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First Page: Unnamed Paranormal

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Prologue

1810 – Scotland

The stone was hard and cold. Light in the church came from flickering candles next to the altar and fading sunlight breaching the tiny windows and door. Dara rested her head on the rough floor, tears mixing with dirt tracked in by decades of worshippers. "Is this Your dictate? They did nothing-"

The old priest had tried to comfort her, but his words were empty platitudes, meaningless despite good intentions. Her beautiful brothers were dead, burned with their nurse. The fire, some said, had been unnatural, lighting up the sky for miles around. Father Garrick had told of wild tales of magical beasts taking flight, cackling witches and demons spreading through town.   In the end, she didn't give a damn. Edward and Jeremiah were gone.

The comfort of her sister, Caila, was slight. Two years Dara had stayed with Anthony out of selfishness, and lost a fifth of the boys' brief lifetime.  I came back too late. I failed them when they needed me, she thought.  I saved them just to let them die ten years later. Forcing herself onto her knees, she wiped grimy hands over her cheeks. The gown she'd worn, one that he'd picked out for her, was filthy after three days ride in the back of a wagon.

A sound from the entrance of the church brought her attention from sorrow. Father Garrick had gone to comfort wee Caila, letting Dara cry in solitude. They were the tears she couldn't have freed in front of the one person who still needed her. She couldn't let Caila down too. Brushing dark red strands of hair out of her eyes, she glanced back toward the heavy planked door and her breath caught in her throat. It was a vision, had to be.  He was there. Had God sent an apology for taking the little ones by bringing him to her now?

"Your gr-Anthony-" Even after two years, she stumbled over the words. She despised herself for the misstep.

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

14 Comments

  1. joanne
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 09:02:06

    There’s so much good in this first page that it’s a shame if so much of it is lost to things that would be easy to remedy.

    Of course the stone is hard, if you want to describe it then maybe add it in when you again mention the floor.

    Who is she talking to? The priest or God or someone else? I had to go back and see that you had capitalized ‘Your’. I, as a reader, shouldn’t have to do that.

    Did the priest tell a tale of what happened to cause the fire or did he tell tales when she was younger? The gown matters not at all in this page, leave it for latter if you have to keep that.

    The comfort she got from her sister led me to think that the sister was older, or at least a contemporary, not ‘wee’ as you write later.

    Who, what, where and when are important if you want to pull the reader into your story rather then leaving them to figure out the who, what, where and when.

    But I liked it, a lot.
    There is a nice pace to your writing and, I think, a good story waiting to be told.

    Thank you for putting your work here and much good luck with your writing.

  2. theo
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 09:59:33

    I have to agree with joanne on much of this.

    I’m asking questions as I read. Not necessarily a good thing. “They did nothing” and I’m asking ‘who’.

    The wild tales makes me wonder if this has been an ongoing thing since it’s plural and if so, what has this got to do with anything? My first reaction is he’s told tales since she was young perhaps and if so, I’m jarred asking what it’s got to do with her brother’s deaths.

    I agree with joanne that at first, I thought your hn’s sister Caila was older by the way the sentence is worded.

    Who bought her the gown? If it was Anthony, then put her thoughts about failing her brothers before the gown comment. Then I won’t wonder who.

    ***The comfort of knowing her sister, Caila, had not perished as well was slight. I came back too late. I failed them when they needed me, she thought. I saved them just to let them die ten years later. Two years Dara had stayed with Anthony out of selfishness, and lost a fifth of the boys' brief lifetime. Forcing herself onto her knees, she wiped grimy hands over her cheeks. The gown she'd worn, one that he'd picked out for her, was filthy after three days ride in the back of a wagon.***

    It conveys the same things but is much less confusing this way.

    My only other thing is is, if He’s brought Anthony as an apology, her staying with him for two years out of selfishness doesn’t make much sense to me. I would be more inclined to think, since it sounds like she used him, that she would be more upset that he was there now.

    That said, and keeping in mind this is all MHO only, it made me very curious to know what was going on at all, and that’s a good thing :)

    Kudos for putting it out there.

    (edited tags because I can’t ever seem to get them to work right now :op)

  3. job
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 10:04:23

    This is good writing. I like the simplicity and clarity. You’re doing what you’re doing well. The reader is intrigued.

    But what we actually have on the first page is someone in a state of rest, thinking about backstory.

    I’d prefer it if the story opened with the character making a hard decision or holding a significant dialog or taking some action. I want a sense the writer doesn’t need to put the character down on a shelf for a few minutes so she has both hands free to talk about something else.

    My advice would be to pull the backstory out of here. Get the character doing something interesting.

    And . . . I have a worldbuilding concern. Before I saw the 1810 notation, I assumed this was a Medieval world.

    Then I saw the date and suddenly I was in the middle of a Catholic Nineteenth Century Scotland where a well-bred woman would be flat on the floor, in public, before the altar. This plunks me down in the middle of some serious alternate world.

    So maybe ease into the fictive world a bit differently. With all the backstory going on and a contradictory world to contend with, I got a little scattered.

  4. Polly
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 10:27:17

    It feels to me like there’s too much going on. We’ve got lots of current action (the recent death of her brothers, grief, feeling helpless) and lots of past action (the dress, Anthony, decisions to leave the brother). While I’m a fan of action to open a story, I think there’s too much going on in one page. Also, I’m not sure where a three day wagon ride fits in.

    And, with so much going on in the present and the past, I can’t always tell when you’re talking about the past, and when the present. The stories Father Garrick told–are the from when she was little, or just now. And if they’re from the present, it strikes me as a little weird for a priest in the early 19th century to be telling stories of witchcraft (unless the witchcraft is open knowledge and belief in your world).

    It seems like the essentials of the opening are that she’s grieving, she’s lost her brothers, and someone she hasn’t seen in two years, and whom she didn’t expect to see, is back. Trim the rest. The dress can wait for later.

    Also, “Dara” for a Scottish woman c.1810? Might have been used occasionally, but feels out of place to me (and a quick internet search says “Dara” can be used as a Gaelic girl’s name, from Mac Dara, meaning oak tree–but still seems out of place to me). Anyway, names are totally your decision and I don’t mean to nitpick, but I just thought I’d let you know that the name didn’t work for me. Especially since all the men you mention have more common names. I kept thinking, why Edmund and Jeremiah on one hand, and Dara and Caila on the other?

    Sorry if I seem very nitpicky. This could be a great story, but right now, I probably wouldn’t keep reading as there’s too much going on (then again, I might not be your target reader anyway, as I tend to stay away from stories with lots of angst and trauma).

    Best of luck with your story.

  5. DS
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 11:01:41

    The religion bothers me a bit. I thought the catholic church in Scotland was suppressed through the end of the 18th century. Of course maybe the re-establishment of the Catholic Church might be one of the themes of your story. It’s had to tell from just one page.

  6. Jane O
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 11:16:53

    I agree with most of what has already been said -’ I am both intrigued and confused. Quite possibly the confusion would clear up after a few more pages, but it’s hard to tell. But I am intrigued.
    One very small nitpick: The phrase “she didn’t give a damn” jarred. Rhett Butler immediately popped into my mind, and that is not, I think, what you want.

  7. Author
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 11:49:06

    In general: Father Garrick was just relaying what others in the village had said…I’ll have to make that more clear. He wouldn’t, because a good little priest wouldn’t advocate that since, at this point, humanity doesn’t know it’s not alone in the world.

    Appreciate the thoughts about backstory. A few things could be pulled out, I guess.

    And no…Anthony’s not there as an apology…her night’s about to get a whole lot worse.

    Re #3: Hmm…if I started it with action…it’s be even worse. I s’pose I could try it with where Anthony comes in, because that’s the point of it all…but without what comes before, his arrival would be even more confusing. She’s not a noble, not in the least, daughter of a prostitute and just ended being a rich-man’s mistress at that, so…no noble blood in her.

    Re #4: Different birth places/fathers for the different names.

    Re #5: It was – but this is now the 19th century, there were small resurgences of the church.

    Re #6: Heh – hadn’t considered Rhett.

    Thanks!

  8. foolserrant
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 12:14:34

    The stone was hard and cold. Light in the church came from flickering candles next to the altar and fading sunlight breaching the tiny windows and door. Dara rested her head on the rough floor, tears mixing with dirt tracked in by decades of worshippers. “Is this Your dictate? They did nothing…”

    I see what you want to do here — you’re trying to set up the atmosphere of the room. Maybe mix it up a bit:

    Dara rested her head against the floor, the stone rough and cold against her forehead. She watched in the flickering candlelight as her tears mixed with the dirt tracked in by decades of worshipers.

    The old priest had tried to comfort her, but his words were empty platitudes, meaningless despite good intentions. Her beautiful brothers were dead, burned with their nurse. The fire, some said, had been unnatural, lighting up the sky for miles around. Father Garrick had told of wild tales of magical beasts taking flight, cackling witches and demons spreading through town. In the end, she didn't give a damn. Edward and Jeremiah were gone.

    Again, simplify. You can combine the bit about Father Garrick telling the tales and his meaningless platitudes into one thought. It will clean it up, keep us in Dara’s POV, and clarify your meaning. Maybe tell us about the fire first, then about the father comforting her.

    The comfort of her sister, Caila, was slight. Two years Dara had stayed with Anthony out of selfishness, and lost a fifth of the boys' brief lifetime. I came back too late. I failed them when they needed me, she thought. I saved them just to let them die ten years later. Forcing herself onto her knees, she wiped grimy hands over her cheeks. The gown she'd worn, one that he'd picked out for her, was filthy after three days ride in the back of a wagon.

    Again, echoing what the others have said, rearrange this and it will make more sense. I was confused about the siblings’ relative ages and where Dara had been.

    A sound from the entrance of the church brought her attention from sorrow. Father Garrick had gone to comfort wee Caila, letting Dara cry in solitude. They were the tears she couldn't have freed in front of the one person who still needed her. She couldn't let Caila down too. Brushing dark red strands of hair out of her eyes, she glanced back toward the heavy planked door and her breath caught in her throat. It was a vision, had to be. He was there. Had God sent an apology for taking the little ones by bringing him to her now?

    When I initially read this, I thought Father Garrick had already left and Dara was alone in the church. And to pick on some of the pet peeves that other commenters on here have — would she really be thinking about the color of her hair at that point? Although it’s a bit more plausible than the “her ruby red lips curved into a smile” type of physical description, it still throws the reader out of the story. It might better serve you elsewhere. Also, I wasn’t entirely sure whether you meant for Anthony to actually be there or if it was a hallucination. I would rephrase this to clarify.

    “Your gr…Anthony…” Even after two years, she stumbled over the words. She despised herself for the misstep.

    Would it be acceptable for a nineteenth century woman to address a nobleman by his first name in public, even if it in the relative privacy of a church?

    I think you’ve got good bones for this story, but it needs work. Potentially, this could be interesting and a neat new setting for a paranormal. I could see where you were going, and would probably read this if you worked on it a bit. Hope that you don’t think my comments are too harsh. After all, it is only one person’s opinion.

  9. Polly
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 13:18:36

    It still seems weird to me that the priest will be telling her what the witchcraft rumors are. This is post-Enlightenment Scotland. Witchcraft as an explanatory device hasn’t disappeared, but I don’t think you’d hear a religious authority repeating it. In 1750 maybe. In 1650 certainly. In 1810? Feels wrong to me. For story purposes, if someone needs to be telling Dara about the rumors, a child or an old person seems more likely to give credence (and repeat) “superstitious” rumors.

    Also, what does Catholic worship look like in Scotland in 1810? As a group they’re not outlawed, but where do they worship? Stone buildings are expensive and take time to build. Most old Catholic chapels and churches would have been converted to Protestant churches in the 16th century (except for a few places). Rebuilding after Catholic emancipation would take time and money. Obviously, this is not the point of your story, and you can totally ignore this comment, but as a historian, these are where my thoughts tend to go.

  10. Maili
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 13:19:56

    @Author:

    Re #5: It was – but this is now the 19th century, there were small resurgences of the church.

    You know that people involved with those resurgences were heavily fined, imprisoned or outright social outcasts, right? In spite of the Catholic Emancipation, it was still a taboo at the time. Almost all newly established Catholic churches were regularly destroyed or treated with contempt. At least until the Kirk was split in half due to internal conflicts, which weakened their centuries-old strong hold on the country, allowing other houses of religions to establish in peace.

    I think the Catholic taboo didn’t ease until the late Victorian era? I don’t know. I just know Catholics weren’t popular or welcomed in some parts for a long time, right through my childhood years. During the 1970s, for example, Catholic Scots were still seen as foreigners and/or troublemakers, which isn’t a big surprise because religious conflicts and tension still strongly ruled Scotland by then. It’s still going on between Catholics and Protestants, particularly in Glasgow, Galloway and other cities, which is why it’s best to avoid Catholic pubs or Protestant pubs if you’re on either ‘wrong’ side. :D

    To show how slow Scotland was in accepting any than the Kirk: Scotland didn’t celebrate Christmas until roughly the 1970s after it was banned during the 1500s. :D

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but I’m saying all this to show just how opposite Scotland was towards other religions or sects, like Catholicism. We shouldn’t forget it was also a period of betrayal and distrust with people trying to save their homes, families or lands against the national economic depression and later, the clearances. These motives were strong enough for those to betray friends, neighbours, or some of their relatives.

    So in 1810, your heroine and the priest would/should be nervous wrecks or tense because they are literally putting their lives on line by being openly associated with the Catholic Church.

    Anyroad, I’m guessing your heroine is Irish? I wonder because of her name (because it’s still a legit Scottish Gaelic word: Second, so I think the only people in Scotland would name their daughter Dara would be Irish parents) and her religion as all Catholic Scots of her time came from Irish families or had Irish ancestry. Non-Irish Catholic Scots were (and IMO, still are) quite rare. I’m sure there were some, but still unusual.

    If my guess is right, then you did well with your heroine because you’ve put enough clear clues to show she’s Irish (and probably anti-Scottish). If that wasn’t what you intended, then oops!

    I’m also guessing you chose 1810 because of the clearances? I’m just curious about why you chose that year as it was a seriously crappy period for Scotland. :D

    Good luck with your paranormal story, though! In spite of all characters’ odd names, the Catholic issue and other issues, I enjoyed reading it.

  11. Maili
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 13:28:49

    @Polly: Your response was made while I was penning mine, which is a pity because yours are a lot concise, clearer and less boring than mine.

    But yeah: what Polly said. :D

  12. Author
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 14:15:05

    Re ##8: She was alone in the church until Anthony shows up and since she’s been sleeping with him for two years…yeah. She’d call him Anthony in private. Not being harsh at all. This is just the prologue for Anthony to claim the murders then I jump to the modern world for the main story.

    Re #10: She’s the daughter of a French courtesan and a Scottish something or other (full name Athdara Genevieve MacKechnie). The story doesn’t take place in 1810, this is just the turning point in her life (without this particular scene, she doesn’t become a vampire because she never goes back to London). I’ll redo the religious setting thing. ::shrugs::

  13. foolserrant
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 16:15:54

    Re ##8: She was alone in the church until Anthony shows up and since she's been sleeping with him for two years…yeah. She'd call him Anthony in private. Not being harsh at all. This is just the prologue for Anthony to claim the murders then I jump to the modern world for the main story.

    Just seems odd to me that she’d almost call someone she’s sleeping with “your grace.”

    As I said, your story has good bones, but since there seem to be so many concerns about this first page, maybe it would be better to start the story elsewhere? To leave this as a Noodle Incident in the past so that the heroine can slowly reveal the painful details to the hero over the course of the story? Just a thought.

  14. SAO
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 01:06:51

    This is a nitpick, but the thing that leaped out at me was the church that no one had swept in DECADES. What kind of church is it?

    It’s one with parishioners who can’t be bothered to even muster up an annual spring clean, not to mention regular post-service volunteer cleaners. One that can’t afford to pay cleaners in a time when they were probably exceedingly cheap.
    The priest can’t be that busy without a bustling, enthusiastic congregation with a contingent of volunteers, so what kind of man is he that he can’t pick up a mop or broom and clean his church? The home of his God?

    Is this what you mean to convey? Adding to the unease of the story?

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