We all have to make sacrifices sometimes. Today is one for me, and maybe for you too, at least for a little while.
In Toronto today, while visiting my wonderful family physician who never spends less than an hour and a half on my visits to her, to say nothing of all the work she's done in between, I've learned that I'm not well enough to be able to write in my blog for a couple of months. This makes me unhappy, because I have been quite loving the connections I've been making with you all. On the other hand, I have to take as much time as I can to rest before the specialists decide what to do with me, and I can only hope that what I've given you so far will be enough for you to carry on for a couple of months until (say, January, or whenever the specialists let me come back to my work here on this blog.) I hope you will forgive me for abandoning you for a while. But you know, I think you will find that you have really got a lot to do on your own, just to get caught up with all the tips and ideas we've been talking about for the last few months.
I don't want to lose you as friends and colleagues. That's the truth. But I have a feeling you are such devoted writers that you'll keep an eye on my blog site, here, and will knowwhen I've come back, and then will come back, yourselves.
Deb will be the first person whose story will be discussed in our next WORKSHOP MEETING on this blog, after I give Jessica some pointers, and leave her to try a few things, and then ask me anything she wants to in January, or whenever I can come back.
Jessica, I would ordinarily write a great deal more than I'm going to today. But I know that you will pick out what you need from the advice I offer here. Also, don't forget that you still have all of the others here to communicate with. Please do feel free to make comments to one another through my blog. If you do that, and help each other, you will take my place until I can come back. I'm sure you won't have that many questions to ask me, because from what I've seen from all of your comments, you're all very astute readers and will be extremely good at communicating along the lines that we've been trying to focus on in this blog from the beginning. So, here are just a few comments for you for NOW, Jessica. I would really like you to take them into your mind and heart and do what you can to help the reader relax into your book, just a little more.
I would ordinarily spend the next couple of days writing up what to say to you, but instead, to you (speaking both for myself and for all the others in the workshop who have read and responded to me with their feelings about your work), I will simply say that you are a smooth, clean, articulate writer with a good mystery and lots of hooks to keep us interested. The only problem that I (and your fellow writers) see in your Chapter One (which I can now tell the others was one you had written early on and then discarded as "unnecessary backstory") is that while your dialog is extremely natural and relaxed, especially the joking around between the characters, there is something tight and almost uncomfortable about your narration. My sense is that you need to be more "loose" in the telling of this story. Let go, a little. Be more leisurely.
The whole of your quite short Chapter One is incredibly complex: you have a character who doesn't know she is half-alien, she is pregnant, she has a broken bone, and she's getting married, as well as having a subtle attraction to another man, all of which we either must deduce from your dialog (which lets us in on more than most writers can manage) or be told by your narration. This is a lot of information for your reader to take in (and yes, I do know that the half-alien part isn't all that clear until your - now - Chapter Two). It isn't too much information. Don't worry at all about that. It just needs to be spread out a little.
The main thing that will help you is to use space breaks to divide basic sections of your novel into parts where you want the reader to learn something. 1. The gunshot. 2. The pregnancy. 3. The webbed toes. 4. Where is this place called London, hey? (grin.)
I live in London, ONTARIO, so I'm probably the only one besides Jessica who knows this setting very well, but one of your fellow writers would like to know a little more. I think she is right. Take a leaf from Kathy Reichs's later books (not her early ones) and see how she describes her own job and location in Montreal and the islands. It's important to the reader to understant in Reichs's books the jurisdictional separation between police on the island and police in the rest of Quebec. For you, it will be just as important to clarify which jurisdiction your main characters belong to in the police, and use a little description to make her particular job clear. Also, the setting. Setting is best handled by having something exciting or unusual or interesting happening in the location that you want us to know.
As for as the other difficulties with things happening just a little too quickly, I would offer you a suggestion to think about. If you start the novel with a really loving and kind of hot sex scene between your two soon-to-be-married characters, a leisurely, gentle and loving discovery of each other's bodies.... Don't do more than you feel comfortable with, but remember that all your readers have likely had sex of some sort, and won't be embarrassed if YOU AREN'T.
If you do take my advice, I would wind within the opening sex scene both dialog and actions that show us more about your characters, rather than telling us about them or summarizing who they are and telling us what they are thinking. Let us feel them. Let us BE at least one of them. People do talk during sex, not necessarily seriously, and not too philosophically or politically, but if you use dialog very carefully in that first sexual encounter between them, you will be able to introduce everything through her feelings, emotions, sudden memories of Burly, etc.,... And then, while things are going perfectly, you should SHOW us the moment where they discover their common physical abnormality. It should really be quite a shock to them, when they discover that seen from underneath, each of them have webbing between their toes. You can choose which one of them would try to make light of it. Maybe one of them will say that thing about "it's not all that unusual, you know" (which will send some of your readers straight for the internet to check, sorry but it will), and then maybe you can have the other one decide NOT to run to the internet to check. Up until now this has been a thing that they both have rather taken for granted. But would their parents? Would their pediatricians, when they were newborns? The first thing new parents and grandparents do is count the fingers and toes... So figure out in your mind how this thing has been dealt with by your heroes' families, while they were growing up... Your heroes must have been able to see it in their own families somewhere to accept it so casually. The older ones would have talked to them about it, and maybe given them hints on how to handle it (no sandals, right? what kid wants to be different from his friends?) . Decide how they chose to deal with their "deformities" when they were young, and who they let in to the "secret" or if they just treated it as casually as they do in chapter one... because to discover someone not in their own family but with the same kind of feet must depend on how they chose to deal with it in themselves.
The love triangle you present virtually at the altar is something we all are concerned a bit about (not a lot, just a bit.) We all want to know why she is marrying one man while having feelings for the other. This is something that your heroine would need to really ask herself deeply, perhaps after the first sexual meeting of the two (happening in the first chapter), especially if you allow some time to happen between that encounter and the next Chapter, which might be a few ordinary work weeks later. Let us watch her at work, let us see her ordinary reactions to her fiance and to Burly, let us think with her, now here, now there, struggling to find out her own feelings. And then let her find out she's pregnant, and let us live with her feelings as she tells him and is practically pushed into marriage? or wants to get married because something in her tells her it will be vital for her to do this? or whatever... Doing this: showing to your readers this big decision to be made with pressures of all sorts both from within her and from various other people, will help your readers understand that she doesn't make this decision to marry lightly, and that perhaps she's even chosen not to quite acknowledge her feelings for Burly, for the sake of her unborn child. I think this will ease the slight discomfort people have mentioned to me about her feelings for two men on her wedding day.
I have to say that I disagree with your writing circle's desire to see this exact Chapter One come back, if I understand correctly that that is what happened. I liked your Chapter Two better than Chapter One as an initial chapter (sorry to those of you who didn't get to see it; it was more or less a brain bomb that came to me late this week that this Chapter One wasn't maybe the Chapter One Jessica had intended.). Nevertheless, even in your Chapter Two I feel a tension in your narration. You do need all the information in this chapter, of course, and as one of your colleagues in our workshop said, it's natural to want to quickly get across information that is needed if the rest of the book is going to work. But to do it as quickly as you do risks confusion in the reader, and perhaps even having the reader pull back from your major character. Readers want to BE the main character, and will be that character if you let them in.
As I say, I'd start with sex. It's a definite page turner for most people, and you need some kind of physical discovery of the shared foot "deformity" SHOWN to the reader, instead of described after the fact. Sex is one good way of doing it. Don't be shy about the sex. Whatever lengths to which you decide to go, it must feel perfectly natural, interesting and right. You must not feel embarrassed writing it. If you do, you will end up embarrassing the reader. Don't let it be JUST sex either. Let it be something lovely that is interrupted somehow by the discovery of the same "deformity" in each of the two partners. If you do this really smoothly, calmly, leisurely and without shame or fear, this can be a Chapter where love is the focus only to be turned on its head by the strangeness of the two of them sharing a kind of webbing between their toes.
And it should always be repeated, in your own mind, over and over as you write: SHOW, don't TELL, and especially don't TELL AFTER THE FACT.
I know this isn't enough, Jessica, but it is enough for you to be getting on with. When I come back, and I promise that I will, I will answer on the blog (for everyone to read) anyone's questions about what Jessica's done in the next couple of months to loosen this taut first chapter and to get information across in an easeful manner, where it belongs.
I'm hoping to make that happen by January. But as you are all aware we can't always make things happen just because we want to. But if you keep talking to one another on this blog, I will be able to know what you've been up to while I've been resting, and you'll know at once when I come back.
Please make good use of this change in the way things have been for the last couple of months. You have time now to ponder what you have learned, to choose what you want to use from what you've learned, and to actually use it in your own "to be published" works of heart.
Now: just to make this kind of sad little post what it ought to be, here is one more sentence from Terry Pratchett:
The camel was turning over in his mind an interesting new concept in Thau-Dimensional Physics which unified time, space, magnetism, gravity, and, for some reason, broccoli.
Hugs to you all.
Welwyn - on - books