Don't Come to the House Tonight

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sarahdee
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Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by sarahdee » July 13th, 2010, 4:55 am

I have re-pasted a new version. Comments so far tended to be - mixing of tenses, not enough punctuation, overuse of parenthesis so I have gone through and (hopefully) fixed this throughout all of my parts 1 and 2 (well I went halfies on the parenthesis - some I took out, some I liked and left in) and also added a few more details in. Does this read better? If so, I shall carry on the task for parts 3-5

Part 1
Everyday is Like Sunday

Chapter One
July 2010

Everyone has a story to tell. My boss, James, always has a story about what happened to him in the pub Friday night. "Oh you had to be there’ he always says, I’m always glad I wasn’t. My mother always has a story about what the tart next door is up to “she was only sunbathing in her back garden do you know, in a bikini, for everyone to see” she reports. Some stories are of love, some of pain, some are funny, some just plain dull. If I want to know about your trip to the DIY store and how much your new kitchen costs, Jane from accounting, I shall jolly well let you know but, until then, zip it.

I too have a story. It is a story I was hoping to bury (literally) in my past and never revisit but sadly, it is not a story that I am able to escape from as easily as I had hoped. I have the sort of mind that happily shuts out anything I don’t feel like thinking about. I have never dwelled much on the problems of others. I rarely feel guilt or remorse as much as others seem to. Selfish my mother called me once; she probably has a point.
I’m not so unemotional to be without any sort of feeling or self-perception. I do know that my character, my inward traits have affected a lot of lives drastically and occasionally I actually feel bad about some of the things I have done. Mostly I feel angry that life never seems to go my way; irritated at the unfairness of it all.

I digress; back to my story. It is a story of friendship, love and betrayal. And murder.

My name is Janie Lloyd and this is the story of how my life fell apart. Twice.

It had been one of the hot, humid summer days that brings migraines, irritability and stickiness; the sort of day where a nation wishes for the inevitable thunderstorm to clear the air. I had pushed the same piece of paper around my desk all afternoon, clicked send and receive 10 times to see if there were any new emails that would relieve my Friday afternoon blues, checked my personal email account, examined in details every single one of my few Facebook friend’s profiles and photos, checked the weather, day-dreamed of hot sandy beaches, made a mental shopping list for the grocery dash on the way home, tormented the painfully shy office junior. It was, sticky weather aside, like any other Friday afternoon over the last ten years, dull, glum, uneventful.

My job, as Office Manager, was to oversee all the facilities so I has the endlessly fascinating daily tasks of calling the photocopier repair man, making sure the stationary cupboard was full, and assigning the sought after car parking spots. I also managed all the staff that didn’t report to a lawyer. So the legal secretaries were not my domain, but the receptionist, payroll, and accounting functions all came under my rule.

I have worked here long enough that I get my own office. It was actually smaller than our stationary cupboard (no joke) and every day I would have to squeeze around my desk to get to my chair but it is my office and I’m almost happy about that. Privacy is important to me. I have always found it difficult to make real friends, my own fault I freely admit; people generally irritate me. And I generally terrify everyone I meet. I have been described, as well as selfish, as sarcastic, uncaring and a little mean. I could be right now in the kitchen myself chatting with everyone else over cakes and coffee (our boss’s birthday treat) but instead I sulk at my desk pretending I am bored by them all and as soon as our boss James leaves, he is always out of the door early on Fridays, I will break up their party and make them suffer at their desks clock watching till 6pm. Why? Because I am the Office Manager and I have to stay so why should they get an easy ride. The trick about being such a cow is to be indispensible, and I have spent my time in the work place making myself just that. I am pure sweetness and light to James, and any of my tirades are always well out of his hearing. It’s a fine line between being harsh (ok) and bullying (a fireable offence) so I have always made sure I stayed on the right side of that line. Just.

I remembered the phone ringing sharply, bringing me out of my trance and that I was irritated that a last minute work call could delay my departure. But it wasn’t my boss with a last minute request he could have given me four hours earlier, or Jane from accounting with some idiotic question she could have easily found the answer to if only she had half a brain cell (poor Jane, dull, stupid AND irritating) but my mother. It was unusual to hear from her at work, she usually saved her weekly phone calls for a Tuesday night, her only daughter being placed somewhere between Eastenders and CSI (I was always jealous of my older brother, Roger, who got the coveted Sunday afternoon slot which while interrupting his weekend showed a considerable mark of favouritism), I assumed the worst. “Are you Ok? Is Roger Ok? “

“They found a body in the old Longfield Farm”. She was breathless with the excitement that not only had there been an event in my usually incredibly uneventful home town, but that it had happened so close she could watch the spectacle from her window. My mother is the over 50 middle class voyeur, the curtain-twitcher, her arousals stemming not from sex and porn but from gossip and neighbour watching. Fortunately the tart next door gives her a lot of gratification.

“It’s on the news. It has been there years they reckon. Margie’s son, Ian, who works for the builders, you remember Ian, the one with the lisp and the moles, poor lad, not married though, you should call him, nice man, anyway he heard the forensic doctor man talking”. Notice how my mother manages to work a possible love match into a conversation about decaying bodies. This is how desperate she sees me.

To explain, some builders had been digging up the fields of an old farm across the road from my old childhood home to make a new housing estate, something my mother had deeply disapproved of and petitioned against. However, that was all forgotten about now there was some new excitement. She ranted on for what seemed like hours telling me how during the building work some poor workman had found a skeleton. I felt bad for the workman, briefly. Moley Ian came up a few times but I refused to rise to the bait. Eventually, exhausted of this she went onto church gossip and how that new young vicar was doing a terrible job. Having heard this saga many, many times before I had cradled the phone under my ear and was surfing the internet. I was looking up my home town’s local newspaper to see if this body had hit the news yet (it hadn’t) when I realised we’d come to a part in the conversation where I was required to answer.

“Janie, Janie, are you even listening to me?” She wanted me to drive over immediately, to stand next to her and be a part of her excitement, watching the police excavating the body, the activity of the professionals, the teams of white coated technicians, climbing into the deep grave but I cried off citing a migraine, declaring I was unable to make the hour’s drive after a day of work and promising to come the following day. Appeased that she would have to carefully monitor the whole event to report back faithfully every detail, every fact, every small piece of data that she could find, she told me make sure I watched the news tonight and finally hung up.

I rubbed my temples, the dull ache felt like it was going to become a full-blown migraine, I added Nurofen to my mental shopping list. It was more than the weather that was responsible for the start of the nervous nausea I could feel churning up my stomach. Despite the cool aloofness I had projected towards my mother, playing down the news, pretending it was nothing to be so excited about, I felt cold inside despite my flushed skin and sweating. “All these are symptoms of shock” I told myself dredging the information from the memory of my not so recent first aid course. Perhaps I should wrap myself in a blanket and elevate my legs six inches from the floor?

Distant memories and fears long ago pushed to a deep, secret part of my mind I tried never to visit were floating to the top. My stomach flipped and churned. I barely made it to the bathroom in time, retching till my stomach ached. Then for the first time in years I sat on the floor of the cubicle, pulled my knees up to my chest and wept silently. I knew exactly whose body had just been dug up and for the first time in many years, I was scared.
Last edited by sarahdee on August 6th, 2010, 4:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

lachrymal
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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by lachrymal » July 13th, 2010, 7:02 am

You've got a lot of cleverness in here and I chuckled more than once as I read this. Despite what you said about your character being horrible, you've given her a great voice and made her pretty instantly likeable, in my opinion.

I don't have time for a line-by-line edit, but I spotted several issues through here that are going to require some work.
1. The comma splice--do not separate two complete sentences or thoughts with just a comma. You either need to make them two separate sentences, separate them with a semicolon, or separate them with a comma and a conjunction. Example:
Its not me, I have the sort of mind which happily shuts out anything I don’t feel like thinking about.
See--"It's not me" (you need the apostrophe in the it's, by the way) is a complete sentence, as is "I have the sort of mind...". Because these thoughts are so closely related to each other, a semicolon might be most appropriate. Anyway, go through your chapter, your ms., and look for these. There are several here in this excerpt.

2. Tense. I could not tell whether this story was past tense or present tense. In some paragraphs and sentences, you use present tense (e.g., "I sulk at my desk...", "I am the office manager...", "some builders are digging up a field"). In some, you use past tense (e.g., "she was breathless with excitement", "she ranted on..", "I rubbed my temples..."). You even start the first paragraph of chapter one with past perfect tense (which left me expecting a story in past tense). I think you need to decide whether this story is happening in the past or the present, and then you're going to have to be utterly consistent. Read Nathan's page critiques--he always points out tense inconsistency.

3. Puntuacting dialogue. There are great resources for this on the web, so I won't go into great detail, but I noticed several times that when you conclude a bit of dialogue, you put the punctuation outside the quotes:
“Janie, Janie, are you even listening to me”.
This should be “Janie, Janie, are you even listening to me.” Or “Janie, Janie, are you even listening to me?”

4. Some of your sentences are pretty long, and the parenthetical asides made them longer. Like I said, I thought a lot of the thoughts were funny and clever, but I often had to read twice to remember what she was talking about in the first place. I don't think you want your reader to have to go back because she was confused. Shorten sentences up (fixing all those comma splices will definitely help here). You also need to add some commas (but only in the right places!--http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/ is a great tutorial). Just one example:
All these are symptoms of shock I told myself dredging the information from memory of my not so recent first aid course.
This should be:
"All these are symptoms of shock," I told myself, dredging the information from memory of my not so recent first aid course.
And that's if you want to keep the structure and word order of the sentence as-is (however, I would consider rewriting it to flow more smoothly).

If you correct all these things, it will allow your wit to shine through, as well as allowing a focus on style and voice. Best of luck--there's a lot of promise here!

Emily J
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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by Emily J » July 13th, 2010, 11:41 am

Have to agree with the previous poster about the tenses. You have great voice but the tense issue is distracting.

About the punctuation however, I am assuming that the narrator is not the only Brit. British punctuation does actually go outside the quoation mark while American punctuation marks go inside the quotation marks. So if you are a Brit, it should be fine!

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wilderness
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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by wilderness » July 13th, 2010, 4:36 pm

A really good, unique voice. You didn't overdo it on the horribleness, but the way she makes fun of her co-workers shows her mean-spiritedness. And I like how you slowly build her meanness and then hit us with *bam* she knows something about this body. She's maybe even a killer. Nice work.

I agree with lachrymal on all points. The two things I noticed the most were punctuation and parenthetical asides.

In many cases, there are missing commas, or commas used where you would be better off using a period and beginning a new sentence.
The parenthetical asides were funny but it would be better if you could integrate them rather than making it an aside. I often got lost in the asides and had to struggle to remember the main thread.

For example:
My mother always has a story about what the tart (her words not mine) next door is up to (‘she was only sunbathing in her back garden do you know, in a bikini, for everyone to see’ she reports).
This could be rewritten to:
My mother always has a story about what the tart next door is up to. "She was only sunbathing her back garden, do you know? In a bikini, for everyone to see," she reports.
I've seen that single-quote and parenthetical writing in early twentieth century novels, but it is out of style, and just plain hard to read, IMO. I don't know if it is still common in British works or not.

Here's a couple of good posts Nathan had on voice and going overboard on being conversational:
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/12 ... tives.html
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05 ... voice.html

As for the tense issue, it is okay to frame the past with present tense. However, I think it would read better if you only use one tense in a particular scene. For example, it's fine that the prologue is in present tense, but make the entire first chapter past tense. "My life bores me, or bored me" could simply be "My life bored me." All of her observations should be in the past tense, even if they are still true in the time period of the outer frame, if that makes sense. Just so that you are consistent within a scene.

Overall, really a compelling voice and an intriguing first chapter. Also, I like your title. It's creepy :)

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sarahdee
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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by sarahdee » July 14th, 2010, 12:34 am

Emily J wrote:Have to agree with the previous poster about the tenses. You have great voice but the tense issue is distracting.

About the punctuation however, I am assuming that the narrator is not the only Brit. British punctuation does actually go outside the quoation mark while American punctuation marks go inside the quotation marks. So if you are a Brit, it should be fine!

Yes, I'm a Brit and am targeting UK agents. I didn't realise there were different grammar rules (the spelling differences I was aware of).

Now I am wondering if I should mention the humourous voice in my query?

Thank all for feedback so far, I shall another look at tenses and punctuation as they seem to be the main problems.

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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by jfw » July 14th, 2010, 1:04 am

I don't have much to say except that I really, really enjoyed the writing. The part where she realizes she may be in shock, it was like one of those moments when somebody who's usually just joking around starts behaving genuinely ill and your mind makes that awful, sickening switch in mood from amused to panicked. I confess that I ignored the explanation and most of the prologue and jumped straight into the chapter first, which I think is juicy enough without any preface.

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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by One of the Mad Ones » July 14th, 2010, 1:07 am

Others above have addressed what I noticed, so I won't belabor those points. I mostly just wanted to point out how fantastic this is:
"My mother is the over 50 middle class voyeur, the curtain-twitcher, her arousals stemming not from sex and porn but from gossip and neighbour watching. Fortunately the tart next door gives her a lot of gratification. "

A couple other brief notes based entirely on personal tastes:
* I think the story really takes off at the beginning of the chapter and doesn't *need* the prologue. The voice is strong in it, but the voice is also strong in the first chapter, and since it's nearly always more interesting to get into the story than to almost get into it, I'd recommend cutting it.
* What's the job? Since she does sort of generic office things, which helps to stress the mundane life she has right now (which I'm guessing also serves to counter what we're about to find out), maybe we could get some specific details that will ground us in her environment. We know her role at her job, but not what kind of company it is. And I don't mean that I want a company name thrown in, but maybe something specific - an annoyance, perhaps - that is unique to her line of work. I have to say I'm sort of thrilled that it's set at her workplace because too many people shy away from showing characters at work.
*And just to weigh in on the parenthetical info issue, I don't find that it's entirely out of tastes right now. Alice Munro uses the parenthetical clarification/aside/whatever up the wazoo. Some are obviously more distracting than others. Fitting them into natural pauses or branches in sentences helps. But I think the asides are part of the voice you've established, so I just wanted to say not to scrap them without some thought.

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khanes
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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by khanes » July 16th, 2010, 2:22 pm

I just wanted to say that I really like your writing. It's snappy, fun, clever and kept me interested and engaged. I totally skipped the prologue though. I don't usually like prologues because I'm so eager to get into the meat of the story. When books have prologues, it takes all I have to make myself read them. Your first chapter is so great, that if I were you, I'd completely cut that prologue. You have such a good style. Good luck with this!

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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by shanchamber » July 17th, 2010, 3:02 pm

sarahdee: I really enjoyed this, but I want to pass on some advice that a wise man once imparted to me about parentheses: if it's important enough to get in the book, it's important enough not to be buried in parentheses. I excised all parentheses from my work for a time, and it was one of the best things I could have done for my writing. I add them back in sparingly now, when I know I really need them.

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sarahdee
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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by sarahdee » July 17th, 2010, 10:29 pm

Thanks for all the feedback - its really useful and I've had a good revision of parts 1 and 2 (of 5) so far.

I'll rethink the prologue...perhaps some can be worked into chapter one and some of it dropped completely.

What's the feeling on epilogues? So far my story ends with Candice being arrested and Janie walking away..then as an epilogue I have Janie's version of what really happened THAT night

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Re: Don't Come to the House Tonight

Post by One of the Mad Ones » July 17th, 2010, 11:59 pm

sarahdee wrote:.

What's the feeling on epilogues? So far my story ends with Candice being arrested and Janie walking away..then as an epilogue I have Janie's version of what really happened THAT night
I love what you want to put in an epilogue, but I'm not crazy about epilogues themselves. Can you make it a final chapter without calling it that? That said, it wouldn't bother me nearly as much as a prologue because, by that point, I'm into the story and am willing to go wherever you want to take me.

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