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ROOTS, a short excerpt posted for feedback

This short excerpt is from the middle of my WIP, a contemporary realistic novel titled MARIZA. The purpose of this scene is to show the dynamics between characters and place. It prepares the ground for a big argument to come.

What you need to know: Mariza is the MC and 1st person narrator. She is Antonio's sister, and Isabel is Antonio's wife. Mariza lives in London and is visiting the family home.

All feedback is much appreciated. Please feel free to comment any way you wish. Thank you for reading.

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  • Hi, I think your writing is lovely, and I was really drawn in, sitting beside Mariza under the chestnut tree. In one or two places, the writing feels a bit distancing, filtered through the narrator rather than written directly, ...and I mused about the people that tilled this land; I thought of how life would have been different...

    I don't know if you've ever read Emma Darwin's blog, but she is very helpful when describing filtering (amongst much else)

    https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2014/07/filtering.html

    I loved the line, My life in London was like that of an astronaut on a spacewalk: exciting but temporary. However, I thought the final line, She wanted us to sell and move to the bright lights of Lisbon feels a bit cliched. I think She wanted us to sell and move to Lisbon would be stronger.

    I hope this is helpful.

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    • Pat, excellent advice (as usual!)

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      • Pat, excellent advice (as usual!). I totally agree with respect to Emma's website.Since the editing course, it has been my main source for checking how I'm progressing.


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        • Hi Roger, thanks for reading.

          I like Emma's blog and have used it a lot. But... in respect to filtering and distancing, she also says that there are times when filtering words such as "I thought" etc. are irreplaceable. I think Roots is such a case because the words "I mused about" and "I thought of" show the character's thoughts., we are being privy to Mariza's thoughts so the filter is correctly applied. Cutting these words would change the meaning and the scene. What do you think?

          Also, the different topics (the tree, the vineyards, the neighbour, the chestnuts, the family gathered in the kitchen...) all come to the reader through the narrator, Mariza, as a stream of thought. And thoughts are like a thread: one thing leads to another. But they are all linked & anchored to the setting and Mariza. Do you think this works or does the piece feels haphazard?

          For me, everything in this piece is anchored in Mariza's perception and the setting. But other eyes may see it differently. Woud love to have your comments.

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        • Hi, it works in general, although I agree with Pat's comments above. I have attached a review for you to consider - just made a bit more lean here and there, and changed some emphasis. Nothing major. Good luck.

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          • The Douro Valley is one of the most well known wine regions because of the Port wine (grown there) but there are vineyards all over the country, many people have micro vineyards and produce a very small quantity just for their own consumption. My father was one of them. I stll have relatives around Tomar that produce their own wine, so much better than anything you buy in a shop, specially when you fill a glass directly from a little wooden tap in the cask. After bottling it is like frozen peas: nice but not as fresh as when they come out of the pod. (Uhm... I think I've just got myself another good line for Mariza. LOL)

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            • 😀

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              • I also buy direct from producers both locally and the Valtellina region where my mother was born. On the subject of Port, I always look forward to one of my wife's colleagues at Lisbon University who visits twice a year. Especially, the Port produced by a female-owned vinery (the name slips my mind at the moment).

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              • Hello. I really enjoyed this excerpt. The writing is beautifully evocative and I found your narrator's voice compelling and believable. I would definitely want to learn more about her situation and her dilemma.

                I agree with Pat about the occasional distancing effect, to which the solution in most cases is simply to trim some of the 'explaining' words rather than any major re-write. And I think occasionally the text could be made even stronger with a judicious pruning - perhaps just 'October to December' would serve as well as 'the end of October to the end of December' for example - or the removal of redundant descriptors - 'generous' is already implicit in 'bounty of fruit', for instance, so could perhaps be removed.

                But I think this is really good. Thank you for sharing it!

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                • Jon, Thanks for reading and commenting. Very helpful. I thought this piece might be a bit slow, as it happens in a subplot and does not have the action / suspense of the main plot. Always good to see it through other eyes. Cheers!

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                  • I actually quite like the occasional gentler pace and pause for reflection in a book. And, for me at least, this didn't feel slow at all.

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                    • Entirely agree, a wonderful "soft - human" extract. Something I have tried to capture but have often been put off by advice to be more "snappy". I believe that it is important to capture these kinds of moments. 

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                    • First up, you write well. It is a very readable extract.

                      I'll admit there were quite a few cases where I wanted to perform a quick edit, cut a word or two, rearrange and tighten for impact (or maybe pacing, rhythm, flow). Jon's mentin of Oct-Dec and generous bounty being prime examples, though I might have taken a more creative approach than his simple pruning.

                      Also, as Jon mentions, there's nothing wrong with a reflective passage in a book. Indeed, many need them. Characters need time to cogitate on and assimilate the lessons of the high-action/drama scenes, while the reader needs time to breath. The question is always one of the purpose it serves, and some aspects of this read a little more like early-story rather than mid-story descriptions. Though it very much depends on what came before, and what prior introduction we have had to the setting.

                      The one aspect of this I would say needs the most work, before you look at tightiening the prose, is the order of elements. They are haphazard, jumping in size, focus, and intimacy. For example, once you reach the tree, your next four paragraphs are: remoteness, property ownership, neighbour, wintertime chestnut roasting… There is no natural sweep to this, no direction that you are drawing us steadily through the episode.

                      I would recommend summarising each paragraph into 2-3 words, then (with post-its or little strips of paper) rearrange the order. Each step should continue a logical progression - a sweep across the vista, pulling back or diving into detail/intimacy. You don't need to only go wide-angle to detail, or the other way, but you should take multiple steps in one direction before switching it around, and in a piece this long, you don't have time for two changes of scaling direction.

                      Find a sequence that has a natural flow to it, culminating in the questions of ownership and value (which I presume is the point of the scene). This might mean there are snippets that don't fit here. And others you need to insert as bridges.

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                      • Thank you Rick for reading and commenting. Great insight and very helpful. I'm going to rewrite with your suggestions in mind. I think I'm used to writing in a ramdon sort of way, as the thread of inspiration takes me, but I see the need to be more cohesive. (First time someone points that out to me and although I hadn't picked it up by myself, I know you've spoken the truth...) BIG Thank You!

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                      • Hi Donna,

                        I really liked this extract, but not sure I can add much new constructive criticism to what has already been said. Rick's observations about the order of the elements resonated with me - I hadn't spotted this aspect when I read your extract, but then when I read his comments, I was like, "Oh yeah! Doh!"

                        I really liked the way you presented the contrast between the narrator and her brother who "...looks after the farm like a precious heirloom", whereas she herself (a city girl) lacks all of the necessary knowledge and understanding to do justice to it. This, coupled with their recounted conversation and the final two short paragraphs, effectively highlight what I suspect may be key ideas in the novel ('roots' and 'value'). I loved the line, "There is no currency to value it with."

                        Well done :-)


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