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.
Tomoe Hasegawa stood on the porch of her home, sweeping up leftover beans with a thick-handled broom. That morning the villagers of Sotome had celebrated Setsubun by tossing roasted soybeans outside their homes to chase away the demons that brought bad luck. The annual festival signaled the coming of spring, a pleasant thought for Tomoe who wanted nothing more than the sea to grow warm enough for swimming.
She glanced up from her chores at the sound of horse’s hooves. A single horse and rider broke through the tree line, followed by twenty attendants on foot who paraded into the village carrying a wooden palanquin. Her broom paused mid-sweep.
Tomoe recognized the man on horseback as their daimyō, the local warlord who often met with the village elders, but she wondered about the mysterious visitor inside the palanquin. Could he be a messenger from the royal court? In her eleven years, she could not remember anyone of such prominence arriving in her village.
Papa was outside tallying sums with the other farmers. At the sight of visitors, he slipped off his spectacles and joined the other men to formally greet the procession.
The daimyō addressed the villagers. “Citizens of Sotome, I present to you, Regional Deputy Enya, loyal servant of the esteemed Shogun.” The door of the palanquin slid open and Deputy Enya emerged, his silk robes brushing against the ground as he disembarked.
The villagers knelt and bowed low, touching their foreheads to the ground. Deputy Enya accepted their greeting with a nod of his head. Then the women and children resumed their prior activities while the men sat back on their heels awaiting news from the royal court. Deputy Enya unfurled a scroll of parchment and began to read.
Tomoe strained to hear the announcement. She sensed Mama behind her, hovering at the door like a leaf clinging to a branch. Her six-year-old brother Yoshi jostled noisily against Mama and a muffled baby’s cry escaped from the house next door. Tomoe inched her way off the porch. The moment her foot touched the dirt, Mama’s reprimand—sharp as a bird’s cry—stopped her in her tracks. Dutifully, Tomoe stepped back onto the porch.
A whine rose up from Yoshi, causing Mama to move inside to shush him. Tomoe glanced toward the house, weighing the certainty of Mama’s fury against the pull of her own curiosity.
Michelle: Beautiful, beautiful writing. I’m totally hooked and want to read more! My only suggestion would be to slow down the paragraph where Mama reprimands her. I wanted more detail here. What did she say or was her sharp reprimand with her eyes alone? Does Tomoe know why her mother is angry? Lovely metaphors and a great sense of time and place. Best of luck with this!
Halli: I second Michelle with the beautiful writing. The words and style capture the time and place and truly puts us in 1614. You do a nice job of describing the scene as it flows. We know her father’s job, Tomoe’s age, family dynamics, and the gender roles of that time period. All through this I’m wondering what news Deputy Enya is bringing, and just when my curiosity is overwhelming me, I see I’m not alone. 🙂 Excellent job! Thank you for sharing.
Gita: I love the beginning of this story and wish I could keep reading! You’ve beautifully set the stage in a time and place most of your readers will not know, but you’ve done so in a way to make it feel very real. You use detail to create great texture—I’m thinking especially of the sounds you evoke—though there are a few places I feel there could be more detail to ground us in this world. For example, when you write that “villagers resumed their prior activities” it feels a bit thin to me—can you briefly say what were they doing before the deputy arrived? Similarly, I’m curious as to why the farmers are tallying sums. I’d love a hint as to why they’re doing this, instead of farming—is it important to the story? Best of luck—I hope to see this story out in the world!
Gabrielle: You paint beautiful visual images, and I love the tension you create between her longing to know more, and her mother’s rules. I’d love to see more detail, as Gita said–some dialogue, and I think it could be very powerful to work in some different sensory details. I also think that it could be very powerful and telling to let us see some of the reactions to the announcement. It feels like such a rare occurrence should mean it’s important and impactful to the people it’s being read to, so seeing them react would be great, and would tell us a lot about how they see their leadership. Good luck with this!