Red Pencil Thursday Faerie Tale!
Welcome to another online critique group. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, pull up a chair around my cyber-kitchen table and help me dissect the first 500 words of our volunteer’s WIP. We’re working on a faerie tale today, but good writing principles apply to any genre. I hope, in addition to helping our volunteer with her story, you’ll find some take-away’s for your own work.
And now on to Mary Anne Lander’s…
Mia: The title telegraphs that this is a fairy tale. That’s good. You’ve begun as you mean to continue. However, if my mom were reading, she’d stop right now because she wouldn’t be sure how to pronounce “Angharad.” I understand the desire to use names that give a unique flavor, but be careful you don’t choose something too inaccessible. Is there another Welsh name you could use that wouldn’t be as much of a challenge?
Mary Anne: Yes, I could. Maybe I will. But right now allow me to note that nowadays unusual names don’t bother me—and, I’d wager, a lot of readers, excluding your mom—for two reasons.
First, if I want to find out how to pronounce a name (or any word), I can do so quickly and easily by googling it.
Second, much of today’s fiction, including some very popular works and the film/TV adaptations thereof, is loaded with unusual if not weird names. Just my opinion, but “Angharad” doesn’t see so strange compared with “Katniss”,”Voldemort”, or “Khal Drogo”.
The worst day in the lives of Stephen Meredith and Angharad Morgan began as their best.
Mia: This opener is strong because it offers a twist and raises questions that keep the reader moving forward. Good job.
Just as the sun cleared the hills surrounding Cwm Rhondda, Stephen took leave of his master and fellow apprentices. He hurried from the carpenter’s shop to the grandest house in town. No sooner had he closed the yard gate behind him than he beheld Angharad, weeding the herb garden.
Such a sight she was, the fairest woman in Pontardawe. In all of Wales, in Stephen’s eyes. A beauty the plain and much-mended gown of a housemaid could not disguise.
Mia: Your word choices and sentence structure all still fit the fairy tale mode. Is this going to be a short story? I think it would be hard to maintain this voice for a full length novel. Again, bear in mind that some readers will be put off by the unusual spellings of the place names. Are there Anglicized versions you could use?
Mary Anne: Well, maybe I should replace “Cwm Rhondda” with “the Rhondda Valley”. But I don’t think there’s another name or spelling for “Pontardawe”.
And yes, I plan on making this a short story. Maybe 7,000 to 8,000 words. I know the fiction market is geared toward novels, not shorter forms. That’s why I’m thinking about gathering several short fantasy romances into a collection and self-publishing it. After it’s been thoroughly edited, of course. There’s already enough indie stuff that obviously hasn’t been.
Angharad beamed once she sighted him. When she smiled, no matter what else was happening to him, Stephen felt all was right with the world. And this morning, all was right anyhow.
Mia: Let’s tighten this a bit. How about…
When she smiled, no matter what else was happening, all was right with Stephen’s world.
And I don’t think you even need the last sentence in that paragraph.
Mary Anne: Okay.
They embraced and kissed. He said, “Darling, I have the best news. My master has finally consented. He said that with my apprenticeship nearly over, there’s no longer any reason for us to put off our wedding.”
Mia: I’d move the He said tag to after “best news” in order to break up his dialogue. That way, readers sort of skip over it. Putting it up front seems overly stiff and intrusive.
Mary Anne: Okay.
He could scarcely breathe, let alone speak. His beloved was a veritable Amazon in might.
Mia: This was a surprise. If she’s a brawny gal, we need to know at first sight. I had her pictured as the typical fairy tale heroine—dainty and frail. Since this is not the case, the reader needs this info up front.
Mary Anne: Will do.
Once he caught his breath, he added, “We can have the first banns cried next Sunday. Unless that’s too soon for you.”
“This very moment wouldn’t be too soon! And my master and mistress will be so happy for me. They’ll give us all the help we need.”
Mia: Do we need to know her master and mistress will be happy? The first 500 words is pretty valuable real estate. Only put the most essential things there, things the reader must know in order to move forward.
Mary Anne: I guess it can wait. But since all this is happening in a specific social context, and her employers play a role in the plot, it can’t wait too long.
She laid her head on his chest. Stephen played with the auburn curls her mobcap could not contain.
Then Angharad said, “Darling, I don’t want to spoil this moment. But we must be practical. What will we do about the one matter that might pose a problem?”
“Nothing will. I swear by all that’s holy.”
She sighed. “Dearest, you know what I mean.”
He kissed her snow-white forehead. “You worry too much.”
Mia: Snow-white is pretty trite. I know you come up with something fresher.
Mary Anne: I thought of ivory, but for someone like Stephen that might be a little highfalutin’.
Maybe I should just avoid an adjective.
Mia: You can’t go wrong by leaving out adjectives. Descriptive verbs and specific nouns make for much stronger prose. Mark Twain said “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
“I fear you don’t worry enough. When I think of what Mistress Rhys might do to win you back—“
Stephen quieted her with another kiss. “How can she when she never had me?”
“She thinks she did. That talk about how you and her are fated to be together.”
“That’s all it is, talk. If she chooses to believe it, ’tis no concern of mine. Or yours.”
“But if she’s half as powerful a witch as she claims to be—-“
Stephen laughed. “A witch! Surely you don’t believe such drivel. This is the eighteenth century!”
Mia: This seems like a lot of pinging back and forth without advancing the story much. See if you can cut to the chase a little quicker.
Mary Anne: Okay. Maybe “. . . Are fated to be together. And if she’s half as powerful . . . .”
# # #
Eleanor Rhys stared at the scene unfolding in her scrying bowl. So it had finally happened. Stephen and Angharad would be wed. The young man Eleanor had loved beyond reason, for whom she had worked her most powerful magic. For whom she was fated.
“So my dear Stephen. You would spurn the mightiest sorceress in the land for a housemaid. You think you can toss me aside like a piece of rotten timber in your shop? What a fool you are! And a fool needs to be taught a lesson.”
Mia: I’d like a hint of why a powerful sorceress is head over heels for a carpenter’s apprentice. Right now it makes no sense. He’s such a powerless fellow, he can’t even wed without his master’s permission. My preference for alphas is showing, but I’m not alone in liking powerful males. Can you give us a glimpse into why Stephen is such an incredible catch?
Mary Anne: Yes, I can, though I’m tipping my cards a bit. Eleanor is not in love with Stephen despite the fact that he’s poor and powerless. She’s in love with him because he’s poor and powerless.
She’s a total control freak. She wants someone she can boss around. It’s the same thing we see nowadays when someone rich and famous, who could easily find a partner on his/her social level, picks a nobody.
There are plenty of penniless young fellows Eleanor can select from, but Stephen has three other assets, at least in her eyes. He’s handsome, he’s charming, and he’s naive. He can easily be manipulated. Among other things, his conversation with Angharad in the opening scene reveals (I hope) that whereas she has an abundance of good common sense, he doesn’t. He sees only what he wants to see, at least in this situation. She senses trouble coming; he can’t. In short, I’m setting him up for a fall.
Why would Stephen prefer a housemaid to a powerful sorceress? Despite his faults, he can sense something is terribly wrong with Eleanor and the kind of love she offers him. He can’t analyze this intellectually, but he can feel it in his gut.
In terms of worldly rewards, Stephen would be a lot better off with Eleanor. But he doesn’t love her. He loves Angharad. He can tell instinctively that in the ways that really count, she would be just as good for him as Eleanor would be bad for him.
But he’s sure going to pay for his choice!
Mia: And here I was thinking he must be the secret heir to some magic beans or something and that’s why Eleanor wanted him. Just goes to show there are as many ways to write the same story as there are writers.
That’s why we want YOUR opinion! What suggestions/encouragement do you have for Mary Anne?
Bio: Mary Anne Landers loves to read, write, and play with her furry children, aka cats. She lives in a small town in Arkansas. She digs history, science, mythology, and folklore, all of which shape her fiction.