Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Essence

Okay all you brilliant readers, I'm asking for a bit of your help here. I'm in the process of revising a middle grade novel that I wrote a couple of years ago and I've given myself the project of rewriting the first couple of chapters. What I'm asking from you is to read my new first paragraph and tell my a couple of things.

1- Would you keep reading?
2- Does this paragraph get you questioning what is going to happen in the pages to come?
3- What would you imagine this book to be about if all you read was this first paragraph.

That's it dear readers. Just three little questions and please, be honest. I promise not to get my feelings hurt.

As the moving van pulled up alongside the tall, white house on Dover Street, an odd thought flitted in and out of Matisse’s mind. It wasn’t a fully formed idea, more the stirring of a feeling, the essence of something. A house, she thought, is kind of like a person. A body, a dwelling, both of them are vessels, and from the outside you might not even notice the emptiness within.

Matisse looked out the window of the moving van as it pulled up alongside the house on Dover Street. As her eyes moved up the tall, white colonial an odd thought flitted in and out of her mind. It wasn’t a fully formed idea, more like the essence of one. “A person,” she thought, “is kind of like a house. A body... a dwelling... they can both fool you if you're looking at them from the outside. Unless you look closer you might not even notice the emptiness inside.”


  1. First, Kate, I have to say I am no writing talent, just a reader, but you asked....
    I would like to know Matisee's relationship to the house. I assume she's in the van? Or is she a neighbor watching the van pull up? I like her thought and it would make me want to know why she would compare a body to emptiness and not fullness. Which makes one believe, that she's unhappy and unfulfilled. Could be a story about a teen being forced to move with her family to a new neighborhood or even a successful business woman who has made it big but is unhappy in her soul. Hope that helps.:)

  2. I just spent a long time writing a response and trying to make it intelligible, but when it posted it, it just blew it off - gone. Lets see if I can post this (which I will copy before pressing post)

  3. OK - I'll try again:
    I would keep reading past the first paragraph, because a hollowness in the final sentence would urge me to find its missing component in the second paragraph. That sentence begins with "A body, a dwelling, both of them are vessels," which is fine,but, in my opinion, needs a linking idea (such as " from the outside you might not even notice that the inhabitant was been unable to furnish it.") My point is that the emptiness you referred to is not so much a property of the vessel as it is a mark of the capacities (or lack thereof) of the inhabitants of that vessel, and it seemed jarring to me that you brought up the idea of vessel, and then jumped right to its state without mentioning the crucial fact that its occupant decides its state. What disables the spirit that dwells in the body, or the person that dwells in the house, and will she/he/they gain that which is lacking so they can fill that initial emptiness? That, I assume, will be the focus of your story.
    Hope this is of some use.

  4. Kate, forgive me, this really got stuck in my mind. Here's what I would do to quell my uneasiness about the phrasing. You, of course, are not me, but I might as well pass along my "solution" anyway:

    As the moving van pulled up alongside the tall, white house on Dover Street, an odd thought flitted in and out of Matisse’s mind. "A house," she thought, "is kind of like a person. A body, a dwelling, both of them are vessels, and from the outside you might not even notice whether it's been well furnished or is still empty inside."

  5. I think that you're on the right track Barbara. Thanks! I'm going to keep playing around with it.

  6. Hi Kate,

    I am a random visitor who jumped over from April, whose blog I jumped to from - I can't remember where : ) But I echo your idea that my alter ego would not waste time online.

    I have found, however, that your blog is a fabulous investment of my time for the moment, and love the slideshow of beautiful artwork on the sidebar. The way you create primary and secondary focal points is at once both striking and engaging. The depth of the works are particularly enchanting to me - what a unique and beautiful style!

    I love the photo in this post, especially the open windows and door. Will the house in the novel have a mauve roof, navy shutters, and a lime green door? (Probably not, regretful as it may be ;)

    The novel intro is intriguing - I agree with Barbara's thought that one would keep reading to resolve the condition of emptiness that has been established. (2) Will Matisse find a friend? Will she find there is more to the house than meets the eye, even from the inside? (3)I imagine this book is about Matisse "finding" herself in a new place.

    This is a very long, deep thought to have "flitted in and out" - could it instead 'press' upon her mind, then in the next paragraph have Matisse let the thought go? Or would this thought trudge, wallow, or invade? Or is it something that would simply surface?

    I feel that the thought is a fairly complex opener (which is good) but that you could eliminate the phrase "a body... a dwelling..." The comparison has already been established. Could this wording be used later in the novel when Matisse considers the analogy again?

    I thought it was interesting that in the two versions you transposed 'house' and 'body.' This leads me to wonder whether Matisse discovers, through the course of the novel, that she is like the house, or if she discovers that the house is in fact like her? Or perhaps it isn't relevant? Either way, I prefer the revised format.

    I love the word 'fool' used in the revision. It makes me wonder whom (besides herself) Matisse is fooling.

    In your revised version, you refer to the thought as "one," while in your original version you include the phrase "the stirring of a feeling, the essence of something." That "something" leaves a little more open ended-ness if you refer back to this moment later in the novel.

    In the original version you could place Mattise in the van by changing the first "the" to 'her.'

    Wow this is a long comment. Here is my recommendation for your opening paragraph:
    1 - Use the original paragraph's first two sentences and the revised paragraph's last three.
    2 - Change the first "the" to 'her'
    3 - Have the thought 'surface' in her mind (or whatever you choose)
    4 - Remove "a body... a dwelling..."

    See if it speaks to you. I extend my heartfelt best wishes in your novel-writing endeavor. If you are in need of more editing and like my work, let me know. I am not professional and I imagine I didn't use all the punctuation correctly (yikes!), but I love syntax and am a young mother who dreams of editing fun books like this...


  7. Hi Bridget, send me your email address. I'd love to have you read more sometime and get your great feedback. Do you write too? If so, maybe we could trade crits.