Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's Broken? #2

TITLE: Wensdroom
GENRE: YA Magical Realism


One hundred and fifty years ago, a man walked across a large open field on a moonlit night. Instead of watching where he was going, the man could not keep his eyes off the sky. There was nothing he found quite so beautiful as a low-slung summer moon surrounded by hundreds of twinkling stars. As a result, the man often tripped over unseen clumps of dirt and stray rocks. As a secondary result, the man was unsurprised when he fell face down into the grass and felt something strike him somewhat forcefully in the back of the head.

When the man awoke from his slumber, he found that his best top hat had been ruined. He also found a milky, pale blue stone shimmering in the dust a mere foot from the tip of his nose. He reached out, picked up the stone, and immediately dropped it. The stone was burning hot. He drew his handkerchief from his pocket. Bending down, he engulfed the small stone in the soft cotton cloth. Collecting the bundle in his fist, he stood up, folded back the cloth, and inspected the stone. Still emitting a soft glow of warmth, the stone appeared to be swirled with traces of opal.

The man smiled and tucked the gem into his pants pocket for safe keeping. He resumed his walk and his sky gazing. Upon turning his eyes upwards once more, he was treated to the sight of a shooting star racing across the midnight sky. As he watched the star's tail flare and die, he rubbed the small lump forming on the back of his head, thinking more of his pain than his valuable discovery.

I always loved stories, except for my own; I wish it wasn't this one.


At the heart of it, I always felt that my trouble with my mother stemmed from a difference of temperaments. My mother was a busybody. Well, not in the traditional sense of the word. While not given over to gossip, Mom was perpetually in motion. She moved almost hurriedly from task to task from dawn till dusk. She seemed to believe, in action if not in so many words, that idle hands were the devil's playground. She became bored and restless when all the work was finished and no more could be found. In dire straits she had been known to fabricate activities for her own amusement.

I was not the same by nature. When I took a moment to be still, Mom thought I was lazy. When I was quiet, Mom felt I was sullen. Where I reveled in solitude, Mom saw antisocial behavior. While I gloried in the imaginative escape of books, Mom lacked a true appreciation for literary treasure. From the moment I learned to read, I was never without a volume at hand. To my mother, I'm sure it seemed that I spent too many hours in idleness, my face mere inches from the printed page.


  1. While your writing is very clean, with some nice phrasing (I especially liked "low-slung summer moon") this opening seemed a bit slow to me. If you need the story of the man as your intro, that's fine, but then the scene with the mom needs to start with a bit more bang to wrench the reader out of telling mode. The good thing is the MC's voice is apparent as she discusses her mother, but I can't help but feel it would be a bit more powerful you made it a true scene, showing her boredom, her restlessness, juxtaposed to that of her child while still retaining the MC's voice as commentary. Best of luck with this!

  2. The story of the man has an interesting voice to it and a subtle humor that I like. But it felt like it plodded a bit. Especially in the 2nd paragraph, I felt like the story was telling me every detail of his movements, which I did not need.

    The second part has a different voice--without the humor, but also easier to stick with (probably for being in 1st person). It plods a bit, but not as much as the first part (I thought). I think the lists of descriptive examples, while good, might go on too long.

    Though I can totally identify with the narrator :-)

    Anyway, that's just my opinion. I hope you find something useful in it!

  3. I TOTALLY don't understand the point of the man story at the beginning. Maybe it works better if italicized. Hard to say. Either way, I'm not sure this line "I always loved stories, except for my own; I wish it wasn't this one." doesn't make sense. What is "it" referring to? This story or his/her own?

    As for the rest, this is a lot of narration. SOMETHING HAS TO ACTUALLY HAPPEN in your first 500 words. As written, nothing is happening. We don't have a setting or any action. Just a lot of thinking about stuff. It's okay to insert this as you develop but you need to get to it faster than this.

  4. The first thing that threw me off here is the fact that I have no idea what "YA Magical Realism" is. Where would this book fall in a bookstore? Fantasy? Science fiction? Horror? Romance? Literary? Paranormal? These are genres; I'm unaware of "magical realism" as a genre.

    The second thing that threw me off is that I've seen this opening before. Have you ever read Eragon, the first book of the Inheritance Series? It opens with a blue stone with opal lines blasting into a field where a man is standing. So, I don't see this as unique. And as Eragon is well known (one of the most famous self-pubs turned rich), you're competing directly with it here.

    That said, the writing itself left me wondering: "Did anything happen?" A man found a stone 150 years ago, and then a child (girl/boy?) talks about her/his mother. What is the conflict? What is the big thing that should make the reader ask "what happens next?" As another commenter said, not much happens in this piece to begin with.

    Your section #1 reads as a prologue to me, with a huge time disconnect between it and section #2. This means section #1 is all backstory, which is one of the reasons it seems static and void of action. It's not written so the reader can be in the moment. It is told. As for section #2 itself, I'd rather see your main character on the verge of the inciting incident--the point that calls him/her into action--rather than listen to them tell me about their mother's opinions.

    My best recommendation is to ask yourself a very important question: how much of this is needed right here? Will I get lost in the story if I don't know these facts? Probably not. You can tell about the man and the stone in one sentence later on, where that information is necessary; we don't need to know he liked the stars and tripped a lot (how does that really change the story?). And we don't need to know what the mother thought of the child's reading. So, you can probably scrap this all and start your story in another place.

    The upside is that, as writer, you should know all of this information. You can use it to build a realistic story world--even if none of this ends up on the page.

  5. I don't know what the first bit means either, but I'm willing to wait to find out. I feel like you could tighten it up a bit. For example, the first two sentences could be combined to read, "One hundred and fifty years ago, a man could not keep his eyes off the sky." We know from the following sentences that he's outside in a field at night. And rather than just calling him "a man," I'd state what relationship he has to your protagonist. Is he an ancestor of hers? If not, he could just be "the man who would unwittingly change my life" (or, you know, something a bit better than that). One thing I have trouble with in my own writing is that sometimes I'll hold back information just for the sake of it, and I think there's a bit of that here. I need just a bit more to understand why I should remember this and how it connects to the present-day action.

    Speaking of action, Holly Bodger and Bluestocking are right: you don't have any in the second portion so far. While the voice is great as it is, I suggest trying to show the differences between the protagonist and her mother rather than just telling about them.

    Overall, though, you have a very nice writing style and I liked this a lot. I was intrigued by the first bit and sympathetic to the protagonist in the second part. Good luck revising!

  6. You needed to give us some info - as Authoress suggested - as well as the text. Is this actually your first and the start of your 2nd chapters? Or are these just two random extracts from further on in the book that are 'broken' and need fixing?

    Anyway, I'll try my best - because I really like your lyrical, literary tone. To me, the writing is fresh and unusual. First - why is the man unsurprised to be struck on the head? Why when he wakes doesn't he first look for his attacker, not at the stone? I also don't understand the line 'I always loved stories, except for my own; I wish it wasn't this one.' - does this mean that this is his story? Clarify here.

    In the second part, I think the first paragraph would be much stronger if you gave specific examples of things his mother did to keep busy, eg (off the top of my head) 'She hurried from bustling market to boiling pots to unclean floors. In dire straits she had been known to take in neighbours' washing for her own amusement.' Ok that's dull but you get the idea.

    PS I'm not sure where magical realism would be shelved, but it is certainly a genre (and one that I love), albeit an undersubscribed one - and one that existed long before 'paranormal romance'. I haven't read Eragon but that is certainly unfortunate if it starts in exactly the same way. Maybe if you just made it a different stone that'd make it ok, just by the tone of this I'm sure it's a completely different kind of tale.

  7. I liked the first half of this better than the second half. Something happened there. Unfortunately, you told it all. Instead of saying what this man did, show it. Imagine what you'd see on the movie screen and write that. SHow the guy walking along looking at the stars, tripping and falling and finding the stone. Let us hear him wonder what it is and react to it's heat.

    The second half was a monologue. The MC did nothing except explain a lot of stuff to herself that she already knows. Your intent may have been to fill in the reader (this is done often in first person. Everyone falls into the trap) but what actually happens is that the story stops so the MC can chat with the reader, and since the MC is leaving the story, the reader is also pulled out. It's like watching a car chase on the movie screen when suddenly, the screen fades to black, some person comes on and explains why the car chase is happening and tells us about the characters' pasts and motvations, etc., and then when he's done, the movie comes back on.

    If the relationship between the MC and her mom is important, show us what you're telling us. Write a scene where Mom nags her about always having a book in hand, and while she nags, show her constantly wiping down a clean table or tying almost empty trash bags. Show it happen in a spotlessly clean kitchen. All that will tell us about mom without you having to say it.

    As for magical realism, it's been around since at least the '70's. Pan's Labyrith is often cited as an example. You'd find it in the fantasy section.

  8. I loved it, so I can't help much, but there were two small elements I did NOT love. First:

    "I always loved stories, except for my own; I wish it wasn't this one." I think if you can delete this, you should. Or move it. I felt it disrupted the passage.


    "When I took a moment to be still, Mom thought I was lazy. When I was quiet, Mom felt I was sullen. Where I reveled in solitude, Mom saw antisocial behavior. While I gloried in the imaginative escape of books, Mom lacked a true appreciation for literary treasure."

    Something is off in your logical parallelism here and it threw me. You have this: "When I BLAH, Mom BLAH ABOUT ME. When I BLAH, Mom BLAH ABOUT ME. When I BLAH, Mom BLAH ABOUT ME. When I BLAH, Mom BLAH ABOUT MOM." You've set up a strong pattern and break it in the 4th sentence. The shift disoriented me and I had to read the paragraph over twice before my brain actually took in the words properly. Just something to think about.

  9. I liked the first part but I thought it was too long in the sense of 'he did this, and then this, and then this'. Someone suggested merging some sentences which might help, but I also think you can delete some without losing anything.

    In the second part I really liked the voice. Make something happen and you've cracked it :)

  10. Re: Magical realism, I think it's like JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL (a book about actual magicians in an otherwise-normal 19th century England). It's a fantastic, award-winning book, and the voice of the first part in this excerpt reminded me of it.

    That might be why I like the voice so much.

  11. Magical realism is almost considered a technique. Books such as Jellicoe Road and Hole
    are considered magical realism

  12. The man's story is beautifully written, but slow paced. Nothing changes because of the rock hitting him. (That we see.) I also didn't care for #2, simply because this is really early to have a pov change and such an abrupt one. It jolted me out of reading.

  13. Hi, guys! I just wanted to drop in and say thanks for the feedback. I loved being able to get outside viewpoints on this section.

    I apologize to those who were bothered by my lack of opening blurb. It's my first time out, and I thought that the numbers would indicate that this was the transition between the first two chapters, but I should have known better. I'll iron out that kink in future submissions.

    Thanks again! You've each given me something to think about and collectively given me new energy for this manuscript. :)

  14. I really liked the first section, but the last line just threw me, because of the POV shift. It seemed like it was in the wrong place and should have been the first line for the second section.

    I like the writing of the second section. The problem I have is the first paragraph being about the mother. I assume the MC is the narrator, not the mother. Instead of telling us how the mother affects her, show us. This is a bad example, but show the MC with her face stuck in a book and the mother reacting to it. Trust the reader to figure out what mom thinks.

    I have no problem with the switch from POV and character from the first section to the next. If I'm reading the whole book, I can go with it as long as it all makes sense in the end.