Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Beginning 584

In the darkness he brooded. But it was not darkness that oppressed him. Darkness was his ally. His image, when shrouded in darkness, terrified the so-called Free People even more than in light.

He looked at his thin, drawn and deathly grey hand. Frail in appearance, it was stronger than any creature on the Sea save, perhaps, the great dragons. But even they lacked his raw power. His face was a living skull with unblinking eyes and a taught, skin like covering pulled and stretched to reveal the form beneath. To those lesser things across the Sea he was the living dead, and all but one would cower before him. This Other, though. Where was he and when would he appear?

Time moved forward. Time was his enemy. He was trapped in time. But to be anywhere else was to risk assault, and he was not ready for that. He was not invincible. Not yet. That had been a difficult lesson. Curse Kensington and his interference! How could he reclaim his advantage? Then he felt it! The feeling of new inspiration. With a quiet breath he summoned his servant.

"Listen Mac," he said, "this will never fly. Time moved forward? Time was his enemy?!! Yawn. What a snoozer."

Morrison threw his story board down and popped another handful of Cheetos in his orange rimmed mouth. "We've got just one week to get this G-Novel nailed," he growled as bits of day-glo goo landed on Mac's script. "I'm giving you my best creepoid stuff here. Look at that claw of a hand, man--just beautiful. The gleam on the naked scull shines through that leprous skin like a lightbulb from hell. We're talking Shazam Award art here. I need rough liquid words that seep into minds and make women run to lock all the doors, and men glance over their shoulder in dark alleys. You're giving me a whining grown-up ET with delusions of grandeur. The Other? What is that? The other woman? Is this guy going through some kind of zombie divorce? It just won't fly man."

Mac looked sheepish and picked up his script by a clean edge. It looked like his creative writing degree from Harvard wasn't going to cut it in LA.

Opening: BBJD.....Continuation: anon.

22 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

Overall, this is overwritten and relies heavily on cliched imagery. I think you are trying to elicit a sense of forboding and to be dramatic, but the imagery consists of little snapshots of things that aren't connected. And what you do have is fairly overused, such as living skulls with unblinking eyes.

Much of this can be used, if you edit so that you add in concrete things, like the name of the character who is maundering on about himself to himself, or where he is, or why he's going on about the other.

My impression after a couple of reads is that this can be summed up as "POV guy broods about some Other character who might be stronger than he is."

From reading this, I think you have the chops to write something more compelling. When you revise, I suggest you do this: If you have read it somewhere else, delete it and substitute that image/phrase with something you make up yourself.

Evil Editor said...

Then he felt it! The feeling of new inspiration.

This is too sudden, even for something sudden. It's like you decided, enough of this, let's get on with it. Might as well get on with it from the beginning.

Also, "taut" skin, not "taught."

BuffySquirrel said...

Something's going to happen soon, right?

Anonymous said...

This is interesting, but watch the pov issues. If we are in the guy's pov, then we should see things through his eyes. Would he be thinking about his taut skin--in other words, his appearance? The looking at his hand, to me, smacks of the old trick of having the pov character look in the mirror. There should be a more organic way of letting us know what he looks like. Also, do not like the use of an exclamation point (re: his "new inspiration"). Show us sudden in a way other than punctuation. And if he is suddenly inspired, drop the "new."

Dave F. said...

I haven't said "Cut in by half" in a while. SO I say CUT BY 2/3RDS. There really are too many words here and they are getting in the way of telling a story.

You want to invoke some mystery, some intrigue, some image in the readers mind that invites them to go on.

Here's the 1/3 I think you should keep as a structure:
He brooded best in darkness, the comforting darkness, the sheltering darkness. Hidden from the sight of the frail ones, the lesser men, the Free People as they fancied themselves. He was the living dead. The lesser beings -- Leviathan, the Dragon Lords, and the men -- feared and obeyed.
But He was not invincible and Kensington knew it. Curse Kensington and his interference!


But that's not going to be enough. There not enough in the NB to pull the reader through the chapter.

Think about that before you answer. I'm not being mean or nasty. There's one element here - a powerful undead creature and his nemesis. There's no peril involved here. I don't know what happens in the rest of the first chapter, but you need to draw the peril forward into the opening.

How about:
The fires at Kensington Castle (or Keep or Freehold) burnt bright on the horizon (seashore, mountain, cliffs) not in celebration of the harvest (coronation, wedding, funeral), but in preparation for war.
He watched from the dark of the captain's cabin, the comforting darkness, the sheltering darkness.
Hidden from the sight of the frail ones, the lesser men, the Free People as they fancied themselves. He was the living dead. The lesser beings -- Leviathan, the Dragon Lords, and the men -- feared and obeyed.
But He was not invincible and Kensington knew it. Curse Kensington and his interference! Curse hurried preparations!
And yet the fires burned. (that's a shortened thought)
He signaled his servant with one thin, drawn and deathly gray finger.


Now our antennae are up and twirling around to find out what is going on.

I really do not know what your first chapter or short story contains. This is just a guess. Perhaps war is far away, perhaps the war is the next day -- my text does not make a distinction.

But the form is here. Use the form. Use the structure. Pull the strife into the opening sentence, carefully describe your first character's concerns or dilemma and then return to the strife. The alternation will let you build details without building boredom or sameness.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


The closest minion stepped forward and waited.

He lifted his frail hand and motioned the minion closer. "How many queries have I revised?"

"Hundreds, sir."

He sucked in air, hoping to find strength to look at the monitor. Not yet, he told himself.

"How many are in the queue?"

"A handful," the minion answered.

His unblinking eyes started blinking. His living skull of a face lit up. He knew how to make the queries go away. Finally, he knew.

(to be continued)

--Chris Eldin


"Here's a hundred bucks," he said. "Go to Wal-Mart and get me all the moisturising skin cream you can lay your hands on. I'm going on a charm offensive..."

--wo


In the darkness he brooded. But it was not darkness that oppressed him.

Harris heard the soft, fetid request of his lordship through the interactive ship web and grimaced. "Hell and damnation in the forenoon", it was bad enough being the butler, valet, cook and technical wizard on this smelly, subpar web-ship, but just once he would like to finish the latest mind-scrim packet of "Recipes of the Inland Sea", before being rousted by his delusional charge moldering down below. Best not to grouse much. Being the custodian of a madman was not a romp in an inland seaport but it paid for his bad habits and Lord Kensington, Chief of the East Sea Dragon Guild, and nephew of Sir Grimstead, found him both discrete and competent. There must be some expedient reason for Kensington to keep his uncle safe and cozy in his medi-pod with it's time-ghoul setting turned up to max. It was costing him a bundle in credits but apparently credits were not a problem for those of East Sea Dragon ilk. Best not to ask or to think on that too much. He rather liked his troll butler role and the steady credit stream was rather additive. It beat other gigs in the holo-pod business and it gave him a chance to see things at eye level and be whole again.
Another terse request came pulsing through the web filament--urgent this time. Twisting his legless body up by his massive arms he dropped from the galley into the chute leading to the" ante chamber of the "guest room" -- a secure med-pod unit located in the belly of the ship. All looked to be in order. The medimax and holo-panels were holding steady. Peering through the dark mirrored wall he could see his lordship's gaunt limbs tremble as he touched a taper to the wall sconce, bringing the room with its dank stone, table covered with time maps, and small high window surrounding a crescent moon, into view. Placing his hand on the dark shining surface Harris programed his butler mode and entered.
"How may I be of assistance my lord," Harris felt his hair rise, something was wrong. There was a strange woman seated at the time table and Lord Grimstead looked odd. Edges melting, his twig-like limbs soon filled out with the color and the form of a man weathered and past first youth but fit and full of wrath. He turned to grasp the woman now next to him and raked his glowing hand through the space before them. With a gasp and a pop a gap in the holo-fabric just big enough to step through appeared. A smell of burning ozone filled the air. He was gone--she was gone. They were both gone.
Harris' holo-legs dissolved as the grid dissipated and he landed with a resounding thump. Sans legs, sans feet and sans tray with a bottle of sherry he bobbled upright.

That thumping hurt bad, he thought, but it would not be as loud, painful, or sudden as the one he would get when Sir Kensington, the dragon folk and the Free People found out that Lord Grimstead had regained both his mind and his true form and was loose again in time and space.

--r.w. glover


John Bartholomew Kensington and Captain Deterfield sat and watched. The lair was quiet tonight. Only a sibilant group wheeze from the dragon pups tangled in a jeweled ball below and their own determined whispers broke the silence.

"He's not done you know." I can feel his foul mind crawling in the dark, restless, scheming, and plotting." "He will never rest until he owns the wills and minds of all Free People. He longs to feel the salt of our blood on his lips."

"True perhaps, sire, but the net woven at such great peril has held and twist and probe, as he might, for a tread to pull and undo all our work, his power is still in check. We have time to plan and to wait the quarter year when three moons conjunct to hide the sun. Then the Other will protect us as the light fails."

"No, Deterfield, before their mission the dragons discovered that the Other is done with us." A test, they say. The Other is weary of our childish stumbling, our bloody feuds. We are on our own. We must pray there is another way--that their search across the Sea will find some other hope or friend."

His captains nose twitched. Kensington could taste and feel it -- a change in the air. A slight rise in temperature, the smell of smoke and the rushing drum beat of wings. Turning from the ledge overhanging the lair and pushing through the soft rising steam he turned with an oath, and pounded up the stairs to the watch tower.

--anon.

BBJD said...

Hello. Sorry for the delay in writing, but I fell asleep before all of this happened, and when I woke I was too foggy in my head to respond. (I actually read all the way down to the continuation before it dawned on me I was reading my own writing.)

Anyway, thank you. Thank you all. When I submitted this my biggest fear was that no one would say anything. You have given me a LOT to work with (because I gave you too much too read - smiles). Thank you.

I wanted try something difficult, and since I didn't even come close to pulling it off I'm guessing it was difficult - at least, for me.

I won't pretend I didn't believe heavily in this piece. I liked it. (I even liked it when I didn't recognize it as mine.) But I'm not so foolish to ignore the advice of people who know good writing from bad. It's disappointing but, as they say, "I've been here before."

Writtenwyrdd: If you have read it somewhere else, delete it and substitute that image/phrase with something you make up yourself. Believe it or not, I did NOT read this some place else. When I wrote it, it may actually have been original. This is one of the earliest characters, written in the 1970s. Maybe he was cliche then, too. Yes, I was trying to be forboding and dramatic. I'm not good at that. The character's name is Shatahar. We learn that when his servant arrives and addresses him. Shatahar is a spirit being who has taken physical form in order to interact with the various Races (Free People - as opposed to beasts of instinct) who live on the Great Sea. His concern is Madatar (the Other), another spirit being of much greater power. The Great Sea has been promised to Madatar. Shatahar wants it for himself. He doesn't know where Madatar is. No one does. He comforts himself by thinking about how terrified everyone else is of him. But he is terrified of Madatar. To defeat him, he must trap him. And that is what this opening is about: Shatahar's plan to trap and destroy Madatar.

Thank you for the encouraging comment. (No one has suggested I could be compelling in an unfortunately long time.) I so want to write things people want to read.

Dave F: I'm not being mean or nasty. I know. I've read Evil Editor's entire blog now, and I understand your style. As Sir Alec Guiness said in Lawrence of Arabia, "You tread harshly, but you speak the truth." Good. I'll never learn a thing apart from the truth.

There's no peril involved here. Not yet, no. But this piece is only 1,300 words. It's one of four "interludes" presenting Shatahar's actions to the reader. This gives the reader information which none of the characters can access. When Shatahar's servant arrives, a plan is devised to trap Madatar. The focus of this trap will be place where the MC lives.

BuffySquirrel: Something's going to happen soon, right? If you mean a fight, or something like that - no. Sorry. (For both of us.) I need to take lessons from you. You said more in those six words than I did six hundred.

Question Back to the Minions

Does it work to leave the main story in order to present needed information which cannot logically be given in the main story?

Do you ever need to do anything similar in your writing? How do you meet this need?

chelsea said...

BBJD

To answer your questions:

I think you can successfully add in SOME information that you feel can't be presented in the story. This is just a lot, up front, at once.

I think all of us struggle with the old "info dump" issue in our writing. Sometimes you can bring out information through dialogue ( J.K. Rowling did it with Hermione: she just knew damn near everything! And Hagrid: he just kept -oops! - letting info slip) or action, but there is generally always a time when you have to just flat out give certain info. The trick is doing it in small increments at times in the story where it's relevant so as to not pull the reader out of the story. Easier said than done, of course, but still doable.

I don't think you need to go so far as to assume this is "bad" just because you got a lot of comments. Contrary to what people might think, I tend to believe one gets more comments when a piece has potential. If it doesn't, people will feel their comments are pointless and often won't bother.

I think the first two paragraphs are totally salvageable but just need to be tweaked a bit. The third paragraph I would take out for now and try to work in relevant info later on.

Dave F., as always, your suggestions are spot on.

I agree wholeheartedly with creating a sense of mystery - if you tell us everything up front, what is there to wonder about?

:)

BTW

Am I the only one who feels like lately the chosen New Beginning continuations tend to discredit the actual opening? It seems like more often then not the continuation indicates that the opening is a dream or a story-in-a-story or a rant by a crazy person. Can we not get a funny continuation that is still an actual continuation of the opening?

Just
Sayin.

Dave F. said...

Well don't be afraid to try to write something different. Think about why it didn't work. What failed to happen. Then you know what not to do the next time.

As for interludes, and spaces between action scenes. I've talked about this example before and this is a good place for it to appear again. In Schwarzenegger's Terminator 3 - The Rise of the Machines, there are some really spectacular action scenes - the truck chase, the mausoleum gunfight, the escape in the hearse in the graveyard... And then the movie goes quiet and talky. But what talk - the Terminator reveals to John Conner that he kills him - day and time... That the woman is Conner's wife and she is the new leader who destroys the machines in the future years. It's a stunning infodump that only works because it is vital information. No physical action, but mental action. That's the learning point, right there... At this point of the movie, the viewer is resting from the action sequences. Scenery passing is all the action that accompanies a relation of the future as it will be. Not the future as it might be, but as it is destined to be - we see the Angel of Death sitting next to John Conner, without remorse, without guilt, determined that he will save Conner to reach that point in time where he kills Conner.
After that, the action resumes at the SKYNET Facility.

So the interludes you plan can work, of that you are right. And the interlude can be a different style, or mood than the rest of the novel. That also works (you asked). And 1300 words isn't too long. Maybe write everything else first and perfect that part of the story and then develop the interludes last {?} ...

I went back and read that skeletal third that I put in my comment. That still works to open the interlude. What you need in a hurry is the thought that One will own the seas and the other must die. One is unworthy in the other's eyes. This vaunting ego must someday rule the seas.
Something like that.

danceluvr said...

BBJD,

No one thinks of him/herself as "deathly grey." Everyone, including a villain, sees only the good in himself. But what one villain thinks is good to him will be bad to others. That's what make him a villain.

This character would be proud of his strength. He would be proud of his abilities.

Anyway, good stuff to work with.

Jeb said...

It was so dark in there by the third sentence that I started nodding off. The mood was utterly lost to me... but then I'm so easily hypnotized by repetition that I can't listen to trance music while driving.

Good comments here, and an interesting premise, author. YOu just need to pare down to the bare bones.

BuffySquirrel said...

Doesn't have to be a fight :). Just something that isn't introspection.

The moment we cut into the Suenna road, the sound of Nero's hoofbeats changed. My horse took shorter, choppier strides. Now the question was how many miles were left before we reached the city--and if the gates would be locked.

I glanced around, but everything looked the same as it had since nightfall: dark shapes that were trees and the moon slowly rising. The road lay ahead of us as a darker patch that I barely glimpsed before it was past.


Not a fight--just a guy galloping his horse along a road.

writtenwyrdd said...

BBJD, what I meant by saying if you've seen it before use something else doesn't have any regard for whether or not you might have been the first to say or use the imagery. But a lot of this is sort of standard horror film imagery or standard horror/dark fantasy imagery from books. Skulls with gleaming eyes are everywhere. Don't take the easy route; use something new. Try considering what images can evoke the feeling you want to inspire and work with them.

Also, as someone else pointed out, you are pov shifting when you describe the skull, the skin and etc. anyhow, so much of this would all logically disappear in a close in 3rd person pov anyhow!

the way to learn to write is to write, as they say.

Perhaps, since you don't really see what people are having trouble with, you need to learn to critique, to develop reader's eyes. You can go to the critters group at http://www.critters.org/ or a number of other places and read how other people critique longer pieces of writing.

There are many blogs and sites that offer writing advice, but learning to read critically as an editor or revising writer would is a bit trickier. However, many of us who blog have link lists that may lead to places that can offer some useful tips!

Whatever you do, though, don't stop writing.

BBJD said...

Thank you all. As I indicated earlier, a LOT to work with. I copied the entire comment section to MS-Word and then tried to reduce it to specific statements about what I had written - 48 lines.

Chelsea: Thank you for the encouraging words - and the advice.

Dave F: Your skeletal third is great! It does leave out Shatahar's choosing the MC's world for the site of his trap, and the trap itself. Since the trap is what initiates the MC's conflict, should it be included, or left to later?

Danceluver: Thanks. You are correct, of course. But I was thinking that, because Shatahar can look like whatever he wants (a blade of grass, if it suited his purpose), he would be less likely to take his appearance for granted. Perhaps I'm wrong on this.

I confess to feeling overwhelmed. None of the comments 'off base', so I am going to have to consider them all. The details will, of course, help me with this opening, but I must try to put it all together into a single thought (for the rest of the book, which none of you have had opportunity to read). This will take time, especially when I'm guessing it will take me to Christmas to reduce the novel down to 120,000 words.

And CRAP! While I have been struggling for three hours to do all of this, and write a response, three more comments have been posted. Not that I mind. It's like Christmas come early - all of this wonderful advice!

Jeb: Yeah, I know. I'm wordy. (Just look at the size of this comment.)

BuffySquirrel: I think I understand. Jeb kind of said the same thing. While I may like introspection, it bores readers. I like your no-nonsense approach. There's a character in my book I think you would adore.

Writtenwyrdd: Thank you. Intersting suggestion. I don't generally critique other works because I don't know what constitutes very good writing. I only know what I like, and not always why. I will visit the Critters.

You know, I find myself reminded of Lewis and Clark, who were tasked with crossing the continent in order to map out a route to the Pacific Ocean. After a long, arduous journey, they finally reached the Rocky Mountains - only to find they had come about half way. (And the easy half at that.)

I keep thinking I've finished, or nearly finished, the final task. Then I learn it is just another peak in a range which continutes to the horizon.

Well, they kept going. (There comes a point when 'giving up' is no longer an option.)

Another Question - sorry

When I again think I have a finished product, what are my options regarding critique. Am I allowed to re-submit an opening? I don't recall seeing that done, although I have seen new query attempts.

Thanks. You are ALL just so wonderful. I wish there was a way I could bless each of you. May God reward you handsomely for the giving of your time and knowledge.

Evil Editor said...

A significantly revised opening may be submitted as a comment. I'll alert the minions that it's there. If the new opening is completely different, as in you decided to start the story elsewhere, that can be submitted for a new New Beginning.

BuffySquirrel said...

Introspection has its place. That place is often not at the beginning :).

chelsea said...

Danceluvr -

I totally, totally, totally, couldn't disagree more.

LOTS of villains don't see "only the good" in themselves. Many villains despise good, or are bad just for the sake of being bad. (The Joker, Sylar and Voldemort come to mind. In fact I think the latter two couldn't see any good in themselves, which led to their villainous behavior.)

Some villians love the chase, some love the thrill of stealing, some love the thrill of killing. I don't think any of those examples of villains think they are "good."

I think the distinction might be this: while all villains don't think they're good, all villians think they're right.

Thoughts? Feelings? Assertions?

and

EE-
We can get Feedback Requests on New Beginnings? You don't say . . .

batgirl said...

This is a really, really minor point, but the name Kensington makes me think of Peter Pan and Kensington Gardens. The suffix 'ton' in English means 'town' (town of the Cynesings, I think, here) so some readers are going to expect a town. Is there one?

Another useful place for critiques is Absolute Write, in the forums, specifically the Share Your Work forum.
-Barbara

Joanna said...

Is infodumping a problem in itself? The Hobbit and Five People You Meet In Heaven both open with what might be called infodumps, but they're clear and in an interesting voice.

chelsea said...

I think the issue with infodump is "where" and "how." i.e. Is there an excessive amount, at the beginning of the story, that makes one long for something to happen? Does it come out of nowhere in the middle of action, thus yanking the reader out of the story? That kind of thing. The trick to a successful infodump, as I understand it, is to do it in a way that keeps the reader enraptured in the story, rather than feeling like the story has come to a halt while the narrator gives you certain information.

talpianna said...

Joanna, you inspire me! I'm going to start right away on a novel called THE FIVE HOBBITS YOU MEET IN HEAVEN.

BBJD said...

Talpianna. THAT is a book I would just love to read. Go for it!