Master Class: Lesson 3

The third assignment for our workbook is to take a fairy tale and turn around the roles of protagonist and antagonist. The idea for a reversed Snow White came to me so quickly and so fully that I thought I would have it done in a single sitting.

Eight thousand words later, I finally return to my blog to post the results. Well, not the full results, I feel like the story needs another draft and would then be ready for submission, so I’m just putting up the first 500 words here to mark my completion of the task so I can move on to lesson 4.

What amazed me about writing this story was how fully I understood the characters before beginning the first line. Listening to Neil Gaiman talk about craft has a way of opening up your creative sinuses. Once I began writing, I knew this was going to be a longish first draft, but I never doubted where I was going with it.

Without further ado, here is the beginning to “Beauty Queen”:

Three hours before her daily appointment, a line of ladies in waiting streamed through the ornate doors into Queen Baelful’s bedroom to begin the long, careful process of waking her. Some were tasked with gradually opening the curtains while others began singing in a voice that was nearly a whisper. Still others sprayed perfume into the air over the bed, their scents concocted with traits from spring grasses and oleander petals to slowly enliven the senses.

Once the queen had awakened without shock and had been gently welcomed to the daylight world, the ladies removed the leather mittens from her hands and then carefully wiped away the pitera grease that kept her skin moist and free of wrinkles. While some of the ladies were taking care of her hands, others were in the process of tenderly removing the tea leaves and lavender mask from her face. Only then could her majesty open her eyes and take in the beehive of activity around her.

Being still an hour from leaving her mattress, they brought her a bedpan so she could relieve herself without getting up. It was the first humiliation of the day, but not the worst. She closed her eyes while two of her ladies carefully wiped the grease from her eyelids, imagined she was a girl again, back on her father’s farm, squatting behind the barn in the dew covered grass of a spring morning, and allowed her bladder to empty itself. Then they wiped her and removed the pan.

No one said a word. The only sound was the swishing of petticoats and the last verse of the waking song as the youngest of the ladies headed toward the final chorus, their voices full throated now. The air smelled of flowers as they dragged the silk sheets away from her and carried them out of the room, never to be seen again lest the oils they took from her body be reintroduced on following nights.

More than an hour after waking, she stood in the middle of the room as the ladies worked on her hair and sewed her undergarments in place on her body. She made no sound when the needles caught her skin, nor would she cry out when they bound her with the corset. All of this had become so routine over the years it was no longer worth remarking upon.

Two ladies brought out the day’s dress, only completed the night before by the seamstresses whose job it was to produce one fine garment every day of the year. Its back cracked open like a shellfish, they slipped it over her arms and the ladies in back began sewing it shut. The dress was then covered with a crude white sheet, essentially a giant napkin, as they brought her breakfast to her.

She was hungry. She was always hungry. It was difficult to get enough to eat when her internal organs were compressed by the corset. She also had to be careful how much liquid she consumed. The process of relieving herself once she was in the dress was so complicated it required half an hour and help from most of the ladies.

They finished their handiwork ten minutes before the appointed meeting time and, now free of their nibbling fingers, the queen fled from them into the corridor outside her room and made her way from the west wing to the throne room.

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