Lyrical descriptive passages can be marvellous writing, but you have to be sensitive to your genre. A thriller? No. A romance? Possibly, but don’t go overboard. YA? I’m not so sure. How many teenagers are going to be happy with sentences wadded with colourful adjectives, descriptive phrases heavy with metaphor? There’s a specific term for this style of writing, “purple prose”, where writing is judged to be too much style over substance. Is this submission guilty?
Language: British English
Synopsis: In an Afrofuturistic world where monsters and humans share the same living space, The Church has made it their mission to relegate them to the Other and rid the world of this filth. Mmiri is a Mami Wata caught up in this war when her Earth mother is kidnapped.
He held the congregations’ attention. It wasn’t a knowledge he was oblivious to. From the way he pranced about the stage, shifting his weight from left to right, body in a swagger, fluid movements that captured the gaze of his audience; his awareness of this power shone like the glint of his silver wristwatch every time it caught the beam of one of the glaring fluorescent lights affixed to the church’s high ceiling.
There was a lull in his movement as he reached up to adjust his wireless headset, gearing up to address the congregation once more. He stared down at those that sat in the centre row, making sure his eyes landed on every one of them, even if it was just a passing a glance.
“The spirit is here,” he said. “The spirit is here, moving, in this place.” And then he blew into the microphone, sustaining the gust of air, letting the amplified sound travel, an eerie imitation of a patient wind that caressed trees and left light kisses of dust on everything it passed.
Someone in the congregation whistled, a few of them gave hoots of agreement. The image panned to settle on another in the flock, standing with eyes closed, hands raised and open in a gesture of emphatic surrender. The preacher glided down the stage, sleek shoes complementing the luxuriant red carpet. In a booming voice, he announced again,
“The spirit is here and is about to do something wonderful today!”
The congregation screamed and the person at the piano doled out a suspenseful tune that corresponded with the congregation’s impassioned shouting. Muttering indecipherable words, a sign of the fire and spirit coursing through him, his eyes moved back and forth, round the church, at those that sat in the ground floor and the rest seated on the first floor, all of them on padded chairs; a benevolent watching. He waited until the crowd fell silent before continuing his descent to the foot of the pulpit. At the end of his walk, he stretched out his hand and an aide at the far end of the auditorium hurried to his side.
Reverence in his bent posture and bowed head, the aide carefully placed a fancy looking bottle he had been carrying into the preacher’s hand. And with his hand wrapped around the container that had the resemblance of a bottle of perfume, the preacher turned to train his eyes on the scruffy half-naked boy curled up in the cage that had been behind him all along.
“You all know what this is,” he began. “An abiku,” he paused to give the word time to navigate its way into the crowd and clamp its teeth down on their attention.
“According to this child, he has lived through many lifetimes and has been born many times, to many women, usually up to six to ten times to the same woman. In this lifetime, he has died and has been reborn to one woman five times, never growing into adulthood.”
The image panned again, this time to show a close-up shot of a horrified woman. She placed a hand on her chest and crossed herself. Shaking her head this way and that way, her mouth worked, casting out this kind of misfortune from her life and that of her family.
The pastor continued, the fervency in his voice increasing as he spoke, “But, it seems that in this life, he has met his match, because brethren, I tell you this boy, who has never lived past his childhood, is nineteen! Nineteen! Can I hear a rejoicing for Jesus?!”
The pianist cued in once more as the congregation responded with gusto, their collective uproar thundering through the church.
“But…” He raised an index finger, waiting till they quieted down again. “But, alas, the battle is not won yet, because he is still under the influence of his spirit siblings and today! I want to show you that the God I serve is stronger than any principality or power.”
This time, the congregation did not need a prompt to show their support. Most of them jumped to their feet, clapping and stomping, hands in the air, waving, whistling.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ‘Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness’. The LORD has given you power over the rulers of darkness and as his anointed prophet I say you. Will. Triumph! For a thousand shall fall at your right hand and ten thousand by your left!”The preacher’s voice was brash and raw and earnest.
He pointed the bottle at the boy in the cage and the boy snarled, turning his face away as the preacher pressed a button on the container that produced a jet of water. Most of the drizzle landed on the boy’s back and he let out guttural sound, teeth bearing down so strongly on each other that it looked like he might break his own jaw. However, he made no attempt to move away from the spray and the skin where the water had landed shriveled, blackening as it molted, leaving droopy skin and ugly burns. But the pastor did not relent in his assault. With each spray, he commanded at the top of his voice:
“Lose your hold on this child! Lose your hold on this child!”
The pianist and the congregation chimed in, punctuating each proclamation with a dash of their own, “Amen, amen.”
The boy yelped and growled, the deep sound reverberating through his body in the form of small tremors. Still, he did not move away from the line of fire neither did he make any attempt to defend or protect himself. As he huddled in a corner of the cage, bare back exposed to the attack, a small lump began to form in his upper back, just below the spot where his hand joined with his shoulder. It grew and grew, his back making audible cracking sounds as the bone and flesh expanded to accommodate the growth.
Editorial comment: I let this submission run its course of the full 1000 words because I wanted people to have the chance to see that you do have a genuinely creepy scene developing here. I’m not sure where it goes from here on in, but as a reader I was interested to know what the boy was, what the preacher was going to do to him, what kind of church this was, what was going to happen. So in a way, the opening worked.
I very much doubt whether an agent would have got as far as that. I think you need to rein in the writing a huge amount, especially for the YA genre. An agent (who ignored the incorrect apostrophe on the fourth word of the first sentence) might have got as far as the second sentence, “It wasn’t a knowledge he was oblivious to” and I’m pretty sure that would stop them dead in their tracks. How is the meaning of that sentence different from, “He knew it”? Why the extra six words and ten syllables? If they had read further, they’d find that the rest of the entire paragraph is one sentence, sixty words long. This is raising all sorts of red flags for me. If we analyse that sentence, you describe how he moves on the stage in no less than four different ways. One is probably enough, two at a push. The rest of the sentence is a long metaphorical description of “his awareness” of his own power shining like the light reflected off his watch. That’s a pretty abstract concept, one which I’m not sure really works at all. Do you really want to open your novel with that kind of dense allegory?
Throughout the rest of the piece, almost no noun goes without an adjective, no opportunity to embellish or elaborate on a simple concept or action is turned down. It’s just too much. “an eerie imitation of a patient wind that caressed trees and left light kisses of dust on everything it passed” is one example. He has simply blown on a microphone. The pastor doesn’t pause to let a word “sink in”, he pauses “to give the word time to navigate its way into the crowd and clamp its teeth down on their attention”.
You have an interesting scene here, one, as I said, that’s genuinely creepy. What is this abiku? How does it manifest itself? We’re expecting some wailing, some thrashing about, perhaps some ghastly black fog emanating from the boy’s mouth. But instead, something physical actually starts emerging from his back. What is that?
I like this development. It’s creepy and uncanny and I want to see what it is that emerges, and what the pastor is then going to do about it. It’s one thing to exorcise a demon from someone, but then, where does the demon go?
But I wouldn’t have the patience “in real life” to read through what you have here before I get to this point, and I’m pretty positive that an agent wouldn’t. You’d be lucky if they got beyond that second sentence. There’s nothing wrong with creative and even elaborate writing, but in moderation, and even then not perhaps in the first few paragraphs of your book.
The problem is that unless the reader immediately falls in love with your particular style of writing, they’re going to put the book down and pick up something else. You’re not offering a story here. You’re saying to the reader, “look how elaborately and expressively I can write. Read on for more elaborate and expressive writing”. A reader wants a story, above all. Your story is buried under a heap of adjective, metaphor, allegory and adverb, most of which is unnecessary. And that’s a shame because, underneath, I can sense something quite interesting and innovative – a distinct “voice” – and that’s gold dust.
Thanks for posting.