Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Beginning 473

Chance McCloud had been in Paris when news came of his brother Jim's death. Unfortunately, Chance didn't do the kind of work that could be walked away from in an afternoon. He had been forced to supervise the winding up of Jim's modest estate from a distance, scrambling to wrap up his own business so that he could get back and make sure that his brother would rest in peace. Waiting now, in a Paris cafe at an outdoor table, sipping coffee and hoping his employer would be on time, Chance took out the newspaper article he carried in his wallet and studied it again.

RIDGECREST, CA - The death of seven men, including the pilot, in a small twin-engine commuter plane, has been confirmed by the US Navy. The men were all civil employees at the China Lake Naval Base, except for the pilot. There was no sign of foul play in relation to the crash. The plane apparently developed engine trouble in the mountains, and crashed into the side of Burton's Peak at approximately 2:15 pm on Sunday. Names of the deceased are being withheld pending the notification of family.

See, now that's style, Chance thought. That's how Jim should have bought the farm. A plane crash, or lost at sea. He read on.

MODESTO, CA - Home improvement enthusiast and Darwin Award nominee, Jim McCloud, did it himself for the last time yesterday when he tried to fix a leaky fuel oil tank by welding it. Fireman Bill McIntyre, first to the scene, described it as an inferno, adding: "The guy really should have emptied the tank first. Here's hoping he was the last swimmer in his gene pool."
Time to move on, Chance thought. He unscrewed the wick from the small light on the table and poured a little of the lamp fuel on to the newspaper clipping. The smell made him sneeze and he spilled oil on the tablecloth and in his lap. Shit, he thought. My new pants. He shrugged and reached for his lighter.


Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril

19 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:


"Bon jour, Mr McCloud." yanked Chance back to the present as a briefcase slid alongside the empty one he brought. Chance didn't even hear the fake name and brief pleasantries or look at the altered face as he marvelled how they pulled it off. Everyone was convinced it was just an accident. "Rest in Peace, bro. Your sacrifice bought me my ticket to Heaven."

--ManyAndVaried


WASHINGTON POST. RIDGECREST, CA - The death of seven men, including the pilot, in a small twin-engine commuter plane, has been confirmed by the US Navy. The men were all civil employees at the China Lake Naval Base, except for the pilot. There was no sign of foul play in relation to the crash. It has been confirmed that none of the men on the plane were friends of President Bill Clinton. The plane apparently developed engine trouble in the mountains, and crashed into the side of Burton's Peak at approximately 2:15 pm on Sunday. Names of the deceased are being withheld pending the notification of family.

WASHINGTON TIMES. RIDGECREST, CA - The death of seven men, including the pilot, in a small twin-engine commuter plane, has been confirmed by the US Navy. The men were all civil employees at the China Lake Naval Base, except for the pilot. There was no sign of foul play in relation to the crash. It has been confirmed that some of the men on the plane were friends of President Bill Clinton. The plane apparently developed engine trouble in the mountains, and crashed into the side of Burton's Peak at approximately 2:15 pm on Sunday. Names of the deceased are being withheld pending the notification of family.

--Anon.


No, that wasn't it.

Chance flipped the paper over, still sipping from his cup.

FOR SALE: Jetstream 450, in executive configuration. Twin engines, eight windows, mini-bar. Price: negotiable.

Putting his cup down, Chance grinned. He'd never be two weeks late for a funeral again.

--BuffySquirrel


He folded it and put it away.

Pity Jim was on that plane; he was supposed to be working on that satellite. Well, some things couldn't be helped. At least he had been able to deal with his assignment before the funeral.

His pager buzzed. Time to go. Who would he have to kill today?

--Khazar-khum

Evil Editor said...

It's not c lear to me whether Chance has supervised the winding up of Jim's estate from a distance, made sure that his brother would rest in peace, and returned to Paris, or whether he's supervised but has yet to go to the US to make sure...

I wouldn't expect a newspaper article reporting on a plane crash to say there was no sign of foul play or that the plane apparently developed engine trouble. It would take a long time to determine this, especially if the crash was into the side of a mountain. If the pilot reported engine trouble, the report would say that, not "apparently."

iago said...

Hey, the continuation isn't in blue text on this one. My whole world's gone out of focus.

Evil Editor said...

Sorry. Fixed.

Whirlochre said...

I was OK with this until I got to the newspaper article.

It doesn't read like a newspaper article - it reads like a pretend newspaper article rendered in novelese.

I understand you're using it to fuel the story but it's too prosaic a style for newsy journalism.

Begin with 'The US Navy reported/confirmed...' and ditch 'apparently.'

Also, if Jim's death is relatively recent, the article would be 'carried in' his pocket - or simply 'in his pocket' To say it was something he 'carried in his pocket' suggests a more longstanding habitual arrangement - like his wallet or a photo of his wife.

Otherwise - intrigued by Chance and his important sounding job.

I'm guessing there's foul play, too.

Dave F. said...

I'm not going to be too good at telling you why I think this is not a good opening. The aftermath of a plane crash is excellent but you've written all the emotion out of it.

USAIR Flight 427 crashed near Pittsburgh about 15 years ago. You can use the designation to read the articles in the Post Gazette and Tribune Review. Both of those papers have articles about the aftermath of such an accident. I worked with 4 victims, just knew 1 and was acquainted with 9 others. They were returning from one of the big conferences my work supported.

No one leaves this type of disaster unscathed. Grown men cried for a week and then some. The funerals and memorials were almost too much to bear. Certainly too much for me to describe in these few words.

The companies that they worked for would be involved. Coworkers, neighbors and priests, ministers, rabbis, all would be involved. Not to mention at least a lawyer for legal advice, an undertaker. And Chance is going to have more emotional involvement than you describe. More than just carrying the newspaper clipping.

RIght now, he's a block of stone and that ain't good for your opening paragraph.

ALSO, there's something nefarious about the crash, something off, some evil plot. You have to hint at that here in the opening paragraph.

How does a plane just fall out of the sky?

Wes said...

The opening appears to be too passive. The verbs and the tenses seem week. They don't generate emotion, particularly tension, conflict, grief, and risk. Examples: had been, didn't do, could be walked, waiting, sipping, took out, studied. How about starting when he got the news? What would his emotions be?

Sarah Laurenson said...

If Chance and Jim were close, then Chance's lack of emotion could actually work - if you bring up that he's numb with shock and going through the motions. Right now there's no real connection to Chance and no hint of what he's going through internally, just the mundane tasks he's doing.

Having his brother die is not a real emotional shocker if we have no connection to the character.

Loved the continuation!

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, I dunno, EE. Most news reports of plane crashes these days seem to carry a note that terrorism isn't suspected, and journalists usually speculate as to the cause of the crash--on the flimsiest of information, too.

The author would however do well to read a few of these reports, to get a feel for how they're written. As whirlochre says, news reporters have a distinctive style of their own.

Bernita said...

It's bland.

freddie said...

Yeah, we need some more punch here.

benwah said...

Hm. Dave's point is a good one -- this is a horrible, scarifying death. Yet we've got Chance sipping coffee waiting for an employer. If this scene takes place long after the death, when Chance has had a, uh, chance to process and grieve, then pulling out a creased newspaper article with apparent detachment might be more fitting. There's a lot of emotion here which you leave untapped. Unless that's your point - that Chance and Jim hated each other or something - but it doesn't read that way.

'Chance didn't do the kind of work that could be walked away in an afternoon.' Fair enough, but HIS BROTHER JUST DIED. This means Chance is an undercover spy on whose work millions of lives depend...or he's a souless bastard who claims he's a workaholic. Either way, I think you need a damn good explanation for why Chance wasn't there. At least give us something specific about this job.

'He had been forced to supervise...' Change the 'had been forced' to 'had to supervise.' Less cumbersome.

The 'get back' is a bit ambiguous; I think you mean Chance needs to finish his work in France so he can get back home to California, but I had the same confusion as EE.

Others have nailed the article. 'No sign of foul play' screams 'foul play!' which is fine, except I've only seen it in books. And never in NTSB briefings.

I'm not a huge fan of newspaper inserts dropped in the middle of text. I almost wonder if you could lead with the article, then show Chance folding the paper and putting it back in his pocket. But that's just a personal preference.

Overall things are vague. But you've got a setup which has lots of potential for emotion and conflict.

jeb said...

Any time you have 'had been' in the first paragraph (not to mention in the first line) it screams 'BACK STORY'. This instantly tells the reader there is nothing interesting going on in the story's present. He's drinking coffee and thinking - yawn. One of the ten most over-used openings in fiction, according to uber-agent Donald Maass.

A newspaper clipping is a shortcut
that also screams 'back story', whether it comes one para down or, as someone else suggested, above the first para.

There's nothing in the first para that couldn't be effective in simple past, and wouldn't be more engaging if the reader had ANYTHING to wonder about in the first sentence. You've given us everything, and no reason to care about any of it.

Try "Chance was in Paris when the news came. Jim was dead. "

Automatic questions by the reader:

a) Chance who? Is he really named Chance, or is it a nickname?
b) why Paris? He can't be usually in Paris or the author wouldn't have put that right up front. Is Paris important?
c) who is Jim? What relation is he to Chance? Was his death expected? How does Chance feel about Jim's death?

Even if you give us the answers to all those questions in the following two sentences, you have engaged our minds without our realizing. The act of deliberately engaging the reader's mind or emotions is what's known as a 'hook'.

You have good ingredients, but the passive back story and inactive present have flattened a potentially inescapable hook into a dull piece that couldn't penetrate a pantleg.

debhoag said...

thanks you guys, you are awesome. Will take all suggestions under advisement and redo. Sometimes I read over the opening so much I can no longer see it objectively.

Anonymous said...

We all do that, Deb, we all read the story so much we don't see it objectively. We all do that.

McKoala said...

Somehow this didn't grab me. I think I'm with the unemotional vote; I like to see feelings.

Shout out for ril. Great continuation. You're on fire! (see what I did there...)

talpianna said...

IIRC, Chance is some sort of secret agent; and if he's already supervised the settlement of the estate, it must be some time after the death. It's about time he got around to investigating, and I'd think he'd be feeling a lot of anger as well as grief.

Incidentally, a fair number of small planes (and even bigger ones) crash in the mountains north of here (Phoenix area), and sometimes it takes a very long time to find them. You might make this a factor, since the plane flew into a mountain.

On April 2, 1997, an Air Force pilot flew his A-10 Thunderbolt jet into Gold Dust Mountain in Colorado, apparently a suicide. It took 18 days to find the wreckage; and the four 500-lb. bombs aboard were never found. And this is not a small private plane!

Xenith said...

Now here's a situation where the -ing verbs are a problem :) You've also got a case of telling not showing.

Bah, I've rewritten this comment a dozen times and it doesn't come out right. Start with your character in the current situation and use active words e.g. Chance sat at the outdoor table. I'm sure you can think of better words :) If he's worried about his employer being late, he checks the street and his watch. Or he might stare into the street and sip at his coffee. Ground him.

If you pull out the article or have him think about the accident now, without mentioning the brother's death, the you can pique the reader's curiousity so they'll read on to find out what the connection is. Now your bit of backstory about Jim's death becomes the answer to that question, something to satisfy the reader, rather than something that slows down your story.

Phoenix said...

Hi Deb: I don't expect every word of a thriller to be thrilling, but as others have aptly pointed out, this is kind of a pedestrian opening. An intro to the MC and the inciting event is fine; we don't have to be thrust into the main action right away, but we maybe should be getting some insight into your MC here. Withholding information from the reader is OK if there's a real purpose to it, but to be vague rather than concrete about Chance's employment as a security specialist doesn't seem warranted. And his re-reading that news story just doesn't feel right to me. If doubt about what happened had been cast in the story, OK maybe he would re-read it. But there really isn't anything in the news item to raise an eyebrow. In fact, your version goes out of the way to pin the fault on mechanical failure, which is the best possible reason any of us want to see pertaining to a crash of any kind.

As others have noted, the news item doesn't read like a real journalistic piece.

On the plus side, though the writing here is spare and utilitarian and a bit uninspired, it is solid. I have a feeling once you get the story rolling, it rolls nicely.