Sunday, January 10, 2010

What line am I up to?

I must do a count. But in the meantime:
She shut her mind to the bloodsoaked years of 1916 and 1917. She would not go back. The white warmth of the eggs in her hand, and the ones already nested in her apron were the only signs she would listen to. And, like the hens that persisted in their laying through the cold Spring, and within earshot of shelling, Juliet would safely deliver her baby despite the war, and they would finally be able to leave the town and go west. They could go as far west as it took - to the coast if necessary or across the Channel. They could find their mother's cousins.
There is a lot here. We have pretty much the whole thrust of the back story. Bad years in the war, Juliet pregnant, an English mother. Much to unravel. I think it works fine.
By the way, writing this has turned me all around. I had a look at the first couple of lines and then downloaded them to a word document and it turns out, in that format, the lines don't hang together at all. Of course, the chapter is more or less written, but considering it in this mircocosm form encourages rewriting that doesn't then fit with the shape of the chapter, and the direction of the content. No matter. This can all be sorted out later.
All the questions about these sister posed here make up the bulk of the novel (in terms of the characters of the sisters). We are still to meet a hero. Do we need a hero? I have already written one so he will enter soon. Could it? Should it? Yes, a love story.
It did occur to me once, when listening to the radio about the film Titanic, that love is a great carrier of story. Mikey Robbins (when on Triple J) was arguing that he thought the love story between Rose and Jack was un-necessary for the story, that ship alone was enough. Perhaps, for some readers or viewers. But then, one Christmas, when I was reading Stalingrad (for fun), I was asked by a man what the hell I was doing READING Stalingrad. Not a story for a woman clearly. Women read romance (or equivilant apparently). Well, there are lots of stories that need a Rose and a Jack to tell them to the right demographic then, in my estimation. So I want to tell some of the stories of Australian soldiers on the Western Front in World War One. And I need a romance to set it around. Stay turned for the arrival of the hero. Any minute now ...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

line 18 and counting

There were enough good talismans to see her through the gloom of these days. There were still hens. They were still laying. And as the hens birthed their eggs with little fuss, so too would Juliet birth her baby. Just as Viola could collect the eggs each morning, so she would collect Juliet's baby. There was nothing to fear.
OK. So now we are getting to the detail. The sisters can't move. They are stuck because one of them is having a baby; and soon. But the war, we know from the brief prologue, is on the move. So not just an orientation, but a conflict, a complication, a dilemma. Yes, bread and butter. But what about the writing? I don't mind these lines except they are a little impersonal. We are no yet with Viola in any real sense; we are being told about her, she is being described, not experienced. Writing is a bitch.
What about:
As Viola opened the door of the hen house, she felt warmed by the gently clucking hens. The contented noise reminded her that life went on. She carefully slid her hand under each nesting bird, delighted with each new eggs she encountered. So early in the spring for her girls to be laying so well. This had to be a sign.
This seems to me to be better. Perhaps talisman is too tough a word here, and sign is a bit more gentle; easier to read and to say. Viola feels more present too, we are not so removed from her as a character; more with her, more in her head - or at least somewhere near it. I think that this works.
Putting the lines under the spotlight like this makes the whole thing harder than just writing (well, that was the point, after all), but harder than I would have imagined. In a bunched up couple of pages, the problems that I am encountering here don't present. I want Viola to be an effective heroine, not one just thrown onto the page to demonstrate a thesis (that was the big criticism of a piece I wrote once; an editor said that my thesis was showing, and I can see now what I do). Here, Viola needs to be more - well, not real as such - flesh.

Friday, January 1, 2010

line 15ish

Happy new year. I just had a look at the spirit of this blog and realised I have nothing I said I would do. Oh well. Here we go.
Wet wool around her legs; the damp cold morning; these were small problems. Nothing to worry about. She had made it through with Juliet over the last three years. They would survive the next day. The next week. The next month.
I quite like the summing up quality of these lines.  We know that Viola is annoyed by the circumstances of the morning, but here we understand that her experience has been larger and more broad that what has been suggested this far. We have scope. A backstory if you will. Yes, well.
I don't know about the use of the semi colon twice. That might be wrong. I also think that, yet again, the voice might be out of time. Nothing to worry about seems wrong - too causal, too modern. Perhaps I could write:
Viola would be happy to hold these problems every day. The blood and death of the war she could no longer hold. But she had made it through this far, made it through with Juliet. This day too, would be one they would survive. And the next day. The next week. The next month.
This feels more secure as a couple of lines. We have contrast here, and so I think it makes more sense. So she has made it across the yard to the hen house, has reflected on her problems and the war, and is about to go and get eggs. Not too bad. We still don't quite know where she is and what war, but all in good time. Soonish, and sharpish.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

line 13

You must have a line 13. It is one of those numbers that calls you out. Anyway ...
Sunshine wasn't something Viola could dwell on. It wouldn't matter if she felt the sun on her back this Spring. What mattered was that they were not yet being shelled; they were not yet smelling cordite.
Now we are in the war. This works OK as far as I can see. There is something slightly impersonal about the voice again. It is like when there is a personal quality, the language becomes too contemporary. So to find a heroine - or to write a heroine - of a time, I can't quite make the voice work. But it isn't too bad. I don't mind the contrast between what used to be important, and what now (and I guess artificially) is important. She is perhaps too much a woman in danger - a sacrifical lamb so to speak. So she has to fight off that assumption soonish. But we know she knows about war; she knows the smell of cordite. So she has survived the war, and not only because she has been behind the lines.
She is not particularly likable at this point, we have nothing really to latch onto yet. But I guess this is the problem with the line by line approach. No reader would read this slowly; most readers would already be at a pointy piece of her personality (alliteration again, not happy). But if you can find likability early, and gently, I think it has to be a good thing. Perhaps she needs more yearning in those sentences ... like
She could only just remember how the early spring sun could melt the winter frost from her bones. It was, once, a marker in her year. This year, it had no place. What mattered this year was ... And then the rest of that sentence above could finish here. I like the 'once'.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

line 9?

Yes, losing count. As I am unsure which of the threads is the 'real' one, the count is a tiny bit off. Too bad. So we know that Viola has reached the hen house and that it is raining and it is dawn.
The hens were quiet, settled, sleeping in the feathery fug of their tiny shelter.
This is not too bad. I like the contrast between Viola's discomfort with the rain and her woollen skirt, and the peace of the hens. 'Feathery fug' might be a bit much. I think I have a problem with liking alliteration. It seems a bit too 'headline'. Blame sub editors for debasing alliteration ... Nah, I don't really mean that; some of my best friends ...
It was warmer than the house, here with the hens.
Perhaps things are the wrong way around. Should hens be warmer than humans? I suppose the hens would have no objection as long as that warmer place wasn't a pot.
Viola felt her shoulders drop. Warm and dry. It was like another country. She could hardly wait for Spring to come. But Spring didn't mean new growth and ripening sun now. It meant the battle fields got busy again.
I like her shoulders dropping and the short sentences here. It is possible that I am telling too much in these couple of line about the war and her feelings about it. Should this be veiled for a little longer? Probably. I think that the final line might take us out of the period. It has a distinctly contemporary flavour - 'got busy' in particular - but perhaps not. It is closer in flavour to the last thread in my last post. Makes Viola a more contemporary heroine. Which is, I think, a good thing. But not authentic. Dang.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

line 6 (ish)

Her skirt clung to her legs, heavy with water.
Nope. Too much water.
As she made her way through the garden, her wool skirt clung to her legs, making her feel that she was walking through thick mud.
Now that is a nice bit of foreshadowing. Thick mud, someone will strike that at some point, couple of chapters away. And it is a bit ominous too. I guess. It is OK this sentence, but it seems to be missing something, or perhaps there is too much here. I think it is the last clause that disrupts the thing. I don't mind the ideas, but I don't like the shape. So.
Although walking over grass, the weight of her long, wet, woolen skirt made her feel that she was wading through thick mud. She kicked out, wrestling the material away from her skin. But it clung like sticky fingers and by the time she opened the door of the hen house she was ready to flling it off completely.
Hmm. I have walked her across the garden. That is a relief. Why do I want this rain, this wool, this angry? No idea really other than it was apperently wet when this particular battle in World War One was fought. Ya can't argue with history. And it is a bit oppressive. You don't think at this point that happy things will happen in this story. And, for all I know, they probably won't.
So, these lines - four, five six, seven eight nine (I think that is where I am up to) - are probably a paragraph. The opening paragraph of the first chapter. Not really an attention grabber you would argue. Not like On the day he was to die ... or anything. Or she was to die, in this case. But is she to die? I could go back to line 4 and write something like:
Death was never far from her except when she went to collect eggs from the hens at dawn. It was a few minutes where things were too new to be close to death. On this particular day, Viola walked though the rain to the hen house. The dawn was grey; there were no pink shreds in the sky. But there was still the perfect warm whiteness of fresh eggs to look forward to.
Maybe this is better. It is not as stiff and old fashioned as the first version. Viola has a bit more of a presence in this one. I like her better. Dunno why.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

line 4

I thought about the three lines I wrote yesterday and I think I will leave them as they are. On a big white page, they will probably look rather nice. And that is all I want to tell so far. A long war. A change. A story.
So, to chapter 1, and the real first line. I don't really mean that. I love a prologue, an introduction, acknowledgements at the beginning of a book. But that is possibly odd. The words 'chapter one' are the big signal that all is beginning. That you have found the start. So, here is line 1 (or line 4 depending on the kind of reader you are).
Viola walked out into the gunmetal grey dawn to check the hen house for eggs.
I have to confess I already hate this line. So here is my heroine. I like the name; she is named for my great aunt. I like the idea of morning; that seems to fit. But the 'gunmetal' is too obvious a link to war and it seems clunky. Also the 'walk' and the 'check' don't seem to fit together comfortably. She might 'leave' to 'check'. I like the eggs in the same way I like the morning. A new beginning. Perhaps it should be something like:
Viola headed toward the hen house, hoping for some eggs.
Still not right. I have lost the time frame. We might assume that it is morning if she is going out for eggs, but we might not. Who goes out and looks for eggs? What time do they do it?
As Viola headed out to check the hen house for eggs, dawn crept into the sky and drew the heavy blackness away, leaving only grey.
No. I really hate that. I lose Viola to the dawn.
Perhaps I go back to the first one, but remove the gunmetal stuff.
Viola walked into the grey dawn. She was not going to lose her routine just because the Boche had decided to swing a fist close to her town. She was going to check for eggs.
OK, so it is three lines. I like this better. She is revealed a bit more here. The dawn doesn't make too much of a play for a plot line. We have a link to the three lines of the Prologue. I think I will leave this as it is. Or remove the middle line. But without the middle line is it too 'John and Betty' ('John can jump. Betty can jump. John and Betty jump.')?
The rain fell, soaking into clothes that were still damp from the rain of the day before.
Too wordy. Would a reader get lost in a sentence like this where the intent appears lost. What are we interested in here, the rain, the clothes, the rain of the day before? Does it matter? Or is it too jumbled? Stuff it, I think I will leave it. But should 'clothes' have a possessive pronoun before it so we know the the clothes belong to Viola? Possibly.
Four lines. Can't seem to stay true to the intent of the blog. Perhaps tomorrow.