Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Change

I still recall the night, as if were yesterday. The night that changed my life.

I was asleep, exhausted from the previous day, as I had taken part in a football tournament. My body ached from the various tackles but remembering the pain I went through some days later it was nothing compared to the discomfort that particular night.

In my dream somebody shoots the ball towards me, I try to block it, it hits my chest and then: a horrible noise as if the ball exploded a moment before it touched my chest. I feel it bounce onto my body.

Something made me tear my eyes open. I was back in my room in bed, drops of sweat rolling down my face. I still felt the ball on my chest so I touched it- and froze. Not only was there something sharp on my chest, but there was a tall figure standing in my door. Only after a minute was I able to blink, but the figure did not move. Slowly I turned on the light, which was situated on the left of my bed. The familiar click, and the light was on…..but the silhouette remained where it was and strangely the light did not reach his face. Then he moved. “Don’t be afraid now, you’ll have to get used to much worse soon.” The figure turned and walked away. In my hand I held a yellow rose with a letter.


  1. I'd just like to say that I hope this is not too cliche, and I also hope I managed to achieve some excitement so that the reader wants to continue and find out what is going to happen next.

  2. Hi Sydney –

    You have ably identified the key techniques that make extract seven an effective opening. Firstly, there’s the fact that we, the readers, want to know what has happened to the narrator. For a novel to work, a. the reader must be interested in the central character and b. it must have a narrative that revolves around a question or problem that needs to be answered or solved (n.b. the resolution shouldn’t be too obvious – for example, no one likes a mystery novel where they can spot the “twist” within the first page!). Secondly, there’s the simple language, the shor, concretet sentences that make this opening punchy and easy to visualise (it doesn’t require the reader to do a lot of work unravelling ornate imagery!). Good work on spotting all this!

    So: how did your opening utilise these techniques?

    It’s really good that you’re aware of using cliché. I did find first two sentences cliché, I’m afraid, and think the story would have worked better if you had cut them out completely.

    In your last two submissions, I’ve really admired your clean, readable syntax; like the author of extract seven, you have a ‘simple way of writing which makes the reader very curious about how the story will continue’. However, in this task your sentence structures were sometimes a bit rambling (‘I was asleep, exhausted from the previous day, as I had taken part in a football tournament’ is “going round the houses”; ‘I was asleep, exhausted from a football tournament I had taken part in’ would be cleaner) and sometimes a bit confusing (‘My body ached from the various tackles but remembering the pain I went through some days later it was nothing compared to the discomfort that particular night’: the shifting time-frame of this sentence makes its meaning unclear. Discomfort from the football, or discomfort from some as-yet-to-happen event? Is the shift forward to ‘some days later’ needed? Would ‘My body ached from the various tackles, but it was nothing compared to what was about to happen’ have worked just as well?).

    The final paragraph is where this submission comes to life. There is still some slightly fussy phrasing (‘which was situated on the left of my bed’ – you know this is slowing the pace! ‘I turned on the lamp near my left hand side’ (or similar) would be fine), but ‘I touched it – and froze’ is great (punchy, and an effective use of punctuation) as is ‘Don’t be afraid now, you’ll have to get used to much worse soon’. I love the way this sets up one expectation in the first half of the sentence (“the silhouette is nice,” the reader thinks, “telling our narrator not to be afraid!”) and then undercuts it in the second (“uh-oh…”). I also like the idea of the light not reached the silhouette’s face, although ‘strangely’ is obsolete: the reader knows that the stranger not being lit up is weird, so doesn’t need it spelling out. Then, finally, the ‘yellow rose with a letter’ sets up the “question uneasily answered” that forms the core of (traditional) prose narratives. It’s a mysterious, magical question, and I want to read on to have it answered! And props, too, on the way “you’ll have to get used to much worse soon” subtly reels the reader in, as it implies the yellow rose will lead to some kind of task or trial for the narrator.

    So, in conclusion: this narrative does a very good job of setting up a question, a “what if?”, which will make the reader want to read on. This is a very important skill, so give yourself a pat on the back! However, the nuts and bolts of your prose does need some working out: I think this could be written with a little more precision. But I know you can do it! This is a strong attempt, and I look forwards to reading whatever you come up with next.

  3. Hi ^^

    Cool opening, Sydney. I'm with Sarah on how well you pull off the hooks that keep a reader interested. And yeah - it's that last paragraph that really does it. The impact of being in a situation that prompts so many questions is just what you want to grab your audience.

    Sarh's also given you some great pointers on issues with clarity in the sentences. It comes down to word order and sentence length. Sometimes there can be a gap between the clarity of how we'd tell a story to our friends and what happens when you put a story on a page.

    It can be easy to think that you have to make a story sound like a story - that there should be something about the language that isn't like the way you speak, that it should have this authorial 'it was the last day in winter when my life was changed forever' kind of tone. I'm not saying you're doing that, cos if I've noticed anything from all the writers of this blog its that you come up with really original stuff, but it is good to be aware of.

    Think of how you speak to your friends. It doesn't mean you have to be flippant, I'm not saying you should say 'there was some guy in my room or whatever' - but just that you don't go into a mode of speach that sounds unnatural.

    One of the best things to help with this is to read aloud. Especialy if you have a way of recording your voice (cell phones often have voice recorders). It's a great tool for editing, cos you can hear what's working and what's not, usually, once it's spoken.

    Anyway, I'm really pleased to see how your writing's going, and I hope you're really proud of it. I loved the suspense and the pace thoughout. Take care,


  4. Hi Sarah and Andy,

    thank you very much for taking yout time to comment so much, it really helped me and I'll look out for those things you mentioned
    I wish you a wonderful christmas and a happy new year :)



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