New beginning

  1. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    Okay, I don't think the opening chapter of my new book is working (the banshee at the harbour, for those in the Writing group), but I wonder if this does. It is a first draft, I'm not after typos and what not. I'm simply wondering does it hook? Does it ask any questions?
    @LittleStar @Kerrybuchanan @ctg - what do you think, having read the book?

    Cheers, all! J
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    Amelia painted in the sunlight, wanting to capture the feel of the day, the promise of the North Coast of Ireland, the grand beauty of the Antrim Coast Road. The sun warmed her shoulders as she worked, smearing pastels to catch the colour of the beach, the grey-granite rocks shining as they caught the day’s light. Her hands became smeared, layers of blue and green and grey that began to resemble the sea.

    Joe, no doubt bored, kicked stones towards the water and then skimmed them to show off to a pair of boys who’d come down to the shore. They must have been ten years to his thirty, and he still couldn’t let them win. Quickly, Amelia captured him, too, back arched as he prepared to throw, the lean body moving into a crouched toss over the water. The kick of the surf where the pebble hit. His wounded face when it turned out the kids were demons at skipping stones, going past his by at least half a foot.

    “I’m going up for a pint,” he said, jerking his head at the hotel across the narrow strip of road. “Come over when you’re ready.”

    She nodded, absently, already trying to figure out how to capture the mast of a boat in the lee of the bay, how to match the sunlight that had painted it into a thin line of gold. Joe headed across the road, dashing between two cars.

    The sky had clouded over. Frowning, she tried to outpace the clouds, to finish catching the day as it had been. Cloudy skies didn’t sell paintings. Her clients wanted sunshine and happy days. Chocolate-boxed promises of all things safe.

    The sea had got up, too, making the boat rock from side to side. The wind raked her face, a sudden sharpness. She found herself slamming her artbook shut and tucking her pastels away, just beating the great drops of rain. The smell of seaweed rose with the storm, becoming thick and claggy. She turned to climb up to the road and the safety of the hotel, but stopped at the sense of being watched.

    The beach was empty; the two boys had scarpered from the storm. She stared at the hotel, and the feeling of being watched grew, her back prickling. She ran her eyes up the side of the building until there, in the attic, she caught sight of a white face at the window.

    The ghost-room. Set up for tourists, in an old-fashioned way. She’d been up to see it with Joe just before she’d decided to paint on the beach. The figure stared down, and she stared up, and she couldn’t have described the fear she felt, one that made her hands clench around her handbag’s strap, and her throat thicken.

    It could be Joe, trying to spook her. Except that Joe was much more likely to have gone to the bar than on some kind of mischief. Still, the face stared.

    She ran across the road, ignoring the screech of brakes, and through the entrance. She darted up the stairs, into the single staircase that led to the attic. No one passed her. There was no other way up or down from the room. She used the thick rope bannister to pull herself up, one hand, then the next. Her breath was coming in sharp gasps and she couldn’t have said why it was so important for her to know who had been watching her, just that she much.

    She pushed open the heavy wooden door to the room, ready to demand why the person inside had been staring at her, but skidded to a halt.

    The room was empty. She crossed to where the figure must have been, by the window, and stared down at the beach, right at the spot she had been standing. The water had churned up in the storm. A flash of lightning over the sea was followed almost immediately by a low rumble that went on and on.

    She put her hand to the window, darts of water tracking down it. This was the scene she’d capture. She knew it, that there was never going to be a pretty painting of this day, but the raw power, the bleakness, the beach where she’d been watched from.

    She turned again. The room mocked her with its emptiness and she didn't know who had watched her, or why.
     
  2. Kerrybuchanan

    Kerrybuchanan Delusions of Grammar

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    Yes, I really like this. Is this going on to be the painting that attracts the attention of Mrs Whatsit? Or does Amelia still paint the one of the banshee in the harbour as well? I ask because Amelia has closed her artbook before she sees the face, so she'd have to paint it from memory, which (for me) would make it carry less impact. Or maybe you've thought of another way for her to come to the old lady's attention?
     
  3. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    I thought i'd shift to the scene with Mrs Sweeney and Paddy-from-Castlewellan and let the reader join the dots to who the artist in the harbour must have been (Paddy can talk about what happened) ?
     
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  4. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    Your voice is good and there is some great detail, but IMO you have the same structural issues as in the previous beginnings - Amelia lacks motivation and drive, and Joe keeps appearing to compensate for this but ends up underlining how passive Amelia is. Then from nowhere, a spooky face and Amelia goes from calm to disturbed to the point of risking her life in no time for no reason. We have an external event trying to set up the story, but it feels like the tail wagging the dog.

    If Amelia has a development arc, I'd like to see hints here. If she's sensitive, then show us something to be sensitive about - a feeling of dread, a sense of the dead. Any place on the coast has got to be filled with tragedy, ghosts, and moods. Certain spots, certain places within places, might make a sensitive person especially feel discomfort. She doesn't have to understand any such feelings - better if she doesn't - but her own growing disquiet could be one way to ramp up the tension and make her feel active and a driver for the story, which is what I think you really want.

    2c.
     
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  5. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    Hmmmm.... but it IS an external event setting up the story. She reacts to it - but it is important that she does not cause the apparition here. How, then, do I make a character who is in a reactive scene active?

    There is no development arc yet as she does not have the knowledge of where things might go - but i might be able to hint at something at the end.
     
  6. EJDeBrun

    EJDeBrun Well-Known Member

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    I have to agree with Brian. As someone who has never read any version of this previously, I really struggled to get into this. Not because of the writing. I just wasn't interested in Amelia because she didn't do anything except paint, get a bit of the weebie jeebies and then goes into the inn and that's suddenly Very Important. Also I have no clue what a ghost-room is or any legend surrounding it.

    I think perhaps too much time it spent on the atmosphere and not enough about the ghost, if there is one, and what Amelia has to do with it. Is painting significant (suggested by the other commentators and not in the blurb itself. I had no clue that the painting itself was important.) Is there a way to introduce the back story earlier? I feel like Joe is really useful here. (And in no way am I suggesting you use this, but here's one idea) if they're visiting an inn and it has some kind of ghost story set up, he could be reading a pamphlet to her while she's painting to give the reader a bit of a backstory and then he gives up and goes away. And she doesn't think about it until spying something later? Is this painting commissioned? That might give it more purpose?

    Sorry, this is my first time replying to a critique. I hope this is helpful feedback...
     
  7. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    It is very useful and many thanks. :)

    It is something of my style that the reader knows no more than the character but I could slip in a little more about the ghost room. And no the painting is not commissioned - but a later one is and is central to the story. This scene sets the reasons for that commission up.

    Thinking on Brian's I see no reason why she might not have had the feeling before and be angry at it and have her storming up the tower to challenge whatever-it-is (assuming she doesn't know it's an otherworldly thing). That might make her more active
     
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  8. EJDeBrun

    EJDeBrun Well-Known Member

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    Ah I see. Then, yes, I think something like Brian suggested might add some spice to her.
     
  9. Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

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    Two main thoughts on this: first, and this is a pet hate of mine so make of it what you will, I really wouldn't mention someone being bored at the start of the story. It counts more if it's the viewpoint character (unless something exciting happens immediately), but I think it's almost a subconscious invitation to readers to look away. If he has to be bored, I'd have Amelia show some emotion as a result (presumably annoyance).

    Secondly, I think it would be much more powerful if she genuinely was spooked by the lack of a person in the room. Her response seems to be that she decides to paint a brooding picture rather than a cheerful one. I think the whole scene would be much more effective if she was unsettled by it all, and by the fact that the person had disappeared rather than the strong-but-vague compulsion that seems to grip her. Admittedly, I am seeing this as a traditional ghost story, and you may be going in a different direction.

    Is something missing here?

    Coincidentally, I too am writing a book about a painter called Amelia.
     
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  10. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    A few unstructured thoughts:

    I think the first paragraph is too weak, but it picks up from the second, because it suggests something about their relationship. The sense of dread and the face I think aren't allowed to breathe (I know I said this about the previous version). If she's sensitive, hasn't she had this kind of sixth sense before? If so, she might have a theory or procedure about it. If she or the reader doesn't know she's sensitive, then it reads as overblown one-off spookiness that she can sense being watched and ta-daa! she is.

    As for her action, why doesn't she keep the face in sight and call Joe's mobile and get him to check the room out?
     
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  11. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    Allrighty, then. Let's try a new approach
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Amelia concentrated on her painting, determined to capture the grand sweep of the Antrim Coast Road. This was the sort of scene she could make good sales with - and, God knew, she needed the money.. The sun warmed her shoulders as she worked, smearing pastels to catch the colour of the grey-granite rocks as they caught the daylight.

    Joe, making a show of being ignored, kicked stones towards the water and then skimmed them to show off to a pair of boys who’d come down to the shore. They must have been ten years to his thirty, and he still couldn’t let them win. Quickly, Amelia captured him, too, back arched as he prepared to throw, the lean body moving into a crouched toss over the water. The kick of the surf where the pebble hit. His wounded face when it turned out the kids were demons at skipping stones, going past his by at least half a foot.

    “I’m going up for a pint,” he said, jerking his head at the hotel across the narrow strip of road. “Come over when you’re ready.”

    She nodded, absently, trying to figure out how to capture the mast of a boat in the lee of the bay. The sunlight had painted it into a thin line of gold.

    The sky clouded over and she jerked her head up, uncomfortable, but it was nothing more than a squall coming in from the sea. She bent forward, trying to outpace the clouds and finish the sketches she needed.

    She wouldn't have time. The sea had swelled up, rocking the boat. Wind raked her face, bringing a sudden sharpness.


    "To hell with it." She slammed her artbook shut and tucked her pastels away, just beating the first great drops of rain. The idea of a glass of wine looking out at the storm appealed more than sitting out in it. She turned to go.

    The smell of seaweed rose with the storm, thick and claggy. A familiar sensation climbed her spine, fingers picking out the sharp line of her bones. Cautiously, she checked around her but the beach was empty; the two boys had scarpered from the storm. There was nothing watching her. There never was.

    The hotel loomed in front of her. Rain fell steadily, blurring the view. Something at a window of the single medieval tower the hotel had been built onto caught her eye, and she was sure it was a face.

    Anger buiit. She was sick of this game, the sensation of being watched which crawled over her but which had never had a cause before now. She stared at the face - let them know she had seen them and wasn't scared - taking her time to pick out the room and when she worked it out she could have laughed.

    The hotel had a ghost room in the attic of the tower, set up for tourists with an old-fashioned bed. It was supposedly haunted - but it mostly served as a way of bringing people in for lunch, and a run up the stairs for a photograph in the room. She’d done exactly that before she’d decided to paint on the beach.

    Determined to catch the person before they could vanish, she ran across the road, ignoring the screech of brakes, and through the entrance. She darted up the stairs, into the single staircase that led to the attic. There was no other way up or down from the room. She had the joker, whoever they were. She used the thick rope bannister to pull herself up, hand over hand. Her breath came in sharp gasps.

    She pushed open the heavy wooden door to the room.

    "Right! What are you playin-?" She skidded to a halt. The room was empty, mocking her, and she still didn't know who was watching her, or why.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017
  12. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    Much better and very much on the right track IMO. Amelia is now driving the story, is relating to having a history before this, and shows agency.
     
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  13. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    Better, I think.

    I don't think you need to explain the Ghost Room. You could replace that para with "The Ghost Room" and then hint in the next one that she thinks (I assume) it's hotel staff, but it might create more intrigue if you leave the reader guessing here.

    However, given that the window has been out of her sight for quite a while, should she be at all surprised that the room is empty by the time she gets there?

    As for the opening, I'd like you to really get inside her painting head. You've introduced the detail of needing money, which is good, but what decisions is she making? What colours (e.g. mixing Payne's grey and rose madder for the edges of the storm-clouds, say; the colour names can be very evocative), what brushstrokes? Is she painting for a market, and if so, is she doing something other than if she were painting for herself? Doesn't need to be much, but more details that only a painter would think of could really allow us to engage with her.
     
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  14. dannymcg

    dannymcg I am not a robot

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    Don't know why but your imagery of her painting somehow made me think she would be smoking a pipe.
    Sorry if it knocks you off your stride, at some point in my reading life I must have saw a similar painting scene but the protagonist had a pipe clenched between their teeth.
    Just a comment - disregard :)
     
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  15. Suzanne Jackson

    Suzanne Jackson Formerly crystal haven

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    The new approach is definitely better. I agree with HareBrain, though, that more about the process of the painting could bring it more to life. I also wonder if the tension, the sensation of being watched, could come through - does she press too hard on the paper (I see pastels in sticks), adding a line where she didn't want it? Does she crack the pastel in half in her fingers? that kind of thing. It wouldn't need to be much, but it might add that sense of nerves.
     
  16. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    I don't remember reading the first version of this, so I'm coming to it as a meek and tender virgin.

    The second one is better, but there's something about the piece that doesn't feel right. I think it's that everything feels extremely rushed. She's on the beach, then she's off, then she goes to the hotel, sees the face, goes upstairs, and nothing's there - it's a lot in just a few hundred words. Expanding on what HB said about letting the piece breathe, it seems to me there are two sections to this opening: the painting part, and the hotel part.

    If the painting part is thematically relevant, then I'd definitely spend a little more time over it. Use your best, flourishing prose to describe the artistic endeavour. She might need the dollar, but presumably she has some sort of artistic engagement with the work, so I'd bring that out more*. We'd probably learn more about her character through her feelings and thoughts on painting than anything else that happens here (because, and this is surprising for you, there's not much of a character feel in this piece - yet).

    If, however, the painting is very much incidental, then why not just dump the opening beach setting and start with her feeling, or sensing the face, already returning form the beach. That visceral thrill of sensing the face could be a real kickstart to the piece. "[Amelia] was sick of this game" makes for a pretty decent opening line. The painting could be then introduced retrospectively, or when the weather clears up.

    *Aaaand I've just seen that HB got there before me and posted the same advice. Dang rabbit. Still, if we both said it, then it Definitely Must Be True.
     
  17. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    Just a thought about this and the previous version ... most seaside towns I know have a run running close to the beach. If that's true in his location, then if Amelia is on the beach painting, you could have something like the car accident happen on the road more or less directly behind her. That gives you the chance to sight the banshee or other ghostly figure near to her - then she'll be distracted by a bang behind her from the car accident.

    The reason I mention this is because it would avoid having the apparition being so distant, and forcing Amelia to run about the place trying to find it. This suggestion also aims to keep everything more immediate around her and maybe allow you to have more crescendo to any growing feelings of unease.

    Not a technical criticism, just a thought in case it helps.
     
  18. LittleStar

    LittleStar Well-Known Member

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    So for me your main focus here should be about clueing the reader in to Amealia's sensitivity, in which case I think Suzanne hit most points. Maybe try to focus more on creepiness and the being watched feelings etc.

    Yes the painting is important to Amelia, it's what she does, and it's partly how her sensitivity manifests, but other than that her paintings are more incidental plot pieces than the focus of the plot. By all means keep in the descriptions (there are really nice touches there) and maybe even add in more if you want as per HB's suggestions, but that's personal preference. But I wouldn't let it distract from what the scene needs to get across, which is Amelia and a ghostly encounter.

    You might even go as far as to have her painting her scene, when a strange old man chats with her, distracting her attention from her work. Then disappears, only to find that Amelia has absent painting him into the picture, then a local tells her he died years back etc. Open with something like that that would send chills up her spine in the initial instance rather than begin with what could easily be, and what she initially dismisses, as a bad prank in the hotels ghost room:)

    (y)
     
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  19. TitaniumTi

    TitaniumTi Well-Known Member

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    I like both the openings, but I prefer the first, evocative paragraph of the first version (except for "wanting", which seems a weak word) and the later, stronger paragraphs of the second version.

    However, given that other people see room for improvement, I wonder if you could channel your own creative frustration into Amelia's painting. If she can't quite achieve the artistic affect she wants, and is distracted - and often has been distracted - by the sense of something watching her, would that introduce her to the reader while building tension?
     
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  20. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    The s cond is better for all the above reasons, however I preferred the previous idea of Amelia capturing the old woman on the pier in her picture. I don't know where the story goes, but that had a creepiness to it. My challenge with both versions is both first lines is both say " Amelia is doing something boringly mundane..." then stuff happens. I know this is hard because if you want horror you need to establish normality then shatter it, but in both cases the first couple of paras don't grab me. I'd probably put it down if I was skimming in a bookshop. I'm a big fan of a killer first line and paragraph. You do a nice job of establishing Amelia, but not enough to pique my interest in a way that says "damn, I've got to read this."

    My constructive suggestion is could you focus more on Amelia and Joe's tension? the. Pivot to the supernatural? Or, just slam straight into the supernatural. "Amelia had never seen a ghost before, and had certainly never painted one. But as she smudged a coal black smear of pastel on her pad, she knew exactly what she was drawing." Not that, because it's crap, but a blunter, cut to the chase start?
     
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