Sunday, February 3, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Kunrath

Name: Jenn Kunrath
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Covert Cinderella

Chapter One - Abort

So how did I get here? I would like to credit my training and excellent conversational skills. Fairy Godmother, though, would just laugh and tell you it was dumb luck. He did at least call it a fortunate twist of events. The mission was supposed to be just for the evening of the ball, no one ever thought I would get myself engaged to the prince. Still only a student at the Grimmald Academy of Espionage, I was not prepared for intense undercover work. My orders had been to get the information, then get out. But the prince threw me off script. I was so flustered, the only option I could think of was to excuse myself and run out of the ballroom. Not my best moment, I know.

I thought he realized I was a spy. The feeling that I had blown my cover was so consuming, I did not notice when one of my shoes slipped from my feet. The only thing I wanted to do was get back to base. Fairy Godmother thought I had blown the op as well. “Rookie mistake!” he shouted. I was sloppy. I had left something in the field. Good agents leave without a trace. I listened numbly as he yelled at me, told me I was a disappointment, that I had thrown away an opportunity we would never get again. It felt like my fear that I would fail had come true.

The trumpets woke us the next morning. Fairy Godmother cursed when he heard them. We waited with bated breath as heralds poured into the streets. What they were going to announce, we did not know. No one expected it to be good, though. The other agent, Driz, slipped from the pod, an old carriage we had rigged as a base, and went out. She said there was a thick group of people gathered to listen. A lithe thing, with pointy elbows, I could imagine her pushing her way through to the front. At the academy, she had told me once that being ugly was an advantage. It made her less noticeable. Sometimes she could almost make herself seem invisible. I envied such a critical skill in our line of work. When Driz finally returned, she looked confused. The news was surprising.

Apparently, the prince did not think I was a spy. He was smitten!

Though it seldom happened, Fairy Godmother was speechless. His mouth hung open as he listened to Driz recount every word of the announcement. The prince wanted to find the mysterious girl from the ball. I shivered. Mysterious was the most wonderful compliment anyone could give me. If the girl from the ball was willing to come forward and present the shoe that matched the one left on the stairs, he hoped to propose marriage. As Driz recited what had been said, she had this smug look on her face as though she had somehow singlehandedly saved the op. I was about to say something smart about how she was just the messenger and I had been the field agent when Fairy Godmother turned on me.

“Tell me again exactly what happened last night.” His voice shook a bit from the emphasis he put on exactly. No longer folded over with worry, I stood up to give him my report with more detail than I had included the previous evening. After the ball, I had been angry at myself and kept my notes short on purpose. No longer afraid I was in trouble, I indulged in the details and found myself getting lost in the story.

I had left late in the afternoon, the air was warm and there was still light along the edges of the horizon as I stepped from our pod. Painted orange, it blended with the fall leaves of the forest around it. I always thought it looked kind of like a giant pumpkin. After several intense days of reviewing the mission, I was happy for the fresh air and the quiet of the forest around me. Inside, the pod was generously described as cramped and uncomfortable. It made Fairy Godmother’s voice seem even louder when he yelled. The sound bounced from wall to wall in a way that filled the space. Still, it was odd to be out on my own. Until that point, I had been kept in close quarters with my team. Together, we plotted, planned, and strategized. Before that, I had been at the academy with a whole assembly of instructors and fellow students around me. Though excited to be going out into the field, I couldn’t help but be nervous that I was on a solo assignment.

This was due to the limitations of our mission budget. Sprice had only commissioned one formal ballgown for what was considered an investigative operation. It was the nicest dress I had ever worn. They had not spared any expense in that. When Fairy Godmother gave me the package in which it was wrapped, I had nearly dropped it my hands were shaking so badly. It was worth more than all my years of tuition at the academy. If I did well on this mission, I wondered if they would let me keep the dress as a “thank you.” I could sell it and send the money back to my mother who had worked hard to keep me in school. 

The Grimmald Academy of Espionage had been founded because as the smallest of the kingdoms, Sprice knew its best defense was to be paranoid. From that, a strong initiative in espionage was spurred. Those parents who wanted to give their children an opportunity to work for the royal military, sent them to the academy for training. You had to be good. The royal military was the best but most selective employer in Sprice. They only kept a few highly skilled operatives and open positions were rare. Those who did not quite make the cut, could hope to teach at the academy but those spaces were limited as well. If I did well on this mission, it would give me an advantage no other student could hope for. I would be guaranteed employment once I graduated. The stakes were high though. If I failed, all my years of training would be for nothing.

As I walked, I reviewed the mission in my mind. According to our intel, Arydia, a kingdom with which we shared our southern border, had been spending exorbitant amounts of money during recent months. Reports suggested that a new wing had been added to the castle. The archway to the city had been remodeled with marble. And the royal family decided to host a lavish ball for all the kingdom’s citizens to attend. There was talk of possible black market involvement and concern that funds were also being funneled into military forces for a possible land grab.

Determined to find out what was going on, the Kingdom of Sprice’s special forces recruited me from the Grimmald Academy of Espionage to serve as a plant at the event. They needed someone young and pretty enough to catch the prince’s eye. At the academy, I was one of only a few girls and the rest were a bit rough to look at. I was so excited to have been selected but also very scared because I wasn’t sure I was ready.


  1. Hi Jenn, can't wait to work with you on this!

    There's a lot to like, starting with the concept. I love this take on the classic cinderella re-telling with her as a covert agent. Its original, and you do a fantastic job weaving in details from the original story in a fresh and often humorous way. Your worldbuilding is also great. I like that there are kingdom dynamics, and expanding on issues that weren't present in the original story.

    Of course, there are also things that can be improved upon:

    1) Pacing: The opening feels rushed. We are hit with a lot of details and information from the start, and we are not given much time to process and dwell on that information. Two ways to alleviate this include first, consider removing the monologue where you break the fourth wall and instead, start with a scene. Have us see the protagonist acting rather than being told what is happening. Second, vary the paragraph structure, breaking it up for flow. For example, the word "still" in the first paragraph can be the start of an entirely new one.

    2) Show Don't Tell: building off of the last suggestion, you do a lot of telling in this excerpt, where you could be showing it to us, which is almost always going to better immerse us in your world. For example, you write "Fairy godmother cursed when she heard them" but we don't feel their rage, instead have that written into a scene where we see them being angry and cursing. There are a lot of info dumps that this could help make more palatable and interesting.

    3) Character: We don't get a sense for who your protagonist is. Those not familiar with Cinderella will be completely lost in this excerpt due to us not getting her name, age, and how she (or any of the other characters) look like. Building off of the Show Don't Tell point, you tell us that she is one of the few pretty agents, but we need to be shown this through a description of her looks.

    4) Points of clarification: There are a few details that throw me off as a reader. One such point is the Fairy Godmother, who you use a male pronoun for. If Fairy Godmother is a codename, then clarify this right at the jump or it will definitely throw the reader off. You establish that she has an actual mother working hard for her to be an agent, which is a departure from the original tale's antagonist. This, then, means you must construct a new narrative around that, which we'll need. Last, clarify that the prince does not hail from her kingdom, as it wouldnt make sense that he nobody recognizes her from a wing of their own military, right?

    I really look forward to working with this and seeing your revisions. Best of luck!

  2. Hi Jenn,
    This was fun to read. Carmen San Diego MEETS Cinderella. Fresh concept and I love her inner thoughts. This Cinderella story is unique in that it has a male Fairy Godmother. The one thing that I missed was the main character's goal. Is it to be a great spy? Or snag a prince? I see that Mom wants her daughter to attend the academy, but what's in it for the good looking daughter? I'd like to see how beautiful she is in comparison to the "rough" ones to look at. Since this is a fantasy, showing the pretties and uglies may be different than what we perceive now. I look forward to reading your revisions. Such fun.

  3. Hi Jenn! I'm Kim. It’s a privilege to review your work!

    I’m intrigued by the concept. Cinderella as a secret agent? That’s awesome! This premise could work in sequel books, should you decide to write them (Sleeping Beauty agent, Belle agent, etc).

    I also liked that you made the Fairy Godmother a man. It’s funny and a great twist! And I like the name of the agency: “Grimmald Academy of Espionage.” You get its purpose right away.

    I did notice a couple things I think might help strengthen this story.

    1) Information Heavy: So, this might be just me, but at initial glance, your first couple pages seem really paragraph heavy. A lot of information pushed onto the reader right away, bogging them down with knowledge they might have to hold onto for the rest of the novel. I worry that such knowledge comes at the expense of simply telling the story. A reader might get overwhelmed and stop reading. I’d suggest either cutting or repositioning certain details you have (Ex: the third to last paragraph about the founding of Grimmald) somewhere else in the novel. I feel if you do this, the opening chapter will open up, allowing us a better sense of who Cinderella is as a person. I’ve heard it said that the first chapter is where you learn to love the character. The other chapters are for the story. For now, make Cinderella the star.

    2) Show & Tell: We get a lot of cold telling, not so much showing. Ex: The only show we see in the paragraph with the Fairy Godmother is him demanding Cinderella to tell him what happened. Everything else is told with a somewhat stoic, semi-distant analysis, which feels strange coming from a MC, since she’s the one this happened to. You could include what Cinderella says back to him, perhaps even include F.G’s reactions as she explains why the mission went awry. This would give us so much more depth into Cinderella.

    Also, the scene where Cinderella describes her plotting with her team (paragraph six). This would be a GREAT thing to write out. I would LOVE to see how secret agents in a fairy tale setting strategize and come back from a botched mission. We’d get to see what being a covert Cinderella is all about.

    3) The “Who Dat” Principle: We’re introduced to the Fairy Godmother, but due to a lack of dialogue or description, we don’t know much about him. He’s been an integral part thus far, so I personally would love to learn more.

    4) Story positioning: I’m not sure the novel beings in the right place. As a reader, I think I’d like this more if you started the story at “I had left in the late afternoon.” Because you put the important twist in the beginning, (I was supposed to spy on the prince but he ended up falling in love with me and now my cover’s blown!), if and when that does happen in the story, the impact of such a revelation will lose its effect. It’s always best to start with some action. Write out the scene where she goes to the ball, meets the prince, etc. Take us on the journey with you instead of her simply telling us what happened.

    5) Character Vs. Author knowledge: I’m a D&D player, and we have this thing called Character Vs. Player knowledge, which basically asks the question, “What does your character know, and what does the player know the character doesn’t know?” Cinderella is an agent, and from my understanding (I apologize if I’m wrong on this), agents are only given a certain amount of information prudent to their mission. You know, just in case they’re captured and interrogated.

    “The archway to the city had been remodeled with marble. And the royal family decided to host a lavish ball for all the kingdom’s citizens to attend. There was talk of possible black market involvement…” I feel this is all she would know in the beginning of the story. Everything else—the money being funneled into military forces for a possible land grab—this should be what we as a reader see unfold. Cinderella’s mission to find out if this is true.

    Overall, I love this premise. I’m looking forward to seeing how this shapes up!

    1. I actually have another book I wrote, a twisted version of Rumpelstiltskin and my current project is inspired by Sleeping beauty :)

  4. I am a sucker for a Cinderella retelling and I LOVE your voice here, but I have a big but: this is all backstory. If your story "starts" the day after the ball, you can't spend the entire first chapter on things that happen before that. You have to either weave this in (slowly) or you have to start your story further back (like on the night of the ball). I think if you do that, you will find that you are narrating/telling less and giving us more action in the now.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi!
    First of all, I commend you for making such a fun mashup of a cinderella story and a spy thriller. There's some great voice here, too, which is awesome.
    Here are some things to think about.
    1. Why is all that great story with the Fairy Godmother, the dance, etc, summarized, instead of shown? It could make a great story on its own.
    2.Personality. I'm not sure we get a good feel of what the main character is like, what she wants, etc
    3. Be careful of the "not like other girls" trope. You can have a brave heroine without her commenting on the apperance of the other girls at the school
    4. When in doubt, go for action. Things like movement and dialogue can really pull a reader into the story
    All in all, this is a great start and a fantastic premise

  6. Hello Jenn,

    This is a great premise. I love your voice and that the fairy godmother is a him! There's so many fun things happening in this story. However, I don't feel pulled into the story. As others have said there's a lot of backstory and telling instead of showing. I'd love to see the events of the ball unfold and experience her there, the mission boggled, and her running. The way it's told I can't get her emotions. If you put this opening in action, you could delve deeper into the point of view. And even deeper into this amazing voice you have. I hope this helps. I can't wait to read your revisions!

  7. Thank you all so much for the helpful feedback! It has given me a lot to think about as I revise. Quick question to the group per something that has prompted conflicting opinions in those I have shared this idea with: does it seem more MG or YA? I've gotten feedback both directions and can't quite put my finger on what fits best. Would love your thoughts!