Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Beginning 356

"Lady Ariashal! You are to be married tomorrow and you still have not finished your dress? You know that is bad luck!"

Ariashal smiled at her old nurse, her blue eyes bright. "No, Nanna, I have not. But see? I will have all the embroidery done soon." She flipped the chemise over.

Her old nurse shook her head. "You know you must not tempt fate like this! This will be your fifth marriage. You cannot start it under a cloud, not unless you want it to end like the others."

Sighing, Ariashal stopped sewing. "I promise you, I do not want that either."

Nanna would not be satisfied. She put the neatly-folded cloak on one of the chairs. "You are lucky to have such a handsome lord as Prince Rhadam to wed. And he is not afraid of your curse! If you do not finish . . . " Her voice trailed off in warning.

"Unless I partake of some victuals, Nanna, I fear I shall succumb to fatigue forthwith."

Nanna bowed. "Of course, my lady, and while you sup I shall busy myself tidying the sewing room."

As Ariashal's footsteps receded Nanna picked up the embroidered dress and set about delicately undoing Ariashal's hours of labor, carefully removing each stitch.

Perhaps Ariashal would never return Nanna's secret feelings, but the notion of some filthy man sharing Ariashal's bed was too much to bear. And if sabotaging the wedding dress failed to prevent the wedding, there was always Plan B: Ariashal's "curse." After all, it had worked four times before . . .

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Lightsmith


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

Ariashal smiled sweetly. "Dear Nanna. I will finish, you know I will. In fact, I will finish quicker if I were left alone."

Nanna put her hand to her mouth. "Of course, of course." She picked up the cloak and hurried to the door. With a backward glance and a wiggle of her finger in admonition, she was gone.

Ariashal dropped the sewing in relief. Now, which dress was less likely to be remembered - the one from wedding number two or wedding number three?


Prince Rhadam has nothing to fear. I have no ill will towards him. His mother, his father, his brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews and neices, his dogs, his livestock, the dust under his bed . . . those I have contempt for. But certainly not him.

--Bill Highsmith

"We're close to running out of cloth," the old nurse admonished.

Ariashal tossed the chemise at her old nurse and laughed.

"I wouldn't sit there laughing. With each husband you eat, you gain a princely amount around your waist. Your clothing costs are eating us out of mansion and castle."

Ariashal made the same joke she made for five years. "All these royal princes think I want to be wed. I want to be FED. Not wed!" She stood up and massaged her stomach. "At least we can kill two birds with one stone."

--Church Lady

Ariashal thought back to her first wedding night, her second honeymoon, and the aftermath of all four. It was just a stupid dress. How could such a thing of flimsy fabric protect her from the inevitable?
Still, she had to try. After all, Prince Rhadam's heart could not stand the shock of watching his wife grow testicales the size of cannon balls.


Anonymous said...

IS ""testicales" perhaps the Spanish version of "testicles" or cojones?
The Queen took out her tits and tittered.

Evil Editor said...

Most of what the nurse says is "as you know, Bob." The first paragraph might as well be "Lady Ariashal! You haven't finished your dress yet? The Lady knows when her wedding is, and knows (according to the nurse) it's bad luck not to be finished.

Even if Ariashal doesn't remember how many times she's been married, I doubt her nurse would bring it up.

Dialogue is a good way to impart information, but only if someone involved in the dialogue doesn't already have the information.

Once that's cleaned up, the scene is set and the curse is a good hook.

Dave said...

I am puzzled by this opening. It starts a story with the Lady Ariashal MAKING her fourth or fifth wedding dress. And the Grandmother suggests it is bad luck not to finish the dress?
a) What are slaves and adoring subjects for?
b) A new dress? I hope it isn't white. Perhaps it's the red polka dot of Pagliacco's Columbina (that's Judy in English for those of you Italian deprived folk).

Wouldn't a more real sitation be someone trying to talk her out of the marraige because someone is likely to die?

I'm thinking of Turandot (the Opera) where they spend mucho grand singing trying to convince Prince Calaf not to ring the gong and declare his intention to marry Princess Turandot. It seems she was killing prospective husbands with riddles.
She sings "Gli enigmi sono tre, la morte è una!"

How about a scene where Aria-shal describes her feelings of dread or possibly surrender to fate? She knows this man is going to die but she she is moving forward regardless. This current opening makes her sound too flat, too impersonal, too unemotional. Think about Ariashal not being reserved and just releasing her emotional state.

That gives you an opportunity for Rhadem (or whoever survives the curse) to love her even more.

In the opera, Calaf sings: "No, no! Gli enigmi sono tre, una è la vita!" and when he wins her, he gives her a second chance to kill him if she can reveal his name. (he actually tells her his name after he sweeps her off her feet with a kiss.).
However, the big drama being operatic, she falls in love with him and declares his name to be "amor"...

I think this opening needs emotion. I would say it cries for emotion. I think Ariashal needs fire from square one.

pacatrue said...

I like the Evil Nanna twist. It's too bad it's not part of the actual story.

jjdebenedictis said...

Ditto what EE said about the "As you know, Bob" dialogue.

I'll also note the lack of tension. Sure, it's an argument, but the stakes are zero because Ariashal assures the reader/nurse that all is well, and it is her fifth wedding. Obviously, this is business as usual.

I'll also note a woman sitting around doing embroidery is pretty dull action. This seems like a poor choice; you've already made your heroine seem passive.

Your story starts at the moment Ariashal realises she has a problem to solve. This isn't it. Try to find that moment, later in the story, and start us there instead.

How about one of the weddings? Even better, how about one of the deaths? If you begin with Ariashal and her father looking at the corpse of her husband on the floor and her father saying something like, "You did it again. Maybe I should send you to a nunnery," it would suck the reader in a lot faster than embroidery does.

I recall this from Facelift 448. In that, Ariashal has a lover die just prior to wedding #6. Did you change that, or are we really still only on wedding #5?

McKoala said...

If she's been married that many times maybe they should consider recycling the dresses.

The five marriages and the curse absolutely intrigued me and I would read on for that alone. The dialogue was a little stiff, but I assume that's deliberate? I think I'd like it to perk up a bit between equals, though.

iago said...

Probably don't need to repeat "her old nurse" either.

This feels like it's for younger readers. Is it?

Sighing, Ariashal stopped sewing.

How about: "Ariashal sighed and stopped sowing."

Church Lady said...

OOO! I like the evil Nanna twist. Perhaps she is behind the curse.

I agree that the opening sounds like a veiled info-dump. There's not much tension.

Intriguing idea, but not quite there yet.
Good luck!

writtenwyrdd said...

I also thought this lacked tension. It's a clear enough scene despite the "As you know, Bob" stuff.

However, the conversation is self-contradictory. On one hand, it implies that the curse is brought down by an unfinished dress: "You cannot start it under a cloud, not unless you want it to end like the others." Which conflicts with the unfinished dress being "bad luck" and "tempting fate" if it isn't finished-- which implies it only ADDS TO the problem, not that it IS the problem.

In short, the language of this conversation muddies the situation. It is not precise enough and confused me as to what I was supposed to take away from it. However, I think you can fix the dialog with editing and this can work fine as an opening scene.

And a nitpick: I have to say I did not believe this Lady is sewing her own dress, but I was willing to suspend disbelief for a bit, until you give me the rationale for such an activity. (It's fantasy; you can get away with almost anything if you explain it properly.)

WouldBe said...

McKoala likes it. She(?) reminds us to take off our hard SF, take-no-alien-prisoners hat while judging an Austen novel of manners. This beginning has no more ambition than to set a tone and establish a character. On the surface, this opening seems okay, if the defects mentioned by EE are corrected. But to keep McKoala happy, it should continue building up that world, richly. If there is a ninja or space alien lurking outside Ariashal's chamber door, the author has already lost his/her audience.

Bernita said...

I still have trouble with the five marriages.
Three I could take, but the idea that yet-another groom is eagerly climbing over the dead bodies of previous husbands piled in quick succession just beggars belief.

Bonnie said...

Been a long time since I spewed coffee over a continuation. This one's great.

Better than the real opening, in fact. It's competent, but as Dave said, it lacks emotion or maybe conscience. It feels mechanical. It feels, um, shallow is not quite the word I'm looking for, but maybe like Ariashal has not really thought through her situation and what it means to people outside herself.

Note I'm not saying the story itself is flat, only that the opening left me that impression.

Lightsmith said...

For the people who have suggested that the author hasn't injected enough conflict in these 150 words, I'd be curious to know some examples of published novels that achieve what you consider to be an ideal level of conflict within their first 150 words.

(P.S. I'm not asking for a list of 500 books. Just 2 or 3 will be fine.)

BuffySquirrel said...

For the people who have suggested that the author hasn't injected enough conflict in these 150 words, I'd be curious to know some examples of published novels that achieve what you consider to be an ideal level of conflict within their first 150 words.

You're new here, aren't you?

What would also be interesting is, regardless of the level of conflict, what books have grabbed people within 150 words? Sometimes when I start reading a book I feel myself relax, because the author obviously knows what they're doing and I'm in safe hands. I felt that with Sarah Waters' "Affinity", frex.

Evil Editor said...

While they weren't chosen for conflict, the opportunity to read about 100 brief openings to published works is available by searching this blog for "old beginnings".

Dave said...

Tension, drama and drama...

EE did a number of posts (more than 10) with OLD BEGINNINGS. The first 150 or so words from novels.
These are the first 4 posts.

You can find the rest of the posts in the blog.

150 said...

Ooh! Ooh! My long-abandoned blog has a few dozen 150-word openings from published books. Follow the link in my profile.

writtenwyrdd said...

Maybe if one substituted "I didn't feel hooked" for "no conflict" it would make more sense for you lightsmith.

That's how I filter it for myself, anyhow.

Anonymous said...

Follow the link in my profile.

That would be nice if your profile was available to the average reader.

Phoenix said...

150: Can you share your profile? Your profile link is a deadend. Just how long-abandoned IS your blog? :o)

Phoenix said...

Author: I don't mind a story taking a bit of time to get started, but I have to agree with the others who've pointed out the "as you know" syndrome here.

I also stopped cold at: She put the neatly-folded cloak on one of the chairs. What cloak? Did she bring it in with her? Did she pick it up and fold it while speaking to Ariashal? Sorry, but for me, that mysteriously appearing cloak took all my attention from the story itself. Sometimes, it's the little details that matter most.

150 said...

Oh my gosh. Ask me how much I hate the fact that Blogger integrated with Google.

Actual link ahoy:

This is why I always sign in as "Other".

Lightsmith said...

You're new here, aren't you?

You call yourself "Buffysquirrel," eh? You sound more like Cordysquirrel to me. And, yes, I do mean season one Cordy. Suh-nappp!!!

Just kidding.

Actually, I'm not exactly new to EE's blog. I initially started reading it back when Face-Lift 5 was first posted. Back then my display name was Altar Boy. Mostly I just lurked, but about a dozen of the old-school GTPs are mine, including these gems:

Face-Lift 6: TIERRA RED
1. Actress Tara Reid's self-titled autobiography, which she wrote, proof-read, and printed entirely by herself.

Face-Lift 130: BEYOND THE PAST
6. When twenty-first-century necromancer Raevyn Moonchyld is targeted by a seemingly invincible Dark Mage, she summons up five of her selves from past lives to fight alongside her.

3. Due to poor cell phone reception, wedding planner Rodrigo misunderstands the bride's request that her outdoor wedding be surrounded by hundreds of dandelions and butterflies--with tragic results.

1. 390 BC: Exiled from Rome on trumped-up conspiracy charges, Lucius Titus is enslaved and conscripted into the Gallic army. When the Gauls sack Rome, Lucius escapes and seeks revenge on those who wronged him.

Face-Lift 109: BARELY THERE
1. There's a guy who does some stuff, but then some other guy tries to stop him from doing the stuff, in a plot that is.....barely there.

3. Blind 14-year-old jockey Harry Palms pits his knobby-kneed thoroughbred "Choke That Chicken" against favored competitors "Spank That Monkey," "Slap My Hamster," "Rub the Armadillo," "Flog the Dolphin," and "Pet That Weasel" in a race to see which one will come first.

Unfortunately, I started to feel that contributing to EE's blog was siphoning away my energies from my own writing, so I took a long hiatus. But recently I decided to check out the blog again, and it happened to be right when EE put up that post saying "everything needed," and that brought me back into the fold. So here I am. :-)

jjdebenedictis said...

I'd be curious to know some examples of published novels that achieve what you consider to be an ideal level of conflict within their first 150 words.

Replacing "no conflict" with "it didn't hook me" is a better way to describe my reaction. There are all kinds of things that can slurp me into a book, but this opening didn't have any of those and I thought finding a better place to start the story would be the fastest way to fix things.

As an example of a book that did suck me in, the first sentence of the foreword of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey riveted my attention to the page:
"Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living."

It made me really want to know what sort of book needed to tell the reader a fact like that.

The first 102 words of Chapter 1 are also pretty great:
"The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight. In this barren and desiccated land, only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to survive.

The man-apes of the veldt were none of these things, and they were not flourishing; indeed, they were already far down the road to racial extinction."

This strikes me as enough conflict. I know human beings survived, so after reading this, I'm really interested in the author telling me the story of how they did.

Robin S. said...

EE, what do you think constitutes a good hook for an opening?

Can it ever simply be voice-driven, with the voice carrying the promise of what's to come;
can a "hooky" opening simply imply conflict or trouble coming down the pike?

I wasn't here for the old beginnings - but I did see them. It was good to read through them.

Do you think one of the classics like "it was the best of times..." would make it out of the slush pile in today's market/publishing world?

Evil Editor said...

If the author uses words well I will certainly get past 150 of them, whether it's description or action or dialogue. Voice can carry an opening. But someone better die in the second 150 words, or we've got problems.

What makes it out of slush depends on who's reading, but certainly the classics sell more copies today than much of what is published now.

There are so many people in the world now that there's surely an audience for anything decent. But the major publishers are looking for bestseller material. And smaller presses may not have the money for the marketing that gets the word out.

So tomorrow's classics may not be successful today. Not all of today's classics were successful yesterday, either.

I'm blathering. If you have talent and persistence, I like to think your work will find it into the right hands sooner or later, whether it sounds like Dickens or Grisham. If you want a big payday, it better sound more like Grisham.

writtenwyrdd said...

"When twenty-first-century necromancer Raevyn Moonchyld is targeted by a seemingly invincible Dark Mage, she summons up five of her selves from past lives to fight alongside her."

You know, lightsmith, this one could sell!

writtenwyrdd said...

Funny, the opening that I can always bring to mind as memorable is by Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. But I confess, I never finished the 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- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Robin S. said...

Thanks, EE.

BuffySquirrel said...

Unfortunately, the CordySquirrel joke is completely lost on me. But welcome back anyway :).

Phoenix said...

Shall we count the number of times "was" and "had" appear in the 2001 and Two Cities openings? :o)

My new mantra: It's all in the execution, folks.

Buffysquirrel, you are obviously not a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffyslayer?) (perhaps your locale has something to do with the availability of US TV shows?). It's a slam, yes, but not one you won't recover from.

Lightsmith, I think you'll do nicely here.

Anonymous said...

If you have talent and persistence, I like to think your work will find it into the right hands sooner or later, whether it sounds like Dickens or Grisham. If you want a big payday, it better sound more like Grisham.

EE--I'm glad you ended with this conclusion because the first paragraph with Voice can carry an opening. But someone better die in the second 150 words, or we've got problems (snarky or not) had me hyperventilating. Oy.

McKoala said...

"It's a slam, yes, but not one you won't recover from."

On the other hand, Cordelia was way hotter than Buffy, so you could take it as a compliment.