I hated her father. It wasn't fair, really, because he'd been nothing but kindness to me. When my hens all sickened one afternoon, and died together at midnight, he hitched up his wagon and brought me half of his own brood so I could start again. And with them he brought an amulet Lottie's mother had made, to ward off the curses of the old lady who lived down in the marsh behind the mill. "The Marsh Witch," everyone called her, as they tiptoed around trying not to offend her, letting her steal cabbages and herbs from their gardens. I worked too hard to let a lazy woman who'd never done a lick of good for anyone take what was not hers. The night I caught her stealing carrots, I picked her up by her scruffy collar, threw her out onto the street...
The line which caught my attention was "I hated her father." (you might even put here name there instead of "her".) but somehow you shift the focus to the Marsh Witch, which is a fine hook by itself.
Have you considered writing out the scene instead of telling us of the MC's confrontation with the Marsh Witch?
Like it melinda, and I'm not just saying that to return a compliment. You establish so much in just this first thirteen. Great voice. I'll read if you like, if you're in no rush.
Posts: 456 | Registered: May 2009
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I agree that kindness looks like a typo. Nit: I would try "threw her onto the street"; when you say "threw her OUT" it sounds like she was in a building, but the carrots were in the ground, weren't they? Otherwise, an interest start...
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Good voice, does a good job of establishing the setting and some of the people without stopping the flow to describe -- everything mentioned is *part* of the action. The narrator actually talks like he's there and real, not just the author's mouthpiece. (First-person tends to have a problem with that.)
PB&Jenny: "Nothing but kindness" is rural idiom. Structurally it's akin to "nothing but pleasant" or "nothing but meanness". Idiom such as this one helps set the voice, and gets rid of that generic "anyone could have written it" tone that results when everything is by-the-book correct.
Don't be afraid of using natural idiomatic speech in your work. Used in its own natural voice (not forced or exaggerated), it will lend its naturalness and life to your characters.
Is the "nothing but <noun>" form Southern US idiom? Because I had no problem with it, either. (I'm from the South.)
It's all written very well, but I agree that it seems to veer off into a tale about the marsh witch, abandoning the promise of opening with Lottie's father. Can you write something to transition between the two more smoothly? Maybe the night the MC caught the marsh witch stealing carrots shows something that happened, or didn't happen, that contributes to why the MC hates Lottie's father?
Beginning with the hating of the father makes me assume that issue is central to the story in some way. Is it? Otherwise, you might consider dropping the first two lines (sob!) and starting with "When my hens all sickened one afternoon, and died together at midnight, Lottie's father hitched up...."
This seems kind of disjointed to me...you start out with a strong statement about the ambiguous "her"'s father, then move into something about a witch. I feel like I'm getting the beginning of 3 different stories in one small paragraph, which to me is confusing.
Posts: 21 | Registered: Jan 2011
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I think it might be trying to shovel too much into 13 lines, but to me it reads like a complicated situation, rather than disjointed. Real people have complex reactions; that's what's going on here, to my mind.
I don't know if "nothing but kindness" and its kin are US Southern, but it's old enough in my northern-plains-educated head that it sounded natural and normal.
Thanks everyone. I've debated about the "kindness" vs "kind." I like it for its rural feel, but if it gives enough people pause, that's a negative.
As for the focus shift, thanks for pointing that out. The story is about the narrator and Lottie's father more than anything, but the witch is important, as are his feelings about her and witchcraft and superstition in general.
If anyone would like to read to whole to see if that shows through and fits in with the beginning, or if I should rework, I'd appreciate it.
Sometimes you just have to go with what's right for your story and if some people stumble over it, tough. You can't write down to the lowest common denominator of understanding without losing way too much of what makes any given work unique.
Think long and hard before you change that "kindness." You've heard a few people here stumble over it, but none, I bet, who'd have stopped reading because of that. Moreover, an equal number of us have NOT stumbled over it, and feel that it actually enhances the story's voice. Nothing you write will EVER work perfectly for everyone, and as Rezlac says, trying to cater to every issue someone mentions will rob your work of everything that makes it worth reading.
Posts: 381 | Registered: Oct 2010
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Though this is an idiom, it is also a metaphor. It is no different than saying "she was love" or "he was strength". It is perfectly acceptable, and I would even say preferable. There is something to be said about standing out when submitting to a publication. I feel that the first two sentences are perfect. I hesitate with the interjection "really", but it does contribute to the voice - I would just recommend limiting similar interjections.
I questioned the necessity of "And" in the fourth sentence. I don't feel that it sufficiently adds to the voice, and the sentence is perfectly fine without it. As has been mentioned in Open Discussions, And is acceptable as the first word of a sentence, but it should serve a function. Here, I do not see that being the case.
I would agree with others, who have stated that you move too quickly into the story of "The Marsh Witch". I do imagine it is your strongest hook; however, I do not feel you have sufficiently established your main characters. It seems like you have put this disdain for her [Lottie's] father out there, but you haven't hinted as to why or even who Lottie is to the MC. This, I believe, is the direction of your story, even though the Marsh Witch appears to be the primary antagonist. I imagine a better connection (other than just barely mentioning the amulet) with the MC's hate for "her father" and the Marsh Witch would serve as an equally effective hook. Her proclivity to steal garden vegetables, though undoubtedly important, might be better served after the first 13 lines.
BTW, it was very well written, and I would definitely continue reading.
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited January 12, 2011).]
Lovely voice, definitely made me want to keep reading.
Just two observations for your consideration:
The "nothing but kindness" in the first line made me think it was an error, a typo, which at first gave me pause ("Can I trust this writer who has a typo in the first line?") I quickly realized it was meant as colloquial speech, because the next lines were handled so well, but it's just worth considering if a reword would contribute to giving you the same rural feel without some of us non-southerners (I was born/raised in the midwest and live there now but have traveled extensively all over the US and abroad.) thinking it was a mistake.
The other consideration for you was the way the line about throwing out the witch was worded, I thought the witch was a cat. If the witch IS a cat, well then great I guessed right! If not, you might consider the wording to better indicate the *kind* of being the witch is. The collar I think is what threw me. Shirt-collar or jacket or something else would probably give me enough info to know you grabbed a piece of clothing rather than a scruffy cat's neck.
Last nit - I personally don't like the unnamed other character ("her father" - suppose it's two characters, her and her father...) I prefer this mystery to be unveiled within another few lines if not within these first 13. I recognize this as a personal preference, though. I just dislike it when some authors do this as a trick for dramatic tension, I feel like the piece should have its own built-in conflict and tension without the author needing to withhold basic information like names (the POV character knows the names, thus they can be known to the reader) to increase it. (Not saying this is what you're doing, but explaining why I don't like the unnamed characters in general.)
The function of the "And" mentioned by philocinemas:
Sentence rhythm. It makes a difference in where the (faint but real) beats fall for the rest of that sentence, as well as how it connects to the previous one. And it helps define the 4th sentence as a sort of dependent phrase on the previous one, without needing to cram them both into a single sentence. (Just like I did here!)
If you study the structure of poetry, it's full of such devices to enforce a desired rhythm -- and it's most invisibly done by adding the odd "And" or the like.
I had considered the cadence of the sentence when I made my remark regarding "And". That was my only hesitation with the comment. It is a dependent sentence with or without it. I am not a big fan of starting sentences with "and", but I do believe there are times when it adds to the meaning - I just didn't feel this was one of those times. However, it is not a deal-breaker necessarily - I would just try to be aware of its use.
If the "Swamp Witch" is an animal of some sort, then I would let the reader know ASAP - editors have very little tolerance for that kind of surprise later in a story.
The first sentence really caught my attention. It struck my attention right away. Anytime someone starts with such a strong emotion as hate, I have to wonder why. Especially when it is followed with how kind the father was.
AS far as the Kindness idiom, I didn't even stumble over it. In fact, I only noticed it after reading all the other comments here. I think in my mind I had processed it with out much thought even though I have never heard it before.