I put the helm down and she comes up through the wind as sweet as maple syrup. Five thirty on an early May morning. Nothing stirs but the dog, the boat, and the tide.

The immediate past is but a blur of grief. Time it is to erase that which has gone before. It must be as nothing, to be forgotten, best never to be remembered.

Sonnet leans by the mast, the long, black fur on her ears flipped occasionally by the windward jib sheet. Dogs don’t remember either, not in the sense that they consciously recall the past. She lives for the moment, and I am thus taught.

We near the shore; I free the main halyard, drop the gaff-rigged main and nuzzle the dinghy under foresail alone into the small creek by the Watch Hut. The prow squelches into a bed of black mud and Sonnet leaps for the cleanliness of the Samphire. I smother the jib, secure both sails, heave a mud-weight over the bows, wriggle into the grey/green rucksack, and slither after my dog.

The open sea reveals itself in sound before I gain the top of the wide shingle bank. A great rumble of pebble-laden gratings retreating seawards from each thump of solid water hitting at my small salty corner of this vulnerable Norfolk coast.

I stare into the empty waste of the horizon. No ships mitigate the loneliness of the scene, or the emptiness that I feel.

Instructor Response

Excellent work. You establish a strong voice immediately, and you pull the reader in in the first paragraph. And kudos for starting in action.

 

You might reexamine the effect of the second paragraph. [The immediate past is but a blur of grief. Time it is to erase that which has gone before. It must be as nothing, to be forgotten, best never to be remembered.] You’ve inserted summary information, a suggested backstory with a time shift from story present, and with a touch of mystery. All good information, but it stops the reader–mainly with the time shift–and disengages him or her from the beautiful effect you’ve created in scene. Readers will enjoy being with the “I” in this opening. Let them stay with the “I” in the story movement. You are, after all, very skillfully creating an interesting and provocative scene, and the scene you’ve created really conveys the sense of loneliness and grief, so consider letting it do its work without interruption. Your choice of imagery and action is excellent.

 

It is common for writers to open in scene with effective action and exposition, then immediately fall into backstory, halting the reader’s involvement. It can be effective, but rarely, and it is usually not worth the time and effort to make it work.

 

Suggestion: move information in the second paragraph to be presented later, or maybe just delete it for now. The last sentence [No ships mitigate the loneliness of the scene, or the emptiness that I feel.] effectively gives much of the information that is in the second paragraph.

 

And if you present the second paragraph later, consider your method of presentation. Telling intense feelings is not as effective as showing. And in first person, telling emotions is particularly tricky; the character seems to be trying to demand sympathy, which can flow into sentimentality. (An objective third person alleviates this problem somewhat, but loses the first-person advantages). Not that you should change this paragraph much if you insert this idea elsewhere, but just consider delivering the “grief” and its need “to be erased” through some sort of action, either in the dramatic present, or dramatic backstory “present,” so that actions, or dialogue, can be developed to show grief to the reader. It seems too important for brief narrative description. You have the skill, and the impact will be greater.

 

This is very good writing. Thanks for participating. WHC

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

© 2020 Literary Fiction Workshop