Oh, do I have a treat for you! I found 41 pages of a novel I wrote when I was in college. It doesn’t have a date on it, but it was written on a word processor (remember those???) and that’s when I owned a word processor. Since this had to be over thirty years ago (egad!), I don’t remember much about this story at all. So that should make it fun for me to read. And even more exciting to edit my former self. Hmm. I wonder if it will give me insight into who I was as a young adult. Double hmm. Will I even want to know her?
All grammar, spelling, etc. is as originally typed. Although, as I retype it I am using one space after a period instead of two, which was common back then. I’m also leaving out indents. Let’s begin:
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I can even recall the smells of that morning…the pungent odor of rain beaten grass, and the sweet, angelic aroma of wind blown flowers. It was the day after the big storm that sent many of us scurrying to our houses in a panic. Sometimes our storms can be very severe, and it takes a real effort to remain footed to the ground. But that next morning, I had this sense of peace, as if the storm had only been an illusion, and the uprooted small, fragile trees were only a mirage.
That day, as I walked past the flooded ditches, I had a fleeting glimpse of the Virgin Mary, and she was reaching out to me as if to give me comfort. But she had only been a momentary sighting, so I couldn’t say if it was my imagination, or some strange, ghostly reality.
I know that now all this means nothing…and if I could just have that day back, I would change the way everything happened, and I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be stuck here like some caged animal, hurting from the inside out. I would be able to smell the mornings again, and watch the storms grow wild. I could appreciate that now. I don’t think storms could frighten me anymore…not like they used to.
Okay, not a bad start! Prologues are tricky and a lot of “how-to-write” books beg people not to use them. But, as you will see in Chapter One, the next part of the story starts in the past, so I can prologue-it with the best of ’em.
These three paragraphs are basically the worm dangling on the hook. The biggest issue here, besides the common commas, is that we really have NO IDEA who this character is or why we should care about her. Also, the descriptions are…well….lame. I like “pungent odor of rain-beaten grass,” but “angelic aroma of wind-blown flowers”? Not doing it for me. Though, bless her heart, the young author tried to be romantic. I think I was, once. A long time ago.
Here is what I’d do to make this story have a stronger start:
My room smells like rotting fish and copper. The cracked, peeling paint on the windowless walls reveals what was once Victorian style wallpaper. It may have been a beautiful closet once. Large enough to hang hoops, bustles, velvet wraps and all the embellished bonnets a woman of privilege could collect. Perhaps a mirror sat propped in the corner. A lady-in-waiting preparing to help the elegant woman with her cumbersome attire. A light bulb attached to the ceiling…no, a small chandelier.
The light bulb, I have. The only luminosity I’ve seen in countless months. But now I picture the chandelier as its soft light picks up the shine in the mistress’s eyes. Her gaunt servant buttoning up the lavish, fur-hemmed coat. An emerald glistens from the rich woman’s ring finger…
I am going mad.
My cot squeaks and rattles beneath my body as I lay across the threadbare quilt and squeeze my eyes so hard I see stars. A rumble shakes my room, and my heart seizes. I open my eyes and stare hard at the wall, holding my breath, straining my ears. Another rumble trembles the room.
Thunder. I can only imagine the lightning that precedes it. I used to be afraid of these types of storms. The sound deafening, my entire body jolted as if by electricity. But no, that was just my fear. A fear I no longer hold. It died along with my soul that day; the day the wind blew so fierce it lifted our feet, stole us from the ground. Women dashed to their homes, screaming for their children. Men rushed to pull shutters closed. The entire world was gray, the storm had chased away all color. Like the Wizard of Oz. Except, unlike Dorothy, I’d made it inside. Safe. Unharmed. Home.
The next morning I’d left the house to find uprooted trees, their snarled roots like angry snakes. The pungent odor of rain-beaten grass. Flooded ditches and puddles wide as cars. I walked through our town, the sun beating against my pale skin, birds chirping sweet songs, the breeze a caress across my cheek. It seemed impossible that just hours before we’d all run through the streets in a panic. Last night felt like a bad dream.
As I crossed the street, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the Virgin Mary. She reached out her arms, as if to comfort me. I gasped, and she was gone. A miracle. A mirage. A mirror, perhaps. But, definitely not a comfort. I blinked and shook my head. She didn’t return.
If only I could get that day back. Rewind and replay. I’d do so many things differently. Then I wouldn’t be here, like some caged animal, daydreaming about the people who used this room as its proper function. If I could just have that day back, I’d be able to smell the air again. Feel the grass beneath my feet. Feel loved again. Feel a man’s breath against my neck. So many things I no longer had and missing the one thing I took for granted: My freedom.
If I could just have that day returned to me, I would never be scared of storms again.
What I changed: We now know a little more about this person. We know she’s a woman (at least, we can assume it pretty easily). We know she is in a room. Solitary. And it’s small enough to be a large closet. And it hasn’t been kept up. We know she has been there a while and she’s feeling as if she’s losing her mind.
We want to know what happened that put her in this place. What was it that happened to her that took away her freedom. We’re curious about the person she was when she was frightened of storms.
I kept quite a bit of what I’d previously written, and maybe that would change if I read the story in its entirety. Is the Virgin Mary going to play a part in this story? What is the significance of her seeing such an iconic religious symbol? How does it tie into the story?
What do you think? Is the Prologue better now that it’s been rewritten? What might you have done differently? Feel free to share in the comments.