A reader's novel opening goes under the editorial microscope
Read our suggested rewrite of a reader's first 300 words and for the full critique, see the September issue of Writing Magazine.
Just Seventeen, by Carla Adams - original version
It feels like I have been kicked in the stomach, unfortunately something I have experienced. The difference this time is that no one has physically touched me.
The effects, however, are identical.
Air claws its way out of me in short, sharp bursts. My throat tightens trying to halt its attempts to escape. My lungs scream with pain demanding its return.
I want to run.
I need to run, but my body betrays me.
I have, unwillingly, surrendered all control. My feet have taken root, as if now one with the polished, wooden floor beneath me. My eyes refuse to close and can’t be persuaded to look away.
I stare at the yellowing, newspaper cutting that is taking centre stage in the display cabinet. The text scurries around the paper, like ants at a picnic, but the accompanying photograph is as clear as the glass protecting it.
And it is instantly recognisable.
Nausea engulfs me.
“Awful, isn’t it?” Frank’s voice, behind me, is a reminder that I am not the only person in the world.
I think that I manage a nod in response. I can’t be sure. I am actually grateful of my inability to form words, afraid that what I might say could result in a stay in a psychiatric hospital, or at the very least some very strong medication.
“I still remember it like it was yesterday.” Frank continues, seemingly oblivious to my distress. “He came running in here, looking scared to death. I could see, through the glass doors behind him, what, well who, he was running from. Three of them, there were. Well known for causing trouble. I didn’t have a clue what had gone on, but I knew that three against one wasn’t fair.”
Just Seventeen - McCredited version
It feels like I have been kicked in the stomach.
I gasp and gulp in short, sharp bursts. My throat is tight despite my efforts. My lungs scream in contraction. Nausea engulfs me.
I want to run.
I need to run, but am betrayed by paralysis.
I have lost all control: static on the polished wooden floor. My eyes won’t close but won’t look away.
I stare at the yellowing newspaper cutting in the display cabinet. The text squirms and blurs, but the accompanying photograph is numbingly clear.
“Awful, isn’t it?” Behind me, Frank hasn’t noticed my reaction.
I think I nod. I can’t be sure. I’m grateful I can’t form words.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Frank continues. “He came running in here, looking scared to death. I could see through the glass doors behind him what – well, who – he was running from. Three of them, there were. Well known for causing trouble. I didn’t have a clue what had gone on, but I knew that three against one wasn’t fair.”