Monday, May 21, 2007

New Beginning 279

This is the end. There is nothing else after this. All I have done till now was for naught, a vague memory of misspent time.

Life strolled in and erased my yesterday, just like it had done to the world almost a thousand years ago. Our leaders thought they were in control back then. When the Great Calamity occurred, all the continents collided, war ended under the thunderclap of ethereal forces, and life, as it was once known, ceased. Those who believed in their power discovered how futile it really was. Many who thought they had all the answers disappeared, while those still lost in wonder survived as a changed people. And it is those abandoned souls who begot me, this dishevelled fool. So, one clear night under the eye of a blood moon, I stood on the doorstep of opportunity and quaked. Just as the world must have when it was reborn as Kadith.

At the side of the room a man wearing glasses frowned. "Kadith?" he said. "What do you make of that?"

"I think he watched Eragon this morning," his companion replied. "Or Lord of the Rings. He’s all muddled up."

The bespectacled man gave him a fierce look. "You never should have let him get that high-def LCD. Do you remember how long he looked for Blue's Clues?"

"Of course I remember." He watched the speaker ramble on a bit longer, then added, "On the other hand, you have to admit this is the most interesting start in years to the State of the Union address.”

Opening: K. E. Stewart.....Continuation: Merper


Beth said...

Rofl at the continuation!

To the author: Start with the last two sentences. Everything that comes before, while nicely written, is meaningless without context. After about four or five sentences, I began skimming until I found something concrete.

BuffySquirrel said...

I see this sort of thing in slush a lot. Briefly, just before it's rejected.

Hook the reader, then you can lecture them :).

Robin S. said...

Hi beth, I see what you mean about the last two sentences being a good beginning for this opening.

I really like the rest as well. I like the tone of it.

Wow, the thught of this "quick, quick, hand me a hook" stuff is a little disconcerting. No time to breathe, no time for the mood to set in, huh? A lot of my favorite books would have been auto-rejects had they had the misfortune to be written now. And their authors would have ended up as Walmart greeters, I guess.

Bernita said...

There's a difference between creating suspense/curiousity and confusing the reader with generalities.

"life strolled in and erased my yesterday, just like it had done a thousand years ago." is a great line - but are we dealing with happenstance or deliberation, both then and now?
These philosophical reminiscences make me flounder a little and phrases like "ethereal forces," "abandoned souls," etc. are distancing.Perhaps they belong a little later?
Consider reversing the telescope from the broad panorama and going with Beth's suggestion.
The writing is very nice though.

AmyB said...

When a book begins with "This is the end," it sounds to me like an invitation to close the book :).

The writing is pretty, though a little overblown for my tastes, and does a good job of evoking a mood. But it's very vague. Maybe it would work if I already had some sense of what the book was about (e.g., I'd read reviews, or the back of the book). But by itself, it gives me no hint of what the book is about.

Also, we start with "This is the end... All I have done till now was for naught." And then later, we have "So, one clear night under the eye of a blood moon, I stood on the doorstep of opportunity and quaked." Those statements don't really seem to fit. Doorstep of opportunity? Didn't he or she (see how little I know about the narrator? :) just say everything was for naught? So what's the "opportunity?" Also, "one clear night?" Is that now, or was that some other time? The opening phrases put us very much in the now, and then we unexpectedly pull back.

The disconnects makes me feel as if some pretty phrases were strung together without direction or purpose.

phoenix said...

The good: The tone is nicely set. No doubting this is doom-and-gloom all the way. But doesn't this beginning go with the PI looking for the "nothing" beast? The tone in that query didn't have the ominous tone this story opens with...

The bad: The leaders thing where the powerful have gotten their come-uppance has been done to death. Sentences such as "Our leaders thought they were in control back then" and "Those who believed in their power discovered how futile it really was" are really a bit cliche.

A big nit for me (and one I played off of in the continuation I submitted for this beginning - although I loved Merper's take!) is around the Great Calamity. Am I misreading, or am I to believe that the calamity was continents colliding, which ended war and, oh by the way, most of life, too? Continents don't just collide overnight, or for that matter over a few years or even over a few thousand. Not unless the physics of plate tectonics operates on a whole 'nother plane on Kadith. "... the thunderclap of ethereal forces" stopped me cold. Is there another, more believable calamity you could use? Like an asteroid strike or the eruption of a mega-volcano? Something that wouldn't take a millenium to destroy a civilization, if it could do it at all (adaptation is a wonderful thing)?

Really liking the line: "And it is those abandoned souls who begot me, this dishevelled fool."

Once you settle into the story, I can see your writing shine -- if you keep it restrained and don't take it over the top.

BuffySquirrel said...

Setting a mood can be a hook. Dickens does it to great effect in Great Expectations. Here, I'm struggling to know what the mood is meant to be. Despair seems to be predominant at the start, but then the narrator seems to be afraid at the promise of some opportunity, so how can he be in despair? Despair tends to blot out all other moods. What is the mood?

Robin S. said...

Bearing in mind that I realize none of us is Dickens, (and that Dickens couldn't possible have ended up as a Walmart greeter) - how about the opening to A Tale of Two Cities? I love this book.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."

Telling, not showing, and hookless to boot. Geez, Charlie, what were you thinking?

I don't have any newer ones - my books are at home, and I'm not there right now. My point is taht if the writing is good enough to pull me into a mood or a tempo or the temper of the times in a piece of fiction, I'm willing to give it a little while to get there.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't agree that it's hookless, but everything is subjective. Dickens is showing us the excitement and uncertainty of the time he's writing about. Seems pretty clear to me.

Dave said...

When I first read this, I thought of the apocalyptic literature that predicts the end of times. That's what you want to invoke, isn't it? The Apocalyse, the End of Times where judgement will come and sit on its throne to judge the those worthy and those wanting and deliver their fates.

Think of the "doom" texts - Matthew and the parable of the goats and sheep, John in Revelations, Shiva in a dance to recreate the world (I am become death, the destroyer). Or simply, the lightening struck tower in the tarot cards.

So merely saiying "This is the end" is so plain. Say exactly what you mean: "The end of times"...
And it is too late for doing good and redeeming a wasted life. The narrator, standing before the imagined judgement says "I am but a vague memory. My life misspent, my actions futile."

But this is not the actual judgement, the real end. This is the narrators lament that his/her one action (whatever it was on that clear night with the blood moon) did not work, it failed to prevent evil or harm or to destroy evil or harmful demons.

Forget the once great leaders who turned into buffoons of ignorance and impotence. Make this opening personal and private. It is only one individual's story you are telling. An opening paragraph on events 1000 years old is boring. Something happend to the narrator recently that brings on this gloom and despair, focus on that. Kadith will follow.

It is a law of Thermodynamics - nothing is created or destroyed in the material world. But for people and relationships, times change. relationships begin and end. That's what happened 100 years before - things changed but neither for good nor bad. It's going to happen again and we want to know the story of the person who manages the change or affects its outcome.

Sorry if this posted twice.

Beth said...


A Tale of Two Cities opens with pairs of contrasting statements, all of which have a universality we can understand and relate to. They are general, yes, but not vague and not hard to understand. And their very opposition to one another shows conflict, or the promise of it. We read on expecting to see the fireworks when these opposing forces collide. That's why it works as an opening.

The opening under discussion here, however, consists of statements that can't be understood without context. Phrases like: "Life strolled in and erased my yesterday, just like it had done to the world almost a thousand years ago" (if the world was erased a thousand years ago, how is it that the narrator is still here? And what does life strolling in actually mean?); "When the Great Calamity occurred, all the continents collided, war ended under the thunderclap of ethereal forces, and life, as it was once known, ceased" (is this meant literally or figuratively? What are ethereal forces and how could something ethereal (airy, tenuous) destroy the world?), and so on.

This is far too (forgive me) ethereal for the reader to grab onto. Plainly put, it doesn't make any sense. No clear picture of coming conflicts emerges, and the picture of past conflicts is fairly opaque as well. No, you don't have to thrust your character immediately into action to have an effective beginning, but you do have to have an opening that is comprehensible, at least on a surface level, on its own terms.

ME said...

I read this several times. I wrote a cont. in an effort to "get into" the story. I'm with those who say it's too vague. There was just barely a sense of something's coming, (I was willing to read more) but it never showed up.

Here's my metaphor of the day:
A beautiful beach will tease a lot of toes,satify some who distain the surf but love the sun,while others, in open mouthed wonder, are pulled asunder by the rip tide.
But only a grump or a fool will fail to jump right into a swimmin' pool.
What I'm trying to say is Give Us The Water first! Later in the story or later on, you can give us the beach.

McKoala said...

The start was too vague for me; nice writing, but for me too redolent with telling and trying. The idea of starting with the last two sentences appealed to me, but that's a big decision for the writer.

Funny continuation!

Kanani said...

Well, one thing I like is the tone of your writing. You have a nice way of putting the words together, of using a vocabulary that is appropriate for the piece.

However, sometimes we write things just to get them out of our system. Often, they don't really push along a story, they just explain. And that's what you're doing here.

I agree that it'd be best to start with the protagonist. Let me see what the protagonist is seeing, doing. Where is he now, where is he going? Tell me... what's in this dude's right hand?

"One clear night, under the eye of a blood moon, I felt/walked/ saw/ left/ran/.......

You don't have to cram in all the history now. You have an entire novel to parse it out in even more specific terms.

Also, watch out for "the doorstep of opportunity and quaked." Na... that's for movies. That's the long closeup. If he's been to hell and back, then give him action, let him move without all the explanation.

And as Bernita pointed out: watch out for generalities. "Life strolled in," "Thunderclap of ethereal forces," "Life as it was once known, ceased."

And don't substitute explanation for letting your character do things.

Keep going. We've all done the same things. You can do it. You have a way with words.

Whirlochre said...

Who's doing the talking? If we're all heading for Armageddon, I want to know who I'm sharing the cliff edge with. This opening passage tells me nothing specific about the protagonist - it's a general scenario of doom couched in doom scenario generalisations. The only specific is 'Kadith' - about which we know precious little. There is nothing new here - that's the main problem. Whatever specifics are lurking in the next few paragraphs need to be shuffled to the top. Begin with the protag. caught on the thorns of what must be a particularly noxious stimulus - then you can go on to explain a bit more about calamity in a way that grabs attention.

takoda said...

I can't add much to what everyone else has so eloquently said...

Other than, have you considered separating this piece into a prologue and a first chapter? You'd have some editing and extra writing, but it might be able to work for you.

Good luck!


writtenwyrdd said...

I agree with the others that this is too vague a beginning, but the writing is nice. If you feel you must keep this breadth in the beginning, you need to add in some concrete details in with the lyric voice.

Marissa Doyle said...

I was stopped by (among other things) the juxtaposition of "thunderclap" and "ethereal", which just don't go together in the sense that ethereal is often used to denote a quality of wispiness. Wispy thunderclaps. Ummm...

It doesn't have to be a muckin' big hook--just a little one will do...anything to grab onto and be drawn in by...