Monday, April 20, 2015

New Beginning 1044

Annie rushed down the stairs. She was ten minutes late and would only have time for one cup of tea before she started her duties. She had slept badly, tossing and turning most of the night. Images kept flashing through her mind none of which she could decode. When May reached down and shook her awake it had felt like she had only slept a few minutes. It had taken all of the strength she had to pull herself out of bed and she had wasted all of her time trying to wake herself up. Now she was going to pay the price for it.

"I poured you a cup," May told her when she came into the kitchen. "Thank you, May. You are a dear," she said gratefully as she sat down and took a sip. The tea had cooled enough for her to down the rest of the cup. She sat for a tick waiting for the effects to take hold then reluctantly got up to take the tray of tea that May had prepared up to the housekeeper.

The tea was starting to work its charms by the time she came back down the stair . She went towards the drawing room to pull back the drapes when she saw him lying on the floor in a pool of vomit. She jerked back and tried to call for May to help her but her words came out as a high pitched shriek

May bustled into the room. "What is it, dear?"

"''s..." The words would not come.

"Oh, him again." She went to the prostrate man. "Help me roll him over, will you?"

"But he's..."

"No, he isn't dead. Just drank too much again."

Annie hauled the man onto his side. His breathing came easier and his color returned. "Why did this happen?"

May shook her head. "I keep telling Mr Grisham not to read EE's reviews of his books, but he never listens. Come on, now. We have to get to dusting."

Opening: Kat33.....Continuation: khazarkhum


Evil Editor said...

P1: With most jobs, if you show up ten minutes late you get started immediately; you don't decide to make the big sacrifice of limiting yourself to only one cup of tea before you get started.

Delete "reached down and." It adds nothing to our pre-formed mental picture of someone shaking another awake.

Having already told us she slept badly, tossing and turning, no need to later tell us she felt like she'd slept only a few minutes.

She was going to pay the price for sleeping late would be meaningful if she were going to lose her job or get punished. But it sounds like the "price" is that she gets one cup of tea instead of two. Horrors.

Too many "had"s. I'd cut this down to:

Annie felt like she'd slept only a few minutes. She rushed down the stairs to start her duties, ten minutes late. You could tack that onto the front of the 2nd paragraph.

P2: Start a new paragraph with "Thank you, May." You don't want two different people speaking in the same paragraph.

Delete "she said gratefully." We can tell that she said it and that she's grateful.

Since when do housekeepers get room service?

P3: Change "went" to "was walking."

Delete "to help her." She hasn't reached the point of knowing what to do yet. Also, the unwritten rule in my house is that whoever finds the dog vomit cleans it up. Unless they find it by stepping in it in bare feet or socks, in which case they can summon someone else to clean it up.

I assume you would have used the name of the person lying in the vomit if Annie knows him.

There are a couple place where a comma would have helped, but perhaps those place will be gone in the revised version, so we won't worry about them now.

Possibly it would be best to open with sleepy Annie finishing her morning tea and heading into the drawing room to open the drapes. We get to the body faster, and with less tedium.

Kat33 said...

Than you for the comments as I'm stuck in the middle of a cornfield in the Midwest and don't know where to turn for advice. Your addition to the story was a perfect fit for my style.

I was hoping to set the scene and make Annie relatable. She gives herself ten minutes to dress and twenty minutes for two cups of tea. Considering the day she is going to have to put in, being limited to one cup of tea is a horror to her. She does have much to look forward to.

Research tells me that kitchen maids wake first and get the fires going and bring tea trays up to both the housekeeper and the cook.

Evil Editor said...

Your research sources are probably better than mine, Downton Abbey and Gosford Park, which don't show the staff living upstairs.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Completely with EE on the first paragraph. You're showing us someone who's running late and rushing to get the day started, nut you spend most of the first paragraph backtracking to the previous night and earlier that morning. It kills the sense of urgency and the sense of being in the moment with Annie, who's probably thinking more about how she needs to get moving than about what happened to make her late this morning.

I'm not sure if the flashing images are happening now or were keeping her awake last night. I'm guessing the latter, but it could be clearer. Moot point if you dump the night before.

If the one cup of tea vs two issue is something you really want to keep, I'd bring it up in the second paragraph. May offers her a cup. She thanks May. It's not the usually two cups she needs to (keep her awake? relax her nerves? give her magic powers?), but she's running late and it will have to do. That makes skipping the second cup of tea seem like more of a legit issue and not just a meaningless change of routine.

Kat33 said...

Thinking about the comments I've rewritten the opening.

Annie rushed down the stairs to start her duties ten minutes late. She hated days that started like this. She went into the kitchen and grabbed the tray of tea that May had prepared. "I'll be back for that in a tick.". She nodded at the cup of tea that May had poured for her. She took the tray up to the housekeeper hoping that she wouldn't notice the time.

"There you are," Mrs. Barlow barked as she brought in the tray. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Barlow. It won't happen again." She set the tray on the bed and stood with her hands behind her back. "See that it doesn't," she said dismissively. Annie turned and left considering herself lucky that the housekeeper was in a good mood.

Annie was tempted to go back into the kitchen but walked into the drawing room to pull back the drapes first when she saw Sir Atwood lying on the floor. She jerked back at the sight of him and let out a shriek.

Evil Editor said...

You did use Sir Atwood's name, so that's an improvement. You still have two different people speaking in paragraph 2, which is a no-no.

Paragraph 3 has the right number of sentences, two, but the period should come after "first" rather than after "floor."

I would change the first "she" in paragraph 2 to "Annie."

In paragraph 1 I'd get rid of sentences 4 and 5.

I still think we're taking too long to get to Atwood. Why is Mrs Barlow even in this opening? She does nothing except lie in bed waiting for her tea. If we get rid of her, we can get rid of the rushing. Annie can be drinking her first or second cup of tea in the kitchen with May when the scene starts, and go into the drawing room at any point to discover the body.

AA said...

My take on this would be something like:

Annie hated days that started like this.

She had overslept and rushed downstairs to start her duties ten minutes late. The housekeeper, Mrs. Barlow, barked at her for spilling the tea tray. It was her own fault. She'd been in such a hurry.

Now she was determined to make everything else go as planned for the rest of the day. Maybe that would appease Mrs. Barlow.

Annie started to pull back the drapes in the drawing room to let in some light. That's when she saw him. She let out a blood -curdling shriek that brought Mrs. Barlow storming in from the kitchen.

"What in the world is the matter with..." the housekeeper began, but then stopped mid-shout.

The chill in the air was not only the cool of the early morning. Sir Atwood lay stretched out on the rug, dead.

AA said...

Some points:

Watch out for words like walk, set, and went unless the scene really requires someone to behave in a calm and quiet manner. Nobody who is rushed and in a hurry ever "went" into the kitchen.

Don't include dialogue or conversations in scenes that aren't really important. If you feel the scene itself is still needed, use narrative summary instead.

There's no reason to have the housekeeper be in a good or forgiving mood. You have the perfect opportunity here to build up to a payoff. Annie sleeps in and is in a hurry and late. Strike one. She does something else to annoy the housekeeper. Strike two. Now you're wondering what else can go wrong ? Bam, dead body.
Don't weaken the suspense by being too sympathetic to Annie before the payoff.

Kat33 said...

Thank you all for taking the time to help me sharpen my story. The feedback has been great. I'm still rewriting to show not tell, tighten and build the suspense. I'm also trying to align my adjectives to the emotions I'm trying to create and shorten my paragraphs my choosing more descriptive words.

I've also rewritten my query letter several times to get to the heart of the story.

Maisy is a fourteen year old maid in the employ of the widowed Lady Harrington. All she wants is to earn enough money so that she, Molly and Rose can spend their shared day off at the tea shop like the elegant ladies with their shopping.

The title that I've been thinking about is, A Troubling Brew. I'm hoping that it conveys a cozy mystery feel.

khazarkhum said...

Kat33--where in the midwest are you?

A Troubling Brew? Why not Trouble Brewing or Brewing Trouble or A Fine Kettle? They all sound like cozy mysteries.

Kat33 said...

I love both of them. They're perfect. I think I might have the right opening now.

Annie hated days that started like this.

She had overslept and rushed downstairs to start her duties, still sleepy from a restless night and ten minutes late.

Annie saw the cup of tea on the kitchen table that May had left for her. She stopped and looked around for the housekeeper when Mrs. Barlow barked at her to get moving.

Annie turned towards the drawing room to pull back the drapes when she saw Sir Atwood lying on the floor. She jerked back in shock and let out a wail that brought both May and Mrs. Barlow, the housekeeper running.

Evil Editor said...

The reason I suggested you change She went towards the drawing room to pull back the drapes when she saw him lying on the floor... to She was walking towards.... is because you had the wrong tense. When you use past tense, the phrase after "when" is the cause; the other phrase is the effect. For instance, I called the police when I heard the gunshot. Or When I heard the gunshot, I called the police. The phrase after "when" in both cases is the cause. The effect is calling the police.

The way you had it suggests that because she saw him lying on the floor, she then went into the drawing room. What actually happened is that she saw him as/while/during the time that she was walking into the drawing room. So your sentence should read: She was walking towards the drawing room when... or As she walked toward the drawing room she saw... This conveys that one thing happens while another is happening rather than because another happened.

Your 2nd version of the query does the exact same thing.

Your 3rd version not only does the exact same thing in the last paragraph, but also does it in the previous paragraph when you say: She stopped and looked around for the housekeeper when Mrs. Barlow barked at her to get moving. You could make this As she looked around... or She was looking around . . . when

That's not the only problem with that sentence; we can't tell that Mrs Barlow is the same person as the housekeeper; they could be two different people.

And in the previous sentence, it sounds like May left the table for Annie rather than the cup of tea.
To fix it: Annie saw the cup of tea that May had left for her on the kitchen table.

I have yet to see why Annie being late and rushing is relevant. Is this day going to go differently than it would have if she'd found Atwood on the floor on a day when she was on time?

InkAndPixelClub said...

My biggest issue with all three drafts is that there's no buildup to finding the body. Things happen beforehand, though progressively less of them in each draft, but nothing that creates a sense of suspense and payoff. The dead body is repeatedly tacked on to the end of lengthy sentences about pulling back the curtains.

I'm not suggesting that you pack the opening with eerie mood until it's just a mass of fog and far off crow caws and unearthly chills. The discovery of the body can still be sudden. But give it some time to sink in.

Consider AA's version. The drapes get their own sentence. Annie seeing the body is a separate one, as it should be because its important. There are three sentence's between Annie seeing "him" and the reader discovering that "him" is Sir Atwood and that he is no longer among the living. We suspect that it's going to be something horrible and everything that happens between Annie seeing the body and the body being revealed to the reader points to that being the case. It's not so long drawn out that the reader gets bored waiting for the payoff, but it's so sudden as to rob the reader of any sense of foreboding.

AA's version could pretty much only end with the discovery of a dead body or something equally horrible. With yours, I could swap in Annie discovering a littler of kittens and it would still work.

Kat33 said...

The rushing is relevant to show that Annie's life is not her own. She has traded it for a roof over her hea . She is at the beck and call of her masters when all she longs for is to spend time with her friends drinking tea which is the heart of the story. It's her first glimmer of realization that she needs something more than the safety from starvation that nips at the heels of those on her rung of the latter.

AA said...

Your suspense isn't working, either. You're rushing it. You have to build up to suspense.

You've got Annie rushing downstairs in one sentence. Two short sentences later the housekeeper yells at her for no actual reason. Then, Bam, dead body.

You also need to give a hint that something bad is going to happen. That's called foreshadowing, as you probably know. So Annie needs to determine that the day will not get any worse, or perhaps someone says something ominous about the weather, though that's a cliche. Otherwise you've got a random bunch of household events, a maid is in mild trouble with her employer, and a dead body. No connections whatsoever.

Evil Editor said...

Annie is a lowly kitchen maid in a manor house. That tells us her life is not her own, whether she's in a rush or not.

That she is at the beck and call of her masters when all she longs for is to spend time with her friends drinking tea should not be the heart of a cozy mystery. The heart is the investigation into whodunnit. Is Annie going to solve the mystery?

A suspenseful buildup to the discovery of the body is one way to go. Another is to get right to it by opening with:
Annie was just thinking her day couldn't get any worse when she tripped and fell on her face. The good news was that Mrs Barlow, the housekeeper, hadn't seen the accident. The bad news was that what she had tripped over was the body of Sir Atwood.

AA said...

EE is right. She's a maid, so we know her life is not her own and she's at people's beck and call. Probably every single maid would have given that up for a life with more leisure. That's true of many people nowadays as well.

However, it was a pipe dream for most people. You've researched this so you already know.There was being a housewife, with lots of children and the endless washing, cooking and mending from the early morning to late at night.

Then there were really poor women who had to take in extra washing on top of their own laundry for a family of ten or so. They barely had time for all their children's funerals. You could say that compared to that, being a maid in a starched uniform in a big house was a cushy job. And sometimes you got a full day off. Imagine!

Anyway, there can be self-discovery and character development, but you do have to focus on the mystery in a mystery story.

If you don't like the body reveal beginning, you can start it as a flashback that already happened, then set the immediate scene later, for instance when the detective shows up.

Kat33 said...

All of your suggestions sound like the second book that I'm working on. If you'll allow me one more go at this.

"Let me help you with that." Charlie jumped up to help Maisy and Lily. He was determine to earn his keep now that Lady Harrington had taken him in.

"Go on with you. You're to small," Maisy snapped at him. She was too busy to be looking after a child.

"I think it's lovely to have a man around the house," Lily cooed at the lad. The girls teetered precariously on the back staircase.

Charlie grabbed hold of the end of the rolled up rug that Lily was struggling with. The three of them carried the rug outside and strung it over the line.

Charlie picked up the rug beater and gave a wack to impress. The rug beater flew out of his hand and landed in the bushes.

Charlie ran to retrieve it. He reached in and grabbed something cold and clammy. He jerked back and landed on his bumb.

Lily ran to help the the poor lad while Maisy laughed. "Don't look,Miss," Charlie warned her. She did the opposite.

Lily let out a scream and landed on her bumb next to Charlie. Maisy came running. "Don't look," Lily cried. "There's a dead man in there."

khazarkhum said...

Saying "Annie hated days that started like this" implies that she routinely finds dead people in the house. I mean, she might; she could live in some Winchester house of horrors where tripping over carcasses is an occupational hazard. But I suspect that isn't the case here. If it were, you'd have:

May bustled into the kitchen. "Charlie says there's another one in the parlour. See to it, won't you, Lily?"

"Why me?" Lily sipped her tea. Annie's late. And she's only been here a week. Let her get blooded by Sir Whatsisname."

Kat33 said...

Hi khazarkhum

I love your version for an opening. I think it's great. If I could find someone who would publish a story like that could write a whole series to match it

I read over everyone's comments for the fifth time because this stuff is like catnip to me when I saw that you asked where I live. I live in southern Minnesota. PS That was supposed to be landed on their bums. By phone autocorrected and I didn't read through and correct it.

InkAndPixelClub said...

So this last one is the introduction to a completely different story? Or have you changed the setting and all of the character's names and added a new character?

If feel like there's a lot of telling rather than showing in this latest beginning. You say that Charlie is determined to earn his keep now that a character who does not seem to be present in this scene has taken him in. Instead, you could have him already start to help carry the rug without waiting for a response and maybe keep trying to lift it even though it's too heavy for him. Leave his backstory for later. You tell us that Maisy is too busy to be looking after a child. Show her being busy carrying the rug and let her dismissive dialogue emphasize the point that she's not interested in Charlie's help.

"Too small," not "to small." Minor typo, but if I'm an agent or editor reading a short sample of your work and there's already a typo, I'm going to assume that there's more in the rest of the manuscript and you have't gone back and proofread it carefully.

If Maisy thinks Charlie is just going to be in the way, have her react when Lily stands up for him or when he picks up the rug anyway. Right now, Maisy's irritation disappears after that one line.

"Wack" as a noun is slang for "weird or crazy person." A "whack" is a sharp blow. Minor again, but nobody wants to have to go through someone else's work and make dozens or hundreds of corrections like this.

By "a w(h)ack to impress," do you mean it's a blow that would impress anyone or that he's trying to impress Maisy and Lily? It's not clear.

"Bumb," "bums," or "bum" - whichever it's meant to be - is jarring. It's slang and it sound juvenile. Okay in a story for very young children, maybe, but not what you'd expect from a cozy mystery.

So Charlie come across the body by feeling around in the bushes for the rug beater and touching some part of it instead. Good idea. Lily then discovers the body by running to help Charlie and looking when he tells her not to. Also good idea. The problem is, they can't both work. If Charlie has to feel around under the bush before realizing that there's a body in there. Lily can't just walk over and see it. Charlie wouldn't just walk over to the bush and start feeling around for the rug beater without looking to see if he can find it under their first. If the body could be seen, he'd have seen it already.

Your writing feels very spare. There's very little description and everything feels rushed through. I have little to no idea of what anything looks like. Everything seems to have equal importance because you're not stopping to pay extra attention to anything in particular. You devote fewer words to the Charlie putting his hand on a dead body than you do to the two girls struggling to keep their balance carrying a rug on the stairs. Carrying the rug isn't the point of the scene.

Not every object needs to be described in full detail. I don't need to know how many nails are in each board on the stairs. But give me some sense of what this moment looks like, feels like, sounds like, and smells like.

Evil Editor said...

It's an unwritten rule of writing that if two people are carrying a rolled-up rug, there has to be a body in it. So instead of this unlikely flight of a rug beater into the hedge with the body, I suggest one of them drops the rug and the body comes rolling out. Then one of them can say, "Well, no wonder this rug was so heavy."

Kat33 said...

Yes, InkAndPixelClub, the opening with Charlie is from the second book that I'm working on.

Yes, to small was a typo. I get overly excited when any of you respond and rush to reply.

Yes, Charlie is trying to impress the maids with his strength and abilities.

Yes, I have lots of description in my stories. Friends have told me that they feel like they are there went they read the parts that I have shown them.

Yes, I didn't put any in because I was rushing to get to the dead body and not be tedious.

Yes, EE, I can now see that my structure is weak. I'll go to the library and find some books to fix it. Your list of published authors was an Eye-opener.

Yes, AA, I've been working on foreshadowing and building suspense. It's led me to a completely different opening for my first book. A magpie tapping at Annie's attic window. Research found an old British children's poem that a single magpie brings sorrow. The French version of the poem tells that the magpie causes someone else to be accused from a wrongful theft which is key to my crime. I still want to include an element of fun that makes you want to be part of the maids world.

AA said...

I like the magpie idea. Corvines are often seen as portents of doom. Or at least bad luck.

As for the second opening, I can't tell if this is two teen girls and a younger kid or three young kids. The idea of three little kids finding a dead body and falling comically on their "bums" is, frankly, macabre.

Kat33 said...

AA, I think you might like this one.

Tap,tap, tap.

Annie looked around in the misty darkness. The sound was coming from the front door. She clung tightly to the wooden tea tray that she was carrying.

Annie ventured forward but found that she couldn't move her feet. A warm softness pulled her back. Tap, tap, tap. The call came again.

A loud thump work her with a fright. Annie bolted upright in her bed. She was still in the small, drab attic room of her employer. The gray woolen blanket wrapped around her legs. She was holding her flattened pillow out in front of her.

She looked around the dark room. Everything was as it should be. May had already gone. The blanket on her bed was spread across the thin mattress and hanging neatly below the metal frame of springs that that supported it.

Annie looked at the bare little window that looked out on the world. Nothing looked back. She put her pillow down and crept over to take a look.

A fat, little magpie was lying on the sill. It's claws curled in the air. It's dead eyes stared at her in accusation.

Annie grabbed her uniform from the hook and dressed quickly. She scurried down the back staircase to the warmth of the kitchen.

AA said...

IT's better than the other opening.

Be careful of wordiness- adding details that don't set the scene because readers already know that information or can intuit it. For instance, she clung tightly to the wooden tea tray that she was carrying. That's how tea trays work, you carry them. You can leave off "that she was carrying."

Also, the bedsprings- "the metal frame of springs that that supported it." We know how beds work, so you can leave off "that supported it."

Only mention these details if there's something unusual about the bed, for instance, it's a rope bed or pallet on the floor.

AA said...

Some other thoughts:

You use a variation of "look" 5 times.

There's too much about pillows, mattresses, springs and blankets. This is exactly what we would expect to find in a bedroom. It also slows down the suspense of finding the dead bird.

The suspense isn't quite right yet.

Here's a cleaned-up version:

Tap, tap, tap.

Annie searched the misty darkness. The sound was coming from the front door. She clung tightly to the tea tray and ventured forward, only to find she couldn't move her feet.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.


The noise woke her with a fright. Annie bolted upright in bed. She was still in the small drab attic room, a gray woolen blanket wrapped around her legs.

She looked around the dark room. Everything was as it should be. May, the other maid that shared the room with her, had already gone. The blanket on her bed was spread neatly over the thin mattress.

Annie looked up at the bare window, the only hint in this place that there was an outside world. She moved her blanket aside and crept over to it.

A fat magpie was lying on the sill, its claws curled in the air. Its unseeing eyes stared at her in accusation.

Annie grabbed her uniform from the hook and dressed quickly. She scurried down the back staircase to the warmth of the kitchen.

Evil Editor said...

P3: How could she venture forward if she can't move her feet?

P4: change period after employer to comma, make next "sentence" part of that sentence.

P5: You say the blanket is spread across the mattress but in the previous paragraph you said it was wrapped around her legs.

P6: No need to tell us a window looks out.

P7: No apostrophe in either "its"

Kat33 said...

AA, there is more suspense in the kitchen. I'm still working on that part. The old spring bed frame was to try to indicate a time line. The pillow she's holding is suppose to be the tea tray from her dreams that she has to let go of to answer the call.

EE, Annie's roommate has already gotten up, made her bed and gone downstairs to face the adult world of work while Annie struggles with it.

Kat33 said...

May stood by the stove. She poured a stream of steaming water into the tea pot. Annie almost cried with relief at the sight.

"What ever is the matter?". May asked when she turned around. Annie was pale and drawn.

"Nothing." Annie got the cups and put them on the long wooden table.

May poured the tea and sat down. She studied Annied who joined her.

"What does it mean when you see a magpie? . Annie lifted her cup. It tapped, tapped, tapped against the saucer. Annie put it down.

"Did you see one?". May stopped her cup mid-air. Two worry lines etched themselves between her eyes.

AA said...

I got that the pillow was supposed to represent the tea tray in the dream. But most people manage to have all sorts of dreams without these sort of "props." If I dream I'm fighting a bear, I never wake up wrestling with a teddy bear, I just wake up. It's like the sort of thing you'd see in cartoons.

I'm not sure I like the kitchen scene. I don't see how long you could go without seeing a magpie on an English estate. I live in Colorado and I saw one magpie and about a dozen ravens just today. I also saw bluebirds, two robins, a herd of elk, deer, and a red-tailed hawk, but that's probably beside the point. I thought the eerie thing was that the magpie died, not so much that it existed.

Kat33 said...

Annie shook off the tingle of foreboding. She was ten minutes late so she grabbed her uniform off the hook, dressed quickly then scurried down the back staircase.

Finding no one about, a sense of relief washed over her as she crept towards the drawing room to pull back the drapes.

With her eyes glued to the kitchen doorway she nearly stumbled over Sir Atwood. He was lying on the floor, his unseeing eyes staring back at her.

Annie let out a shriek, then fell over in a dead faint.

Anonymous said...

I'd think she'd be more concerned about disposing of the poor magpie's body [a) out of pity, b) dead things start stinking pretty bad after a while--she could ask what to do about the corpse if you need to have her discuss soemthing]

?". (question mark, close quote, period) You do this consistently in the sample (except where you forgot the close quote). Leave off the period.

Evil Editor said...

I prefer this last one over the other iterations. I could do without the shaking off of foreboding, but I can also live with it.

Kat33 said...

I had another section that I had just finished where Annie was fretting over the dead bird. I thought it was rather good. When I went to add it, I saw the comment about too much bird talk so I started over.

Thank you, EE. I feel like I'm finally understanding what everyone has been trying to tell me. I'm very thankful for everyone's help.