Would appreciate your opinions(8 Posts)
Name changed for this as I've shown this extract at my writing group earlier this week and didn't get much feedback as we're time limited. What if one of my group was a MNer? They'd know all of my secrets!
It's a novel opener and I've lost track of what is good or bad about my writing - I can't get enough distance from it.
I've seen a lot of really helpful feedback from people on here and would really appreciate if you'd cast your eye over this. Does it work as a novel opener? I've tried to rewrite this so many times.
Will post in a sec, after I've checked that my name change has worked.
Here is the extract:
Emma ran down the street. Checked her phone, almost dropped it. Fifteen minutes late to meet her mother for coffee. She hadn’t sounded right earlier, so what was it? Wind battered her hair and drizzle spat in her face. It was a horrible day. She imagined she was.
Not Emma, but Laura. Laura Jesson, the main character from the classic romantic British film, Brief Encounter: 1945. Director: David Lean; Starring: Celia Johnson as Laura and Trevor Howard as Dr Alec Harvey, the man who falls in love with her, the man she falls in love with.
She is Laura.
Running through the streets of Milford towards Milford Station. Towards the whistles of the steam trains as they clatter over the tracks. Towards the ticking station clock and the welcoming tinkle of the bell over the door of the station refreshment room. Running towards the great love of her life. The great love of her life, Alec, a man she met only five weeks ago, who she only meets for a few desperate, precious hours every Thursday. But it’s wrong, they’re both married. They should try to control themselves like sensible human beings and stop what they’re doing before it’s too late, but it’s too much for them both and they can’t. Love is like that. Unstoppable. It’s like the 5.15 express charging through. Smoke billowing.
A passing bus splashed a puddle of water all over Emma’s brand new Converse. For God’s sake, she could feel it seeping through to her socks. Should have worn her boots.
Will she get there in time? His train leaves in five minutes. If only. She needs to see him again. One last time; if only for a few seconds. A mutter of guilt tickles the back of her mind (she has a husband) and the wind and rain assaults her, but she has never felt so alive. To run alongside his train as it pulls out slowly from the station. To run alongside as it pulls away and stretch out her hand. As he reaches out his hand towards hers, and. And. Their fingers will brush against each other, but just mere atoms will connect in a frustrating, tantalising, heart-breaking echo of the times they have spent together, passionate, long, lingering. Lots of foreplay.
Why is she late to meet him again? And are they splitting up or what? Emma hadn’t worked that out yet in this particular scene, so it didn’t quite make sense. Never mind.
Her heart beats to the rhythm of a concerto (Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto, No. 2) of falling in love. Of having fallen in love. She has fallen. In love.
Except her life was nothing like that. She wasn’t having, had never had, an affair with anyone, consummated or not. She wasn’t Laura. She was Emma Weaver, 39, a ‘happily married thank you’ vintage cinema co-owner with an overactive imagination. And she was fifteen minutes late to meet her mother.
Emma slowed to a walk and glanced at her phone again. Yes, still late. Late in real, actual life. The running had made no difference. Well, apart from the fact that her hair was a mess and her mascara might be running and she could feel perspiration under her armpits that could – horror – turn into a slight body odour that would waft around the nostrils of the other café patrons. They would follow the curling vapour trails back to her, the source, like in a Pepe le Pew cartoon. If she could just do a quick check? She surreptitiously tilted her head down and to the right, but several people were walking past and a man, dressed in paint splashed clothes and carrying a toolbox, gave her an odd look. Emma smiled and pretended to remove some fluff from the sleeve of her coat. She would have to trust to her trusty roll-on. She turned, and was just opening the door to Barten’s café – tinkling bell, Brief Encounter - when a sudden gust of wind wrenched it from her grasp, almost knocking an elderly couple into the cold drinks cabinet.
“Oops, sorry,” said Emma, grabbing the door, then, “sorry,” again as the door shut behind her with a slam that she really hadn’t intended.
Several people in the smallish, old-fashioned café turned to look at her, including Diane, her mother, who merely raised her eyebrows by way of a greeting, then went back to perusing The Times (Guardian poking out from underneath).
Yes. She was late.
I see what you're writing, but it's a bit confused.
Looking at the first paragraph:
Emma ran down the street. Fine, if not a grabbing opening.
Checked her phone, almost dropped it. Fifteen minutes late to meet her mother for coffee. I think by doing the non-sentences, you're trying to make her sound hurried. It doesn't work for me. It comes across to me as more like stage directions.
She hadn’t sounded right earlier, so what was it? She? I'm assuming her mother, but that's because I've read all the way through. Otherwise it could be anyone.
Wind battered her hair and drizzle spat in her face. It was a horrible day. Nice description
She imagined she was. She imagined she was what? She was a horrible day? And which She? Emma? Her mother?
I think it would work better if you started with:
"She was Laura. Laura Jesson, the main character from the classic romantic British film, Brief Encounter: 1945..."
Then go on to "...She has fallen. In love.
"Except she wasn't Laura. She was Emma. Emma Weaver, 39, a ‘happily married thank you’ vintage cinema co-owner with an overactive imagination..."
You've also got the intriguing "she" who sounded upset on the phone-I've guessed that was her mother. Her mother who now seems totally unbothered by her arriving late, which doesn't add up, so you lose the set up of why she was upset as she clearly isn't now.
Either her mum was upset and bothered enough to call her, in which case she's going to be upset that she's late, or she's cold and not bothered by her daughter, in which case why did she call her upset?
I like the descriptions in the longer paragraphs, and I can imagine Emma, and the way she works. She's a clear character even in the small bit you have put in.
I'm assuming that the slightly odd paragraphing is just because the formatting of a Word document hasn't carried over to Mn?
Other than the choppiness of the opening paragraph, I think the only real issue for me here is the tenses, which don't quite work for me -- the lurch into the present tense when she is being Laura feels forced, but the real problem is that when we go back to her being Emma and default back into the past tense for 'real life', it feels less immediate/interesting than her fantasy.
Which may of course be part of your point -- Emma is a Walter Mitty who feels her real life is less interesting than her fantasy one -- but I don't think the reader should feel that. We still need to be interested in her boredom, even if she isn't. (But then she seems to making a huge drama out of the fact that she might smell slightly sweaty, which makes her seem like someone with a strangely inflated sense of her own importance, which I'm not sure you meant...?)
I like it and I think it works in general, but that you might want to think again about using present tense for the fantasy interludes, especially if they're going to continue throughout the novel.
I wouldn't waste more time trying to perfect the opening at this point, anyway -- chances are it will end up being changed during rewrites anyway. (I say this as someone who obsessed about writing the start at the start, which I now feel is completely pointless.) Keep going ahead and when you know the characters and the whole shape of the plot, the beginning will almost write itself.
Thank you bother for your comments. They are both really helpful.
The paragraphs are as I intended except for the line breaks, which are as a result of copy and paste.
I agree with witchend that starting with “She is Laura. Laura Jesson...” and so on would make for a much stronger opening. One to two paragraphs of the fantasy, and then back to reality with “Except she isn’t. She is Emma Whatever, “happily married thank you”, co-owner of a vintage cinema and currently fifteen minutes late to meet her mother.”
Have you written the rest of the story? I always find if I try to edit it to perfection before I’ve actually written a full first draft then I just get bogged down and never get anything finished. Now I try to write a complete piece, even if I know lots of it will need to change before it’s ready. I find it much easier to edit once I have a sense of the whole thing.
I agree with the other posters. I think its a good opening and I feel invested in the character but it is also quite muddled and confusing. I think you just need to strip it back a bit. Possibly there's one too many things going on. Is there actually a train or is she just imagining a train? I like the weather, I like the being late and I like the imagined alter ego but maybe the film reference just tips the balance into too much going on.
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