Monday, August 13, 2007

New Beginning 338

Rumor had it I would be dead before morning.

My friends, having concluded from my weakened state of body that I was obviously too far gone to hear their words, whispered their opinions about my condition freely over me to one another. They all concurred, the murderer of my wife and child may not have laid a hand on me, but my imminent death was the direct result of his actions.

While I could hardly disagree, those whispers did nothing to lessen the symptoms of my illness, and neither did the doctor who came in behind them, sat down beside me, and lied to me through his straight, but yellow teeth.

Perhaps Dr. Benton’s lies would not have been such an insult if he had not put his hands on the sides of my face, his nose inches from mine, and said in his most commanding and loud voice, because he too obviously believed dying meant deaf, “Listen to me, Vincent. You may have got wind of a rumour going round that you don't have much longer."

My grunted reply became a cough.

"I'm sorry for starting that off. Bad form." He paused, perhaps to see if I had any comment; I could think of nothing appropriate. "It does rather appear to be true, though," he continued, and as his grip on my throat tightened, I came to understand how he had acquired his reputation as an infallible prognostician.

It was fortunate, therefore, that one of the symptoms of my malaise was an excess of internal methane, a sudden release of which rendered the good doctor senseless before his vice-like grip got the better of me.

This was, in fact, the third occasion upon which a timely fart had saved my life.


Opening: Katherine Haney.....Continuation: Anonymous

47 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


...Looks like we, ah, caught it in time. You're doing good. Really good. You should be out of here in, ah, in no time. Isn't that great? Vincent? Hey, nice watch! Rolex is it?"

--Anonymous


Vincent, continuation by Bill Highsmith

"Vincent, your condition is grave; I have little hope for you. However, if you can gather the strength to tell me where your insurance card is, I would have a much better prognosis for you.

--Bill Highsmith


“There’s NOTHING wrong with you.”

His breath smelled of stale cigarettes. I wanted to twist my face out of his hands but I felt too powerless and weak to move. All I could think about was the last time I saw my wife and child. The horrible mess their brains had made splattered all over the walls. And I knew, I knew without a shred of doubt, that I would be next to die.

Dr. Benton’s hands clenched my face tighter. “You’re taking things way too seriously, Vincent,” he howled. “It’s only a video game!”

My friends nodded. “Yeah, and you suck at it,” Eddie said. “I mean just because your wife and kid got blown away and you’re on your last life doesn’t mean you have to go all gah gah on us.”

Just then, my mother waltzed into the room carrying a pitcher of lemonade and some plastic cups. “Vincent Henry Browser, quit overacting and listen to Dr. Benton. Sit up, grab your joystick and finish that game.”

--Ouch!


"You have to tell us.

"Did you use your ear to paint 'Sunflowers'?"

--Khazar-khum


"You're not dying. You may be a nut case, Vincent, you may suffer from delusion, schizophrenia and an unhealthy obsession with sunflowers, but you're not dying. You just lost an ear!"

--Kate Thornton

BuffySquirrel said...

*peeks in*

*whispers "Show don't Tell"*

*runs away again*

Bernita said...

I like it.
Could be tighter though.
"having concluded" - concluding?
Perhaps "freely whispered their opinions"?
Not sure you need either "over me" or "to one another."
"Loud" may also be excessive, especially since it is inferred by "dying meant deaf."
Liked the description "his straight but yellow teeth."

Katie Darby Recommends said...

I would definitely continue reading this. I know that there is some telling going on here, but to be honest, as long as you pick up with action in the next paragraph or so, I'm cool with it. Awesome first line.

writtenwyrdd said...

I found this a bit impenetrable. Not clear what is going on. However, it is just the first 150...

Overall, I must confess, I wasn't interested in what was going on and wouldn't have read on. I think it is the tone, which is a bit pedantic. Nothing wrong with older styles of writing, but this brought me back to Dickens and such, and I don't generally like reading classics. Just me and my lack of taste! ;)

Anonymous said...

"having concluded" - concluding?

That would change the meaning of the sentence. That would make the concluding comtemporaneous with the whispering (i.e. whispering and concluding at the same time), which doesn't make sense. The conclusion was made prior to the event of the whispering -- hence this being a correct use of the pluperfect.


Hands off that "had".

Bernita said...

"which doesn't make sense."
Au contraire.
Mind to mouth can occur so near to simultaneous as to render "this, then this" irrelevant.
IF the writer had chosen to to say "obviously concluding from my weakened state I was too far gone to hear their words..." would you then be so quick to reach for the pointer?

Robin S. said...

I like the first sentence, and I like that it is self-conatined, in its own paragraph.

I like the rest as well, though there's something about this phrasing " and said in his most commanding and loud voice, because he too obviously believed dying meant deaf, “Listen to me, Vincent."

I see what you're doing, and I like it - but I think this part might be reworked to flow a little more smoothly, somehow.

Dave said...

I'm guessing that the narrator is the main character and we are going to hear a big part of his story as flashback. Or the dead man is going to tell the story. This fits with the gloomy tone of the opening.

There is some fat here and others have made comments I won't dwell on. "Obviously" is repeated. I'm not sure why we have to know the doctor has yellow teeth. Perhaps that's an atmospheric detail we don't need. "To lie through his teeth" is also a cliche. you should reconsider using it the second time. try "evidently"...

I was completely thrown by the doctor's name. Unfortunately, I'm an ER buff and "Dr. Benton" will always be Eriq La Salle in a white coat. Sorry about that. I may not be alone since that series is still running from episodes 1 through 73,736 on TNT on its eighteenth repeat.

It's a gloomy, atmospheric opening promising a gloomy, atmospheric novel. I've read a few novels like that in my time.

Dave said...

as for "had"...

This, NB 338 is not the same as NB 337.

In NB 337, a third person narrator is relating the actions and thoughts of Tom Blesset as he holds a funeral for a dead bird. We know all of this because someone else is describing the scene. To use movie terms, this is a crane shot from above the action.

In NB 338, Vincent is narrating his story from his own point of view. It's almost dialog. the entire opening could be a monologue by Vincent. In that case, Vincent has his of voice and if that voice includes the word "had" then so be it. To return to the movie analogy, this is a voice-over or an internal dialog from the main character.

Big difference in choosing words for each.

ME said...

I'm thinking "I" doesn't die, because a dead narrator would be so "Lovely Bones-ish". I almost wrote a cont. for this, so I must want to know more of the story and I would read a little more. But I'm not sure if I would enjoy 200 or so pages of "Vincent".

~Nancy said...

Loved the continuations!!

I like the opening sentence; piqued my interest right away.

My friends, having concluded from my weakened state of body

"state of" body? I think you have too many words here. Couldn't you just say "weakened body"?

There are some pretty long sentences here, and I'm wondering if you should break them up (vary your sentence structure). Unless you're trying to show the MC is a long-winded person.

I really liked this bit: "because he too believed dying meant deaf." Zing!

I'd read on to see what happens.

~jerseygirl

WouldBe said...

My friends, having concluded from my weakened state [of body] that I was [obviously] too far gone to hear their words, whispered [their opinions] about my condition freely over me [to one another]. They all concurred, the murderer of my wife and child may not have laid a hand on me, but my imminent death was the direct result of his actions.

While I could hardly disagree, those whispers did nothing to lessen the symptoms of my illness, and neither did the doctor who came in behind them[, sat down beside me], and lied to me through his straight, [but] yellow teeth.

Perhaps Dr. Benton’s lies would not have been such an insult if he had not put his hands on [the sides of] my face, his nose inches from mine, and said in his most commanding and loud voice[, because he too obviously believed dying meant deaf], “Listen to me, Vincent.

I've deleted words, shown in square brackets, that IMHO add little to the meaning or atmoshere of the passage. I also wonder if "symptoms of my illness" is correct. Has the attacker caused a fatal illness or an injury or poisoning?

I agree that it seems dreary. The movie DOA shows that such a story can be engaging.

--WouldBe

freddie said...

Dave, I agree there is a big difference in choosing the word "had" (or not) for NB337 and NB338, and here's why:

The word "had" is (usually) used to describe something that happened in the past and is longer happening. In NB337, the bird died. Not using the word "had" could give the reader the impression that the bird died as Tom held it.

In NB338, the narrator may have no way of knowing when his friends concluded he was too far gone to hear their words. I think the writer could use "had" or not use it and still get the point across.

I'm glad to see this discussion, as it has forced me to think about the different forms of past tenses.

BuffySquirrel said...

Why should The Lovely Bones suddenly have a monopoly on the dead narrator? The device was used before that book was written, and will probably be used again. I wonder how Alice Sebold would have reacted had she been told, "oh you can't have a dead narrator, that's so Sunset Boulevard...."

*runs away again*

Bonnie said...

I like the pseudo-Dickensian tone and the general black humor of the passage and would definitely read more.

Anonymous said...

IF the writer had chosen to to say...

And there's a key point. The writer did choose to say "having concluded", thus establishing a particular sequence of events. Sometimes its nice to give the author credit for having chosen the words she/he wants to use.

There's cause and effect here -- the "friends" feel able to whisper freely above the man's body because they have concluded his bucket is near to the kicking of. If hey had not already concluded that, they would be more circumspect in their discussion. En effet, "This, then that" is important.

McKoala said...

LOL Dave - I had the same thought (ER addict here).

Personally I don't love this archaic tone, but it's well done, so no real complaints either.

Anonymous said...

...and lied to me through his straight, [but] yellow teeth.

I don't know... "straight, but yellow," tells me something different from just "straight, yellow". It's a matter of tone...

Ello said...

I liked this alot. Some of the sentences are overly long, but I like the humor that is behind it all. I would definitely keep reading.

Kat dreams said...

Thanks for the helpful comments! I didn't realize that in an effort to tighten everything I made all my sentences really long! I'll try to fix that and make some other small changes recommended here.

Robin S. said...

Here we go with the long sentences again. I like your long sentences, though there are nuances that might change the opening for the better. I already mentioned the "obviously beieved" section.

The other one I see, and noticed someone else addressed, was the 'straight, but yellow teeth'. There's a big difference in meaning (I know you now this, i'm just saying...) between staright but yellow, and straight, yellow.

i'd go with straight yellow, no comma, no 'but'. But maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I'd go with straight yellow, no comma, no 'but'. But maybe that's just me.

Now y'see, I'd personally go the other way and keep the "but" because of the way it calls attention to the yellow. Without that it's just simple adjectives that the eye might skim past without catching the same feeling of significance that Vincent had (and we may not consider it significant, but the author is telling us Vincent did, and occasionally it pays to listen to the author).

Anyway, there's nothing wrong with showing a few buts here and there.

Even without the questionable "but", I may still argue with you on the comma (as the adjectives are equally weighted: straight and yellow = yellow and straight). But that's just me...

Evil Editor said...

To me, the choice to say straight but yellow rather than straight yellow implies that it's unusual, in the eyes of the narrator, for teeth to be both straight and yellow.

Not knowing whether this is set in the days of orthodontics and bleaching or the days of Dickens, it's impossible to say what kind of teeth would strike the narrator as worthy of remark.

Robin S. said...

I see what you mean.

I like the idea of straight yellow teeth because the picture it gives me is of a seedy little fellow with 'corn teeth', a smarmy and half-way stupid little shit. The kind of guy who thinks he has to raise his voice to be heard. That's the picture I enjoy in my mind's eye as I read this.

But I see what you mean, the setting, Dickensonian or other, matters.

BuffySquirrel said...

Could've sworn I left a second comment in this thread.

Maybe ello ate it.

Evil Editor said...

I think I found it. Possibly I occasionally forget to publish, but likely I hit publish and then close the window a split second before the "comment published" page appears, and it doesn't register. I'll try to concentrate in the future.

Bonnie said...

Oh, don't give up on your nice long sentences just because some people got scared off in grade school...

BuffySquirrel said...

Thanks, EE :).

Anonymous said...

It's impossible to say what kind of teeth would strike the narrator as worthy of remark.

Is it? Surely the author knows what would strike the narrator as worthy of remark, and is communicating that to us through the choice of words?

Evil Editor said...

That's my point. It's impossible for US to declare the author's choice good or bad because we don't know the setting.

As writers submit their work here in hopes of hearing what works and what doesn't, I don't think we should assume it's perfect.

In any case, to say his teeth were straight but yellow is like saying his eyes were crossed but blue. It's not clear what one has to do with the other, and thus why it should be "but" instead of "and." Unless this is a time period when straight teeth are almost always white.

Anonymous said...

It's impossible for US to declare the author's choice good or bad because we don't know the setting.

Then I think we're agreeing. Or I'll assume we are, because that makes me feel better about myself. Please don't burst my bubble.

Anonymous said...

In any case, to say his teeth were straight but yellow is like saying his eyes were crossed but blue.

Not sure it's exactly the same thing. It could be like saying "his eyes were blue but milky". And it would be fine to phrase that "his milky blue eyes" but then we're not as sure of the contrast - is milky OK or not? "Straight but yellow" = "{good attribute} but {bad attribute}". "Straight, yellow" doesn't necessarily make the same point...

Anyway, the author's choice of words may have been deliberate or accidental. Having seen the alternative reactions to the phrasing the author can decide what to do about it. I enjoy seeing how different people react differently to the same phrase; I want to leap to the author's defence if they're being told they're "wrong" when no objective rules have been broken.

It certainly doesn't mean I think the writing is perfect.

had enough said...

Could've sworn I left a second comment in this thread.

No, Buffy, that should be:
Could swear I left a second comment in this thread.

Anonymous said...

And then, of course, you get the differences between American English and British English, and different dialects thereof, and freaking everybody is wrong; all of the time.

Waits for "this is an Amercian blog so we should only use American English". No? Good.

Evil Editor said...

"Straight but yellow" = "{good attribute} but {bad attribute}". "Straight, yellow" doesn't necessarily make the same point...

You'll have to clarify. To me, if straight is good and yellow is bad, then whether it's but, and, or comma, it's good attribute + bad attribute. By using "but" the author is saying, "Remarkably, even though his teeth were straight, they were yellow!"

If, for some reason, that is remarkable, then "but" is fine. If there's nothing remarkable about straight yellow teeth, and the author merely wants to describe the teeth, "and" or comma would, in my opinion, be better than "but."

Anonymous said...

If, for some reason, that is remarkable, then "but" is fine. If there's nothing remarkable about straight yellow teeth, and the author merely wants to describe the teeth, "and" or comma would, in my opinion, be better than "but."

Yes. Total agreement.

You'll have to clarify. To me, if straight is good and yellow is bad, then whether it's but, and, or comma, it's good attribute + bad attribute. By using "but" the author is saying, "Remarkably, even though his teeth were straight, they were yellow!"

Not necessarily so, to my reading. I don't think the "but" has to imply "remarkably" and an exclamation point. The "but" goes beyond the simple description of stright, yellow teeth to make a value judgment. He's saying the teeth were straight (Orthodontics? Lucky genetics?) but they were still yellow (Smoker? Lazy brusher? Unlucky genetics?). Yellow is pretty much the natual color of teeth, so it isn't all that unusual.

It's more than merely describing the facts, it's making a point: it could be "yeah, you got nice straight teeth but if you smoke forty a day and don't brush properly, stub breath, you're still no better than me." Maybe the doctor's an arrogant prick, but Vincent isn't fooled by his pretences. And it's not that the reader couldn't pick up on the contrast without the "but", it's that Vincent wanted to emphasize it. Or not. I don't know, I'm not the author and I only have 150 words to go on.

My point, and I did have one, is "straight and yellow teeth" doesn't have exactly the same meaning or nuance as "straight but yellow teeth". "His milky blue eyes" isn't the same as "his blue but milky eyes". And sometimes the author might choose a word or two to guide us, and help us with our English Lit. decompositions.

I'm probably way out of my depth here now. Feel free to send me back to the shallow end.

Anonymous said...

I bet the author's wishing she'd never shown us her "but" now.

Evil Editor said...

Of course this discussion has gone beyond anything the author cares about, but what the heck.

I'm not sure we're disagreeing on "but," though you seem to think so. I agree that "but" has a different meaning from "and." Perhaps the disagreement is in what the nuance of "but" is.

Suppose I said He was very fat but he could run fast. Changing "but" to "and" provides the same info, but by using "but" I imply that you wouldn't expect a fat guy to be fast. His speed, while not Olympic 100 meter fast, is worthy of remark in view of his size.

Possibly this could be applied to the doctor's teeth; a character who cares enough about his teeth to wear braces for two years would care enough about them to use Crest Whitestrips, and thus it's worthy of remark that they're yellow. Perhaps the author wants to suggest the doctor was forced to wear braces as a kid and didn't care for his teeth as an adult.

But if the story is set in pre-orthodontia, pre-whitening times, when yellow is common and straightness is a matter of chance, I don't see the point of adding the extra nuance I (but apparently not everyone) attach to the word "but."

For those who can't get enough of this, see http://evileditor.blogspot.com/2006/05/face-lift-22.html, wherein there were four uses of "but" whose purposes were lost on me.

Bernita said...

I liked the "but yellow" construction because it implied the doctor was a horsey bastard. Gave me an image that
"straight, yellow" did not.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the point of adding the extra nuance I (but apparently not everyone) attach to the word "but."

But it's exactly that nuance that's important. That's the point.

I'm assuming both the straightness and the degree of yellowness of the teeth are remarkable, because Vincent remarks upon them.

He lied to me through his straight, yellow teeth.

He lied to me through his straight, but yellow, teeth.

It's a different nuance, a different tone. The first, to me, is snappier, perhaps more angry, more direct; perhaps more modern. The second is less direct, calling attention to the defect; to me, more in keeping with Vincent's overall tone.

I think, by default, we commonly see the phrase "straight, white teeth." That's a definition of "good" teeth: straight and white. The "but yellow" here is perhaps not setting up an explicit contrast with the preceding "straight", but an implicit contrast with the expected "white". Expecting white, but got yellow.


Is it just me: the more I stare at the word "yellow" the more it looks like it's spelled wrong?

Dave said...

1) Straight, yellow teeth
2) Straight, but yellow teeth

The first implies that the doctor doesn't take care of his teeth. lots of people have yellow teeth from not brushing or flossing. this is consistently normal behavior and is unremarkable. They got their teeth straightened as kids and never took care of the afterward.

The second implies more. Here is a DOCTOR who had his teeth straightened, but doesn't care for them. they are yellow with neglect but straight artificially. This is not what people do when they they get teeth straightened as grown ups. He spent possibly $3000 to $5000 on his teeth and still lets them get yellow.

Now which doctor do you want to ahve telling you you're not dying?

Robin S. said...

Wow. This is an amazing thread about the teeth.

I'd like to know, from the author, what the time period is here, and what her intentions were with the, uh ...description of the doctor's teeth.

Hi Katherine,

Can you tell us?

phoenix said...

So does "but" here HAVE to do anything other than stall the sentence a bit and preserve tone / flavor / style / atmosphere?

Does it HAVE to call attention or link disparate thoughts? I think not.

"straight, yellow teeth" = modern speech
"straight but yellow" = period speech (and I wouldn't punctuate it; no comma keeps the style)

That said, this could be tightened a bit and still preserve style. Wouldbe has some good suggestions, but goes a lttle too far with the edit, IMO. The long sentences are period and for the most part flow well. If this turns out to be contemporary fiction, however, my post here would need to be completely reassessed :o)

Anonymous said...

So does "but" here HAVE to do anything other than stall the sentence a bit and preserve tone / flavor / style / atmosphere?

Does it HAVE to call attention or link disparate thoughts? I think not.


No, it probably doesn't HAVE to. You're certainly free to ignore its significant and interpret the text on a different level.

"straight, yellow teeth" = modern speech
"straight but yellow" = period speech


I'm reluctant to dismiss the second form as merely archaic.

(and I wouldn't punctuate it; no comma keeps the style)

Both meaning and rhythm are changed depending on the punctuation. I believe the number of beats in this clause is important to convey Vincent's opinion of the doctor.

Robin S. said...

Gary Kamiya, in an excellent Salon.com piece, wrote:
"An anonymous posting is a communication without consequence."

Bonnie said...

That word "but" all by itself makes me wonder about the narrator.

If he's worried about cosmetics while he's dying, that's kind of weird.

If he's the vampire dude, maybe there's more to the doctor, and the teeth, than just appearance.