Author Topic: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words  (Read 4344 times)

Offline sonofdenis

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Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« on: November 11, 2008, 01:23:42 AM »
Hello again.  It's been a while.  I've had this idea for a novel knocking around for a while and it's starting to consume me!  It's basically about a guy who hasn't been home for 20 years, sees his old house for sale, buys it and decides to go back and rebuild the extension his father never finished.

He's a great success now - he left home at 18, penniless, and is now a millionaire.  He goes back to his old home and meets his father, an old friend and goes about rediscovering his roots.

Here's the first page.  Just wondering if people find it interesting to read on...


Chapter 1

   John Bailey studied the grubby pebble-dash walls of his childhood home and wondered why it had taken him eighteen years to make it back to Woodhall.

    He’d driven that morning from Brighton – his knees ached and his back was stiff.  He turned the front door key over and over in his right hand and stepped back to look at the roof.  A deep green layer of moss covered almost half of the tiles; the other half were either cracked or missing.  John’s eyes scanned down the front wall – cracks and deep gashes formed an alarming pattern not dissimilar to the London underground map.

   The Wellhouse as it was eighteen years ago, sat hunched in John's memory – grey pebble-dash coating the sprawling building; the half-finished extension hung off the back door; the path leading from the extension to the enormous corrugated iron garage-come-workshop; the acre-large garden behind the workshop with the three billowing apple trees; the row of three tumble-down sheds on the western boundary and, of course, the huge, grey-brick well sat in the middle of the lawn.  What he saw in front of him now was a crumbled, hazy spectre of the home he once knew, but recognisable all the same.

   John sidestepped in his blue, Gucci sneakers, his Cavelli jeans and grey, Armani shirt. The sprawling house sat at a junction.  The front door faced the road from Dent to Woodhall. The yard, extension and garden crawled along to the left and past the junction on the Woodhall to Bolt road; a steep, snaking grey vein that disappeared into a gloomy canopy of trees a hundred yards past the gateway at the back of the property.  The road to the right took you into Woodhall itself and then onto Fishlake - the main town that served the villages.

   John gasped. The extension was just as he remembered it – unfinished. Like a grey Lego experiment, half-flattened by a giant hand, the source of so many arguments and so much disharmony loomed next to the crumbling ghost of his old home. A corner of blue tarpaulin, tied down insufficiently with clumsy hands, flapped in the summer breeze.

   This was going to take a lot of work, but John knew that.

   John’s heart leapt as a Land Rover appeared from John’s left, down the steep hill from Bolt. He jumped into the gateway to the backyard, now superfluous due to the extension, sweaty and apprehensive. He’d forgotten how carelessly people drove along these lanes.

   The Land Rover revved at the junction, crept forward a few feet to the front door of the Wellhouse, and parked. A mixed aroma of petrol and manure hit John full in the face. He shifted uneasily on his feet as the driver got out of the       

   Land Rover and walked with lunging steps around the vehicle to John’s place of refuge. He wore muddy Wellington boots, green waterproof trousers and a grey Barber jacket. A spike of manure seemed to glow several feet around him and almost pushed John further back into the gateway.

   He stood in front of John, red-faced and rugged, with a look of curious miscomprehension.

   “You’re John Bailey,” said the man in a slow, thickly accented Devonian drawl.

   “Yes, hello,” replied John.

   The man nodded imperceptivity and looked up at the dusty walls of the Wellhouse.
 
   “So you bought it then,” he said.

   “Yes,” replied John.

   The man stepped back and quickly judged the roof and the side of the building. He looked over the extension and up at the black, corrugated iron garage/workshop that sat at the top of the acre-large garden.

   “It’s going to take a lot of work.”

   “Jack Potts. You’re Jack Potts,” said John.

   The man stared at John. “’s right.”

   “Goodness,” said John. “It’s been a long time.”

   John stepped forward to shake Jack’s hand. Jack stared with a blank expression. John kept his hand in mid-air for a few moments before removing it from view and looking up at the extension.

    “Are you still working on the farm?” asked John.

    “Yes,” said Jack, taking out a packet of thin cigars and placing one in his lips. “What are your plans for this place then? We saw the planning applications a couple of months ago…”
 
   “How did you see the planning application?”

   “Parish council.”

   “Of course,” replied John. He coughed as a pillow of sharp cigar smoke washed over him. “I’m not sure to be honest. I want to finish the extension. The foundations have been kept covered by the look of it, so they’re sound. Hopefully it will be case of simply dismantling the outer skins…”

   “Are you going to live in it?” asked Jack. He shuffled his feet as if cold, despite the warmth of the summer morning.

   John cleared his throat. He felt the back of his neck prickle – as it always did in confrontational moments. He scratched his head and looked beyond Jack towards the blind bend in the Dent road about a hundred yards away. He felt a small rush in his stomach as he recalled taking his old dog, Ming, for countless walks along that road. They had this trick – John’s father would take a handful of round dog biscuits and roll them fast along the road. Ming would chase after them and pluck them from the tarmac before they plummeted into the ditch at the side of the road.

   “Well, erm. Initially, probably not. It’ll take some time to get it sorted. I live in Brighton, you see, and I’ll only be able to come down occasionally to do the work.”

   “Plenty of builders round here,” said Jack, taking a slow drag of his cigar.

   In 1986, when John was fourteen, he took Ming for a walk and rolled a biscuit about eighty yards along the road. A 125cc Honda came around the bend and hit Ming full in the head. The rider was thrown into the hedge and Ming’s furry head was split open like an orange.

    “I’m sure,” said John still looking out towards the Dent road. “It’s something I want to do myself. I’ve had a bit of trouble in recent months…”

   “I read the papers,” said Jack. He stubbed the cigar out on the road and turned around. He pointed to John’s car parked in a small lay-by opposite the front door. “Is that your Audi R8?”

   “Yes,” said Jack. “I would’ve brought the Zonda but, well, you know.”

   Jack made an explosive, coughing noise which John realised later was a released laugh.

   “No, really. My Zonda is back home. In Brighton.”

   Jack sniffed and turned to face Jack once more. “Very nice,” he said, zipping up his Barber jacket with muddy, calloused hands.

   “Do you still go to the Crow?” asked John.

   “Certainly do. Every night.”

   “Maybe I’ll buy you a drink tonight? I’ve got a lot to do today so I’ll probably pop up for quick one later.”

   Jack shrugged and turned away. He stared at John’s Audi R8.

Offline jeanette

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2008, 10:16:56 AM »
Hi sonofdenis

I think you are trying to do far too  much with this opening section, you need to prune it all down a bit. After all it's only the first page and we already know your character was brought up in this house, loved the area, left for 20 years, is now fabulously wealthy and has had a lot of troubles. Too much info too soon!

Quote
The road from Fishlake to Goldburn is narrow and green.  It dips into woody valleys and ascends back into browns and yellows.  Depending on the time of year of course.   It is summer now – August – and the hot, bright sun is quickly drying the road of the rain that fell during the night.  Brilliant green floats like an impenetrable mist across the ground; the road a grey vein snaking through the country. 
   
   I know every tree, every patch of wall, every gate and every tiny, almost irrelevant bridge alone this long road.  At some point I have smoked a cigarette behind a tree, or fly-fished in one of the streams or rivers, or pushed somebody into a hedge and hidden behind a tree

This is a really nice section, and IMHO you should have it as the beginning. It gives a flavour of the place, the time of year, and hints of your character's past. I think you should cut all the stuff about the quick purchase, and leave out all the friends' names. Also the stuff about the cars. Stop at 'Zonda'.

Read it all again with an imaginary red pen in your hand. Do you need that sentence? What does it actually add to the story? Also, slow down. You've got a whole book to tell the story in! :)

All in all, it's interesting and I'd read on to find out more.
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Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2008, 10:20:33 AM »
I was thinking the same thing, actually!  I always say that the best opening line to any story comes about 3 paragraphs into the first draft.  I did overdo it with the detail...I think it's been in my head for so long I just wanted to get the whole lot in the first page. 

I shall wield the axe!

Offline jjeneld

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2008, 10:21:39 AM »
I love this phrase  'has left a stain of well-being on me that I will never wash away.' It really stuck in my mind.

'People will ask me why I have bought the Wellhouse.  They will ask me what I have been doing for twenty years.  They will also ask why I have not been in contact with them during this time.'  I think you could lose the last sentence here. If they are asking what he has been doing for 20 years it already implies he has not been in contact with them so it sounds repetitive.

The rest seems to ramble a bit. 'It was at this point I told my wife of my plans.' is a bombshell that's dropped but not explained. What did she think of all this? Is he going there alone? It makes me want to keep reading though so perhaps that's good. I'm just not sure where the story is going yet. (other than your explanation before the story started.)

Overall i would like to read more.

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2008, 10:44:51 AM »
He is alone.  He meets up with his estranged dad, they start to re-build the extentsion that was never finished, and the wife turns up 3 weeks later (towards the end of the book).  The lead character (John) was involved in a 'scandal' and all this is, I suppose, a therapy for him.

It all turns out rather nasty in the end.  It's good that you want to keep reading!!  The first chapter is very difficult for this idea.  It's half about people, relationships and emotions (IE father and son finding a medium by which to remedy the ills of their past) but also a bit of a thriller (there's a bit of murder and intrigue to come).  I suppose the nearest thing I can compare it to is the Crow Road, but the story unravels over three weeks.

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2008, 01:08:02 AM »
I've had a little play with it and made some adjustments...

   The road from Fishlake to Goldburn is narrow and green.  It dips into woody valleys and ascends back into browns and yellows.  It is summer now – August – and the hot, bright sun is drying the road of the rain that fell during the night.  Brilliant green floats like an impenetrable mist across the ground; the road a grey vein snaking through the country. 
   
   I know every tree, every patch of wall, every gate and every tiny, almost irrelevant bridge alone this long road.  At some point I have smoked a cigarette behind a tree, or fly-fished in one of the streams or rivers, or pushed somebody into a hedge and hidden behind a hedge.  So I feel odd driving along here in my Alfa Romeo Brera.  I thought about bringing the Zonda, but I worried people might think I was being deliberately ostentatious. 

   I pass through Goldburn.  The pub (The Butlers) looms in the village and is its heartbeat.  I remember visiting on occasions but we always agreed to move on after the first drink.  The place looks old and withdrawn now.  An oldish car is parked at an angle on the gravel outside next to wooden table and chairs.  I slow down and try to look in one of the windows to see if the décor has changed at all, but see nothing through the grubby net-curtains.

   I look forward again and feel a pang of excitement rising in my chest.  In a moment I will pass the huge gate to the Fishleigh farm, which marks the frontier to Goldburn, and enter the final 2 mile, windy stretch into Woodhall.

   I allow myself to picture what the Wellhouse as it was twenty years ago – grey pebble-dash coating the sprawling building; the half-finished extension hanging off the back door; the path leading from the extension to the enormous garage-come-workshop; the acre-large garden behind the workshop with the three apple trees; the row of three sheds on the western boundary and, of course, the huge, grey-brick well sat in the middle of the lawn.

   I wonder what has changed and how much work I will have to do - or so I told Angela, my wife.  And I really do.  But what I really want to do – and this thought makes me shake with excitement – is look around and see what remains the same.

   People will ask me why I have bought the Wellhouse.  They will ask me what I have been doing for twenty years.  My answers will be short, and probably unsatisfactory.  I’ve had many hours to think of suitable, and weighty, responses during the long drive from Brighton to Devon.  The Wellhouse is my home.  Was my home, for my first 18 years, and has left a stain of well-being on me that I will never wash away.  The opportunity arose to return there and I took it.



Offline jjeneld

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2008, 10:24:16 AM »
the original post has updated to your revised version so it is hard to compare the two. I think the last paragraph needs to be the first to grab attention before starting all the description. This one seemed to lack the impact the first draft did but i can't quite tell you why without the first one to compare them.

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2008, 10:34:18 AM »
Basically the last paragraph of this version was the first paragraph of the original!  The previous reviewer preferred this opening...you wierd lot!

Offline Sarlacc83

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2008, 12:59:14 PM »
This is why you should never change anything concerning plotting or pacing because one person says so. I think this was one piece of sound advice that Stephen king gave (i'm not a fan of his advice in other areas), and that is, if only one person hits on a point, you can safely disregard it. If many people hit on the same point, only then should you check it to see what's wrong.). Grammar and basic rules don't necessarily fall in this category because those tend to be hard and fast, but this kind of subjectivity is another. How you write your story is up to you. (And I don't like the new beginning either.)

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2008, 02:38:22 PM »
To be fair I kind of agreed with the first review...I personally prefer the second opening and was planning a change anyway.  TBH I might rewrite the whole thing.  The rest of the novel is pretty much set in stone and should write itself, but the opening chapter I really want to introduce the main character, his past, why he is doing what he is doing and a kind of dark edge that will hopefully continue throught the book, so I will spend more time here getting it just right.

...in fact, I might change it altogether.

Offline jeanette

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2008, 05:29:31 PM »
Okay sweetums, here's my tuppenceworth

Quote
I pass through Goldburn.  The pub (The Butlers) looms in the village and is its heartbeat.  I remember visiting on occasions but we always agreed to move on after the first drink. BUT The place looks old and withdrawn now.  An oldish car is parked at an angle on the gravel outside next to wooden table and chairs.  I slow down and try to look in one of the windows to see if the décor has changed at all, but see nothing through the grubby net-curtains.

   I look forward again and feel a pang of excitement rising in my chest.  In a moment I will pass the huge gate to the Fishleigh farm, which marks the frontier to Goldburn, and enter the final 2 mile, windy stretch into Woodhall.

   I allow myself to picture what the Wellhouse as it was twenty years ago – grey pebble-dash coating the sprawling building; the half-finished extension hanging off the back door; the path leading from the extension to the enormous garage-come-workshop; the acre-large garden behind the workshop with the three apple trees; the row of three sheds on the western boundary and, of course, the huge, grey-brick well sat in the middle of the lawn.

   I wonder what has changed and how much work I will have to do - or so I told Angela, my wife.  And I really do.  But what I really want to do – and this thought makes me shake with excitement – is look around and see what remains the same.

   People will ask me why I have bought the Wellhouse.  They will ask me what I have been doing for twenty years.  My answers will be short, and probably unsatisfactory.  I’ve had many hours to think of suitable, and weighty, responses during the long drive from Brighton to Devon.  The Wellhouse is my home.  Was my home, for my first 18 years, and has left a stain of well-being on me that I will never wash away.  The opportunity arose to return there and I took it.

IMHO, this is immensely better than the last go. I love the beginning, it's atmospheric and breathes nostalgia.  Personally, I don't like openings that make statements, they just don't grab me, whereas an excellent piece of descriptive and evocative prose makes me read on. Just me, maybe! :)

well done, Son Of Denis (I was going to abbreviate that to the initials, but for obvious reasons I didn't...)

Posted on: Yesterday at 04:44:51 PMPosted by: sonofdenis 
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Offline kiley

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2008, 07:02:34 PM »
I prefer the second version as well.  The first version seemed a bit too much like "telling"- this one is better IMHO.
KileyO

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2008, 08:17:59 PM »
I like this line: has left a stain of well-being on me that I will never wash away.

Didn't read what everyone else wrote just yet but i noticed quite a few "And" in there. Maybe you could choose to omit a few, substituting a comma for that word.

Just a sugestion but maybe you could mention some unresolved piece of business or conflict that may jump up right away when "You" get home.

Offline Don

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2008, 10:12:33 PM »
Sonofdenis -

You're at it again.  :)  First of all, I love the premise.  Going back after an absence has the possibility good drama and lots of tension.  Buying the house you grew up in is a twist on that trope I haven't seen before...but then, I had a sheltered childhood.

I'm not certain I like what you've written here, even though it's well-written.  Please don't take that the wrong way.  Certainly all the pieces and parts are necessary or no one will know what's going on.  I just think you could convey all the same information to the reader through dialogue (which we already know you do well) and then, only when needed.

For instance, you could have him stop for gas and someone recognizes him.  Instead of driving by Butler's, he could stop in and engage someone else.  Opens up another world of possibilities rather than keeping him cooped up in his car, lost in thought. 

Anyway, just food for thought.  Good luck and keep us posted.

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Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Opening to a novel - approx 400 words
« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2008, 12:37:25 AM »
Thanks for feedback.  It's clear that this chapter is going to be a nightmare!  You all seem to have different expectations of it.  It's a fine balance between description (isolation, the beauty of the Devon countryside and undercurrents of something sinister going on - coz it is!) and characterisation, put across in a way that will fuel the reader's desire to read on but also introducing key elements IE he is rich, knows it, is ashamed of it, but also loves it.

Skip - he is about to meet his dad for the first time in twenty years.  PLenty of unresolved business there.

Don - I know what you mean!  He will meet people soon and there will be some dialogue.  I just like the idea of introspection - him introducing himself through his eyes and then the reader making judgements based on the reaction of the people he encouters.

Kiley - Thanks.  Telling is such an easy trap when writing from 1st person.

Jeanette - I love being called sweetums!  Made my morning!  You put a lot of effort in - thanks.  I'm glad you got the nostalgia...an important element to this opening.  Cheers.  Your cuts show this isn't a well edited piece, and they do improve it.  Well, some of them.  I need to keep the told my wife, angela bit.  I want to sneak in that he has a wife and that she isn't with him.  He'll explain all later.

Thanks all.  Support is top notch as ever.