Monday, March 24, 2008

Writing Exercise

This Sunday in Relief Society, the teacher asked us to write down one of our goals in life. Not like the eternal kind, but more like an ambition we've had. She then asked us what we're doing to make that goal a reality. I had written down that I would like to someday write a book and I realized I'm really not doing much to develop myself as a writer. I always have big plans for a huge novel, but I haven't done much to improve my skills. I just want to be good NOW and write a book NOW and be done with it. But that lesson helped me see I need to change some things so today I decided to start some writing exercises. The following is a response to a prompt I found on a creative writing website. The prompt was basically, What would have happened if the Ugly Stepsister got the shoe instead of dear Cinderella? The following is my take on it. Please, I would love any feedback you have, positive or negative. I'd love to hear from everyone.

*

He was a prince among men but, if I'm honest, not the smartest man I'd ever met. Handsome? Of course, as well as princely, dashing, and charming. But clever, he was not. That shoe plan was beyond ridiculous. That any man could think that the woman he'd "fallen in love with" was so unique that there was not a part of her even remotely similar to another woman (down to her shoe size!) was sweet but misguided. How that girl ever could have fallen in love with him makes me question her sanity. But his lack of common sense gave me my chance, so I shouldn't complain.

We hatched the plan together, my sister and I; even as Mother hatched hers. We were clever and conniving. She was only conniving. She was certain the prince would fall for one of us, but we knew which sister that would be. And we could not let that happen. I wanted to take care of my sister, and she wanted to take care of me. Our intention was never to hurt our other sister, not really—we knew she could never be with the prince. It wasn't her station in life and she'd never have been able to take advantage of it. I know she hates us for what we've done, but I think she'll forgive us in time. I hope so. She is dear to us, whatever she may think.

The night of the ball, it was really more of a game for us than anything else. Mother spent so much time getting me ready, making me eye-catchingly, dazzlingly beautiful. She barely left us to ourselves. But when she did, we giggled and teased about what would happen if our plan actually worked. We had no idea things would go so smoothly. The shoe dropped on the stairs, just as we'd planned: a little clue left behind that could easily lead to a different sister. He had called out just a moment before, "Your name please, good lady! Grace me with your name!" But when the shoe fell, the name was forgotten, and the prince triumphantly hatched his plan—our plan, so recklessly laid that we had never dreamed it would truly happen. But it did.

He came to our home the very next day. Perhaps the prince was not so guileless as we had previously presumed. I worried that whole night that he would not pursue the shoe, or if he did that he would too soon find a woman that matched its shape. Surely there were dozens whose foot it would fit. I wonder now whether he didn't follow the carriage, he found us so quickly. The knock came and the royal announcer shouted his decree. Mother was so overwhelmed, the poor woman nearly fainted and had to be led to a chair. The prince kindly bowed to her, and in that hurried moment, I looked into my sister's eyes. Could we really go through with this? I reached out and gripped her hand in mine, my uncertainty causing me to tremble. But she squeezed back firmly and sat resolutely on the stool the page proffered. She looked in my eyes as if to say, We have done what is right. Don't change your mind now.

Soon all of us were seated primly on the stools, three maidens in a row. The prince bowed before our ignorant sister, taking her ankle softly in his hand to slide the graceful slipper on. Her face was so eager, I felt terrible she did not know of our plan. The shoe would not fit her, we had made sure of that, and I could see in her face that her heart was breaking as he wrenched the shoe quickly from her foot. She had danced with him that night, had looked into his eyes and seen her future. But in this she was no different from the other naïve women at the ball. She did not see what fate she escaped.

He knelt before me then, and I bit my lip apprehensively. What if it didn't work? What if the prince was not fooled? Would he look into my face? But he did not. He was intent upon my foot. I trembled as his hands gripped my ankle; they were firmer than I had expected. There was so much foolish confidence in his grasp, a surety that his plan could not fail. He will know, I worried desperately, though there was nothing to do about it now. He will know, he will look into my face and he will see me, recognize me. Surely he will know me?

He slipped the shoe quickly from my foot when he saw the space it afforded my ankle. I was not to be his princess. I sighed, relieved, but he did not notice as he quickly moved on to the last sister.

My dear, beloved sister who though only a stepsister was closer to me than my own heart, smiled almost imperceptibly as the prince reached out to try the shoe. She was certain it would fit; it was her shoe after all. The prince's eyes lit up, thinking he had found the one for whom he had sought. I did not pity him, though we had deceived him. He didn't know how lucky he was. Instead of a bride whose heart belonged to another, he would have a bride whose heart beat singularly for him. I smiled in triumph at the way we had worked out our fates, my sister and I, despite all the forces that fought against us, not the least of which had been Mother.

From the day she married my father, my step-mother saw not my beauty but how she could use it to suit her ends. I do not know if she loved me; I doubt she loved even her own daughters. She overlooked their loveliness, belittled them and ridiculed them constantly. She called them ugly, but they were not. They were beautiful and graceful creatures with hearts so pure and kind, they could have all the happiness the world offers, but Mother could not allow it. I believe now that she saw her own failures in them: They were her daughters, and so they carried with them the taint of her broken dreams. But I was my father's daughter, as yet pure of the pollution of her many disappointments. In her eyes, I was her best chance at satisfying the wishes of her heart. She did not see that those wishes were mirrored in the heart of my sister, and it never came to her mind that I might have my own dreams to pursue, my own heart to satisfy.

At Mother's behest, I had danced with the prince. She had trained me for it nearly my whole life, had saddled me with her own ambitions. Obediently, I charmed and flattered him in the way that Mother had taught me to trap and beguile every would-be suitor. And he had fallen for me. I knew he had, for when I turned to leave the dance floor his arm around my waist tightened and his eyes begged me not to go. And when my feet defied his eyes, he used his lips—begging me aloud not to leave him. I ran, he pursued. The too-big shoe I had borrowed from my sister slipped from my foot onto the steps as I ignored his beseeching for my name. I smiled to myself as I dashed into the carriage. He would not have it, he would never have my name—nor my heart.

Our mother called me 'Ella, short for Bella, the beautiful one. But I called myself Cinderella, a girl whose dreams had been in ashes. Until my sister saved me.

*

Ok, now that you've read it, I want you to know that if you felt confused--that was actually intentional. Sorry I know that's disconcerting, but the idea was to make the story sound as if it were actually the two stepsisters plotting to steal the shoe from Cinderella. As the course of the narrative unfolds, especially near the end, you see that it is actually Cinderella herself talking, and that she and one of her sisters have planned a way for Cinderella to escape the fate of marrying a prince she does not love. So I played with the relationships in the typical story we all know, though the stepmother is still a bit wicked. On the other hand, Cinderella loves her sisters and even her stepmother to some extent. The next-to-last paragraph should give you more of a clue about the family relationships that breaks the stereotype a bit. Does it work? Is what I really want to know.

Edit: Ok, I've changed a few things and hopefully it is a little less confusing. At least the reveal should answer some of the questions you have all been asking.

8 comments:

Melanie said...

I really like the idea! It was fun reading..you'll have to let me know when you publish your book someday. I was a bit confused at times about who was who, since it seems that some of the stereotypical relationships were changed...Cinderella seemed to like her sister, so I wasn't sure if I was reading it right! But in the end I got it and loved it!

David said...

So, you are publishing this... when? Come on, you are going to expand this, yes? I, too, was confused though... Is Cinderella the favorite of the Mother? Is the Mother Cinderella's step mother? Did the step mother like Cinderella more then her own daughters?

David said...

Hmm, I could tell that the relationships were blow apart, so that part worked. The problem happened because I didn't know to what extent they had been changed. I did not know who was the daughter of who any more, or if that was still the same.

Tracie said...

I really liked this. Of course I was confused at first, but it's okay. I love reading stories with a twist.

Patti Johansen said...

it is a bit confusing, I had to read it twice before I started to see. Is Mother Cinderella's real mother then? And the other sister in on the plot a real sister? And the oniformed a stepsisiter? I liked the twist and the feminist message.

Dad said...

I love that you are writing! way to go. abouth the story itself. Hmmmm. I like where you are going with it...but if I am to be honest with you I think there are too many twists. I get that you didn't want to give away the voice of Ella too clearly (or quickly), and that the relationship between the step sisters was closer than in the original story. So I am okay with being confused about who is the protagonist. But the relationship with the mother/stepmother didn't work for me.
Right now, it is hard to see why I should care about the stepmother plotting for Ella to marry the Prince only to have her other daughter win the day. Doesn't she win either way? Why isn't it better for her that way? She gets what the stepmother in the original story wanted...why wouldn't she be happy with that? I you don't want her to "win" I think you could go a couple of different ways.
You could one, make the stepmother be nicer, or a little more undefined. She would be kind of a non-story either way. That way the focus is on the sisters conspiring to save Ella from the Prince she doesn't love. Or two expanding the wickedness of the stepmother and making her a bigger part of the story. That way the ultimate victory is actually emancipation from the stepmother and escape from a badly thought out arranged marriage. (Who gets married because of a shoe anyway...oh wait a minute, the sister who Ella cares about does!?! You may want to develop why that is a good thing. You can come up with any number of reasons.)
The dual victory approach is a little more complicated, but you have a great idea! I think you can really make this idea marketable.

Christian & Jennifer said...

I loved it, Charity! My sweet, talented sister-in-law . . . you surely have a talent for writing. I, too, have always harbored a wish to someday write a novel. But it's so hard to get started. Doing writing exercises is essential and I never do that. As for your story, I think it is truly brilliant. I enjoyed the twists, for this old familiar story could certainly use some. I agree with everyone else . . . a tad bit more development and you could market this! You could even leave a bit of the mystery in it, although I'm not sure how exactly. I'd love to hear more background on each of the sisters and their relationships between each other. I'd like to understand better what Cinderella really DOES want in life and why her dearest-to-her-heart sister was so willing to love the Prince, who seemed less than desireable, and had fallen in love with Ella -- not her. You are wonderful and I can't wait to read more. Keep the writing exercises coming!

Emily said...

I think you're a very good writer. I love some of the sentences- they are a delight to read. You really are talented. It's a great idea for a twist on the story. I think for just a response to a writing exercise, it's wonderful. And you could really expand it and add in all these elements that would make it more complete, as people have suggested. (The mere fact that people are asking questions, wanting to know more about the relationships and motivations of the characters means you've written something good.)

I think it's great that you're taking a step towards a big goal like this. Inspriring, really. Isn't it true- so many people (myself included) would like to be an author, meaning: we'd like to have ALREADY written a fantastic book that we're proud of. Much fewer people actually want to WRITE a novel- sit down, practice, do the gritty work, etc. :) Good for you.