Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Broken? #4

TITLE: The Bridge Maker
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Linh, an eleven-year-old protagonist, is home alone because her mother is at work. She hears unusual sounds in the living room.

My question: can you can visualize the setting and where she's going?

Eeek! Eeek! Strange sounds came from the living room.

Probably mice. No surprise there. Linh had grown used to hearing those horrible little rodents scuttling inside the clogged drainpipes at school.

Maybe they had come here. Her house had a clogged drain. She shrugged, sat at the bottom stairs, and fiddled with the phoenix talisman on a golden chain around her neck, given to her by her father. It was the only moment she recalled sharing with him before he died in a car accident.

That was eight years ago when she was three. Other memories had left her.

Thumps echoed through the walls. Bam, bam, bam.

She jerked upright. That couldn’t be mice—unless their tiny feet had grown. She had never heard such bamming noises. She tiptoed past the hallway and stopped in front of the long, velvet curtains in the living room, trying to pinpoint its sound.

One minute. Three. The sound stopped. Linh’s heart pounded.

She hoped whatever it was hadn’t broken into the house through some secret pathway. Some underground tunnel like she had learned about in history class that could be connected to the entrance of a bomb shelter used during World War II, hidden in Merrion Square Park. Her mother had taken her to the park a few times on Sunday afternoons. Linh ran around with other kids on the lawn, not bothered by the naked statues staring at the ground or the Oscar Wilde statue slouching against a rock, smirking, pondering, its color faded.

Now she was curious to return there—just for the tunnel. If such thing existed, she could explore it instead of staying stuck at home. But there could be dirty rats and stinking skeletons and fungus-covered paths. Yuck!

She pulled the curtains. Whoa. A narrow door about three feet high stood beneath the large window. There'd been no door there before. Why would she never have noticed it, right beside the back door?
She bent down and placed a hand on the doorknob, hesitating for a moment. She wondered if a different world awaited her on the other side. Then she could explore it and wouldn’t have to stay at home alone. Her fear melted away, and she opened the mystery door and ducked through it.

Her breath hitched. The sun beamed down on a spacious backyard with colorful flowers—so unlike the usual gray summer days of Ireland. How could the bleak backyard with yellow grass and dead flowers have transformed into one full of vividness and light?

She blinked; the same high walls enclosing the bright yard remained on either side with the low wooden gate ahead of her. She looked behind. The narrow door to the living room still stood there, next to the locked back door.

She could go back if she wanted to, but the warm sunshine lured her into the different landscape. Lush green shrubs grew around her. A field of flowers carpeted the ground ahead, their sweet scent calming her.


  1. I did find the setting hard to picture. I'm given the impression of a dingy house, because she wonders about clogged pipes and mice. But then - velvet curtains? That's unusual... so maybe it's a historical piece? I'm not sure when we are. References to WWII & Oscar Wilde bring us back to the present (or 20th century, anyway), but again, where? Europe, I'm guessing, if there are tunnels?

    Like the Alice-like door into the secret garden, though. :D

  2. Hi, I love this. I felt like a kid about to read Alice in Wonderland again. Is this a retelling? Nice

    Same vision here; dingy real world, open door to Alice's Wonderland.

    I like your original take of having the sounds of rats lure her.
    And I'm curious as to what's making the loud BAM sounds.
    Sounds intriging!

  3. This is an intriguing premise, and I would read on to see what happens.

    I thought the digression in the middle about Merrion Square Park was unnecessary and would probably confuse readers in your target audience. How many preteens will have heard of Oscar Wilde? But I like Linh's thirst for adventure. Maybe there's another way to show it.

    A few things about the house bothered me as well. It's unusual to find a living room at the back of a house. If we're in Dublin, how spacious would the back yard be? Ireland is green year-round, so "yellow grass" seemed odd. If this is a townhouse, a cramped backyard with cement paving might be more believable.

    Finally, I think of "Linh" as a Vietnamese name, so it was somewhat surprising to find that the story was set in Ireland.

  4. I love your descriptions of the transformed yard!

    I don't read/ write MG so I may be way off base with my critique here but I felt like this section wandered a lot. The MC kept getting distracted with thoughts of the mice and the park and I found it pretty distracting myself :( But I don't know the MG voice so I wonder if that's the norm?

    I would like to see her get more quickly to the back garden, with shorter detours to the mice and park.

    But otherwise I'm intrigued! Love the feel of the book so far.

  5. You’ve got a great set up here. The voice feels true to an 11 year old and you get the sense that Linh is isolated and ready for something amazing to happen.

    There are a few word choices/phrases that stopped me as I was reading 1) How can something move through clogged drainpipes? Maybe say rusty or deteriorating instead of clogged? 2) “It was the only moment she remembered…” She’s not remembering a moment here. She is playing with an object. Maybe rephrase to “It was the only thing she had left of him.” I know these are nit-picky. Sorry!

    I think the paragraph about the secret pathway and Merrion Square Park takes the reader out of the action. I would think if there was something in her walls, she’d be solely focused on it. I like that you want to show that she’s bored at home, but maybe there is a better way to show this (mention that the house is empty and no one will be home for hours, or have her think about something she was invited to do but wasn’t allowed to go?) Just something small to give us the impression she is ready for adventure that feels organic to the current scene.

    I can see what the outside looks like, but I guess I’m not sure yet what is so special about it (aside from the fact that it’s a different world). I want to be awed by what she finds. And while it sounds pretty, I’d love to see what makes this place so irresistible right from the start. I’ve never been to Ireland, but I imagine that it is very lush and beautiful in summer, so I’m confused why her backyard is gray and bleak in summer. If it was winter in reality and summer in the other world, I think that could clear up some confusion.

  6. I agree with the other comments. I got a bit of whiplash. It jumps from the noises, to the dead father, to the noises, to the curtains, to the park, to the door.

    Her reaction to the door is a little odd. Fear that evaporates, but then her breath hitches and then she dives right in, and is calmed by the flowers. I think she would experience a mix of emotions, not ping pong back and forth from one to another.

    I would expect her to think through her actions a little more before exploring the world beyond the door. Why would she expect another world on the other side of the door? That kind of kills the surprise element.

    I would delete "bamming" since you already use "bam" to describe the noises. I'm not sure that I would use all of the actual noises "eeek" and "bam," or "yuck." Too much of these may make your MC seem younger.

    Does she worry about finding her way back to the door or whether her mother will arrive home?

  7. This jumps around a lot. I might find it easier to picture the setting if I was actually IN the setting for a little bit longer. The tangent about the pathway was a little confusing (and there was a beast of a sentence in there) and the bit about her dead father seemed squeezed in - at the moment, it doesn't mean anything, it's just a distraction. You could have her fiddle with her amulet without reflecting on it, especially if she's currently engaged in mouse-hunting.

    It's definitely an interesting beginning with a very clear voice, but I think it needs to be a little more focused.

  8. Ditto to all of the insightful comments above. I'm a sucker for those magic doorways--it's like a Narnia/Secret Garden mashup.

    I don't know if you've spent much time in Ireland, but it doesn't mesh with what I experienced living there for a while. I never knew anyone named Linh (I agree with another commentator that I thought it was Vietnamese). Also, Ireland in the summer is remarkably sunny, and still green. It's rainy typically from early fall through late spring. At least, that was my experience on the west coast. (In fact, I'd say Ireland in the summer is a lot like you're describing that other world.) Not to say there aren't some gray/rainy days in summer, but there are fewer.

    I don't know that a young Irish girl would say "whoa" either.

    The part about the tunnels didn't seem to fit in, and I would leave out that whole section.

    I think with some streamlining that this could be a neat story.