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Devil Heart

by samanthagard1 

Posted: 25 January 2009
Word Count: 364
Summary: Beginning of my historical drama set during 1648 British Civil War

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Ireland 1634

The sickly woman shivered with cold, her eyes fixated upon the candle, eager with anticipation for the flicker that would signal the door was opening. She dreamed of her children, welcoming them in her arms, but with every moment the candle was devoured so was her emaciated body. She heard the priest reciting the last rites beside her and wished he would pray for her true salvation, her children. Each moment that went by she knew her candle was being extinguished, along with her hopes. She curled her long raven hair wound her finger remembering how her hair had captured the hearts of men, when now all her husband do was glance in pity at her once beautiful face.

A beacon of light appeared from under the door which alerted her that they were coming in. She glanced at her bony hands and could not imagine how she would appear to our children, for she was sure it was them approaching .

A young girl peered into the gloomy interior, long flame red hair setting the suffocating room ablaze. “Elizabeth”, a voice from the darkness spoke as if it was a benediction. Elizabeth tried to find the owner, knowing that within this room her mother lay. She felt the hungry stare of the creature as entered the room as it lay on the bed, with its bony arms reaching out towards her. To seven year old Elizabeth, all she could see was a demon, her heart beating so fast that she was sure the noise would drown out the priest. She felt the pressure of the priest's hand pushing her forward, towards the demon she called mother.

"Come child, there is nothing to fear. It is your mother’s last wish”, the priest said.

The closer Elizabeth got to the creature lying on the bed its feverish eyes burned into Elizabeth’s soul. She pushed against the priest, panicking, as they moved near towards the creature's ravished face.
“You're not my mother!” Elizabeth screamed as she ran from the room. “Elizabeth, please!” She heard her mother cry out as the door slammed.


Any comments to help me improve this is more than welcome.

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Comments by other Members

Chevalier at 23:24 on 26 January 2009  Report this post
Hi, Samantha,

Well done for posting this - I know it's scary.

I'd say you really have something here, because after half a page I have two people I care about - and that's the most important thing a writer can give. There are a few technical problems, but please do remember these are only my opinion so feel free to ignore if you don't agree.

The main one is P.O.V. (point of view). You begin with the mother's point of view, then switch to the child's, which is very difficult for a reader to follow. 'Head-hopping' CAN be done successfully, but I wouldn't recommend it for an opening, when you need to grab and hold your reader's attention fast. I don't think you need the dual view anyway - the feelings of the 'other' character are very clear from their actions. My preference is for the mother's view, because then we feel the shock of her child's rejection, but if the mother dies and the story's going to be Elizabeth's, then perhaps start with her.

The second is something I'm often guilty of myself, which is 'over-description'. There's some lovely stuff here, but the simplest bits work best, and often lose their power by being diluted. For instance, I love the idea of the woman looking at the candle, because if it flickers she'll know the door is opening and her children are coming. This is strong and simple, and works on a very 'real' level of a sick person who can't sit up sufficiently to see the door itself. However, you then talk about the beacon of light under the door that signals their approach - and if she could see that, why would she need the candle flicker, which she doesn't look at again? It's as if you're so overflowing with ideas and images you want to write them all, but here you need to be ruthless and go for an either/or.

A further danger of overdescription is that one can start 'telling' as well as 'showing'. It's so tempting to do this, to make sure the reader 'gets it', but it can end up either patronising the reader or bogging them down. For instance, we're going to get that wonderful shock of Elizabeth's rejection of her mother, but wouldn't it be better if we hadn't 'signalled' it in advance by having the mother fear exactly that - 'She glanced at her bony hands and she could not imagine how she would appear to her children...'?

There's also the risk of including physical description for the sake of it, when the reader doesn't yet need it. I love description, but this is an opening and you need to choose where you want your reader focussed. Does it matter that the mother's hair is 'raven-black'? It could be relevant that Elizabeth's hair is flame-coloured if you stick to her mother's POV, because then the child enters like light into darkness and the shock of the rejection is greater.

I'd also be a little careful to avoid set phrases like 'raven-black' itself. I know you need to use simple imagery that would work in your period, and I think it's great the way you use the 'church imagery' all through a scene of the Last Rites, but there's still a risk these phrases can sound like cliche. Period material can actually be used to AVOID cliche - eg you have a scene of the Last Rites going on here, so why not include some detail of what's happening? Is he just 'Anointing The Sick' or is it a Eucharist? Where is he putting the oil? (Incidentally, is 'Last Rites' period appropriate, or would it be 'Extreme Unction'?) Readers of historicals love all this stuff.

The last (and perhaps most important) question I'd ask is 'What's your book about?' An opening needs to give us a clue, to set up that journey you want the reader to undertake, and to give them a very good reason for taking it. You want the reader to finish this passage desperate to know what happens next. Do you think it's doing that?

Please don't be disheartened by all this. It's only my opinion, and I hope it's clear how very promising I think the piece is. There isn't a thing wrong here we haven't all of us done one way or another - and in my case am probably still doing!

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