Sunday, September 11, 2016

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Heartford Rev 1


Name: Romany Heartford
Genre: Middle Grade - Historical
Title: Devil’s Born

Chapter 1      

As dusk fell on the town of Berwick, Will watched his shadow spread across the path. For the first time, he noticed it had grown to near enough the length of his father’s. He paused to slide a hand inside his cloak, raking fingernails at his neck where the sweat had gathered. When an owl hooted overhead, his heartbeat quickened. He hurried onward, bunching the rough wool of the cloak inside his hands.

“How much further?” he said, his legs trembling at the pace.

“You spend too much time at your mother’s skirts, boy,” his father replied: “I’ll not be nagged by you as well.”

“But…”

“Enough. Your brother is sick and there was no other choice.”

Footsteps fell behind them, fast and hard, causing tightness to pull through Will’s throat. He forced moisture into his mouth, checking the cloak’s hood still covered his face.

“Father?”

“Get your head down.”

The stranger’s step drew close and fear wormed within Will’s gut until he seemed to forget how to walk. His mouth opened and closed. But no words came out. His father took hold of his arm, as the footsteps came to a stop.

“Only one thing for it in this weather – eh?”

The man’s chest looked damp under the open laces of his shirt. He gave them a lop-sided grin while his breath hissed in the beginning of a whistle. And if he noticed Will, bundled in his cloak, cringing amid the heat, he made no sign of it. The stranger crossed over the road and went inside the tavern.

“See,” his father said: “Safe in our beds before we know it.”

As they passed the smoking chimney of the tavern and turned the corner, Will rolled his shoulders back and forth, trying to relieve the building itch. Nothing he tried gave any relief. He glanced at his father, silently repeating the words: safe in our beds. His father’s gaze was set in the distance. And so sure it would go unnoticed, Will lowered the folds of the hood; his lips parting with the trickle of air as it darted about his face.

Night’s darkness gathered, until even moonlight was shut out in places where the overhanging rooftops of opposite houses touched. They paused below the flame of a street lamp so that his father could light the torch he’d been carrying and hold it high, to guide their way.

“William!” His father’s eyes swept from the path to his son and back again. “What did we tell you?” He lunged forward to clip him about his ear. “Get your hood up.”

“But it’s dark now and that man…”

“You think because one man didn’t notice your face - you can show yourself off? You know very well what can happen. Don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Come on, then,” he gestured at Will’s hood with a flick of his hand: “I never took you for a fool.”

“Sorry, father.”

“Just do as you’re told in future.”

Will dragged the heavy wool back over his face, the weight of his heart growing heavier with it.

“Let’s go.”

He rubbed at his ear where his father had caught it, while rats squealed about their business in the nearby midden-heap. Will narrowed his eyes, knowing well why his father wanted him to conceal his face. That didn’t stop him from hating being under a cloak, in summer’s heat. Just thinking about it all, sent his hand under the hood to touch the web of ulcerated skin that distorted the left side of his face, stretching from the side of his nose all the way to his ear hole. He chewed at his inside cheek. When the goodwife who birthed him had first seen it, she’d offered to take the baby William down to the river and drown him, as a favour to his mother. He sighed, not understanding why people were afraid. His face didn’t seem like the Devil’s work to him.

“Watch out!”

A hiss of falling liquid accompanied the cry from the window above their heads.

“God’s tooth!”

Will leapt sideways but the day’s distractions had slowed his wits and the contents of the chamber pot splattered over the ground, spraying his boots.

“Zounds!” Will recoiled at the salty stench of urine.

“No cursing.” His father held his torch arm straight ahead, causing his shadow to flicker over the ground, near enough as wide as it was long: “Now don’t look like that,” he said, the previous sternness leaving his face as he tried to suppress a chuckle. “It’s not so bad.”

“It is.” Will squirmed while the warmth spread from the leather of his boots, to seep in between his toes. And a weight sank through his stomach because it was still a long walk home before he could hang his boots to dry before the fire. “It’s very bad.”

“It could have been worse.”

Will snorted.

“Think about it. There could have been floaters in there as well;” his father smiled. “Besides there’s some that say it’s good luck.”

“That’s stupid. Even more so, than when they say things are bad luck.”

Subconsciously, he passed his hand back inside the hood to prod the swollen distortion of skin that marked his face. The rough, red lumps and ridges prickled beneath his fingertips. He would give anything to be rid of it. Sensing his father’s raised eyebrow, he snatched his hand away.

“How can I live a normal life with this thing on my face? People hate me.”

“Self-pity’s not the answer, son.”

“What is then?”

“I trust in God that you’ll find an answer one day.” Will didn’t notice that, for a moment, his father struggled to meet his gaze as though he himself was not convinced of God’s help.

“You think it might be possible…” Will’s throat tightened at the thought: “to remove this thing from my face.”

“Who am I to say what’s possible or not? Although Heaven knows we’ve tried…”

And although they’d had similar conversations before, Will couldn’t help but raise his face to his father, hope swimming through his eyes.

His father shuffled his feet: “Your Aunt Bess mentioned an apothecary in her last letter. She seems to think he can perform miracles but,” he paused: “Now you listen to me Will, don’t get your hopes up.”

 The church bell tolled the hour of nine and before there was chance to talk further, his father began to hurry onward.

“It’s late;” he said: “I promised your mother we’d be home by now.”

Candle flames guttered over window sills, making dark shapes shift and sway along the path. And Will vowed to himself, his feet squelching in the blackness, that one day he would find his aunt’s apothecary or another one and make his face normal. When just before the turning to their road, his father reached out to bring them to a halt.

“What is it?”

Will’s ears strained to catch the clatter of sound building from back behind the bend in the road. A steady swell of horse’s hooves and stamping feet.

“Shhh.”

His father pressed his finger to his lips before crouching, to roll his torch beneath his boot and extinguish their light. The beat of Will’s heart pulsed at his throat while the approaching steps grew to a thunderous pitch.

“Shouldn’t we run for it?”

“No time.”

“But what if they see me?”

“Get your head down. They’re coming.”

11 comments:

  1. Ro, nice job on this revision. I read it through once and then compared it with my notes from your first draft to see what changes you made. You changed your opening, which I felt was already strong writing, but this new one sets things up even better, I think. The description of Will's shadow shows us that he is almost as tall as his father, which gives us an idea of his age. Will's and Father's speech has been cleaned up a bit and fits the time better. You also do a great job of describing the birthmark on Will's face and building up the fear both he and his father have about it being seen. Today's kids would wonder why that's such a big deal, not realizing that people were killed for having such marks back then, people thinking it was the mark of the devil. Great lesson for kids today!

    The stranger approaching was a little confusing. Father and Will were in a hurry, yet I felt like they had stopped when the stranger approached, because you say the footsteps stopped and the stranger spoke. Also, what he said: “Only one thing for it in this weather – eh?” didn't make sense to me until the next paragraph when he went into the tavern. Then I realized he was talking about a drink. Maybe show that there was a tavern there first before the stranger approaches. Up to that point, it seemed like they were walking alone in a remote location.

    I'm still curious about the brother's illness and what Will and his father were doing away from home. The chamber pot scene was pretty much the same, still great writing. You reduced your descriptions and had more dialogue, which I think is better for middle grade. Great job overall!

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  2. Hey Romany – thanks for letting me read this and for taking my comments.

    First, I enjoyed this version even more, so definitely right track for me.

    I got a sense of time and place immediately. Perfect.

    I also think you are working very hard to portray the setting and the danger, the feelings of the boy and the general mood. I wonder if you might relax a little and trust some of the gems you have created. Just an example, this is awesome. “Night’s darkness gathered, until even moonlight was shut out in places where the overhanging rooftops of opposite houses touched.” I’m thinking, "Wow, what else is there to say?"

    The owl hoot in the first paragraph seemed a bit out of place because it’s not night yet. Again, I really think you have “done your work” without it. Another, “causing tightness to pull through Will’s throat.” I’m not sure "tightness pulling through" is a clear image. I want to say “chill” a little, you got this, don’t let your effort lead you to overdo or reach for descriptions that are too unfamiliar.

    I still find the distinctness of the father’s and child’s voice is very, very strong, very compelling. I am very curious and sympathetic, and I enjoy the father’s harsh moments – they portray clearly the circumstances. I particularly like the child’s dialogue. The father’s dialogue seems stylized, and you may be looking for that – it does communicate a sense of “someplace else.”

    The last part of the story, the dialogue of the child is less boy like to me - I would just suggest make the boy dialogue in the second half sound like the first half.

    As the “action” is in the interplay between the father and son, I find myself wanting to get to an event. I’m sitting on edge when we get to, “But what if they see me?” “Get your head down. They’re coming.” But I feel like I have to work very hard to get to this point. I prefer a balance of less narrative/more dialogue and I think you have the right amount of dialogue, so my vote is less narrative. I would urge you to get from “For the first time, he noticed it had grown to near enough the length of his father’s” to “They’re coming” in the quickest fashion by allowing me to enjoy only your very best and most easily understood narrative phrases, carrying me sooner to the event no doubt waiting behind the page turn.

    I guess I’m saying, like we say around the barbershop, you have given me a wonderful shape up. But grab the electric clippers – the hair will grow back.

    I continue to enjoy this very much. I think you have a great sense for the tone and dialogue and I look forward to reading much more.

    Thanks.

    Richard

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  3. Hi Romany! Sorry I couldn't contribute last week, but this revisions looks great. It has a nice sense of tension, and the dialogue flows well between father and son.

    I agree with Richard that your descriptions, while well written, are a little overwhelming. I found myself getting lost in the descriptions themselves a bit, and that made it hard to sustain that great sense of tension you have going through most of these pages. You have great sensory balance, not just sight, which is good, and I saw you clarified some of the lines from earlier, which is great, but I think you could do a bit more.

    Description is a tricky beast, because it's essential to ground the reader, and can be used for a lot of things, like establishing mood and time period and things like that, but it can also hog the page if you let it. There are a couple things you could try to help that.

    One of them is finding those killer details that can stand in for a whole host of description. The stench of urine and the length of Will's shadow for example are wonderful descriptions that pull double duty by telling us something about the world/characters, and about the surroundings. Like Richard said, you want to leave some space for people to imagine the world as well. The problem is of course that how many and how much depends on the book, the reader, and the author, which is frustrating. It's a balancing act, but it is one you'll get steadily better at with practice.

    The other thing I would recommend for your details is to get very, very specific. I saw in the comments from last week that you clarified this is a historical set in England's Tudor period, but there's literally no way to tell that here. The reason someone asked you last week if it was a medieval fantasy, is that a lot of those kinds of books (much as I love them) have a sort of generic "medieval" feel to them, taverns and horses and candles and cloaks. There's not really a sense of place here.

    The thing about historical fiction (and fantasy as well, if I'm honest) is it's all about the specifics, and setting the scene/time/place as soon as possible. If it sounds too generic, the reader is less likely to be hooked in, and all the details start to run together, if that makes sense.

    The GOOD thing about historical fiction, especially with a time as popular as the Tudors, is that there is a lot of information to be found. Want to describe a lord? Just google "Tudor lord outfit and weapons", read a few reliable links, and use those as inspiration for the paragraph you're writing. Want to know what your character is having for dinner? Google "Tudor peasant dinner," and you know.

    (http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/tudor-dining-guide-food-and-status-16th-century)

    For example, I would encourage you to do, is some research into Tudor clothing, and try and find more specific terms for what your characters and the people they meet are wearing.

    (Double bonus historical points if you mention sumptuary laws, haha.)

    http://www.maryrose.org/tudor-fashion-police-the-sumptuary-laws/ http://www.sixwives.info/tudor-clothes-for-the-poor.htm

    Also, the interaction with the stranger going into the tavern would be a good place to say something to indicate where and when we are. "Did you hear, King Henry is getting married again?" "Doesn't put food on my table, why should I care?" Or whatever. Talk about the local bigwig doing something and tie it back to what's going on in England.

    Choose a few details and getting very, very time period specific with them will solve a lot of your current descriptive dilemmas. And it will help give your book a real sense of time and place and voice as well.

    Good luck! Can't wait to read next week!
    Miriam

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  4. Hello, Ro! Well done with the revisions!

    Overall I liked a lot of this but one thing that did jump out at me were various sentences I got hung up on. The first one is:

    “For the first time, he noticed it had grown to near enough the length of his father’s.” I see what you are trying to say here, that Will has grown and is now almost as tall as his father. But perhaps it can be said differently? Read it out loud.

    “He forced moisture into his mouth, checking the cloak’s hood still covered his face.” Same thing. Try to reword it. “He checked to make certain that the hood still covered his face.” Be careful, though. Can Will see anything at all? Or is he being led home blindly?

    “A stranger’s step.” If footsteps are approaching, state it plainly. You do a lovely job of showing fear though.

    “Only one thing for it in this weather, eh?” This dialogue throws me a little off balance. I am well aware of taverns in towns and people going to drink, I just didn’t know what the stranger was talking about until the end of the next paragraph when he went to the tavern. Here, also, I am left wondering… can Will see the man? How much can he see? How does he feel about how little of a stranger he can see? You can dabble more in his fear/ worry about being seen before we know WHY he is scared. Consider a smidge of foreshadowing.

    “See,” his father said:” You may like a comma here instead. It flows better. “See,” his father said, “safe in our beds…”

    “The building itch.” Try to show this differently. Maybe he aches to rubs his shoulder against the edge of the building because his skin is hot and itchy beneath the cloak?

    “….Until moonlight was shut out in places where….” This is all exquisite detail.

    You follow it up with some tension between Will and his father which I really like.

    At the end of that” dragged the heavy.” And then “heavier.” Watch over using words. You generally don’t so I hate to point it out.

    Consider your commas in the next big paragraph starting with “he rubbed at.” “just thinking about it all, sent his hand…” Perhaps revise.

    “When the goodwife who birthed him had first seen it”- This is tough, because you shouldn’t give too much away but “it” comes off wrong. Is it a burn? A cut? A gnarly scar? Just a mark? I like being blunt about this kind of thing. I would call it a defect- something wrong that he is hidden away for.

    “His face didn’t seem like the Devil’s work to him.” Or “He didn’t think his face was the work of the Devil.”

    The falling liquid and the possibility of floaters. Here is where I smile and nod and agree with you about the joys of historical fiction. Keep this in.

    “God’s tooth!” Who says this?

    “… still a long walk home” Maybe rewrite?

    “That’s stupid. Even more so when they say things are bad luck.” How else can this be said?

    “live a normal life with this thing” See above with what it is. There is another chance for foreshadowing.

    “Will didn’t notice that, for a moment, his father struggled to meet his gaze as though he himself was not convinced of God’s help.” I single out this line because it pulls us out of the normal flow of the chapter. We aren’t seeing things though Will’s eyes at that moment. How can you show Will’s fathers struggle?

    “When just before turning to their road, father reached out…” If action is starting here, use a shorter sentence. Maybe his father grabs him by the arm and pulls him back?

    And finally: “No time.” “But what if they see me?” Take these out to show more urgency.

    See this part as a slow build to the last line. You do a lovely job at showing characters, setting and stakes. I want to know what happens next. Will reminds me of other characters I have read in both YA and MG which isn’t a bad thing. It is important that kids are able to really feel for and want to see Will succeed/ be happy/ be cured/ get the pretty girl/ defeat evil/ whatever you have him do. Just keep that in mind from the very first pages. Best of luck in the next revision!







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  5. Nice job, Romany!
    This reads much more smoothly to me, and I have an even better picture of their journey through the woods. The only thing that gives me pause is that it seems at the very beginning they are heading out:

    “How much further?” he said, his legs trembling at the pace.

    “You spend too much time at your mother’s skirts, boy,” his father replied: “I’ll not be nagged by you as well.”

    “But…”

    “Enough. Your brother is sick and there was no other choice.”

    ***
    It seems as if they have left home for some reason. To get medicine for Will's brother?

    But then later on, we hear:

    “It’s late;” he said: “I promised your mother we’d be home by now.”

    ***
    So where were they going? What was their mission? Or does it start with them RETURNING home rather than departing?

    In any case, I like the way it reads. The rhythm is good, and as I said before, your descriptions and sense of place are spot on.

    One last thing. I don't know if it reads middle grade to me. Could it be YA, perhaps? The tone feels a bit darker than MG, but that is subjective. My MG books are very dark, too. Just make sure Will has the hopes, fears and dreams that a middle schooler can identify with.

    Nice job.

    Edited to add:
    I read the other comments after writing mine. It's tough. You have a lot of great information to take in. The tough part is deciding what works for you. My rules is that if you find several readers pointing out the same concerns, it is probably best if you address it. The rest is up to you. Easy, right?!

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  6. Thank you to everyone - there's a lot for me to think about here - in a good way! I'm really enjoying this course and so grateful for these comments. Although you're right Ronald - it's a love/ hate relationship with revision.

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  7. Ro, I enjoyed this story and it's revisions quite a bit. I have instant sympathy for the boy.

    There are some things, however, that still confuse: for instance the footsteps falling behind them seems to indicate to me that someone is walking away. Even on the second reading I was surprised that the stranger came up behind them following that description. I like what you're doing - the idea of suspense and then relief that no one has noticed Will's face. That's great. But it's unclear.

    I too like the depth of description in this story while also having reservations about how much is there. I think the thing is to trust the reader to get what's going on without overwhelming them with a lot of details everywhere. It's the old Kid in a Candy Shoppe conundrum: it gets hard to look at everything. What's good in your story is the tension and dialogue between father and son. That's what I like to read and that's what would keep me reading.

    I do have a question as to why they're out there. I agree with the other readers that it's unclear. Why ARE they out there?

    I also agree that with historical fiction it's important to nail down time and place for the reader in the very beginning.

    I think the conversation and relationship between father and son kind of shifts at the point where he gets doused with the slops. All of a sudden I heard an adult in Will's voice and a child in his father's reaction. Was this on purpose? It can be great if it adds depth to their relationship.

    Overall, I think you did a great job in making revisions towards creating a better flow to your story. If I were a reader, i would definitely want to read on to find out what happens to Will's face (what DOES happen to his face? :))

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  8. Ro, I enjoyed this story and it's revisions quite a bit. I have instant sympathy for the boy.

    There are some things, however, that still confuse: for instance the footsteps falling behind them seems to indicate to me that someone is walking away. Even on the second reading I was surprised that the stranger came up behind them following that description. I like what you're doing - the idea of suspense and then relief that no one has noticed Will's face. That's great. But it's unclear.

    I too like the depth of description in this story while also having reservations about how much is there. I think the thing is to trust the reader to get what's going on without overwhelming them with a lot of details everywhere. It's the old Kid in a Candy Shoppe conundrum: it gets hard to look at everything. What's good in your story is the tension and dialogue between father and son. That's what I like to read and that's what would keep me reading.

    I do have a question as to why they're out there. I agree with the other readers that it's unclear. Why ARE they out there?

    I also agree that with historical fiction it's important to nail down time and place for the reader in the very beginning.

    I think the conversation and relationship between father and son kind of shifts at the point where he gets doused with the slops. All of a sudden I heard an adult in Will's voice and a child in his father's reaction. Was this on purpose? It can be great if it adds depth to their relationship.

    Overall, I think you did a great job in making revisions towards creating a better flow to your story. If I were a reader, i would definitely want to read on to find out what happens to Will's face (what DOES happen to his face? :))

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  9. Thanks Matt - I'll let you know when I've worked it out!

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  10. Hi Ro,

    First round of comments from me (hi this is Mackenzi Lee, commenting under my real name, don't tell anyone my secret identity :), so I didn't read your first version. But this is a strong start!

    I am always here for anything historical and you've got a very mysterious start here! I love the mood--it's so eerie and ominous right from the start. I loved the detail about Will and his father's shadows being almost the same length. You have some lovely period details in here, and the voice definitely strikes a nice balance between historical sounding and modern enough for kids to relate to.

    However, I feel you need more context! At first, I thought this was a wild west story. Then a medieval. I still don't feel completely rooted in the time period. I wanted a little more context about the stranger, the situation, what the town looked like. In general, just slow down and give me more! The mysterious atmosphere loses its punch when we start to feel frustrated by how little we know as opposed to enticed by it. This section is very dialogue heavy--maybe intersperse it with more setting/emotion/context.

    Good luck!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks - I appreciate your comments!

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