Tuesday, March 13, 2012

FLG: #2 500-words

TITLE: The Alterae
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Emma hadn’t slept in three days. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the river again. Saw her again.

She shuddered and forced herself to watch the mourners gathering around the grave at the base of the hill. The black-clad figures clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they didn’t mourn alone. Comfort Emma couldn’t share. Even from where she stood at the crest of the cemetery, their shock and grief and anger pounded against her.

The wind shaped Emma’s dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed them away from her face with the back of her hand. She shifted and the frozen dewdrops clinging to the grass crackled under her feet.

Emma knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.

But she couldn’t.

The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, meant to console, could send her spiraling out of control.

She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw everything in stunning clarity, the delirium of her sleepless nights drawing details into sharp focus. The lurid green carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead coffin that held her best friend. The dull, grey sky burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.

Her silence, more than tears or anger, terrified her parents. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. When Alex left, she’d nearly self-destructed. And he’d only moved away.

Lily was dead.

Unbidden, an image rose before her. She squeezed her eyes shut to block out the vision, but the nightmare remained. Lily under the river, a modern Ophelia caught in the current. Her black, empty eyes stared at nothing. The golden strands of her hair spread around her like the rays of a halo in a Renaissance painting.

Lily screamed, shattering the serenity of her watery grave.

Emma fought against the panic radiating through her chest. It was just a memory, a confused, broken memory. The scream wasn’t real. It couldn’t hurt her. She repeated the words drilled into her brain. It’s not real. It can’t hurt me.

She’d almost learned to believe them.


But this time it was real. Lily had drowned.

If only Emma had said something. If only she’d reached the river a minute earlier. If only –

A muffled sob broke through Emma’s guilt and drew her back to the cemetery. Lily’s mother leaned against her ex-husband as they mourned together, united in something stronger than whatever drove them apart. This was real. Their grief was real. She refused to let the nightmares win again.


Alex eased his body into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. He held his breath until the deadbolt slid into place. His eyes darted around the darkened room, illuminated only by the pale green of the florescent lights under the cabinets.


  1. I like the way this was written. It's beautiful and has great tension and flow. My only suggestion for improvement would be to watch the subject of your pronouns. For example, "Lily was dead. Unbidden, an image rose before her." In this place, "her" would refer to Lily since she was the subject of the previous sentence. I realize by "her" you meant "Emma" but on a first pass it was a little confusing and happens a couple of times throughout this excerpt. Good luck!

  2. This was beautiful and heartbroken. At times the beauty of your writing overwhelmed the story, so you need to watch for that. Also, you need to watch your subject pronoun agreement as Rachel said. Otherwise, the excerpt is wonderful.

  3. I agree this is beautifully written but I'm not crazy about beginning with a funeral. I don't know these characters yet. I feel bad for her but it's like watching the news. It's sad in a distant kind of way. I need to know the characters. Make me love them before you kill them. Then I'll care. I don't know anything about your main character other than her pain.

    I think it would work better if you start with the actual drowning scene. Show them together as good friends. Give them adorable quirks that only best friends have. Then drown the friend so this scene will mean something to me. (Then I'll curse you the whole time I read it because you killed her)

  4. Nice opening lines! The only request I'd make is for the "her" in "Saw her again" to be italicized if it's not in the actual manuscript, that way you set it apart from the Emma and the pronouns associated with her. (Unless you want to actually give us the name, which might be a good choice if you don't have a reason for keeping it a secret.)

    There's some lovely prose in this. I particularly liked "a modern Ophelia caught in the current" and "united in something stronger than whatever drove them apart." However, there are times the writing goes from effortlessly beautiful to a tad purple, like this epic description of Emma's hair. "The wind shaped Emma’s dark hair into softly waving tendrils." And, after all, we're pretty deep into Emma's POV, in spite of it being written in third person, so would she really be thinking that hard about her hair? (As a hair-describer myself, I completely understand the urge.)

    As others have mentioned, do watch out for your pronouns. It's not always clear which girl you're talking about when you say "her."

    While I'm not sure starting at the funeral is the best place, I'd be willing to see where it goes after this, and whether starting here *is* right for the story. Though I would like to see something happen in the beginning, besides memories.

    That said, lovely prose and voice can keep me reading for quite a while. Best of luck with this!

  5. Ammi-Joan PaquetteMarch 13, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    There's a great sense of pacing here, and a nice fluid writing style that draws the reader right in. I gobbled down the first few paragraphs.

    After a while, though, the sadness crossed over into melodrama for me; my touchpoint was the paragraph beginning: "The slightest touch..." After that point the emotions felt somehow too pronounced, too stark for so early in the story when we don't really know or care about the protagonist yet. After the first early sketching of Emma's emotional condition, I wanted to get on with the story, working more of the backstory and her emotions in with the action rather than getting so much of her raw undiluted pain all upfront.

    After this opener, what is inciting me to read on? What is pulling me into her story, making me want to turn the pages? For that matter, what actually happens in this scene? It would be more effective, I think, when transposed against some concrete series of events, perhaps one that contrasts what she is feeling in a very tangible way.

  6. Good writing and an intriguing start. "It's not real. It can't hurt me." makes me want to read more.

    "their shock. . .against her" and "her silence . . .her parents" are point of view shifts.

  7. I was a little confused and maybe it was because of the grammar a couple of commenters already mentioned.

    What jumped out at me is the "dead coffin". Coffins aren't dead.

    I don't have a problem with you starting with the funeral. We are supposed to care about Emma and her feelings, I would keep reading.

  8. I find this confusing and melodramatic, and I don't care about the main character. One great way to fix this might be to get her moving and talking.

    I would really love to hear some of her actual voice or see some action rather than being stuck inside her head as she passively observes a static scene and thinks.

  9. I don't love this beginning-- I've seen a lot of manuscripts that start at funerals and I find it a major turn off. Perhaps if her reaction to this funeral was super out of the ordinary I might find it compelling, but it isn't and I don't. Show me something unique to her/this book.

    The prose felt a bit heavy handed to me as well-- granted describing grief without being heavy handed is very challenging; I don't envy you!

  10. I think this feels very much like a funeral scene. Melodramatic is how one feels when they must come to grips with loosing a loved one. It feels dark and sad, but in the fuzzy emotional state of still being in shock.

    I'm not sure if this is the best scene to start with based on the opinions of the other commentators, but I don't think you should change the feel of this particular scene.

    I felt sucked in to the emotion and wanted to read more. I did get a little confused toward the end when the dreams are mentioned because then I wasn't sure what was truly happening. But, I assume that's cleared up in the next few paragraphs.

  11. I agree with the other commentators about the melodrama. Sometimes, too much description is a bad thing as it bogs down the pacing; you haven't piqued my curiosity enough to want to continue reading. So, up the action, reduce the internal monologue.

  12. I feel like this could be stronger if you weaved in the details of the funeral at a later date. Where's the catalyst? What changes everything? Start there, not here.

  13. The writing is very strong with many beautiful images, as others have mentioned. This scene didn't grab me the way that it should've though, and I think it's because there is no action. We are completely trapped in the M.C.'s head, and nothing happens. For an urban fantasy, I would expect to start in the middle of the action, with a quicker pace, to give us more of a sense of the tone and what kind of story we are getting.

    We learn a good bit about the backstory and what happened to Lily, but I'd rather have more showing than telling here. Starting moments before the drowning, as someone else mentioned, probably would help.

    There is one sentence here that would compell me to read a few more pages and see if the pace picks up: "She'd almost learned to believe them." Who are they? I would continue on to see if I got some more good clues about where this is going.

  14. I agree with Ammi-Joan about some of the language making this border on melodrama. We want to feel the emotion, but the reader shouldn't feel manipulated by the language (from shuddering, to the wind blowing her hair, to being frozen in grief.) Used sparingly, these images can be beautiful to read, but too many combined could risk losing your reader. I also thought you could begin the novel with "The slightest touch..." so we're asking "who is this character?" rather than already knowing the circumstances.

  15. I love the way you handle description in this. I definitely feel Emma's pain and her separation from the other mourners.

    If it were me (it's not, but this is just my opinion), I'd move the specifics of who is dead and what happened up to the top, after the first or second paragraph. Cuz for me, I felt like the descriptions of the mourners and her separation went on just a bit too long before I was wondering when I would get to know what Emma clearly already knew.

    Then after the "If only" paragraph, put some or all of the description paragraphs.

    I also kinda like the transition to Alex. It tells me he's connected to whatever's about to happen, but his movements betray such different emotions from Emma's. I'm very curious what's got him so furtive :-)

  16. The beginning emotions of the piece pulled me in, but the most effective openings--for me--have a mix of emotion and action for the protagonist. This opening is too static for my taste, as we're watching the scene from far away.

    The writing is pretty, though, and shows a lot of promise.

  17. What Weronika et al said. You probably would have lost me at "tendrils" and descriptions of wind whipping and nightmares remaining behind eyes squeezed shut. Look, this is a VERY subjective business. I happen to have a thing about weather descriptions :). The upshot, though, is that there would need to be more going on externally in the first part for it to draw me in (and I don't mind starting at funerals if there is something other than sorrow happening).