Friday, July 25, 2008

New Beginning 533

Everyone wants to feel unique. To know there is something special that sets them apart from everyone else. Jane Shaw was no different, she longed for that one event that would make her life exceptional. Her parents, John and Amy didn’t seem to understand this desire. As far as Jane could tell they were happy to blend into the background.

The three Shaw’s lived in a non-descript house at the end of Sunnydale Drive. They had moved here when Jane was three. John and Amy both knew the real reasons behind the move but they didn’t like to share them with anyone, least of all their 15-year-old daughter. At the time they made each other promised to never discuss the events leading up to the move; the unexpected guest who turned their life upside-down. They couldn’t bear to think of it happening again, so they moved to this house in a dead-end street in a quiet part of town. To date their plan had worked. There had been no unusual interruptions, which was just the way they liked it.

When Jane was thirty-five, she still lived with her parents at the end of Sunnydale Drive. In all that time, they'd never had unexpected guests. She still lacked anything special to set her apart from everyone else. She snapped.

At least, that's the way I figure it. What other reason could there be for a woman to take a butcher knife and . . .

Anyway, the kitchen was upgraded two years ago, and you can't beat the location. Plenty of storage, three bedrooms, and except for the little incident, it's been a very quiet neighborhood. Can I show you the master bathroom?


Opening: Shell I.....Continuation: Mignon

20 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuation:


They had carefully picked out a neighborhood close to a grocery store, something John insisted on. Amy preferred at least the milk be delivered, but she didn't dare argue. Not after what happened last time. There were to be no more unexpected guests.

Sometimes Jane would catch Amy or John staring at her in a speculative manner, and it made her uncomfortable. And she thought it strange her mother should cry over empty milk bottles she kept from the old place, as if she missed the milkman. Even stranger, Amy missed him, too.

But strangest of all was her dad: he worked from home now and always fetched the mail.

--freddie

Sarah Laurenson said...

It's interesting information, but I'd much rather you show me a story than tell me a story, especially in the beginning. Is this meant to be middle grade or YA? They have even shorter attention spans than adults.

Evil Editor said...

This starts off slow. The second sentence adds virtually nothing new to the first. The third, as we can assume Jane is part of "everyone," again tells us nothing new. At best we're taking baby steps.

Jane Shaw was like any other 15-year-old: she longed to feel unique.

That sums up the first three sentences and even adds Jane's age, from paragraph 2.

There's some repetition in p.2 as well:

John and Amy both knew the real reasons behind the move but they didn’t like to share them with anyone

At the time they made each other promised to never discuss the events leading up to the move;

There's something slightly contradictory about saying they never discussed the move and they didn't like to share the reasons for the move.

Also, do we really need to be told that John and Amy knew the reason they moved? A couple doesn't just pack up and move without discussing it.

Moth said...

Sunnydale flashes me right to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The tone and some of the language reminds me forcibly of the start of Harry Potter. Not necessarily a good thing to already remind me so strongly of two other fantasy pieces when you're only two paragraphs in.

150 said...

Four typos in two paragraphs indicates to me that either you're not being careful or you aren't clear on the basics of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. It's easy stuff to fix, but this is not ready to send out. Try to get a style guide (I love Elements of Style) to learn things like how to use commas. Good luck!

writtenwyrdd said...

I rarely say that I think someone should pick up the pace in a beginning, because I actually like slower starts that build up our understanding of the situation. (I'm a spec fic writer and a lot of those fantasy books need slower starts to make sense!)

But this piece is very "telly" in style, and it doesn't charm me with the voice or intrigue me with details that pull me in. A slower opening needs something to hook readers, because, without a dead body on the floor or similar, you need to make your opening interesting in other ways. And this isn't.

Why not tell us something interesting instead of the backstory of their lives? You can trim out much of this opening and pull the readers in by inferring a lot of the past while telling us what the story problem is. An example: "Jane longed for something--anything--that would make her boring life interesting. So when the unexpected guest arrived, Jane was ecstatic. But her parents reacted strangely..." Or something like that. We omit much of the prolog-like paragraphs and get to the story's main event. The rest of the info--secretive parents with an undisclosed reason to move-- can wait to be revealed in the story.

Lastly, I hate to say this, but you have problems with punctuation. I suggest you refresh your memory on comma usage with clauses and phrases and do a grammar check to catch the grammar and punctuation errors before submitting anything again; because there are multiple comma errors and you have a posessive where you shouldn't. These multiple errors will make your writing come across as amateurish and will be a problem when you submit.

BuffySquirrel said...

For me, this would work better if you showed us Jane day-dreaming about becoming unique--saving a baby from a fire, becoming a famous actor, discovering a cure for cancer, whatever.

WouldBe said...

I'm nervous about an opening that mostly tells the reader what the main character, alone, does not know. That distances the reader significantly from the story.

Consider starting the story with that knock at the door. It is not clear if that happened about the time the MC was fifteen. You might want to clear that up to.

--Bill H.

Shell I said...

Hi

Thanks for all the comments.

I am still on a learning curve so I appreciate all input. I actually had started the story much quicker and strongly focused on her daydreams but had some feedback that it needed more info on the background. However from trolling through the archieves here I think I would trust the judgement of the fabulous minions rather than the other advice. It is still in fairly rough first draft at the moment. The rest of the story has been polished much more but I have never been 100% sold on the beginning don't usually focus on it. I guess that should have been a good indicator that it wasn't great but I find it hard to trust my own judgement sometimes (I am far too highly crtical of myself most of the time - which has given me a fairly thick skin but almost 0% ego).

I will try to work some of the telling out of it and bring back some more of the showing I originally had.

Scott from Oregon said...

"Everyone wants to feel unique. To know there is something special that sets them apart from everyone else. Jane Shaw was no different, she longed for that one event that would make her life exceptional. Her parents, John and Amy didn’t seem to understand this desire. As far as Jane could tell they were happy to blend into the background."

Also, be careful about your LOGIC. You can't say "everyone" is a certain way and then show two people who aren't that way...

You could say "some people" want to be unique. Or "many people".

Or "there are those"...

wendy said...

My earlier comment seems to have gotten lost in internet land, or I forgot to push publish.(probably the latter) So, I'll try once more.

Cut your first paragraph.

You may wish to reconsider "had moved" and just say: "They moved..." It's much more too the point and goes miles in beating back the Timid Writing Monster.

Good luck with your story. It sounds fun.

BuffySquirrel said...

Engage the reader first. Fill in the backstory once they're involved in the story.

writtenwyrdd said...

Shell i you should understand that beginnings are often written several times--frequently after the entire draft is finished! They are that important. So don't freak out if it isn't the right one yet. Keep on writing it and learn the craft of writing by writing. Do glance at comma rules and other rules in order to brush up. I have an English degree and I can't keep them all straight, and like everyone else I make typos, too.

Shell I said...

Writtenwyrd. Thanks I definitely will brush up on grammer etc. It has been a while since Uni and all those fun essays but even then in a business major they aren't so concerned about grammer so it is probably a good 10 years since looking at it fully. I am still trying to find the time during the day to get to a bookstore or library to hire/buy the miriad of books which have been recommended to me. At the moment even my writing time is relegated to a small period between 9:00pm to when I fall asleep which probably accounts for the great number of errors.

I think one thing that this excercise has taught me (and it is a great lesson) is to copy any excerpt of 200 words from my text & read through it on the screen completely seperate to the rest of the book. As soon as I saw it posted there were so many glaring errors that I saw as soon as it was posted here that I hadn't seen in the few times I had reviewed it.

I will try rewriting the first bit a few more times. If it still doesn't work for me I think I will trunk it (at least for a while) and work on one of the other 3 stories screaming at me to write them. :) Maybe fresh eyes in a few months will help things out lots.

Julie Weathers said...

"I think one thing that this excercise has taught me (and it is a great lesson) is to copy any excerpt of 200 words from my text & read through it on the screen completely seperate to the rest of the book. As soon as I saw it posted there were so many glaring errors that I saw as soon as it was posted here that I hadn't seen in the few times I had reviewed it."

The best thing is to print it out and read it aloud. It forces your eye to slow down so you see what is actually on the page, not what you thought you put there. That was the first bit of advice my editor at the magazine gave me and it is solid gold.

Beth Shope also recommends printing it out in a different font than you're used to.

I'm busier than a one-armed paper hanger right now, so not participating much. However, the advice you've already received says it all anyway.

BuffySquirrel said...

Aside from a good grammar text, the books you really need are a dictionary (the most comprehensive one you can afford; etymological is best), a thesaurus, a style guide, and, if possible, a reverse dictionary to help you find elusive words.

Apart from that, read fiction. All the fiction you can get your hands on. Volunteer to read slush for magazines. Read read read!

Shell I said...

Hi All - I have made a few adjustments to the first few paras based on the following. I was wondering if you wonderful minions would be able to take a look and see if you think I am on a better or worse track than before. Thanks.


Jane Shaw was like most 15-year-olds; she longed to stand out. Her parents, John and Amy, didn’t understand. They were happy to blend into the background. Everything about them was dull, especially their house at the end of Auger Drive. Jane hated it and their neighbourhood. They made her claustrophobic.

Around the age of six Jane started to dream of a distant land as a way to escape the suburban blah. At the time her parents assumed the daydreams were just childish whimsy and Jane would outgrow them. But the years passed and the daydreams continued. Jane didn’t want to stop her fantasies despite urgings from John and Amy. By 10 Jane learnt to hide her visions.

Jane’s imaginary world always managed to take her breath away. It was spacious and freeing, unlike anything she had experienced in reality. In the distance a castle rose up between the hills welcoming her back each visit. There was a forest, lush and green. Jane’s favourite trees were the ones with golden trunks. Their leaves were a rich emerald green and each was topped with a multitude of ruby coloured flowers. The trees seemed to whisper a a name ‘Jane Shaw’ – no ‘Janisha’.

Dave F. said...

Just a thought:

Every little girl dreams of a castle rising from the forest surrounded by bright green trees with ruby-red flowers that call her name. A world so open and free that even the big house on Auger Street seemed small in comparison.

Jane Shaw couldn't remember a night without the dream. She almost didn't believe the dream until one day when she stepped into the other world and saw the castle between the hills, the trees and the flowers that called her name.

Sarah Laurenson said...

This still starts with backstory. It almost sounds like you're trying for a fairy tale style. You're just missing the 'once upon a time' front line.

When the real action starts, what does that look like? I have had times where ditching the first chapter or two of my manuscript worked very well. And any important backstory got woven in to those chapters.

Sarah Laurenson said...

*sigh*

those remaining chapters.

And really look at Harry Potter or something similar. He lives a dull life, goes through a portal (platform 9 3/4) and is the only one who can save the other world. And the book starts with backstory.

Now Rowling learned a lot about writing and was doing much better by book 5 or 6, but you can see how she shows the story rather than telling it in the beginning of book 1.