The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

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lightelement94
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The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

Post by lightelement94 » March 16th, 2010, 10:59 pm

Just a working title. I'm scrambling to find another but I've become attached. Anyway, since they say the first three pages are the most important...well, feedback seems to be in order. =) It's a YA fantasy, set in Venice, 1804-1020.

It's also the prologue. Read on, and please be honest. The book needs it. Thank you!

Prologue

It was an average theater, a dusky atmosphere cloaked in velvet and studded with oil lamps. A curious audience filled just enough rows to keep an entertainer’s show on. Before, them, on the stage, strode a man.
A cautious set of eyes watched the man’s back. He was a broad-shouldered, overly confident sort of person, decided Miss Trey. Her pale face, obscured by a large set of mirrors, peered out from the wings of the stage. Something pressed itself against her shoulder, and she jumped.
“Not very good, is he?” asked a second man, who had appeared behind her. He was tall, and had to have to bend forward to reach her ear.
“No, he’s good,” Miss Trey said. She looked about twenty years his junior. “He’s dislikeable. The audience doesn’t want to believe him.”
“Ah,” the man replied, straightening up to reposition his cravat. He twirled a top hat idly through two gloved hands. “A tough crowd in store for me, then?”
“You’ll manage,” Miss Trey said.
“Of course. Now, who am I looking out for?”
Miss Trey looked a little further around the folds of the curtain.
“That man, there,” she said, pointing. “Beard-face, two from the right in the fourth aisle. He thinks he’s got this one figured out.”
“Well, has he?”
“I don’t think so, he’s just trying not to look surprised. If you catch him off guard I think it’ll upset him enough to keep him quiet.”
“Anyone else?” asked the man.
“Ah, yes, him,” Miss Trey motioned to the other side of the audience. “He’s convinced the devil himself is in the house tonight.”
“What? But this show isn’t even that good.”
“You should have an easy time, then, Harking. It’s practice⎯for both of us.” The girl turned around, and patted Harking’s arm bracingly. “Good show. Break a leg.”
“Bloody stupid expression,” Harking said under his breath as a smattering of applause sounded from beyond the stage. The curtains alighted from the rafters; the previous performer hastened to the wings. Harking tossed his hat gently into the air and fixed it on his head as he slid out to his mark just beyond the curtains.
“From the Isles of Britain,” a voice thundered in German. “A man with a past that defies the law⎯secrets which reach into the heart of every God-fearing country! And here he is!”
The curtain retreated to reveal Harking. The audience murmured with bored anticipation. None of them knew what the magician was capable of, or what he was about to do now. They had no idea the power he possessed was very real. Miss Trey did, though, and watched anxiously from her place in the wings.
The new magician immediately began his own practiced opening lines, retracing them in English, then Italian, then German. The audience grew quieter with each repetition, until there was a definite hush over the crowd. Harking was lithe, and there was a sense of power entwined in his graceful movements. He flourished with confident ease, a glint in his eye that hinted at the dark arts and all sorts of superstition.
From the mirrors, the girl watched as doves erupted from around Harking’s coat. Birds were a good opening. People were always startled by the suddenness of their flight. It caught their attention. Proved a magician’s mettle right at the start of the act.
The magician was careful to turn in particular to those individuals the girl had pointed out to him. He kept an imperious, knowing look hitched on his face. The girl saw them quail inwardly. Confused, uncomfortable greens fluttered away from their faces. Their imaginations raced, they second-guessed themselves. By the time the magician had moved onto the next trick, whatever conclusions they had reached held them in check, astonished, prepared to be amazed.
The magician did not fail to disappoint. With every successive portion of his act, more and more attentions flared and gutted, falling wholeheartedly into a trance. Harking’s power was one prepared to transform all if Italy, and yet here it was, on display before some theatergoers.
Within five minutes, every person in the hall was under the magician’s control. The faces in the crowd were glazed and eager to believe. The girl imagined the magician’s movements directing a handful of invisible strings, tugging at expressions in the audience. Every twitch of his fingers drove his power in deeper. When, after fifteen minutes, he bowed and let the curtain fall before him, the crowd staggered to its feet in a standing ovation.
The magician strode back to the girl to the sounds of continued hoots and whistles. The audience came slowly back to its senses, and the cries became a mere smattering before stopping completely, as stagehands rushed out to clear the stage of all magical debris.
“How was I?” Harking asked, taking the girl’s elbow earnestly.
“You did well,” she said. “Show well done. Every one, I think.”
“Mm. Good call on the priestly one. I don’t know what he finally decided I was, but it must have been impressive.” His gaze grew distant for a moment before continuing, “It’s the cynics that are getting more difficult to get on with. They turn it upside-down. They’re looking for proof, or something like it; if I show them something amazing, it only helps them along.”
“If they’re going to be like that, they shouldn’t be at a magic show,” said Miss Trey.
“They shouldn’t be at the theater in general. They shouldn’t be trying to entertain themselves. They should be happy with their own soulless lifestyles.”
“It’s becoming as much a game to them as it is to you. You’re going to have to be careful,” said Miss Trey. Harking was collecting his birds from the rafters and stowing them in collapsible crates. When he had finished, there was a small stack of cages ready to be loaded into the carriage. The previous performer had an immense load of contraptions, and he stared down through a thick mustache to ogle at Harking’s tiny arrangement.
The taller man merely touched a finger to his hat and replied:
“The scientists, those churchmen, it doesn’t matter. I’ll always be two steps ahead.”
As Harking turned to speak to one of the porters, the girl saw his notebook set innocently on top of the crates. It was Harking’s constant companion, and as much as a mystery to her as the man himself. She’d think it a diary if Harking had been the sort of man with enough truthfulness in him to be emotional.
But Harking was not that sort of man, and as he saw her looking, he swept it off the crate and into a sleeve. There, it disappeared.

The darkened room was totally silent. Most things lay strewn about, evidence of the ransacking which had swept through the house only the day before. Miss Trey had worsened the mess by searching desperately for the battered and very sorry little notebook, which she held now in her lap. It had been almost two years since Harking had swiped the little thing away from her at a magic show. Now, holding it before her should have been some sort of crowning achievement. But there was nothing about it worth celebrating, not yet: she hoped it would be the key to saving a man, who, by nature, should be impossible to save.

“17 April 1820

This is the last time I shall write in this notebook. This page marks the end of a long and twisted story, and it isn’t one anyone will ever read. Or I should hope nobody will ever read. Miss Emily Trey, if you are reading this, I beg that you put it down immediately and forget about it. Forget about me, forget about Warwell, and try to keep yourself safe until...
I know you won’t, though. This book is my life. It is everything from when I began my work at Oxford to the present day. I’m sorry about what I’ve had to write about, but really it’s worse that you should have to read it.
(Is this a place for apologies? I am sorry for what I’ve done. I’m sorry for what you need to do.)”
Republic of Lions| bloody brilliant

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eringayles
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Re: The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

Post by eringayles » March 17th, 2010, 6:40 am

Your dialogue style is really natural, and starting with it is a good 'grab', and the story sounds intriguing.
I had a problem with 'break a leg' - don't think it was used until early C20.
'Had to bend forward' - delete 'have to'. Ditto 'entertainer's' - it's a theatre, so 'entertainer's' is obsolete.
'A man strode onto the stage' - no need for 'before them'.
'Figured out' is not from that era.
Can the characters have Italian names? Trey and Harkings sound foreign.
'The scientists, those churchmen' - I couldn't make sense of that. Are the churchmen scientists?
'Every one, I think' - didn't get it. ???
'Dislikeable' and 'braceingly' - you can do better!! Curtains 'alighted' ??? 'Bloody' is 'off' for the period - not even sure it was used in England, then. What is the 'green'? 'Mettle' doesn't quite fit.
You've got a problem with the sentence that tells the reader that the magic is real. Thats a no-no. You might consider having Miss Trey think it : 'If only this lot knew his magic as I know it. His art is lost on them. His talents are more for demons than for men . . . ' - something like that.
I'm starting to think that the speech is modern because the characters are time-travellers (or similar). If so, there will need to be definite contrast between their dialogue and that of other characters. You may even have to 'insert' more prologue characters so that you have enough dialogue to play with to achieve a contrast.
You may also have to drop a few hints regarding Trey's and Harking's reasons for being.Dont tell, though. Show through dialogue or internal monologue.
You may need to do some research on C19 Italian theatre - a few things didn't ring true to the period.
If you can rewrite this, with more attention to research, and with more injection of atmosphere, it could be a real winner. But it needs working. I'd love to read it when you've polished it. I'm hooked.

Best of luck. p.s. LOVE the title. pps Don't have time to proofread what I've written. Hope it makes sense.

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lightelement94
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Re: The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

Post by lightelement94 » March 17th, 2010, 12:08 pm

Thanks very much for your reply, I think it makes perfect sense. Harking and Trey are both British expatriates (something I should edit into the prologue somewhere). Most other characters in the novel have Italian names. But "inserting" some fleeting prologue characters is not a bad idea...and could be used to work in more the historical technicalities as well as contrasting language. They're not time-travelers; I've been worried that more period-heavy speech (not to mention prose) would bog the flow down. Most people don't like to struggle through 19th century writing, but it would be a crime not to strike a balance with it somehow.

Heh, thanks for the take on my adverbs. I'll look up the expressions; I know "bloody" has been around (according to the internet) since the 1600's, though how offensive it was has changed--probably too offensive at that time normal conversation.
Republic of Lions| bloody brilliant

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Re: The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

Post by Erica75 » March 24th, 2010, 6:41 pm

I read through the first time and was confused by whether Miss Trey and "the girl" were the same person. Maybe it's just all the first-person I've been reading and writing lately, but the constant use of the girl and the magician, rather than their names, seemed to disconnect me from the story - almost like someone who didn't know them was just summarizing their every move. Something about it makes me crave more characterization.
In the beginning dialogue, when they are looking into the audience, Harking says "But this show isn't even that good," I got confused all three times. I think he means the show preceding him, but each time I read it as meaning his own show. Then later it alludes to Harking having real magic and an excellent show. Maybe you can somehow tweak that sentence or Miss Trey's reaction to it to clarify he means "that" show.
The ending is a bit jarring. It only includes a few lines of the notebook entry and I find myself wondering why I'm confused. For example, Why is this the first notebook entry? Or is she reading the end? I thought she said he wouldn't keep a diary, but here he is using a two-year-long diary in order to save her. Why didn't she know any of this, if they worked together every day?
Please don't kick me for saying this if you already have and chose to stick with it, but REALLY research how agents/publishers feel about prologues. My current book doesn't have one, so I haven't specifically looked into it, but I have come across writer's forums that tell me prologues are very controversial. Yours has a fair amount of action, but if the main character of your prologue doesn't appear in the book (because he's dead), I hope it's worth having him in those first few precious pages you submit with your query. I haven't read your query, so maybe it is. I'm just suggesting you MAKE SURE you need a prologue!
I really do love the title and hope it turns out to apply to the book (and should point out I HATE my own title, even though it does apply to the book. Go figure.). His dislike of both scientists and churchmen don't make him a Messiah in my book, but maybe he is to Miss Trey? Or turns out to be? Also, good use of long and short sentences within the paragraph so it flows fluidly. Very interesting story - is your query somewhere? If so, sorry I missed it. If not, you should post it so people reading these pages have a grounding in genre, plot, etc. These are just some random thoughts and I hope you can either use them or refute them so that they aren't applicable :) Good luck!
we blog - erica and christy - http://lynneawest.blogspot.com/

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Re: The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

Post by JTB » March 24th, 2010, 7:22 pm

The writing is over-egged.

I've edited the beginning to show how, and this is only to make it clearer in my mind, how it might look from someone else's view (i suspect your too close to the story). Love the opening by the way).

Before, them, on the stage, strode a man.
He was an overly confident sort of person, decided Miss Trey. Her pale face peered out from the wings of the stage. Something pressed itself against her shoulder and she jumped.
“Not very good is he?” A man had appeared behind her. He was tall and bent forward to reach her ear.
“No, he’s good,” Miss Trey said. “The audience doesn’t want to believe him.”
“Ah.” The man straighten up to reposition his cravat then twirled a top hat idly through gloved hands. “A tough crowd in store for me then?”
“You’ll manage,” Miss Trey said.
“Of course. Now, who am I looking out for?”
Miss Trey looked a little further around the folds of the curtain.
“That man, there.” She pointed. “Beard, two from the right in the fourth aisle. He thinks he’s got this one figured out.”
“Well, has he?”
“I don’t think so, he’s just trying not to look surprised. If you catch him off guard I think it’ll upset him enough to keep him quiet.”
“Anyone else?”
“Ah, yes, him,” Miss Trey motioned to the other side of the audience. “He’s convinced the devil himself is in the house tonight.”
“What? But this show isn’t even that good.”

I have taken out loads of commas and paired it down, the imagery is strong enough and the situation imagined enough for you not to overwrite - in my view keep it simple e.g. 'the curtains retreated' - this image is odd, why dint they just open, that way the action would have kept going and the reader woouldn't have had to slow down and think oh look the writer is at work .. it is actually, for me, quite difficult to tell what the magician is doing because your enjoying the writing too much.

Now after this point, where the girl comes in, as has been said before, I too get completely lost as to what is going on. less is more.

love the idea and i think just write it through all the way till the end and then go back and worry about edit later

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Re: The Messiah Notebooks - first three pages

Post by Serzen » March 24th, 2010, 11:21 pm

lightelement94 wrote:Prologue

It was an average theater, a dusky atmosphere cloaked in velvet and studded with oil lamps. A curious audience filled just enough rows to keep an entertainer’s show on. Before them, on the stage, strode a man.
A cautious set of eyes watched the man’s back. He was a broad-shouldered, overly confident sort of person, decided Miss Trey. Her pale face, obscured by a large set of mirrors, peered out from the wings of the stage. Something pressed itself against her shoulder and she jumped.
“Not very good, is he?” asked a second man who had appeared behind her. He was tall and had to bend forward to reach her ear.
“No, he’s good,” Miss Trey said. She looked about twenty years his junior. “He’s dislikeable. The audience doesn’t want to believe him.”
“Ah,” the man replied, straightening up to reposition his cravat. He twirled a top hat idly through two gloved hands. “A tough crowd in store for me, then?”
“You’ll manage,” Miss Trey said.
“Of course. Now, who am I looking out for?”
Miss Trey looked a little further around the folds of the curtain.
“That man, there,” she said, pointing. “Beard-face, two from the right in the fourth aisle. He thinks he’s got this one figured out.”
“Well, has he?”
“I don’t think so, he’s just trying not to look surprised. If you catch him off guard I think it’ll upset him enough to keep him quiet.”
“Anyone else?” the man asked.
“Ah, yes, him.” Miss Trey motioned to the other side of the audience. “He’s convinced the devil himself is in the house tonight.”
“What? This show isn’t even that good.”
“You should have an easy time then, Harking. It’s practice⎯for both of us.” The girl turned around and patted Harking’s arm encouragingly. “Break a leg.”
“Bloody stupid expression,” Harking said under his breath as a smattering of applause sounded from beyond the stage. The curtains alighted from the rafters; the previous performer hastened to the wings. Harking tossed his hat gently into the air and fixed it on his head as he slid out to his mark just beyond the curtains.
“From the Isles of Britain,” a voice thundered in German. “A man with a past that defies the law⎯secrets which reach into the heart of every God-fearing country! And here he is!”
The curtain retreated to reveal Harking. The audience murmured with bored anticipation. None of them knew what the magician was capable of, or what he was about to do now. Miss Trey did, though, and watched anxiously from her place in the wings.
The new magician immediately began his practiced opening lines, repeating them in English, then Italian, then German. The audience grew quieter with each repetition, until there was a definite hush over the crowd. Harking was lithe, and there was a sense of power entwined in his graceful movements. He flourished with confident ease, a glint in his eye that hinted at the dark arts and all sorts of superstition.
From the mirrors, the girl watched as doves erupted from around Harking’s coat. Birds were a good opening. People were always startled by the suddenness of their flight. It caught their attention, proved a magician’s mettle right at the start of the act.
The magician was careful to turn in particular to those individuals the girl had pointed out to him. He kept an imperious, knowing look locked on his face. The girl saw them quail inwardly. Confused, uncomfortable greens fluttered away from their faces. Their imaginations raced, they second-guessed themselves. By the time the magician had moved onto the next trick, whatever conclusions they had reached held them in check, astonished, prepared to be amazed.
The magician did not fail to disappoint. With every successive portion of his act, more and more attentions flared and gutted, falling wholeheartedly into a trance. Harking’s power was one prepared to transform all if Italy. And yet here it was, on display before some theatergoers.
Within five minutes, every person in the hall was under the magician’s control. The faces in the crowd were glazed and eager to believe. The girl imagined the magician’s movements directing a handful of invisible strings, tugging at expressions in the audience. Every twitch of his fingers drove his power in deeper. When, after fifteen minutes, he bowed and let the curtain fall before him, the crowd staggered to its feet in a standing ovation.
The magician strode back to the girl to the sounds of continued hoots and whistles. The audience came slowly back to its senses and the cries became a mere smattering before stopping completely as stagehands rushed out to clear the stage of all magical debris.
“How was I?” Harking asked, taking the girl’s elbow earnestly.
“You did well,” she said. “Show well done. Every one, I think.”
“Mm. Good call on the priestly one. I don’t know what he finally decided I was, but it must have been impressive.” His gaze grew distant for a moment before continuing, “It’s the cynics that are getting more difficult to deal with. They turn it upside-down. They’re looking for proof, or something like it; if I show them something amazing, it only helps them along.”
“If they’re going to be like that, they shouldn’t be at a magic show,” said Miss Trey.
“They shouldn’t be at the theater in general. They shouldn’t be trying to entertain themselves. They should be happy with their own soulless lives.”
“It’s becoming as much a game to them as it is to you. You’re going to have to be careful,” said Miss Trey. Harking was collecting his birds from the rafters and stowing them in collapsible crates. When he had finished there was a small stack of cages ready to be loaded into the carriage. The previous performer had an immense load of contraptions and he stared down through a thick mustache to ogle at Harking’s tiny arrangement.
The taller man merely touched a finger to his hat and replied, “The scientists, those churchmen, it doesn’t matter. I’ll always be two steps ahead.”
As Harking turned to speak to one of the porters, the girl saw his notebook lying innocently on top of the crates. It was Harking’s constant companion, and as much as a mystery to her as the man himself. She’d think it a diary if Harking had been the sort of man with enough truthfulness in him to be emotional.
But Harking was not that sort of man, and as he saw her looking he swept it off the crate and into a sleeve. There, it disappeared.

The darkened room was totally silent. Most things lay strewn about, evidence of the ransacking which had swept through the house only the day before. Miss Trey had worsened the mess by searching desperately for the battered and very sorry little notebook, which she held now in her lap. It had been almost two years since Harking had swiped the little thing away from her at a magic show. Now, holding it before her should have been some sort of crowning achievement. But there was nothing about it worth celebrating, not yet: she hoped it would be the key to saving a man who, by his very nature, should be impossible to save.

“17 April 1820

This is the last time I shall write in this notebook. This page marks the end of a long and twisted story, and it isn’t one anyone will ever read. Or I should hope nobody will ever read. Miss Emily Trey, if you are reading this, I beg that you put it down immediately and forget about it. Forget about me, forget about Warwell, and try to keep yourself safe until...
I know you won’t, though. This book is my life. It is everything from when I began my work at Oxford to the present day. I’m sorry about what I’ve had to write about, but really it’s worse that you should have to read it.
(Is this a place for apologies? I am sorry for what I’ve done. I’m sorry for what you need to do.)”
lightelement,
Hope you don't mind me having a go with the old Edit Stick. I didn't do my usual color-coded markup, but hopefully you can see what changes I've made. In general I think that you've done a solid job of setting the scene. A lot of mystery and atmosphere laid out right out of the gate. As someone who spends a lot of time reading 19th Century work, I can say that you've captured certain elements well. Interestingly, though, there were some phrases that were a little overwrought, even for a period where overwrought was the name of the game: they read like 20th C trying to channel 19th C.

Where you could use some more refinement is probably in dialogue. Unless Miss Trey and Harkins are very well acquainted, they're taking too many liberties with each other to be proper Englishpersons. By the 19th C performers are beginning to be seen as professionals and a young woman who rates her own private seat at the theatre would behave with more propriety. A few more nods in that direction would set the tone without having to bog things down in full on period style. Example:

"Ah," the man replied, straightening up to fix his cravat. He twirled a top hat idly through gloved hands. "A tough crowd in store for me then?"

"You'll manage, Mr Harkins," the young woman said.

"Of course, Miss Trey. Now, whom am I looking out for?"


There's not an easy way to pose that question without ending with a preposition. I suppose "Now, tell me, I'm looking out for whom?", but oh well.

On the balance, though, it was fun to read. And I really like the working title. Quite evocative.

HTH,

~Serzen
Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous. --Voltaire

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