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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fourth Crit: The Word

The writer says: It's from a WIP called THE WORD, a YA paranormal romance (?) set in the Regency era. 1) Does the modern-sounding voice distract from the story, 2) Are the flashbacks jarring? Should I try to incorporate them another way? 3) Thoughts on the characters? 

Word around the house is that Mr. Weston suggested he return to London immediately that he might begin preparations for the wedding; but Mr. Kingsley refused, insisting that he stay a while longer, as he had only just arrived, and George would be sorely disappointed if he left so soon.   That night he writes a letter to his parents and friends in London, telling them of the good news and assuring everyone that he'll be home in a fortnight.   I know because I'm serving tea in the parlor, where he, George, and Harriett have gathered for the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley having gone off to bed.

After he seals the letters and tucks them away, he picks up a book, settling back in his chair while Harriett watches him from across the room.   Meanwhile George examines a clock with feigned interest, but it's all very plain that they're waiting for Mr. Weston to put down his reading.   He doesn't, and after a few minutes of strained silence, Harriett huffs and rises to her feet.

"Do tell me, Mr. Weston, are you always this dull?   Go on like this and I may have second thoughts about marrying you."

He doesn't even look up from his book.   "Why am I dull, darling?"

I start at the word.   A tea cup tumbles from my tray and shatters on the floor.   Darling.   It doesn't sit right with me, but I pretend not to notice and begin to sweep up the mess.

"You and your…your…"   Harriett waves at the novel, "…your  book.   Why don't you play cards with George and me?"

"No, thank you, dear."

"Hmph!"   She places her hand on her lip and pouts, but her eyes still maintain their twinkle.   "My husband will  not  spend his evenings  reading, when he could be doing something useful!   Like…like…How about you watch me perform on the pianoforte?"

I do my best to stifle a laugh, but it comes out a snort anyway.   Only Weston notices, and when he smiles, I can't help but wonder if he's chuckling at Harriett, or at me.

"Go ahead and play, love.   The beauty of books is that I can listen and read at the same time."

George butts in, for the first time turning away from the clock.   "Come now, Weston.   Play cards with us."   He crosses the room and slips the book right out from between Weston's fingers, snaps it shut and drops it on a mahogany table.

Weston purses his lips, but doesn't say anything as he picks himself up and settles at the card table. George shuffles the deck:   thith-thith-thith-thith…

…The wind beats against the cottage.   Through the thin walls I hear the trees rattle:   thith-thith-thith-thith.   I snuggle against Father's chest, so that his warmth will seep into my bones.   Nearby Mother sews up a hole in a pair of trousers.   Her fingers move rhythmically back and forth, and before long I'm in a trance that shatters only when she sets down her work to answer a knock at the door.

"I am sorry to intrude, Madame, but I am traveling and 'ope zat you might let me stay ze night?"   He speaks with a thick French accent, and later tells us his name is Bernard LaFontaine, and he has traveled all the way from Orleans.

I assume you've already established that her parents ran a boarding-house/inn/whatever? A little transition here from meeting Bernard at the door to feeding him would help -- I assume they invited him in, sat him down somewhere, etc. You want to save his dramatic reveal for later, that's fine, but just a little something so it's clear Mother isn't making him eat while standing in the door. 

Mother hands him a bowl of steaming broth and a crust of bread.   He thanks her, but before he eats he removes his coat, hangs it over a chair, and from his pockets draws a book.   A thin book, easy to hide, with a worn leather binding and stiff, uneven pages of a grayish yellow.   In the candlelight it seems to pulsate words, words, words, until I'm dizzy with words but can't pin any of them down.

Father notices the book, too, but doesn't say anything about it.   "Have you been long in Kent, Monsieur LaFontaine?"

"No, Monsieur.   I 'ave just come from London, actually…"

"Oh, London!   I just can't wait to go.   Do tell me, Charlie, that we'll visit there often once we're married?"   Harriett is again back on her favorite subject, and though I'm tired of hearing about London, her voice draws me out of my stupor.

I've been cleaning up this same teacup for ten minutes now, but nobody has noticed except for maybe Weston.   Every few seconds he glances my way, and when I lift my eyes to his, he doesn't avert his gaze.   Which terrifies me.   I am invisible.   A ghost among gods.   The Kingsleys only see me when they  want  to see me, and that's only to give orders.   But what really scares me is the way he seems to look not so much at me but through me.

As though my mind is an open book, and he just read it.

I swipe up the rest of the mess and rush out of the parlor, the tea service rattling on the tray.   In the hall I slump in the shadows, my back pressed against the wall as my heart drums, so loudly I swear they can hear it in the next room.

"What's wrong with you, Pippa?" I breathe aloud.   A chorus of laughter erupts around the card table.   It rumbles over the carpet, crackling and thunderous…

The card table's crackling and thunderous? On a carpet? Well, maybe, but all the antique card tables I've seen were pretty lightweight things.

…A flash of light, and he's only a silhouette in the doorway.   I begin to tremble, but Father hushes me and rubs my arms, until I'm still and safe in his embrace.   Mother waves for LaFontaine to come inside, but he just stands at the threshold, his hat in his hands despite the oncoming rain.

Maybe you should mention the storm more clearly in the first part of the flashback. You mentioned wind, but that doesn't necessarily mean a thunderstorm, to me.

Highlight: this pronoun is risky, because the actual antecedent is Weston... but I think the context is clear enough that it's not Weston... Judgement call, for you. :)

"You should know, Madame, zat I am a cursed man."   He whispers it, but the wind picks up the words and carries them to my little ears.

Mother glances at Father, and he takes over.   "Nonsense!   Cursed or not, we couldn't turn away a traveler, and definitely not when there's a storm on the way."

"I'm serious, Monsieur.   I'm a cursed man…"

I try to shake away their voices, but they stick, loud and heavy.   So clear my parents and Monsieur LaFontaine might have been in the next room, talking over tea and biscuits.

"What's happening to me?"   These are fancies fit for nightmares.   Memories only able to slip into my mind when unconscious takes over and my fortifications crumble.   Always I've managed to push them from my head by thinking of other things:   my work, my books.   Happier memories, like Father's lessons or my afternoons with Jonathan.   Not particularly easy, but it works.   Usually.   So why now?

I had no problems with the voice up until here -- it's somewhat antiquated, but not overbearingly so, and I think it works. (caveat: I don't read Regency, and I understand it's a demanding genre.) The unconscious is, of course, a Freudian concept that post-dates the Regency. The highlighted part sounds especially modern, to me, in its word choice and pacing.

Chairs scrape across the parlor floor, reminding me of my duties.   Soon Harriett will retire, and I'll have to help her make ready for bed.   I rush the tea service back to the kitchen, all the while praying that the memories don't get worse.

Are the flashbacks jarring: a little, but given the context I think they ought to be jarring. Just be careful with the pronouns and rigorously consistent with those ellipses. 

Thoughts on the characters: well, LaFontaine sounds interesting. :) Pippa, it depends on how seriously she takes the "ghost among gods" idea -- it's not one I would find endearing. Everyone in the parlor sounds kinda dull to me, but we didn't meet them very much. Weston comes off a bit predatory. 

As indicated by my general lack of complaining, I think this is pretty good!

5 comments:

Charity Bradford said...

I thought this was really quite good. The first paragraph, mostly the first two sentences, was a bit confusing because of the lengthiness as well as the fact I didn't know any of those people mentioned. A little tightening for clarity might help.

After that I enjoyed it. The flashbacks were a bit jarring but I could still follow well enough.

I'm curious about this curse and why Pippa is having flashbacks now of all times.

mshatch said...

Here's what struck me:

1. That first sentence is 50 words, which is quite long.

2. I assume the setting is an inn but who is chaperoning Harriet? If George is her brother okay but if not then this would be quite improper.

3. "What's wrong with you, Pippa?" I had to read this a few times to get that she's talking to herself. At first, I thought she was talking to someone else. I wonder if using italics for these parts would make it clearer?

4. It appears that LaFontaine has both come inside and taken his coat off and remained in the doorway, "a silhouette."

5. I'm curious about the book he has; it intrigues me. Should it?

6. I assume this is not the first page and we have been grounded in this place and setting prior to this scene. If not, we should be.

7. Regardless, I got a good sense of this being in the past from this bit.

hope this helps :)

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Pippa sure has become a popular name. I've noticed it everywhere in manuscript excerpts, and the only thing I can attribute it to is she's Kate Middleton's sister.

Patchi said...

I agree with L's crit and Marcy's comments. The first sentence is very long and has too many "he." I thought George and Mr. Kingsley were the same person until the narrator said Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had gone to bed.

The voice is engaging and the names and descriptions set the period for me. It took me a bit to get situated, and it would have been helpful to know if this is the first page. I'm not sure who George is, but I was able to figure out that Harriet had just gotten engaged to Weston.

The flashbacks are a bit jarring until I figured out what they were. The ellipsis helps and if they started slowly in the previous chapter(s), I don't think they would be off-putting. I would suggest introducing the first flashback in the book with narration. Something like [the scene in front of me faded and was replaced by my long-lost home]. Also, you might want to make sure the flashbacks are short in the beginning and let them increase in length as the story proceeds. In this section, the first flashback could be just the scene at the table when LaFontaine shows her the book. The standing at the door and introduction can be in the second one.

In all, this is very intriguing. Good luck!

Sam F. said...

Thanks for the comments! They're very helpful :)

(And this is not the first page, if that helps at all)