Friday, April 20, 2007

New Beginning 263

Kevin Junior looks just like his father,” Tiffany said. She watched a strapping young lad holding a basket of food headed their way. Tiffany felt old sitting with his parents.

“Yes, my boy is the spitting image of his Father,” Allison said, hugging her husband with one arm. Kevin stood a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than his father.

“He has your blue eyes, dear.” Kevin Senior hugged his wife. Ren McCormack nudged Tiffany and rolled his eyes.

“Kevin's the quarterback this year. He's going to the championships, again. Last year, he won wrestling,” Allison said, her eyes twinkling with pride. Ren faked a smile.

“I heard. Didn't your son rip another boy’s knee apart with his bare hands?” Tiffany asked.

“That wasn’t Kevin’s fault. They don’t test for inferiority and weak bones are weak bones. Kevin Junior is damn near genetically perfect.” Allison wagged her finger. Her anger expressed itself for a moment behind her façade of mint julep, homespun goodiness. “But don’t you tell him that, dear. My goodness, the boy already thinks he’s invincible.”

Ren and Tiffany looked at each other. Ren shrugged and Tiffany let out a sigh. “Okay. We’re convinced. Two hundred, right?”

“Cash.” Allison pulled out a receipt book. “We have to levy a surcharge for credit.”

Ren pulled out his wallet. “No problem. We’ve got the cash.”

“So...” Tiffany glanced at Ren again. “What happens next?”

Kevin Sr. pointed over their shoulders. “Well, we usually just put ‘em in the paddock there and let ‘em, you know, get acquainted.”

“Oh. I see. Well, if that’s . . . So, Cecilia?”


“Don’t worry, honey,” Allison said. “Take your time.” She still couldn’t believe how easily the money rolled in since they put Kevin Jr. out to stud.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Anonymous


takoda said...

There are very few things that get me emotional when it comes to the craft of writing. I mean we're all on the learning curve.

But, too many characters is a touchpoint for me. In just a few paragraphs, we have Kevin Junior, Kevin Senior, Allison, Tiffany, and somebody else. It's probably why I've never been able to read War and Peace.

The continuation was really funny.


Anonymous said...

I'm puzzled. This is a picnic. There are three couples at this table and their children. How could there not be six characters in the story?
Are stories never to start this way? Are stories never to have more than three, four, or five characters?

stick and move said...

Introducing so many characters in the span of a few paragraphs is confusing to the reader. I have no idea what the relationships are between these characters, except that Kevin is the son of Allison and Kevin Senior. The dialogue isn't realistic to me because it comes across as contrived solely for the benefit of the reader. It doesn't sound natural. The characters are discussing things that they already know. This may happen in real life, but not in good fiction.

pacatrue said...

Yes, a story can definitely have more than 3 or 4 characters, but you have to be very careful how you introduce them. One classic way to do it is to take a certain point of view. It can be third person, but make it about someone and how he or she sees the others. I am thinking right now of the opening to Scorsese's Goodfellas. I believe that opens with a single person walking through a room meeting people. That can be much clearer than everyone all talking in turn.

You can indeed choose to have everyone go at once, and when well done the effect would be kind of like a Robert Altmann movie in which conversations overlap and the audience has to slowly figure out over time who's connected to who. This is a legitimate choice with benefits and drawbacks you have to weigh, but notice that not too man directors make movies like Altmann. (I can't spell movie director names today.)

To give some examples of the troubles I currently see in the opening, I will copy the first couple paragraphs in:
"Kevin Junior looks just like his father,” Tiffany said. She watched a strapping young lad holding a basket of food headed their way. Tiffany felt old sitting with his parents.

“Yes, my boy is the spitting image of his Father,” Allison said, hugging her husband with one arm. Kevin stood a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than his father.

The first problem is that the way we see the scene seems to wander around until we are quite disoriented. We start off with Tiffany making an observation about Kevin Jr. Then we hear that she is watching "a strapping young lad", which hints that this is the first time Tiffany's seen Kevin Jr. before or she'd see her Kevin, not "a lad". Then the next sentence switches back to Tiffany's POV a little more closely because it implies she's sat with Kevin before, and now she feels old sitting with his parents. So in this paragraph we've adjusted subtly from a very high observer only seeing "a strapping lad" to right inside Tiffany's head where we see her feelings.

Then Allison speaks. She appears to be the mother of Kevin Jr. She hugs his Father, which of course is a typo, I presume, because typically the only Father is God, which makes Kevin Jr. Jesus or his brother. Now, that does make an interesting spin, however. The good news is you should drop the second "of his father" all together, because most people would just say "yes he is" or "yes, the spitting image" or the like.

Then it mentions Kevin. Now, Allison was just mentioning the father, who is Kevin Sr., so I assumed that Kevin was the father, and that we now had a grandfather being introduced, smaller than Kevin Sr. It was only in writing all this up that I realized the Kevin refered back to the first paragraph and not the man just mentioned who is also named Kevin.

My comment is wandering far worse than your dialogue. The main suggestion is to take Tiffany or someone else's point of view and let us see how she sees everyone else. Also, give us her story, not just the things that happen around her. Why is she here if she feels uncomfortable? In short, hook us.

Anonymous said...

The continuation was hilarious.

As for the story, I know that naming conventions in the US allow So-and-so junior & senior, or "the II", "the III" etc, but is it really necessary to confuse your reader like this in the first few lines of your story? I'm the type of reader who skims (hands up the rest of the guilty!) and the multiple (ok 2) Kevins got distracting & confusing pretty quickly. It's much easier to keep them straight if it was, for example, Sam & Joe, or whoever. Remember we've never met your characters before, and if you don't grab us & hook us from the start, we're never going to get to know them, so make 'em unique!


Anon2 said...

This opening sounded completely unnatural to me. "Strapping young lad"? Are you kidding me? The dialgoue sounds forced, too.

Yes, you can have lots of characters, but give your readers an idea of who they are and their relation to one another. I think Takoda has a good point- too many too soon can be confusing to the reader. Do they all need to be introduced within the first 150 words? Again, let it unfold more naturally. A stronger sense of setting would be nice.

Are Ren and Tiffany a couple? If so, why is his last name given but hers is not?

Also, "father" should not capitalized in this instance.

The continuation was great!

Best of luck with revisions, author.

tdddxrd said...


Well, you could have the two women talking. Then the husbands could wander up, one at a time. Then they could talk about their kids, who are playing Frisbee or sulking in the car or whatever. With all these characters active in the first paragraphs, none of them get enough time, and they all become a blur. Think how ensemble shows like Lost introduce their players: one or two at a time. It's not that you can't have them, it's that you can't put them all together and have them interact immediately.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't think the problem is too many characters. I think the problem is too many characters when we are not yet anchored in the world of the story. Readers need to be at least a little bit familiar with what's going on.

If this were mine to write, I'd try to introduce the situation by the manner in which I introduced the characters. Here, we just have all of them tumbling into our laps, so to speak.

I think the writing itself is competent.

Dave said...

I should explain the plot a little bit. The villain and hero of the novel get introduced in the extended version of this scene. Kevin is the villain and will eventually follow his family proclivities and do bad things. Fred (who you haven't seen yet) will be offered a job in a "CIA" type organization as a mole in Kevin's political organization. The CIA recruiters are Ren and Tiffany. They are at the picnic recruiting fine young men into their CIA. Fred agrees to join the CIA and follow his friend Kevin from this graduation through his life... Kevin becomes leader of a nationalistic, Earth-first type organization. Kevin's breeding and arrogance pay off. One day, he assigns Fred to be representative on that funky planet with the metal men (That's the tie in with Emissary - Face Lift 269). The only cure to Kevin's plot is metallized men (now that should be obvious to everyone ;) - - ;)

This scene begins the fifth or sixth chapter in the novel. But it could open the entire book that's how different it is from the other chapters. It has taken me months even to get to this stage. The first version rattled around my mind for months and then this version caused writer's block. This type of scene is hard for me to write. Picnics and all those fun, family things don’t naturally fit into my sci-fi. I tend to write away from relationships. Here, I have to write in several relationships – parents/child, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, teen angst, and innocence destroyed by the CIA membership.

I'm finally beginning to get a handle on this scene. That's the reason I submitted it even though it doesn't open the novel.

And how does all my work end up as "faultless" as this opening?
(Sarcasm aside). It's hard to see these errors in your own writing when you have a great idea and feel so good about it. It's so easy to fall in love with your own words. I know that when I write something and I think "Oh that's great" that I have to rewrite it. When I am not quite satisfied with it and know it could be better, then it might be complete and might be good writing. I'm hard on me.

Thanks. I will put all comments to good use. If anyone has more, I'll be glad to hear them.

Anonymous said...

Pacatrue has spoken truth and wisdom. I took notes.

Dave said...

And I should add one more thing.

The continuation is delightfully wicked. Breeding and then selling your son for stud service. Think of a dystopic society created on that premise. Children of a certain age and breeding capacity can be "used" in that manner.

That's a story all by itself. A horror story, too. . . .

McKoala said...

My, how thorough you all are. Little to add other than agreement. Love Tiffany's line about ripping another boy's knee apart - because you were lulling us into a sense of dull normality - then, bang! I did think that the dialogue sounded somewhat unnatural, though, I'm afraid.

Continuation - sweet!

Dave said...

Thanks McKoala.
I want Kevin's parents to be too praiseful and adoring of thier son. Then Tiffany's line becomes catty and gossipy. I need to find better words. This is like writing poetry - only the right words work.

Now you know why I'm having to ask help with this.

takoda said...

Hey Dave, It's interesting to put the face with the WIP!

Okay, Now I have a better understanding of what you're trying to do. But this passage isn't written as if it's from the 5th or 6ht chapter. The characters seem as if they're being introduced for the first time. We should already know that Kevin Jr. looks like his father, etc. I'm really hoping these descriptions aren't that far into your story.

I think Pacatrue gave some really good advice, along with everyone else who posted. But Pacatrue's was the most detailed.

And Dave, I hope this isn't true: Quote: I tend to write away from relationships.

Even with scifi, we need to identify with the characters and their relationships to one another. Do you have a profile for each of your characters? The way they talk, peculiar interests, personality quirks, weaknesses, etc.?

And have you been on a picnic lately? Perhaps go on one, and try to listen in on others (hee, hee!). For me (with small kids) the first part of a picnic is finding the right spot. The next part is shooing the kiddies away with toys so the grown-ups can gossip etc. Then come the fights about the food. Then the spillage. Then the hauling of everything back into the car. Funsville!!

Best of luck with your writing!

Dave said...

Takoda, I should have said that I tend to write way from dating relationships and stick with the mechanical sci-fi or fantasy stuff. I don't do teen angst very well because none of the teens I know will let me watch them on a date. Which is humorous but...
I also don't do screamingly hysterical breakups either because I never had one that way.

And yes, it is written as a first chapter. I understand about previously revealed information, but this actually is the first time we meet these characters. Up until this point, Fred (who appears later) acts as one of the isolationists or bad guys. This is the first time we realize just how manipulative TIffany's grandfather is... And he seems to live beyond the grave, somehow.

I mean, we all know the world is run by unseen forces - the bilderbergs, the Tri-laterals, the Illuminati, soeone is pulling the strings out there.
And they have black helicopters and secret weapons, shadows, they are, shadows.

sylvia said...

Looking at this scene in isolation I think a key issue is that I have no affinity for any of the characters. If there wwere someone that I thought was interesting, or at least felt sorry for, then I would probably work my way through the maze of relationships to find out who is who.

But personally, I won't do that for an author or a storyline, I'll only do that for a character who somehow has grabbed my sympathy. And in this scene, no one has.