Uncategorized, writing

Bring Out Your Dead! The WIPpet Version

Oh, dear. I’ve once again missed a couple weeks of WIPpet Wednesday! *flogs self with wet noodle* I’m afraid I’m chronically overscheduled and that catches up to me on a regular basis! Today I’m participating, though. Hurray! I’m afraid I’m going to inflict a rather morbid snippet on you today, though. I’m working on a children’s nonfiction book about the Black Death and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. There must be some gruesome children out there somewhere that want to read such a thing, right? 🙂

Since today is October 1st, I will post the first 10 paragraphs of Chapter 2. This is nonfiction but I think you’ll see that it does use some fiction techniques. Please let me know if you think this is too heavy and dark for a 12 year old. And any other observations you might have as well, of course!

Agnolo di Tura knelt next to the grave, shoulders slumped and head bowed. His shovel cast aside, he smoothed the last of the rich black soil to form a mound. His eyes burned, but he did not weep. Perhaps he had, at last, run all out of tears.

Nearby, two mongrels fought over the bright blue sleeve of a woman’s dress that stuck out of the ground. One of the dogs had unearthed it from a hastily buried corpse. Snatching up a nearby dirt clod, Agnolo threw it at them.

“Go away, you cursed beasts!”

The clod broke apart at the feet of the dogs, but it was enough to startle them into stopping their fight. Tails tucked and ears flattened, they separated and slunk away a few feet, watching Agnolo with suspicion.

He got to his feet, and took a few steps toward them, repeating, “Go, I say!”

One trotted away, its black tail held high. The other, a small brown and white speckled female, withdrew behind a clump of bushes. She might have been some lady’s pampered lap dog in former days. Now, though, her ribs stuck out from hunger and her coat no longer shone. She would be back after he left. At least she could not get at his child, buried before him. He had made sure to dig the grave deep enough and to fill it in with care.

He had done the same for his other loved ones, including his wife. Graves lay clustered under an oak tree where in happier times, the family had come. The hill overlooked Siena, a fine spot for picnicking while the children laughed and played games around them.

The Beginning of the End

The numbers of the dead had grown so large with such terrible speed that burial had become an option instead of a necessity, as it once was. Once, the dead would be carried through the streets on a platform called a bier, the priest at the head of the line chanting prayers. The death bell would sound. Weeping family members would follow. The corpse would then be buried in the cemetery, in holy ground.

With frightening quickness, that all changed as the plague devoured one after another. One bier now held two or three corpses, often members of the same family. Husband and wife, brother and sister, father and son, and so on. A funeral procession winding through the streets would be joined by two or three others spontaneously. One funeral, then, might start out to bury one or two people, and end up burying six or eight. One grave would bury several people. Then, that would not do. Trenches were dug and hundreds were buried at one time, piled one on top of another like goods on a store shelf. No one could find a priest to speak over the graves. Carts rattled through the streets, piled with corpses. People left their dead in the doorway to be picked up and placed on these carts.

When the plague first came back in May 1348, it seemed no different from other plagues. They came from time to time, an unfortunate fact of life. Some would recover from the sickness, and others would not. Soon, though, the horror of the Black Death became clear. No one had ever seen anything like it before.

Come join the fun, started by K.L. Schwengel, by clicking below to read more excerpts from works in progress, or if you’re feeling REALLY daring, post your own:

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25 thoughts on “Bring Out Your Dead! The WIPpet Version”

  1. I don’t think it’s too dark for a 12 year old. Probably something I would read. I was always reading dark things or erotica at that age. I was a weird child though. I love the fictiony part at the beginning and the description toward the end. I wonder if you would add in something as to why the priests were no longer available, but that’s probably more to my interest than to other peoples. =P

    1. LOL erotica at 12? You started young! I was a weird child as well – probably why we both grew up to be writers, :-).

      The priests were no longer available because the plague killed them off. I did mention that a little later though.

      1. I knew why I was just hoping you’d mention it. They were often the first killed off by things like that.

        Yeah erotica at 12. I was writing it then too. Slash fiction.

        1. They also ran away in great numbers. Not that I blame them, I guess.

          Haha – yes, the old slash monster. I’ve been taken by it as well but not until after my 40s. I was a LATE bloomer!

  2. I agree with Adrian, I think it’s appropriate for the age group. It is dark, but then you’re writing about dark times and it’s a story that should be told in a way children can relate to. The way you drew the reader in at the beginning, by allowing them to see through the eyes of someone touched by the plague, adds strength to the message. It also adds detail, and shows visually what it was to live in those times, experience the horrors, so to speak. Excellent job 🙂

  3. I think it’s dark, but I don’t think it’s too dark, especially since it’s writing about the times. It’s a very nice excerpt and I think it was well crafted, especially for nonfiction.

  4. I would say it’s fine for 12 year olds. I would have read it. Then again, I read a lot of ‘grown up’ books stolen from my dad’s bookshelf (Celestine Prophecy anyone? 12 is not the best age for a philosophical awakening). Anyway, I think it’s fine, and the darkness it appropriate. It was beautifully written as well!

  5. As the parent of an 11yo, I can say this is something he would read. He enjoys historical books, both fiction and non-fiction. Yes, it’s dark. But I sometimes think we worry too much about what kids read. At that age, I was reading about concentration camps. Not really any more pleasant than the Black Plague.

    Specifically about the excerpt, again, basing it on my kiddo, it reads about right to me. The pacing is good, and I like the combination of storytelling and information. It doesn’t seem either too dense/dry or like it’s talking down to kids.

    1. Whoa, concentration camps are pretty dark as well! Oh, good. Thanks for the analysis from a kid’s POV. My daughter is 25 so I haven’t had to vet anything like this in quite some time!

  6. I went to the source. I don’t have a 12 year old, but I have a newish 10 and a still new 13. I invited them to listen while I read aloud (hoping to do it justice).

    Annalise, 10: “I need MORE!”

    Jeremiah, 13::”MORE!”

    I needed to send them the link on Facebook, and let them know we can BUY the book when you’re done with it, to appease them. =)

    A note, though- I’m with Amy. Too many people worry too much about what kids are reading or watching. My always school-free kids have a very good sense of what they’re ready to be exposed to,

    I didn’t start writing Spockerotica (I should totally trademark that!) until I was 13; but, at 11, I read Sybil, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest, and the story of a heroin-addicted, suicidal teen, and another of a transsexual (I don’t remember the titles of those).

    I’m arguably a basically harmless member of society….

    Beautifully written, in a captivating manner that makes it very personal.

    1. Aww, thanks so much for having your kids give it a looksee! I’m so glad that they were interested in it! Haha – yes, one day soon hopefully they can buy it. I sent off a few sample chapters to an agent who expressed an itsy bit of interest in it so hopefully good things will follow.

      Yes, you’re right about people worrying too much about what their kids read. I do a lot of work for textbook publishers and schools and they are very restrictive. It’s rather infuriating! They have a lot of special interest groups on their backs, though, so I guess I can understand it.

      LOL I was reading westerns and kids sci fi at that age but I did get into the heavier stuff eventually.

      1. My parents might have worried more about what I was reading if they’d been able to keep up with it! =D

        We have a house full of books, and both kids have unlimited internet access and lots and lots of free time. They are both very good at knowing what they can handle.

        I think a lot of the restrictions come from adults wanting to limit the information and ideas children have access to. Knowledge is power, and it’s hard to control people if you can’t convince them you know more than they do.

        I will freely admit to having an agenda nearly diametrically opposed to control… =D

  7. I guess you have a consensus from all the other comments that this isn’t too dark. 🙂 I think this could be very effective for younger readers with the combination of narrative and fact.

    One nit: I stumbled over “run all out of tears.” It felt to me like the “all” was a bit too much.

  8. This is nonfiction? Isn’t that normally dry and boring? This is anything but, and I was sucked in immediately. I agree with Ruth on the ‘out of tears’ line, and will defer to the expertise of the others on suitability for a 12 year old. 🙂

    I’m thrilled I grew up when I did, and had parents who didn’t censor everything I read. Society is so concerned with offending someone, that the ‘political correctness’ has been taken to extremes at times. Let’s sugar-coat history to take out all the ‘bad things’ and all the ‘offensive words’. Um…no, let’s not.

    1. Oooh – thank you my dear! I’m glad it resonates. There are some absolutely heartbreaking primary sources on the subject so I have good stuff to work from.

      Yeah, I’m with you about history. Doing freelance educational work on textbooks and tests and so forth is infuriating because they are SO overly concerned with sugarcoating things, as you say. It’s made me rather cautious, I suppose. I hate that because I’m also gruesome, you know. lol. Anyhow, that’s why we as human beings have holidays like Halloween and Day of the Dead and so forth – to make death and darkness more relatable to our psyche. They’re a part of life.

  9. I liked reading goosebumps and real haunted stories as a kid. I had kind of a fascination for the dead. I should NOT have watched “Schindler’s List” at 10 years old, though. That movie was too emotionally disturbing and I had no idea what I was in for when watching it.

    Anyway, based only on this excerpt, reading is kind of how we as kids become more aware of the world. We go through experiences we haven’t had, and we see how other characters react when faced with situations, and it teaches us. We like to experience and learn what we haven’t seen and tap into emotions that take us places.

    This was powerful and tugged at the emotional strings of my heart, but not in a bad way. I wanted to read more.

    1. Good Lord I can’t even bring myself to watch Schindler’s List now at 47! Yeah, I totally agree with you about how reading gives kids world experience without actually going through the traumatic events themselves. Glad you liked it. 🙂

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