Are novels like buses?

We all know the old complaint about buses – you wait hours and then … but I didn’t realise the same principle applied to ideas for novels!

I’ve been feeling for a while now that I want to write another novel. Unravelling is out there in the world and The Piano Player’s Son  will be launched next year, so what am I waiting for?

Two things – one, a good idea with interesting characters that I really want to spend the next year or so living with, and two (more difficult in a way) the anxiety about embarking again on the mammoth, difficult and challenging task of writing a novel. I must confess to delaying, dragging my feet, procrastination because I know that once I’ve started, the novel will become all-consuming and I will have to devote myself to it.

Despite – in some ways – my reluctance, an idea has presented itself and I’ve been playing around with it for a month or so. I posted on here and facebook about a possible title Two Minutes from Eros and got a positive response. I was getting excited about my idea. So, what’s the problem? I can hear you saying.  Stop talking. Get going.

The problem is that another possibility has arrived! Yes, the two buses’ syndrome. I’ve just had a short story critiqued. It’s a story I like, but I knew there was something wrong with it, so I sent it off to be critiqued. And the response? The critiquer (sorry about horrible term) said lots of nice things about it – great characterisation, dialogue fine, great use of of imagery and metaphor, use of language is wonderful … but, overall, it’s not working. And she believes the reason is that it really wants to be a novel ‘and a rather good one at that’.

So now what I shall I do? Two ideas and I like them both!

I’m going to ask you to help me! These are two possible openings. Which one do you prefer?

A)

Lily sat down on the bench and felt the slats hard against her thighs. Taking her lunch box from her bag, she placed it on the seat beside her. The wind bit into her shoulders and the branches of the huge willow sweeping down to the lake lifted and danced. She felt cold air wrap itself round her cheeks. This was her favourite time of year. Its rituals – scuffing through leaves, buttery crumpets, the glitter of sparklers – a last link with her mother.

B)

Marsha didn’t belong. She would be twenty-four in May and for as long as she could remember, she’d felt wrong – the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Her skin was too dark, her hair wouldn’t lie flat, and her soft voice could never be heard above her family’s clamour.

That’s the choice. Which has more appeal for you – A or B?!

 

 

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21 Comments

  1. Lynne Powell says:

    Both intriguing… but B B B!

  2. Becky says:

    I vote for B.

    But I also have a theory that the best time to write a novel is when you’re writing another!
    What fun to be asked. Thanks Love Becky G

  3. I prefer B, I really like that you get straight into Marsha’s thoughts and get to know a lot about her in a very short space, lovely succinct writing leading into her life with the family.
    As far as A is concerned, again we’re straight into her thoughts but physical feelings get into the equation … I find there’s something about the ‘slats hard against her thighs’ that seems – not literally uncomfortable, though of course it is – but uncomfortable within the sentence, it seems to almost draw too much attention to itself for me. Or maybe it’s that Lily seems to be having things done to her, ie the slats are hard, the wind is biting, the cold air is wrapping, so that she doesn’t seem to own her thoughts / feelings in the way that Marsha seems to …
    These things are really subjective though Lindsay, so others are likely to have a different preference for different reasons.

    On another note, you mention that you have had some work critiqued – would you let me know who / how please? Might like to use a similar service at some point.

  4. Derek Taylor says:

    I’m going to be awkward and plump for neither. A – paints a rich picture which I can see and almost smell, which is wonderful. But the problem for me is that it’s too comfortable. There ‘s no hint of a conflict that needs to be resolved. B- on the other hand clearly has such a personal conflict, so I immediately want to know how this happened, how she feels about it and what she’s going to do about it. But the paragraph lacks the graphic image of A. So for me, either one could work with a tweak: A if it hinted at unresolved conflict, and B if it were more pictorial.

  5. Susi Powell says:

    Hi Lindsay, I liked B think the remarks you got before summed it up fairly well. I would suggest making a few notes about what you think is going to happen in A then put it in a draw and if you have a moment when you need to have a short break from B get A out and give it a go. Since working at Uni I have sometimes found that if I’m floundering going and working on something different for a while helps give new perspective. Good luck with both of them. Best wishes. Susi.

  6. Hi Lindsay,
    I really like B – I felt I could picture her and I instantly wanted to find out more about her story. Maybe it’s the old chestnut about conflict – person A is quite happy and person B isn’t, and the person in conflict with something is instantly more interesting.

    Like Polly, I’d also be interested to hear who you use for your critiques.
    Best wishes, Jo

  7. Mo Hall says:

    Definitely (B). I like the idea of the ‘misfit’ – it’s a feeling most people will have experienced had at some time or other – and we instantly have a conflict situation presented. I immediately want to know how Marsha resolves her problems, but Lily? I’m on the fence.

  8. Linda Sellers says:

    I agree about them both being intriguing – but my vote goes to A. Maybe I felt more in tune with Lily than with Marsha. And that is my favourite time of the year as well – I love the smell of autumn, the crunch of leaves under foot, and the temptation of crumpets. And so did my Mum.

  9. Sally Neville says:

    I’d go for B too. ‘A’ was a bit too flowery for my liking. Marsha may not like her soft voice but she sounds as though she may be getting just angry and frustrated enough to be ready to do something about it – and I’d like to know what that something is.

  10. Lindsay says:

    Thank you so much everyone for taking the time to read and comment.
    The tally at the moment is 8Bs, plus another B on FB, 1A, and 1 for either if they were tweaked.
    It’s really interesting and I’m so grateful.

  11. julian eldridge says:

    Hi Lindsay. Julian here. It’s gotta be B. I already ‘feel’ this character and want to know more about her and her clamourous family.

  12. Lindsay says:

    Hi Julian – So it’s another B! This has been so fascinating and I’ve loved people’s comments.
    It looks as if I’d better get on with Marsha. Sorry, Linda, as I know you voted for A, but Lily won’t disappear as I will keep working on the short story she’s in, as I really like her.

  13. Donna says:

    I liked the style of A, but prefer the ‘content’ of B. However, if I read the two paras on the back of the book to decide which to buy, it would be B – but that’s because I don’t, as a general rule, read romantic or general fiction, whereas B feels like the start of some “ChickLit” which I love (but don’t get enough chance to read).

    So B for me too.

  14. Helen Shaw says:

    Definitely B. Much more intriguing than A.

  15. Lindsay says:

    Another for B! Thanks, Donna, but I’m afraid it’s not chick lit – well, that’s not how I see it. So, it might not live up to its first few lines of promise for you.

  16. Lindsay says:

    Really interesting that almost everyone prefers B, so I’ll have to get going on writing some more! But I do like Lily, so I’m not giving up on her!

  17. Robin Heaney says:

    Well I am going to row against the tsunami of popular opinion and say that A is by far the better opening. I think I have read the short story that A is taken from, but I know nothing about the idea that spawned B, so that might be an influence. I prefer the language in A. It gives me a real picture of the world she is sitting in at that moment – and there’s the Mother statement at the end. B might have immediate conflict from the internal Martha but it does not work for me.

  18. Lindsay says:

    Ooh Robin, how lovely to have another vote for A and Lily. I was quite surprised by the ‘tsunami’ of opinion as B was written very quickly to see if I could get an opening for the idea I’ve been playing around with. Nowhere near as much thought went into as Lily – although if I do go ahead with it, I’ll work harder at it. I know Lily is not working as a story at the moment, but I intend to revisit it as I like Lily a lot. You share something with the critique I mentioned in the blog which said: ‘Your first paragraph is excellent. I loved the imagery and the way you appeal to the readers’ senses. The reader is immediately plunged into the world you have created. We can feel those bench slats digging into our thighs and picture the autumnal scene. It’s atmospheric and rather beautiful. You also provide a hook with your last line: a last link with her mother. This shows the reader that the story is going to be about Lily’s relationship with her mother and wonders why this is ‘a last link’. Is her mother dead? If so, then when, why and how did she die?’

  19. Nikki Scott says:

    I’m more drawn to A. I felt it had contrasting textures that sparked interest – hard slats, the cold wind, buttery crumpets – if she’s aware of this then I’ll have a good companion to be my eyes & ears in the story, It sets the scene well followed by the promising hook of her absent mother.
    With B I felt a petulance – she feels an outsider but I don’t get a sense of how this might attempt to be resolved from the static snippet. It’s shorter than A though so maybe I’d feel different with a longer taste.

    It’s interesting that B has got the most votes – are the majority of voters writers? I want to be lead through the story but maybe B has given them more inspiration. I loved the dynamics of the relationships in ‘ Unravelling’ so perhaps that’s why I preferred A.
    Looking forward to reading Piano Player’s Son!

  20. Lindsay says:

    What a great comment, Nikki. I like your point about having a good companion to be your eyes and ears.
    This whole thing has been really interesting for me. A is the beginning of a short story at the moment, but I started thinking about it as a novel after getting the critique. I had done much more work on it than on B, which I wrote mainly with the intention of hooking the reader. It seems to have worked! But what is interesting is that the people who have liked A have written in more detail than the majority of people who preferred B – and some of them are writers and some not.

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