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Jill the Lass (Alternative History)


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#1 BadgerFox

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Posted 24 September 2017 - 07:53 AM

See shiny new redraft in #22 !

 

 

 

Ok, genre is alternative history. Here's (potentially) the opening 251 words of the novel. It’s 1888, Berlin, and the gender roles are different here. Is any of that coming across here? More importantly, would this pique your interest without confusing you terribly?

 

 

    “My God, look at him!” The clerk grinned at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Seating herself down at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of cold coffee. Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her looking him up and down like a cat eyeing meat, “But then, I suppose the boy takes after his Papa. His comely, exotic Papa.”

 

    In twenty-three or so years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully.

 

    “Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Otto’s looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion. And the clerk was entirely right that Tobias here was already receiving the same treatment. Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the Tiergarten park, or on his way home to Mierendorff Street, just to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired on his own.

 

  The clerk set her grimy coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed.

 

            “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

--


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#2 michaelblaine

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Posted 24 September 2017 - 09:59 PM

Ok, genre is alternative history. Here's (potentially) the opening 251 words of the novel. It’s 1888, Berlin, and the gender roles are different here. Is any of that coming across here? More importantly, would this pique your interest without confusing you terribly?

 

 

 

    “My God, look at him!” The clerk grinned at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!”

 

      Seating herself down at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of cold coffee. Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her looking him up and down like a cat eyeing meat, “But then, I suppose the boy takes after his Papa. His comely, exotic Papa.”

 

    In twenty-three or so years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully.

 

    “Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Otto’s looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion. And the clerk was entirely right that Tobias here was already receiving the same treatment. Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the Tiergarten park, or on his way home to Mierendorff Street, just to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired on his own.

 

  The clerk set her grimy coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed.

 

            “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

--

I think that your idea is both engaging and well-written.  However, I would be sure that you're willing to take on a concept such as late-modern Germany.  Unless your goal is to create an outright alternative history, there's a laundry list of historically significant events around that time which could easily muddle any good book.  I like it though!  Add a bit of flip-flopped suffrage movements and it'd be gold!  



#3 BadgerFox

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Posted 25 September 2017 - 04:00 AM

I think that your idea is both engaging and well-written.  However, I would be sure that you're willing to take on a concept such as late-modern Germany.  Unless your goal is to create an outright alternative history, there's a laundry list of historically significant events around that time which could easily muddle any good book.  I like it though!  Add a bit of flip-flopped suffrage movements and it'd be gold!  

 

michaelblaine, thank you so much for your helpful comment! This is good advice, and I've kept an eye on the c19th timeline (e.g. basic wiki one I've been looking at: https://en.wikipedia...ry#19th_century ) plus more in-depth research. Thankfully I've got two protagonists and the action moves to the other one's country (Scotland) fairly soon, which since I'm Scottish I know better. But you're so right, it's good to think about things like how a character's self-conception of their identity would change through the 1871 unification - you're 'Prussian' on Tuesday but then 'German' on Wednesday, so what does that do to WHO you feel you are, you know? :)

 

Feedback noted and gratefully recieved :) 


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#4 JoQwerty

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 08:20 AM

I am having trouble believing the setting. At that time German officials (and especially the Prussian variety) were known for their professionalism and probity -- they were the original untouchables. Their conduct would have been strictly by the rules and there would have been no small talk with citizens in the office. I can't imagine a clerk working for the government making such personal comments. (Even today it is rare to see a clerk smile in German government office ... :smile: )

 

On the other hand, if you were to set this same exchange in Paris or Madrid, I would have no problem suspending my disbelief... :wink:



#5 BadgerFox

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 09:38 AM

I am having trouble believing the setting. At that time German officials (and especially the Prussian variety) were known for their professionalism and probity -- they were the original untouchables. Their conduct would have been strictly by the rules and there would have been no small talk with citizens in the office. I can't imagine a clerk working for the government making such personal comments. (Even today it is rare to see a clerk smile in German government office ... :smile: )

 

On the other hand, if you were to set this same exchange in Paris or Madrid, I would have no problem suspending my disbelief... :wink:

 

Thank you for your very helpful feedback!

 

Of course, you make an excellent point - the Prussians were known for their formality and stiff manners at this point in history. Berlin's been such a wacky contradiction to write - all these upright, formal Prussians, yet it's simultaneously got super-liberal attitudes in being Europe's biggest red light district, LGBT hangout and lesbian cafe scene!

 

Hmm, perhaps my clerk needs to rein it in and not make lecherous remarks to citizens, then. OR she's being unprofessional because she only works for a shitty employment agency and they don't pay her enough :D OR maybe she IS from elsewhere in Europe and doesn't have Prussian manners, and I need to demonstrate that. OR if she's going to be so flirty with my character, my character needs to be surprised at her behaviour and note how improper it is. Maybe a mix of these.

 

Hm, food for thought and ideas for making changes! Thank you so much.


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#6 BadgerFox

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 12:05 PM

[Revised so my clerk isn't being QUITE so unprofessional :) ] :

 

 

         “Good God, look at him,” The clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Sitting herself down at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of cold coffee. Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her look him up and down like a cat eyeing meat. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa.”

 

In his twenty-three or so years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully.

 

            “Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. I do think it improper. But that’s what I get for entering a private office with a strange woman at a seedy little second-rate agency, isn’t it? Otto’s looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion. The clerk was not wrong about Tobias here already receiving the same treatment. Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the street to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired on his own.

 

The clerk set her coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed.


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#7 sarahaspen

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Posted 25 October 2017 - 05:12 PM

“Good God, look at him,.” The clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms., “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!”

 

Sitting herself down at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of cold coffee. If we are in Otto's POV, as we seem to be, how would he know if the coffee is cold or not? Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her look   she looked him up and down like a cat eyeing meat This is a little cliche. I point it out because you want the writing in your opening to really shine and stand out. Can you think of a fresher way to describe that look? “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa.” Nice change here from the original. :)

 

“Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. In his twenty-three or so years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully. I do think it improperBut that’s what I get for entering a private office with a strange woman at a seedy little second-rate agency, isn’t it? 

 

Otto’s looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion. The clerk was not wrong about Tobias here already receiving the same treatment. Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the street to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired on his own. Hmm, I feel like I need a sense of Tobias's age, as being in his father's arms made me imagine an infant, but the sharp wits is telling me he might be older?

 

The clerk set her coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed. 

 

Hey there! I will admit I don't read much historical fiction, but I do adore the concept of a gender-role-switching alternate history. This opening definitely sets that up well and intrigues me to read more about how this society functions and how the gender reversal plays out in other areas. I think this is limited third POV, where the scene is filtered through one character's perspective. We seem to be in Otto's head most of the time, but be careful of sticking to that perspective. Also, the reader will know that they are seeing what he sees, so no need to say "he saw".  You don't have to tell us he thinks it's improper as we can tell from his other thoughts. Same with the phrase "uncomfortably aware". It is implied in the next line (I moved it after the dialogue, just a suggestion), though you might also add some body language to emphasize it. I love the role reversal in him blaming himself with the line about the private office. Nicely done! The child is talked about in general, but could you add a small action to make him feel real and present in the scene? I hope this helps. Overall, I think this is really cool, and I would continue reading on. Feel free to use whatever advice works for you and disregard anything that does not fit your vision. Good luck with this!



#8 b.katona

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Posted 26 October 2017 - 08:48 AM

“Good God, look at him,” The clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door! this is pretty good” Sitting herself down at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of cold coffee. Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her look him up and down like a cat eyeing meat. not necessarily bad but a sorta turn-off... rephrase it, like "shamelessly measuring him" (anything I write in quotation marks is just a cheesy idea, you get the idea) “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa.” now this might be a little over the top but she might do something here, like bite her lip or something along those lines to emphasize how badly improper this is

 

In his twenty-three or so I don't know if he IS 23 or has been the target of such compliments for that long for some specific reason but it's not very useful either way years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully. I agree with sarahaspen, this would come much more naturally after him thanking the "compliment"

 

            “Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. I do think it improper it can work this way but you might want to consider something like "Of course it's not improper," he thought sarcasticallyBut that’s what I get for entering a private office with a strange woman at a seedy little second-rate agency, isn’t it? Otto’s looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion Now this is very powerful. What I do think though is it comes off as listing negative male stereotypes, simply attributed to females in a gender-swapped story and that may come off as very simplistic. You might want to reconsider it because some readers might not get to the point where your story really gets into its arguments and ideas, only because they get the impression your book is just a YouTube gender-swap skit in 200 or so pages. Yes, you should keep this list because, as I've said, it's powerful, but try to show your smarts in addition to establishing the alternate history. The clerk was not wrong about Tobias here already receiving the same treatment you really should state the age prior to this because at first I thought he was maybe a one-year-old and however sexually malevolent you're trying to show your females, that would be a stretch.... Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the street to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits it's been said before me but it does raise the question of his age, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired be developing on his own.

 

The clerk set her coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed this line is pure gold--loving it.

 

This is overall a pretty nice piece of writing. I think people would keep reading as is, still, I hope my suggestions help you, even if only in a small way...



#9 Erik18

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Posted 26 October 2017 - 12:10 PM

The writing is fine, but I do have some quibbles.  First how old is the kid?  Since he's in Otto's arms, I'll assume he's a baby.  My experience is that everybody stops to admire a baby.  They're all adorable - even if they do look like Winston Churchill.  So the comments related to the child's physical appearance seem diminished.  You later go on to mention the child's wit, which seems incongruent with the apparent age of the child.  Furthermore, this fact is out of context in that the admiration appears to be related to the kid's looks.  How would the observer be drawn to or even notice his wit from pure observation?

 

Next, I like the gender bending, though why you'd need to set it in a specific time and place isn't clear to me yet.  As others have pointed out, trying to conform to a historical reality may be constricting, particularly since you are changing the cultural rules through your gender-bending. It's a fine line you're trying to walk.

 

Finally, and maybe most important for me, is the lack of conflict.  You've done a good job setting up the alternate-world aspects of the story, but the only tension is that Otto is embarrassed by the constant attention to his good looks (I should only have those problems;-).  What's at stake?  Is there a threat (you needn't articulate that threat, but you can use teasers that will provoke interest - e.g. He wished she'd get to the point.  or have the clerk say something like "Do you know why you're here?" or maybe just a gesture like biting his lip or fidgeting uncomfortably.  Why IS Otto there with his child?   Is he worried about being there? Is he afraid of what he will hear from the clerk?  Is there a problem?  What does Otto want and what's preventing him from getting it?  For me, while the gender thing may be interesting, it's not enough to suck me into the story.  



#10 booksbybrendan

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Posted 26 October 2017 - 10:37 PM

Yo! I agree with Erik; while the gender thing is intriguing, its not enough to carry the whole story on its own. That being said, it definitely would carry me through at least the first few chapters. I also think there is a little conflict (Otto being uncomfortable around leery women). So that's good! All in all, I'd definitely read on if it were me

[Revised so my clerk isn't being QUITE so unprofessional :) ] :

 

 

         “Good God, look at him,” The clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Sitting herself down at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of cold coffee. How does he know it's cold? Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her look him up and down like a cat eyeing meat. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa.”

 

In his twenty-three or so years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully.

 

            “Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. I do think it improper. But that’s what I get for entering a private office with a strange woman at a seedy little second-rate agency, isn’t it? Otto’s looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion. Not sure I like this sentence. Sounds off The clerk was not wrong about Tobias here already receiving the same treatment. Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the street to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired on his own.

 

The clerk set her coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed.

This is just a style qualm, but you've got a ton of adverbs in here. Think about combining the weak verb and the adverb into a strong verb- it reads better just about any time. Good luck!



#11 Mdane

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Posted 27 October 2017 - 03:35 AM

[Revised so my clerk isn't being QUITE so unprofessional :) ] :
 
 
         “Good God, look at him,” the (after a commer, the following word is not a capital) clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “you’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” The Clerk sat herself down at the desk opposite and adjusted her ink-stained mittens (seemed too wordy). She took a sip of cold coffee.

 

Over the cup’s chipped rim, Otto saw her look him up and down like a cat eyeing meat.

 

“I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa.” (the attribution of this speech is not the easiest to pick up because you were immediately talking about Otto before)
 
In his twenty-three or so years of receiving these compliments, Otto had never acquired the knack of accepting them gracefully.  “Thank you,” he murmured, uncomfortably aware of the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. I do think it improper. But that’s what I get for entering a private office with a strange woman at a seedy little(I think the point gets across without this) second-rate agency., isn’t it? Otto’s looks (maybe appearance or good looks) often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Mostly it was just embarrassing, Berliners whistling at him in the street over his singular Turkish complexion. The clerk was not wrong about Tobias here already receiving the same treatment. Strangers routinely stopped Otto in middle of the street to coo over his son’s gorgeousness. Tobias had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s sharp wits, and a sweetly trusting disposition he frankly must’ve acquired on his own.
 
The clerk set her coffee-cup down upon her desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed.

 

Hi, not a bad introduction. The things I picked up on were just preference to me, and others might see things differently (apart from the no capital letter after a comma thing). I make it a point not to read others comments so I don't get influenced by their responses so I'm not sure if they picked up on the same thing. All in all looking good.

 

I just picked up something in the second last paragraph, I could be wrong because I'm dead tired, but you initially talk about Otto in 3rd person, but in the same paragraph you change to 1st person when he thinks to himself. Is this proper? maybe it should change to "He did think it improperBut that’s what he got for entering a private office with a strange woman at a seedy second-rate agency."


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#12 BadgerFox

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Posted 27 October 2017 - 05:28 AM

Gosh, my lack of maternal feeling is showing! It’s clear I don’t even know which way up a baby goes or what you do with it. I basically define ‘Baby’: ‘Small noisy leaking object that male characters carry around with them to evoke the readers’ sympathy’ :D

 

But seriously, thanks so much, all for the excellent advice. It’s been so helpful. I’ll be sure to reconsider baby Tobias’ role in this scene.

 

Also:

‘because they get the impression your book is just a YouTube gender-swap skit in 200 or so pages’

…but…what if it IS just a tacky YouTube gender-swap skit for 200 pages? :O (that, and some Victorian dick jokes) *cackles maniacally*

 

Good questions about the reasoning behind a historical setting! Thank you for bringing that up. I’d say, reasons: a) Hot steampunk men in waistcoats b) With a future or present-day setting, I was concerned it would be misconstrued as a sexist right-wing cautionary tale of ‘political correctness gone mad’ and those militant ‘feminazis’ going too far? A past dystopia sidesteps that in the way a future or present one wouldn’t.  c) EARLY SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT, YAY!

 

I hope this next draft shows that the very next sentence is the heart of the conflict – the clerk’s supposed to have found starving, poverty-stricken Otto work…except (O NOES) there isn’t any…!


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#13 BadgerFox

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Posted 27 October 2017 - 05:31 AM

REDRAFT #3

 

“Good God, look at him,” the clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Seating herself at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of her anaemic-looking tea. Over the cup’s rim, she devoured Otto with her eyes, a laudanum-addict eyeing up a tasty spoonful. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa,” she winked.

 

“Thank you,” Otto murmured, the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Twenty-three years in this world to practice receiving compliments politely, and he’d still not acquired the knack. Improper? Never! he thought sardonically, but then, that’s what I get for entering a private office with a stranger at a seedy second-rate Berlin agency, isn’t it?

 

            Otto’s singular Turkish looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Tobias was only nine months old, and already Otto fretted for his future. He had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s stoic manner, and a sweetly trusting disposition whose origin was anyone’s guess.

 

The clerk set her teacup down upon the desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed. “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

Otto’s stomach, already empty, lurched now with dread. Lady above! If the agency cannot find me work today, we are in severe trouble.


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#14 sarahaspen

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Posted 27 October 2017 - 07:40 AM

REDRAFT #3

 

“Good God, look at him,” the clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Seating herself at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of her anaemic-looking tea. Over the cup’s rim, she devoured Otto with her eyes, a laudanum-addict eyeing up a tasty spoonful. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa,” she winked.

 

“Thank you,” Otto murmured, the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Twenty-three years in this world to practice receiving compliments politely, and he’d still not acquired the knack. Improper? Never! he thought sardonically, but then, that’s what I get for entering a private office with a stranger at a seedy second-rate Berlin agency, isn’t it?

 

            Otto’s singular Turkish looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Tobias was only nine months old, and already Otto fretted for his future. He had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s stoic manner, and a sweetly trusting disposition whose origin was anyone’s guess.

 

The clerk set her teacup down upon the desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed. “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

Otto’s stomach, already empty, lurched now with dread. Lady above! If the agency cannot find me work today, we are in severe trouble.

 

Hey, excellent revision work! A few notes:

 

"smirked" is an action beat, not a dialogue tag. So use a period. "Good God, look at him." The clerk smirked . . . Murmered is a dialogue tag, so you have formatted it correctly with a comma. I'm not sure if you need "he thought" and italics. I would use one or the other. Or alternately, without using either, you could write: Improper? Never! But wasn't that what he got for entering a private office with a stranger at a seedy second-rate Berlin agency? Hadn't his father warned him to avoid such situations? And this would still be perceived by the reader as Otto's thought since we are in his POV. (I added the last line as something that might fit the tone you are going for) My last note is probably a personal quibble, but I've never heard a baby described as "stoic". But I don't know, maybe Tobias is a little baby Buddha! :) Overall, nicely done!



#15 Erik18

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Posted 27 October 2017 - 08:01 AM

Ugh!  Those last 5 words have to go.  You're in Otto's head, we hear his actual thoughts and he says "...we are in severe trouble."?  Really? so formal?  That doesn't sound very desperate or angry. I'd expect "we're in deep shit"  or "we're fucked" - excuse my language.  Get some emotio in there.  And a perfect opportunity to give Otto a voice.



#16 BadgerFox

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Posted 27 October 2017 - 08:13 AM

Ugh!  Those last 5 words have to go.  You're in Otto's head, we hear his actual thoughts and he says "...we are in severe trouble."?  Really? so formal?  That doesn't sound very desperate or angry. I'd expect "we're in deep shit"  or "we're fucked" - excuse my language.  Get some emotio in there.  And a perfect opportunity to give Otto a voice.

 

I knoooooooooow but Otto cannot say it like that, because it's 1888, and nobody of that era uses the word 'fuck' unless they are quite literally insane, a criminal with no respectability, or a deeply eccentric aristocrat who's too rich to care. A polite member of the lower-middle-class can't realistically say it, even in his head.

 

But I take the point. I have a responsibility to find the Victorian version of 'o fuck, we're really screwed'. It IS too formal. Something about woes and problems and troubles. Thank you for flagging it up :)


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#17 smoskale

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Posted 28 October 2017 - 10:56 AM

“Good God, look at him,” the clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Seating herself at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She and took a sip of her anaemic-looking tea. Over the cup’s rim, she devoured Otto with her eyes, a laudanum I had to google the term; couldn't "opium" do the job here?-addict eyeing up a tasty spoonful. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa,” she winked.

 

“Thank you,” Otto murmured, the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Twenty-three years in this world to practice receiving compliments politely, and he’d still not acquired the knack Definition of a knack is a special ready capacity that is hard to analyze or teach; if you want to say "acquire," "knack" is not the right word. Perhaps "has not acquired the skill" or has not discovered the knackImproper? Never! he thought sardonically, but then, that’s what I get for entering a private office with a stranger is the baby the stranger? he entered the office WITH the baby, but I think you mean the clerk? Perhaps omit "with the stranger" at a seedy second-rate Berlin agency, isn’t it?

 

            Otto’s singular Turkish looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Tobias was only nine months old, and already Otto fretted for his future. He had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s stoic manner, and a sweetly trusting disposition whose origin was anyone’s guess. Awww I love this sentence.

 

The clerk set her teacup down upon the desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed. “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

Otto’s stomach, already empty, lurched now with dread. Lady above! If the agency cannot find me work today, we are in severe trouble.



#18 anah+theshadowaccomplice

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Posted 01 November 2017 - 04:11 PM

REDRAFT #3

 

“Good God, look at him,” the clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen will be breaking down your door!” Seating herself at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of her anaemic-looking tea. Over the cup’s rim, she devoured Otto with her eyes, a laudanum-addict eyeing up a tasty spoonful. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa,” she winked.

 

“Thank you,” Otto murmured, the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Twenty-three years in this world to practice receiving compliments politely, and he’d still not acquired the knack. Improper? Never! he thought sardonically, but then, that’s what I get for entering a private office with a stranger at a seedy second-rate Berlin agency, isn’t it?

 

            Otto’s singular Turkish looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Tobias was only nine months old, and already Otto fretted for his future. He had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s stoic manner, and a sweetly trusting disposition whose origin was anyone’s guess.

 

The clerk set her teacup down I tend to find directions like this redundant :) upon the desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there I feel like if there was this much sloshing going on... she did a little more than "set" it down. She sighed. “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

Otto’s stomach, already empty, lurched now with dread. Lady above! If the agency cannot find me work today, we are in severe trouble.

I dig it. 

 

To note a couple things mentioned by previous posters on this draft, I'd say stick with laudanum. It's specific, it's not just opium. And as for the thought at the end, I agree, it's pretty formal to be directly in his head. You could either pull out and give the information as the narrator, as you did with him not having acquired a knack for receiving compliments, or change up how he's saying it to himself. Even if he's a member of polite society, you have to remember people's in head voices are often different from their out of head voices. He might never dare to say something to crass out loud, but he may very well say it inside. You could even get the "we're in trouble" by having him think something like "Lady above! There has to be something!" With the rest of the context in the book around it, I'm sure people will get the point and get a better sense of urgency. 


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#19 BadgerFox

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Posted 04 November 2017 - 08:34 AM

Thanks so much, folks, this has been truly helpful for buffing up my novel opening :)


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#20 Mylorian

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Posted 10 November 2017 - 02:40 AM

REDRAFT #3

 

“Good God, look at him,” the clerk smirked at the child in Otto’s arms, “You’ll need to lock him up in a few years’ time. The young gentlewomen (why not 'ladies'? Just a thought) will be breaking down your door!” Seating herself at the desk opposite, the clerk adjusted her ink-stained mittens. She took a sip of her anaemic-looking tea. Over the cup’s rim, she devoured Otto with her eyes, a laudanum-addict eyeing up a tasty spoonful. “I hope you won’t think it improper if I say the boy plainly takes after his Papa,” she winked.

 

“Thank you,” Otto murmured, the phrase coming out sullen instead of grateful. Twenty-three years in this world to practice receiving compliments politely, and he’d still not acquired the knack. Improper? Never! he thought sardonically, but then, that’s what I get for entering a private office with a stranger at a seedy second-rate Berlin agency, isn’t it? I'm confused - agency? I thought this was a government official, but maybe I was misled here by earlier comments. Do we get to know soon what type of agency? OK, so I've read below and I find it's an employment agency. But does he have any choice then as to where and with whom the meeting occurs? I'm struggling with 'entering a private office with a stranger'. So I'm thinking, instead of 'that's what I get' change to 'that's the price you have to pay for entering...

I do hope this makes sense to you!!!

 

            Otto’s singular Turkish looks often made strange women try to give him things he hadn’t asked for. Free drinks. Cat-calls. Sweets. Compliments. Themselves. Tobias was only nine months old, and already Otto fretted for his future. He had his father’s black eyes, his mother’s stoic manner, and a sweetly trusting disposition whose origin was anyone’s guess. Nice!

 

The clerk set her teacup down upon the desk, heedlessly sloshing watery brown onto the documents there. She sighed. “I fear little has changed since we last spoke, Herr Müller.”

 

Otto’s stomach, already empty, lurched now with dread. Lady above! If the agency cannot find me work today, we are in severe trouble. Ah hah! So it's a recruitment agency! That's OK - you don't need to reveal earlier

 

OK - I've added some comments and suggestions, but only because that seems to be the expectation on this site! (I'm struggling with some that I'm receiving!)

But I LOVE THIS! I love your writing and attention to detail, but mostly I love that you are writing about the same period and place as I am (in my sequel to the novel I have a query critique for here, most of which is written and heavily researched, but not yet referred to on this site!)

 

So my major question is whether there is any reason why it's 1888 in Berlin? (It's difficult to tell from this alone as to why you have selected this era - have you also done a query letter on this site? I can't find one.) I think what posters need to recognise is that agents aren't going to read this until they've read a query, which provides a bit more context - assuming you're following the traditional publishing route.

 

The reason I ask about the year is that, of course, this was the age of Bismark and the beginning of the Wilhelmina era. With your gender-bending theme, could you push this forward a few years? (You may have good reason for the time period that fits in with other events!) I'm just thinking that early 20th century Berlin was, of course, renowned for cabaret and an emerging liberalism that was very sexually overt.

 

Anyway, you probably know all of this. Other than that, I think my major criticism would be lack of foreshadowing - I don't know why I'm here on your first page and what's at stake for the protagonist. Since this is only the first 250 words, I wouldn't have put this down yet, but I would be hoping to get an idea of obstacles some time soon.

 

Hope this isn't too much excited babble - I'm finding it really difficult to find other writers of historical fiction!

 

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