It’s All In The Voice Contest

by RS on May 16, 2013

The beautiful and talented Heather Webb of Between the Sheets  is throwing another contest. This one centers on voice. We are submitting the first 250 words and then it’s a blog hop with other participants who will provide feedback to improve it. Once revisions are completed, off they go to Heather to judge.

I posted the original prologue back in February 2011, and it has changed quite a bit. First, it’s no longer from the narrator’s point-of-view. Second, I changed the dates. Third, I added more information,  and cut out some superfluous stuff. The reason I made this drastic change was that I wanted right from the beginning for Alvah to have a larger role. So now without much further ado, here are the first 250 words of Julius.

The Lower Eastside, November 2008

I am watching you, and have been for a long time. The time isn’t right to make my presence known, but soon, soon I will be here to guide you, to be the confidante who listens to you; to be your friend. We are kindred spirits, you and I, no matter how separated we have been by decades, distance, and death.

We are comrades.

I watch you sitting in the redwood gazebo in the small, neighborhood park that preserves the memory of the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Your beloved terrier is whining, pawing at your booted legs. He wants to nestle in your warm embrace. You glance at the sky. It is gray-white—typical of New York winters.

It looks like it might snow.

And you remember.

You remember that first time you saw Sing-Sing that it was a day—like today—a cold, gray-white Sunday.

It was 1980: the year that Israel and Egypt established diplomatic relations; President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics held in Moscow, and the US minimum wage was $3.10. Yet none of this mattered to you because you were only ten years old.

Your grandfather had fetched you from a birthday party and you were heading back to Chappaqua—back to the old, creaky cottage that sagged with the burden of its occupants’ history. It had been your home since you were three years-old when your grandparents brought you from Paris to live with them.

And there you have it. Be kind, be gentle; my ego is fragile.

28 comments
lecriveur
lecriveur

back to the old, creaky cottage that sagged with the burden of its occupants’ history. - Fantastic!

Just for a moment I was thrown off by the POV, but not enough to stop me reading, and it became clear soon enough. This is really quite lovely, the writing itself feels ghostly, and because it's coming from a ghost (I believe) but in the flow of your prose.

A very minor nit-pic, you could cut "the year that." You just gave us the year, 1980. From there say, Israel and Egypt had established diplomatic relations . . .

Well done!

lecriveur
lecriveur

I didn't realize it would leave my handle, lecriveur, instead of my name: Chris Todd Miller

D D Falvo
D D Falvo

"I am watching you, and have been for a long time."--I sat up! Goosebump material here, and so intriguing. Then, "We are kindred spirits, you and I, no matter how separated we have been by decades, distance, and death." Lo-ove that. It's deliciously haunting.

"We are comrades." Perfect. Sets the tone, answers what I want and need to know right now.

This is just beautiful. Your voice is alluring, drawing me in, promising answers to secrets I didn't know existed, answers I suddenly need. 

I think you have a real gift for 2nd person. It shines the most with your active verbs, and eloquent phrasing.

Mmmm. Gorgeous writing. So, where's the rest? :D

sevignes
sevignes

D. The point of view here is first person. The ghost addresses the character on the bench, not the reader.

D D Falvo
D D Falvo

@sevignes I'm confused, because of the direct use of "you." I know you know more about this than me, and I get it now--b/c the speaker says "I"--but I've never read 1st person that uses You like that. It feels very different. 

I loved it, regardless.

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@sevignes House of Cards does that. Kevin Spacey adresses the audience and shares some political tidbit that only he knows and that the other characters in the story don't.

sevignes
sevignes

It's not first person pov because the character says “I”. Nor is it automatically second person because a character says “you”. It’s first person pov because the ghost is not speaking directly to the reader, he's speaking to the character on the bench.

In traditional theatre or film there's an invisible fourth wall through which the audience views the drama on stage or on the screen. If a character—Iago, for example—directly addresses the audience, to do this, he has to “break” the fourth wall; that is, step out of the drama going on behind him to let the audience in on something the other characters don’t know. In the same way, if a narrator in fiction uses second person pov, it’s as if they have stepped out of the story to let the reader know something the other characters don’t know or take for granted such that it’s no longer part of their awareness. 

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@D D Falvo @sevignes  She's right. The best way to think about this is that he's talking to himself and indirectly addressing her. By indirect I mean, she's not aware that he's there until he makes his presence known a few chapters into the book.

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@D D Falvo You are so sweet. Thank you! Where's the rest? A lot of in my Scrivener trash can. Hopefully, I can pull the same alluring voice with the rest of it. Oy. I've raised the bar too high!

MBMulhall
MBMulhall like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm intrigued, and possibly a little creeped out that she's being stalked by this thing/ghost/person. Heh. 

I'm always impressed by people who can weave true history into their stories as it's not something I do very well. 

The only thing that strikes me as a little odd is the narrator saying "soon I will be here to guide you" I feel like "I will be there to guide you" sounds more natural because I feel like "here" is referring to the park she's sitting in, rather than "here" as the land of the living or whatever.

Good job!

MB

sevignes
sevignes

I'm not part of the contest but I enjoyed reading this, Rebeca. I read the other comments, and I suspect some of the issues they raise about continuity (the dog's introduction for example), is not that the dog interrupts the flow of thought but that the order of things is not quite there, yet. This is true also of some other details. 

For instance, this very important detail: 

You remember that first time you saw Sing-Sing that it was a day—like today—a cold, gray-white Sunday.

should come at the end not the beginning; so that the reader is compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next. 

With a few small tweaks you will have a very compelling beginning. Good luck! xxxs

JoAnne Potter
JoAnne Potter

No need to work at being kind. I liked this a lot--gentle, poignant, wistful. Liked every bit except, and I don't know why, the terrier. It all flowed smoothly until him, or maybe you intended to throw a little wrench in your perfect works.

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@JoAnne Potter I see what you are saying, and looking at it again, I think I might take him out of this first scene. 

 LiveFyre Spam
LiveFyre Spam

The last paragraph is where it starts to grab my attention. Prior to that, I wasn't sure whose voice it was supposed to be starting out in. I don't see what the significance is of the various details provided prior to the last paragraph.At this point, I'm wondering if there is some creepy reference librarian (with a penchant for historical dates), which is stalking this poor girl.To me, the stronger part of the story is the mystery about the girl from when she was three-years old. Why was she brought back from Paris by her grandparents? What happened to her parents?

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@ LiveFyre Spam The back story comes out in chunks within the story, but her parents were political activists who were killed in a car crash in France.. Her grandparents became her legal guardians and brought her back to the US. She's been raised by two former blacklisted, Communists, and the narrator is a ghost--a screenwriter who had fought in the Spanish Civil War and was one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten--who has been watching her. The events I mentioned were relevant to progressives. Much of the reasoning comes after the 250 words and in the following chapters. 

 LiveFyre Spam
LiveFyre Spam

This comment was posted by Alec Breton. The LiveFyre system did something odd with my comments and messed with my name.

pmoussatche
pmoussatche

I really liked the creepiness and foreboding in the voice. I wouldn't worry about the telling nature of the voice if it's only in the prologue. I was intrigued by some of your word choices, but your reply to Kris answered my questions, so I'm sure the novel would too.

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@pmoussatche Thanks! There's a lot of history that gets mentioned, especially the Spanish Civil War, and of course, the Rosenbergs. Someone called this my love letter to the old, left-wing movement.

C_Bruggeman
C_Bruggeman

Hi Rebeca,

Your writing is lyrical and beautiful. I do think the POV can be distancing, but from this sample I would keep reading :)

jenniferlynking1
jenniferlynking1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Rebeca, This is a very striking and thought-provoking voice in your intro. I guessed that it was a ghost or some other being (thinking especially of Death in The Book Thief). The voice is very strong and has a rhythmic feel to the cadence. I like that very much. Great job with a strong beginning and opening voice. I'd want to read on!

Janel Gradowski
Janel Gradowski

I was immediately struck by the second person POV. It started out very creepy, with an almost stalker-ish vibe. Nice transition out of the creepiness to a more protective, caring tone. I see from the other comments that this POV character is used sparingly and I think it will be a great, dramatic effect. It's very strong with nice details.

KKMHOO
KKMHOO

Hi Rebeca,

I really liked the concept of separated "by decades, distance, and death."  Very intriguing.  

Wanted to ask if the Boycotting Olympics and Minimum Wage are somehow integral to the plot.  If not, you may want to consider removing those details as it alters the voice.  If it foreshadows something in the plot, perhaps it can be tweaked to be more conversational.

Great opening.  Would definitely continue reading.

Kris


PS-  I'm getting a "The Book Thief" vibe with this voice.

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@KKMHOO Thanks so much for the comment! The boycott and minimum wage infers to the ghost's and the MC's grandparent's politics. They're all communists so it's something that stands out (it comes a few lines later in the chapter). 

donnabarker
donnabarker

I love the voice of this piece. I love how you've got all my senses involved. I really 'felt' this intro. I would keep reading. And, having seen your comment below, I'm excited to think that the pace of the story might have diversity - the slow, thoughtful ghost voice and then, I assume, some faster paced scenes with the protag... stories that have different voices and pacing for each voice always grab and keep my attention. Nice job!

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@donnabarker Thank you so much! I hope I can pull off the rest of the story keep people turning the pages!

msheatherwebb
msheatherwebb

Hi Rebeca! :)

The voice you've chosen is interesting--definitely an older, wiser person, and I'm guessing literary fiction or spec fic? Is it a ghost telling the protagonist's story? And if so, does the novel continue this way or switch to third person as the narrator keeps going? A word of caution--be careful with this--it can cause emotional distance from the protagonist that you definitely want to avoid. It may also force you into "telling" mode, though I will say, this intro piece is strong. I'm intrigued! I'd definitely like to keep reading to get to the bottom of these questions and that's an excellent sign!

By the way, I LOVE this line:

"back to the old, creaky cottage that sagged with the burden of its occupants’ history"

Lovely. 

Good luck with this!


 

RebecaSchiller
RebecaSchiller moderator

@msheatherwebb Yay! I got the reaction from you I wanted! Yes, it is the ghost of Alvah Bessie who is sort of a guardian angel--with an agenda--to my MC. I have multiple povs in the third person with the MC's as the leading one. The only time, I use this is (about four and they're short) at high points of drama for the MC when the voice of experience steps in. I end the novel with him having the final word. 

Cathy Yardley also suggested it could fall under literary fiction. I really don't know. I suppose when everything is put together we'll see.


Previous post:

Next post: