CHECKS AND BALANCES
The Peak District, Year Eight of the First Lord and Eternal Blessed First Lady’s Glorious Regime. June.
I pushed through the ranks of stern-faced men and women dressed in combat trousers and canvas jackets until I reached David.
“Good of you to finally join us, Melanie.” Without another word, he set out hacked CCTV feed to show Somerset House from the Strand.
The elegant arches and columns of the Regime’s headquarters formed a stark contrast to this utilitarian network of abandoned mines. I dutifully studied the armed soldiers guarding the archway and the helicopters hovering above the courtyard, but the larger-than-life portraits that dominated the façade demanded my attention.
Honour the First Lord demanded the painting on the left, above an image of a striking man in replica nineteenth-century military uniform. Remember the Eternal Blessed First Lady mourned its companion on the right-hand side. Its subject appeared as fragile and innocent as a rococo shepherdess, but my co-conspirators considered her a she-devil in life and their most high-profile victim in death.
“There’ve been too many deaths, too many prisoners. We need to stop the Regime once and for all,” David intoned. Years of outdoor living had given him the muscles and hearty glow he could only have dreamt of in his old life as an academic. When he spoke, people listened.
I ignored him.
My eyes lingered on the second portrait until its features blurred. Until I was content that the so-called Eternal Bless First Lady’s curves, red lips and Dior gown bore no resemblance to my soldier’s body and weather-beaten face. The Treaty camp didn’t possess a mirror, but I could well imagine the changes wrought by five years of camping in the peaks and hiding in mines, wracked by cold, hunger, and the constant fear of discovery. Besides, Marianne Helmsley’s defining feature had always been her Rapunzel curls, and I’d cropped my hair to the skull the night I fled to the Treaty.
No one had recognized me before. No one would recognize me now. If there was one thing both sides agreed on, it was that the dictator’s wife was dead.
No doubt the writer has a strong mental image of everything that’s happening in this first page, but that image wasn’t conveyed cLeary enough for me as a reader to get oriented within the scene. I needed more of a sense of the physical context in which the scene is taking place. For example, the early reference to “hacked CCTV feed” made me assume that the characters are viewing everything else that is being described that described on a monitor or screen of some sort, but I wasn’t certain.
Grounding and Context
The second paragraph refers to “Somerset House On The Strand,” followed immediately by a reference to “the Regime’s headquarters.” By those places are contrasted with “this utilitarian network of abandoned mines,” I was floundering at sea.
Eccentric Language Creates Confusion
I kept stumbling over some unusual language and word choices.
For example, in the following line
Honour the First Lord demanded the painting on the left
I wasn’t sure if the writer intended to use the verb “demanded” as written here, or simply made a mistake. The next line only exacerbated my confusion by injecting a convoluted character name (“Remember the Eternal Blessed First Lady”), along with another eccentric verb choice.
Remember the Eternal Blessed First Lady mourned its companion on the right-hand side.
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid the over-use of confusing, idiosyncratic language. For example, the following introductory framing line struck me as unintentionally humorous:
It reminded me of the mockumentary film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”. (Which is probably not the tone that the writer had in mind!)
A Part Well Done: A Snappy KIck-off
I did like the deft way the author kicked out of the scene at the end of the page.
If there was one thing both sides agreed on, it was that the dictator’s wife was dead.
That line gave me the first strong clue about the situation being presented in this story: a military dictator’s wife forced to go incognito within a hostile environment. That’s an intriguing setup for a story. (Update: See Sheryl’s suggestion in the Comments to use this line as the first line of the story–it’s a great idea!)
Writing as Telepathy
Writing is telepathy, Stephen King once said. The writer of CHECKS AND BALANCES needs to make sure that the reader can “see” the images that are playing inside the story creator’s mind. It’s not an easy task, to be sure–but that’s the challenge of writing effectively.
A big thank you to today’s brave writer for submitting this first page! Please add your feedback in the Comments.