Monday, November 17, 2008

New Beginning 575

Bad news always rides a fast horse. The horse coming down the hill was both fast and exhausted.

Gaeryn Diarmand dropped the harness he was repairing and stood up when he noticed someone approaching. It was a far rider. He recognized the cloak because there was one exactly like it folded up in the cedar chest at the foot of his bed.

It was someone wearing the cloak anyway. The horse appeared to be a roan or gray and far riders only rode dark horses. He wanted to relax when she got closer and he realized the horse was a dark bay encrusted with dried sweat that made him look lighter. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. A rider pushing their horse that hard meant trouble.

The woman reined her horse to a stop in front of him and reached down to pat the animal on the neck. She glanced at Gaeryn’s wife and daughter and stepped down. The bay shook his head and heaved a deep whoof through flared nostrils.

She raised her hand as if to adjust her cloak, then ran her fingers across the bottom of the silver clasp at her throat.

The sign. She was one of his sister’s couriers.

"We need you," she said between breaths. "Gammalian called in sick - black plague - and Castle Ortanga has ordered 12 extra-large pepperoni pizzas." She indicated the stack of boxes strapped to the back of the horse.

Gaeryn looked uneasily at his wife. He knew what he had promised, but this was an emergency. Castle Ortanga would tip him enough to buy a week's worth of grain. In response to his plea, she turned and walked back inside the house.

Gaeryn was shattered. "I'm sorry," he told the rider. "I . . . can't. I've given up that life. I --" his words caught in his throat when the rider gasped and pointed towards the house.

Gaeryn spun, automatically reaching for his sword, but what he saw stopped him in his tracks. His wife had his Pizza Hovel cloak in her hands.

"Go," she whispered as she fastened the clasp around his neck, "but return with a pineapple pizza."

"I will," Gaeryn vowed as he mounted his horse. He waved goodbye, and was off. The wind carried the smell of adventure - and pepperoni.

Opening: Julie.....Continuation: The Tasmerican


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

Gaeryn stood, his face stern and his manner dignified. "Well?" he said finally.

Silently the woman handed him the parchment and waited for him to open it.

Gaeryn's hands fumbled at the sealed wax. Then his face fell. "I cannot," he said miserably, handing the parchment back to the woman. "Can you please read it to me?"

"Aloud?" the woman said. "You are sure?"

Gaeryn nodded. His face was now stark white and his hands had begun to tremble.

"All right," the woman said, opening the parchment. "Dear Queen Gwendolyn, do you like me? Circle 'yes' or 'no.'"

The woman dropped the parchment in terror. Bad news indeed.


Jeb said...

It's not often I get here early enough to post before others have snatched all my points from under my stuffed-up nose. Where is everybody? Or is the Evil One simply taking a morning off to recover from egging the Santa Claus parade?

Anyway, two words for you, author: redundant redundancy.

para 1: we have two mentions of the horse and two telling us it was fast.

Para 2: clearly Gaeryn is the POV character, so it's redundant to tell us he noticed someone approaching. If he didn't, who did? Telling us both that it was a far rider and that he recognized it from the cloak is also giving us the same information two ways.

Para 3: the cloak again. The horse twice more. And twice more after that. How important is this horse really?

Yet you don't give us something as basic as how he knew the rider was a woman. You simply refer to her as 'she' in para 3 and as 'the woman' in Para 4. All that about the colour of a horse and you can't let slip just one mention of the rider's flowing hair or feminine features or dainty boots?

Now that I've satisfied my inner curmudgeon (no, I don't want EE's job; I'm strictly a hobbyist), I'll admit I like fantasy and am a sucker for a story that can show me on the first page that a bigger world is about to seriously mess with this simple harness-mender's quiet life.

I have questions, about his past, and his sister, and the need for secret signs and couriers.

I'd turn the page.

Evil Editor said...

p1. Can an exhausted horse gallop that fast? And if so, can a person viewing a fast-galloping horse tell from a distance that the horse is exhausted?

p2. If we're in Gaeryn's POV, you can drop "when he noticed someone approaching." He noticed in the first paragraph. Change "because" to a semicolon.

p3. You might insert "of a far rider" after "cloak." Move "only" after "rode." Change "their" to "her."

p4. "Stepped down" instead of "dismounted"? I'm sure your readers can handle the more technical terminology.

p5. Not crazy about starting with "she" when the previous sentence was about the horse and the last two people mentioned in the sentence before that were females, but not "she." Mentioning the cloak helps, but maybe "Raising her hand to adjust her cloak, the rider ran her fingers . . . " would be better.

Dave F. said...

I think you are saying the same thing too many times.
"Bad news rides a fast horse" and "...coming cown the hill and exhausted" and "noticed someone approaching" and "a dark bay encrusted with dried sweat that made him look lighter" and "pushing their horse that hard meant trouble" ...

Condense those first three paragraphs into one, keep the best images, and continue with the fourth paragraph.
Something like this:
Gaeryn Diarmand dropped the harness when a cloaked rider appeared over the crest of the hill on a sweat-encrusted dark bay.

He can open the conversation before she gets off the horse with "You wear the cloak of a far rider." And the rider can dismount and show his sister's clasp. The Rider's opening line to him could be something about the reason she's there.

Anonymous said...

Para 1 seems like an excellent victim for the whole kill your darlings thing.

3rd para A rider pushing HER horse, or HIS but never, never their. If he can't tell yet, then go with he, or I suppose whichever gender he would assume the rider to be.

writtenwyrdd said...

It's a good starting point with much to recommend it, as Jeb says. I have to agree with everyone else's redundency comments, too.

But you've got good instincts with the details you give us. You just need to fine tune the prose and recognize that you apparently have the bad habit of repeating yourself. (Don't worry, we all have bad habits we have to look for!)

Julie Weathers said...

Thank you all very much. This helps a lot.


Beth said...

Love the continuation. (g)

Julie, I shall be the voice of dissent here and say I very much like the first two sentences. The second sentence implied that the bad news mentioned in the first sentence must be really bad, because the horse is not only moving fast, it's obviously been ridden long and hard as well. All of that is conveyed very cleverly and concisely by those first two sentences. My advice is not to change them.

However, I do agree with the others who mentioned redundancies and places where the flow is a little snarled.

2nd p -- you don't need "he noticed someone approaching." He already noticed the rider in the first paragraph. Change "He recognized the cloak" to "She wore a cloak exactly like the one folded in the cedar chest at the foot of his bed." This takes care of the rider gender issue as well.

3rd p -- Could be eliminated entirely. The business of the horse being dark but looking lighter just confuses things. You don't need it.

Instead, this may be the place for Gaeryn's family to join him.

4th p -- Do away with the part about her reaching down to pat the horse -- it's so incongruous with the sense of haste and danger. It jolts me every time I read it. I agree with EE about dismounting being preferable to stepping down. Glancing at the wife and daughter is also a bit of a distraction. It draws focus away from the rising tension.

5th p -- Drop the part about her raising her hand "as if to adjust her cloak" (also something she wouldn't take time to do if she's in such a hurry) and just have her make the sign. It's more direct.

All in all, this looks like a great place to begin a story; it just needs some finetuning.

Anonymous said...

Does bad news always ride a fast horse? Think of the last bad date you had...the one you ended with a hand shake, but then you couldn't bring yourself to hurt the persistant guy so you agreed to go out with him again, therefore delaying the bad (from his perspective) news. Sometimes bad news rides in on a tired nag with a four beat gait who circles you before delivering the goods...

Anonymous said...

This intro presents an issue I have been struggling with...the first paragraph--like it or hate it--starts with a "cowboy talk" cliche.

The second paragraph of my current WIP contains a cliche for which I cannot find a suitable replacement. It just fits.

Everything I have read says get rid of all cliches. Every. Last. One. They are the hallmark of a lazy writer. They are BAD.

So, EE, what is the scoop on this. If you saw a cliche in the first few paragraphs of a manuscript, would it be automatic slush?

Dave F. said...

Dear Anonymous,
Mark Twain once said:
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Trouble Rides a Fast Horse
is reported as an Italian Proverb by at least four quote websites.

Wes said...

It needs a little paring, Julie, as your friends are telling you. Give it another shot.

Evil Editor said...

This intro presents an issue I have been struggling with...the first paragraph--like it or hate it--starts with a "cowboy talk" cliche.

I wouldn't consider a proverb a cliche. Proverbs are passed on with the understanding they will be repeated.

Occasional cliches don't bother me. Sometimes the best way to get across what you're trying to say is by saying the way it's always been said.

BuffySquirrel said...

Singular "they" has a long and respectable history. Only change it if your agent or acquiring editor insists.

"Fast" and "exhausted" do not, as EE suggests, go together.

I think for once Dave is right and there are too many words. Try going into Gaeryn's thought processes directly rather than reporting them.

talpianna said...

I agree with the others--about the paring, and about wanting to read on.

One flaw in the otherwise brilliant continuation: nobody wants pineapple pizza. Make it mushroom and onion.

Evil Editor said...

Singular "they" has a long and respectable history.

True, but in this specific instance, change it.

Evil Editor said...

I never order pizza without pineapple.

BuffySquirrel said...

Or if EE says so! :D

Dave F. said...

The opening could be:
A cloaked rider on a sweat-encrusted bay thundered down the hill.
"Bad news always rides a fast horse." Gaeryn Diarmand said as he drew his wife and son close. The rider pulled the horse to a stop in front of them. Gaeryn recognized his sister's insignia.
"What trouble has my sister caused now?" Gaeryn asked.

The last line could be:
"Your sister's in jail again," Gaeryn's wife said.
"Daddy, Daddy, Aunt Cynthia remember my birthday after all..."
"Your sister is dead and the King's men are coming to slay your family and salt your lands."

Anything you want can go there and you even get to keep the proverb. It's a good opening to most any story (except brain-sucking aliens in area 51 or absentee ballots in Alaska or Georgia).

Anonymous said...

The pepperoni pizza saved this piece for me. I don't like pineapple pizza, but I am a sucker for pepperoni.

I want to read on to find out if it is thick crust or pan.

Anonymous said...

First I thought the horse was riderless, then I thought he was wearing a cloak.

I think you need to get to the point sooner. Also this is 54 words over the 150 word limit.

Funny continuation. Pizza with Ham and Pineapple, yum!


Beth said...

Buffysquirrel said: "Fast" and "exhausted" do not, as EE suggests, go together.

Horses can run until they drop dead, literally. So in this case, "fast" and "exhausted" can certainly go together.

Evil Editor said...

Which makes my point. If a horse can run fast whether fresh or exhausted, seeing it running at a distance doesn't tell you whether it's exhausted or not.

Evil Editor said...

Also this is 54 words over the 150 word limit.

Actually, the instructions at Evil Editor's openings state that the piece should be 150 - 200 words. In general, the shorter ones give continuation authors more options.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE pineapple and ham or canadian bacon pizza! Pesto pizza is pretty good, too. Pepperoni would be my third fav.

Does pepperoni pizza ride a fast horse? Does your pizza come free if the horse is slow?

Julie Weathers said...

Hmmm, I thought this would be dead and buried by the time I got home.

This is the first pass at revising, and I'm tired so it probably still needs work.

Bad news always rides a fast horse. The horse coming down the hill was both fast and exhausted.

Gaeryn Diarmand dropped the harness he was repairing. A far rider. She wore a cloak exactly like the one in the cedar chest at the foot of his bed.

The woman reined her horse to a stop in front of Gaeryn and his wife and daughter who had appeared when they heard the rider. Raising her hand as if to adjust her cloak, the rider ran her fingers across the bottom of the silver clasp at her throat.

The sign. She was one of his sister’s couriers.

“My name is Shona Finn.” She cleared her throat and flicked an almost imperceptible glance at Gentyl before dismounting.

Gaeryn turned to his daughter. “Gen, go take care of the horse.”

His daughter’s curiosity about the courier was immediately replaced with an excited smile. She loved the far rider horses and any excuse to handle one was a treat. Amanda reached out to take his hand. His wife wasn’t as easily distracted.

“Captain Diarmand sends her greetings,” Finn began. “I’m sorry to be so blunt, but she also sends word Aegis was murdered.”

As for the fast/exhausted horse issue. I can easily delete it, but fast horses are also a type of horse.

Word count on that should be 198, unless I am dreaming.

I really do appreciate all the help. I'll tinker with it again a bit tomorrow after some rest.

As for the pineapple still my heart.


December/Stacia said...

I love the opening line. I think it's fantastic. But yeah, you step on it by repeating the same point over and over again. This whole thing could have been two paragraphs; the bad news line, then whats-his-name standing up and recognizing the cloak. His heart sinks or whatever when he sees his sister's sign.

BuffySquirrel said...

Nothing dies around here until EE sings!

Julie Weathers said...

His heart sinks or whatever when he sees his sister's sign.

The sign is just confirmation she really is a far rider.

Thanks for weighing in on this. I noticed I still need to tinker with it some more.

Getting closer.

Julie Weathers said...

Nothing dies around here until EE sings!

True, thanks for your advice about the opening.

Now you have me wondering what EE sounds like when he's singing. Maybe he yodels too!

Beth said...

EE said: seeing it running at a distance doesn't tell you whether it's exhausted or not.

It does if the animal is covered in lather. An experienced horseman could tell that a horse had been run hard.

Evil Editor said...

Yes but he doesn't see that it's covered in lather. Only two paragraphs after he sees it running down the hill is it close enough for him to see it's a bay with dried sweat on it.

BBJD said...

I expect I am late in offering this, but I'll give it a go anyway.

My comment is not from the perspective of an editor or anyone like that. I'm simply reacting to the story as it is presented. I am a reader.

I like it. Jeb said he would turn the page. So would I.

I like the first sentence. My being quickens with anticipation for the promised action. But the second sentence feels like an interruption. I have already visualized a horse and rider galloping madly along the edge of a forest. I think you should drop the second sentence.

As for knowing from a distance if a horse is exhausted, that can be determined by looking at the difficulty the rider is/is not having in keeping the horse on pace. As Beth pointed out, you can force a horse to run itself to death, but it becomes more difficult as the horse tires. (No, I have not done this myself.)

I get the sense that this rider is an experienced rider. For that reason I do not like the horse being 'reined' to a stop. It's been many years since I rode, but when I did I never used the reins except in an emergency, to protect the horse. Turning was done with leg signals, and starting and stopping were done with vocal commands. (Yes, even from a gallop I could make my horse come to a complete stop simply by saying 'halt'.) If I could do it, certainly an expert rider could.

I like this. For what it's worth, I think you've got the makings of something good here.

Julie Weathers said...

I didn't want to seem contentious and difficult so I haven't done much explaining.

You can tell a tired horse from a distance from their body language. Their head droops and their ears are not alert. They stumble and may even stagger or at least waver. The gait is heavy and labored.

"I get the sense that this rider is an experienced rider. For that reason I do not like the horse being 'reined' to a stop. It's been many years since I rode, but when I did I never used the reins except in an emergency, to protect the horse."

The fast horses (similar to a modern day Thoroughbred) are mainly courier horses, but they are also war horses. Reining really is more effective than voice commands for them.

I confess I rein a horse when I ride, so that's probably why I have my riders doing the same.

I'm still working on this so I do appreciate all the advice more than you know.

My original opening got shot down by the third sentence in the Idol workshop, so I obviously had to do something.


Evil Editor said...

Fair enough. While I find it odd for a horse that is stumbling, staggering or at least wavering, with a gait that is heavy and labored, to be described as fast. I bow to expert opinion.

Beth said...

EE, I will concede that Julie should probably insert something brief that has the horse showing signs of exhaustion (lather, stumbling, or some such). That could go in the second paragraph. A single line would be sufficient.

writtenwyrdd said...

This has actually lost some of the original charm for me, but it is more clear than the original, which is the place to start with revisions! I'd like some of the details that lead to the conclusion the horse is exhausted, and the rest of the details.

At any rate, I would perhaps describe that horse as lathered, or describe the unsound breathing (which I've never heard) of a horse which has it's wind broken. (Not sure if that's the correct term, there, either.) At any rate, a seriously lathered up horse or one whose toes drag the ground are big clues. Red nostrils, all that.

I am bothered by the "sign" of running a finger on a badge. I would suggest you just say she made "the sign" instead. Not important what the secret handshake is in these situations most of the time.

I really think most of what you need is here, more tweaking needed.

Robin S. said...

I love it when these things go on and on. Sorry I missed out!

Julie Weathers said...

The exhaustion part isn't a deal breaker for me so if it's troubling I would rather leave it out.

As I said somewhere, the fast horse has two meanings here and it is explained later. The fast horse is not only a speedy horse, but a type of horse, similar to a modern Thoroughbred. It is part of the story.

I think I am a storyteller, but I have serious doubts about being a competent writer at times, so I would not sneer at the wonderful advice I get here. You all probably know all the rules I break with gay abandon. Aside from that, you see it with fresh eyes.

Now, for the news. My laptop died yesterday so, I will be scarce for a while. The library adventure is not one I want to partake of often.

I did make more changes before Little Blue died, so I am not ignoring your words of wisdom. Thanks a lot.

ChrisEldin said...

About redundancy, you mean nobody likened it to beating a dead horse?
heheheh! Unless I missed it because I skimmed the comments.
But happy to talk about yummy pineapple pizza. And also happy to see Buffy flirting with Dave.

talpianna said...

Julie, "fast horse" is too familiar as a simple description to be used as the name of a breed. Call it something like a "Mistyvale Sprinter" or even (an actual term, much to my surprise, for a speed horse) a "hotblood."

dana p said...

This has to be one of the best continuations ever. And out of 575 New Beginnings, that's saying something!

Julie Weathers said...

Tal, this is to the point of me being annoying, but it really is a type of horse, like a cowhorse or a draft horse, not a breed. I would just use Thoroughbred if I wanted to use a breed.

I think it's probably best to just leave out the second line since it seems to be bothersome.

The advice here was very helpful and I'm grateful.