Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Broken? #10

GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Eugénie (Genie) Lowry's body changed from Kate-Hudson-flat to Katy-Perry-curvy the instant she turned 17 1/2. Her grandmother (Mamère) is trying to explain to her why this happened. (I've been told that Genie accepts this new information too readily.)

“Are you being deliberately dense, my dearest girl? Haven’t you ever heard of genies?”

“What?” I gasp, floored. Can she actually be implying what I think she’s implying? I couldn’t, in my wildest dreams, ever have imagined that this is what my grandmother was going to say. “No. What are you talking about? You’re trying to tell me, I mean, I’m a . . . real . . . genie?”

“Yes,” she says with a breathy gush, nodding in relief that I understand her.

“That’s crazy. You’re crazy. There is no way.” I breathe for a couple of beats, trying to get my bearings. This is a ridiculous conversation.

“How—how can this be? Mamère, I don’t understand,” I whisper.

She takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She won’t meet my eyes. “Eugénie, today you have begun the six-month process of becoming a genie. As with all genies, you reached your physical maturity on your 17 ½ birthday, and you will reach your full wish power between now and the day you turn 18. I don’t know much more about it, unfortunately, just the little your mother told me before we lost her.” She glances at me quickly. “Thank goodness I knew this much, so Papa and I could be prepared for this change, if it were going to happen.”

“Are you saying that my mother was a genie? I thought they lived in bottles, or something like that. Am I supposed to grant you wishes now?!” I pause, wide-eyed. “How can this possibly be true? I don’t understand. I mean, I get it, but I still don’t get it. What does this mean?” Mamère is struggling to answer me as I’m babbling out questions, and moves to put her arms around me. I hold up my hand to stop her, and drop my face into my arms. This is too much to take right now, and I don’t want to be touched.

I sit back, nearly rocking the papasan out of its base, suddenly thinking about strange occurrences from throughout my life: the lunches forgotten at home that seemed to magically appear in my backpack when I wanted them; the perennial green lights I get when I drive around town—it’s always been a joke between Leia and me.

My heart is racing, and I blink slowly. I look at her and start to ask a question but stop myself, instead nodding silently at her. With my world turned upside-down in a single day, there’s a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach that can only be helped with more chocolate. My grandmother swallows, and opens her mouth, as if to say more. I shake my head for her to stop. Choking on more questions rising inside of me for which I’m just not ready for answers, I am floored, and I need to be alone. Immediately.

“Good night, Mamère,” I manage to get out, and flee up the stairs to my attic room—my sanctuary--only stopping in the kitchen long enough to grab some peanut butter cups on the way up.


  1. I think this isn't working because her initial reaction is shock.

    Imagine someone told you that you were a genie. What would your reaction be? Especially if you were a 17-year-old?

    Chances are, your first reaction would be 'Yeah, right', sarcasm, or backing away from the crazy person. You wouldn't be shocked because the suggestion is so 'out there' that it wouldn't cause you stress thinking about it.

    Let me give another example. Your child is home two hours past curfew, and his excuse is that he was abducted by aliens. Your reaction would not be, "I don't believe it! This isn't happening! Aliens don't exist!" and trembling.

    In my opinion, her transition would be more believable if she did not believe the whole genie thing for an extended length of time, with evidence building up until she cannot deny it anymore. Just don't swing too far in the other direction, where she's turning people into gophers accidentally and she's still saying, "I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for this..."

  2. Hi. I think the problem here is definitely the brand of disbelief. She's taking it the wrong way. Someone tells you you're a genie, you don't flip out. Your whole world isn't turned upside down. You laugh and move on, and if the person persists, start to worry maybe they're going a little crazy.

    I'm not sure remembering my lunch and good traffic would occur to me as evidence, either.

    I would suggest that you make this scene less intense. Eugenie shouldn't be scared, she should be amused. This should definitely be a matter of Mamere taking time to wear her down, not trying to shove it all down her throat at once.

    Definitely a tough scene to write; you wrote the emotions well, I just feel like they were the wrong ones.

  3. I agree with Chro that the initial tone is off. A typical 17-year-old's reaction in this situation would probably be some combination of laughter and scorn, maybe with a tinge of worry that Grandmere is becoming senile.

    I think there is a little too much telling in the second paragraph, where you say Genie is "floored," and couldn't have imagined in her wildest dreams.... Unless she lives in a world where genies are commonplace, it's pretty much a given that she couldn't have seen this coming. An extended back-and-forth with her grandmother, such as Chro suggested, would give you a chance to show her disbelief.

    Genie's impulse to run away at the end of this section is much more believable, but the paragraph about who her world has been turned upside-down, the heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach, etc. drags a little. I think you could show her emotional state in a few sentences: she thinks something like "no, this is crazy, I can't take any more," maybe shouts at her grandmother to stop, and then runs away.

  4. Intriging story! It drew me right in:)

    I agree with Chro and Vicorva that this scene doesn't feel believable because of Eugenie's reaction. Her initial reaction should be shock/disbelief. And she should be worried that Mamere is losing it.
    Running to her room works!
    Remembering things that mysteriously happened also ties in with this.
    "Floored" tripped me. It doesn't seem to belong.

  5. This is already so helpful. Thank you so much!

  6. As others have said, she wouldn't be shocked. It's too nutsy cookoo a concept to be believable, so she won't believe it, and further more, she'll want proof. Seeing is believing, so once she has her proof, she'll go from shock to tentative acceptance. So I suggest she do whatever apprentice genies do... grant a sample wish? I don't know. But readers will want to know what wish powers are and how they work. Show the character, and us, what she can do, and then she can start to ponder what it all means.

  7. I have to agree with everyone else: The shock seems stale. There is a wide range of emotions you could tap into, from brushing it off ("That's a really bad joke...") to skeptical curiosity or maybe even excitement.
    And, to add my own two cents, I think you've dumped too much information on the reader here. It felt strained and unrealistic,sudennly her grandma's dumping all this information on her. If you break it up into smaller scenes spaced throughout the story, I think it would work better. Maybe at first she rejects what her grandma says, but as the evidence builds keeps coming back for more info. And she could discover some of it herself, which would make her a more active character.

  8. As an addendum to the many lovely comments above, here's a way to start showing Genie the proof she needs to go from the initial denial ("Okay, it's finally happened. My grandma's developed Alzheimer's") to a beginning of a possiblity of accepting this as truth:

    have the grandmother be the one to suggest that the lunchbox, green lights, etc., are genie-related.

    In abbreviated form:

    G-Ma: You're a genie.
    Genie: Whatevs, Grammie.
    G-Ma: I swear it's true.
    Genie: And I swear we need to see about putting you in a home.
    G-Ma: Have you ever had things happen you can't explain - things seeming to go your way as if by magic?
    Genie: (thinking of stop lights and lunches) N-No.
    G-Ma: Really?
    Genie: It's just...that couldn't have been...This is just stupid! Leave me alone! (storms off)

  9. I agree with the other comments. I think the MC would completely disbelieve the grandma's declaration. She can easily pass it off as senility setting in.

    You also could have the MC think back about her mother and come up with some strange memories, but chalk them up to normal explanations.

    If she denies this in the beginning, it gives you room the ramp up the tension as she gradually sees proof. That will make it much more interesting to the reader.

  10. Think Harry Potter. Remembering odd things is good. But I thought Genies granted wishes? So it didn't make sense to me that her own wishes are coming true.

    Great concept! I like it. As an aside, you might reconsider the name Genie as that's a bit on the nose. Good luck with this!

  11. Love the premise, but I agree with the comments above. Think "The Princess Diaries" and you'll get the right picture. As mamere to wish for the moon then laugh in her face.

  12. I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of just changing your mc's reactions. Would doing so be consistent with her personality? The other trouble is this scene contains a lot of "telling." Much better to SHOW your mc discovering the truth about herself, even if she doesn't understand it at first. I think to fix this you'll have to make changes much earlier in the ms. As your mc said, there were weird events. To bring up the HP standby - Harry made a number of magical things happen (plus the owls, etc.) before he was told he was a wizard. So, it wasn't that much of a leap for Harry to believe Hagrid.

  13. I think that the grandmother's delivery of this bombshell needs a bit of work to be made consistent. On the one hand, Mamere is trying to explain a physical change (that could also just be the result of a puberty-related growth spurt) with genie-hood, but then says that she doesn't know much more about it. But in the opening sentence she accused her granddaughter of being deliberately dense for not jumping to the genie conclusion. If it is obvious in the world you have written, it raises the question of why Genie doesn't believe her.

    Also, I think if I heard that I was a genie like my mother before me, if there was even the slightest shred of potential truth to it, then nothing would drag me from that interesting conversation. There would need to be something obviously unpleasant related at the same time in order to justify running away.

    I agree with the previous commenter who suggested doling out the information more slowly and let Genie come to the realization gradually. Try writing a few different scenes to deliver the same information; I often find that I like what I come up with in those practice scenes better than the original.

    GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

    I would have to agree this whole process of realization happens way too quickly. I also tend to wonder why Genie hasn’t been indoctrinated to her mother’s genetic ‘aberration’ sooner in life. Like, at a sixth or tenth birthday, a 15th or 16th progressively. I wouldn’t think a bombshell such as this would just be dropped in a kid’s lap like that six months before the “grand conversion”. (Think of the potential emotional damage!) Makes them sound like a dysfunctional family. Consider what it might be like to have a kid grow up thinking “Daddy” was his or her biological parent only to find out at the age of 18 that “Papa” was truly the biological father. I daresay Mama and anyone else ‘in on’ the subterfuge would find themselves victim to the kid’s vilification for many years to come. Right in there on the “YOU LIED TO ME!” mode. Perhaps some allusion that Genie has already been made aware of the situation (whether she fully accepted it at the time or not).

    Even if Eugénie was made privy to Mom’s ‘unique’ genetic makeup at an early age, there might be a sense of disbelief until she actually undergoes the change herself so there is, of course, still room for the “shock and awe” stage at 17 ½ with Eugénie in denial that the time has already come for her change, or realization that the ‘fairy tales’ from her childhood were real, or something along that line.

    (I could foresee Mamère sitting her down and offering an opening line like, “Eugénie, dear, you remember when I told you about your mother’s, um, biological uniqueness?” Eugénie might take some time to rehash previous conversations before she comes up with the initial denial along the lines of, “Mom was a genie? Yeh. But I thought that was just a story to make me feel better after she died. I never really believed that I… Me…? A genie?” before leading into, ‘grandma shakes her head…’ and begins the part about, “Thank goodness we knew that much so Papa and I…”)

    Which leads to – I also have a bit of a problem with her immediate assumption that her mother was a genie without having been given any prior information to that affect. Just because Mama TOLD grandma about Genie’s potential ‘genie-ness’ does not mean Mama, herself, was a genie. It just means that Mama told grandma about the potential for GENIE to develop as a genie. Potholes in construction make for a rough road for your story. Might want to look at some patch work.

    The segment on her acknowledgment of mystical intervention in day-to-day events works nicely to move her toward her acceptance of her reality. I love the, “…can only be helped with more chocolate” line. So well-suited to the character. And the peanut butter cups reinforcement is perfect.

    I do think you might want to go back and move this segment a little more slowly and deliberately. Make sure your events are appropriate to the reactions and vice versa. Consider the ‘real world’ responses and how they fit. Also think about how likely it is that A) Mamère would know nothing more about Mama’s ‘condition’ than that it exists, basically; and B) Genie would have no clue that her mother was unique in some way. If Genie was just a baby when Mom died, that would go a long way toward explaining Genie’s lack of awareness and should be included in the introduction to the “Genie’s a genie passage”.

    Overall, I think this story has fabulously broad possibilities. It obviously has a long way to go but when it gets there, I think it’s going to be a good ride!