Friday, October 05, 2007

New Beginning 379

We didn’t have much time. But, I didn’t know that back then. It was the year my best friend and I turned thirteen. Besides memories, all I have left from the last summer Noelle and I spent together are my three favorite pictures. One is a cheat, because I didn’t take it. To be honest, I’m not sure who did.

Noelle and I were at our neighborhood park, sitting at the edge of the pond. Thirty feet away, a fountain splashed water toward our bare feet, which we dangled in the cool water. We’re both laughing hysterically at something; I wish I could remember what. Noelle’s head is thrown back, her face tipped to the sky, her eyes are clinched, and the fingers of both hands curl around long, green grass that sprouts from under her legs. And me, I’m looking right at her.

Sometimes, as I stare at that photograph, I wonder if we both had a clue about what was drawing near. With Noelle gripping the ground like she didn’t want to be torn away, and me simply staring like I’m trying to memorize every aspect of her that I can, it isn’t so hard for me to believe that we’d heard a whisper carried on the wind. If only the message had been a shout, if only we could have prepared, everything in my world might still be right side up.

"Jesus Christ, lady! Would you just shut the fuck up and listen to the man? You can't use none of them pictures! Look -- there's thirty people behind you now, and we all want to get our licenses and get the fuck on with our lives."


Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril

20 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:


"Grandma, you're holding it upside down!"

"Hm? What's that? Speak up, dear, speak up."

"You're holding it upside down!"

"Hm? Oh, so I am. That's better. See that one. I took that one. That young man behind Noelle? That's your Father, when he was young. Oh, that was back when he was still Mexican..."

"Grandma! You didn't take any of those pictures, they came with the frame. Happy birthday, Grandma."

--Anonymous


If only she had moved out of the way when she looked up and saw that jet engine falling to the ground. Sometimes, I wonder if she had a clue about anything.

The other two pictures, I took those at the park; I didn't frame them so good and my big toe is in the corner, out of focus. I wish I could remember when I snapped the shutter, if it was during or right after Noelle was squashed like a bug. Gripping the ground, the grass sprouting through what was left of her, splattered from the edge of the pond to the fountain, plastered to the ground and having to be scraped up. I stare at these other two pictures and I wonder how she could have been so dense.

--Anonymous


But then the Rapture happened and Noelle was whisked away to heaven leaving me behind to live through Armegeddon. I mean, seriously, what made her so much more pure than me. We did everything together. She was just as bad as I was and I have the proof. I have those two other pictures and Noelle isn't being an angel in either of them.

--Sarah


Noelle was such a fun-loving girl who doted on and appreciated nature. I always thought she'd end up a biologist watching gorillas three hundred miles from the nearest sign of human life. Or perhaps she'd involve herself in an endangered species project. Many were the times that I imagined her at an oil spill site, gunk up to her thighs, scrubbing a bird of some sort.

But the whisper wouldn't go away. Every day someone, a friend maybe, whispered those words into her ears, words that seized her heart and yanked her away from me: multi-level marketing. Once she had gotten a taste of it, anything would do: vitamins, waterless cookware, household cleansers . . . anything. When I wouldn't go along with her schemes, I was histoire. No MLM scheme ever worked for her, so she worked harder, more fervently. Something had to be done. She had to be brought back to Earth.

--Bill Highsmith

Evil Editor said...

Well written and a good hook.

If you're the subject of one of your favorite photos, it's hardly a cheat that you didn't take it.

No need to say "To be honest..." Why would we suspect you're being dishonest about whether you remember who took the photo?

Do you describe all three photos? If not, I'd claim to have only one.

Feet usually "dangle" from above, but Noelle is gripping the ground.

If they are on the ground, feet in pond, they must be facing the fountain that's splashing water toward their feet. So where's the photographer? In the pond, between them and the fountain, getting water splashed on his camera?

The second paragraph is all description of the picture, so why are the first two sentences past tense and the rest present? I'd make it all present. In past, it's not immediately clear that we're hearing about the photo, rather than the summer.

As the hook comes at the end of the third paragraph, it might be good to get there a bit faster.
One way is to dump the first paragraph. It's kind of cool to start with the second and let the reader discover it's a photo in the third. All you lose is their ages and that it was their last summer together, which can be worked into the photo description, or into a later paragraph. Something to consider, anyway.

Robin S. said...

EE - I thought the hook was contained in the first two sentences, to be honest - and then a pause for background or story grounding- and then a circle back to the hook, with an add on - "if only we could have prepared, everything in my world might still be right side up."

Hi author-

I like what what you've done. I think a few edits owule work well -

I'd take out the first sentence of paragraph one - don't think you need it.

You'd have to expalin dangling - I think the girls are lying back with their legs up in the air, thus gangling them in the water? But it's confusing the way it's written.

I like this a lot: "Sometimes, as I stare at that photograph, I wonder if we both had a clue about what was drawing near. With Noelle gripping the ground like she didn’t want to be torn away..."

Funny continuation, ril.

Bernita said...

Anon, I had no trouble visualizing the girls' positions, but perhaps you might need to indicate they sit on a cement rim around the pool and designate that the grass sprouts from under her thighs or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Funny continuations - thanks!

EE - With the exception of the opening, the entire book is in past tense. Should I change this chapter (prologue) to past instead of present so that I have complete consistency? I thought having the description of the pics in present would help them be more in motion, bring them to life. I think that reading the whole prologue helps the past/present switch make more sense . . . Or is this just a no-no - immediate toss to the slush pile?

Thanks to everyone for the comments on the confusion of placement - I didn't even think this would be an issue. It's so good to get another perspective! I'll work on that.

Any more thoughts from you minions about the hook? I was attempting to do as Robin outlined - start with it and circle back several times (you only see it once). I do like EE's suggestion to start with #2 and add in the important info from #1 later.

Thanks in advance for any additional comments! This is such a helpful process!

- Author

Evil Editor said...

The tenses are fine, except the first two sentences of paragraph 2 would agree with the rest if they were changed to present (Noelle and I are...fountain splashes...which we dangle.

My only confusuion with placement is the placement of the photographer. The kids are facing the pond, the photographer is apparently facing the kids. Is the photographer in the pond?

What hooks one person may not hook another. I find the first two sentences too vague to hook me. It could mean a million things. The park closes eary. They drain the pond and put up condos. Lunch is ready. The third paragraph convinces me it's something more significant and I want to know what.

Certainly the first two sentences are intriguing, but the more vague they are, the faster I want specifics. If you begin, "I was on my sister's porch when the package arrived," I'll give you a few paragraphs to tell me what the big deal is about the package. I have some specifics. If you begin, "I was hanging around outside when it happened," I'm not hanging around long waiting to hear what "it" is. I haven't developed that much trust in you yet.

Of course, if we scrap the first paragraph, it no longer matters whether it's a hook.

whoever said...

I'm having trouble picturing the photograph because first you say "We're both laughing hysterically at something" and then later you say, "and me simply staring like I'm trying to memorize every aspect of her that I can."

To me, hysterically laughing, and simply staring create two very different images.

I also liked the line about Noelle gripping the ground.

Evil Editor said...

I referred to them as kids, btw, because I can't tell whether the narrator is male or female. You don't want this to go on too long without revealing that.

Dave F. said...

The hook is that Noelle is gone and the narrator is agonizing over the loss. The entire scene is window dressing for that thought. The faster the narrative gets to the loss and the angst, the better.

The subject of the picture is unimportant, truly, really, honest. I wouldn't say that if it weren't true.

If you wrote that the subject of the picture was a sheep farm in the farmlands of (Aberdeen MD, PA, upstate NY) and they played with the lambs and raised them, it sould be just as tender and heartfelt as walking in the desert southwest and playing amidst the red rocks of Monument valley.

So concentrate the description on making the scene part of the angst and loss. Make the physical descriptions add to the angst and loss. Last summer's frolics in the local watering hole works. But right now, the focus is a bit off.

sboydtaylor said...

I agree with EE -- dump the first paragraph. It's a little unfocused. There's only one photo that is important in this opening, so don't talk about the others yet. They're just red-herrings at this point.

Instead, open with a one-sentence tension builder, like:

"Sometimes, as I stare at that photograph, I wonder if we both had a clue about what was drawing near." (orig. from your third pgf.)

Then continue with your paragraph 2. It'll probably need a little "feathering at the edges" to smooth out the tear-marks, but you'll have a lot more suspense.

sboydtaylor said...

Oh, and hi everyone. I'm new! Been lurking for a week or two, and I thought I should start posting.

pacatrue said...

EE said, "I can't tell whether the narrator is male or female. You don't want this to go on too long without revealing that."

In Paca's School of Clumsy Writing, we would fix this problem quickly and clearly:

Female POV fix:
"If only the message had been a shout, if only we could have prepared, everything in my world might still be right side up, like my legs for my annual pap smear."

Male POV fix:
"... the fingers of both hands curl around long, green grass that sprouts from under her legs. And me, I’m looking right at herthinking about my penis."

Yes, for just $20 an hour, you too can learn to wield Paca's Sledgehammer of Subtlety.

Anonymous said...

FYI - all three photographs are described in the opening - the entire chapter was beyond the word limit so you're missing the rest. Each picture is supposed to tell something about these two, their friendship, the loss. The pics all tie in at the ending.

Dave - I was trying to make the description tie into the loss. I guess it didn't work as well as I'd hoped.

Thanks pacatrue - I'll have to go with the annual pap scenario. Excellet suggestion.

- Author

Robin S. said...

Hi new guy! What do you want us to call you?

Paca, you're one of a kind -
"right side up, like my legs for my annual pap smear." Yeah - that stuff is just so much fun. Nothin like stirrups to make you feel special and feminine. That and the little turquoise paper gown thingie.

But you're right - that or the penis line would definitely clue in the reader about sex. Or gender, rather. Absolutely!

Go, go, gender identification. That';s what I always say.

McKoala said...

I really liked this. Maybe it was a little on the long side, but the writing was good enough for me not to greatly care about that.

The 'cheat' also jumped out at me as not really being a cheat. Unless the person who took it matters later, maybe you could lose the last two lines of that para?

sboydtaylor said...

Hi Author,

I forgot the first rule of good critiquing -- I didn't complement you on what you did right. You had excellent suspense. It was a little weak in the first paragraph, but there was very subtle but very effective tension in the third. You also have a very good rhythm and a very believable, accessible voice. Overall, I like this. :)

Now, to the rest -- and remember, these are just my opinions, and you don't have to take them. It's your story, and you have no particular reason to listen to my advice.

I can see why you might be concerned about revealing all three photos when you start, if there are three -- but it may not be necessary. Sometimes those details work their way back into the manuscript without setup. Also, while you don't want a gun to appear on the mantle piece to save your hero, you also don't have to tell everything at the same time. Either way lies madness.

I found the 3 picture setup confusing. When you started to describe the first picture, I thought -- am I looking at a picture now? which one? where did the other pictures go? But I can be really dense at times, and I might not be your target audience.

I recommend focusing in on first picture first, building the suspense of "this was when times were good... but they're not gonna be good for long", then sort through the rest. Maybe reference a "fistful of pictures, as a setup." That's how I would do it, but there are a thousand other successful ways to put it together.

My only real concern is that this is a lot of backstory already. You can get away with it for a few paragraphs because you've got good suspense -- but any more backstory before some action starts, and I'm likely to jump ship. But, like I said, that's just me :)

If you intersperse the photographs/backstory with rising and riveting action, I would be hooked.

sboydtaylor said...

Hi robin s.! You can call me Nic. Everyone else does :)

Anonymous said...

My only confusuion with placement is the placement of the photographer. The kids are facing the pond, the photographer is apparently facing the kids. Is the photographer in the pond?

I'm guessing the photograph was taken by some creepy guy on the other side of the pool, with a huge telephoto lens, and was mailed to her in a plain brown envelope addressed using letters cut from the Reader's Digest.

Am I right?

Ello said...

Paca - I was eating Jello pudding when I read "Pap smear!" You owe me a new screen. Mine looks like shit!

Author - I loved the opening. Does that make me a minority? Ahhhh, that's a pun - but not obvious. Anyhooo, I really liked this whole piece and would love to read more. Very nice going!

Anonymous said...

mckoala - thanks - I understand the confusion about the "cheat." It would be more evident if it were mentioned later, as the MC is atached to her camera and takes a lot of pictures. I'll omit those 2 sentences.

sboydtaylor - thanks for all the time and thought you put into your comments. I haven't really been concerned about including description of all three pictures . . . until now, that is :) Confusion is not such a good thing to start off with. I do have current action with the descriptions of the three pictures, breaking it up. Again, it's difficult when you can't submit the entire opening. But, I remember a post from EE a while ago that stated something about agents deciding within the first 150 words if they are interested. So, this is a good format!

- Author