Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Beginning 366

He howled, paused, then howled again.

“Shut up, ya daft idiot.” She hissed at him. “Do you want to wake the whole neighborhood?”

He whimpered in reply and settled in beside her, tongue hanging out as he panted. She watched him a moment longer, then got back to work on the huge padlock hanging from the gate.

“It’s got to be one of these,” she muttered. “I paid enough for ‘em.” She twisted the ring and tried another key, but this one wouldn’t even go in the hole. She lifted the keys to a patch of moonlight. “Blast! Now I can’t remember which ones I’ve already tried.” Heaving a sigh, she rummaged in her coat pocket. “Aha!” She tied the small piece of string to the ring. “Starting point.” She pointed to the bit of string and looked for comprehension in his eyes. “Right. Like asking a babe to recite the dictionary. By heart, no less.”

"Alright, that does it."

She jumped at the voice and wheeled around.

"Down here, pinhead."

Her eyes dropped to the animal at her side. He was standing on his hind legs. "I've had it," he said. I'll follow you around, because it's what dogs do, but I will not take verbal abuse from a woman who carries string in her pocket like a bloody mental patient? Got it?"

She blinked.

He woofed out a rawhide-scented sigh and dropped down on all fours. It was against the prime directive, talking to humans, but her mind was loose-woven cheesecloth. She'd forget it by morning.

Opening: Sarah.....Continuation: Lynn


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

He licked each of his eight paws in turn, then laid his head on two of them and breathed a hot sigh. Each key went into the hole, waggled a bit, then came out again.

One of his legs started scratching. She glared at him, and it stopped.

"We need what's in there," she reminded him. "It's for your own good."

He stared accusingly at the Majikal Serplies Stoor. Was it his fault she'd messed up the Change spell?


From behind her a high-pitched male voice sang, "Taaaake Oonnnn Meeeee."

She spun around and saw a trio of men, each with piercing blue eyes and high cheekbones.

"Who the hell are you guys?"

"We, dear lady," the middle one said, "are the legendary 80s synth-pop band A-ha. You called us, and here we are."

"I didn't call you."

"Yes, you did. You said 'Aha!' We heard your call all the way over in Norway, where, by the way, we're still quite popular. How may we assist you?"

"All right. Can you help me open this lock?"

"Well, I can...transform into a hand-drawn version of myself. Will that help?"

She turned back toward the lock and started trying keys again. She was surrounded by idiots.


He scuffed his feet in the grass, drooped his head and looked up at her with his big brown eyes. Just two days ago he was an up and coming biologist, then the incident in the lab and here he was watching her trying to break into the professor's mansion. Jesus.

He watched her fiddle with another key and wondered if she'd notice if he humped her leg.


He lifted his leg and peed on her Pradas. Someday, he hoped, she would learn not to insult him. But she was untrainable. Every time she gave him dry dog food, her keys got scrambled. When she was late taking him out for walkies, her pillow ended up under the bed (and it took her an hour to find it, every time).

She'll never learn. It would be easier to train a monkey.

--Bill Highsmith

He sighed again. He was only a dog, but this woman who continuously locked them both out of the house was an idiot.

--Kate Thornton

He whimpered again and ran around her legs, looking like a handle-less mop head. "Cut that out!" she said and shoved him away with her leg before trying the next key.

After a couple more unsuccessful attempts, the little mutt whimpered again. This time he jumped up and knocked the keys out of her hand. "What made me decide to bring you along?" she asked him. He looked up at her and she swore he rolled his eyes.

"Now what?" He started snuffling at the bunch of keys and with his little snout, separated one out from the set. She tried it and her heart skipped a couple of beats when the dry click confirmed it was the right one.

Who knew Bugsy was a Lock Peke?


She had brought him here because he was a troll hound. An early warning system. Too bad she didn't know what a troll hound was actually for. There was a reason his kind was practically extinct.

When she began to sort through her keys again, he wriggled his butt against the ground and licked her hand as a distraction.

Behind her, the looming shadows folded and formed into the shape of the troll he'd called, its teeth gleaming from the dark.


He tilted his head back to howl again but she drew back her foot and he flopped quietly to the ground instead. He could have told her which key would fit, but if she wasn't going to listen -- if she was going to kick him for trying to help -- then screw her. Let her spend the next hour trying to open the lock, and he'd spend it contentedly licking his balls.

--Joe Mosher

He let out an angry little yip. She looked down at him again. "What? You have any better idea?"

He yipped again.

"Right. OK, walnut brain, what you got?"

The little dog got to its feet, nipped at her trouser leg and began to waddle away. When he realized she wasn't following, he looked back and yipped again. She looked again in exasperation at the lock, rolled her eyes and followed her companion round to the side gate.

"Whoa!" She said. "I didn't know this was here! How did you know?" She pushed the gate open. "We're in! Who's my clever little puppy?"

Ruffy looked up at her and yipped. "Yeah?" he thought. "And who's my bitch, now, eh?"


Dave said...

I had a mouthful off buttered and parsleyed potatoe and almost died at "Bugsy was a Lock Peke".

I hope the dog is the main character because the woman sounds like a ditzy blond. This opening doesn't make me sympathise with her. It makes me sympathize with the doggie.
I don't know if that is good or bad. I'm thinking crazy Betty White as the keymaster and GIlbert Gotfried as the dog?

writtenwyrdd said...

I thought the writing was very good, but the piece did seem to hint that the woman is an idiot and the dog is probably the main character. If this is the wrong impression, Author, you might consider revising a little bit. However, perhaps the next lines fix this perception; it's only 150 words in, after all.

Dave said...

hmmm, my spelling suffers when I'm choking to death...
BTW - I keep reading that opening line as:
"He howled, pissed, then howled again."
So you might want to reconsider that in a rewrite.

blogless_troll said...

LOL Lightsmith.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's a lot of continuations.

Interesting insights!

Does the mental proficiency of the female character change when you find out she's 13? (This is written for 8 - 12 yr olds)


jjdebenedictis said...

This is well-written, but it doesn't seem a like a good place to start the story. Not much is going on, and I'm having trouble identifying with the character because she seems a tad loopy.

The only thing that draws me in is the hunch that a crime is taking place, but there's little tension to the scene regardless. I would keep reading for a bit longer, because the writing is good, but something would have to happen soon to draw me into the story.

Anonymous said...

High-larious continuations.
writtenwyrd, you kill! I didn't see that coming.

I'm a little disappointed that this is middle grade. It read like droll adult humor. I think we all formed a strong mental image, especially of "her," the actual daft idiot of the pair.


Robin S. said...

"her mind was loose-woven cheesecloth" - great phrase in the continuation.

Sarah, I like your beginning - especially now that I know the girl's age. I want to know about what's inside.

WouldBe said...

Again, the book purchaser has an advantage over the minions. The girl, probably, who picks it up from a shelf in the bookstore knows it is a middle-grade book. The minions assume it is an adult book, which skews the reading of it. I think it would help to post the genre and age group along with the continuation. (Synopses should address this.)

Anonymous said...

Actually, Robin, they're escaping and not breaking into something.

I like the cold reading without knowing who it is aimed at. Brings up very interesting points. I probably do need to look at how she comes across in the beginning.


Precie said...


Knowing it's YA helps. I liked this opening for a YA.

But you mentioned that they're escaping, not breaking in.

Now I feel like there should be a greater sense of urgency, even if it's subtle. Maybe take out how "she watched him a moment longer" and "heaving a sigh" since those imply that she has lots of time for this. If she's escaping, I would think time is precious and short.

Lightsmith said...

If she's trying to escape from somewhere, I wouldn't expect her to talk out loud to herself. Wouldn't she want to be as quiet as possible? Maybe the information she's imparting through her monologue (e.g. she paid a lot for the keys) could be imparted through narration instead. Also, I'd expect her to freak out after the first time the dog howled, not to wait until he's howled twice (with a pause in between).

As Precie said, this scene needs more urgency. Maybe she could look furtively over her shoulder, or hide in the bushes when she thinks she hears someone coming. (These are just off the top of my head. I'm sure you could come up with more original ways to communicate this feeling.)

I did like the writing itself, though, apart from these issues. It was fun to read -- a good quality for YA fiction.

Bernita said...

I dob't have experience with all breeds, but dogs don't howl indiscriminately, do they?
Not that it would matter to your intended audience.

Anonymous said...


I can tell you have never lived with a beagle. ;-)


Anonymous said...

You guys rock. Great comments and suggestions. Here's what I've got for now, but I will probably tweak it more later.

He howled.

Samantha grabbed Charlie’s jaw and clamped it shut. “Shut up, ya daft idiot,” she hissed. “Do you want to wake the whole neighborhood?”

He whimpered in reply and settled in beside her, tongue hanging out as he panted.

She froze, listening. “I don’t think they heard you,” she said as she turned back to work on the huge padlock hanging from the gate. “It’s got to be one of these.” She twisted the ring and tried another key, but this one wouldn’t even go in the hole. She lifted the keys to a patch of moonlight. “Blast! Now I can’t remember which ones I’ve already tried.” Heaving a sigh, she pulled a bit of thread from her frayed cuff and tied it to the ring. “Starting point.” She pointed to the piece of string and looked for comprehension in his eyes. “Right. Like asking a babe to recite the dictionary. By heart, no less.”


Church Lady said...

Hi Sarah,
I got the impression that the MC was older from her use of language, and especially the phrase "I paid enough for 'em." But I see that you removed that phrase.

Also, the relationship between the MC and the dog seems to be that of an impatient old lady and an pesky dog. The warmth between a child and her pet is missing. escape scene needs to be tight. And the pace needs to be fast. Lightsmith offered a couple of suggestions to springboard from. I agree with Precie about deleting phrases such as 'heaving a sigh.'


-Instead of the dog howling and being a nuisance, the dog could be a nurturing companion, perhaps licking blood off the girl's ankle or scaring away a rat that runs past.

AmyB said...

I, too, read the protagonist as a batty old lady, partly because she seems disoraganized, but mostly because of the language she uses. Even revising my mental image to a 13-year-old girl, I have a hard time imagining her reciting these lines. Are we in a historical or fantasy setting? I like the writing, but as others have mentioned, the pace feels leisurely.

elissa said...

I like the idea of dog as not necessarily a beloved pet--if not an outright pest. It's counter to expectation and cliche. Maybe he follows her around everywhere and she can't get rid of him. Or he'll howl the place down if he doesn't get to go along.

Kid and dog as bosom companions is just so done.

Church Lady said...

Maybe the pet/child thing is done often, but it usually works.

If the dog is a pesky creature, then I'm not buying into 'why' she's bringing him. Just tie a rope around his muzzle and stuff him in the trash can-with a Post-It note saying "Feed Me" on the lid.

I really like much of this writing and am very curious as to where this is going. I would read on, but there needs to be more tension for a scene such as this.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

It is fantasy. And the dog has been genetically altered. He's an assignment not a pet, though he has become loyal to her and not his real owner.

She's an escaping slave laborer basically. She was sold to this place when she was three and she's escaping because she is reaching breeding age. Um, so maybe this is a tween book more than middle grade.

Your suggestions, comments are helping so much. I'm reading this for an editor and an agent next month.


Robin S. said...


Could you tell us what country and what era this takes place in?

Seems non-American - with 'daft' and 'blast' - or at least, not in this era. Is that right?

Precie said...

Oh, yeah...I meant to mention earlier.

Don't kill the dog. Never kill the dog.

AmyB said...

If I understand the categories correctly, a middle-grade book is for tweens--that is, it's for ages 8-12. Then there are two categories of YA fiction, one for ages 12+ and one for ages 14+. The protagonist is usually a couple years older than the targeted age group. I'm just parroting what I heard at a writing convention.

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy,

Your understanding is basically correct. There is a 'new' tween category that is popular with some houses. What it exactly entails and how it differs from what's already defined is debatable.

There is also a category called upper middle grade which I think is the same as tween.

I think I handle the subject matter in such a way that it's still appropriate for middle grade (or upper middle grade as the case may be.)

And yes, generally the MC is a few years older than the targeted age group.


Phoenix said...

Hi Sarah:

I have a mental image of her being Irish. Dunno why, but there it is.

Your rewrite tightens things up a bit, but the tension still doesn't seem to be coming through. She tells the dog to shut up, but she herself is talking. A lot. Not whispering or being furtive. It still feels like she has plenty of time to do whatever she's doing; she just doesn't want to get caught doing it.

Maybe start with the dog's name rather than "He" and re-work the next couple of lines to not have two instances of "shut" butt against each other:

Charlie howled.

Samantha clamped her hand around the dog's [or put in a descriptor of the dog here -- mutt, hound, breed] muzzle/snout/jaw. "Shut up, ya daft idiot," she hissed.

I don't think you need the "whole neighborhood" sentence or "in reply" or "she said as". Instead of "Heaving a sigh," perhaps she could glance around first or something with more urgency. "By heart, no less" can go, too.

Good luck next month!