Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#23 1000-Word

GENRE: Commercial

Jake was beyond furious. If rage had a color, his would be the most vibrant red tinged with just a hint of yellow for drama queen effect.

Rage, unfortunately, did not have a color. Rage – silent for so long, if he didn’t speak the words, they wouldn’t come true – only had an outlet now: his mother. She stood across from him in her newly updated – granite counters, stainless appliances, hardwood floors – kitchen. She had wiped away the kitchen of his childhood, just as she had wiped away the truth regarding his private adoption 32 years ago.

“Don’t you think this is something I should have been told about at some point in my life?” He reached up and ran his fingers through his curly dark hair.

Cordelia met his angry gaze. “Perhaps.”

He arched one brow slightly – an affectation learned from his mother and his Aunt Ophelia. “Perhaps? That’s your response?”

“What other response do you want, Jacob? For me to break down in tears and beg your forgiveness?” She laughed softly and looked past him, out the bay window behind him. “Ophelia and I did what we did, no turning back, but so many damn second thoughts.” She laughed again and shook her head, her shoulder length, silver tinged black hair, swaying from side to side. “Once the lie was told, there was no turning back. There was only the fear of discovery, year after year, decade after decade, until this moment.”

Jake turned and looked out the window, his empty wine glass held in his left hand. He could not look at his mother. Where was the woman who taught him the difference between right and wrong, honesty above all else? Who was this woman who seemed so calm and composed, so indifferent to the horrible lie she and her sister told once upon a time in the way of fairy tales and unhappy endings? He inhaled deeply, held the breath for the count of twenty, and slowly exhaled. Cardinals flocked throughout his mother’s backyard, pecking away at the multitude of bird feeders.

Jake turned back around to face his mother. The lie she told was inexcusable. “At what point, Mother, does a person decide to tell such a lie and toss away her soul?”

“Souls are so easy to toss aside.” She did not smile, though she did meet his gaze. She shrugged her shoulders slightly. “How long have you know?”

“Far too long.” He could use more wine right about now. For three years he had known the alleged truth of what Cordelia and Ophelia had done, and maintained a calm indifference. Life was much easier when he ignored the truth. He was a coward. He wanted the perfect life. He wanted to believe in happily ever after and that his mother and aunt were not callous people. He wanted to believe – at least once in his life – that good things happen to good people.

As with so much else in his life, his beliefs turned out to be worthless. His luck turned out to be bad. His mother – adoptive, loving, the joy of his life – turned out to be part of a horrendous lie that devastated and reshaped a family. His adoption was not private, arranged by a lawyer as he had been told over and over again. There was nothing legal about his adoption.

“How did you find out?” There was a slight tremble to her voice, the only outward sign of emotion. She held her glass of cabernet in her right hand; her left arm was wrapped across her stomach.

He did not answer her question. Three years earlier a woman died. She did not carry all her secrets to the grave. She – through the marvels of modern technology – left her secrets behind for him through various DVDs he had been receiving off and on for three years.

“Are you going to answer me?” She tapped her foot. “How long have you known?”

He swallowed hard and looked away from her – almost – emotionless gaze. How could she be so calm? At what point had his mother lost all sense of humanity? “Three years.” He watched her eyes narrow, just slightly, barely a movement at all, but one he knew so well from childhood.

“So you’ve kept this to yourself for three years.” She took a gulp of her wine. Her hand trembled slightly. “Three years and you confront me now? Why? Why bother at all?”

“I wanted happily ever after. I wanted the truth to be a lie.”

Cordelia laughed bitterly. “Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales, and not always the way you expect. Cinderella’s step-sisters wanted happily ever after, but all they got was birds pecking out their eyes.”

“Well, that’s a harsh visual.”

“Life is not perfect. Bad things happen to good people. People do things in moments of anger that they can never undo.”

“Please tell me you’re not defending what you two did.”

“I wanted a child.” She did not look away from him. “Ophelia wanted revenge. Things just worked out.”

He thought he might throw up.

“All I wanted was a child.” Cordelia spoke very softly. “Life can be so unfair at times. Ophelia was the golden child – beautiful, intelligent, popular, and fertile. I got so tired of her calling to tell me she was pregnant . . . again. Gods, how that woman could pop out babies! All I wanted was to hear my,” she stopped, swallowed hard, “doctor tell me I was pregnant. Instead,” she shook her head, her eyes narrowed in anger, “he told me I was barren. Infertile! I would never have a child of my own. It’s all I wanted. I wanted a child! I would have sold my soul for a child.”

“You did sell your soul, Mother. Both of you did.”

You are the son of Antonio and Ophelia DeMarrco - those were the words Esmeralda DeMarrco spoke from beyond the grave, courtesy of a DVD.


  1. Okay, I will take the plunge. I'm at work, so if my boss walks in I will cut this short.

    Kudos for the author for being brave enough to post the opening.

    Here goes: you're writing a tense, bitter scene, but you're overwriting. When you overdo, it takes away the tension instead of increasing it.


    Take out "very". If something is very, then use another word (very slowly could be crawled, etc.).

    See if you can take out extra words. For example, in the second sentence, why not shorten it to "drama queen yellow".

    If this was mine, I might start it at "Jake turned back to face his mother." A lot of the beginning seems to repeat.

    Good luck! Boss coming in, gotta take cover!

  2. Hi there! It's so funny, this is the first one I happened to read and it really struck a chord, because I've lived a VERY similar scene. So, coming from that perspective, you got this conversation down very well. Both characters are believable, which you want, even though Cordelia is being shown as the 'bad guy.'

    The writing itself is quite good, but I think you can punch it up a notch by taking out some of the 'verys.' Your pacing and dialogue are well done.

    My favorite part is the first two paragraphs...I love how you have him thinking about rage having a color, but then set it against the dull gray kitchen. Good stuff! I'd definitely read more.

  3. Drama is great and I got sucked right in. The adjectives are distracting. (I don't care right now that mom's hair is dark but silver streaked at this moment... you can work it in later.) Also it took a bit too long to find out what the "issue" was... I'd have preferred to know what he was upset about up front and then I could sit back and watch the interchange knowing a bit more background.

    Keep it up! This is worth the effort!

  4. I’m afraid this tripped me up several times at the beginning.

    “Rage – silent for so long, if he didn’t speak the words, they wouldn’t come true – only had an outlet now:”
    - This sentence confuses me. If you don’t speak words they don’t come true?

    “ran his fingers through his curly dark hair.”
    - In his POV does he really think of his hair as dark and curly?

    “Cordelia met his angry gaze”
    - Does he think of his mother as “Cordelia”? He refers to his mother as “mother” other times. I feel like the use of “Cordelia” here, like the use of “curly dark hair”, is just to tell us facts. I’d prefer if you worked these kinds of details in a more natural place.

    He has known for three years? Why the (very) dramatic explosion now? I thought it unusual for the protag to call himself a drama-queen right at the beginning, but I see why. He really is - repeated talk of fairy tales and souls and such. And the writing is bordering on melodramatic (All I wanted was to hear my,” she stopped, swallowed hard, “doctor tell me I was pregnant.)

    I don’t really like this character, and would not read on because I’m not rooting for him. If he became a bit more relatable, and vulnerable (without the high, overwrought emotion) I could play along I think. Good luck!

  5. I like the writing a lot and admire your courage for posting, but I'll be the voice of dissent on rage as a color. It seems cliche.

    I think you'd get stronger impact by opening with his mother standing across from him. I like the usage of her wiping away the kitchen of his childhood and the truth of his adoption.

    His rage comes through in the dialogue. I think you'd do better to let it show that way rather than telling the reader upfront that he is angry. It will show immediately when he speaks.

    You might consider changing the sentence "He thought he might throw up." Don't tell the reader what he thought, tell them what he felt. How does nausea feel?

    Try to keep the reader involved in the tension. Don't take them out of the moment by telling them what he thought. Let them feel it with him.

    I'm intrigued and would read more.

  6. I'd start with this:

    You are the son of Antonio and Ophelia DeMarrco - those were the words Esmeralda DeMarrco spoke from beyond the grave, courtesy of a DVD.

    It sets the scene succinctly and powerfully, and would let you trim much of the explanation that currently slows down this segment.

    I think the rest needs much much tightening and the tension heightened. And maybe not cram in so much information in the first thousand words.

    This also honestly may be stronger if you don't start with so much conversation. I'd like to get to know these people a little more before leaping into a scene this involved.

    And (maybe it's just me) something struck me as amusing (sorry) about characters named Cordelia and Ophelia.

    Best of luck with this!

  7. I became interested in the story as soon as I saw him in the kitchen with his mother.

    The part about rage tripped me up, and I had to read it twice. I also wondered if a man would call himself a drama queen.

    The mother repeating how much she wanted a child can be shortened, I think. Barren says it all. I do feel her anger, and though I'm not sure exactly what she did, I don't see her as a bad person.

    I'm curious of why he was told the truth about his birth and why Ophelia gave him away.

    I'm cannot saw I'm hooked, but I would definitely read more.

  8. Um...that's I cannot say I'm hooked, but I'd read more. :-)

  9. I'm not hooked. The adjectives really turned me off, because I felt like there was a description overload.

    Would a guy call himself a drama queen? Really? And the use of color for mood. I do it, too, so I know it can be a feminine act, but even saying the yellow was for drama queen effect made me think this guy might be a flamboyant homosexual.

  10. Content comments - I think you've set up an interesting situation here, but the opening was really slow because of all the description. It became most interesting when they were talking back and forth and you left out all the description. That was definitely the strongest part, IMO.

    I did wonder about the age of Jacob, which could be gotten in easily enough in the conversation. Someone could mention it started x years ago when he was born, something along those lines.

    I liked how it made me go from thinking 'this is a typical adoption story' to 'there's way more than a simple adoption story here.'

    I think Jake needs a real reason to be confronting Mom now, when he's known for three years. Something has to have set him off. Wanting 'happily ever after' is a reason 'not' to ask. What is the reason he 'does' ask? That, I think, has to be evident here, as well as valid. Is it important that's he's known for three years? If not, his motivation could be that he just received the first DVD. Whatever the case, you need real motivation for him to be bringing this up now.

    The ending paragraph would be a great opening paragraph, I think. It's a great, hooky, opening line, and sets the story right up without any further explanation, allowing you to get right into things.

    Writing comments

    Par 1 and 2 - you could combine into one by cutting much of it. 'Jake was beyond furious. His mother stood across from him in her newly updated kitchen . . .

    If your character is in a rage, he's not thinking about what the cabinets look like or what color rage is.

    Par 3. mention a specific point in time. 'Some time' in his life could be twenty years from now. Last sentence in graph could be 'He ran his fingers through his hair.' We can assume he reached up, and he wouldn't be thinking about his dark curly hair.

    Par. 4 - say how she met his gaze. Is she just as angry? Saddened? What's she feeling now?

    Par. 5. Would cut 'an affectation . . .' You can show this by having his mother and Ophelia do it too. The explanation doesn't suit the situation now.

    Par 6. -- would cut the hair description.

    Par 9. --Change know to known

    Par 10. -- If he's known far too long, why is he suddenly enraged now?

    Par. 12. -- very nice graph! Perhaps say 'Her voice trembled slightly' to make it active rather than passive.

    Par 13. should be 'a woman HAD died. She had not carried . . .' Would cut 'through the marvels of modern technology' because the technology you mention is already 'old' and will be older still by the time the book is published. And 'She HAD left . . .'

    Par. 15. Take out the em dashes. And just a pet peeve of mine. Swallow. Now swallow hard. What's the difference?

    Last par. -- Would make it the first paragraph. It lets us know the situation right up front.

    Hope it helps. Good luck!

  11. I like this. I do agree with some of the others above, that you don't need to describe things like his hair right away.

    I have to say I was hooked-- I want to find out more about their past. I was a little disappointed to find out that the big reveal was that his aunt was actually his mother-- I had let my mind wander to murder and other things. But you built in enough hooks that I am sure that there are lots of interesting things to come.

  12. I don't agree with the comments about the hair. He might very well think about his hair since he is thinking about the fact she is not his real mother. Maybe his hair was a give away to his real parentage. I was hooked.

  13. This is interesting. I want to know why Ophelia wanted revenge and how she got it by giving up her child. Very intriguing.

    The writing could be tightened up a bit by taking out descriptions that don't further the storyline. For example, does it matter which hand they used to hold their wine glasses?

    I assumed the MC was gay from the drama queen comment. Seems like a few others did too so if he isn't, you might want to change that.

    I agree that the last paragraph would make for a stronger opening.

    Good job and good luck!

  14. This hooked me because I'm an adoptive mother. The emotion comes across as raw and angry--good.
    I actually felt more drawn to the mother--why did she do this the way she did? What was her infertility problem? Did she love him like her own? I felt some sort of a connection with her rather than him.
    You can tighten the writing a bit by taking out some of the 'verys" and some of the description. You want to keep the flow of emotion going without clogging it with too much description. Most you can weave in during a quieter chapter.
    I love the mystery of it all.
    Good job.

  15. It's an intriguing start, especially the last line.
    I do agree with others that it could be a lot tighter and convey a lot more tension if you cut some of the superfluous description. For some reason, I also got hung up on the 'curly hair'.
    I'm definitely curious to see where you're going with this.

  16. Hey there! Good, solid prose with no typos or grammatical errors. But ditto on the comments that the adjectives got distracting and certain phrases felt a bit out of tune with a 30-something year old's voice.

    I also kinda felt that a lot of Ophelia's dialogue was a bit too melodramatic, such as the parts about souls and the pregnancy. She also tends to repeat the same concepts back-to-back, like when she mentions about "not turning back." She says the same phrase twice, and the same concept three times.

    I also thought that the amount of narrative here kinda took away from the budding tension of the confrontation. All the long paragraphs take a while to work through as a reader, which slows down the pacing and softens the impact of the revelation and tension, IMHO.

    Last question--is there a plot-purpose for using the names of two Shakespearian characters? If so, cool. But if not (i.e., the names are only used because you liked them), I'd recommend changing them, only because of the instant references they bring to mind when reading. It's be like reading a hard-boiled crime novel, and the victim's name was Harry Potter. Even if you can't copyright names, when a famous character bears the mantle before yours does, readers' minds tend to immediately revert to the famous name-barer, thus taking their attention away from your novel.

    Best of luck in your writing!

  17. I think this passage would do well with a little reorganizing. A lot of the details and actions sort of feel out of order, and my brain kind of keeps chasing them around, trying to make them fit chronologically. Some of this is due to repetition, and a bit to contradiction. On the one hand, Cordelia is being stoic, with only a tremor in her voice, but then the tremor shows up in her hand. Several statements are used in more than one place. I think you're trying to give a sense of continuity, which I am all for, but it's not quite there. Scour the passage for same or similar phrases and cut down to one. I think it'll help a lot.


    P.S. Totally dig the names!

  18. I didn't read the other comments, so they wouldn't influence my view.

    Great opening paragraphs. I especially liked the yellow drama queen effect.

    Don't get carried away with description. I stumbled over the mother's hair bit. But overall, the writing is good and flows well.

    The dialogue was good, a tad dramatic, but that probably works here. But there was a LOT of dialogue. A bit more narrative to break it up a little would help, IMO.

    What's the idea behind the Shakespearian names, I wonder.

    Overall, not my sort f story in principle, but I would read on to see where this is going.

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. This is a nice scene to open with, it's loaded with conflict and story questions. Unfortunately, I would have stopped reading after the fifth paragraph because I found it to be too melodramatic for my taste. So take my comments with that in mind.

    I think you need to watch your POV slips. We are in Jake's head and you need to stay there (i.e., he can't know what his mother is looking at). And we need to stay in the moment. In the midst of an argument Jake wouldn't be thinking about all the details of the newly updated kitchen, or that he was arching his eyebrow or that his hair is curly and dark. I know you, as an author, want to get those details in, but you have to do it in context with the scene. Would Jake's mind be focused on the birds and the multitude of bird feeders, or would it be focused on what he's going to say to his mom?

    Word choice - you use "look" an awful lot, try a new word. Also "various" DVDs sounded off to me.

    I also found his dialog to be rather formal and, again, melodramatic. He's silent for twenty seconds (an eternity during an argument), then turns around and says - "at what point does a person decide to tell such a lie and toss away her soul?" - that seemed a bit soap opera-ish to me. But then, if he's gay, maybe it's in character.

    And then what really threw me - he's known about this for 3 years. That just didn't seem possible to me.

    Wicked Games - that was a popular song, are you sure you want to use it as a title.

    Good luck.

  20. I didn't have time to read all the comments so if I say something another commenter said, forgive me.

    I love the tension and guess what? I love the names. To me they seem to fit.

    I really like the way you open the story with a scene full of conflict and I could feel Jake's emotion. Did you slip out of Jake's POV a time or two?

    And would Jake think about his hair being dark and curly as he ran his fingers through it?

    Also when I laugh, I never laugh softly. A laugh is a laugh.

    How long have you know and I think you mean known, and Gods I think you meant God.

    Is there a reason why he waited three years? Should that be known in the first scenes? Instead of the color of rage? If he's mad is he really thinking that the color of rage is red tinged with yellow? When I'm mad I'm just MAD. You could cut some stuff in the first couple of paragraphs to make it seem more REAL.

    The pacing is absolutely wonderful and I might end it with the next to the last sentence.

    I would definitely read on. Hope I didn't repeat anything anyone said. But I got here so late chances are I did. Good luck and congrats on being brave enough to post your opening. :)

  21. As the brave soul who dared to have his 1,000 words posted. . . I just want to say thanks to everyone for your comments. The comments have really helped me to look at my first 1,000 words with a different set of eyes, so to speak. I really, really appreciate everyone taking the time to read and comment.