First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

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elmtree322
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First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by elmtree322 » January 12th, 2011, 10:37 pm

Hi there! I'm new to the boards, and after reading some great excerpts and commenting on a few, I felt inspired to share a bit from my manuscript. This is the beginning of chapter one of my narrative non-fiction ms, called English Lessons. Thanks in advance for any comments, I haven't had too many people read this yet so I'm looking forward to all opinions, be they positive or negative!




“I’m here to meet the prince.”

The unimpressed guard didn’t hide a snicker as he eyed my patterned tights and combat boots. Maybe I should have worn something else.

“My name is Erica M*****,” I said, using my best I-belong-to-be-here-voice. The lift of his eyebrow told me my American accent did little to convince.

“I’m going to need to see some identification.”

The license was already in my palm for him to look at. As he glanced at it I saw him squint at the part that said United States of America. The gesture caused his bulky, bell-shaped hat to ride low on his forehead, weakening his intimidating glare.

He motioned to a man holding a clipboard and the pair flipped skeptically through a sheaf of papers.

“Here you are,” bell-hat conceded. “With the London Jewish News?”

I nodded, tucking a piece of brown hair behind my ear, and headed left as his fingers pointed me in the right direction.

Knocking on a thick black door my eyes skipped over a sign that read Office of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. I peeked behind me at the red and yellow leaves from Green Park, which made a pretty contrast against the backdrop of stone-white Georgian estates. It was September in London and dusk came early. While it was only three pm, the sky was already a purple-orange and there was a flickering in the dainty iron lampposts. Even the light here looked Dickensian, and I imagined this was how Oliver Twist felt taking tea with Mr. Brownlow.

The door opened slowly and a stocky man escorted me to a small parlor room. The space looked like it was trying to put the occupier at ease, but failed at the task. Tiny silver soldiers adorned a wooden bookcase filled with heavy tomes and a set of flowery china sat atop a fireplace. I leaned in closer to the bookcase and spied a framed photo of Prince Charles in a meadow.

Looking around I felt outnumbered. Four middle-aged men stood in the home of the heir to the throne and they looked at me like I was the strangest part of the scenario. I shifted my weight and gave them a thin smile before sinking into an armchair, the thick green velvet crinkling under me. I picked up a newspaper and tried to melt into the wallpaper.

I wanted to tell the men they weren’t the only ones who felt like there’d been a mistake. I wasn’t supposed to be in London, and I certainly wasn’t supposed to be in a palace.

mnaylor3
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Re: First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by mnaylor3 » January 13th, 2011, 10:30 am

There's something a little charming about excerpt. I just wish the last sentence was the first:
I wasn’t supposed to be in London, and I certainly wasn’t supposed to be in a palace.


I can tell this girl is clearly out of place, but it's a little awkward in telling, for instance:
I picked up a newspaper and tried to melt into the wallpaper.


Anyway, keep it up, thanks.

elmtree322
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Re: First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by elmtree322 » January 13th, 2011, 12:45 pm

Thanks mnaylor, I appreciate it. I like the idea of changing the opening, been playing around with not opening with dialogue. I don't want the reader to be confused about what's happening, because I haven't set it up properly. Thoughts anyone?

mnaylor3
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Re: First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by mnaylor3 » January 14th, 2011, 10:04 am

elmtree322 wrote:Thanks mnaylor, I appreciate it. I like the idea of changing the opening, been playing around with not opening with dialogue. I don't want the reader to be confused about what's happening, because I haven't set it up properly. Thoughts anyone?
Your welcome. Oh, I forgot to mention how I found this quote as awkward
I picked up a newspaper and tried to melt into the wallpaper.
I somehow expected that because the main character is a journalist that she'd try to blend in or find comfort in the newspaper she held, instead she ended up melting into the wallpaper. No biggie. Anyway, keep it up.

NickB
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Re: First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by NickB » January 15th, 2011, 3:51 am

Hi again! I really like this and would continue to read, even though I read little non-fiction (except for mounds of research...and short work.) I agree that your last sentence would be a great place to start...but I like "I'm here to meet the prince." too.

My more specific thoughts are below the line-by-line edit.


“I’m here to meet the prince.”

The unimpressed guard didn’t hide a snicker as he eyed my patterned tights and combat boots. Maybe I should have worn something else.

“My name is Erica M*****,” I said, using my best I-belong-to-be-here-voice. The lift of his eyebrow told me my American accent did little to convince.

“I’m going to need to seesome identification.”

The license was already in my palm for him to look at. As he glanced at it I saw him squint at the part that said United States of America. The gesture caused his bulky, bell-shaped hat to ride low on his forehead, weakening his intimidating glare.

He motioned to a man holding a clipboard and the pair flipped skeptically through a sheaf of papers.

“Here you are,” bell-hat conceded. “With the London Jewish News?”

I nodded, tucking a piece a few strands ? of brown hair behind my ear, and maybe then instead headed left as his fingers pointed me in the right direction.

Knocking I knocked on a thick black door, my eyes skipping my eyes skipped over a sign that read Office of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. I peeked behind me at the red and yellow leaves from of Green Park, which madea pretty contrast against the backdrop of stone-white Georgian estates. I might start a new paragraph here, for readabilityIt was September in London and dusk came early. While it was only three pm, the sky was already a purple-orange and there was a flickering in the dainty iron lampposts. September in London brought an early dusk--only three pm and the sky glowed purple-orange behind the flickering of...Even the light here looked Dickensian, and I imagined this was how Oliver Twist felt taking tea with Mr. Brownlow.

The door opened slowlycrept open?and a stocky man escorted me to a small parlor room. The space looked like it was trying to put the occupier at ease, but failed at the task. Tiny silver soldiers adorned a wooden bookcase filled with heavy tomes and a set of flowery china sat perchedatop a fireplace. I leaned in closer to the bookcase and spied a framed photo of Prince Charles in a meadow.

Looking around I felt outnumbered. Four middle-aged men stood in the home of the heir to the throne and they looked at me like I was the strangest part of the scenario. I shifted my weight and gave them a thin smile before sinking into an armchair, the thick green velvet crinkling under me. I picked up a newspaper and tried to melt into the wallpaperhid.

I wanted to tell the men they weren’t the only ones who felt like there’d been a mistake. I wasn’t supposed to be in London, and I certainly wasn’t supposed to be in a palace.




First off, this is really good. I'd keep reading to find out what she's doing there.

Side note: Y'know, the description you wrote in your reply (on my excerpt) was intriguing...I think you might get more readers if you put that at the top of your post. Like a mini-blurb. Just a thought.

I hope you don't get as irritated by the dreaded strike-through as I do. (I twitch every time. ;P ...flashbacks to an evil English teacher.)
Basically, I cut what I knew you'd catch pretty soon anyway--a little repetition.
You used "peeked" but the description was kinda long for a peek. Nice description, though. If it were me, I might try inserting another movement...she turned to catch the light...i dunno, somethin' like that.
Might drop the Dickens reference 'cause it's cuttable (I've been in edit a looooooong time and have become a ruthless cutter.)
Oh, and I might mention the men in the room before the setting...or With...the setting. Place them among...like where are they in relationship to the fireplace...you know, weave them together like that. (I'm thinking she would notice the other humans first if she were nervous and they were intimidating. But maybe not. I mean, the eye-catcher would be the fire, but then the men near the fire...like fire, men, more desc., sit...just playing around with it. It's late. Sorry. :))
My only other changes were what looked like missed opportunities for colorful language (the good kind, not the kind I use more often. LOL)

And upon reflection, I think leading with your current end-line would be the grabber and the second to last line would be a great end-line.

So, if you ask me, (I hope you're not sorry you did) you are really well set-up here. I've been reworking my opening for months and don't feel it's in this good of shape.

Them's my two-cents. Hope it was more helpful than nitpicky and annoying.

Good luck with this. I'd like to read more...I'm always available to beta-read, though it's slow-going these days (just busy at home.) But you can e-mail me with chapters when/if you'd like...if you found the comments at all helpful.

Thanks again for taking the time and effort to comment on my openings. Nick

P.S.: What part of South Florida? Are you a native Floridian, too?

elmtree322
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Re: First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by elmtree322 » January 15th, 2011, 5:19 pm

Thanks very much for the comments Nick. I'm originally from Fort Lauderdale, living in DC these days though.

I agree with a lot of what you had to say. I'm playing around with the opening line now, it's really refreshing to see your work from someone else's point of view. I'm definitely going to take your suggestion of describing the men in the room first, I think you were spot on there!

Nicole R
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Re: First 400 Words, Narrative Non-fiction

Post by Nicole R » January 17th, 2011, 5:22 pm

Nice work! I really enjoyed the image you painted of an autumn London evening.

Here's my biggest hang up: Your MC (you) starts out seeming pretty confident ("I'm here to see the prince," combat boots, having the license ready in her hands, talking like she belongs there, etc.), and then she seems to lose all nerve when she enters the parlor. I wanted more transition between the two attitudes, even if it's as simple as saying: "Looking around, I suddenly felt outnumbered."

I do like your last line, but I think you'd give this piece an entirely different tone if you started with that rather than your current opening. It paints the character in a different light-more unsure of herself.

The first two sentences in the "Knocking" paragraph also seemed awkward to me. Maybe a different word choice for skipped? Also, I'm not sure why she'd peek behind her at this point. It seems like an odd action to take when she's just knocked on a door-unless you specify that she's looking around while waiting for someone to answer.

Interested to see how this develops!

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