Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Invitation - Tear Up My Opening

Here's the opening to my novella, The Sevenfold Spell. Feel free to read and if you'd like, to critique. If you've read my stuff before, this is more in the style of Forging a Legend than A Spy and a Lady. It's a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, through the eyes of a spinster who had her spinning wheel taken away and burned.

A pair of booted feet stopped before me. I refused to look up. One of them kicked forward, thumping against my thin shins. It smarted, but I knew it could have hurt a lot worse.

"Get up."

"Don't move," Mama said. So I didn't, except to look up at the harried constable. He frowned down at us -- a troubled frown, but not an angry one. He was portly and balding. He didn't look like an evil man, but like a good man who had been sent out to do an evil task.

A task that we resisted as we sat together in the doorway of our shop, defending our livelihood with our bodies.

The constable sighed. "Come now," he said. "I don't like this any more than you do."

"You'll have to move us," Mama said.

The constable looked over his shoulder. The fairy hovered there. She was tiny -- no larger than my hand -- with shimmery pale green leggings and tunic. Her beauty almost held one's gaze prisoner, so that was difficult to look away from her.

"Can you move them?" he asked her.

"I am not here to do your job, Constable," the fairy replied, "only to see that you do it honestly."

The constable's sigh was exasperated now. He gestured to his men. "Move them."

Mother and I were both slight. Moving us took no great effort. Suddenly, as I sprawled in the dirt of the street, our defiant gesture seemed pathetic.

Mother screamed and raised a holy fuss. She went charging back into our shop after the constable's men. I ran in after her. She flailed on their backs as they picked up the spinning wheel and carried it out.

"My daughter," she said at one point, grabbing me. "Look at her. Do you think her face will ever get her a husband? That spinning wheel is her future."

"You will be well-paid," the constable said, "as soon as it's destroyed."

They brought out the spinning wheel and flung it into the back of the wagon. Mama winced as it crashed amid the wreckage of the other spinning wheels. They had no regard for its fragile structure, its delicate beauty. They had no care that our lives depended upon that simple wooden structure.

The fairy darted out of our shop and hovered near us. She aimed her wand at our spinning wheel and a burst of colors flew out. The colors hit the spinning wheel and buzzed around it like angry bees. When the colors dissipated, the spinning wheel collapsed into all its various parts, no longer distinguishable from its neighbors.

My mother raised her arm as if to swat the fairy. I grabbed her arm.

"Remember Widow Harla!" I hissed. Widow Harla had attacked the fairy with her broom, and she had felt the fairy's retaliatory spell. She was still unable to speak.

I felt the tension in Mama's arm relax.

The constable offered my mother a chinking pouch. Mama ignored it as she held herself erect. I could tell she was determined to show no weakness. With a glance at the fairy, he tossed it at our feet. I shifted so I stood on the pouch strings. The guards climbed onto the back of the wagon while the constable and the official got in on either side of the driver, and they rumbled off down the street, the fairy flitting after them.

A few of our neighbors looked at us in pity, but also with a bit of dread. They knew that if we were to fall on hard times, they would be obliged to show us Christian charity.

It all made no sense to me. I knew there was a curse involved, but it seemed pointless to attempt to get around it by banning spinning wheels. Fairies were not so stupid as to make their spells so easily circumvented. Why bring misery to families such as ours by taking away our only means of income?

I bent down and picked up the pouch. "What will we do now?" I asked.

Mama took the pouch and hefted it. "We'll buy a loom. If we cannot spin, we will weave."

That night, the light and smoke from the bonfire of burning spinning wheels blotted out the stars.

Feedback? Comments here are welcome, or privately at tia dot nevitt at gmail dot com.


  1. Fairly decent and enjoyable.

    First thing was that, for me, the end of the opening was more gripping than the beginning. Mostly because I was trying to figure out who and what were in the scene, and right away it was a little difficult to discern exactly what position the narrator was in to both see the boots "before me" and be kicked in the shins by them, so that took a bit of thinking. Perhaps you started the story just a few heartbeats too early?

    The only other thing that jumped out to me was that the narrator had no emotional response when her mother basically said she was homely. In fact, no one had any response to that at all. Seems odd.

    Small qualms, of course, but other than these things the opening was quite sound to me. Well done.

  2. Anytime. I enjoy critiquing stuff, but haven't had as much of a chance lately because I've been dodging my writer's group.

  3. T.D. is right. taht doesn't feel like the right place to start. Either back up enough to see the constables arrive, or start later in the scene. Maybe try it right at the spinning wheel confiscation, since that's so pivitol to the story. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. Oh, it's nothing that dramatic. I was an assistant organizer for awhile and, now that the main organizer is back in town and has taken it back over, I need a break from the group politics. No big deal.

  5. Hi Tia,

    Fun POV for the Sleeping Beauty story! I like beginning with the constable's arrival. Like T.D., I was a bit disconcerted in that first paragraph about who the narrator was. When she's kicked in the shins and then looks up, I couldn't picture her position, which made her feel a bit disembodied.

    Things that drew me in: the mc's observation that the constable isn't an evil man, but a good man sent to do an evil task; the appearance of the fairy, who I first assume is there to help them, so it's a nice twist that she's overseeing the spindle confiscation; the closing image of the bonfire with smoke that blots out the stars.

    I think you could pull in the reader even more, by letting us into the mc's head and heart a bit more. Her emotions are what will really make us connect with her. For ex., How is she feeling when the constable arrives? I'd think this would be a moment of terror, that she'd be shaking, mouth dry, etc. Does she know the constable? Is she heartbroken that he could do this to them, their friends?

    Emotions will come out a bit more if you play out more of the scene, too. This has the potential to be a very intense scene, but you let us off the emotional hook by summarizing much of it. Instead of summary, play out the moment when the soldiers start forward and the mother rushes to stop them, the daughter's fear when she sees her mother's lip bleeding, her hurt when her mother says she's homely.

    Finally, one idea to play with: would this scene be even more intense if the visit from the constable was a surprise? That would let you open with the characters in the "normal world" of their little shop, spinning and doing business, only to have that normal existence shattered when the constable arrives. You might get more shock and drama from a surprise visit than from their small defiance of sitting and waiting.

    ...overall, this is a terrific beginning to what promises to be a really fun story. I love retold fairy tales, and you have a great voice for telling this one. Good luck and keep us posted on it!


  6. OMG that was so incredibly helpful. I opened it as soon as I had a chance (which unfortunately was not immediately) and started working on it. Thanks!

  7. why do you think it is more the style of Forging a Legend. I think it has more of a lighter feel to it.
    Is A Spy and A lady one in the same as Starcaster?

  8. Yes, Starcaster = A Spy and a Lady.

    I think you would have to read more to see the resemblance. It's earthy, like Forging a Legend, with a nonstandard heroine. And if the above excerpt came across as light, then I have some work to do!

  9. WAy to go, you brave, brave girl! I'll see what I can do in a couple minutes with only a few sips of coffee.

    You can leave off 'A pair of...' Most people of two feet so it's assumed. In a tense scene, the less words the more tense it feels.

    Also, you can leave out most of your dialogue tags. As long as the dialogue is within a character's scene, it's assumed he said it.

    "Don't move." Mama squeezed my hand.

    The 'said' reminds me that someone is telling the story, it thwarts me from getting lost.

    Tags like 'replied' do that even more. It's obvious the sentence is a reply by the context.


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