Jenn opened his eyes to find a wall in front of him. He closed his eyes and counted to three, but the wall remained. Had he been moved during the night?
He listened for the footfall of a prison guard coming to spring whatever joke they'd made him part of. Instead he heard voices, men talking and even laughing. Was he still in the barracks?
The wall was wooden, painted white. Slowly Jenn reached out a hand, until he felt the edge of rough timber under his fingers. Yet he couldn't remember seeing such a wall anywhere in Blackmarsh. He rolled over. A short distance away was another wall, this one with shelves. "Shelves to put your personal items on," someone had said, just before Jenn fell asleep.
You own nothing. You are nothing.
Not in the barracks?
A memory pushed to the surface, of him walking away from the hellhole of Blackmarsh and a ride on a mail coach into the city. Was that just a dream though? The wall felt solid. It was no dream.
All white. Definitely not the barracks. He heard women's voices mixed with the men's. No woman was allowed within twenty metres of the barracks. 'More's the pity,' Captain Greene had said, and then he'd made some joke about Jenn being a girl's name.
Jenn's eyes roamed the tiny room. The shelves. A silver hairbrush, a pot of tincture.
Even the things you think are yours forever are not.
Jenn lifted the blanket and peeked underneath. Not a joke then.
Opening: Monissa Whitely.....Continuation: McKoala
It all came flooding back. This was where they'd left him after their litle "welcome party." In the gloom, he recalled his best friend's advice: Y'know, a man with a girl's name don't want to be thinking about joining the marines...
Jenn sighed and glanced at the work-for-hire contract tacked to his wall. You own nothing. You are nothing, it said.
Just then, Vicki the Prison Guard poked her head around the wall and glared at him. "You'd better wake up before the boss comes back, or you're gonna be out of here so fast you'll have skid marks all over your ass. Now get back to work!"
Jenn sighed again. He already fucking hated his new job.
Muffled by the wood, his wife's voice sounded unspeakably weary. "Jenn, honey, I've read the IKEA instructions again. It looks like that should be the table-top."
Jenn got to his feet, swaying with the aftermath of the night before. With one hand on the rough timber wall, he started forward.
Somewhere, hidden by these walls, and others--so many others--like them, was his goal.
At the centre of the maze, the cheese.
The only question that remained was ... when did they give him the sex change operation?
I think that the entire third paragraph delays your narrative. Chop it out. It makes the reader think of the wrong things. It takes them back to another time and doesn't satisfactorily bring the reader back to Jenn and his unfamiliar wall.
If you want to keep the details then use them elsewhere.
For instance: Jenn can open his eyes to see rough whitewashed timber. "In front of him" is not necessary.
I know that I am ruthless with edits but too many novels I read are overloaded with pretty stuff. It's rare I read a tight, spare story. And besides, once you get the bones of the story onto the paper, you can come back and add all that detail to dress up the scenes and actions. By then, you'll have a better understanding of what is important to the story and what themes you want to emphasize. But first, tell the story.
Waking up to what I think is supposed to be ennui doesn't grab me. This is too vague and unfocused for me. Give us something important to focus on. And I wasn't clear Jenn was a guy for a bit. Had to reread to decide he(?) was. Still not certain...
Was a bit confused as to how Jenn knew the footfall was a prison guard when he wasn't sure where he was.
"Waking up confused" is a common trope, so you need something special to keep the reader engaged. Whilst this opening has gentle tension (where is he?), there's no sense that it particularly matters. If Jenn is a British spy during the Cold War and he wakes up to a room where everyone's speaking Russian, then that's tension. Show us what Jenn's stakes are so we understand why waking up in a strange environment is so heart-stopping for him.
If you feel the story must start here, I'd skip the paragraphs of waking and falling back to sleep and launch straight into Jenn woke up in [wherever]. Then you can tell us why this is so unexpected and worrisome.
Given the amount of male pronouns, I wasn't confused about the pov gender. I figured Jenn was either his surname, or short for Jensen.
Nah, waking into confusion was what I wanted.
Ennui is what you're feeling ;)
Oh, thanks Georgina. That is very helpful. I can see some ways to strengthen it already.
I'm trying to get he thinks he is (where he has been for most of his life) but he is actually (new place as of late last night). I'm seen the words so many times they no longer have any meaning to me.
Not sure where the falling back to sleep comes in?
His name is Jevan, but he has Issues with that. I thought about Jen but that's worse, & Jev doesn't suit him. I suspect it will stay as it is.
I'm revisiting this.
I see one of three possibilities here:
A) Jenn fell asleep in a prison while under some dire threat (maybe torture, maybe death sentence) and wakes a free man among friends.He missed his eciting rescue...
B) Jenn was knocked out in an exciting battle and wakes in a safe haven with partial amnesia.
C) Jenn hitched a dangerous ride on the undercarriage of a truck or train or horse-drawn carriage and wakes up in the barn among the friendly horses having escaped the exciting danger.
And I guess you can see my suggestion. What happened to Jenn a few hours before, was more exciting than the opening.
Not sure where the falling back to sleep comes in?
That was my misunderstanding. I thought Shelves to put your personal items on was happening in real time. Amazing what missing the word "had" can do.
Now that I understand that line, it makes me wonder: if he remembers somebody pointing out the new shelves last night, shouldn't he also remember that he's moved? It seems odd he'd remember the explaination but still think he's at home.
I like opening slowly and in confusion. I got tension, not ennui. And since Jenn is 'him' in the first sentence the gender seemed clear to me.
Minor quibble:'him walking away from the hellhole of Blackmarsh and a ride on a mail coach into the city." maybe a long walk...and a ride... or walking and riding would scan better?
Thanks Joanna :)
I was playing with that sentence this morning, trying to get it come out right. I might try your suggestions.
It did occur to me on reading your comment that I was playing on the idea of walking away = leaving something behind, as well as the actual action of walking. It's interesting how having someone else "pull apart" a sentence can help you focus on the purpose behind it :) Too easy to get bogged down in our own words.
Face-lift 531, isn't it? I thought I remembered Jenn and prison.
I rather liked this - the name Jenn didn't faze me, perhaps because I read a lot of fantasy and historical. I wondered why a wall would confuse him if he expected to be in a prison or barracks. Perhaps if I knew what it was about the wall that struck the wrong note, that would have been less distracting.
That continuation is brilliant.
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