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First Chapter Review

Well, it's 2021 and my first major act is to post the opening chapter of my W.I.P.  for critique.  If any Jericho members can take the time to read it and would like to make any comments, this would be appreciated.

Apart from any problems you might see, I'd especially like to know what impression you get of what is to come in the story. Generally,how would you anticipate it continues?  Does it come over as a cosy domestic story? (That isn't what I want it to do). Not all  of the clues can be there at this early stage.

I should explain that "Opus VI" is just a working title.

I look forward to receiving any comments.

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  • Hi Blakeney, I would love to have a read of this in the evening - will let you know what I think!

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    • Hi again, thank you for sharing! I would just like to put in a little disclaimer that I give this feedback not as a professional but as an avid reader and someone still learning the craft, so please, take what works for you and ignore the rest!

      I think it's great that you've introduced Kelly's goal so early on, because I want to just keep reading, to find out what is actually is and to see what she is doing to get closer to itAs I read, I felt I could build up a clearer picture of her and her circumstances without getting too much information in one go, which was great and it ends on a nice little cliffhanger which would definitely make me go on to the next chapter. 

      A couple of things that stood out to me: 

      • Most of this chapter is written in close third person, so we get a lot of Kelly's inner monologue. However a few phrases didn't fit so well. For example, you mention 'Kelly's children' and 'Kelly's daughter', though I am not sure she would refer to them like this. Perhaps 'the kids' or just 'Harvey and Georgia'. Another I noticed was 'opened her mouth in astonishment on her small round face' - it seemed like from a point of view so close inside Kelly's head, she is perhaps unlikely to describe her own face.  
      • It seems like a fair amount of information could be shown, rather than told in this, which would liven up the chapter a little. For example:
        1. ‘Sarah was late to take over from her but she was eager to be gone so that she could collect her two children and go home. ‘ Perhaps that could come out through a conversation she has with a passing colleague or a phone call to Sarah? 
        2. 'Danny, the maintenance man' - could we learn his job by Kelly asking him how the maintenance work is going, or by his uniform or some other detail? 
        3. 'Danny was becoming more overt' - again this could be shown through dialogue between the two. This way we can also learn more about Kelly in the way she reacts.

      Where I think this is going:

      I do get the impression that this would go on to be a domestic, character driven novel, where Kelly overcomes her personal anxieties / lack of self-confidence to achieve what she’s always dreamed of. 

      Things I could conceivably see happening include: Kelly's struggle to balance a business and twins, perhaps her mother-in-law becomes more interfering, maybe her ex-husband and new lover come back to cause trouble. 

      The tone/setting seems relatively light at the moment, so I would be surprised if this were to turn into a dark novel or something fantastical - but obviously anything can happen and this is just to give you an idea of how it initially comes across!


      Hope this is useful :) 

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      • Yes, this is very useful, Kavisha.  ~Thank you for taking the trouble to give me your comments.

        As for one of your earlier points, I thought I had informed the reader that she wanted to open a cafe.  Perhaps this was done too subtly.  I'll take a look at that.

        I take your point about "Kelly's children" and "Kelly's daughter" as these are too distant and will be acted upon.  As for my reference to "small round face", I think this has to stay in.  This isn't so close to first person narrative as to exclude it and I do want the reader to be able to picture her.

        As to Danny becoming more overt, I agree that this should probably be illustrated by example.

        The book certainly isn't going to be about Kelly balancing business and twins.  In fact, they are going to be very much in the background.  It is about her struggle to achieve her goal and the ways in which she is thwarted.  Perhaps i need to hint more at this. There is going to be a dark turn when she disappears.

        You have given me some work to do but I appreciate your help.




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      • hi Blakeney,

        thanks for posting your first chapter. I am a writer of children’s books and haven’t tried to write a novel yet, so my experience may not be very relevant. I am, however, an avid reader of novels. My first impressions only so please ignore it if I am way off beam.

        i like the way you introduce the back story to Kelly’s situation in dialogue. It is always my favourite way of presenting information.

        I like the sense of rush and end of day busyness you have conjured up.

        I don’t get a sense of what type of novel this is from this first chapter. Is it a murder mystery with the maintenance man as chief suspect and red herring or is it a slice-of-life fictional memoir about Kelly’s attempt to regain her independence? Is the ex husband going to wheedle his way back into her life with disasterous consequences? Is Kelly going to finally meet mr Right, or a wonderful new career? It would be great to get a sense of the general idea early on in the chapter.

        You have introduced the characters easily without confusion and you seem to have a clear path to developing them.

        Thanks for sharing this,

        Kerry


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        • Thank you very much for your comments, Kelly. Yes, dialogue is a good way of introducing background, without acres of introductory narrative or prologues.  I don't believe in prologues.

          No, it isn't a murder mystery although there will be a mystery about two-thirds of the way through. You are right about the book's being much more about the struggle for Kelly to regain her independence. I don't want to give too much detail at this stage but there is certainly no "Mr Right" element. 

          I think I do have to point the way a bit more clearly for the reader, without giving too much away and you've helped to make this clear.

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          • My apologies for getting your name wrong, Kerry.  It was probably my character getting in the way!

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          • Hi Blakeney,

            Thank you for sharing your writing with us!

            I think you had a strong opening.Those first two paragraphs brought me right in. You also have a story with an obvious conflict. As the chapter progressed the story began to unfold preparing us for the plot. I could see some of what your character wanted and I think you can develop it more through more use of dialogue. 

            You chose a great setting and I think you can elaborate more to give us the mood of the story maybe. I think you can be more descriptive.For example Danny the handyman has an attraction or interest in her - show this with more dialogue and description. Also, For example when the character goes to her mother in law to pick up the children, the mother in law mentions how the sitting room looks like a hurricane hit it. I  think if you can show us.

            I like the story so far. my impression about where the story is going is that the character is trying against many odds to prove herself and accomplish something. The way you have written the story so far really pulls the reader in since we are curious about what her dream is after being free to accomplish it. I like that you have put some obstacles in the way, - ie. the mother in law, the ex and his girlfriend, raising kids alone. 

            I look forward to reading more!

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            • I'm grateful for your comments, Nancy.

              As far as the opening is concerned, I was following advice in one of Harry's video tutorials.  He recommends using the Jane Austen "Pride And Prejudice" method, whereby she lets you know at the start what the novel is going to be about.  I'm glad it had the desired effect on you!

              As for being more descriptive, I wanted to avoid dragging the opening with too much of it.  My idea is to spend more time on creating mood and enhancing the setting later on but I'll see if I can do a bit more on that at the beginning.  I've chosen the seaside as a setting for my writing before.  That's partly because I like the seaside myself and because it can provide mood and plot opportunity.

              As far as describing the "hurricane" effect of the children, I would have thought that would be giving too much detail, except that you have pointed out where I can illustrate t a certain aspect of the mother-in-law's character.  I just hope I won't be overloading the opening chapter.

              I'm glad to know that you think I've pulled the reader in.  That's the idea.

              Thank you.

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            • Hi Blakeney – thanks for posting up your first chapter. This opening has me assuming this is women’s fiction with your character’s journey of overcoming her past and reclaiming her life. 

              Have you heard the mantra of ‘show don’t tell’? For me this is the biggest issue with the piece. You very much have a narrator, looking in on a scene and telling us everything that is going on.

              For example you have ‘it excited her’, ‘she was becoming anxious’, ‘she was eager’, ‘Kelly was relieved’, ‘Kelly was glad’. And so on. This are simply from the first page.

              The problem with telling rather than showing is that you’re telling the reader what to think. You’re not allowing them to use their imagination at all. And it’s when a reader uses their imagination that they begin to engage with and be sucked into the story.

              So don’t tell us the character is anxious, have her stomach do little flips. Don’t tell us she’s excited, have her restless and suppressing a smile.  From these physical reactions the reader can infer her anxiety. And they’ve had to use their imagination to make that connection.

              Here's a link to an excellent blog from one of Jericho’s self edit tutors that will hopefully help you get to grips with the idea of showing.

              https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/showing-and-telling-the-basics.html

              That’s the basic blog for show don’t tell, but there are two further ones about this subject on the website. In fact all her blogs give excellent writing advice. 

              The other effect of telling is that you keep the reader distant from what is happening. As I said above, the narrator is looking in on the character. I feel you need to move us closer to your character so we’re in the story with her, experiencing and feeling what she is feeling. That will start to engage the reader. It’s the difference between being told about an event and actually being there and seeing it for yourself.  

              If you can get us into the character’s head, you can then start offering the reader her thoughts directly. By doing that you make the reader feel almost as if they are the character. They are fully experiencing what is happening.

              I’ll try and give you an example of what I mean about being in your character’s head as well as the show don’t tell, but this will be in my style and not right for. Hopefully it will spark some ideas.

              ‘Kelly took a slow breath, pushing away the fizz of excitement that was building in her stomach. She had a whole twenty four hours to wait before the interview. But if it went well, maybe, just maybe she could get her life back on track. Show damn Stephen that she was so much more than he had forced her to be…’

              Here's a blog about free indirect style (giving the character’s thoughts directly to the reader.)

              https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2013/09/free-indirect-style-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

              The other thing I would suggest you look at is something called filtering. This is when you use words like hoped/thought/wished. They distance us from the character/story because you’re dropping the character between the reader and what is going on. Because you’re in the MC’s POV, you don’t have to say it is them thinking or feeling something. It has to be them.   Getting rid of the filtering will help get us into the character’s head. Here’s a good blog about it.

              https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2016/07/filtering.html

              One of the effects of the telling and distance is that it stops the all important and illusive voice of your character coming through. For me, the lack of voice makes this piece feel flat. The good news is that dealing with all the above should strengthen the voice and your character should begin to pop off the page.

              I hope some of the above is helpful. I know my comments come across as quite negative but these are all issues that can be fixed with a bit of knowledge about writing craft.

              Of course they are just my thoughts and opinions, so take what works for you and discard the rest. Good luck with the editing.

               

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              • Thank you for your comments, Kate.  Of course, showing rather than telling isn't always wrong and if I've done it too much it's probably because of a need to set the scene and avoid too much tedious narrative, which may be off-putting to the reader.  Enlargement can come later - but I accept your comments and will have a look at that aspect again, including the links you have sent.

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                • I had a look at Jojo Moyes's Me Before You first chapter after reading your extract. Worth a look if you've got it. It's a very good demonstration of voice popping straight off the page as well as the introduction of the players and the problem in a very active way. 

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                • Hi Blakeney, 

                  Thanks for posting your first chapter. Opening are always tricky and I have to say I completely agree with Kate's feedback. As a reader the telling, passive sentences and filtering throughout the piece kept me at arm's length and I didn't feel immerse in the story.

                  I would also suggest using Emma Darwin's Tool-kit, which Kate recommended as it has a wealth of information and writing advice.

                  From the extract it sounds like it is a women's fiction about a woman rebuilding her life about a separation/divorce and of self-discovery.

                  I hope this helps and good luck with the editing.

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                  • Thank you very much for your comments.  The last thing I want to do is to keep the reader at arm's length. Identification or sympathy with the main character is what I want to achieve, and hope that there will be enough readers who feel these things for them to want to read on.

                    I have to say, though, I don't like the label "women's fiction" or "men's fiction", if it comes to that.  I'd like to think that both male and female readers would read what I write and the only thing stopping them would be that it wasn't in one of the strict genres  they may prefer - i.e. detective fiction, fantasy, Y.A., or whatever.  Is this too idealistic?

                    This exercise has shown that I do have some work to do but  I'm confident that I can fix the problems. I'm glad to have posted a piece of my fiction for comment, which I've never done before.

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                    • I hate the label 'women's fiction' too and you can describe your book whichever way you like however if you decide to trade-publish you will need to use a recognisable genre either for agents to know what kind of book you are submitting or if you self-publish for readers to know what kind of book you are offering and they are about to read.

                      The way to get us to care for your MC is to put us right in her head and her shoes, and everything Kate mentioned will help achieve that goal.

                      Good luck and happy editing! (personally editing is my favourite part)

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                      • Hi Blakeney,

                        Thank you for posting your first chapter and explanations. I admire your courage—I’m still working up my nerve!

                        You’ve got a nice mix of pressure working on your protagonist—cheating ex, meddling mother-in-law, twins, financial road block, unrequited dream, and unwanted male attention—and that’s just the first chapter, but instead of building, the tension’s released with explanation.

                        Thank you for sharing Harry’s advice concerning Jane Austen. Her iconic first sentence of P&P is succinct and ironic, but she launches quickly into dialogue. I think your chapter shines with the dialogue between Kelly and Margaret—I knew how each felt and was definitely in that moment. I think you have more opportunity with your conflict—especially with the husband—to really bring the reader in. Haven’t we all had those days where we wonder if there’s a target on our back? Couldn’t Kelly see Stephen—have to speak to him with the other woman—maybe before Margaret suggests they get back together (making Kelly’s shock, our shock too)? Just a thought.

                        I do believe Kate and L give great advice—I’ve been gleaning what they’ve said from many posts. I think Kate’s recommended websites are excellent. I’m going through my chapters now applying the filtering advice, and I see improvement. This ex-teacher’s getting taught, but I’m excited for the growth.

                        Thank you for posting—may this new year bring you success!

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                        • 😊 Thank you for your comments and good wishes.  I'm about to bring Stephen into the story (when I've sorted the first chapter out) but it won't be with the "other woman".  I don't think there's a place for him at the point you suggest because it would reduce the effect of what Margaret tells Kelly.  It shows a side of her character.

                          It looks as though you're right about the two links Kate sent.  I've just printed them out and will read them carefully before I go on.  It's good to know that you've found them beneficial and I daresay I will, too.  (although they've printed very small)!


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                        • I also agree with everything Kate and Laure have said.

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