Have you ever thought whether a book or a story you fell in love with while reading could have been told differently? Or have different characters?
I haven’t ever wondered about this until my writing teacher and friend Menna van Praag shared her one-minute writing class with an idea to develop a story, which starts with the first paragraph of her best-selling book “The House at the End of Hope Street”. You can find the posted on Facebook video here.
I’ve learned a lot at Menna’s international seminars, both from her edits of excerpts from my books, as well as her feedback to the works of others. My first book “The Truth About Family” profited considerably from Menna’s advice and feedback.
Each of Menna’s one minute courses provide a self-standing, inspiring and complete in itself piece of advice, which I never before believed possible to embrace in one minute.
So the idea I mentioned above was given by Menna in her one minute course titled “One Minute Writing Class – Play & Taking the Pressure Off”. Menna has been giving one of her students a sentence a day from her favorite books and her student wrote a page inspired by this sentence or paragraph. This exercise took pressure off Menna’s student because she didn’t have to come up with the first sentence herself and she didn’t have to face an empty page. The start was made by the sentence provided by Menna.
In this particular one-minute course, Menna read the first paragraph from her book “The House at the End of the Hope Street”. I read this book and loved it from the start, its every scene. Images generated by its text come up again and again as bright glimpses in various situations of my life. They make me smile. This is truly one of my favorite books.
As soon as I watched this video with Menna I grew immensely curious what story would appear in my head after reading this beautiful paragraph:
“The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years. It’s larger than all the others, with turrets and chimneys rising high into the sky. He front garden grows wild, the long grasses scattered with cowslips, reaching toward the long-hanging leaves of the willow trees. At night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by moonlight, the house appears enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds.”
Menna van Praag “The House at the End of Hope Street”
And this is what came out. Menna’s paragraph is quoted here again, since it is a part of this new and still unknown to me story. I hope you’ll like the result below.
The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years. It’s larger than all the others, with turrets and chimneys rising high into the sky. He front garden grows wild, the long grasses scattered with cowslips, reaching toward the long-hanging leaves of the willow trees. At night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by moonlight, the house appears enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds.
Elizabeth’s hands dropped to her sides and her mouth slightly opened.
Is this really the house she searched for? The house she came to, to find the answers. It looks nothing like the tall Gothic clog of the house with rain stains below its spiky turrets rising up in a war declaration.
Nothing like the house she remembers from her childhood. The childhood she’d tried to forget, but didn’t manage. Except one single gap. Something so immense that it erased itself from Elizabeth’s memory.
Something that made her the person she was today. Sad, pale, with lips pressed into a flat circle of a cold copper coin.
She came in the middle of the night, because she couldn’t face the house in the daylight after so many years. And now she was glad she did so. If it glowed now, in the moonlight, how would it look like during the day?
Elizabeth drew a deep breath and kept the aroma, coming from the wild roses that framed the door, inside her for as long as she could.
As she let the air out a sudden fear wrapped her into its icy arms. She came to find answers. At least she planned to do so tomorrow during the day. But this house, this fairy tale house surely couldn’t reveal anything. Someone new and good lived here. They were probably unaware of the torture and agony whirling inside this house when her family lived in it.
Elizabeth pointed her intent look at the door both hoping and fearing someone to come out.
And then she suddenly relaxed. Whether it was another gulp of rosy air, or the peacefulness of the street around her, or both, it made Elizabeth lower herself onto the fence base and lean on the metal vine branches behind her. She looked at the house.
Something must have happened here. Was this during this gap she was so keen to close? Maybe whoever lived here knew what happened.
It must have been something big and terrible. Like a hurricane.
Only a hurricane had the ability to remove everything and leave an empty space for something new to grow.
Was she and her father part of this hurricane?
What do you think of this first page?
Let me know in comments below whether you are curious of a continuation. If there is interest, we can start a new category dedicated to this story. And if you like this story to go further, let me know how you would like to name it. You are also welcome to offer the next episode or scene. Let’s discover what will happen next.
What story did appear in your mind after you’ve read the paragraph quoted above?
If you are interested to learn more about Menna, and her books, check out her home-page. And if you would like to see what kind of writing courses she offers, take a look here. Check out this link if you would like to participate in the sentence game.
Picture: A window I discovered in Cambridge last year. I imagine the House in the story above have at least one such window.