Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New Beginning 272

She clutched her glass tightly, rattling the ice around the gin.

"So what's her name?"

"Does it matter?" His eyes stayed focused on his black leather shoes.

"Yes." The word hissed out of her mouth.

"Sarah," he said.

"Sarah," she repeated. "Saaaraaaah. She from the South?"


"I should have known." She shook her head. Her voice lowered into a bad drawl. "Wud you hahld mah magnolia bud whayul I whup the slaves?"

"She's not like that."

"Go on, then, tell me what she's like."

He glanced up and then refocused on his shoes. The laces were getting ragged, the toes scuffed.

"She's just, you know, a girl I met."

"What a glowing report. Just some girl." She degenerated back into the drawl. "Jus' sum gal. I jus met her an' we made fireworks on de spot. Whatta gal."

His head flew up, he glared at her.

"It wasn't like that." No response. He wilted in the silence and finally looked down again. "I gotta go."

"Yeah, gotta date? With Saaaaraaaah, jus' sum gal?"

"I gotta buy new shoes." He stared at his feet, front teeth mangling his bottom lip.

"New Shoooze? Fore y'all's date with jes sum gal Saaaraaah, yore jahjah peach?"

"Yeah," he mumbled. For the first time he noticed that the tongues of both his shoes were missing. When did that happen?

"New shoooze ain't gonna cut it with a gal lahk Saaaraaah," she told him. "New personality, maybe. New face."

"Listen, doc," he said, "for a hundred dollars a session, you could be more supportive."

"Yer right, kiddo. How's about we make it seventy-five?"

Opening: Sylvia.....Continuation: EE


stick and move said...

Holy shit I'll still be laughing tomorrow. Hilarious continuation.

I liked the opening, too. Although, being from Georgia myself, I did take some minor offense to the content, and I'm glad you qualified the mockery by saying a "bad drawl". Most Georgia women have lovely drawls, softer than a lullaby. Aside from that, I was diggin it.

pacatrue said...

Maybe it's because I'm originally from the South, but I would drop the book immediately upon reading the 'wuppin the slaves' line. It's really, really offensive. I realize that people say stupid, hurtful things when they are themselves being hurt, but you have to give us a reason to want to journey with a flawed character when you toss out lines like that. I'd give up on her immediately. In short, I ended up liking the cheating guy more than the cheated upon protagonist.

Moreover, this is the third or fourth book, at least, on EE alone that started with a woman being dumped by / discovering her husband or boyfriend having an affair with a cliché beauty, usually blonde secretary. I'd love to see the husband having an affair with an amazing, strong woman, and breaking up with the protagonist for that. It just makes a richer story. I think if my wife dumped me because she started going out with "insert your ideal of a man here" it would hurt just as much as if she dumped me for the "insert your stereotype of men only worthy of a sex fling here". Maybe I would "understand" more with the former, but not for a long time, and it would still be painful. It's just as big a slap of the ego when a loved one dumps you for being dumb or boring as when he or she dumps you for not being hot enough. Maybe worse. With a twist of having the other woman be a decent person, I think you get both the pain of the breakup that's critical for the story you are about to tell, as well as more complex and interesting characters.

But, hell, obviously people love the being dumped for a young hottie story. That's why it's a cliché. However, you do have a problem that there are 20 other partials on the agent's desk that open with the same scene and you need to be better than them. So, maybe you can find a more entertaining way of getting the protagonist dumped for the southern belle?

LOL, and I just saw that stick and move liked it, and s/he's southerner too. Sigh. Take our comments as you will

foggidawn said...

You've done a really good job of making me hate the woman who is speaking in this opening -- and I'm also curious as to her relationship with this guy. Ex-wife? Mother? Other relative? Person sitting next to him in a bar? I'd read on, if only to find out who gave her the license to be so obnoxious to this poor fella.

I think you may be overdoing it with the phoenetic pronunciation -- instead of rendering every word, you might consider keeping a few distinctive ones ("mah" for "my" etc.) and readers imaginations will fill in the rest, especially since you preface it by saying that "her voice lowered into a bad drawl."

That continuation was funny stuff, EE.

McKoala said...

I'm not from the South, or even from the US, but I agree with Pacatrue on the 'whup the slaves' line, and actually, worse, the line that follows it: 'she's not like that' - implying that therefore others are. That may not have been your intention, but that leapt out at me and made me gulp pretty hard. That, plus the cruel mockery of the dialogue - kind of took my breath away, and not in a good way.

Other than that, I think you could tighten the scene and progress a bit faster.

Dave said...

I'm a lot more forgiving than the others.

Go read the opening pages of Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe - and I don't want to hear the kvetching about how good or bad a writer he is. It's accented and pretty racist dialogue.

In fact, the whole book is fairly racist what with a pimp walk, crooked judges, incompetent DA's and and all that. But it's satirical and a real hoot to read.

I might not say "whup the slaves" but I certainly wouldn't think ugly, racist thoughts about anyone that said it.

takoda said...

I'm with Dave on this one. I liked it, and thought EE's continutation was hilarious.

I wasn't picturing a jilted girlfriend or wife. I was picturing the mom in Hitchcock's "Psycho." I can even picture Bette Davis playing this part, smoking a cigarette, her cruel hard stare bearing down into his soul...

Could author tell us who the female character is?


sylvia said...

(I got an error when posting this - apologies if it comes through twice)

I am the author - didn't mean that one to be anon!

Great continuation EE!

I'd like to clarify: I like the South, I like Southerners. I'm very concerned about the assumption that I might consider this "acceptable" speech.

She is not a nice person, she doesn't KNOW the South.

My intention is that you hate her, you hate her prejudice, you hate the way she treats him. I'm interested by the comments that imply that she should (but doesn't) get the sympathy, rather than him, being abused.

I can see, though, that it would have to introduce a likeable character quickly so the reader finds someone to attach to.

Pacatrue, I'm surprised at the amount of assumptions you've gained from this passage. Why is the southern girl beautiful (let alone cliche)? I'm not complaining, just intrigued as to where I'm giving that impression and if I can tone it down.

Foggidawn spotted the relationship issue.

Hateful-woman is the boy's mother.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I was surprised by the comments. I'm super sensitive about people making racial slurs, but I wouldn't put down a book that had a racist character. She's just a character, not the author talking. You commentors aren't saying that all the characters have to be nice, are you??? Remember, this isn't an article saying that all southerners would love to own slaves. That would be a different matter.
Question: Is the dumpee going to be the main character in the book?

I'd need to know more about where the book is going to decide if I wanted to read on.

Good luck to you, author!

sylvia said...

McKoala has a very good point regarding "She's not like that." I meant it to show the boys weakness against her (he's not going to tell her she's wrong, but he can't help defending the girl) but it easily reads as "although the others are." That definitely needs fixing.

I liked Bonfire of the Vanities and I was specifically impressed with his ability to write different accents (although my English boyfriend gave up on the book as he simply could not read/make sense of the dialect. So that's something I've always tried to bear in mind).

I clearly don't have that skill. I'll tone it right down and let readers fill in the banks, as foggidawn advised. I spelled it out because I wanted it clear that it was a completely incompetent drawl, but the assumption that it's a completely incompetent author is less desirable.

writtenwyrdd said...

I also didn't like the "whup the slaves" line, or as Mckoala mentions, the following line. I don't have a problem with your characters mouthing this sort of prejudicial crap, but it arrives too abruptly.

I'd recommend saving the racist mouthings of this woman for a bit further on. We need to let the characters' personalities filter into our minds a bit before getting whapped with extremism. Remember, you want to suck us into the work, not experience shock and pull out of it.

My interpretation of the two characters' relationship was that it might be lovers, but I doubted it. Feel was of jealousy and familiarity, but it didn't come across as loverlike to me. I was waiting to find out in the next paragraph or so, so I'd suggest that if you don't have the relationship clarified shortly, that you at least give a strong hint. Have him call her Mom, or Sis, or whatever.

The bad dialect bothered me because it was excessive and difficult to read when spelled phonetically. While I know that was the point (because you did make the woman sound like she knew nothing about how they actually talk in Georgia) it was difficult to read and thus distracted me from the fictional world.

One nit pick: When you say, "The word hissed out of her mouth," I winced. It's really awkward. Just say, "She hissed the word," or similar.

Just my take on things. I was interested in seeing what you were going to do next, though. And I need to have those shoes he's got to buy to mean something to the story, or I'll be annoyed you brought them up!

writtenwyrdd said...

"...but the assumption that it's a completely incompetent author is less desirable."

LOL! So true! One thing we must never forget, the Murphy's Law Corollary of writing, is that if it can be interpreted wrongly, it will be.

December Quinn said...

Ditto Paca et al.

But if we're supposed to hate the woman who's talking, you succeeded in spades--and nice turnaround, because we do think we're supposed to like her!

But yeah, you'll want to let us know for sure soon. :-)

Anonymous said...

But, hell, obviously people love the being dumped for a young hottie story. That's why it's a cliché.

No... it's not clichéd because people love the story. It's clichéd because it happens a lot in real life. It's why "midlife crisis" has a bunch of definitions at

Anonymous said...

OK, I didn't like the woman, but the author did that on purpose. I didn't like the spineless man either and the written-out drawl was irritating.

If I'd been in a bookstore I wouldn't have read to the end of the scene.

I'm not saying it's bad writing, but I think the author would do well to put this scene somewhere else and start the novel with writing that will hook rather than repel.

Bernita said...

I'm with last Anon - despised both of them.
Not that it's a bad scene ( "hissed" is a little over the top) but perhaps not the best place to begin.

Dave said...

If you don't hear these characters in real life, you aren't listening hard enough. There are racists and bigots out there and they talk that garbage all the time.

pacatrue said...

Hi, Sylvia, and everyone.

My assumptions did color my reading enormously it appears on this one. I assumed I knew the rough relationship between the two characters; I assumed this was a break-up scene; I assumed that 'she's from the south, isn't she' meant the other woman was a stereotypical belle of some sort; and worst of all I assumed I knew what scene the author was trying to write, when, it turns out, I didn't. In fact, it sounds like the author is largely accomplishing exactly what she wants in that we are supposed to dislike the person that many of us disliked and for the exact reasons I and others have listed. My biggest error in my comment then was assuming that the author wanted us to like the people in this scene, and particularly to feel for the female character.

Maybe there just needs to be more scene setting during this opening dialogue to ward off bad assumptions like mine. I don't think we can wait too long to find out what's going on. The really difficult part is going to be accomplishing this while keeping the pace up. And by scene setting, I mean mostly who and why, not what the room looked like.

I think I also assumed this was a chick lit or romance novel. If it is not, and I would probably have a decent guess on this from the store location and cover design, then I wouldn't rush to judgment like I did because I would have different expectations of the characters I was to meet. If it is the opening of a romance or chick lit novel, take a look through a bunch of them and see how often the first female character is not the heroine with whom the reader should connect. If the first woman we meet in that genre is the protagonist over and over, then that might be where my assumption was coming from.

As for the cliché beauty bit. I think it was the "she from the south?" and "I should have known" lines. This indicates to me that the character is thinking along stereotypical lines, instead of individuals. And stereotypical belles are beauty pageant participants and such. Since I was still assuming this was our heroine whose point of view we are supposed to accept, I assumed that was the rough reality.

Finally, to clarify, I didn't get that the disliked character was racist. I got that she assumed everyone in the South was racist. It's kind of like someone making Nazi jokes whenever Germany is mentioned. (I'm now reliving an old Fawlty Towers episode in which some German tourists stop in Basil's hotel and he ends up highstepping past them with a Hitler mustache. Of course, in that case, it's hysterical 1) because we are also laughing at how horrible Basil is behaving and 2) Cleese built up the character for many episodes, which allowed him to do that. If Fawlty Towers had started with that as the opening scene of the series, it wouldn't have been funny at all.)

(By the way, Sylvia, I loved the shoes bit.)

M.W. said...

Yeah, I have to agree with the commenters. Based on this dialogue I really don't care for any of the protaganists. The woman seems like a jerk and I don't get the jump from the name Sarah to southern. I also completely disagree with Dave's comment about Bonfire of the Vanities. I too have read that and the over the top language was there for parody. This is not parody this is just some girl being a drunk meany b/c her BF is breaking up with her. Hardly a sitution were parody would be poignant.

Anonymous said...

Your protagonist has a serious likeability problem. She's hateful in only a few short paragraphs.

I wouldn't read one word after the 'slaves' slur. That's just obnoxious. I'm from the East Coast, so it's not a Southern thing.

And be very careful about writing out the 'bad drawl' phonetically. It looks amateurish, and stops people dead in their tracks as they try to sound out your odd spelling.

Wonderwood said...

Looks like a lot of people are making the assumption that the first female we meet is the protagonist. I didn't get that sense at all from reading it, I thought she was supposed to come across as a bitch. I think the intent was to invoke sympathy for the guy, and it worked for me. Particularly liked using the shoes to show us his state of mind. I agree that the bad drawl is overdone and every word doesn't need phonetic spelling, a few well-placed words will suffice for the reader to do the rest.

McKoala said...

Aha! Thanks for the explanation, Sylvia, now I get what you were trying to do, and it worked!

liosis said...

She clutched her glass tightly, rattling the ice around the gin.

"So what's her name?"

"Does it matter?" His eyes stayed focused on his black leather shoes.

The descriptive tags some a bit wooden here. Either do more description or less but right now it just seems token.

In light of the conversation that went on here I want to say that I thought he was the protagonist throughout the piece. I'm still not sure in fact, since everyone else thought it was her. The part where he looked at his shoes was the reason.

I didn't actually make any assumptions about her, I didn't hate her, just ranked her as a rather silly person and continued reading.

sylvia said...

I'm trying not to get defensive but I admit I'm feeling a little bit edgy here.

"Hey, look you guys, I've got this storyline with this really horrible woman."

"Ew, yes, we hate her. And actually, we aren't too fond of you anymore either!"

*runs and hides*

Paca, thanks for the clarification, it looks like it's part and parcel of the same thing: Hateful-woman should get the sympathy thus what hateful-woman is saying is trustworthy.

This lead to the assumption that I felt her words were not offensive (eeek) and that her assumptions about the girl were true (your Southern Belle makes sense in this context.

I knew that the relationship was murky, that the way she was acting was more in line with a jilted lover than a mother. It didn't occur to me that she would be seen as sympathetic in a flawed way (I like the comparison to Psycho-mom).

I understand that people can't really like the boy either based on what you see here -- victims are not particularly likeable. At this stage it is pity although I think as soon as you see him outside of her presence it would shift to sympathy.

M.W. clearly didn't finish reading the comments but has a good point: the jump from Sarah to Southern is in my head and not very logical.

So now what? Well, hell, I certainly don't want to drop the starting point that gets people involved like this clearly did, but it would have to move VERY fast (relationship clarified in next paragraph) and then shift gears, to keep those people who weren't sure. I'll take out the overdone accent as that clearly didn't work and look fixing why the mother makes the jump to Southern.

I think the cover would probably make a big difference and I'm pretty sure I can waste an entire writing session dreaming up an appropriate one.

Thanks for all the comments, especially to those for bothering to comment on something they didn't like. I know it's easier in that case just to move on rather than try to word the criticism.

Redfox said...

Hi Sylvia

I think people reacted badly because they were expecting the first character mentioned to be the protagonist, and were then really turned off by her. Myself, I twigged fairly early on that it was probably his mother, not his girlfriend. I think you can fix this by making it clearer earlier on whose PoV you are in.

What clinched it for me:

He glanced up and then refocused on his shoes. The laces were getting ragged, the toes scuffed.

"She's just, you know, a girl I met."

This sounded so teenage to me - or at least the reaction of a young man who hasn't outgrown his teenage relationship with his mother.

That said, the editor reading this wouldn't have the benefit of cover art or blurb as guidance either. It's easy to fix - just change the third line to "Does it matter, Mom?" or change her first speech tag to "his mother said". Have you considered rewriting it in first person? Or would that not fit the rest of the book?

Megan said...

I understood it was his mother for the same reasons Redfox did. Don't take assumptions to heart. It's going to happen when the blurb is just 150 words and is not necessarily a reflection on your writing.

Also, I didn't think the ambiguity of relationship in this scene was confusing ambiguity. I lke having to figure things out as I read, and you gave enough clues to let me do that. Besides, a mother who is almost acting like a jealous girlfriend toward her grown/teenage son is an interesting character and certainly not unknown in real life.

Robin S. said...

Looks like I'm not the only Southerner here. Unfortunately, I'm from the twanging South rather than the drawling South, but what can you do?

I'm OK with accent derison being used, as I think it's sometimes funny myself, but this one may have been drawn out a bit too much to work effectively.

It was a good picture, though, of a wack-job mother.

batgirl said...

Huh. I assumed that the male speaker was the protagonist, because we were clearly in his viewpoint (knowing what he thought about his shoes) though a little more introspection wouldn't have come amiss.
I wasn't sure whether the woman was his mother or a friend/sister who felt she had rights over him, but it never occurred to me that she'd be his girlfriend/wife.
I'd agree with reducing the phonetic spelling - I have terrible trouble reading dialect.

kb said...

Hmm, I guess I was way off.

I read it that it was a husband admitting to his wife that he cheated on her with "just some girl" from Georgia.

I thought the wife was angry and that's why she was talking how she was.

I didn't find the dialect or "whup the slaves" comment racist or offensive at all. Didn't even blink. I just think people are overly sensetive.

Unlike everyone else, I felt terrible for the girl, and I was angry at the guy. I thought she had been hurt and was just reacting to it this way, so I liked her.

Guess I'm weird. And racist? Pshh.