Grandpa Frank’s dilapidated house was Crystal’s life, old enough to be called used up, too new to be called antique or classic, and held together with just enough effort to be salvageable – maybe. Maybe. Frank still lived there alone, surprisingly. She respected his determination to be self-sufficient; even at eighty-five. Then again, if Aunt May assertion proved true, he could purchase the entire county cash on the barrel head. Standing on his own would be of little concern to him. Crystal was puzzled over why he would hire her though, when he could have an around the clock medical team. All the money in the world would not purchase her silence for the secrets she knew stained the thick timbers of that house.
This is the opening chapter to a novel length adaptation of a short I wrote. It is the second attempt at getting the novel I feel should be able to grow from the ideas presented in the story. I'll be tearing bits and pieces from the old stuff while going through this manuscript. This is a horror piece, generally in a Lovecraftian vein.
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I was a huge Lovecraft fan in high school, and I see hints of him in this opening. The old, crumbling house, the resident who seems attached to it, and the outsider who will allow the reader to experience the horror mystery vicariously.
I like the opening line, but I would drop one, if not both, of the 'maybes'. I see what you're dong with it, but the first one totally threw me out of the story. Plus, it does a weird thing with the tone. Like, I think we're supposed to be in Crystal's head, though the vocabulary sounds a bit too elevated. Words like 'dilapidated', and 'assertion', clash with 'barrel head'.
By the way, I had to read that sentence twice to understand that Grandpa Frank could buy the county with cash. I thought 'country cash' was the thing he could buy, and I had no idea what that meant.
I think, though, that the last line will create difficulties for you. There's a reason why Lovecraft had an outsider to the horror be ignorant of the horror. If Crystal knows what's going on, readers should know. Even if her information is partial, I think you're going to run into reader's impatience by not detailing what she knows, or thinks she knows, fairly quickly in the prose.
Narrative withholding is often a sign of weak craft. Now, sometimes Lovecraft would have the narrator be telling the story after the events in question. I don't get the sense, though, that this story is being narrated by Crystal from the future of the events that transpired.
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Thank you for the input. I see your points and am considering how to handle it properly. Though I do bring out the accusations in the first chapter (which is currently only 1500 words) I see my repetition on the play of it - which IS weakness in the writing. The other thing I was contemplating is that I put that accusation out in the first chapter I have less to build up with for the first act of the book - not a good way to go for sure. I'd have to find some way to top that. The material I have is good, at least getting a sense of the where Crystal will be at one point, but she does need to be - as you reminded me - clearly ignorant of everything and find it out along the way. Therein lies my main error - I'm getting ahead of myself.
The maybes, yes I can see your point clearly on that. Punctuation, but a distraction.
Thanks for the input thus far....I'll have to see to my rewrite though...I want a solid opening before I move forward too far.
edit: Clarity. I meant taking the accusation out is a good thing and said the opposite.
I would start with "The dilapidated house..." That being said, the word "dilapidated" is a sort of "tell" word rather than show. Same as "used up". Unfortunately, we as writers must do the gut splitting, difficult task of painting a deep, living picture with words. I know. Easier said than done. By using those heavy words up front you're short-cutting past the heavy work and plopping a big "summary" right in the front of everything. Instead, build a used up, dilapidated house in the readers mind has he/she reads along.
Is the POV character Grandpa Frank or Crystal? Obviously the story will clarify, but for that first instant you don't want the reader latch onto the wrong person for even a heartbeat.
Why the word "surprisingly"? Is Aunt May the POV character? How about "Crystal puzzled over" instead of "Crystal was puzzled over"?
Keep making the painting more vivid. You'll find the glory soon enough.
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H.P. Lovecraft's narrative point of view and narrative voice are the traditional, stiff, formal omniscient narrator, whether first person or third person, with a strong attitude toward the subject or topic under reflection, the voice of early Realism and Romanticism overall beforehand. That voice appeals to sophisticated readers, not so much to general mass culture readers. For me, this opening's viewpoint and voice is in a neutral limbo between the former and the general voice aesthetic of popular contemporary literature. Stronger narrator attitude or stronger reality imitation is indicated in order to categorically define the narrative point of view for the whole. I favor Crystal as the viewpoint character with the central attitude, as I think is the intent.
Another Lovecraft aesthetic is horror, of course, stronger psychological horror than visceral horror. Both work in tandem, one setting up for the other, usually for psychological horror, visceral horror setup. A woman ominously dies alone, decomposes undiscovered for days, in a house's attic; investigation reveals a haunting emanating from the basement.
Note that both spaces are transition places: the attic above the llving space and nearest to the "heavens," the basement below the living space and closest to if not actually the underworld. This is liminality, meaning a mystical transition circumstance. This is a kernel feature for horror and folklore generally.
The attic liminal space is a signal foreshadowing of extraordinary circumstances, as is a basement. Time and place and situation, setting, in other words, are liminal. The woman from the above example only sleeps in the attic, never using the living space nor the basement. At midnight, midsleep, she's drained; daytimes she's away and partially recovers vigor lost overnight to a losing battle. Midnight is a liminal time, as are noon, dawn, and dusk. Less so 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., work-leisure transitions.
Liminality is a feature of horror in that it sets up reader knowledge for when a motif becomes relevant and timely. Liminality also develops tension in that what readers know beforehand arouses curiosity and perhaps, ideally, empathy or symapthy.
Grandpa Frank's house is somewhat set up as liminal, in that the house's condition is at a transition time and situation from living to near death collapse. Other descriptions that develop the house's horror liminality might be warranted. Spooky houses have a human face-like façade from roof peaks resembling head tops, from dormer windows resembling eyes, porch roofs' slopes resembling noses, and double doorway entrances resembling mouths, for example. This house is aged, and clapboard, roof, door, and glass stains and breaks and corruptions, for example, could imitate an aged face's wrinkles, scabs and scars, sunken eyes, slumped nose, and wry lips.
Readily inferrable implication is a stronger received "reflector" appeal than direct summary or explanation. For example, Crystal's reflected observations of the house shouldn't say the house's façade looks like an old face. Rather, she uses terms that imply the house looks like a face so that readers cognitively infer that for themselves. Once readers' imaginations are involved like that, the so-called "hook" is set. This is also a Lovecraft aesthetic.
Another Lovecraft aesthetic is Romanticism's predetermination poetic justice-type: low-born people are naturally wicked and deserve correction; high-born people are naturally noble and deserve reward. Frank being wealthy is the latter. In Romanticism's vein, his wealth might be wickedly acquired and a punishment for his wickedness. He has wealth and doesn't want for material comforts, but it socially isolates him and his life is, therefore, a torment. Yet wicked miser that he is he can't let down his guard against everyone wanting a selfish piece of his pie.
Lovecraft's narratives take their time getting to a fully realized dramatic complication. However, they start emotional disequilibrium development as soon as practical, though, in my estimation, a little too slowly for mass-culture audiences.
This opening's last line rushes up on an emotional disequilbrium and dramatic complication, "All the money in the world would not purchase her silence for the secrets she knew stained the thick timbers of that house," when the house's situation potentially contains all the emotional upset needed for an opening. Also, that line gives away the action to come. Crystal as a best practice should incrementally discover the wicked secrets that stain the house's "timbers," as readers will, for tension's sake: the liminality of the house that reflects its wicked secrets. Crystal might this time, after a lifetime of visits, realize the guilt-haunted appearance of the house's face, for example, and Frank's stubborn self-reliance realized as hiding wicked secrets.
Consider developing Crystal's fresh-this-time viewpoint perception of the house as a symbolism for Grandpa Frank's wickedness, and linger for a while in fully realizing that development.
Grammar faults: "Aunt May['s] assertion," "the entire county[,] cash on the [barrelhead]."
Keep the comments coming! I promise I did not intend to rattle the walls and see what comes out by mentioning the beloved H.P., but I see that is the reaction to invoking his name. All well-thought and much appreciated and many are things I realized AFTER I posted. (Isn't that the way it goes though?)
If I come across as defending, please know that I'm not attempting to do so. I'm merely thinking aloud per se of what I was doing and will be doing.
Jerich - Thanks for the encouragement. Here's my responses...
Yes you're right I've managed to take out a lot of the build-up in the setting (and character) crafting. I hoped for a jump start - and then later in this opening chapter back up a touch to fill in details. Not exactly an H.P. tactic, but again I was going for along his vein, not direct imitation. I'll have to do a rewrite going for a slow build and see if I can manage to still craft a solid hook in the first thirteen. Strong words like I used tend to grab me by the eyeballs and not let go, I was hoping it did the same for others. (I will give kudos to slow-boiling the frog as well, though.)
POV and protagonist is Crystal. I through too many names and references out to start I infer from your questioning. Going to have to see how to smooth that out - I admit I'm tossing a LOT of data out in the first 1500 words already and will be thinning that out to have a more gentle build up to climax (or descent into horror).
"Surprisingly" will likely not survive the next draft - the same with "puzzled."
Glory will be nice, but I'm more after getting this horror on paper so it won't be showing up in my dreams any longer...
Thank you very much for the thoughtful and insightful reminders of this master's methods. Your input keeps me well aware of where I am imitating and where I have wandered in hopes of mutating the touch of madness into my own style and voice.
I will assume you have read everything to this point as well, as such, I shall not be repeating myself for brevity's sake.
On voice – do you feel that the neutral voice is a distraction? I did not want to directly imitate the old style for fear of alienating newer readers not yet familiar with the voice, but I was hoping to not abandon it altogether. I admit I should be able to bring out more of Crystal’s attitude, and the setting (and initial antagonist) are fleshed out enough to bring the reality fully out of its quasi-incorporeal state.
Gratitude for the other reminders after that point. I’m posting these responses near my computer as to pester me while I lean back in my chair – reminders are always a lovely thing. I will keep notes from paragraphs 2 – 7 of your reply on my frequent re-read list as I write.
Romanticism, as outlined by you, I was planning on using as much as possible. There will be a twist or two to it though, so as to make some character more grey than black and white.
I agree with your opinion on realization. I’m going to be attempting to find some balance. I think the oxen of the style and the tastes of today can be equally yoked. I have previously addressed the speed at which I rush through the emotions of the “first 13” and will continue to strive for the balance I seek.
After posting I did realize that the point of view she had on the house was more mid-book than early – you are correct.
Thank you for the grammatical catches, I will make sure they do not reappear in future posts. (Those two specifically, I see I should get back into the habit of proofing by reading aloud…)
Thank you again one and all. So far this is wonderful food for thought. I will continue to work at this and hopefully will come up with something enjoyable for all.
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quote: I promise I did not intend to rattle the walls and see what comes out by mentioning the beloved H.P., but I see that is the reaction to invoking his name.
I've found that I get a much better critique of my writing when I submit it as bare of forewording as possible. When you said Lovecraft, I immediately pulled up the many tales of his I read and compared it to your opening, which may be unfair, but then, you did mention the author in your preamble.
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Naming Lovercraft, or any writer, in a fragment preamble is for me a signal of intent. Lovecraft was much admired long after his untimely end, a pauper at the end, and not an especially successful writer while he lived. He wrote horror with a foreground literary aesthetic published to audiences that favored mass culture aesthetics. He is an acquired taste, as are many classics that stretch their legs long after their debut time. Lovercraft is for me both a throwback to an earlier literary era and before his time, not of his time. His works taken in a literary analysis stood up to scrutiny later, but didn't per se have great critical or popular appeal while he lived.
No matter, methods and such to take away, let lay behind, or to emulate, Lovecraft illustrates. Naming him as an admirable writer makes response commentary potentially more on point, regardless, for me.
Neutral voice can be lackluster, often is. Because Crystal is the main agonist, her emotional attitude toward topics, subjects, themes, events, characters, settings, motifs, situational and extended circumstances, noble and ignoble traits, and especially moral values should be strong and clear, though initially from confusion, uncertainty, and crisis--moral crisis--early on. While the novel unfolds, she comes to firmer and clearer polarization and is eventually galvanized toward one pole of nobility or ignobility.
This novel to me is a Specimen shape, from Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction. A specimen shape observes another character than the reflector, in this case Crystal, though as much if not more is about Crystal than Frank, the specimen.
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