Dear One

Dear One

A Story by Lacie Gray
"

Kind of like Cinderella, but not exactly. I don't have a plot laid out because I do better when I go with the flow, so I have no idea where this is going. Hope you like it.

"

Destiny woke up to hear Drusilla pounding on the trap door that led to the attic, shouting at her to get up. "Overslept again, you little wench!" she yelled.

"I'm sorry!" Destiny called in earnest. "I'm up!"

"Better hope you are!" Drusilla snarled. "Breakfast won't make itself."

Destiny sighed as she heard Drusilla stomp down the ladder and down the hall, slamming her bedroom door shut. She threw off the covers, swung her feet over the bed and slipped into her slippers. She tried not to smell her petticoat and dress as she slid them on. She hadn't been able to wash them in two weeks, and the large amount of sweat that came out of her body on a daily basis didn't help. She tied her long raven-black into a tight bun and put on her apron, avoiding looking at herself in the mirror as she left her room. She allowed herself to slide down the banister since Drusilla and Kitsis were absent. She alighted in the grand entry way, and realized with a dull pang that she had to dust the chandelier today. She grimaced as she headed down the main hall and then down another side hall to the kitchen. The kitchen was still dark since the shutters were still shut. Destiny moved to open them, gliding around the corner of the table. She knew exactly where it was due to long, grueling hours in the kitchen every day. She opened the first shutter, turned around, and yelped. Kitsis was sitting on the massive slab of wood that served as the table and cutting board. There were so many grooves from knives in the table it almost didn't look like a table anymore. Kitsis was sitting in the middle of it, legs crossed, elbow on knee, his cheek resting on his fist. He was watching her with that cat-like gaze he only got when he was watching her, like he was hunting her. She had lived with Drusilla and Kitsis for years, yet Kitsis still gave her the chills every time she saw him - or, every time he saw her.

"Kitsis," she gasped, her hand flying to her chest as if she could steady her heartbeat. "I thought you were asleep."

"No," he said plainly. "The bed got boring."

"You're always bored with something," Destiny said. He really was. Whether it was the food on his plate, his cat, his bed, or his mother, he would always leave the object or person in question, saying it was boring now. It was an odd way to talk, but then Kitsis was an odd boy. He had long black hair, which he refused to have cut to comply with social norms. It drove Drusilla up the wall when she had to take him out in public because people would stare at him because his hair was so long. Mostly though, he was being stared at because he was so handsome. Destiny knew he wore his hair long because it set off his features: his sharp jaw and firm chin, the angle of his cheekbones, his stark black eyes, and the fine paleness of his skin. His mother thought he looked like something from a horror novel, but then everything looked that way to her. Drusilla herself was in every way what one would think a witch would look like. Not a fairytale witch with warts and green skin and a hunchback, but a woman with fine features that never seemed to wane, and the body of a young woman, even though she was well into her forties. As it was, people stared at Drusilla as much as they did Kitsis. Kitsis was now watching Destiny as she walked around the kitchen, opening the shutters and getting a basket to go collect the eggs. Destiny was amazed by how he never seemed to grow bored by her, whether it be her conversation or watching her clean and cook. He never offered to help, just offered his own dull conversation. She had long since given up trying to have real and interesting conversations with him. He seemed like the kind of boy who didn't give a crap about the world, or didn't seem to notice anything. But she knew nothing escaped that boy's attention, he just chose not to let that on. And he preferred to keep to himself. Even when he talked it was only to hear others talk, to glean information. Something Destiny knew could be dangerous if he ever chose to use it. He was still sitting on the table when she came back in with the eggs, watching for her to come back itn.

"What's for breakfast?" he asked lazily

She answered, "I was thinking eggs and bacon." She put the basket on the table to his right, and then grabbed the bucket under the table and left again to milk the cow. Bella, the cow, mooed as way of greeting when Destiny swung the barn door open. "Morning, Bella," she said cheerily, grabbing the stool from by the side of the barn. Bella only ever let Destiny milk her, and didn't need any distraction while she did so. She simply stood still, whether she had cud to chew on or not. Toby, Kitsis' demon cat, was on Bella's back, watching Destiny. She assumed he was waiting for the right moment to upset the milk bucket, but she doubted he would; she had grown accustomed to keeping him from his dastardly plans. When Destiny got back to the kitchen, Kitsis was still sitting on the table. She determined to ignore him and work around him, as she knew he wouldn't move even if she asked him to; he would only moved if it suited him to do so. Ten minutes later, Kitsis said,

"There's a ball tonight," causing Destiny to jump. Of course, she knew about the ball, so she didn't offer a response. But then, "Mother is going to let you go."

Destiny dropped the egg she had just lifted out of the basket. It smashed into the floor, the shell shattering, the yolk spattering everywhere. Destiny cursed softly, bending over to clean it up. But as she did so, Kitsis jumped down from the table to crouch on the floor in front of her. She kept cleaning, trying to ignore his closeness. Suddenly he grabbed her wrists, and as her body froze, he leaned forward and whispered into her ear, "Have you ever fallen in love?" His hands slid off her wrists and he picked up the egg yolk, which had somehow stayed intact.. She kneeled there, frozen and speechless. He stood and deposited it in the compost bin, leaving her to clean the egg shell up. She did so, her ears buzzing. She had thought he couldn't get any weirder, but there he had deliberately touched her for the first time since she'd gotten there, and asked a very odd question, which was more than enough to render her speechless. What on earth was she supposed to say anyway?




She indeed did have to dust the chandelier that day, which meant walking out to the utility shed in the back garden and hauling the huge and inordinately long ladder around the front of the house and into the atrium, then setting it up and climbing up it to dust every single crystal on the chandelier - all 2,000 of them. It was a complete and total pain, and by far Destiny's least favorite job, but she disliked being chased around the house by a cane-bearing Drusilla even less.

While she was dusting the chandelier, Drusilla came into the entry-way, fists on her hips. Destiny looked down at her once, her heart sinking. She must have forgotten something and Drusilla was about to give her a hate filled lecture about doing as she was told and not being such a stuck up and stubborn ditz, plus many more choice words. She braced herself for the lecture, hoping to high heaven that Drusilla didn't start shaking the ladder, which she had done on one occasion. But when she did speak, it was to demand if Destiny had heard about the three-night ball starting that night. It was all Destiny could do not to gape down at Drusilla, which she knew would only make her angry. Instead she just said yes and kept dusting. Drusilla was silent for several moments, and when Destiny cast a glance down at her, she saw that the woman was shifting her weight back and forth, her face contorted as if she had just swallowed something extremely bitter.

Finally: "In your father's contract," - Drusilla referred to Destiny's father's will as his contract - "he expressed a desire for you to have a chance to find 'love.' I can't fathom why, but...." she took a deep breath as if she was about to tell some big secret, "I am bound to follow the terms of the document and give you three nights to..." again she gasped as if she was having a hard time saying what she was saying, "to fall in love." She finished the sentence quickly, grimacing. Destiny herself nearly toppled over, and had to grab onto the top of the ladder with both hands to keep herself from doing so. She looked at Drusilla, her eyes wide. "Again, I am bound to follow the terms," Drusilla said, almost sounding as if she were in pain, "otherwise I wouldn't let you do this." She looked up at Destiny, her eyes blazing, and continued, "I have prepared a dress for you, but we'll need to clean you up." She motioned at Destiny. "You can't go like that." For a split second, Destiny had enough mind to thank Drusilla, earnestly. But Drusilla only made a contemptful noise and turned to walk down the hall. “We'll commence after lunch.”




Cleaning Destiny was no small undertaking. She hadn't properly bathed in months, and was covered in ash, dust, and dirt. There was dirt and dust under her fingernails and toe nails, between her toes, and all in her hair. Drusilla scrubbed at her mercilessly, to the point that Destiny thought she'd scrub her skin raw.

Next was her hair. Drusilla yanked and pulled as she moved it to get at Destiny's scalp, and then scrubbed at her hair as it was pulled taught, as if she was trying to tease it with the sponge. She got soap in her eyes more than once, but Drusilla was much less than empathetic, which didn't help.

But if Destiny thought scrubbing her hair was the worst part, she was mistaken; brushing it was the worst. The scrubbing had left an unimaginably great number of knots and tangles in her long black hair, making her look like she had just been electrocuted. She did a fair amount of yelping and gnashing of her teeth, the gnashing coming after Drusilla telling her to shut up and hitting her across the head with the heavy brass brush.

The makeup wasn't bad at all, but Drusilla's scowl was enough to make a bear cub run and hide. She yanked Destiny's face this way and that - not gently - to get at the different parts of her face that needed toning and what not.

Destiny thought she would pass out when she saw the dress. She had expected something frilly and bright, as was the fashion. Instead, she was presented with a black dress, trimmed with blood red roses. The top layer of the skirt was split down the front, revealing white fabric, which had been folded and pressed like an accordion. Destiny wasn't used to wearing a corset, and she thought she would slap Drusilla when they were putting it on, the way she seemed to be lacing it so tight it seemed she was trying to spite Destiny. But once the dress was on, Destiny couldn't help feeling like a real lady.

After that they had to style her hair. Drusilla swept it over one shoulder and curled it, pinning it firmly with black diamond pins. When Destiny finally saw herself in the mirror, she didn't even recognize herself. She was used to seeing a grungy girl with no elegance to her whatsoever, but the woman in the mirror looked refined and important. Destiny almost stopped breathing, she was so in awe of how much it had changed her. And somehow, it upset her. It was almost like it wasn't her. The woman in the mirror wouldn't cook or clean, probably wasn't fond of the animals found in the wood behind the house, and would have had many suitors. But Destiny was a scullery maid, confined to Drusilla's house. She had grown up in the country, tearing her muslin skirts on briers in the woods when she chased rabbits. Something about the woman in the mirror didn't have that fun loving, gentle spirit Destiny had. But she was determined to relish it, and to find someone who would appreciate the girl she really was. She had three nights; she was sure she could find someone.




The sun was setting by the time the carriage pulled up to the front door. Drusilla rushed Destiny out of the house - which looked to Destiny as something of an effort - sending her off with snide remarks and scowls. Kitsis hung back by the door, quiet as always. Destiny heaved herself into the carriage, ducking her head to avoid banging it on the way in. Drusilla shoved the invitation to the ball into her face, muttering something, but Destiny had stopped listening. As the carriage pulled away, Destiny's gaze met Kitsis'. He was leaning against the doorway, watching her. Destiny almost thought he mouthed, "Good luck."

She understood why he might've said that when she got to the palace. There were more people just walking up the marble steps to the castle doors than Destiny had ever seen in the town square at one time. It was understandable though; the royal family didn't reside in Calburry. No one had ever seen the queen, king, prince, or princess. The anticipation, if you could call it that, was thick in the air as the people mounted the stairs in bright, frilly dresses and elegant coat tails. Destiny found herself feeling out of place in her black and red dress. As she got out of the carriage and made her way up the steps, she could hear girls whispering excitedly about the prince, wondering how handsome he was, and boys chatting softly about the princess. She couldn't help but think how ironic it would be if they were both ugly.

Inside the massive palace doors was an awesomely sized atrium. The floors were marble with specks of gold in the them, and there were even two crystal chandeliers, twice the size of the one at Drusilla's. The ceiling was at least three stories up, and domed. The dome was painted with beautiful winged angels, singing and playing harps and flutes. Destiny was a little disappointed by how typical it was for a ceiling painting.

Everyone was making their way through two more large doors at the opposite end of the atrium, through which a large ballroom was discernable. Once she made her way into it she saw that the gold-flecked marble of the floor was the same, and that the walls were made of that same marble as well. The ceiling was again painted with angels and cherubs, only with a few more clouds, but this ceiling was four stories high. Massive chandeliers that were at least two stories high themselves hung at intervals all the way down the immense ballroom. Destiny couldn't help but feel that two of Drusilla's houses could fit in this ballroom. It was unsettling to think that this was just one of the many palaces spread throughout the kingdom, and if one that the royal family was rarely in was this big, then how big must the others be?

Destiny noticed now that she was getting weird looks from the more refined-looking of the people there, glancing loftily at her and then quickly looking away when she saw them. Suddenly she wished she could just disappear, more than she had in several years. She turned her attention to finding the royal family.

They were on a dais in the very center of the ballroom, sitting on four thrones. The two bigger were clearly for the king and queen, who sat at either end of the dais, and two slightly smaller ones for the prince and princess between the king and queen. Destiny craned her neck, trying to see them, but she couldn't make out any details.The princess looked slightly like Destiny, but a little shorter; the prince looked tall and well-built; the king was tall and paunch, and the queen looked a little smaller than the king and only a bit taller than the princess, and healthier than the king. Destiny kept staring at what she could see of the prince over everyone's heads, trying to make out his features, but she couldn't. She wanted to push her way up to the dais, but she knew that would be rude, and what would she even do once she was up there? Kiss his feet? No, both her father and mother would be tossing in their graves. She would just stay put and hope that the flow of the crowd would bring her by the dais.

There were footmen milling around the guests, carrying trays of hors d'oeuvres and champagne. Destiny tried to occupy herself with a glass of champagne, but that didn't help her forget that she knew absolutely no one there. The people she would meet in the town square would be peasants, not those who would have been invited to the ball, and Drusilla never let her speak to any of the other nobility that lived near them. Even if someone came over for dinner Drusilla would hire someone to serve the food so no one would see Destiny. She had never understood why, and knew better than to ask.

"I've never seen you before," someone said behind Destiny. She turned to see a cute blond girl standing in front of her. She was small, and a little plump, which made her already cute face all the more lovable. She was in a pink and yellow dress that was trimmed with fabric flowers, and not overly bright, as were the majority of the other dresses. Her hair was pinned up elegantly, braided in a knot at the back of her head. There were a few curls bordering her face, but everything else was off her face and neck. She looked exquisite, and Destiny couldn't help but feel jealous when she realized the girl probably looked like that on a daily basis.

"I'm usually not at these things," Destiny replied, trying to sound as if she was not on edge.

The girl offered her hand, "I'm Mae Pittenger."

"Destiny Orven," she said, taking Mae's hand. "Why are there so many people here?" she asked, looking around the room. "I didn't think so many people lived in Calburry."

"Oh, most of the people here don't live here," she said as if it were common knowledge. "It would be a dreadful boring place to be, if you ask me. No, most everyone traveled here, just since it's the prince's birthday."

Destiny did not let on that she was surprised; it would seem stupid that a guest knew about the ball and not the face that it was in honor of the prince's birthday. "Calburry can be beautiful if you know where to go."

Mae looked at her sideways. "I find that hard to believe."

Destiny smiled a little. "I don't blame you."

Mae didn't say anything for a few moments, and then asked, "Is this your first ball?" Destiny nodded. "Okay, then things you need to know," Mae said, taking Destiny's arm. She began pointing at people, telling Destiny who they were. "That's the Duke of Hamburgh, one of the king's best friends. That's his son, Dominic. Stay away from him. He burns through girls like fire burns through paper. Over there is the Duchess Wentz and her daughter Tricia. They're both stuck up, and you will definitely be scrutinized by both of them. I suggest avoiding them." They walked through the throng, Mae telling her who just about everyone was, and most of them seemed distasteful and pompous. There was a lord who was suspected to have murdered his wife, a duke's son who cheated everyone's money away at gambling, but no one knew how, a lady's daughter who was known as a flirt, a baron who ate everything in sight and was therefore so fat he had to sit all the time, and many, many more people who Destiny hoped to avoid. There were some nice ones though, like the Baron of Ducat's son Matthew who seemed nice enough, but Mae said that could just be because no one had ever caught him doing anything. She said the Viron sisters were very sweet and always pleasant company. Their brother Isaac always seemed indifferent to people, but if you got to know him he was a real sweetheart. All in all though, only a small percentage of the people at the ball were people Destiny would want to talk to, if she had any intention of talking to any of them. She still wasn't even sure exactly why Mae was talking to her.

So she asked her: "What made you want to talk to me?"

Mae looked at her sideways again, not in a reproachful way, but in an almost curious way. "I get bored of the same old, same old, y'know? It's always the same people at typical boring balls. I hadn't seen you before, and you looked kinda lost." She looked at Destiny apologetically when she said that last part.

"Well I was, I suppose," Destiny said, smiling. It was at that moment that she realized they were walking in front of the dais - in fact, they were almost past it. She looked up quickly, and her eyes immediately met the prince's. And he was looking at her. He had a strong, tanned face, with a strong chin and jaw, almost like Kitsis', but  thicker. His eyes were gray like the sky a few hours before rain, set off by his silvery-white hair. Destiny had never seen hair like his; some old people had hair of a similar color, but theirs was never as healthy as his. There was also a certain softness about his hair that was quite unusual, and made Destiny want to run her hands through it. But what she couldn't figure was why he was looking at her, and so intently. She and Mae rounded the corner of the dais, and Destiny immediately grabbed Mae's arm and shook it. "Mae. He was looking at me." There was in no way a connection between the two of them making it feel like they were best friends or anything just because Mae was leading her around the ballroom talking to her, but in that moment when Mae stopped and turned, her hazel eyes wide and bright and squealed, it felt like they had been best friends for years. Mae grabbed both of Destiny's arms and started bouncing excitedly, and Destiny responded in kind.

Through teeth clenched in excitement, Mae asked, "You know the king and queen threw this party so he could find someone, right?" Destiny had to clamp her hand over her mouth to stop herself from screaming in excitement. She and Mae instantly fell into a bout of giggles, their heads close together. Destiny had thought sure she could find a cute guy, or some cute guy would find her, and they could hit it off, but she never imagined the prince would even glance at her. Mae started tugging her into the crowd. "C'mon," she said, looking past Destiny at the dais. "He stood up. Let's see if he'll look for you." Destiny followed obediently, not looking over her shoulder for fear he wouldn't be following if she did.

They stopped about midway between the end of the room and the dais, where the crowd was actually not as thick. They stood there, looking around for a few minutes. Destiny finally gave up hope and let her shoulders droop. She and Mae turned to each other, both looking defeated. Somehow their squeals and bout of giggles had established a strong bond between them, because Mae reached up and patted Destiny's cheek. "If it's any consolation," she offered, "you look stunning."

Destiny smiled gratefully. "I say this with full honesty: So do you." Mae blushed and ducked her head into her shoulders and made a noise like a squeal. Destiny assumed she didn't get many compliments like that because she was a little chubbier than most everyone else there.

Suddenly Mae looked over Destiny's shoulder and her eyes bugged out. She looked up at Destiny, her chest rising as took a deep breath, an excited grin stretching across her face as she inhaled. Destiny looked at her, her brow knit together, confused.

Then: "Excuse me." She turned to look over her shoulder, and started as she realized the prince was standing behind her. She gaped awkwardly, struck speechless for the second time that day. Then she realized the prince was blushing. He was embarrassed! Why in heaven's name would a prince ever be embarrassed?

Mae nudged Destiny in the arm and she snapped her mouth shut, turning so she was facing the prince straight on. He dipped his head as way of a bow and asked, "Would you care to dance?" Destiny didn't move or respond in any way until Mae smacked her bare shoulder. Snapping to attention, she smiled politely and took the hand the prince had offered her.

"Of course," she said. She was suddenly glad her parents had taught her how to dance. She had hated it when they had taught her; she hadn't seen how she would ever need to dance. But here she was, dancing with a prince, unimaginably grateful that she didn't have to worry about making a fool of herself. She couldn't bring herself to look at his face, but she couldn't help but notice how firm his muscles felt under her hand resting on his shoulder.

"What's your name?" he asked after quite a while of silence.

"Destiny,"she answered, inadvertently looking up at him. And then she couldn't look away. His eyes looked so gently, like Bella's, like he could never hurt anything without feeling forever sorry for it - anything save a fly. His eyes looked like a gray ocean, deep and fathomless, yet so calm. And lonely. She realized how awful it must have been being trapped in a castle all day every day. Beautiful as this palace was, it was too perfect. That was probably why he was so strong and tan; he was probably outside all the time, riding and hunting and whatever else he could do. But she also knew a member of the royal family had certain rules to follow, do's and don't's. It would make it hard to have any fun. But she saw, in his eyes, an adventurous soul who didn't like being confined in a castle - regardless of how massive it was - a soul who wanted to run around and be free. Her heart went out to him, and she wished she could take him somewhere where he could roll up his pant legs and sleeves and enjoy himself without worrying about rules. And she would watch him and enjoy it with him, whether she was doing it with him or not. She wondered what he saw in her eyes, if her eyes let on as much as his did. She looked away abruptly, not wanting him to see the slave she had become, someone with no dignity left, someone who was bound to follow rules. But then she realized what they had in common: the desire to be free. She looked back up at him, and knew he saw it, the mutual desire to be free from duty. And that was the only spark they needed, and they totally lost themselves. Their gazes stayed locked for what seemed like forever, and they danced and danced through so many songs Destiny lost count.

Then she noticed how everyone was staring at them. In the version of Cinderella her father had read to her as a child, everyone had stared at Cinderella and the prince in awe when they danced, but no one was looking at Destiny in awe. No, they were looking at her with jealousy, and some with disgust. Destiny determined to ignore it, instead focusing on the prince.

Finally it occurred to her to ask: "Why me?" For whatever reason, his grip on her hand tightened when she spoke.

"Because you're different." When she tilted her head with a confused look on her face, he explained, "All the ladies here wear their frilly, ghastly colored dresses to all of these balls, and I honestly hate bright colors. And then there was you, in black and red. And it's not just that you were wearing dark colors, but you had the guts to do it. You had the guts to wear something you knew no one else would be wearing."

"Ha, you fell for it," she joked, grinning. Then she almost choked, suddenly afraid that her joke might offend him or make her seem rash in some way.  But he grinned back, and Destiny relaxed, wondering at how he was so comfortable with her. She realized that even if they didn't fall in love or anything, she would be perfectly content just to know him and call him a friend. She felt so at ease with him, almost like they had been friends for years. Then she realized that she didn't even know his name. She blushed as she said, "I am abashed to admit it, but it seems your highness' name escapes me."

He laughed, making his eyes scrunch in an adorable way. "Edmund," he said.

"Edmund," she whispered, etching the name into her memory.

Suddenly he broke away, grabbing her hand and leading her through the throng. "Where are we going?" she asked. He didn't answer but instead lead her toward the end of the room opposite where everyone had come in. There was a glass door in the center of the wall, and he lead her through it. They came out onto a patio hung with lush plants that draped over trellises, dangling down so it almost looked like there was a curtain of green around the patio. There was a wide marble staircase leading down into a giant garden, full of rose bushes of different colors, orchids, rhododendrons, chrysanthemums, and other exotic and common flowers. There was a maze a little ways back, with hedges for walls that were nine feet high. A fountain sat in the middle of the flower part of the garden, the water being poured by a pixie holding a jar.

"It's beautiful," Destiny breathed, also noting the way the moonlight shimmered on the surface of the water in the fountain.

"I spent most of the day out here," he said, leading her down the steps. "I've already memorized the maze."

"It must be dreadful being in such a white palace when you hate bright colors."

"It's not so bad until mother hangs pasty colored curtains in the spring and summer." He was gazing out at the garden, not as if there were anything interesting there, but like he was lost in a dream. Destiny wondered what he dreamt about, and if it was anything like what she dreamed about. "Why haven't you been at any balls before," he asked.

She shrugged. "I was never allowed to, I guess," was all she said.

"Then why this one?" He was still gazing out at the garden, the moon making his eyes and hair glisten in a beautiful way.

"I'm not really sure," she answered honestly. He looked at her, his eyes soft, and, she thought, grateful.

"You're beautiful," he said, seriously but lightly.

"I'm not!" she gasped, hiding the fact that she was blushing and smiling like an idiot behind her hand.

"You are," he said softly, taking her shoulders gently and turning her toward him, kissing her forehead. She sighed, allowing herself to lean into him, her hands resting lightly on his biceps. He cupped one hand at the base of her skull, and laid the other between her shoulder blades, right above the point of the V the back of her dress made. "Will you be back tomorrow?" he asked.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," she said, tilting her head back and smiling up at him. He smiled back at her, touching her face. The bells tolled one in the morning. "I should go," she said reluctantly.

He let go of her respectfully, but asked, "Why?"

"I need sleep," she said lamely. "I just don't want to be out too late," she told him when he looked at her dubiously. He looked disappointed, but didn't argue, and made for the door again. "Actually," she said, causing him to stop, "is there a way around? I don't want to have to walk through the crowd again."

He looked at her, and she thought he caught on to the fact that she wanted to be alone with him longer. "Alright," he said, the corner of his mouth quirking up. He presented his arm, and she took it. He led her around the corner of the walls to the right, and she saw there was a long path alongside the exterior of the ballroom, lined with trees trimmed in the shape of orbs. They walked down the path, chatting quietly, mostly about the stars, which Edmund said he loved looking at. He had an impressive knowledge of them, pointing them out and naming them, constellations and stars alike. Destiny mostly watched the way his eyes lit up every time he found a familiar constellation. They reached the main doors too soon, and when Destiny pointed out her carriage, he stopped her, bending down to kiss her hand. Then he leaned forward to whisper in her ear, "Until tomorrow, Dear One."





It was just past 1:30 when Destiny got back home. None of the lights were on, and she hoped there was a candle on one of the tables in the entry-way she could light. There was, and she lit it, sending up a prayer of thanks.

"How was it?" came Kitsis' familiar voice. Destiny squeaked, jumping and almost dropping the candle. "Why do you get so scared by me?" he asked innocently. She could see him now, sitting on the banister, watching her, the candlelight dancing in his eyes.

"Please," she scoffed. "You know you enjoy sneaking up on me."

He chuckled, something he didn't do often. "How was it?" he repeated.

"Fine," she said tersely, put off by his creepiness.

"I'm sure it was more than fine," he said plainly. "There was a bounce in your step when you came in. You were obviously happy."

Destiny was reminded that Kitsis never missed anything, and it irked her even further. She didn't say anything, thinking that way she would keep him from being satisfied. She was wrong.

"You did enjoy yourself," he purred. "You're just annoyed I could tell."

Making a frustrated noise, she stomped past him and up the stairs. She heard him slide off the banister and follow her. "Fine, I had fun. What of it?" He chuckled again, sending shivers down her arms. He was being weirder than usual today, and it didn't sit well with her.

"You silly girl," he breathed, coming up behind her. He put his hand around her waist, making her stop. He leaned over, his nose nearly touching her ear. He didn't say or do anything, just stayed like that for a little more than a second, his breath stirring her hair, and then he slid past her and went up the stairs, a bounce in his step perceivable.





Drusilla was in a worse mood than normal the next day. She smacked Destiny across the rump with a spatula several times before twelve, and had her moving furniture, something she usually only did when she was irked. "Put it over there....No...No, more to the left - right - no, left again. Move it back. Bring that end in toward the coffee table." That was most of Destiny's day, until Drusilla finally decided to get Destiny ready for the ball.

"Girl," Drusilla said shortly from behind Destiny. She looked over her shoulder, putting down the skirt she'd been mending. "Come on." She turned and walked away, her skirts swishing, not waiting to see if Destiny followed. Destiny got up and walked out of the sewing room -- And nearly had a heart attack. Kitsis was right around the corner, leaning against the wall. Literally RIGHT around the corner. Destiny almost fell backward stopping herself from walking into him. She glared up at him.

"Why must you always be doing that?"

He looked at her for a few seconds, the corners of his lips curling up, before reaching inside his jacket and producing a rose, which he placed behind her ear. Destiny watched him as he stepped around her and headed down the hall, humming.

"Just when I thought he couldn't get weirder," Destiny muttered under her breath. Kitsis never hummed.





This time Drusilla decided to lace up the corset even tighter and put her in a cage skirt.

"Show off those hips," she had muttered absently. Destiny didn't say anything, but suddenly thought that maybe Drusilla was putting so much effort into this because she didn't have a daughter.

This dress was black lace over white satin. The collar was low, starting just at the ends of her collar bone, and sloping down gently. The sleeves ended just beneath her elbow and then frilled out. Drusilla loaned her a black pearl jewelry set.She pinned her hair all the way up; how she got it all to stay up was a mystery to Destiny. She curled the few locks in front of her ears, bordering her face nicely. She put elegant wings on her eyes as well as black eye shadow. Destiny thought she almost looked like some mysterious ghost-woman you might read about in a story.

The carriage was there to pick her up at the same time it had come the day before, but this time Kitsis walked her to the carriage.

She got in without a second thought, bracing herself for the bumpy ride. Then she noticed a letter on the bench opposite her. She reached across the cabin and grabbed it, opening it. It was from Kitsis.

"Destiny, I thought you deserved to know what the purpose of these three nights is, so I have included a letter to my mother from your father."


Destiny's heart stopped. A letter from her father? She tore the envelope apart, her hands shaking as she unfolded the second letter.


"Drusilla, I know you have already agreed to take Destiny into your home after I die, something for which I am grateful - but I do not wish her to spend her life there. If she ends up with your son, that is very well, but if not - which I believe to be more likely - I want her to have a chance: Three days after she has turned eighteen. If she falls in love in three days, then permit her to leave your home and find her own. If she doesn't, then I ask you allow her to stay in your home, indefinitely. I ask for only three days for my girl because three days was all I and her mother needed. I hope it is not an inconvenience for you to add this to the Contract, and please know that whatever you choose, I am eternally grateful. With the utmost sincerity and gratitude,

Alonso Orven"


Destiny had to blink back tears as she read the letter. Her papa had been looking out for her future, so thoroughly he had made sure she could fall in love. And he had left her the same amount of time he and her mother had taken to fall in love. She would treasure that for the rest of her days.

But something else tugged at her heart, something that made her want to be sick: Her father had known he was going to die. All day Destiny had felt nothing but anticipation for the second night of the ball, but now that she was here, doubt crept in. What if Edmund found someone else? What if he forgot her? What if he realized that what they had felt wasn't real, that it was just desperation? She scolded herself, knowing that she was freaking out about nothing. But what if it was true? What if he wasn't interested in her anymore?

"Sissy," she hissed at herself. "You're just a big, scaredy sissy." She straightened, lifting her chin, and forced herself up the marble stairs. Her legs felt like jelly. The combined emotional forces of the letter and her worry were taking their toll. She hitched up against one of the pillars a bit to the side of the doorway, gasping and trying not to cry.

"Destiny?" She jumped, looking up. It was Mae, wearing a puffy lavender dress, her hair down this time. She looked concerned, her eyebrows knit together.

Destiny waved a hand at her dismissively. "I'm fine. Really." But just as she finished saying that, her lungs betrayed her and she gasped.

"Honey," Mae said, coming up to Destiny and touching her arm. "What on earth is the matter?"

Destiny sniffed. "What...What if I'm not, like, a duke's daughter or something?" She shook her head. "Well, I sort of am, but he's dead." She froze, realizing what she'd said. She had never actually said it out loud before. She burst out in tears. Mae had hidden a kerchief in her bosom, which she pulled out and began to dab Destiny's face with. She began shushing her gently. Destiny silently wondered if Mae had younger siblings.

"Babe, babe," Mae was saying, almost urgently. Destiny thought she was worried they'd make a scene, but when she looked up at Mae, she saw that her crying was making Mae want to cry. Destiny choked out laugh and straightened, hugging Mae.

"He knew he was going to die," she said in a strained voice. "He knew he was going to be murdered." She pulled away. "Why didn't he tell me? Why didn't he do something about it?"

"I don't know. I don't know, sweetie." Mae touched her face. "I wish I knew, but I don't."

Destiny whimpered.. "And...d-do you think Edmund remembers me?"

"Heavens, do I!" Mae gasped. "Apparently you didn't REALLY notice the way he was looking at you."

Destiny smiled at Mae, looking at her through her lashes. "Thanks." She straightened. "How's my makeup?"

"Hang on," Mae said, putting on a serious face. Destiny didn't mind when she licked the kerchief and began dabbing her face with it; she was just grateful. She was done in less than a minute. "You'd look radiant in rags and with no hair."

Destiny laughed. "Well, thank heavens that's not reality." They walked into the ballroom, arms around each other's' waists.

"We should march right up to the dais," Mae said confidently.

"What?! No!" Destiny squeaked. "I can't do that!"

"You're going to make him walk all around this sea of people looking for you?" Mae asked reproachfully. "I think not." She tightened her arm around Destiny's waist and began dragging her through the crowd toward the middle of the room. Destiny protested half of the journey, but gave up when she realized Mae was not stopping or letting go.

They were in front of the dais in minutes, Mae's eyes bright, Destiny praying her face wasn't a total mess. For a few moments Destiny couldn't bring herself to look at Edmund, but when she finally looked up at him through her eyelashes, she almost crumpled in relief. His eyes were bright, happy, as he looked at her. He had stood up, and it looked as if he was trying very hard not to leap down from the dais, grab her, and run out of the ballroom full of people. But instead he stepped forward and offered her his hand, which she took before mounting the steps of the dais. She was quite aware of all the people staring at her, but this time she didn't care.

"Mother, Father, Elizabeth, this is Destiny." He said it with confidence that she would not have expected of him, since being royal was something that he hated, and he was talking to the people who bound him to it. But his confidence in wanting them to know her made her feel warm and fuzzy inside, and she found herself blushing.

Queen Harriette stood, beaming. "It's delightful to meet you," she said, coming up and kissing both of Destiny's cheeks. It was so strange, trying to believe that she, scullery maid and virtual slave to Drusilla, who might as well have been a witch, was meeting the royal family, and being kissed by the queen.

Then the king stood, taking her hand and kissing it. "It's an honor to meet you," he said genuinly. Only the many years of practice of hiding how she felt kept Destiny from gaping at him. He was honored to meet her?

The princess suddenly shot out of her throne and smacked into Destiny, hugging her as if she were a long lost friend. Before she let go, she whispered in Destiny's ear, "We have to talk." Without even waiting to see Destiny's reaction, she turned and walked back to her throne, sitting down gracefully.

Edmund touched her elbow. She looked up at him, and saw he was grinning. "Let's go," he mouthed, and led her down the steps.

"Oh, you should meet, Mae," Destiny said.

Edmund glanced over at Mae. "I have met her."

Destiny looked at him, shocked. She looked back at Mae, who was giving her two thumbs up. She looked back at him. "You do?"

He looked at her sideways; a look that kind of said, "Really?" Destiny stammered, shrugging like she couldn't have known. He sighed. "She and Elizabeth used to be close.""

"Used to be?"

"Elizabeth said something incredibly offensive about Mae's dead mother a few years ago. Naturally, Mae decided not to keep Elizabeth's company after that." He told her this in an annoyed voice, but she realized it was annoyance toward the princess.

"Oh. That's too bad."

"Elizabeth's loss, really," he said in an agitated tone. "Mae was good for her. She just pushes everyone away with that mouth of hers." They had reached the door to the garden. He pushed it open, apologizing, "Sorry, I know you don't want to hear about my sister's immaturity."

Destiny giggled. "I don't mind. It's more interesting than what I hear at home." They walked down the stone steps into the garden and sat on the fountain.

"Where is home for you?" he asked.

Destiny made a face. "You don't want to know that."

"Yeah I do."

Destiny looked at him. He looked like he sincerely did want to know. She took a deep breath and sighed. He’d probably find out at some point, so she might as well get it out of the way. "I live with Drusilla Brack and serve as her maid." She looked down, not wanting to see his face.

It was a few seconds before he said anything. Then, "Are you her parlor maid or something?" Destiny gaped at him, shocked and amused. "Is she a weirdo? Cause if she's a pervert I'm going to have to do something."

Destiny burst out laughing. "Nooo, I'm not a parlor maid! I cook and clean." She felt so relieved that he wasn't disgusted by the fact that she was a maid.

"Hmm," he murmured, tapping his chin in mock thoughtfulness. "So you clean and cook for the old crazy lady who never seems to get old. Well, if all our maids somehow fall ill and die, at least I have you."

She laughed again, then looked at him. "So you don't care that I'm someone's maid?"

Now he looked at her like she was crazy. "Heck no I don't."

She giggled, "My prince just said heck."

"Your prince, indeed," he murmured, pressing his face against hers, his arm draped over her shoulders. She laced her fingers with his, closing her eyes. "Seriously, where were you all my life?" he asked softly.

She whispered back, "I could ask you the same thing."

"Do you think she's a witch?"

"Who?" she asked, looking up at him, a little irked at the change in subject.

"Drusilla," he answered, looking back at her.

"Oh, I don't know," she said, leaning into him. "I've never seen her do magicy stuff, and I've lived with them 12 years."

"Them?" Destiny stopped, realizing how awkward the conversation was about to get. "Uhm, well, she, uh, has a son...Who’s about our age..."

"She what?" He stood, looking shocked. Destiny reached for his hand. Before she could say anything, he asked, "Is he a pervert?"

Destiny made a face. She had never thought of Kitsis as perverted. "I suppose that would depend on your point of view," she said slowly.

"What does that mean?" he asked, sitting back down, this time facing her, his knee hanging over the water.

She pursed her lips. "He's just...weird. Strange. Abnormal. I don't think of him as perverted, just creepy."

"So you don't like him?" Edmund asked seriously.

She laughed, loudly, even snorting. "Heavens no! I don't particularly like either of them."

"Good," he said, looking relieved.

"Honestly, Edmund, you don't need to worry about that. Do you think I would have danced with you so much last night if I liked someone else?"

He thought for a second. "No, I guess not." She squeezed his hand and smiled reassuringly. He stood up abruptly. "Hey, let's go through the maze. I've been dying to since we got here." He hauled her up from the fountain without waiting for a response and led her to the beginning of the maze.

© 2016 Lacie Gray



Author's Note

Lacie Gray
Ignore grammar problems. Is any of the dialogue cheesy? How are the descriptions?

My Review

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Featured Review

Okay, Lacie, you’re writing with a better understanding of placing the visuals on the page than most, and that’s great, but there are some issues you need to address.

First, the story needs a huge squeezing. If you can say something in fewer words, while maintaining your style, it reads faster and has more impact. Remember, if something takes longer to describe than to do in the real world, the story drags.

To combat that, tell the reader only what matters to the protagonist in the moment she calls now. A few examples of things that need squeezing:

• Destiny sighed as she heard Drusilla stomp down the ladder and down the hall, slamming her bedroom door shut.

Nineteen words. But what matters? Drusilla left. That’s it. Destiny didn’t lay there listening to every stomp. She was focused on the result of their exchange, and what it motivated her to do. So why would we dwell on what she’s ignoring? Does it matter where Drusilla went, or how she got there? No. We already know she’s angry, so all the stomping and slamming are redundant. And since they don’t talk further, or meet when she leaves the attic, it will be obvious that she left. So in reality, only the first two words matter, because that's her emotional reaction to the exchange.

• She threw off the covers, swung her feet over the bed and slipped into her slippers.

As written she’s still lying down when the slippers go on. But that aside, do we need to know what someone does when they get up? Does her being covered or uncovered make a difference? It might if it was telling us the season, but it doesn’t. Didn’t you do what she did this morning when you got out of bed? Aside from the slippers, I did. (and would someone like her have slippers? Not to milk as cow)

Why not combine the previous line, trimmed, and this one, into something like, “Sighing, she sat up and felt for her slippers, then reached for her petticoat and dress.” Isn't that more in her viewpoint?

• She hadn't been able to wash them in two weeks, and the large amount of sweat that came out of her body on a daily basis didn't help.

Several points: Avoid indeterminate statements like, “large amounts,” because it tells the reader nothing meaningful, since her “large amounts,” and mine probably wouldn’t match up. But that aside, doesn’t the smell, and mention of sweat imply all that? Do you really have to tell the reader where sweat comes from? Let implication work for you. It’s how we tell the reader without “telling.”

Couldn’t you say the same thing with, “She tried not to smell her petticoat and dress—two weeks since their last washing—as she slid them on.” ? Said that way it’s what she’s doing not you telling the reader what happened.

• The kitchen was still dark since the shutters were still shut. Destiny moved to open them, gliding around the corner of the table. She knew exactly where it was due to long, grueling hours in the kitchen every day.

The kitchen is dark. It’s probably dark every morning, so she’s neither surprised or focused on it, any more then we would say, “The kitchen was dark because the light wasn’t on. I knew where the light switch was because…” Given that she opens the shutters, why does it matter that it’s dark till she does, when the reason is suggested by her opening the shutters?

And of course she knows where the shutters are. She lives there, and it’s obvious, from her being told to cook the meal that she does this daily.

In short, you’re over-explaining. Trim the fat and the story will move far more quickly, and be a more exciting read.

Next: You’re too often telling the reader the story, as an external observer. But the reader can’t hear any emotion, or the tricks of delivery in your voice. Nor can they see the facial expressions, the hand gestures you visually punctuate with, or your body language. So you, in effect, wring all the emotion from the story by eliminating the nonverbal part of storytelling—the emotional part.

Remember, you can make the reader know her emotional state. And in doing that we will know how to read a given line of dialog. But you can’t very well tag a line of narration, with, “I said, breathlessly.” Right? And that’s why you want the reader to BE her, not hear about her.

You also need to look at your habit of stopping the action to provide an info-dump of backstory when a new character appears. The reader doesn’t care. That’s history, not story. And for every second they spend reading that history nothing is happening. Think of how you would react, when watching a film, if they did that—froze the screen and had a disembodied, and emotion free voice give the character’s history. The page is no different. Stopping the story is stopping the story. And story is what your readers want. Details that matter will become apparent when the protagonist uses or remembers a point relevant to the decisions she’s making. And those that don't matter to the protagonist have no place in the story.

Look at the current opening:

• Destiny woke up to hear Drusilla pounding on the trap door that led to the attic, shouting at her to get up. "Overslept again, you little wench!" she yelled.

This is clearly you, telling me what happens in a scene only you can see. I don’t yet know where I am, or what’s going on. I only know that someone I don’t know woke because someone I’ve not met is banging on a door in a house I know nothing about. And because of what I don’t know I lack context to make sense of it. So I’m being informed, and learning a few facts. But her state of mind matters far more than the facts of what happens, because her emotional state dictates all her actions, as ours dicate our behavior. And if I don’t know that, I know what she does, yes, but not why. Again, no context because your intent for the writing doesn’t make it to the page.

In other words, the viewpoint is that of the narrator, not her. And fair is fair. It is her story. So if I know her, and what matters to her, I can share her viewpoint, and think about what I would do in her situation.

The trick of great writing is to make the reader want her to do what you’re about to have her do, because that makes the reader feel as if they’re using her as their avatar, and in control.

Make sense? Suppose you’d opened with:
- - - - - -
Pounding on the trapdoor that led from the attic bedroom brought Destiny awake.

Instinctively, she pulled the top sheet over her head, but the banging went on till Drusilla shouted, "You overslept again, you lazy b***h. My breakfast isn’t going to cook itself. So get into the kitchen or be dragged there!”

“I'm sorry!” she called, careful to sound repentant. "I'm up!" Showing anything but remorse would bring yet another beating. Biting off the words that wanted to come, she sat up and felt for her slippers, her thoughts turning, as they so often did, to running away.

But where could she go? Unless she found someone willing to hide her, she would be taken back like any indentured runaway and most probably have a hamstring cut, to cripple her and keep her from running again.

With a sigh she reached for her…
- - - - - - -
Your story? No. Nor is she your character. It’s a quick parallel situation to demonstrate a different approach, one that’s more character centered and emotion-based. Notice a few things:

We place cause before effect, and give a reason for her to wake before, not after she does. And by showing her reaction we give the reader her mind-state to better understand her behavior, and create empathy between the reader and the protagonist. I don’t tell the reader she didn’t want to get up, I showed them, in real time, and in the moment she calls now. Generating the feel of time passing is one of the keys to realistic action.

I combined Drusilla’s actions to provide Destiny’s motivation to get up, and had her respond, to complete their interchange and get the story started. I also showed why she was apologetic and made the reader know a little about her situation, to develop the setting and her character, emotionally. I also set up her desire, and need to escape, not just walk away. I made it plain that she had an impossible problem to solve, and added a penalty should she try and fail. Were her escape a key plot point I'd soon add a worse penalty should she not try, motivating her to solve the problem.

And finally, having given her a reason to give up for now, she capitulates and moves on. But it was in her internalization that the reader was told what they need to know about her situation, in a way that seemed natural and necessary from HER viewpoint.

For every action, we know not only what motivates it, we know why it did, which means we have context at all times.

Telling the story with an external viewpoint has a hidden pitfall. Since you already know the story and the situation, it’s easy to forget to give the reader details you take for granted, and to tell the reader things she’s not paying attention to.

But place yourself—and your reader—into her viewpoint as you write, and there will never be unneeded detail. Plus, because it matters to her, you’ll never miss needed detail. And, you’ll involve the reader as a participant. Win/win/win

Another effect of telling the story with an external narrator is that the characters become slaves to the needs of the plot. So she’s smart when you want her to notice something, and drops in IQ when you need that.

But place yourself and the reader into the scene as-she-perceives-it, and if you tell her she must do something not in her interest—as she views that—she will very politely say, “Hell no!”

If you’ve not read it I strongly recommend Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It’s the best I’ve found for clarifying the nuts-and-bolts issues of writing fiction for the page. For an overview of the issues he covers, the articles in the writing section of my blog are, to a great extent, based on that book.

And since you write romance, if you've not already done so, you might want to look into joining the RWA. I don’t see a chapter in Cincinnati, but there is one about a two-hour drive away in Indianapolis. I was a member of the Valley Forge chapter for six years, and it was great fun.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Ooh! This was nice! Will you be continuing it?

I like re-tellings of fairy tales, and I am eating up this this sort of gothed-up retelling of Cinderella with a spoon.

Posted 3 Months Ago


iguana is nice though
trying not to say it
trying hard

OH WAIT ITS S**T

PLEASE FORGIBE HIPNOX IM A NICE LIZARD A SWEAR
jk


dont listen to strange creatures from the mangrove
????????????
profit

Posted 1 Year Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

it was good expect NO SCRIP SCRIPS

blasphemy!
also bacon is bad
worse than cigarettes like most junk food
thats why i eat worms and crabs

HIPNOX KING OF THE CRAB MEN

Posted 1 Year Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Okay, Lacie, you’re writing with a better understanding of placing the visuals on the page than most, and that’s great, but there are some issues you need to address.

First, the story needs a huge squeezing. If you can say something in fewer words, while maintaining your style, it reads faster and has more impact. Remember, if something takes longer to describe than to do in the real world, the story drags.

To combat that, tell the reader only what matters to the protagonist in the moment she calls now. A few examples of things that need squeezing:

• Destiny sighed as she heard Drusilla stomp down the ladder and down the hall, slamming her bedroom door shut.

Nineteen words. But what matters? Drusilla left. That’s it. Destiny didn’t lay there listening to every stomp. She was focused on the result of their exchange, and what it motivated her to do. So why would we dwell on what she’s ignoring? Does it matter where Drusilla went, or how she got there? No. We already know she’s angry, so all the stomping and slamming are redundant. And since they don’t talk further, or meet when she leaves the attic, it will be obvious that she left. So in reality, only the first two words matter, because that's her emotional reaction to the exchange.

• She threw off the covers, swung her feet over the bed and slipped into her slippers.

As written she’s still lying down when the slippers go on. But that aside, do we need to know what someone does when they get up? Does her being covered or uncovered make a difference? It might if it was telling us the season, but it doesn’t. Didn’t you do what she did this morning when you got out of bed? Aside from the slippers, I did. (and would someone like her have slippers? Not to milk as cow)

Why not combine the previous line, trimmed, and this one, into something like, “Sighing, she sat up and felt for her slippers, then reached for her petticoat and dress.” Isn't that more in her viewpoint?

• She hadn't been able to wash them in two weeks, and the large amount of sweat that came out of her body on a daily basis didn't help.

Several points: Avoid indeterminate statements like, “large amounts,” because it tells the reader nothing meaningful, since her “large amounts,” and mine probably wouldn’t match up. But that aside, doesn’t the smell, and mention of sweat imply all that? Do you really have to tell the reader where sweat comes from? Let implication work for you. It’s how we tell the reader without “telling.”

Couldn’t you say the same thing with, “She tried not to smell her petticoat and dress—two weeks since their last washing—as she slid them on.” ? Said that way it’s what she’s doing not you telling the reader what happened.

• The kitchen was still dark since the shutters were still shut. Destiny moved to open them, gliding around the corner of the table. She knew exactly where it was due to long, grueling hours in the kitchen every day.

The kitchen is dark. It’s probably dark every morning, so she’s neither surprised or focused on it, any more then we would say, “The kitchen was dark because the light wasn’t on. I knew where the light switch was because…” Given that she opens the shutters, why does it matter that it’s dark till she does, when the reason is suggested by her opening the shutters?

And of course she knows where the shutters are. She lives there, and it’s obvious, from her being told to cook the meal that she does this daily.

In short, you’re over-explaining. Trim the fat and the story will move far more quickly, and be a more exciting read.

Next: You’re too often telling the reader the story, as an external observer. But the reader can’t hear any emotion, or the tricks of delivery in your voice. Nor can they see the facial expressions, the hand gestures you visually punctuate with, or your body language. So you, in effect, wring all the emotion from the story by eliminating the nonverbal part of storytelling—the emotional part.

Remember, you can make the reader know her emotional state. And in doing that we will know how to read a given line of dialog. But you can’t very well tag a line of narration, with, “I said, breathlessly.” Right? And that’s why you want the reader to BE her, not hear about her.

You also need to look at your habit of stopping the action to provide an info-dump of backstory when a new character appears. The reader doesn’t care. That’s history, not story. And for every second they spend reading that history nothing is happening. Think of how you would react, when watching a film, if they did that—froze the screen and had a disembodied, and emotion free voice give the character’s history. The page is no different. Stopping the story is stopping the story. And story is what your readers want. Details that matter will become apparent when the protagonist uses or remembers a point relevant to the decisions she’s making. And those that don't matter to the protagonist have no place in the story.

Look at the current opening:

• Destiny woke up to hear Drusilla pounding on the trap door that led to the attic, shouting at her to get up. "Overslept again, you little wench!" she yelled.

This is clearly you, telling me what happens in a scene only you can see. I don’t yet know where I am, or what’s going on. I only know that someone I don’t know woke because someone I’ve not met is banging on a door in a house I know nothing about. And because of what I don’t know I lack context to make sense of it. So I’m being informed, and learning a few facts. But her state of mind matters far more than the facts of what happens, because her emotional state dictates all her actions, as ours dicate our behavior. And if I don’t know that, I know what she does, yes, but not why. Again, no context because your intent for the writing doesn’t make it to the page.

In other words, the viewpoint is that of the narrator, not her. And fair is fair. It is her story. So if I know her, and what matters to her, I can share her viewpoint, and think about what I would do in her situation.

The trick of great writing is to make the reader want her to do what you’re about to have her do, because that makes the reader feel as if they’re using her as their avatar, and in control.

Make sense? Suppose you’d opened with:
- - - - - -
Pounding on the trapdoor that led from the attic bedroom brought Destiny awake.

Instinctively, she pulled the top sheet over her head, but the banging went on till Drusilla shouted, "You overslept again, you lazy b***h. My breakfast isn’t going to cook itself. So get into the kitchen or be dragged there!”

“I'm sorry!” she called, careful to sound repentant. "I'm up!" Showing anything but remorse would bring yet another beating. Biting off the words that wanted to come, she sat up and felt for her slippers, her thoughts turning, as they so often did, to running away.

But where could she go? Unless she found someone willing to hide her, she would be taken back like any indentured runaway and most probably have a hamstring cut, to cripple her and keep her from running again.

With a sigh she reached for her…
- - - - - - -
Your story? No. Nor is she your character. It’s a quick parallel situation to demonstrate a different approach, one that’s more character centered and emotion-based. Notice a few things:

We place cause before effect, and give a reason for her to wake before, not after she does. And by showing her reaction we give the reader her mind-state to better understand her behavior, and create empathy between the reader and the protagonist. I don’t tell the reader she didn’t want to get up, I showed them, in real time, and in the moment she calls now. Generating the feel of time passing is one of the keys to realistic action.

I combined Drusilla’s actions to provide Destiny’s motivation to get up, and had her respond, to complete their interchange and get the story started. I also showed why she was apologetic and made the reader know a little about her situation, to develop the setting and her character, emotionally. I also set up her desire, and need to escape, not just walk away. I made it plain that she had an impossible problem to solve, and added a penalty should she try and fail. Were her escape a key plot point I'd soon add a worse penalty should she not try, motivating her to solve the problem.

And finally, having given her a reason to give up for now, she capitulates and moves on. But it was in her internalization that the reader was told what they need to know about her situation, in a way that seemed natural and necessary from HER viewpoint.

For every action, we know not only what motivates it, we know why it did, which means we have context at all times.

Telling the story with an external viewpoint has a hidden pitfall. Since you already know the story and the situation, it’s easy to forget to give the reader details you take for granted, and to tell the reader things she’s not paying attention to.

But place yourself—and your reader—into her viewpoint as you write, and there will never be unneeded detail. Plus, because it matters to her, you’ll never miss needed detail. And, you’ll involve the reader as a participant. Win/win/win

Another effect of telling the story with an external narrator is that the characters become slaves to the needs of the plot. So she’s smart when you want her to notice something, and drops in IQ when you need that.

But place yourself and the reader into the scene as-she-perceives-it, and if you tell her she must do something not in her interest—as she views that—she will very politely say, “Hell no!”

If you’ve not read it I strongly recommend Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It’s the best I’ve found for clarifying the nuts-and-bolts issues of writing fiction for the page. For an overview of the issues he covers, the articles in the writing section of my blog are, to a great extent, based on that book.

And since you write romance, if you've not already done so, you might want to look into joining the RWA. I don’t see a chapter in Cincinnati, but there is one about a two-hour drive away in Indianapolis. I was a member of the Valley Forge chapter for six years, and it was great fun.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/

Posted 1 Year Ago


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Lacie Gray
Lacie Gray

Cincinnati, OH



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