If 'reading group fiction' is your thing, would you read on?

Thu, Apr 12 2018 03:22pm IST 1
Hil
Hil
1078 Posts

Although I've been a cloudie for years, I think this might be the first time I've put anything up in this bit of the forum. It's a possible new beginning for my novel, prompted really by something in Emma's '17 (or is it 18 now?!) things to ask your novel'. She says: where is the narrator telling the story from?

I'm not really after detailed line by line feedback thanks, though if you think it's 'overwritten' please say so. Basically, would you read on? Or is it too reflective, not active enough? Or is it too confusing? (Obviously, it's meant to leave you with questions...)

Thanks for taking a look.

Sunlight slants through the tall windows. Shadows stretch across the wooden floor. The plinths - shiny, slate-grey blocks - are grouped in threes and fours. The pieces stand upon them, ready to tell the story. The story of me.

Now that I have finished arranging them, and have stood back to evaluate the effect, the air has settled. Tiny particles of dust hang, almost motionless, sparkling, poised.

And it is quiet.

I will get used to it - the quiet. That’s what I’ve been told. But how long will it take?

Where her voice once was - the papery rustle, the whispering sighs like leaves in the breeze - there’s a silence. A stillness. A wide and empty space.

Do I miss her? I cannot say. I suppose I should be glad she is gone. But she was with me for so long, she was part of me. In a way, I loved her.

I stand near the door. From here I can see all the pieces. My story, layered in paper. There are sweeping curves, sharp angles, elongated limbs and feathery fronds. There is speckled paper, silver foil, textured cream and lots of blue. There are wings and leaves and tendrils and claws. When this day was no more than a shadowy dream, these things were in the plan. I knew they would play their part. And yet it is nothing like how I imagined it then - when I dared to imagine it at all. Everywhere you look there are unfinished edges, rough joins and chaotic, mismatched shapes. Savage rips expose mashed newspaper flesh and twists of naked wire. Fragments lie as if abandoned on a battlefield - body parts: here a hand torn off at the wrist, long fingers reaching out, the paper skin webbed in blue and green; there the remnant of a wing, its mangled, coppery feathers sprouting from a shapeless wad of grey. No, it is not how I planned it.

But as I stand here and look, and breathe in the silence, I know it is right. Because it tells the truth.

In the centre stands the figure I made after…but I will not look at that one yet. I will save the moment, let it wait inside me like an unopened gift, beautifully wrapped and full of promise. The golden thrill of anticipation tingles through me and my heart beats faster. I make myself turn away.

On the left, where you come in, is one of the few pieces that survived everything intact. It is the first image I made of her all those years ago. I remember twisting the wire, smoothing the paper layers, curling the tiny leaves on a blade, absorbed in my need to capture her essence. Her voice whispered along the paint-spattered shelves and rustled through the aprons abandoned on the clay-spotted benches. It was as if the room was full of tiny, invisible, winged creatures or dry leaves swirling in a breeze. The sound flowed through me and I worked with itchy fingers and a fizz in my veins, determined to capture its essence. I had filled a sketchbook - feathers and leaves and wind-rippled grass; moth-wings and beetles and long-legged birds; page after page of bone-thin limbs, angular shoulders, and fragile necks that curved towards elongated heads with hidden or featureless faces. She crouched, knelt, lay down, circled her head with her arms. She never stood. She didn’t know how.

Meg. The only friend to stick by me when I set myself adrift. I cannot help it - tears press behind my eyes. The back of my nose prickles. I close my eyes, relax my shoulders, take a deep breath and feel myself get taller. I breathe out slowly. I focus my senses. The floor is solid under my feet. The air on my skin is cool. My pulse slows. I wait, and when the ache and the prickle have gone, I open my eyes and look at her.

The paper is handmade, off-white. The limbs are thin and sharp with a long curve up the spine, through the neck and over the head. Around the face, masking the deep eye sockets and pointed chin are layers of miniature leaves. The long fingers stretch out into delicate twig shapes, with tiny leaves unfurling from the tips. Leaves grow from the feet, too, and buds sprout from the shoulder blades like the beginnings of leafy wings. She is kneeling, both curled in on herself, and reaching out, fragile and thin as bone, but a growing thing. How can I look at her without hearing the murmurs? That, after all, is what I needed to capture. So for a moment, beyond the silence in the sunlit space, I conjure the whisper of her papery voice.

But it is not her. It is a memory.

She is gone.

Thu, Apr 12 2018 04:24pm IST 2
Seagreen
Seagreen
2370 Posts
Would I read on? Yes. The writing - the description - is beautiful, especially the last paragraph. And I think the tempo is just right. I had in my mind that your mc (I'm assuming mc?) was a man but it occurs to me this could also be a woman.

Your character comes across as controlled... driven.
Thu, Apr 12 2018 05:07pm IST 3
John Alty
John Alty
31 Posts
Beautifully written, Hil. I imagine the meaning will become clearer as the story progresses, I'd read on.
Tiny detail - the use of "capture her/ its essence" twice in the same paragraph jarred a bit.
Thu, Apr 12 2018 05:27pm IST 4
TheWeyMan
TheWeyMan
67 Posts
I like it. I would definitely read on, I'm intrigued.

I didn't notice the 'capture her / its essence' as John did, but the repetition of 'curve, curves, curved' as well as a couple of 'elongated.' It's not necessarily a bad thing, I just noticed it.

Feed us, we want more! :)
Thu, Apr 12 2018 06:53pm IST 5
Keith
Keith
11 Posts
For me there is to much description, although it is beautifully done, I think it hinders the flow of the story but yes I would read on as I found it interesting.
Thu, Apr 12 2018 06:58pm IST 6
L.
L.
228 Posts
I normally read a lot of character-driven fiction and I agree with the others that it is beautifully written but if I am honest I wouldn't read on. I found it too much of a stylised self-reflection especially for an opening, and overwritten in the sense that every sentence is packed with so much that they ended up competiting for attention and in the end none stood out (if that makes sense). Too much goodness if you will.

The premise is interesting: the art, someone grieving and the sense of loss. I first thought she had lost a small child (based on the sentence — She crouched, knelt, lay down, circled her head with her arms. She never stood. She didn’t know how.
but then the descriptions are all about elongated, bone thin, which are at odd with the description of a toddler, so maybe an older child who had a disability. You definitely has a hook in there. The idea makes me want to read, but the style is stopping me.

All of the above is based on my reading preferences, and my own take on it so if you don't think it's right please ignore.
Fri, Apr 13 2018 04:58pm IST 7
Sandra
Sandra
2157 Posts
Hil, in most moods, yes, I would read on. Depending on what I'd just finished, there might need to be a mental adjustment of pace, but it would certainly not be impossible, thanks to the quality of the writing, and the intrigues hinted at.
Sat, Apr 14 2018 02:43pm IST 8
BellaM
BellaM
2530 Posts
I'm finding it a bit hard to be objective, Hil, because I know you. I also know a bit of your writing but mainly from the short stories I've seen on here, so I know you are very good at pouring emotion and story into a few words.

I read the whole piece and I'm not entirely sure whether I would read on if I didn't know you, mainly because this is not really the type of style I would generally go for. I am a greedy reader and tend to read fast-paced thrillers.

However, I think I would read on. There is enough in there to pique my interest. I am curious to know more about Meg and the relationship between Meg and the narrator. The narrator him/herself is interesting. Repressed, restrained, a planner. And yet the art works have come out differently - as if the emotions have taken over, somewhat to the shock of the narrator. The piece is rich with description - again, not normally my thing, but the picture you paint is vivid and engaging. The voice feels a bit formal and stilted, with no contractions whatsoever. It adds to the sense of repression in the character of the narrator, but I'm not sure i could get on with it all the way through a novel.

Hope this is of some help.
Sat, Apr 14 2018 04:22pm IST 9
Newbie
Newbie
3676 Posts
Your writing draws me in, Hil, but I felt frustration marring the picture forming in my imagination of what, exactly, the m/c has created. The depth of emotion in the last two lines is astonishing. The words zapped a part of me that, like anyone who has lost people dear to them and jogs along each day, exploded into reality. It more than tugged; it woke me up.

Would I continue reading? I'm not sure. I don't mind mysteries but I'd be impatient to discover who or what the creation represents and why.

None of what I've written detracts from the beautiful, flowing work you've created though.
Sat, Apr 14 2018 05:42pm IST 10
Squidge
Squidge
2275 Posts
Wow, beautiful writing, Hil.

I would want to read on, because by the end, I wasn't at all sure who - or possibly what - 'she' was. I couldn't decide whether this was going to be a fantasy or an artist's view of normality, if you see what I mean?

I wouldn't normally be drawn in by this kind fo decriptive language either - as many others, I tend to prefer more immediate, character driven work, but there was something about the turn of phrase that made me want to read more.
Sun, Apr 15 2018 06:23pm IST 11
Hil
Hil
1078 Posts

Thank you all for taking the time to read, and for your helpful comments, whether positive or negative. They have certainly given me food for thought - especially as to whether something so descriptive is appropriate for a novel's opening. I would have to be careful too if the whole novel is not quite this style, because I guess when you read the beginning it should give you a feel for the whole. It shouldn't mislead readers.

Thanks for pointing out repetitions/things that jarred, as well as for saying what you did and didn't like, and what exactly did/didn't draw you in. It's interesting that some of you were intrigued and wanted to know... (positive response?) while some of you were frustrated because you didn't know (more negative response?). Hmmm - how to get the balance?

The original beginning for this novel was a scene in a butcher's shop (which some of you know) where this narrator character is only 5 years old. Much more 'in at the deep end'.

Newbie, you would be very annoyed as you'd have to wait quite a while to find out!

Bella - interesting about the lack of contractions. I hadn't noticed! Wait a minute -just spotted a there's and a didn't - but you're right on the whole. Also interesting that it's a bit different when you know someone and some of their other work.

L. Thanks for your comments - it's not about whether it's right or not. I asked for your responses. It's all helpful.

Mon, Apr 16 2018 05:24am IST 12
Sandra
Sandra
2157 Posts
Hil, reading the comments to this I was reminded of the difference in response between my son and my daughter and myself to Ann Enright's writing - 'nothing happens' - while I am transported by being so vividly drawn into the scene. So since you can't please all of the people ...
Mon, Apr 16 2018 09:38am IST 13
Newbie
Newbie
3676 Posts
Hil, I hope I didn't sound too negative. It wasn't intentional. I did like your writing and the premise of what the artwork represented to the m/c. :-(
Mon, Apr 16 2018 12:36pm IST 14
BellaM
BellaM
2530 Posts
Hah. There's me saying there's no contractions and there are two. I've actually gone back over this to find them - and I realise that they are both in such powerful parts of the prose that they're actually hard to find, because the writing draws me in completely at those points. Maybe something to be gleaned from that?
Mon, Apr 16 2018 01:59pm IST 15
Mat
Mat
63 Posts
All said, you’ve given yourself a ‘dark & stormy night’ opening - sunlight plus dust motes is just not rigorous, or serious. Take it out. I don’t know why no one has pointed it out, only achievable now as parody of CW. The rest is very elegant.
Mon, Apr 16 2018 03:36pm IST 16
Hil
Hil
1078 Posts

I don't know what you mean, Mat. (What is CW?) Which is probably why I've done whatever it is I've done!

Yes, Sandra it is subjective, and it's good to be reminded of this; it helps me to hear both views.

No, Newbie. Not too negative at all. I appreciate all the comments - although I didn't understand yours, Mat.

That is interesting, Bella. Yes, I suppose in those bits the writing hasn't 'got in the way'. I have been told sometimes that I overwrite, and then the writing 'gets in the way' of what you're trying to say. Something to learn indeed.

Mon, Apr 16 2018 06:21pm IST 17
Mat
Mat
63 Posts
CW is creative writing.

There are several thousand ways to begin a story, but students especially begin with sunlight streaming through the window, and then examine the beauty of dust in the atmosphere. It's just one of those things like opening with a yawn and stretching your arms over two pages.
Mon, Apr 16 2018 07:28pm IST 18
Hil
Hil
1078 Posts
Oh, I see, like waking up and looking in the mirror. I get it. Thank you!
Mon, Apr 16 2018 11:18pm IST 19
Mat
Mat
63 Posts
Now I feel a pig. I am pig.
Tue, Apr 17 2018 01:52pm IST 20
Squidge
Squidge
2275 Posts
OK, having read - and vividly remembered! - that opening scene in the butcher's, I'm not sure how to play this one on reflection. I would have said that teh two styles are quite different - but you've already picked up on teh 'rest of the novel isn't quite like this' vibe. I would say that the butcher one has more impact as an opening when the two are compared, because this one is quite open-ended and leaves lots of questions unanswered, whereas the butcher's one gives us a distinct scene and definitely brings lots of tension in - I can't remember for example whether we ever got to find out where the blood came from (if I've remembered correctly!)

It's one of those things you've got to be comfortable with yourself, Hil - whichever one speaks to you and leads better into the next part of the novel.
Tue, Apr 17 2018 02:47pm IST 21
Little Wol
Little Wol
4 Posts
Very thought provoking and well written, I should imagine lots of people would read it purely for the beauty of the descriptive writing. That said, I think this kind of writing is very much a matter of taste, and although I can appreciate the quality of the writing, I would be with those that found it a little too much of a good thing. I think, for my taste, there needs to be a morsel of something more substanstial to balance it.
Tue, Apr 17 2018 04:15pm IST 22
Hil
Hil
1078 Posts

I don't know why I've never been brave enough to post anything on the critique forum before. It's given me so much to think about and mull over.

Thank you all.

Wed, Apr 18 2018 04:13pm IST 23
Leon
Leon
15 Posts
I love the descriptive writing in this piece.
There is no need for me to echo what people have already said, so i'll keep it short. I would be intriuged to see where this story goes, however, I fear that the heavy use of the descriptions (as great as they are) might put me off if they continue throughout the entire story. Too much of a good thing, can be a little bit off putting.
But to answer your question, would I read on? The answer is YES!

Thu, Apr 19 2018 08:52am IST 24
Philippa
Philippa
1660 Posts
Hi Hil,

Always you have a beautiful grasp of language and I can see your real skill in delving into poignant character relationships already shining through in this opening. There is lots of intrigue with making sense of the space she is in, what the project she is working on and of course the whole story of her relationship with Meg.

For me, I felt as an opening (even for the "literariness" of reading group fiction), there was a little too much description and introspection for me to want to read on at this stage. I'm thinking about the idea that some scenes are action scenes and some scenes are reaction/reflection scenes. I think there is a danger of opening with a reflection scene - I think seeing a character in action makes us care about them, and we need to care about them before we are interested in their reflections.

One option might be to use the same scene but have your protagonist engaged in concrete task and make something intriguing happen. For example, she is setting up the display, grappling with various intriguing objects, and then suddenly she deliberately smashes a piece. As a reader would want to know why she did this.

Hope that helps. x
Thu, Apr 19 2018 08:54am IST 25
Philippa
Philippa
1660 Posts
Oh and it's a good point from Emma about knowing where your narrator is telling the story from, but this point in time doesn't have to be your opening.

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