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First Page: Blueprint

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Neither the press nor any other media network heralded the wedding of Miss Lara Slevenski to Count Germain Trueblood of Albany. An impoverished aristocrat marrying the daughter of a Hungarian immigrant, second generation, did not make for headline news. The event took place generally unnoticed by the world, and apart from the usual handful of sightseers, the only other presence of note outside the small church, was a chittering flock of starlings. A black noisy drift of them had materialised to settle like clots of soot on every conceivable ledge and telegraph wire. Wedding guests emerging from the building remarked upon the phenomenon as they proceeded to the line of cars waiting for them alongside the kerb.

Amongst the guests chatting by vehicles leave-taking for the reception, stood a woman in a gauzy blue dress. Tall, almost gaunt, with a mass of pre-Raphaelite silver-grey hair fastened at the nape of the neck. The odd thing was the blue dress and large straw hat she held. They appeared outrageously unseasonable. In contrast with the other guests in their heavier and therefore more sombre apparel, designed to combat late autumn chills as elegantly as possible. She stood out like a patch of azure sky in a thunderstorm. It was somehow shocking. Her bare arms and legs were brown, and her feet encased in a pair of thonged sandals appeared heedless of slippy dank autumn leaves sticking wetly to the pavement. Laughing she tossed something towards two bridesmaids nearby, before stepping into a large black car. Doors clicked and slammed as the snake of gleaming metal engulfed the company and finally wound its way up the hill towards a celebratory reception.

Reverend Colin Fellowman absently watched the procession until it rounded the bend and was out of sight. Had Fellowman had been a little more interested in the wedding party, the enigmatic woman in blue might have made more of an impression on his consciousness. He could not remember her attending the ceremony. Perhaps she had just turned up, ‘out of the blue’ as it were, he thought with an inner smile. As usual he had done his duty again without asking many questions. These days it was not ‘politically correct’ to subject one’s clients to an inquisition concerning their faith or how they intended to bring up their children. As far as he was concerned waves of religion ebbed and flowed like the sea, tides constantly eroding the beach in one place only to rebuild it in another. He would attend the reception a little later, but now he desperately wanted to get back to a very interesting web site he had found in conjunction with his passion for wild flowers. He turned to unlatch the church gates when something caught his eye. Blue a patch of bright blue on the other side of the road. If it was litter he could not leave it there because he had seen it and it was outside his church. Within a reasonable distance around St. Michael’s he always picked up the litter he saw. What he could never agree with himself about was just what was a reasonable distance, but this patch of blue, was too near to ignore. He crossed the road thinking of his compulsion as a sort of minor penance.

Astonishingly the ‘litter’ turned out to be a small posy of flowers resembling Campanula rotundifolia the common harebell. Fellowman increasingly intrigued picked them off the road, and hurried back into the church, stopping at the font to place the unseasonable flowers in the nearest source of water. His office at the back contained his beloved computer. This unexpected gift from his daughter Hazel once viewed with great apprehension but subsequently mastered and greatly valued, had become his lifeline. Hazel had been delighted. He tapped in his access code and waited. When the wildflower site loaded he chose to browse the on-line flower key to find the closest, possible match to the unusual discarded bouquet. This was sheer pleasure for the Reverend; he would divide his time between God and Botany if permitted. They were, as he rightly guessed, harebells.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

8 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 05:54:12

    Omniscient narration is tricky – there’s times in this piece when it works well, and times when it doesn’t.

    One of the problems with this piece is that it’s hard to know who to focus my attention on. This is partly because of the omniscient third, I think – it allows you to hop all over, and I’m not sure that freedom is a good thing.

    It may again be related to the POV, but there are things being labelled “shocking” and “astonishing” that don’t really seem all that unusual to me. If you had a single POV character you could say that Character X was shocked or astonished and I’d believe you, but the way it’s written makes it seem as though a woman wearing an unseasonal dress is universally amazing and finding a discarded bouquet after a wedding would be enough for anyone to be astounded. Since neither event seemed all that strange to me, the words jarred.

    Also, your commas go a bit wonky in spots and you have some proofreading errors to catch.

    You have some lovely imagery, though – the soot of sparrows, the azure patch of sky, etc.

    Overall, I’m not quite sure what I’m reading. I don’t know who the main characters are, I don’t know what the genre is, and I don’t have any idea of what the plot is going to involve. I love omniscient third POV and I hope you keep working on it, but I’m not sure it’s serving you well here.

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  2. Katie T.
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 06:08:11

    Writing is good, but your use of the comma needs work. I really have no idea where you’re going with this. What’s the setup here? You need to grab my attention and so far it’s not working.

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  3. SAO
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 06:39:22

    You write smoothly and this seems to be more original than some of the stuff we see here. However, I spent too much of the page trying to figure things out. Most of them were minor quibbles, but they added up to confusing.

    I would have liked to know who the narrator was earlier. I find myself searching for MCs and plot in the beginning and don’t settle down to enjoy the story until I know. This is me. Your first named chars (usually the MCs) appear to be part of the scenery. Since the Rev is described as “absently watching” I didn’t get that he was the narrator to a little further in his para.

    The woman is not described in a way that gives the narrator any emotion/opinion. She initially appears to be scenery, too. But more importantly, by not offering an opinion (she’ll catch her death/a sight for sore eyes after all those heavy woolen coats/she’s a romantic figure) we’ll get more of an idea of the way the Rev thinks. Maybe I’d have got that, if I’d know who was narrating at the opening.

    I couldn’t figure out the starlings. They seemed like a hint of Hitchcock’s Birds, but starlings are beloved in Russia, and much smaller than crows, so I didn’t know whether this was a failed attempt at creepy, or a hint that the Pre-Raphaelite was a child/goddess of nature. ie is this a good or bad omen.

    Also, I had problems with “Albany.” The capital of NY state is the first thing that leaps to mind, but Americans tend not to use titles, particularly not defunct titles, which I think count is, unless he’s from some tiny country about whose customs I know little. Your scene and the Rev seemed more English to me. Besides Americans tend to write curb, not kerb. I’d make the Count the count of something that more clearly defines where he’s from, or if it’s not important, don’t say “Count . . . of Albany” but say, Count . . . from Liechtenstein or wherever.

    I thought the discussion of botany was a case of telling, not showing. He has to look up a common flower? He says nothing to hint at any botany like, ‘it looked like a Campanula with lobate leaves and zygomorphic petals, but no Campanula he’d heard of bloomed in November.’ My experience is that books are better at identification because you can see how they classify the plants better than on-line. I’d have thought he’d have several well-thumbed wildflower books on his shelves. I have a few (not very well-thumbed) and I’d look there before the computer because it’s easier to grasp what features of the plant matter for identification.

    Ski is a Slavic ending and Hungarian isn’t a Slavic language. Lara might be the descendent of Hungarian immigrants, but she doesn’t have a Hungarian last name. Slevenski also sounds a lot like the word ‘Slavic’ in some Slavic language, or possibly, if you are channeling Evanovich, like “Plum” in a slavic language.

    And my last quibble, “. . . her feet encased in a pair of thonged sandals appeared heedless of slippy dank autumn leaves sticking wetly to the pavement” Not only is it a run-on with way too many adjectives, but the feet appeared heedless? This para also has the sense of telling, not showing. You have to tell us the dress and hat are odd because you haven’t shown us everyone else or the weather.
    This could be easily changed by showing the wool-coated crowd before the pre-Raphaelite.

    I’d read with interest a story about an older couple and this seemed unique, but the few details threw me off. They’re easily fixed.

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  4. hapax
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 10:17:52

    Unlike a lot of commenters on these pages, I don’t demand ACTION! on the first page, so this sort of off-kilter scene-setting suited me down to the ground. Right now I’m getting a strong “magic realism” vibe, which I love; I’d read on for at least a few pages, to get a sense of what all elements portend.

    That is, IF you got a good editor (or a good friend with an eye for detail) to proofread first! Your lovely imagery is lost among the clutter of missing (or misused) commas; your paragraphs are littered with sentence fragments; pronouns lack antecedents, clauses float unattached, etc.

    Finally, this may be a quibble, but… a Count named “Trueblood”? A minister named “Fellowman”? A young lady of Hungarian ancestry named “Slavinski”? Unless this kind of character naming is a deliberate stylistic choice (see “magic realism”, above), you might want to re-think it a bit.

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  5. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 10:24:25

    I loved the description yesterday, because it added to the character. It was told through his point of view, and it mattered to him, therefore it mattered to me, the reader. This – I don’t care. There is nothing there that makes me want to go on. The first paragraph says that nobody cares. So why should I? Give me something to care about.
    The description seems redundant, except to introduce the scene. It’s scenery. Everything Constable and Turner did had a point – it wasn’t just a description. If you read one of the best third person omniscient descriptions, the first page of “Bleak House,” the whole of that scene has a point, and the omniscient narrator is a character as much as any that actually appear in the book.
    Some of the descriptions don’t work – for instance, how is silver hair pre-Raphaelite? I always associate it with red or black hair – Lizzie Siddall and Jane Morris. And tied back? Loose and rippling, surely? The text doesn’t make that clear. So more specific and yet sparser might have helped.

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  6. Caro
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 12:22:22

    I admit I’m not a big fan of omniscient POV. For me it smacks of old style. Hm. I suppose at some point, some one will write a book in omniscient and be a huge new success (I’m mostly talking genre fiction as I don’t dip my toes in literary very often anymore). So I realize things change, but right now, I would have started this book and then stopped pretty quickly.

    Unlike a lot of commenters on these pages, I don’t demand ACTION!

    Yeah, I guess I’d have to cop to being one of these peeps. I can understand different tastes, but in today’s age of distractions, billions of media to catch someone’s notice, and a MTV/twitter/texting audience, I think writers’ risk losing most people’s attention, and thus a sale, by starting their stories in this old-fashioned, rather meandering way. I’m not saying this author should change their style. But I do think I can say that I tend to open up a book on Amazon and within a couple pages, I’m either clicking buy or not. This would be a not for me. And I think many other readers.

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  7. Marianne McA
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 16:55:56

    I routinely do unspeakable things to commas, and even I noticed they were misused and sometimes missing here.
    Also, anyone that horticultural wouldn’t have to check harebells on the computer. I’m not particularly knowlegable, but I was brought up by someone who was, and I’d be sure. (The kind of thing that puzzles horticulturalists is what tree a wayward stick without discernable features might have come from: so they break it open, and it has a chambered pith, and that’s a walnut branch. They know stuff.)

    Having said that, I really liked the page. I think it needs work, but it reminded me a bit of Forrest Reid. (Young Tom: a book in which there is not only no ACTION! on the first page, but no ACTION! anywhere in the book, and wherein the metaphorical walls are bedecked with metaphorical guns that are never fired – a lovely book.)

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  8. Jennie
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 23:03:39

    Wrong thread – sorry!

    ReplyReply

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