Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Beginning 514

The old man grasped his staff with a withering hand, a hand that had an unnatural, claw-like quality to it. His cracked mouth twisted upwards in a queer smirk.

“It is time,” he rasped, his voice both hideous and luring. He’d waited so long for this. At last, at last he’d have the key, the key to his coveted freedom. In the dark chamber the man’s eyes gleamed a hypnotic, steel blue, and they flickered and glinted as the room vibrated with his hissing laughter.

***

Ceah woke with a start, beads of sweat shining on her forehead. Her breath came out in harsh pants, her chest heaving with the terror of something past. She didn’t know why she woke. It could have been a dream, except she didn’t remember anything at all. It might have just been some sound outside. She slipped out of bed with the intention of getting a drink. She was almost to the door when something caught her eye—

The mirror.

***

Kristin Nelson, literary agent extraordinaire, popped out of bed clutching at the sheets with white knuckles. Slowly her breathing calmed, her muscles relaxed. But it would be a long time before she shook off this nightmare. After all, she'd blogged about this how many times?! Surely, surely none of her requested partials for tomorrow would start with a dream sequence.


Opening: Ray.....Continuation: Pacatrue

37 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

This is either a hotbed of cliches, or satirical. Trouble is, I can't decide which!

Xiexie said...

Okay, the first scene reminded me of Jafar-as-the-old-man in Aladdin. The second scene has been done, too. This does border on cliche, but the writing is good.

Dave F. said...

Those opening two paragraphs could be about Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. But this old man isn't scary or worrisome. Maybe his wife has locked the keys to his viagra in the nightstand.

I don't see anything wrong with the opening other than it is general.

Just to catch sight of something in a mirror. Gee... I wrote this for one of EE's exercises and then incorporated it into a story. It says They moved through space and time

But I say it this way -- They moved in that side-long glance that sees motion where nothing exists; That flash of light where only dark should be. They move in the shadows of the creation where disorder rules; through unwatched corners; as that mote of dust dancing in a lonely beam of sunlight.

She sees something in the mirror.
Something in the mirror catches her eye.
Make me afraid of what is in the mirror. Or at least apprehensive.

150 said...

The old man grasped his staff with a withering hand

That sounds so dirty.

Beth said...

Everyone has remarked on the cliches; no one has said anything about the POV problems.

So I will. (g)

This--

The old man grasped his staff with a withering hand, a hand that had an unnatural, claw-like quality to it. His cracked mouth twisted upwards in a queer smirk.

“It is time,” he rasped, his voice both hideous and luring.


--is an outside observer's POV.

Here--

He’d waited so long for this. At last, at last he’d have the key, the key to his coveted freedom.

--the POV has shifted to inside his head. But here--

In the dark chamber the man’s eyes gleamed a hypnotic, steel blue, and they flickered and glinted as the room vibrated with his hissing laughter.

--I'm once again on the outside, disconnected from him.

In Ceah's scene, you also start outside her head and then move in.

The effect of this POV wobbliness is to give the reader a feeling of distance; you hold us at arm's length, invite us in, push us back out again. I have a hard time visualizing the scene if the camera is always jumping around.

Beyond that, pay close attention to the words you use and what they mean. For instance, did you mean "withered" instead of "withering"? And is hissed laughter loud enough to make anything vibrate, much less the walls of a room? I don't think so. You mention beads of sweat shining, but in a dark room, what is making them shine? Don't scatter words like seed; plant them carefully. Know what they mean and how to use them to best effect.

Anonymous said...

Well, if the old man is SSnoork-ssa, snake king of the planet sisslekor, then a "hissing laugh" can shake the walls.

ray said...

would it be better if I started with Ceah's scene?

...and wow, you guys have dirty dirty minds. XD

stick and move said...

Paca's continuation was hilarious, and I also liked Kiersten's, which I think would have won nine times out of ten, but if you're a reader of Kristin's blog, you have to appreciate Paca's reference.

As for the opening, I found it a little heavy on adjectives, at least in the first couple of paragraphs. Then the change in POV so quickly jarred me. I understand the effect you're going for, author, but for me it didn't work. It may just be that this is the kind of opening that you really need more than 150 words for it to be effective and in the larger context of the book this works. I would keep reading for a little while, if the adjectives started thinning out and the POV settled into one character's head for more than a few paragraphs.

Dave F. said...

Start with something like:

She is the key to my freedom." the geezer sneered, his mind touching her mind as she slept and playing with her." And look at the cell from his eyes only.

Or start with her:
It wasn't a shadow in the mirror, it wasn't anything real, but it did catch her eye. She felt him watching but she was alone in her bedroom. She felt his hand, where no hand could exist, no man ever touched her. And use nothing but what she feels as his presence.

But don't use my words because they do have two meanings and dirty minds will giggle. Also, don't do what I did and use the words "something" and "anything" ... those are Kiss of Death words in that they mean nothing and convey no meaning.

There's a huge difference between saying "Something reached out a slender probe to touch me" and "I was touched by the noodly presence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!"

Or "touched by the pasty white finger of Amanda Pettipants."

ray said...

Hi, it's the author. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to post revisions here but anyways...

I've decided to take the POV of the man out. So below is the first chapter, which is...277 words. Again, sorry if I'm not supposed to do this.


Ceah woke with a start. Her breath came out in harsh pants, her chest heaving with the terror of something past. She didn’t know why she woke. It could have been a dream, except she didn’t remember anything at all. It was probably just some sound outside. She slipped out of bed with the intention of getting a drink. She was almost to the door when—

The mirror.

Why did it seem strange, different? She stood in front of it. She almost laughed; what else would she see? Her reflection, herself: Ceah Tiercen. She sighed, swept her long black hair out of her eyes, and turned to leave when she saw it. The surface of the whole mirror was tinted blue. A soft, periwinkle blue, but it chilled her to the bone; her room was not blue. The walls were white, the quilting was soft orange braided with threads of pink and the curtains were green velvet. There was nothing blue in her room, so how could the mirror be blue? Hesitantly, tentatively, she stretched out a hand to touch the mirror. Her outstretched hand was shaking—and then—a flash of jagged iciness struck her—“Ow!” She yelped, snatched her hand back, then heard a scream…and in the scream she heard a voice, a rasping, hissing voice, saying, quietly at first,

“Finally, finally, finally…” Rising and rising, louder and louder, until the voice was a snarling shout—“Let me have my freedom!” There was an explosion of hideous laughter—laughter, louder than the scream, shooting up like fireworks, blocking out everything, everything, until there was nothing, nothing but the echo of his laughter resonating within the scream.

Phoenix said...

I fear Beth has it right, Ray. Cliches can be saved with a unique twist or powerful voice. This passage, unfortunately, is overwritten to the point of parody. Step back a moment and notice the old man's eyes in the second 'graph. In the same sentence they gleam, flicker and glint while being hypnotic. And his voice is rasping, hideous and luring all at once.

Beth pointed out the hissing laughter issue; in addition, a room doesn't really vibrate with laughter. It might echo, but even then it wouldn't echo with hissing laughter.

As for Ceah waking -- well, her chest is heaving with terror and she's panting and sweating, but she thinks some sound outside could have woken her? I don't think that follows at all.

I can't best what Beth said, so I'll repeat it:

Don't scatter words like seed; plant them carefully. Know what they mean and how to use them to best effect.

As to starting with Ceah's scene -- well, I guess it depends on what she sees in the mirror. If it's a focal point, then sure. But the last thing I'd actually start with are the words Ceah woke with a start.

Julie Weathers said...

"Everyone has remarked on the cliches; no one has said anything about the POV problems.

So I will. (g)

This--"

Oh, my stars and garters, does that sound familiar.

Beth, as usual, this is spot on good advice. I should know after our lengthy discussions of POV.

Good job.

stick and move said...

The revision works better than the original from a POV perspective, but I have to tell you, the repetition is overdone, overdone and annoying. I would put the book back on the shelf, the shelf in front of my eyes, eyes that burned like coals of fire.

ray said...

Right-about the POV problem. So, basically, either stay outside the character's head throught the whole story or stay inside? I can't go inside and out? Or is it only with transitions? Like...what? O__O
This is delightful!! Or maybe it's just me and my sadistic love for ripping apart my story...

Evil Editor said...

Most books stay inside a character's head the whole book. Not the same character, of course. Each scene has a POV character, the only character in that scene whose thoughts we know (and we are not fed any information except that experienced by that character).

It's annoying to start with a dream because the reader gets drawn in and then has to start from scratch. However, it's interesting that POV is coming up in a dream sequence. Are we really in the old man's head, or Ceah's, if she's dreaming about an old man? There is no old man.

My POV complaint is that Ceah has no memory of the dream. So who's telling us about her dream? It would have to be God, right?

ray said...

*timidly* can't it be...the third person omniscient telling the story? I mean, God is fine, too, but....

So. I'd have to change it so that it's not in and out of the character's minds? Take the beginning of the old man's POV - how would I tell that, from INSIDE his mind? If I had an example I'd get it a bit better...

Thanks!

Evil Editor said...

Assuming a character in a dream can have a point of view, he would not remark on the way his mouth twists upward in a queer smirk or the fact that his voice is hideaous and luring or the color and flickering of his own eyes. Those are things a different POV character would notice about him. He might, however, remark on the appearance of the room he's in. He tells what he sees, hears, thinks, etc., as much of it as is relevant.

ray said...

Ahhhhhhh......I see......

Well, yes, the bare bones of the story is cliche. But though the beginning really doesn't prove this, it's not cliche towards the middle and end. I don't want to entirely change the plot, so I might as well make fun of the cliche. Behold an experimental beginnning I'm trying out. It would substitute the original old man POV.

He was the sort of villain who sat in dark rooms, hatching sinister plans and laughing maniacally at suitable parts of the story. The sort of villain endowed with characteristics such as “hissing laughter” “gleaming eyes” and “rasping voice”. Not too entirely interesting. Not too exotic. Not at first.

His glacier blue eyes had not always been that unnatural shade. His features had not always been grotesque. He had not always been who he was.

He was a man possessed by a vengeful soul. To be specific, a bluebird’s soul.

And I haven't gotten any farther. I also don't want it to sound too much like A Series Of Unfortunate Events. If anyone sees a ridiculous error in this, please point it out before it gets out of hand!

Dave F. said...

Two very hard discussions are POV and overwriting.

First let me ask, what do you want to happen in this scene? Do you want Ceah to realize that some old geezer is manipulating her thoughts to free himself from some prison? Or do you want the geezer to succeed in contacting Ceah to act as his stooge and escape his prison (only to reek havoc on the world)?

It's not her dream that pushes the story. In both cases she's the innocent. It's the madman's efforts to get free that propels the story.

If Ceah is the hero of the book, then chances are you want the chapter to be about her. Unless you want to have a short prologue with a raving lunatic freeing himself.

You posted 277 words. The big problem there is that Ceah is the minor character. We find out nothing much about her other than she is physically well-endowed. Those 277 words reveals a lot about the madman trying to escape some prison by entering her mind. So we go to chapter two expecting the madman to be there and I'll just bet, Ceah's lovely homelife and mundane chores fill chapter 2. That might let down the reader.

Now to return to POV - if the madman's manipulation propels the story, then tell that story. Don't tell Ceah's mundane life.

Most of these commentators will tell you that the "waking" opening is universally despised. So don't start with "Ceah woke up screaming in terror." Start with Ceah drinking warm milk to fall asleep. Maybe eating cookies, drinking wine. Or just sitting somewhere else whhen she's asked:

"Can't sleep again tonight," said her Mother, father, brother, lover, soldier or a complete stranger.
"It's the same as last time. I see the reflection of a blue room in the mirror and hear that laughter." Ceah says.
"We can remove the mirror," he said. Something inside her fought against the idea.
"No, the mirror is the key."
etc...


Possibly you want to start with the madman:
His body remained in the blue room while his mind traveled to her mind.
"Wake up my dear. Wake up and free me. This is your destiny Ceah." His astral projection watched as she stirred in her sleep. He touched her mind again.
"Arise my child, arise and go to the mirror, touch the mirror, bring me to you."


I write more dialog than exposition.

Do you see the differences between their POV?

Phoenix said...

As for POV, I didn't see a problem in the first scene with the old man in the original. It's omniscient, and the character's thoughts can be known. (I also saw this as a mini-prologue and assumed it would be italicized.)

The POV in Ceah's paragraph in the original does have a shift. It starts out omniscient, but then the could haves and mights bring it in to 3rd-person close.

The POV in the rewrite is consistent.

Also, writers seem to worry more about POV than readers do :o)

As to the rewrite, I assumed it was night when she was waking, but she sees herself clearly in the mirror and the tinting of the mirror without turning on a lamp or light. And what's "a flash of jagged iciness?" Those words don't seem to work together.

The passage could be tightened a lot and not lose voice, but overall I think it moves too quickly. I don't get a sense of the man in the mirror at all or what he's doing.

ChrisEldin said...

Paca, BRILLIANT!!!

ray said...

Ahhhhhh!!!! *bashes into wall* I can't do this for the whole story--I'm probably going to cut out the entire dream/mirror thing. It's not ESSENTIAL ESSENTIAL.

uuuuuugh.

ray said...

Alrighty! I'm back! With a new beginning! That actually kind of works better. To me. So I've cut out the mirror stuff. This is the result.

Ceah walked wearily up the stairs in the dark. The volunteer party had run late; it was almost one in the morning. She reached the top, took two steps, and crashed into a door. She blinked—was that her room? That was absurd; her room was farther over. But then…well, what else could it be? It had to be her room. She was probably just too tired. She shrugged, opened the door, and walked in. The door closed behind her.

Ceah groped in the dark for a light switch, but the walls were bare. What? Now that was really strange. If this was her room…she turned around and grasped the doorknob. It was locked. A chill ran down her spine. Again she seized it. It didn’t move at all. Her heart pounded.

Do not struggle.

She whirled around. What was that? Did she hear a voice? Was somebody there?

Do not resist.

She froze. Oh my God oh my God oh my God. She breathed harshly. She was backed up against the door. Tense. Rigid.

Is it still cliche? Is the POV okay, and is it too "flowery"? I am ever grateful. You guys are amazing.

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm still struggling with "her breath came out in harsh pants" which reads to me as if she was exhaling into roughly textured underwear. ("Pants" = "underpants" in UK.)

BuffySquirrel said...

In a dream, you can believe you know what someone else in the dream is thinking.

And yes, you can use third omni, but it's pretty rare these days, and tends to be viewed (as you've found) as irritating POV shifts rather than a particular method of storytelling. Altho' nothing tops Dune in that regard.

Honestly, it doesn't matter if the middle and end are surprising and original, because if the beginning isn't also surprising and original, nobody's ever going to read the rest.

writtenwyrdd said...

For me this opening doesn't work well becuase you have a sort of snippet of a prolog and then switch to another scene. It's awkward. Settle on one or the other for the opening, and make it clear the initial bit is not a dream scene (I didn't think it was meant to be but wasn't sure). If it is a dream scene, you can see why the continuation is funny.

This is still pretty much a draft. Keep working on it. I like the voice, overall.

writtenwyrdd said...

I hadn't read the continuations when I posted my comment. Given that you have posted several new beginnings, my point about this being still a draft appears valid.

I have to say, though, that I really do like your voice, ray.

Whirlochre said...

Like many, I had trouble with the POV issues and the grasped staff/harsh pants.

Also, the there's insufficient information in the two juxtaposed paragraphs right at the start to lead me anywhere other than Confusion Central.

The comment rewrite is better, but if it's really your intention to maul cliches like this you need to be much more overt.

Wes said...

Hey, Kristen Nelson's a nice lady, even though she rejected my query.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love your voice, ray. I also love your determination to get these first pages right. And they can be a bugger.

I like this last version. Puts us right into the action. I played with it some and tightened a few places. You seem to have my favorite writing quirk - writing questions. I do it all the time then have to go back and cut down on the sheer number of them. You also do a bit of tell and then show in this version. Don't need both.

Here's my suggestion:

The volunteer party had run late; it was almost one in the morning. Ceah sighed heavily as she reached the top of the stairs. She took two steps, and crashed into a door. She blinked. Her room was farther over, wasn’t it? But this had to be her room. She was just too tired. She shrugged, opened the door, and walked in.

Ceah groped in the dark for a light switch. The walls were bare. It must be the wrong room after all. She turned around and grasped the doorknob. It was locked. A chill ran down her spine. She yanked on the door. It didn’t move. Her eyes opened wide. Her heart pounded.

Do not struggle.

She whirled around. What was that? Was somebody there?

Do not resist.

She froze. Oh my God oh my God oh my God. She breathed harshly and flattened herself against the door. Tense. Rigid.

Beth said...

Ray, your 2:19 am rewrite is a great improvement. The language is simpler, less melodramatic. The POV is stronger.

Once again, pay attention to word choices. For instance, instead of a weak verb/adverb combo like "walked wearily," why not replace it with a single, stronger verb, like "trudged"?

In one of your earlier posts, you ask about using omniscient, and whether it possible to go and out of a character's head while writing in omniscient. The answer is yes, but when writing omniscient, voice is key. Omniscient is the storyteller's voice. All of the story is filtered through that perspective, so that even when a character's thoughts are revealed, the reader never has the sensation of actually changing POV. It's subtle and it's tricky to write. Your first version lacked that storyteller's voice, IMO, but a later revision, the one that starts out like this:

He was the sort of villain who sat in dark rooms, hatching sinister plans and laughing maniacally at suitable parts of the story.

--has it.

I don't know if you've ever read Gone With the Wind, but get hold of a copy and read at least the first two or three pages for a great example of omniscient done well.

ray said...

THANK YOU! you guys absolutely rock! Hmm. Does the latest version--the one at 2: 19--still seem cliche? Because buffysquirrel is totally right about how the beginning needing to be surprising and original, not the middle and the end.

Julie Weathers said...

Hmmm, I love edits to relax with.

Shona Snowden said...

Hilarious continuation.

sylvia said...

Say what you will about this opener, it sure did collect the continuations. Something must have struck a nerve. :)

I like the 2:19 edit in terms of actions although the amount of questions put me off. I'm already thinking them, you don't have to echo them for me. :)

ray said...

alright. Thanks! What about the 2:19 edit in terms of cliche-ness?

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:


"OW!" she screamed in agony. "Let go of my eye!" She kicked out at the mirror, which finally released its grasp. She was free, free to wonder, wonder at why the mirror had grabbed her eye again.

--Kiersten


Whoa! She thought, and staggered back before leaning for a closer look. Is that a - she passed a hand over her eyes tragically - is that a zit????

--anon.


Oh God! Had she really gone to bed with her makeup on again? She rubbed the black marks under her eyes where sweat had caused her mascara to run. Her reflection showed panda eyes, lipstick smudged across one cheek and a hairstyle like Dennis the Menace's dog. If anyone saw her looking like this she'd die.

--fairyhedgehog


"Aww great," she said.

She reached down and felt cold wetness. Looks like her breath wasn't the only thing coming out in pants. Now she'd have to change and hide her little mishap from her roommate.

Oh well, she thought. Probably better that she didn't have that drink after all.

--G. Clemmons


***

The audience fell silent as the judges huddled together and came to a final decision.

"Winky Wanky Woo," said the tall one with the grin, "you look ridiculous, none of your tricks worked and your escapology finale would have been so much better if you'd left your chains at home and simply walked offstage. And Ceah — Ceah — that was, without doubt, the worst mind-reading act I've ever had the misfortune to see. And did you knit those pants yourself? Look, neither of you are coming back next week. I'm recasting my vote for the juggling dog who peed on my leg..."

--WO


She'd picked it up at the old fairground. She span around to face him. His hand wasn't withered at all. And as for his staff...

--anon.


Damn, she thought, I'm HOT.

At which point, the old man's clawlike hand reached from the shadows to grip her throat, stifling her screams.

"If ye weren't so vain I'd have not caught ye in me web, little darlin'."

Her elbow shot back even as her heel stomped on her assailant's instep. Her fist dropped after the elbow strike, her fingers clutching at the withered jointure between the old man's legs.

He let her go, squeeing like a stuck piglet. She twisted.

"Look, you, it's five pence the hour. You had your hour. Now get out like I told you."

--writtenwyrdd


The reflection of her nightgown showed a red stain. Her thighs were sore. Something had happened.

She remembered being at the club. She was only fifteen but her friends had gotten her a fake I.D. The doorman hadn't even looked at it. They danced for hours. People handed her drinks. A good looking man had been the last. Had he drugged her? Had she been raped?

Ceah remembered an old man in her room... and his staff.

--a.k.a.brady



She peered closer at it and at last realized what had caused her terror. The thing she feared most had come true. Her hands clenched into fists, aching to smash into the evil glass.

Instead she whirled around and ran to her vanity. She picked up a jar of cream and threw it at the mirror, shattering it into a thousand pieces.

"Why?" she howled in pain. "I paid $300 for that wrinkle cream and still get wrinkles?"

--Julie Weathers


Not just that, but the camera behind it, tilted just so. It was leaning by the bathroom door, same as last time. Ceah stopped back disgust, started pounding on the door.

"Granpa! You promised no more tricked this time! And don't tell me you didn't know Brandi didn't invade her twin Swedish roommates over for the weekend! No more hijinks--not unless I get 40% of the cut this time!"

The old man groaned. Forty percent! He'd never have enough for that beach house in Palm Beach at this rate. If Ceah didn't keep threatening to cut off his subscriptions to *Hustler* and *Penthouse Confessions*... On the other hand, maybe it was time to start persuing those ads in the back. He knew what sold.

--Panda Rosa