Sunday, February 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Kunrath Rev 1

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

It was my first mission. Still only a student at the Grimmald Academy of Espionage, the opportunity to be pulled for official undercover work was rare and unprecedented. I felt the energy buzz in my fingertips as I slipped on that fated suede shoe. Then, I made an attempt to tuck one of my ornery red curls behind my ear. Of course it didn’t stay there. My mother used to say they were as stubborn as me. I straightened and stood at attention for a final inspection. My team leader, code name Fairy Godmother, took his time examining every detail of my disguise. That evening I was dressed like someone who should be noticed. After so much training on how best to blend in, it felt almost uncomfortable to have orders that required me to stand out.

Fairy Godmother gave me a nod. It was okay for me to go. The air was warm when I stepped outside. Light traced the edges of the horizon as the sun faded behind it. My foot nearly slipped as I moved from the step that attached to 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 could be 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. 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. From what I could gather within the limited conversations I had been able to overhear, 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. There were several other girls in my class that were possible candidates. Though the reason I was selected was not disclosed, I like to think it was a combination of good overall performance in my classes and my excellent conversational skills. Once, I tried carefully to have Fairy Godmother confirm if this was the case. He muttered something about dumb luck, so I did not try to ask again.

I was so excited to have been selected but also very scared because I wasn’t sure I was ready.

The plan was to have me attend a ball the royal family was hosting and maneuver through the room until I was dancing with the prince. Then, the objective was to flirt out the explanation for Arydia’s sudden surge of wealth. We had been taught to interrogate at the academy. Flirting, however, had not been a method included in those lessons, so this part of the mission made me a little nervous.

“Just do whatever it is you girls do.” Fairy Godmother had suggested when I asked him to explain how exactly I should try to flirt. I was too embarrassed to ask for further clarification. Part of being a spy required being able to figure things out. If I was going to impress my team, I would need to prove I could do so.

Once I knew where this new wealth was coming from, I was instructed to determine the extent of Arydia’s resources and whatever further intentions they had in how these would be used. Then, I could leave the ball and return to my team to issue a report. Sprice would use this intel to decide if there was any immediate threat to our kingdom.

The way to the castle was not far. When I got close, I looked for a group of girls I could join so it would not be obvious that I had arrived alone. It did not take long to find one. Everyone was so excited, the air seemed to buzz around me. A flutter of pink, yellow, and lilac drifted across the courtyard. The three girls giggled as they hurried toward the stairs. They seemed suitably distracted, so, I slipped in next to them. The deep-blue ballgown I had been issued shifted behind me. 

At the top of the stairs, everyone was forced into a line.

“What’s taking so long?” I heard someone complain.

“They are announcing each guest,” another voice quipped. 

I gulped. It was a more conspicuous entrance than I had hoped to make. I shuffled along but studied the shadows to see if there was any way I could slip through the door. Determined to find something, I did not notice when it was suddenly my turn. From somewhere behind me, hands shoved me forward. The attendant caught my arm so that I would not trip and tumble into the room, a fact for which I was grateful.


  1. Hi Jenn! Way to make serious improvement, I love seeing the way you implemented many of the suggestions. For example, I totally understand Fairy Godmother is a codename :)

    Without further ado, here are some suggestions for this week:

    1) The paragraph about the Grimmald Academy of espionage can be cut. That information does not need to be presented so early, and it slows down the narrative. Instead, start the next paragraph, "To be an agent for the Grimmald Academy, you had to be good".

    2) The paragraph "determined to find out what was going on" and the next two paragraphs after that should also be cut (sorry for the massive suggested changes, I just think this information slows down the story. Diving right into the action is far more engrossing to the reader, and you need to capture them early on). Also, don't tell us the plan, let the reader learn about it as you go!

    3) Senses: We need to feel what she feels: is the dress constricting, or does it fit just right because Sprice has awesome tailors? We need to smell: are the other attendees wearing too much perfume? Does she reek of sweat due to her nerves?

    4) How does our protagonist look? What is her name and how old is she? These are details you can easily and naturally weave in during these pages. For example, "It was odd to be on my own. In my fifteen years, I'd always had Mother, or my teammates at the Academy by my side." We need to know the character in order to feel for them, and root them on. Also, give her sympathetic features, like that she may help an older man climb up the last few steps so we like her. Right now, we just now that she's a good looking spy and that is not enough!

    I hope these suggestions help you and can't wait for week three!

  2. This is a great improvement, but it's still too much narration and backstory, with almost no action until the end. I almost feel like you need to start your story at "The way to the castle..." and then slowly trickle in the backstory as the action proceeds. There is no magic rule, but in the first five pages, you want maybe one or two paragraphs of backstory (less than 10%). Remove everything we don't need to know now, and focus instead on making us interested in the character and the setting. The rest can come back in later chapters (after we're invested).

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Jenn! This passage has definitely improved from the previous draft. I love that F.G is seen more actively here, and that you’ve written out the Cinderella-waiting-in-line scene. You’ve done a nice job blending her in. Kudos!

    I had a couple comments that might make this shine like Cinderella’s slipper.

    1) There’s still some areas of “telling” that could stand out if you “showed” them. The sentence where Cinderella learns she’s going to be a plant at the ball, (“I was so excited to have been selected but also very scared because I wasn’t sure I was ready.”) this could be an area where you show us her fear/excitement. Maybe she paces around, starts to feel nauseous, but hides it behind a brave face because agents aren’t afraid of anything, etc.

    --I also noticed Cinderella expresses her nervousness, fear, discomfort, etc quite a bit in the passage: “It felt almost uncomfortable to have orders that required me to stand out”, “the pod could be generously described as cramped and uncomfortable”, “Still, it was odd to be out on my own”, “I couldn’t help but be nervous that I was on a solo assignment”, “I was so excited to have been selected but also very scared because I wasn’t sure I was ready.” You don’t have to ram home her nervousness. I think if you show us her nervousness via behavior (see paragraph above), then the rest of this internal dialogue regarding her fears aren’t necessary.

    2) The paragraph that begins: “This was due to the limitations…” I think you could elaborate on the exorbitance of Cinderella’s dress. To me, we’re getting information on how pricey and luxurious the dress is, but it’s almost at a distance. “It was worth more than all my years of tuition at the academy.” Cinderella’s going to be wearing it and it feels like she’s describing it so clinically, matter-of-fact. You could say the dress was the most beautiful thing Cinderella had ever seen, and that it had a softness she had never felt on even the furriest of creatures. Another great opportunity to show Cinderella’s senses beyond sight.

    3) “Those who did not quite make the cut, could hope to teach at the academy, but those spaces were limited as well.” –I’m a little confused. If they didn’t make the cut as operatives, they could teach operatives to how to operate? Would Grimmald even want that? I have to imagine Grimmald is a school that only takes the best to be taught by the best. Surely, they wouldn’t want terrible students teaching the next generation of operative agents. A desk job, maybe, but teachers? Ehhhhhh. I don’t know about that one.

    4) “Fairy Godmother had suggested when I asked him to explain how exactly I should try to flirt.” I’m a little surprised Grimmald didn’t teach her how to flirt prior to giving her this mission. Wouldn’t seduction be one of the earliest lessons they’d teach pretty, young operatives? It’s possible she didn’t have that class yet, which is possible (and would actually be kind of funny, imo). But if that’s the case, you might need to give a small blurb on that.

    5) As others have already pointed out, there’s a lot of backstory and not enough action leading in the five pages. Though this information is important, it’s probably best that you start right in the action, then have Cinderella reflect sparingly on how she got there. I would never tell you how to write your novel, but if I were in your shoes, I'd probably start page one with something like this:

    "I’m surrounded by enemies. They’re laughing, going about the royal ball with carefree banter, sampling delicate foods with well-manicured nails, sipping wine from thin glasses and pretending the world was made for them. Tonight, I am like them. But they are nothing like me."

    And then you can go into a little backstory about how Cinderella established herself at the ball while she navigates her mission.

    Overall, I’m REALLY excited to see how this plays out. I’ve loved the premise from the beginning, and each draft pulls me in more and more. You really do have something special here. I can’t wait to see how this shapes up.

  4. Wow, what a change! This really improved from the last reading. This Cinderella has spunk. What I love the most? You explained the where and why of the mission. It helps me root for her, not to break her cover, get the job done...there's lots at stake. As far as feedback, I agree with the above and covered. I look forward to reading the next revision.

  5. Wonderful work on the revisions, Jenn! It's a great improvement from the previous draft, but there is still work to do as the others have pointed out. Everyone touched base on the things I noticed that could be improved. This opening just needs more action, dialogue, reaction, and emotions. There's still too much backstory. Bringing in the senses would give it more atmosphere. I have to admit that I was a little bummed that Fairy Godmother wasn't an actual male fairy godmother. But yes, I got that it was a code name this time. This really sounds like a fun story. I'm looking forward to reading your query and seeing your next revised version.