Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Written for Sandra's Writing Workshop Hop. This is the prologue to my novel-in-progress, originally written in third person, but I reworked it for this prompt and to see how it comes out. Any comments are very welcome.


Oh, Toby, stop, I think hazily. He’s waked me again with his crying. Seems like he’s been crying since he was born, six months already. I’m so tired. I cover my ears with my pillow.

Then something shocks through my body; my eyes shoot open and I’m half sitting up. The scream shivers in my bones.

It wasn’t Toby. It wasn’t a dream. I know it was my mother.

I sit trembling as the screams subside to shrieking sobs. I creep out of bed, my legs trembling, my bare feet slipping on the cold wood. I get to the door between my room and my parents’ and try to stay quiet as I open it. White light slashes across the floor from the room beyond, Toby’s room. The door is wide open.

I see my mother next to Toby’s crib. She’s bent over against my father, who’s holding her up, his hands pressed into her back. A shocked, frightened hiccuping noise comes from my throat. My father looks back. Claire, go back to bed. His voice cracks. What’s the matter, Daddy? Just go back to your room, he says. I run back and curl up under the covers, shaking.


I’m still in my pajamas, sitting in Mrs. Lamontagne’s kitchen on the other side of the wall from our house. She gave me some warm milk and chocolate chip cookies, but I’m not hungry, and the chips look like they’re moving. Mrs. Lamontagne is chattering, as she always does, but tonight she sounds chittery, like a bird, nervous. Sounds are coming through the wall; I do and don’t want to hear them. Red lights are flashing in the street outside.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s Aunt Lucie. Why is she here in the middle of the night?

She and Mrs. Lamontagne whisper to each other, then she kneels and puts her arms around me. You’re coming to my house tonight, sweetheart. You can sleep with Delphine, OK? I don’t answer but let her take my hand, lead me out the back door, across the small yard and the one behind, through the chain-link gate, down a gravelly driveway to the next street and another block to Aunt Lucie’s house.

I’m lying in bed next to my cousin Delphine, who’s wide awake. What happened? Delphine asks. She is eight, two years older than me. I don’t know, I whisper, and I know my voice is shaky. I heard my mother saying your brother died, Delphine says. I lie sleepless, tears pooling in my eyes, trickling down my face into my mouth and my ears.


  1. What an effective scene, Elaine. I like the immediacy of it, details like her bare feet against the floor boards – the reader is creeping down the hall along with her. And interesting that you took a third person narrative and tried it in the first. I wasn't clear in the beginning that she was a child; I actually thought it was a mother waking to hear her own child crying, and that may because this "I" is more a formal first person than the "close" of the colloquial or of the more spoken. It's not a child's voice so much I hear as an adult's. Yet it's written in the present tense, so a little confusing. Probably because your instinct was to write it in the third person in the first place. Anyway, the writing itself is evocative, and again, great details, like the cookies seeming to move etc. You're definitely in the moment of a child, that sensibility. I just didn't hear it in the voice. Really interested in your novel now! How far along are you with it? I'll be posting a prompt for a third person point of view so that might be a great time to post a scene from the novel!

  2. You had me sitting tense!Great narration!

  3. Stirred up quite an emotion in me. It felt so real as if I was the six year old child.

  4. I love the line "tonight she sounds chittery, like a bird, nervous." You have some great descriptive lines, though, I agree with Sandra that she sounds a bit old for 6.

  5. Thanks to everyone for the comments. I do agree that the voice doesn't sound quite right for a child, and as a reader I hate it when authors write children as if they were adults. The novel itself is written in first person, and my original third-person narration was designed to give the effect of the protagonist looking back at this event in her childhood yet detaching herself from it in an attempt to deny its impact on her life. Switching person is much more complicated than just changing pronouns; you need to change the whole tone of the writing. After having written it this way, I believe I do like it better in third. Sandra, I wrote this novel during NaNoWriMo back in the distant past and have been trying to revise it ever since. One question: do you think this passage works as a prologue? I added it in the second draft to reflect one of the changes I made in the plot.