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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now switching to a brand-new project, an alternative history I’ve wanted to do for 17 years but didn’t have any specific outline for till recently. Its working title is A Dream of Peacocks. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather if you’d told me this would demand to be first-person narration! I always assumed it’d be my usual third-person omniscient.

My synopsis is still a work in progress, but here’s the beginning:

What if one of the most famous love stories in history wasn’t unrequited?

When Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari meet as children on May Day 1274, they’re instantly drawn to one another with a strong, precocious love. Their dreams of marriage come to an abrupt end when their fathers arrange their betrothals to other people, but an unexpected second chance comes when they’re both widowed in their early twenties.

I think the first line of the second paragraph sounds a bit clunky, so any suggestions for tinkering are appreciated. It’s based on an early line in La Vita Nuova, in which Dante describes his age relative to the cycles of the Sun (as understood in Medieval astronomy), and the description of the Sun in Canto I of Inferno as the planet which leads us straight on every path (pianeta che mena dritto altrui per ogne calle).

From the very first time I saw her, I knew Beatrice Portinari would someday be my wife. I just never realized how long, complicated, and anguished our path to a permanent happily ever after would be.

The Sun, that heavenly planet of light which leads us straight on every path, had circled back nearly to the same point nine times since my birth when my life changed forever with an invitation to the rich neighbors’ house for May Day. But as my father and I left our house that fateful morning, I was as yet unaware of the destiny which would soon begin unfolding.

The old stone streets of Piazza San Martino were full of other May Day revelers bedecked with violets and roses, carrying alder, laburnum, and more flowers, and singing auspicious songs meant to entice people into giving them sweets, wine, eggs, food, and alms. Some of these Maggerini also played instruments to accompany their sweet verses. As dearly as I wished I could stop and listen to all of them, I was compelled to keep walking alongside Babbo so as not to be late. The Portinaris were a very wealthy, important banking family, and it wouldn’t create a flattering impression if we arrived late. They might not invite us again, and as Babbo always stressed, a lesser noble family of reduced station like ours needed all the powerful friends and connections we could find. Though we had enough money to live comfortably, we weren’t equal to the city’s richest families.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Babbo indicated the stone tower house on Via del Corso, in front of which another group of Maggerini were singing their joyous songs and playing their sweet instruments. The doors were open, and several adults were distributing gold florins, candied ginger, slices of focaccia, and honeyed almonds. When I saw the brocade, velvet, silk, and gold and silver embroidery on their clothes, I hoped my fairly humble green wool tunic and red hose would be deemed acceptable.

Presently, the Maggerini finished their performance and moved towards the next house, and Babbo moved forward and addressed a man in a brilliant Byzantine blue velvet tunic with serious bearing.

“A joyous Calendimaggio, Ser Folco. I’m Alighiero di Bellincione, and this is my son Durante. We live on Via Santa Margherita.”

7 thoughts on “WeWriWa—May Day 1274

  1. Suggestions/feedback:

    Start with “This fateful morning” and work in the sun and the stars and what the human bodies are doing.

    Seems like the Sun is making things complicated – no fault of Its own.

    The whole Dante-and-destiny theme is powerful. Is it a dance? a clash?

    Babbo is Dante’s father, yes?

    “May the first; the morning of fate” could start the paragraph.

    Or “My life changed forever” … too individualistic, too quick for the setting and the context? wanting Dante to sound a bit breathless.

    1724+[nearly] 9=1733. [or 1732]?

    I am seeing Dante in the green tunic and red hose.

    The rich household [the seniors in it] wear blue.

    And there are so many hints to the long and complicated journey – starting off with the third paragraph. It is full of history and of symbolism.

    Like

  2. A very atmospheric snippet, took me right into the scene. I did have to stop and do the calculations what he meant, regarding his age, which took me out of the scene briefly. I also realized I only ever think of him as an adult LOL so then I stumbled over how her could be only nine, was he counting leap years….so, yes, I’d simplify that a bit. But otherwise I enjoyed the excerpt as always. You do wonderful research!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love that you’ve taken this as your subject! Since your warned me about that one sentence it I got what you were getting at, but might not have otherwise. I’m so intrigued by this premise! Tweeted.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the historical subject choice!

    I agree with you that the sentence you mention does feel a bit clunky. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve rec’d about a long/convoluted/confusing sentence is to just simplify it. That is, as long as the rewrite doesn’t stray from the narrative voice.

    Perhaps a full stop after “birth”? Then you get to include all the information–and that beautiful line about “…straight on every path…”

    The Sun, that heavenly planet of light which leads us straight on every path, had circled back nearly to the same point nine times since my birth. That was the day when my life changed forever with an invitation to the rich neighbors’ house for May Day.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree that the sentence you called out staggers a bit from the weight of all the information you pack into it. When in doubt, break it into two sentences. There are some great suggestions in these comments, so take your pick.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I taught excerpts of The Inferno to my high school English class and am pretty familiar with Dante’s life, so I’m loving the idea of this story. And knowing what’s to come for him, it feels like there’s some foreshadowing already, which is a nice treat for readers.

    Liked by 1 person

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