Sunday, November 6, 2011

10 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Entry #2

Name: Kimberly C. Stickrath
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
AGGIE WINKUM AND THE SNOOTAGUS


Once upon a time in the land of Ifanwhen, there lived a little girl named Aggie Winkum. She had bright blue eyes that twinkled like happy sapphires, and long wavy red hair that she wore in two plaits tied with the softest red yarn her mother could make. More often than not, her hair tried to escape the braids, and so it always appeared as though she had a little halo about her head, and she frequently wore dandelion and daisy-chains on her brow, so that when she came skipping over a hill in her crisp red dress and soft leather shoes (that her dear Daddy made e-special for her), she looked like a fairy child, all golden and made shining by the sun. She had the cheeriest disposition you could imagine, and a laugh that was so bright and full of joy that just hearing it once could leave your heart feeling warm and smiling for days afterward. She also had the most perfect dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks, but perhaps the most magical thing about her was that she had a really and truly, genuinely good heart. She had a rare gift of knowing, somehow, that with a little work on her part, and maybe a little more faith, everything would turn out just fine.


Aggie spent her days helping her mother and grandmother hang the clean, starched linen on the line and learning the important differences between just cleaning a house and making a home. Her most favorite thing to do was dart between the pure white, waving sheets as the wind caught them and tossed them up – as she chased, and was being chased by her bestest-friend-in-the-whole-entire-world, Billy Brown. He was an uncommonly smart little boy himself, determined and strong, with a ready laugh, and gentle eyes, and best of all, he alsohad freckles (and though Aggie didn’t know it yet, when he was two years old and saw her for the first time, he promised himself then and there that he would marry her someday). His father was a World Traveler, and had taught Billy ever so many interesting things… even a little magic…and there was no question that they were truly the greatest of friends.



Aggie’s second most favorite thing to do was to pick flowers…and when the spring came, she would find the biggest basket she could carry and bring home the most beautiful blooms the hills could offer. She’d spend hours in the fields and frequently brought back so many daffodils or brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace that her mother and her grandmother filled every vase, pitcher, cup, and glass in the house. Sometimes, Aggie’s flowers even took over the bathtub, and petals and leaves seemed to be growing over the sides as the blooms spilled out over the edges. Her mother would sigh, and her grandmother would flutter about tutting to herself that they would soon have a honey-hive in the best cupboard, but her father would ruffle Aggie’s hair and smile and remind them that there were worse things in the world than a little girl and her flowers…and that a home that smelled of fresh flowers was always a welcome place to be.


For Aggie, life was filled with laughter and love and security, and the constant scent of blooming flowers…and until the Awful Spring, she had never known a day of true sadness in her life...but The Sadness, when it came, crept in like a shamed wet dog, head low and tail down, and it brought with it the rain. Rain that clung to mud with the desperation of a drowning child. Rain that ate the blue right out of the sky and left only thick walls of grey behind. Rain that was cold and creeping, finding its way down the back of one’s neck or the front of one’s shirt. Rain that took hold of you and shook you in its teeth and would not let go…rain that soon gave Gramma Winkum a fever and The Newmoania.

Instead of bustling and tutting and being fierce and feisty, she became weak and fragile, with her long, silver hair clinging to her poor, tired face and her bright eyes dimming like lamps when the wick went down. And Mommy had to sit behind Gramma’s thin body, and thump her back with the side of her hands, just so’s Gramma Winkum could breathe, and Daddy would watch them with tight, worried eyes without ever a word, and Aggie was required to be very, very quiet so as not to be disturbing them. There was always a steam kettle going in Gramma Winkum’s room now, and the weather wouldn’t turn so that Aggie could replace the wilted flowers that drooped and mourned over Gramma Winkum’s wedding-ring quilt. And if that weren’t enough, Billy’s father had decided that his family needed to pay a visit to a cousin over-the-hills-away, and there was nothing for it but for Billy to go along. He didn’t even know when he would get back!

Aggie had never known such misery, and crept about the house like a mouse in the baseboards. Her open, smiling face took on a serious, pale aspect, and her bright eyes became watchful and sad. Her lovely hair remained unbound and fretful, for even plaiting her braids took too much of Mommy’s precious attention from Gramma Winkum. The lovely sheets and linens hung like shrouds on ropes inside the house, and she was forever leaving behind the temporary water-shadows caused by the little pads of her feet as she tiptoed around the puddles beneath the sheets. Outside smelled of mold, and inside smelled of sickness and damp and the only sound was Gramma Winkum’s rough cough and Mommy’s whispered prayers, and Aggie could do little but worry in silence. As the weeks rolled by, and poor Gramma Winkum got weaker and weaker, Aggie became quieter and quieter.

And then one day, Aggie awoke to sunshine. It was as though all the world had been forgiven, and the sunlight glowed upon the raindrops as though they were diamonds. The air was fresh once more, and the blue sky beamed and beamed as though it had never once been gone. The grass was stiff and straight, like thousands of soldiers in their brand-new green uniforms, and as Aggie crept from her bed, she felt it, like a wondrous, brilliant blanket wrapping about her. Expectation. Anticipation. Certainty. Her toes danced against the moist earth. “Yes!” the world was telling her,“THIS is a day when wonderful things will happen!”


And without another thought, she got dressed and tied her hair back with a piece of Mommy’s softest red yarn, and crept out of the house without waking anyone else up. She stopped to pick up her mother’s apple basket, and with the comforting weight of the deep basket on her hip, she marched out to her favorite flower fields and began to pick the best flowers she could find.


As she picked and set her flowers carefully in the basket, she found herself edging closer and closer to the Dark Woods. Children were not supposed to go into the Dark Woods, for there were many fearsome creatures living in its shadows, and there were many reasons it was not safe…but Aggie had always been curious about the lovely green darkness under the Dark Wood’s trees…and though she really was a very good little girl, she did, sometimes, try to dare herself a little closer to

10 comments:

  1. Hi Kimberly,

    You have very clean writing and a strong tone. Unfortunately, it's the tone that I find most worrisome. I have two major concerns about it -- age level and contemporary feel.

    First, about the contemporary feel -- I'm speaking of the writing style, not the time period in which your story is set. It's wonderful if your fantasy is set in an historical time period, but the writing style, in my opinion, should be geared to the modern reader. If I were to stumble across your writing somewhere online, without any identification of what it was, I would assume that it was a piece written at least a hundred years ago. I have a feeling that is what you're going for, but I have concerns as to whether it will work for the modern reader, especially middle grade readers.

    Which brings me to my second concern. You label your work as middle grade, but to me, this reads much younger. Your tone, with its hyperbolized sense of all is good or all is bad, reads more like a fairy tale for young children rather than the real life most middle graders are eager to explore.

    Kids of this age are reading Number the Stars, The Book Thief, and Holes. They are eager to be and appear older and to read up a level. I believe they will see writing of this tone and style as something they have left behind.

    Besides the exaggerations you work with, there is also the style of writing in omniscient narration rather than deep into your character's POV, seeing the story unfold as she acts and talks with those around her. You have almost no dialogue. All this distances the reader from the character. Very few stories today are told from omniscient.

    You'll notice I'm not saying anything about the story itself. Your story basis of a girl weathering a difficult time and waking up one day to go explore in a forbidden forest can definitely work. But, for me, you would need to rework the tone to appeal to the modern MG reader.

    One thing I think you do very well is the detail of your descriptions. You make your world appear vividly in my mind. Descriptions such as "shrouds on rope" and "water shadows caused by the little pads of her feet" are nicely done!

    I would love to hear your feedback on my remarks. Perhaps I've totally missed the point of what you're doing. Perhaps you're going somewhere more complex and intriguing with this and I can't see it with such a short sample. If that is the case, I'd love to talk with you more about it in comments. And, of course, these are only my opinions and I could be wrong.

    I hope you get good comments from the others here. I'll look forward to reading any revisions you choose to make.

    Susan

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  3. I was a little thrown by the voice here. It does feel maybe a little exaggerated, like a deliberate nod to Roald Dahl's style -- the Winkums, the omniscient narrator, the descriptions, like "e-special for her" or "bestest-friend-inthe-whole-entire-world" or "ever so many interesting things." I think even for Middle Grade, kids aren't going to want to read about perfect children, and they won't relate to perfect children. Your character as described in the first three paragraphs is hyperbolic perfection, and I am afraid it might put readers off.

    That said, as soon as I read "...until the Awful Spring, she had never known a day of true sadness in her life." Then, I was intrigued. In fact, personally, I would have loved for the story to start out with that line! "Until the Awful Spring, Aggie Winkum had never known a day of true sadness in her life." Compressing the depiction of rosy happiness and then showing the descent into depression could take place over a paragraph, perhaps. I also think it might make her decision to go to the Dark Woods a little more causal... right now, it's as if things were perfect, then inexplicably they turned bleak, then things looked great again so Aggie decides to break the rules and venture out into the dark woods because even perfect children can have a drop of naughty in their systems. I'd rather see her have a rationale for entering the Dark Woods. Maybe she thinks there are herbs to heal her grandmother, a la fairy tale lore? Maybe she sees flowers, and thinks they'll bring cheer back to the gloom-invested household? Maybe she'd made a pact with Billy, and in a fit of anger at his absence she decides to adventure without him?

    I think that you've got a solid writing style. I'm interested in seeing if you choose to stick with omniscient, and what decisions you go with for this story.

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  4. Your descriptions give a precise picture of Aggie's world. She sounds like a character young children might like.

    There were several things that struck me as I read. One was that this sounded like it was written for children 6-8 year olds, which is on the young side for middle grade.

    I think you could skip all of the backstory and start with the last paragraph where the conflict begins. As far as I could tell at this point, most of those details didn't move the story forward, and establishing her ideal life wouldn't need to be so long.

    It would be nice to add dialogue to show what the characters are like instead of telling the reader about them. I'd like to hear Aggie talk to someone to get a feel for who she is.

    Can't wait to find out what happens to Aggie in the Dark Woods. : ) Happy writing.

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  5. There are lots of lovely descriptive elements in your writing I'm not convinced that my 7 year old would have the patience to work through the backstory. I wondered whether the lack of dialogue or specific interaction between the characters made it quite difficult to feel much empathy with Aggie. There are lots of wonderful things going on in here but I think pacing would be the major thing I'd suggest working on.

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  6. I agree with the other commenters; I love the voice, but I don't know if it feels right for a MG novel. It feels a little bit young for most middle grade readers, almost more like fairy tale style, and not contemporary enough. Despite this, I do really like it, so even though the style doesn't work that well for the book, it's obvious that you have talent.

    My other concert would be that not a lot has happened, and everything that has occurred has happened in a really detached sort of way. We've been told, in a series of huge paragraphs, that her grandmother got sick, but then she wakes up one morning and feels okay anyways. If I were an impatient MG reader I don't know how well this would hold my interest.

    However, I really like the way you word things. Despite the fact that it feels passive and that not much has happened, I do care about your characters. I absolutely love Aggie; I love that you're writing about a character who has a solid family situation and a generally good outlook on life. There's so much dark YA and MG that some fresh, cheerful books would be absolutely lovely, and your writing style does communicate that tone.

    All in all, I'm not sure the writing style fits, but it's obvious that you're talented. I'm excited to read the revisions on this. :)

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  7. Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I've been pondering possible revisions all week, and so far, I have been unable to come up with a way to effectively and smoothly put your suggestions to good use in this time frame. I'd really appreciate a little more direction in this matter, _especially_ with the passive voice aspect. If any of you can jump back in by midnight tonight, I can power through tomorrow and have a good revision for Saturday.

    I hate the passiveness of the story. Really, it's killing me. However, the backstory is relevant. I also want it out of the way so that I can move on to her adventure. This is certainly more fairy tale than contemporary middle grade, and you are correct that is geared toward the young end of the spectrum. (After reading your comments, I’m beginning to fear that I have misjudged this completely and it’s actually a chapter book.)

    Her love of flowers is key to the story and it’s important to know that she really is a very good little girl with that kind of attitude. That's how she meets a strange creature who will tell her of a rare healing flower in the Dark Woods, and of the monster lurking within them. This is not a story about angst and coming of age... it's more like a Shirley Temple movie. Ohh, we’re happy. Ohh, we’re sad. Ohh, we’re all better now.

    I've been told that my tone is old-fashioned. That makes sense, even if it is problematic in this day and age. My writing is influenced by the style of A.A. Milne, Norton Juster's THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH and the Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers. I don’t mind the narrator aspect, but I’d like to figure out a way to have less of it. She’s a feisty little character, but I’ve made her into such a Mary Sue. Help, please!

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  8. Here's my specific recommendations. I actually love your tone and the way you write. Your descriptions are amazing, so be sure to let them shine. Anyway, I'm an editor at heart (been doing it for far too long) so I went ahead and added some things I thought might help to keep your words clear. Sometimes your descriptions get lost in the words. I'm not sure if this is what you wanted, but it's what I'm used to doing. You are welcome to throw them out if I have totally missed what you were going for. :)No worries.




    Once upon a time in the land of Ifanwhen, there lived a little girl named Aggie Winkum. She had bright blue eyes that twinkled like happy sapphires, and long wavy red hair that she wore in two plaits tied with the softest red yarn her mother could make. More often than not, her hair tried to escape the braids, and so it always appeared as though she had a little halo about her head, and she frequently wore dandelion and daisy-chains on her brow, so that when she came skipping over a hill in her crisp red dress and soft leather shoes (that her dear Daddy made e-special for her), she looked like a fairy child, all golden and made shining by the sun.

    (Run on sentence making it a bit muddled. I would recommend separating these into separate sentences and starting with the halo part rather than more often than not.
    She always appeared to have a little halo about her head from the hair that tried to escape the braids. Aggie wore a crisp red dress and soft leather shoes that her dear Daddy made e-special for her. Beautiful dandelions and daisy-chains adorned her brow so that when little Aggie Winkum came skipping over a hill, she looked like a fairy child in the golden light of the shining sun. (Personal preference on the golden/shining part. If you’re wanting to indicate that she’s actually glowing then might I recommend something like “in a golden glow made from the shining sun”. But this is just my preference and may not be what you had in mind.


    She had the cheeriest disposition you could imagine, and a laugh that was so bright and full of joy that (simply) hearing it once (would) leave your heart feeling warm and smiling for days. afterward. She also had the most perfect dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks. But the most magical thing (of all was her) genuinely good heart.

    She had a rare gift of knowing, somehow, that with a little work on her part, and maybe a little more faith, everything would turn out just fine. (Honestly, not sure if your story needs this part. It may be better suited at the end if she's learning the lesson. But if it’s indeed crucial I would personally go with… She always believed that with a little work and a lot of faith, everything would turn out just fine.)

    K's awake so I must pause there for now. If you'd like me to continue, I'm happy to, or if this isn't what you wanted, just let me know and I won't bother you. It's a bad habit of mine to not go through and offer suggestions on everything. I should have been an English teacher. But anyway, have a good night!

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  9. This is why I need more coffee. Lady, I should have tagged you in first. Thanks for the direction and the good start. I shall be pummeling the keyboard.

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  10. You've got a lot of great description and your prose is very strong.
    I didn't feel very connected with the characters and didn't feel much of a hook however. I also realized there is no dialogue.
    To be honest you've got strengths I wish I had. There are a few lines that honestly wowed me. Though the voice is younger than what I normally read, throw in some hooks and you'd make me a fan.

    -Max Brunner

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