Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Secret Agent #45

TITLE: At the End of Silence
GENRE: Women's Fiction

September 1938

Eleven people gather around the shortwave radio sitting on the coffee table in the Loewes' front room. They crowd together--adults clustered on the sofa and chairs, children standing--to listen to the broadcast from President BeneŇ° on Radio Prague. The squat wooden box commands the attention of the room. A hush descends as the broadcast begins, and they listen with rapt concentration. Ruth Loewe stands behind the sofa. Before the guests arrived she spent a few extra minutes coaxing her wavy brunette hair into a pretty ponytail. She likes how it shows off her striking brown eyes, probably the only feature she wants drawing attention. She leans forward, straining to hear the crackling broadcast:

“I am talking to you at a moment of international difficulties, the most serious since the World War, which have entangled not only Europe but also the greater part of the world.

…We wish to contribute to a settlement of European problems in general and to the establishment of good relations with all our neighbors, especially with Great Germany--”

Ruth's father, Aron, interrupts the broadcast.

“That's ridiculous! What settlement? Handing over part of our country? The Sudeten Germans support a Nazi leader and are preparing to secede from the state at this very moment. Is that the establishment of good relations?”

With his serious expression and the small spectacles perched on his nose, he looks like a professor. His dark hair, close-cropped and combed back neatly, completes the image.

14 comments:

  1. I like this. You get a good visual and a nice grasp on the situation. Knowing the time setting already stirs up tension for me.

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  2. the visual imagery is very good here. It's like a photograph, and I can see everyone huddled around the radio.
    What I really like is that (a) I already want to know what is going to happen to these people and (b) There's not nearly enough WW2 stuff out there and it's good to see one that is set in Czechoslovakia!

    Good luck!

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  3. Nicely set up. And so refreshing to see something from the Czech point of view--I can't think of any other books set there. Not that it changes the world or anything, but the fact that you've got Czech diacritics going on hints to me that you actually know what you're talking about.

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  4. The topic alone draws me in, but I have to say I found the writing almost like a newspaper report. You tell me people are gathered around the radio, adults and children, but no individuals.

    When Ruth is singled out, she leans in to hear, but we don't get why. Is she frightened. Or would she rather be doing something else. Does she wonder why her father is so interested? We get nothing from her. It's seems dry and dull - just the facts. Perhaps get us into Ruth's head a bit.

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  5. This is a bit too detached for me. It seems to begin in omniscient POV, then switch to Ruth, who immediately tells us what she looks like, and not her feelings about what is going on. I dislike characters telling me about their wavy hair or whatever on the first page anyhow, but in the context it seems especially shallow.

    I hate to parrot the old "show don't tell," but that's what I'd say here. How does Ruth/ whoever feel? Good luck!

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  6. I find the switch in tenses (present to past to present) slightly jarring.
    For example:
    They crowd together--adults clustered on the sofa and chairs, children standing--
    it should be: adults cluster

    And Before the guests arrived she spent a few extra minutes coaxing her wavy brunette hair into a pretty ponytail. -> Before the guests arrive, she spends a few extra ...
    I know you're trying to convey what she did previously, but the switch in tenses is a bit too much, IMO.

    And as someone else pointed out, I feel like there's description on the characters' looks, but not the characters' emotions. I couldn't get into their heads and feel detached.

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  7. I love the scene you're starting with - but I have to say I'm not drawn into it. For me to want to keep reading, I would need to connect with a character. Ruth has wavy brunette hair - why should I be bothered about this at such a tense time? How is she feeling? I would like to see it through her eyes - SHE looks around the room and sees all these people - who are they to her? - how does she feel at the prospect of maybe losing them? - you could do so much more here.

    Also, Aron's interruption strikes me as too long for the situation. He might say "That's ridiculous!" but I would imagine he'd save the rest for later, particularly given the momentous nature of the announcement.

    Good luck!

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  8. I'm hooked. It does start out sounding more like the opening to a screenplay or something, which seems to be throwing off some of the readers. I like to read different styles of writing so I kind of like it, but I may not be the average reader. The premise/setting of this opening is excellent. There are so few women's fiction books set during this remarkable time frame. My guess is this is going to be a moving and touching story about a family living through an amazing time in history. Your writing and descriptions are excellent (and I tend to prefer witty, contemporary books). Good luck!

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  9. I'm not usually into present tense, so that was a problem for me, but I could get used to the style if the voice is strong enough.

    I loved the setting: it's immediately high stakes, because of the date and country.

    Two bits struck me as not as strong as they could be.

    First, her wavy brunette hair/pretty ponytail. It struck me as a way for the author to tell us what she looks like. It's more important it tell us what she thinks like. (Is she hoping to attract a particular person's attention? Is she young (a teenager) -- otherwise it makes her seem a bit frivolous to mention this so early.) Second problem with it is that it draws us out of the chronology, since she arranged her hair before the guests arrived, but now she's standing with them all, listening to the radio.

    Aron's statement: He talks like a professor, and I like this, but again I wonder if, here, the dialogue could work a little harder. The line feels designed to infodump the historical situation to the reader. This is tricky, because maybe Aron's personality is that he likes to pontificate, so coming across as stuffy fits him. But if the line gave us more of his individuality, or something more specifically "Czech", that would be even better.

    Other than those nits, the voice felt strong and the situation definitely intriguing. I would read on.

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  10. Your writing is great and you create a nice atmosphere. But it didn't quite grab me. I suppose it's because there's a lot of telling in here. The radio announcer and the father's dialogue feels a bit infodumpy to me. But I can sympathise that you have a lot of information you need to establish as to the time period, the country, what's happening in the world... and I get that it's easy for me to say you need to weave in backstory, maybe not so easy to do, especially if the radio is going to announce something that will make no sense unless you know some of the background of the situation. It's hard to say without reading more of the manuscript. I'm getting less helpful with every sentence so I'll stop and let you await some useful (i.e. SA) advice!

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  11. I would echo what others have said: good scene, very descriptive, but lacking in emotional punch. We only get one bit of Ruth's internal narrative. Still, you have good stuff to work with--very clear setting, both in time and place.

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  12. I stopped halfway through the first paragraph. Not hooked. I kept reading just to finish out the paragraph and halfway through it gets interesting! You introduce the character, what she's just done - her hair - and I think if you started with her, what she did to get the party going and then show how it 'turned' due to the radio broadcast, I think you'd have a more 'character driven' opening. You want to get your readers instantly invested in her. That is a hook.

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  13. I think Sue's comment that this is like a photograph is very interesting, and I'll agree with her. The use of detail is very nice here, but it's also an incredibly static scene. I feel as though the characters are mannequins posed around the radio, and there's nothing in the prose (at least this early on) that's bringing them to life.
    This is a case in which there's so much detail that it stalls out the rest of the story. It's funny- the folks who write wonderful detail often have trouble moving the action forward, and the folks who can move the action along at a brisk clip often miss out on great visceral details. It's all a trade off, I suppose.
    All that said, continue working to strike a balance between use of colorful details and forward action in your writing. When you do that, I think you'll see a dramatic change.

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  14. I also felt distanced from the scene, but I did like the set-up.

    The part about the color of her hair and eyes made Ruth seem self centered to me. The reason I felt this way was because she is the point of view character and it was a tense moment, but the main thought in her mind had to do with her physical appearence. At least that's how it came across to me.

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