Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First 750 #5

TITLE: The Life and Adventures of Miss Gretchen Grey
GENRE: YA Historical Paranormal

'How do you punish someone who's already dead?' Gretchen Grey tightened her grip around an umbrella handle while she waited for her parents to arrive. Her eyes flickered absently over the London townhouse where she had grown up. Thick green ivy cast shadow around the entrance and spread towards the outer corners, almost reaching the top floor panes. Looking at it from afar, it seemed her home rested in the palm of a giant murky green claw.

Mira appeared in the doorway and opened her umbrella against the pelting rain. "Gretchen child! There's no reason to wait outside."

Gretchen tore her gaze away from the townhouse and looked up at the chambermaid.

"You know that's not true," she answered softly.

Mira gave her shoulder a gentle pat. The sound of heavy steps and subdued voices drifted towards them from the interior of the London townhouse before her parents emerged.

They carried her mother's casket out first. It was a rich mahogany, etched with gold. Gretchen imagined her mother would have approved. She'd had an eye for detail that many admired.

The group of men was followed out by a second assembly. Her father's coffin was almost identical to her mother's, though a bit longer. Her father had been a tall man, after all. Gretchen's breath caught in her throat and her hand flew up to clutch Mira's as it rested on her shoulder.

'This is all my fault.'

The heavy wooden coffins were lifted higher and carried out into the street where the funeral carriages waited to transport them to their final resting place. It only took them a moment to load their cargo, and then they were off.

Her father's lawyer appeared in the entranceway. He closed and locked the front doors behind him and Mira had already begun towards their awaiting carriage. Gretchen followed. It suddenly hit her that she would never again see her home or her family within it. A dull ache lingered where her heart should be. Heat beat from it, up towards her cheeks, her throat, and her eyes.

She found the courage to turn and look upon the old townhouse one last time. Her chest rose in a painful sigh. It looked nothing like it did when she was a child. There were no flowers, no sun, no happy memories that filled the place with cheer and light. HE had taken those. HE had taken everything. HE had won. The house was his. Gretchen imagined for a moment the poor families that might be tempted to buy the townhouse and find themselves victims of his evil in turn.

She shuddered at the thought.

A movement caught her eye from the upstairs window; the window that once sheltered her childhood bedchamber. He was there. The one who had killed her parents. She could feel him watching her.

She imagined her porcelain dolls, stuffed bears, picture frames, and embroidered bed covers; all of her family heirlooms, being tainted and stained by his very presence. She looked up through the window and found the familiar black eyes glaring at her from the depths of the darkness.

Hate and fury overwhelmed her but she kept her head steady as she stared back at him, betraying no emotion. Under her breath she uttered her final farewell to her birthplace.

"One day, when I am grown, I shall come back and put an end to you."

She sent this final threat through the gloom, feeling it with all of her being. She didn't know if he had heard or understood but she thought she saw a dual flash of red behind the window panes. Then all was dark as she turned on her heels and followed Mira into the carriage.

Gretchen knew that her parents' deaths were anything but an accident. She had known ever since recieving Mira's letter at her boarding school in Winchester four days ago. She had begun to dream that night. And whenever Gretchen Grey dreamt, one could be certain that reality was not far behind.

23 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I love it. It reads smoothly. You've introduced the character, the mood, the villain, the story goal. Great job!!!

Becca said...

This piece definitely interested me. I'm a fan of YA, historical novels, and paranormal novels, so this was right up my alley, too. I think that the first 750 words do a good job of establishing the genre, too--without reading the genre beforehand, I was pretty sure it was a historical novel in the first paragraph and positive by the third, and the very first sentence set the mood, for me, for a paranormal novel.

I have a couple suggestions for editing. In the first paragraph, "[h]er eyes flickered absently" was a bit jarring to me because I'm not used to "flickered" being used in that manner, and especially when paired with "absently." Later, in the third paragraph, Gretchen has to tear her gaze away from the townhouse, suggesting that she was looking at it more intently than "[h]er eyes flickered absently over the London townhouse" implies. Also in the first paragraph, "it seemed her home rested in the palm of a giant murky green claw" is really evocative, but it also jarred me a bit because claws don't have palms, hands do. Perhaps a "clawed hand" or somethinbg would work better.


The end of the fifth pargraph--"before her parents emerged"--gave me the idea that her parents were alive, but that isn't the case in the next paragraph, which I think might confuse the reader. Adding the detail that it would be their caskets emerging might help.

Additionally, near the end, I was wondering whether the "final farewell to her birthplace" was also the "final threat" contained in the paragraph between the two. I was more confused about the farewell--was it unspoken, and then she made the threat, or was the threat in fact her farewell? I assumed it was the latter. On one hand, it seems like an odd farewell to a place that she seems sentimental about, but if "he" had taken it from her, perhaps her farewell was a promise to take revenge on the person (?) who had ruined it for her.

A few final little things: when Gretchen first talks--I'm assuming it's Gretchen talking--she has single quotation marks around what she says, instead of double; this is repeated later when she says 'This is all my fault.' Also, in the second paragraph, I think that there should be a comma between "Gretchen" and "child". I'm not a big fan of the passive tense at the beginning of the seventh paragraph. In the eleventh paragraph, you wrote "HE" but two paragraphs later, you don't capitalize the word. I think that using "he"--without the capitalization--is vague enough to draw attention without the capitalization. Finally, in the second-to-last paragraph, I think the expression is "she turned on her heel," not "heels."

I really liked the way that you wrote the setting, especially in the first paragraph. I think that there's great description throughout the piece, especially in the descriptions of the coffins. One of my favorites was "She imagined her porcelain dolls, stuffed bears, picture frames, and embroidered bed covers; all of her family heirlooms, being tainted and stained by his very presence." To me, it does a good job of contrasting things that have a childlike nature, and therefore innocence, like the dolls and bears, with the corruption of "his very presence."

I think that the reader gets a clear picture of Gretchen through this beginning, particularly through her promise to "him" to end him. I was unsure of her age, since she says that she will come back once she's grown up; I got the feeling that she was in her teens from the genre and also from the way that she acted, but "when I am grown" sounds like something a younger child might say. However, this isn't too much of an issue. Gretchen seems very intense and also very saddened.

This piece really interested and I would definitely keep reading!

KarenG said...

This story would have an interesting beginning with Gretchen watching both her parents coffins being carried out. It immediately brings up questions. But when she sees the eyes in the window... then it becomes compelling, chilling, and a must read.

Matthew Rush said...

Awesome. I know the author so I will contact her directly. Thanks for sharing!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I was drawn right into this story -- sucked in from the very first sentence! I loved how you made us believe that her parents were alive and coming out to meet her ... and then pulled the rug out beneath our feet when you described their caskets.

This sample leaves me wondering about HIM, the enemy who caused her parents' death. At first I thought it was a wicked uncle, who has taken the inheritance and left his niece in the cold. But your later paragraphs make me wonder if I had the wrong idea. I thought back to the first sentence, and then I was *sure* I had the wrong idea.

And your last sentence about Gretchen's dreams is the final hook that draws me in. Her parents are dead. It was not an accident. The guilty agent resides in that house (and now I think this entity is dead). And Gretchen dreams visions of things that are true.

Why *wouldn't* I read on???

Barbara said...

Interesting read. It pulled me in, but there were places that confused me.

First parg. perhaps say 'her' umbrella because she's holding it. And cut 'absently' after flickered because you give us too much detail about the house for it to be 'absently.' And there you say - the townhouse where she had grown up - which implies she is already grown. At the end of the piece, she says she will come back when she's grown, so I'm not sure of her age. Her words and actions had me thinking she was a yound woman, then I checked the genre and the YA made me think teen. I did not imagine she was a young child at all.

Parg 3 - she looks up at the chambermaid. This stopped me because I assumed she was at least a teen and wouldn't have had to look up at her.

Parg 5. you might cut 'of the London townhouse' because we already know that. It's been said several times. "Before her parents emerged' led me to believe her parents were alive.

Parg. 6. 'They' refers back to her parents, so I'm thinking her parents are carrying, then I reached 'her mother's casket out first.' This completely stopped me. If her mother just walked out of the house, why is her casket being brought out. I was thinking of step mothers and real mothers, or perhaps she was sick and purchased a coffin ahead of time.

Parg 7. "The group of men' had me asking 'what group of men?' I was still envisioning two parents carrying a casket. Then Dad's coffin is carried out and I realize they're both dead. So I think saying 'her parents emerged' really doesn't work. I've been confused for three whole pargs.

Parg 10. 'she would never again see her home.' Not necessarily true. She could always come back and see it. "A dull ache lingered where her heart should be.' This says her heart wasn't there. It should have been, but the dull ache took its place. Perhaps rephrase.

Parg 11. 'It looked nothing like it had when she was a child.' More confirmation that she 'isn't' a child. My thoughts go back to her looking up at Mira. I wonder if she's really short or Mira is very tall.

Parg 13. 'that once sheltered her childhood bedchamber.' Again, this says she is no longer a child.

Parg 16. "One day when I am grown' makes me think, "is she not grown now?' I went back to reread. It seemed she was grown. I am confused.

Parg. 18. The narrator suddenly jumps into the story. It's no longer Gretchen's POV. Perhaps consider cutting the whole thing or rewriting in Gretchen's POV.

Overall, I really enjoyed it and despite my confusion, I'd read on, but you might give some thought to clarifying the age issue and her parents deaths. Good luck!

C.A. Marshall said...

Dreaming things that come true is cliche, parents dying as a plot catalyst is cliche, and the story itself reminds me very much of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

However, I did really like it. I like that the girl, too young to really do anything about it now, is already asserting herself against the antag. She's going to be a real pistol later on and this makes me want to keep reading more.

Becca has done a good job pointing out editing flaws, so I won't repeat what she says, except to say that the word "shadow" in the first paragraph needs an s after it.

Corinne said...

The single quotes in the opening line - are those thoughts? If so, I'd put them in italics, or just give them a paragraph of their own if we're deep in someone's PoV. Single quotes are more often used for dialogue (outside of the US) and for quoted text, so it threw me for a bit.

I think you can cut a good amount of adverbs here - they're getting a bit distracting. Also take care of overwriting. 'waiting to arrive' - you could easily snip the last two words and keep the same meaning.

When calling/addressing someone, the name needs to be enclosed by commas on either side (unless it's at the start or end of the sentence, of course), so you should put one between 'Gretchen' and 'child'. As with anything in writing, you can break this rule to get a certain effect, but I don't think you need that here.

You can tighten up your writing here and there. "It was" is a kind of weak way to start a sentence; how about something like, "Gold etched the rich mahogany casket" or something like that? Similarly, "A second assembly followed" would be stronger than the passive construction you have now.

Make sure you're not just listing actions - keep the writing vivid. Passsages like the following -- The heavy wooden coffins were lifted higher and carried out into the street where the funeral carriages waited to transport them to their final resting place. It only took them a moment to load their cargo, and then they were off. Her father's lawyer appeared in the entranceway. He closed and locked the front doors behind him and Mira had already begun towards their awaiting carriage. -- risk losing people's attention. Maybe give us some more of her thoughts on it? (Also, in the case of the last sentence, I'd suggest breaking it up in two.)

It suddenly hit her that she would never again see her home or her family within it.

You're telling us her feelings; show them, instead. You're getting closer to this in the few lines that follow, as well as the second paragraph. That kind of emotion hits the reader much harder.

I don't think you need to capitalize he; the repetition already puts emphasis on it. If you want to keep the extra oomph, though, maybe italicize them instead?

It looks like you'll be slipping into baackstory at the ending - not a good idea, I think. You already risk focusing too much on backstory/internal goings-on in what you have so far. Stepping away from what's going on NOW risks losing readers.

Very intrigued by who the 'he' is, though! This definitely has the potential to hook people.

Old Kitty said...

I loved your first sentence! Maybe just leave it as a thought read aloud for the reader, ie. It's Gretchen thought loud and clear in her head rather than thinking aloud? So the first sentence will be in italics for eg. I hope that makes sense!!

anyway I like the emotional turmoil poor Gretchen is feeling as she confronts her parents' murder. I love the creepiness that seeps through the story and I think the ending is just lovely!!

Well done!

Take care
x

Kay said...

I'm not sure why, but I was having a difficult time visualizing the townhouse at the very beginning. I've reviewed it several times, and you're using strong adjectives (I like the way you describe the ivy as a green claw, and personally, I like that her eyes flickered absently). But for some reason, I couldn't visualize the scene.

Maybe you could start with where Mira puts her hand on Gretchen's shoulder b/c I wonder if the description of the townhouse is necessary...perhaps you could describe it later? I don't know your story, so I can't say. Just a thought I had.

Also, when you say "They carried her mother's casket" -- I think you should specify who "they" are. You mentioned her parents directly before that, so when I read "they" I assumed parents. But then I went back and read it several more times b/c I was like, "How could her parents be carrying her mother's casket? Maybe dad and step-mom? Or her mother's mother's casket?" I finally realized (I think) you meant some people, men or whoever.

Instead of "answered softly," maybe just say "whispered" -- answered softly distracted me, took me out of the flow.

The group of men was followed out by a second assembly -- this is passive voice, I would suggest revising to active. Also, wasn't sure what you meant by "second assembly."

(part 2 next)

Kay said...

(part 2)

In the part about "Gretchen's breath caught in her throat and her hand flew up to clutch Mira's as it rested on her shoulder." -- this may very well be correct, but for some reason (in my head), it sounded like "Mira's" was modifying "throat." Maybe you could say "clutch Mira's fingers" or something else, just to ensure clarity. But if it's currently modifying properly (I'm really not sure if it is), then forget what I said.

The heavy wooden coffins were lifted higher and carried out into the street -- this is passive voice, suggest using active.

Also, "load their cargo" seemed like harsh phrasing for Gretchen to be using considering who's inside the coffins. Maybe a different metaphor than "cargo"?

A dull ache lingered where her heart should be -- should this be "where her heart SHOULD HAVE BEEN"?

A movement caught her eye -- just "Movement caught her eye" would be stronger.

She could feel him watching her -- "She felt him watching her" would be stronger.

(Is there any way to start closer to this part, where Gretchen is talking about HE...this part is crawling beneath my skin, giving me an eerie feeling -- I like it!)

familiar black eyes glaring -- I normally wouldn't say this, but I think "glaring" is a weak verb here -- or maybe it's not "weak" per se, maybe just not eerie enough. Something stronger (but eloquent)? Piercing, maybe?

Hate and fury overwhelmed her -- maybe pick one word that encompasses both of these concepts (or pick one and eliminate the other?).

She sent this final threat through the gloom -- I'm not getting as strong visual image here. I'd like to visualize the threat, even though it's an abstract thing. Maybe something more accurate (I'm not sure what you mean by "through the gloom") with a stronger verb than "sent"?

but she thought she saw a dual flash of red -- maybe "but she detected a dual flash of red," I think that would be stronger (instead of "thought she saw").

Then all was dark as she turned on her heels -- "turned on her heels" seems like a jerky motion, but I'm picturing everything very fluid up to this point (her standing there, gazing up at the black/red eyes, her vowing revenge on this presence). Maybe different phrase?

Gretchen knew that her parents' deaths -- delete "that," it will be stronger.

She had known ever since receiving Mira's letter at her boarding school in Winchester four days ago. -- this sentence seems a little convoluted, I think you could reword to make it stronger, punchier. I think the sentence directly before it could be adjusted too.

Ex: Bob and Angela Smith's (parent's names here?) deaths were anything but an accident. Gretchen knew it upon the arrival of Mira's letter at her boarding school. That was four days ago.

(If you worded it the way you had to avoid confusion on "her" modifying Gretchen, instead of Mira, maybe start the sentence with a prepositional phrase.)

Upon the arrival of Mira's letter at Hogwart's Boarding School, Gretchen knew, without a doubt, her parents' deaths were anything but an accident.

Great closing sentence, but delete "that," it'll be stronger without it.

Hope this is helpful! :-)

K

Kay said...

(Part 2)

In the part about "Gretchen's breath caught in her throat and her hand flew up to clutch Mira's as it rested on her shoulder." -- this may very well be correct, but for some reason (in my head), it sounded like "Mira's" was modifying "throat." Maybe you could say "clutch Mira's fingers" or something else, just to ensure clarity. But if it's currently modifying properly (I'm really not sure if it is), then forget what I said.

The heavy wooden coffins were lifted higher and carried out into the street -- this is passive voice, suggest using active.

Also, "load their cargo" seemed like harsh phrasing for Gretchen to be using considering who's inside the coffins. Maybe a different metaphor than "cargo"?

A dull ache lingered where her heart should be -- should this be "where her heart SHOULD HAVE BEEN"?

A movement caught her eye -- just "Movement caught her eye" would be stronger.

She could feel him watching her -- "She felt him watching her" would be stronger.

(Is there any way to start closer to this part, where Gretchen is talking about HE...this part is crawling beneath my skin, giving me an eerie feeling -- I like it!)

familiar black eyes glaring -- I normally wouldn't say this, but I think "glaring" is a weak verb here -- or maybe it's not "weak" per se, maybe just not eerie enough. Something stronger (but eloquent)? Piercing, maybe?

Kay said...

(part 3)

Hate and fury overwhelmed her -- maybe pick one word that encompasses both of these concepts (or pick one and eliminate the other?).

She sent this final threat through the gloom -- I'm not getting as strong visual image here. I'd like to visualize the threat, even though it's an abstract thing. Maybe something more accurate (I'm not sure what you mean by "through the gloom") with a stronger verb than "sent"?

but she thought she saw a dual flash of red -- maybe "but she detected a dual flash of red," I think that would be stronger (instead of "thought she saw").

Then all was dark as she turned on her heels -- "turned on her heels" seems like a jerky motion, but I'm picturing everything very fluid up to this point (her standing there, gazing up at the black/red eyes, her vowing revenge on this presence). Maybe different phrase?

Gretchen knew that her parents' deaths -- delete "that," it will be stronger.

She had known ever since receiving Mira's letter at her boarding school in Winchester four days ago. -- this sentence seems a little convoluted, I think you could reword to make it stronger, punchier. I think the sentence directly before it could be adjusted too.

Ex: Bob and Angela Smith's (parent's names here?) deaths were anything but an accident. Gretchen knew it upon the arrival of Mira's letter at her boarding school. That was four days ago.

(If you worded it the way you had to avoid confusion on "her" modifying Gretchen, instead of Mira, maybe start the sentence with a prepositional phrase.)

Upon the arrival of Mira's letter at Hogwart's Boarding School, Gretchen knew, without a doubt, her parents' deaths were anything but an accident.

Great closing sentence, but delete "that," it'll be stronger without it.

Hope this is helpful! :-)

K

Carolyn V. said...

I also know the author, so I won't say too much online. I will say, great read! And very brave to post. =)

Susan Fields said...

This definitely leaves me wanting more. Great mood and characterization, and I'm very curious about what's living in her house. Well done!

Slamdunk said...

Bravo. You said so much with so little space. I like how you were able to lay a foundation for strong characters as well.

Look forward to reading more.

April said...

"In the part about "Gretchen's breath caught in her throat and her hand flew up to clutch Mira's as it rested on her shoulder." -- this may very well be correct, but for some reason (in my head), it sounded like "Mira's" was modifying "throat." Maybe you could say "clutch Mira's fingers" or something else, just to ensure clarity. But if it's currently modifying properly (I'm really not sure if it is), then forget what I said."

I agree with this poster. That was my thought as well.

Other than that, I really liked it. I want to know more about her parents' deaths and this mysterious man or being up in the house. I especially liked "She imagined her porcelain dolls, stuffed bears, picture frames, and embroidered bed covers; all of her family heirlooms, being tainted and stained by his very presence." That was very descriptive and gave me chills.

Other than that...it's a smooth read with easy transitions. Setting, character, mood, villain, plot...

I want more!

Hart Johnson said...

I love the set up and tone, and your use of imagery is great.

I was confused about the age of the protag until the very end. Early, it says 'when she was a child' and later it said, 'when she was grown'.

I think you have some word-level cleaning to do, just to tighten, and there are a few places you use straight past tense when past perfect or conditional seems more appropriate.

I think though, you have a really solid 'getting there' draft, and I am definitely intrigued to see what happens.

Jo Schaffer said...

Oooohhhhh!!!!!! More!

Kelly said...

OK, not that you need any additional comments, but here goes... First, I'll say that I like it, but I really wanted to know who "He" was, perhaps a little more description. Just a little. This is a great opening for what I'll assume to be a ghost story. The only problem is that it reads like a prologue instead of a first chapter. A very COOL prologue, but one that gives us the back story before we turn the page and find that our heroine has turned sixteen and is beginning the real story of hunting down the ghost, or whatever it is.

I would def. read more, but I only wonder if, perhaps, the story would work better beginning with the actual hunt and explaining why later. Just a thought.

The only other thing I'll say (which has absolutely nothing to do with your writing) is that I didn't feel your title portrays the edgy nature of the book. At all.

LTM said...

This is sooo nice. I love the setting with the rain and the ivy covered cottage. The eerie "how do you punish someone who's already dead?" (immediate hook); I really liked the images of the coffins coming out and her catching Mira's hand. Why is it her fault??? :D

Copyedits--ivy cast a shadow OR cast shadows around
-I don't think entranceway is right... either entrance or doorway (but don't quote me)
-Mira had already begun walking toward...?
-family in it
-that last 'graph, what do you think about: "Gretchen had known ever since receiving... that her parents' deaths were no accident." just an idea~

OMG! I was totally freaked by the black eyes glaring at her from the depths of the darkness--SCARY!!!

this is really, really awesome. I like it a lot. Nice work~

Mystery Robin said...

I really like it and I think you nailed the voice and the time period. Nice work!

DL Hammons said...

I'm intrigued by the premise and I find the writing very accessible (fluid). After reading this snippet I would read the book cover to find out more, and if I liked what I found there I would purchase it.