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Sunday Snippets – 24 March …

March 24, 2013

sunday_snippets2Sorry for the delay – this section is from my novel, Life in Slake Patch, a speculative alternative future novel. Men and women live in separate compounds with visiting on only one day. It is from the viewpoint of the main character, Evan. I’m interested in what imagery you get from this.

I entered the laundry to the familiar sound of heavy hoof beats. At the rear of the building were six oxen harnessed to a tread wheel. The motion moved a system of pulleys by way of thick ropes, high in the ceiling. Through a series of cogs the ropes turned wooden struts, which were submerged in large vats of soapy water, twisting the clothes. The water was heated by a furnace situated between the laundry and the brewery house.  The machine had been built using a plan found amongst the books in the library ten years previously, which made the laundry duty a much faster and more frequent process. The lye soap aroma had me remembering how I would watch my mother and sister make it. They mixed the lye with melted lard and water then boiled it. I can remember running out of the cabin shouting.

“That smells so disgusting Mother.”

“That is as maybe my boy but without it you would be blacker than mud.”

Later when the mixture thickened it was poured into shallow pans and once it had hardened I would help cut it into blocks. It was not a favorite chore but once the blocks were completed mother allowed me to deliver some to her neighbors. It gave me the opportunity to play ‘seek and hide’ with other boys in the compound, an enjoyable excursion from chores.

Jacob had told me that before the laundry machine had been built, men would wear their clothes until the smell was too much even for them to bear. At that time washing was limited to bashing the clothes with rocks in the river and then only when the river bank was clear of ice. In the winter months, so Jacob says, it was all you could do to sit next to someone. The stench within the long houses had many men risking the bitter winter cold just for relief from it.

Fellow Snippet Bloggers:


  1. Wow… I was totally in there with you. I challenge you to make it better by removing the tell word “were” You don’t have to say were – just show us what it looks like.

    Also, the introduction paragraph of the machine seems a little long. Unless the machine is absolutely intrinsic to the story, as in being a character in itself, it feels a bit long. The last two paragraphs about it seemed fine to me though. Maybe edit down the beginning a little?

    Good luck!


  2. I don’t know where this appears in your novel so I hesitate to pick too much at it, but my initial impression is that there is quite a bit of information about this tread wheel. Do we need such an in depth look at it? Is it an integral part of the story?

    It comes alive for me when Evan describes the memories the smell gives him. And I love how the senses are used here; the smell, the sight, the sounds… it’s beautifully done. And, despite my first point, I am right there in the scene.

    That second line of dialogue, to my mind at least, needs a contraction: ‘That’s as may be,’ rather than ‘that is as may be.’ Otherwise it feels a little clunky on the tongue.

    ‘Later when the mixture thickened it was poured into shallow pans and once it had hardened I would help cut it into blocks.’ Watch out for a sentence like this; you start in the present and then progress to the future with the ‘I would help cut.’ It can distance a reader from the story since progressing to the future tells us that the events have already happened and aren’t changeable. The sense of ‘what next?’ is lost. Does that make sense? o.O

    ‘an enjoyable excursion from chores’ – is excursion really what you mean? Might diversion/distraction or something to that effect work better for you?

    ‘Jacob had told me … machine had been built…’ Do you need those hads? Is there a way of constructing the sentence to drop one or both? It’s that distance problem again.

    The idea of these stinky men shivering in the cold to beat the smell out of their clothes is fantastic! I’m very interested in the sort of world this is. Good job!


  3. I like how informative this scene is without sounding preachy. The smells are overwhelming and good. It’s a wonder clothes didn’t simply putrefy. Ha ha.
    I wonder how small / young the boy is.


  4. This snippet involves pretty much all the senses, well done! I can imagine the stench in a way that makes me quite glad I can’t smell it.
    “The lye soap aroma had me remembering how I would watch my mother and sister make it. They mixed the lye with melted lard and water then boiled it. I can remember running out of the cabin shouting.”
    This starts a memory, so it might do better as its own paragraph. Also, you use ‘remember/ing’ twice, so the second sentence might be stronger if you focused on the action instead.
    I know this is just a snippet, but can you work in a sense of how old the narrator is? (Maybe in the flashback) I’m thinking still young because he’s being told about ten years ago as if he couldn’t remember it himself. But then again his voice sounds fairly adult.
    I’m intrigued how your separate compound concept works–I can see children stay with their mothers when they’re young, and that at some point the narrator has been given over to a father-figure/teacher.


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