The People's Dancer - Fantasy

Audience: Young Adult?
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Novel
Notes: This is a story seed I’m interested in developing. I’m not sure what the heart of the story is yet, or which bits of conflict are worth expanding on. I just have a strong impression of this magical dance, and the friendship between the girl and her mentor.

Summary

Sofia Mirelda is a street dancer, locally infamous for her use of forbidden magic. She is shy and duty-driven, with dance as her only outlet as she cares for ailing family members. When a talent scout for Korros Dance Academy invites her to join one of the most prestigious dance schools in the kingdom, her sense of duty forces her to turn them down.

From that point on, bad luck follows Sofia everywhere. City Marshals get anonymous tips of the illegal performances; money disappears from Sofia’s bowl; and superstitious businesses are beginning to shoo her from their doorsteps. Finally, Sofia’s house-- with her family still inside-- burns down, and Sofia is left on the streets alone. She is quickly caught and tried for her crimes.

The talent scout returns, offering to buy Sofia out of prison. With the threat of slavery looming, Sofia is quick to accept the offer.

Sofia quickly makes enemies of the other students at her new school, facing jealousy over her dancing and teasing for her shyness. She no longer dances for the love of it, but pours herself into it for duty. Unused and shoved away, her magic begins to fade.

One day, her classmates plan to sneak out and Sofia follows them. Through eavesdropping, she learns of the rumors that have surrounded her: They say the fire was set on purpose, with magic, to force Sofia into the school.

The next day, Sofia refuses to dance. Her instructors try to persuade and eventually force her. Nothing works until Sofia is taken under the wing of the talent scout who originally recruited her. At first the pair hate each other, but as they’re forced to spend time together, Sofia discovers she was recruited for more than her ability with dance and magic. The dance school is part of a grand design to rid the kingdom of magic for good, and the scout sees glimpses of Sofia’s free spirit, which might just be enough to fight the school and win if she can let go of her duty.

Sofia agrees to resume dancing in public, but in private, the pair practice intense magics. Sofia finds her old sense of magic returning and must overcome her shy nature to befriend her once cruel classmates and rally against the institution to bring magic back to the kingdom.

1 Like

On the one hand, I appreciate a fantasy driven by character first and foremost. I also appreciate you eschewing most of the fancy worldbuilding stuff to simply leave it in the background. Not only does it help make the story significantly easier to follow along, it also creates compelling reasons for someone to want to read the story even though you gave the plot away (and I say this hoping people will read this and then read your summary and then make that connection and go “oh now I get why he says to drop that stuff from the beginning and focus on the ending”). I want to know exactly how this magic works and interacts with the world of dance. It’s neat, it’s compelling. Your character has a motivation, sort of.

But it doesn’t stick the landing currently. It goes a bit mixed metaphor by the end, where she originally starts with a motivation (rejecting a personal opportunity for growth in favour of familial obligation), she never really has to rectify it later down the line. It is resolved for her due to the burning of her house and she’s left with no alternative but to have to go to the academy.

This creates a passive hero, someone who is no longer making choices (like she did at the start by not going) to someone who is just sort of forced into circumstance. And that can be okay in this set up. If she was then forced into the school, found herself becoming addicted to the personal gains and losing sight of her original ambition to help her family, only to reconnect in the end, that would be interesting. Or if she felt out of place and forced at every chance, constantly trying to run away or avoid dancing (which is sort of the route taken?). In that scenario though, the whole thing gets muddled by multiple layers of conspiracy that aren’t totally necessary.

This is, from the set-up, a story of a person’s personal issue with a systemic issue (poverty and lack of local opportunity). They can fight to change that system actively, or get swept up in that system and then decide to leave it or change it, but if they sort of do neither and also both at once, it becomes tough to figure out exactly what they are learning or even what I’m rooting for.

Much of these extra conspiracy layers aren’t actually necessary. There’s already enough systemic oppression (lack of opportunity, forbidden magic, poverty) for the character to fight against, that they don’t need the academy and what it represents to be additionally double evil. That does certainly simplify things (for YA audiences) but I like to believe teenagers are smarter than that and can certainly see the metaphors. Go to a good school. Leave your family behind. You can’t stay here, in a poor neighbourhood. There’s a lot of powerful stuff and messaging within the framing of this story. Everything up until the point where the teacher is evil, then isn’t evil the school is actually evil and they’re forming a rebellion, has somewhat of a flow to it and builds to something.

Make sure that resolution and pay-off is paying off what came before it.

3 Likes

I really appreciate your perspective. I’ve been trying to write this story, but after the beginning, it’s sort of stalled out – and I think I see what you mean about the character being passive.

(I’m thinking this through as I type, so we’ll see if it makes sense xD)

Another thing is that Sofia has what she wants already, when the story begins. She’s dancing, she’s free, she’s using her magic, she has family to care about (though the audience has no reason to care about them yet, of course.) Which means the mentor can’t offer her anything without taking it away.

I have other strong scenes in my head now as well, which I’m not sure how they might play a part in the narrative as a whole. I imagine her wearing a kind of cuff that absorbs her magic (which is energy-based, so instead of drawing energy into magic, the energy is drawn into the cuffs and rendered useless) – so rather than some outside force burning her family’s house down, she ends up drawing energy from her roommate by accident and kills him. He wasn’t a good match for her anyway, but he was all she had, and it’s her fault.

But let’s say that dancing free on the street with magic is the conclusion, because she’d fight to get to that point.

… then I have no idea how the story might begin. Being an enforcer wouldn’t obviously get her to that point, except maybe in the sense that meeting Daska (the mentor) could give her opportunities she wouldn’t have otherwise had.

I don’t know, but you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you!