Thanks so much for your comments - they are extremely helpful. You've shown up the problems that have come out of me moving Kate's discovery of the key to the start of the narrative. Originally, Kate discovered the key during morning break, so Chapter 2 is full of her wondering what the hell the key and hovel are all about while she itches for the school day to be over. Now I've left the reader wondering whether she even cares about the key during chapter 1 because I haven't added enough thought about it! Thank you for pointing that out.
I will make it clearer that Kate is never afraid of woodland because it's where she feels safe and at home. I added the crying sound of her mother in the woods as a way to draw her in and a reason for her to go in there before school. It is an echo of something that happened 15 years ago that Kate doesn't know about - information her mother has withheld from her. The rooks have the power to recall that sound because of the density of the magic around the Sylvan Gate.
If you think this is too implausible for the character, then I will have to have a rethink. Kate is shy of people, but is a keen explorer. I suspect I may not have achieved the right balance in putting that across.
I will have to add that facing breakfast had been impossible because of her nerves so that the reader doesn't think her parents don't feed her - that definitely wasn't the idea! The over-sized gloves are related to her mother's attitude to 'growing room'. Everything Kate owns is somewhat over-sized because her parents are avid savers and don't always consider the consequences for how silly their daughter will feel. Kate keeps her thoughts to herself about these things too much. Again, I've probably tried so hard not to 'tell' these things to the reader, that the information is too vague to be clear.
I like the over-size gloves. You don't have to answer every question the reader has. It adds a quirky sense of description to picture oversize gloves on a little girl. I felt it was perfect for letting the reader be naturally curious about Kate. Are they second-hand gloves. Are they her mothers? Did her mom give them to her because Kate couldn't find hers and she was going to be late? It is a description that builds the scene and I love the wondering aspect and the anticipation of uncovering more later.
I have a thought on how you can get Kate into the forest before school. You can set the scene of Kate riding to school on her bike but her mind is in the memory of the dreaded moment of her mother telling her about her new school. She is preoccupied and nervous and absentmindedly starts straying from the direction she is supposed to go. Keep the eerie crying. Just have her pause and stop the bike and go "What am I doing school is that way." Just as she is about to leave that's when she hears it like an echo but wait, no, so much more than an echo. Crying. Like your words pull us into the story the crying pulls Kate into the forest she loves.
Your description is beautiful. Just some things I wanted to point out. I think the way you have opened up your story implies that you're are telling something to your reader instead of showing.
I think it would be more beneficial for us to see it. Maybe she was on her way to school and was picturing that calm and happy day and then her mother dropped the news to her "Your going to Oakwood Comprehensive." You built it up beautifully like at first it is a wonderful thing, a good school in a convenient place but your main character hates it. You get that really good punch at the end that she is dreading her new school experience but I think you could pull in the reader more by actually showing the scene and your dialogue.
I feel like you are cramming information that isn't needed yet to give us back story. You have your main character going down this path in the woods alone and then she hears this eerie crying. That sent chills down my spine but you took me out of the text by telling me about her middle name, her birthmark, and other various tidbits. Unless the path was supposed to make her scattered then you should add an unnatural force to it. But then I have to reinvest myself into what is really happening. I want to know about the crying right now. You have me gripped the story and your writing is compelling just keep me there.
I do think you need to change this sentence, sarcasm twisting her features. Sarcasm is Irony. I don't think the reader is going to see Irony in her features. Well, not the way in you intend. Instead, you can use "contempt twisting her features." But I do this sort of thing all the time. One time I had "unconscious oblivion" in a sentence and they both meant unconscious so what I was telling my readers was that she went into unconscious unconsciousness. lol
You seem to be a natural writer in "showing" the scene when you have dialogue and when Kate is interacting with people. This is a talent. I have a hard time with this sometimes I'll change into passive tense for telling more then I want to.
Great to end the scene by reminding the reader that Kate really isn't feeling well. I would try and integrate that more into the chapter right now it feels like a passive thing. If that's your intention then great but.... Keep bringing the reader back to it to emphasize she isn't doing well they will worry all the more and wonder if this is something natural or supernatural.
Loved your sample chapters. I hope you take this feedback with the kindness of wanting to be as useful as possible. I hope you take this support. I just want to lend my perspective as a reader. Good luck with the stylistic edit!
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Extremely helpful and constructive feedback. I am so glad I bit the bullet and joined Townhouse. The reactions from you and Emma have taught me so much already!
I thought I would be failing if I didn't offer background info as I went along. Now I understand how it can distract from the thread. The mad thing is that it will make writing easier as well 😂 And I'll focus on showing, not telling.
Lots of ideas running around in my head at the moment for changes. I'll post a new version when I'm done 😄
Hi Ali, I loved some of your descriptions of the scenes, especially the path and the shack. I agree with some of the above, telling us about the birthmark and boys and brother, and about her name, her mum and dad on the way to work and what they might be discussing all detracted from the pace and tension of the moment, taking me out of the weird and into to everyday. If I was in a creepy situation, my attention would be all on that. have a look at generalisations , you describe the detritus and then say 'a few other unsavoury things' which takes away the specific atmosphere you are trying to create. Either these objects are important to the scene - in which case we need to know what they are, or they are not important - in which case why are they mentioned?
her assumptions when the crying stopped seemed a bit unreal - perhaps she wouldn't assume the best ie someone had saved them or they had found their way. As she is a shy and scared person - wouldn't she assume the worst? they were to sick to cry - or dead.
I don't understand why she gasped when she saw the key - was she scared of it? an no one person I know would see something like that and not reach out to touch it at least - usually pick it up and examine it.
You have a great idea here and I look forward to seeing more of it, as always comments are subjective - feel free to ignore.
Thanks very much for such useful feedback. I am having quite a major rewrite now and I've actually taken out the litter you mentioned - you are absolutely right that it's pointless. I had wanted her to eventually think about clearing up the litter when she starts being more aware that she can make a difference to things, but it's really not necessary to show litter right there and in this chapter.
The gasping at the key was related to the fact that it appeared to be glowing and seemed out-of-place in the woods. I am happy to tone down her reaction, especially since she's introverted anyway and tends to hide her emotions. I'm changing her to taking the key at this point though. I had her taking the key in the following chapter before, but I can work in the first major mysterious thing it does for the finale of chapter 1 instead. It should be much more effective! Thanks for backing up the others who have said that. It gives me confidence that it's the right choice :)
I am getting rid of the crying as the reason why she goes into the woods, so that should clear up a lot of the problems with plausibility (hopefully)! I wasn't hugely comfortable with it in the first place, and I've finally thought up a different method that I feel better about. I hope the community on here will like it too!
I'm almost suspicious that you are all complimenting my descriptions because you are hunting for something nice to say to a squib of a writer!
But thank you again for all your valuable feedback! I'm so, so grateful - and raring to improve!
I really enjoyed the first chapter of your book. It drew me in with atmospheric descriptions of the place and it was quite compelling how she is drawn to, and into the wood. Interwoven I learnt about Kate and her character and felt for her anxiety on her first day of school. Quickly introducing the mystery of the key in the tree makes we want to read on to find out when she is going to get hold of it and do something with it (open the Sylvan gate I presume!). It is fine to keep it here at the start, makes for a cracking opening.
I also liked the way you introduce some of the characters I expect to be central to the book, the boy, the three girls and Anna. I felt her anxiety and awkwardness and hope things are going to get better for her as she settles in.
In addition to the previous posts here are few points that jangled with me and you might want to finesse. Firstly consider ending the first chapter when she turns and runs back to the school. You have two completely different scenes in one chapter and I think ending chapter one on the cliff hanger of finding the key would make a nice break.
Try to find some way to link the woods and the key to her first encounters with the kids in the school. This will keep the pace up, rather than just general scene setting and character introduction.
You have great prose, but the opening sentence appears clumsy.
How does Anna know that they are in the same class for history and Mr Fowler will allow them to sit together? They have just met each other.
Page 7: “Fine.” Kate’s husked – needs editing.
Please post a couple more chapters - I want to find out what happens next!
Thank you for your kind words and another great load of constructive feedback. I feel as though all my birthdays have come at once receiving such a wealth of useful comments on here.
Regarding my opening line: my sister read it a couple of days ago and laughed out loud because she thought by 'gag' I meant 'joke'. Not quite the tone I was aiming for! Thanks for pointing out the 'Kate's' error as well.
All comments taken on board and I promise I'll get other chapters on here soon. I just need to iron out the continuity problems that'll come from the chapter 1 changes.