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First chapter of ghost story

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Old 03-03-2015, 12:08 PM
SaraWarner (Offline)
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Default First chapter of ghost story


Hi everyone-- sharing the first chapter of my novella, based on a local legend here in New Hampshire. I had set it aside for some time and am coming back at it full force, so I'd love some critique! Thanks for your feedback!


FALL 1882


Her limp body dangled from the rafters, her gentle self seeping from the flesh she had thought defined her being.

Her spirit lingered in the wooded room, looking on as the body that had once contained her swayed in the draft of the shed. The chill of sorrow struck as she was suddenly overcome with the realization that she could still feel. At least with her death, Annie will have finally elicited some emotion from her father.

Annie watched the maple leaves follow the wind under the shed’s newly mended door. The wooden panels shook against the doorframe, but she was surprised by the absence of the familiar fragrance that normally came with the dry, brown leaves touched by the sweetness of the orchard. That raw scent had always provided an underlying hint of comfort to each fall morning and through each grueling chore. It had been that sensation that had added such pleasure to the scarce surge of happiness that forced its way in this time of year. Where was that chill that usually left a lingering taste in her throat each autumn night until she warmed by the glow of the stove with her sisters?

Her sisters. Alone in the shadows, Annie began to realize what she could not undo. Her gaze darted from corner to corner of the small room to see what had become of the envelope. Of course it was there. But oh, the regret that came rushing back to fill what was left of her. Her mother... lost in her self pity, would barely notice the absence. Perhaps she would be confused by the commotion. Perhaps Annie’s father, as usual, would be sure to use the woman as an outlet for his anger and embarrassment.

Annie felt around for her stomach in desperation, finding nothing. The nausea was gone, but so was her world… Wait. No. Her world was there. Everything must have been securely in its place outside those damp walls. She looked at those barriers separating her from those outside, finally coming to the understanding that it was she who was no more.

Thick wooden beams overhead combined with tiny, dust-filled streams of light to cast deep shadows across the walls-- shadows that seemed to duplicate each of the nails and hooks whose positions Annie had memorized within this frequented place of refuge. Looking up, she identified the same dark pitch stains wetting the ceiling that she had stared at for so many hours of her life.

Searching the pockets of darkness around her, Annie finally spied the edge of the small parcel pinned under the felled ladder she had so hastily overturned. It was that envelope that held all the words her sisters had not been willing to hear. Not the way she needed them to hear. But certainly... Annie’s thoughts turned to Frank. She felt so foolish; how could her darling Frank not yet have entered her thoughts? He had listened. He had tried. She knew he was the only one who had truly loved her.

She lunged for the envelope fruitlessly, repeatedly trying to grasp onto the paper as it sat unaffected on the floorboards below. Annie paused, slowly realizing that it would have to remain there for her family to see. Now, she thinks, at the very least, they will hear me. Now they will all understand.

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Old 03-03-2015, 03:58 PM
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I read through this earlier and I had nothing to say, not because it's bad- I just didn't see anything to critique. All of a sudden one aspect crept in to my mind, and hopefully it's helpful to you:

I typically always prefer the character's name to be introduced at the beginning, so-- as a reader-- I don't have a stumble in orienting who is narrating. Though in this one, I liked the disembodied aspect as a way of reiterating her out of body experience as it were. Well, what struck me was this line:

"At least with her death, Annie will have finally elicited some emotion from her father."

First, I think this is a pivotal sentence because it not only introduces the name of the character, but begins the inner monologue of sorts. Because of the way it is written it deviates from the POV of Annie to an existential narrator, and throws off the voice in my opinion. I think you could utilize italics and inner speech to personify this and maintain the POV, or introduce the character's name at the beginning and keep the structure as it is.

That was a lot for just a sentence wasn't it?
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Old 03-03-2015, 05:58 PM
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Ah yes, I see what you mean, thanks! Especially having that sentence in the same paragraph… big shift that is kind of awkward. I'll take another look at this section.

I've been struggling with this in other parts of the story too, trying to at least change paragraphs to start illustrating a different person's POV. Getting caught up on this a lot.
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Old 03-03-2015, 06:07 PM
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Unless there is some dramatic reason to shift POV in the middle of a chapter or segment, seperate them. Try to think like the reader, you don't want to confuse them. Even if it is the same event with two people, it's better to have two chapters than to merge them in to one.
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Old 03-03-2015, 07:30 PM
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Thanks so much-- I can think of several places where this advice will help me out!
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Old 03-04-2015, 04:26 PM
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Hi Sara!

I enjoyed this opening, you have a good style and I found that your words moved the reader along rather easily. As daes mentioned, I feel like that sentence could use a bit of a re-write--but I won't harp on what he already pointed out.

The other thing I thought could be improved was your first sentence. It's a good first line, but I sort of want a transitional word, for example, "Her limp body dangled from the rafters as her gentle self..." This is very nitpicky and just one person's opinion, but maybe something to think about.

As a side note, I too struggle with the POV changes, especially in my latest WIP. In fact, I just re-wrote 64,000 words to fix all my POV errors and I still need to revise more. I sympathize.

All in a all, a strong beginning. I hope you post more.
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Old 03-04-2015, 07:23 PM
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Yikes SuperGurl that sounds like a huge project you're working on! That gives me inspiration to fix mine while it's only at 7,500

Thanks for the suggestions, I'll get at it. Of course I want to get the first sentence perfect at the very least!
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Old 03-04-2015, 07:36 PM
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Happy to inspire! Although, don't edit too much while on the first draft. You can fix a lot later (as I am doing) and its good to keep up momentum. But the first part is important, so I understand trying to catch stuff early. Best of luck!
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Old 03-04-2015, 07:53 PM
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Ah, very good point. Thanks!
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Old 03-05-2015, 12:16 PM
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Oh, this is promises to be something I will enjoy reading once it's out there for us! I love the beginning and where it seems you might be taking us. You make me want to read more of it!

I am not a novel writer, nor am I used to serving as a critic of another's writings, however I am a novel reader! The only thing that concerned me is what has already been mentioned...that of presenting us with Annie's name.

For me, the first line was great! I think changing it will simply be a matter of your own preference as it will probably work both ways.

I want to share that when you mentioned Annie's name it was like a dead jolt back to reality from the erie place you had led me to at that point. Bringing her father into it was fine, but I wanted to linger just a bit longer in that other-world mystical place before being given her name.

Naming Annie, as you did in your second full paragraph, would work for me. Or, as has been suggested, perhaps giving us her name in your first sentence.

Nothing new here, but perhaps something I've said will be of value in some small way. Best wishes!
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Old 03-05-2015, 02:55 PM
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Hi Sara,

Liked the idea here, but found the character very passive. I think you need more of a hook at the start (an inciting incident, maybe that lead to her suicide). You use a lot of adjectives that break up the flow and there are sentences that seem to be in the wrong places. There is also some awkward phrasing, which I have pointed out below.

Originally Posted by SaraWarner View Post


FALL 1882


Her limp body dangled from the rafters, her gentle self(not sure this is the right noun - I assume you are speaking of her soul) seeping from the (her?) flesh she had thought defined her being. (passive and probably redundant)

Her spirit lingered in the wooded (this refers to forest -so unless there are lots of trees in this shed, the word you may want is wooden) room (shed?), looking on as (watching) the her body that had once contained her(redundant, you have already stated that she seeped from this body) swayed in the draftof the shed (sheds do not produce drafts, though they can be drafty). The chill of sorrow struck as she was suddenly (this is a redundant modifier - suddenly should be used for external, not internal forces) overcome with the realization that she could still feel. At least with her death, Annie will have finally elicited some emotion from her father.
I think the second to last sentence has a good idea behind it but may be executed better. I have a suggestion, but perhaps you could consider how to re-phrase this so it is more immediate.

"The chill of sorrow struck Annie and the realisation that she could still feel overcame her."

I think the last sentence is out of place. In fact I think this could be a better opening, as it is likely one of the motivators for Annie's apparent suicide.

Originally Posted by SaraWarner View Post

Annie watched (you have established Annie's POV: no need to keep telling the reader this). The maple leaves followed the wind under the shed’s newly mended door The wooden panels shook against the doorframe (I would remove this as it blocks the good connection between the leaves and the scent), but she (Annie) was surprised by the absence of the familiar fragrance that normally (don't need this modifier) came with the dry, brown leaves touched by the sweetness of the orchard. That raw scent had always provided an underlying hint of comfort to each fall morning and through each (every - reduced repetition) grueling chore. It had been that sensation that had added such pleasure to the scarce surge of happiness that forced its way in this time of year (I think this is overwritten, perhaps you could remove this sentence? Also it is in past perfect and does rather little to add to immediacy) Where was that chill that usually left a lingering taste in her throat each autumn night until she warmed by the glow of the stove with her sisters?

Her sisters. Alone in the shadows, Annie began to realize what she could not undo (this is awkward and passive syntax: I would rephrase to something simpler like 'A dreadful realisation filled her). Her gaze darted from corner to corner of the small room to (This is a shed right? no need to add that it's small) see what had become of the envelope. Of course it was there. But oh, (this seems uneeded) The Regret that came rushing (rushed) back to fill what was left of her. Her mother... lost in her self pity, would barely notice the absence. Perhaps she would be confused by the commotion (I'm lost here - what commotion? Her death?). Perhaps Annie’s father, as usual, would be sure to use the woman as an outlet for his anger and embarrassment. (Again this seems out of place, as we are focussed on Annie's regret - now it seems she is thinking of her father again, but I feel discombobulated by this sudden shift in focus, like Annie is schizo or something).

Annie felt around for her stomach in desperation, finding nothing (this flows well with her regret - hope you see what I mean about the flipping around of emotion). The nausea was gone, but so was her world… Wait. No. Her world was there. Everything should be must have been securely (not needed) in its place outside those damp walls (damp? but the leaves were dry, there is no mention of the weather or rain) . She looked at those barriers separating her from those outside, finally coming to the understanding that it was she who was no more.
This last sentence needs a complete rethink IMO. "She was no more" is too cliche, and it is not finally coming to this realisation, as you stated that Annie had realised the extent of what she had done earlier. She even felt the regret that comes along with those actions. I understand you want the reader to know that she cannot leave the shed, but I think you need a better way of introducing this.


Originally Posted by SaraWarner View Post

Thick wooden beams overhead combined with tiny, dust-filled streams of light to cast deep shadows across the walls-- shadows (not sure the repitition adds anything here) that seemed to duplicate each of the nails and hooks whose positions Annie had memorized within this frequented place of refuge (this over complicates the sentence and is redundant; everything you have told me to this point leads me to the conclusion that Annie spent time here). Looking up, she identified the same dark pitch stains wetting the ceiling that she had stared at for so many hours of her life. (Again, this seems like puff, I would remove)

Searching the pockets of darkness around her, Annie finally (watch the number of adjectives - this one is really not needed) spied the edge of the small parcel pinned under the felled ladder she had so hastily overturned (when did she interact with the ladder - was this part of her suicide?). It was that envelope that held all the words her sisters had not been willing to hear. Not the way she needed them to hear. But certainly... Annie’s thoughts turned to Frank. She felt so foolish; how could her darling Frank not yet have entered her thoughts? He had listened. He had tried. She knew he was the only one who had truly loved her.
The second paragraph does not paint the picture as well as it could have. I would suggest that all these words could be summed up in following sentences (just a suggestion):

Annie searched the pockets of darkness for the envelope that held the words her sisters did not want to hear. Annie's thoughts turned to Frank. She felt so foolish that he had not entered her thoughts until now. Frank - who listened; who tried. The only one who truly loved her.



Originally Posted by SaraWarner View Post

She lunged for the envelope fruitlessly, repeatedly (chose one) trying to grasp onto the paper as it sat unaffected on the floorboards below. Annie paused, slowly realizing that it would have to remain there for her family to see. Now, she thinks, at the very least, they will hear her. Now they will all understand.

I hope this is not too disheartening. I have spent quite a bit of time on this critique, and although these are just my thoughts, I hope they help. I do think there is a good story in there - it just needs a bit of time to come out.
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Old 03-06-2015, 07:39 AM
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Originally Posted by gerrielynn View Post

I want to share that when you mentioned Annie's name it was like a dead jolt back to reality from the erie place you had led me to at that point. Bringing her father into it was fine, but I wanted to linger just a bit longer in that other-world mystical place before being given her name.

Naming Annie, as you did in your second full paragraph, would work for me. Or, as has been suggested, perhaps giving us her name in your first sentence.
Thank you Gerrielynn! I think I might take out that whole sentence. I appreciate your feedback!
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Old 03-06-2015, 07:42 AM
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Risk10, thanks for the detailed response! I agree with much of what you said and I'm going to take a closer look-- def don't want to be redundant.

When I sit down to edit I may be in touch if that's cool.
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Old 03-12-2015, 01:52 PM
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You've got a good start here, Sara.

I'm in favor of using Annie's name at the start, simple because it hits harder. You need a quick attachment from the reader because she is in the process of dying.

I think strengthening sentence structure, as has been pointed out, needs to be addressed. This is very important because it's the only link between you and the reader.

What I do sometimes to achieve strengthening is rewrite sentences, structuring them somewhat differently, if need be, and usually one will hit harder or have a better feel.

Hope this helps!
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