Four on 400 September Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Middle Grade: REMY (Working Title)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Mahatma Gandhi

But the town was dirty and dying. Rémy hardly remembered it being otherwise. And what happened when more and more of the molecules afloat in this village became stained with the scum of fear?

She knelt in the dirt and lowered her face close to the ground, almost as if praying, like she’d seen Karthik’s mother do. But instead of praying, Rémy was scheming. She eyed the stones spread across the yard—hers red, Karthik’s blue—then glanced up at him. His back showed no sign of watching. Instead, he faced across the street, and she took the opportunity to give her General a shove. She sprang up from the ground, watching the General roll destructively through his array of blue stones and displace most of them.

Rémy sauntered to Karthik’s side, eyeing him to see if he’d noticed anything. But he leaned on his staff, watching his mother across the street. Missus Kapoor stood outside her front door with a screwdriver, twisting calmly at the door’s threshold. She dropped one small screw after another into the pocket of her apron, until she’d pried loose the Kindivine that had greeted every visitor to the Kapoor house since before Rémy and Karthik were born. This charm, too, went into the flowered apron, but she seemed to continue to hold it tightly, her hand remaining locked away inside that pocket as a truck rumbled past and hid her, leaving smoke in its wake.

The truck stopped in front of the Campanas’ house, where they had been lining up their belongings all morning. Those important enough to take. Cousins and granduncles worked swiftly, many hands piling these into and onto the truck, until it was precarious with the weight of their collective memories and tears. It was done in a smattering of minutes. Last, they tucked Greatmissus Campana into a small passenger roost and the truck lumbered off, a few young men hanging from its sides. A small boy Rémy didn’t know ran behind, waving and shouting.

“Karthikeya!” Their heads both snapped to where Missus Kapoor had reappeared at the door. “Time to eat!” she called.

Karthik hadn’t even looked at Rémy. But as he started across the street, she distinctly heard his voice carry back.

“I saw what you did. Expect retaliation.”

Rémy smiled at his small back, retreating across the great boundary of road.

Michelle– I can already tell this is going to be a compelling story about families being forced out of their homes and a young girl who is plotting a way to fight back. You can slow this down just a little to ground us in time and place. Because you’ve quoted Ghandi, I’m assuming this is India, but it would be helpful if there were details in the scene to confirm this–types of belongings, lingering smells of food in the air, etc. I’d also work on the first two sentences to create lines that will hook a reader. Here is a post about first lines that might help. Specifically, the “scum of fear” threw me out of the reading while I tried to understand what that meant. A few sentences down, you refer to “her General.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Why is it “hers”? Overall though, this is a great start because you’ve piqued my interest! Best of luck!

Jessica: So much to love here! You’ve done a great job setting up the tension, which makes me want to continue reading. That said, the opening jumps around a little too much for me to fully immerse myself in the story. We go from Remy worrying about her world to her playing a game and then back to the troubles in her world. I’d suggest starting with the second paragraph; flesh out the game and setting just a touch more so that we don’t have to work so hard to figure out what she means by the General and we feel we’re there with her. After that, the opening flows nicely. Well done!

Karin: I love your language and the emotion and tension you create with Rémy as well as the other characters, who are also so beautifully anchored in action. I wouldn’t change too much at all. I would consider cutting the third sentence as it’s a little too telly and pulls me out of the story. Later you can consider replacing “his” before “array” with “Karthik’s” as a little clearer. Also, I pictured the truck rumbling past and leaving them in a wake of smoke, but in the fourth paragraph I was confused because this same truck stops at the Campana’s house. Perhaps you can give us as a transition some sense of distance here; for example, “At the end of the street the truck came to an abrupt stop at the Campanas’ house…” I don’t think you need paragraph 6 (two sentences) as a set up to K saying he saw what R did because  you did a wonderful job of showing us that K wasn’t looking at but at his mother, and without these sentences his remark is even more satisfying. These are minor nitpicky details because I really loved these 400 words!

Gabrielle: Your prose is lovely, and the feeling is dark, which I love. I think, too, you’ve done good work developing character and voice in page one. I agree, however, that it jumps around a lot–without the descriptive part of the narrative that we need to root us a little better. We meet too many people, too quickly, without seeing/sensing them or the space they occupy. It’s unusual, I think, to have the feeling and the pull of a narrative so well done, but be missing that (usually easier) piece. If you give us a few lines of sensory setting description, and/or physical character description, trickled in,  as the characters move through, it will space the scene out a little and help us see it as it happens. Do that, and I think this will be gold.

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