other addicts who seem to truly understand me. I am torn between the pull of booze and codependent love, and the possibility of moving into the unknown realm of recovery. 

Unable and unwilling to comply with the treatment program in Minnesota, I am kicked out and sent against my will to a psychiatric hospital in rural Wisconsin. I find out my mother has the power to keep me in treatment until I turn eighteen. I run away repeatedly, until I end up in a wilderness program in the Utah mountains. 

Part of me wants to recover, but a bigger part of me resents all the people and institutions trying to keep me safe and sober. The following is an excerpt illustrating this inner conflict:

I felt conflicted between the anesthetizing effects of alcohol and the real relationships I might be able to build if I awoke from the haze I’d been blindly running through. As much as I longed to be warm like Kerry, and open like Lily, I knew that required being authentic with myself. I didn’t know what would happen if I widened my eyes to truly look at myself, and I couldn’t imagine liking what I saw. The thing with alcohol was that it worked—it made everything else go away—and how could I let go of that to grasp onto a rope that might tear as I flew mid-air over a bottomless abyss? How could I make that gamble with no guarantee I’d ever reach the unimaginable beauty on the other side? 

But really, when I thought about it, what did I have to lose? I was already falling.


Assignment 6 (Part 2): Secondary Conflict

My level of insight grows throughout my memoir, and many conflicts arise within and around me as my perspective shifts. A secondary conflict involving my social environment arises when I meet Isabel, the first person I feel attracted to since being forced to leave Veronica. I am conflicted because we are in a wilderness program together, where romantic relationships are strictly forbidden because we’re supposed to stay focused on our treatment. I’m also still in love with Veronica. 

I don’t act on my attraction to Isabel while we’re together in the wilderness, but a similar conflict arises at my next treatment center. Here is an excerpt illustrating this conflict:

Once safely in a bathroom stall, the only place around there with some degree of privacy, I carefully unfolded the piece of paper. I began to read Janie’s neat blue printing, and my brow furrowed in surprised confusion as I realized she had written me a love poem. 

I walked out of the bathroom feeling more excited and happier than I had since leaving the wilderness. Nothing else seemed to matter. It was a welcome distraction and my view of Janie immediately shifted. Suddenly, I was attracted to her and wanted to be around her all the time. 

In wilderness, I had developed genuine feelings for Isabel, but I was able to accept that it was the wrong time to act on those feelings. This situation with Janie was entirely different. I didn’t feel like I’d been doing any work on myself, and I was lonely and in desperate need of some sort of escape. I wasn’t strong or self-aware enough to realize I was returning to my old pattern of glomming onto whoever showed interest in me merely because it felt better than being alone. 


Assignment 7: Setting

Take Her Down is divided into four parts, and the setting varies throughout.

Part I: Veronica

Part I takes place in British Columbia, Canada. I live in West Vancouver with my mother, my stepfather, and my older sister. I am in Grade Eleven at a fancy private school, also located in West Vancouver. After I meet Veronica in downtown Vancouver on an unusually warm February evening, I start spending less time at home and at school. I am usually with Veronica, riding around in her grey Honda Civic, sleeping together in cheap motels, or warming ourselves with alcohol and bonfires on the beach. Veronica and I end up moving into a small one-bedroom apartment together, also in West Vancouver, but very different from my large family home. Our apartment is on the seventeenth floor of an old high-rise overlooking a shopping mall, about a fifteen-minute drive from the highly sought-after neighborhood I grew up in. 

Part II: Rehab

Part II takes place in two different locations: a rehabilitation center in the suburbs of Minneapolis, and a psychiatric hospital in rural Wisconsin. 

The accommodations in rehab consist of small rooms, each containing three or four identical beds, dressers, and desks. I spend a lot of time sitting outside at a picnic table in the designated smoking area or lounging on one of the worn leather couches in the common room.

The psychiatric hospital in Wisconsin is a multi-story brick building, each floor of which is a different ward. I start out in a mostly empty ward, where I have my own fluorescently lit room. I take my meals in a dining hall resembling a small school cafeteria. I end up being sent to the first floor—lockdown—which reminds me of the psych wards portrayed in old, disturbing films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 

Part III: Wilderness

Part III takes place in the Utah wilderness. There are no buildings in sight, only rolling hills carpeted in sage bushes and red dirt. I am stuck out there, miles away from civilization, with a group of other girls and a few staff members. We hike through the mountains during the day, setting up a new campsite the same way every night. Dinner is eaten around a large fire, our large backpacks resting in a neat row nearby. We each sleep in our own individual shelters, constructed of bright blue tarps and colorful cordage. Part III opens in September, when the weather is mild and unthreatening. By December, the ground is blanketed in snow, and the temperature at night drops well below zero.

Part IV: The Ranch

The first two chapters of Part IV take place in a residential treatment center in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. It is an institutional setting resembling a large boarding school, the main difference being the fist-sized red lights above all the exterior doors, signifying that I am locked inside.

The rest of Part IV takes place at a ranch that doubles as a residential treatment center for youth aged thirteen to eighteen. The ranch is located in a small town about an hour south of Salt Lake City. I live in a cozy stone house with several other girls, and there is another similar house nearby for the male residents. There are various other buildings and structures scattered around the large campus, including: a long, low barn containing horse stalls and an indoor riding corral; the girls’ schoolhouse, attached to the front of the barn; a ropes course centered around a self-supported wooden climbing wall; a two-story building containing a cafeteria and gym on the first floor and the boys’ schoolhouse on the second floor; an outdoor riding corral; several outdoor horse stalls; and a large field with two rows of small beige hutches, each housing a young, knobby-kneed calf. 

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