Friday, March 13, 2009

New Beginning 615 (Chapter Opening)

Queer how the forests gobbled up the prairie, Kincaid thought. Eight, nine hundred miles of grassland, who could reckon how much, were running into armies of trees. Tall, stout, green hardwoods. First they came in groups like advanced skirmishers, flanking and probing. Each day more squads appeared. The skirmishers grew to companies then to regiments that his men maneuvered past. But now, up ahead, a solid battle line stretched across their way, and they’d have to enter the forest.

It was so green. How could he have forgotten in just a year? New leaves shining bright, cast a restful glow over the earth that eased the eye and took away the strain. Arms of thick timber reached along the road as if to pull them in. He felt the cool of the deep forest. Like walking into a root cellar, the temperature dropped so much.

Odd, Kincaid thought, how the temperature chewed at the air. Warm sun was being cooled by frigid-air dive-bombers. Gull-winged, screaming Ju 87s, followed by icy squadrons of Messerschmitt bf 109s. The temperature soared down, like a fleet of Siberian MiG-29s dipping and shrieking, encroaching on the sun.

It was cold—it’d taken him a whole year to thaw. Thick ice shining bright, made the forest a refrigerator—a refrigerator fighting a bowl of warm pasta.



Opening: Wes.....Continuation: Rachel

36 comments:

Evil Editor said...

The army/trees analogy isn't working for me. It goes on too long, and while you mean to compare the quantity of trees to the quantity of soldiers in a deployed army, we don't think mainly of quantity when we think of soldiers. I don't see skirmishers flanking and probing as comparable to trees, stationary in the middle of a grassland.

Also, referring to the forest as a battle line makes it seem like it's going to be a struggle to get through. Then you tell us there's a road.

What is the strain the trees take away? If it's eyestrain, you've already said "eased the eye," so no need to repeat the same idea.

V. Dunn said...

I think analogies are best when they're short and sweet. Or when they're tucked almost out of sight in the choice of words you use throughout the passage. I like ferreting out an analogy on my own, rather than have the author spoon feed it to me.

If I was partway into a book and hit this chapter beginning I'd skip right past it to the first bit of dialog. Dialog usually means something's happening, and as a reader, that's what I want.

YMMV. I skipped past most of the descriptive passages in LOTR, too.

Dave F. said...

Stuff from my own experience:

Uncertainty isn't good -- "Eight, nine hundred miles..." Pick eight or nine and leave it be. Plus, you echo the uncertainty in "who could reckon how much..."

And I agree with EE, the armies-trees analogy isn't working for you. I too thought of a virgin forest wall without a break. But more important, the army analogy doesn't work because the opening sentence is Kincaid's thought. You need to stay with Kincaid, to stay in his personal thoughts.

You do stay in his thoughts in the second paragraph. But you do something distracting. Kincaid thinks how green, we see green in our minds. Then he thinks about forgetting the green. Then you step out of his mind and describe the greenish light, the restful glow and the strain reducing sight. We should have the "tall stout green hardwoods" right before this. It's all very poetic but it's not poetic on the page or even lyric. It's trying hard to be very good.

If "Arms" are welcoming, beckoning, "reaching along the road to pull them in," and not threatening or hostile, they do not just "reach"

Joanna said...

I liked this overall, but I was a bit disoriented by the contrast between the somewhat menacing feel of the first paragraph and the rich, peaceful feel of the second. I'm guessing that the menace is not intended, but the army analogy definitely brought that up for me.
I especially liked the root-cellar comparison.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

The first paragraph could stand a little trimming but I love the second paragraph. It really makes me feel like I'm there.

Wes said...

Obviously, this didn't fly. Thanks to all for the critique to make me see the light. My critique group told me it didn't work, but I didn't believe them. Now I do.

Thanks for helping me avoid sending it to an agent or editor.

_*Rachel*_ said...

The thing I noticed was that the metaphors were mixing like the trees and the grass. I'd rather have gobbling OR armies. Creeping might work, since they're plants.

Name: The Editor said...

I would have rejected this after reading the first sentence.

"Queer how the forests gobbled up the prairie, Kincaid thought."

Speaker attributions used in interior monologue drive me batty. This is from Kincaid's POV. We know this is Kincaid's thought.

Other examples of the author intruding would be Kincaid heard, Kincaid saw, etc.

If you want your interior monologue to be unobtrusive to the point of transparency, get rid of these!

It's okay to do this once in a while (and many successful authors do). But please, please don't do it in your first sentence.

theeditorrant.blogspot.com

BuffySquirrel said...

Ah, editors and their little foibles :D. We should make a list. My little quirk would be a loathing of homophone errors. Do not reign in your horse. Please! Or say something is against your principals.

*shudders*

Dickens is the master of this kind of metaphorical writing, but even he overdoes it at times. I like the idea of it, but it needs tweaking, imo, so it's more subtle.

Anonymous said...

You mean it's not a talking-walking-carnivorous tree story???

Phoenix said...

To the POV issue, I would think the attribution belongs precisely in the first sentence. Especially since it's a chapter opening. More especially if the story switches POVs. While this opening is in Kincaid's POV, it doesn't necessarily follow that the rest of the ms is. It kind of horrifies me that an editor would reject that quickly without knowing if it were indeed a necessary reader cue.

As for the extended metaphor -- what EE and the others have said.

The Editor said...

In my opinion, it is never, never, never, necessary to use a speaker attribution in interior monologue. It's just lazy writing.
Like stating a character's emotion instead of showing us through action.

Dialogue is a different matter. By all means, attribute.

If you don't believe me, go open your favorite book. I'd bet good money there won't be a speaker attribution in interior monologue in the first sentence.

Or, if you need an example of an author who is writing about plants in his opening from the character's POV, read Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule.

I didn't say I wouldn't let you get away with this once in a while.
But first impressions count.
If you do this in the first few words I'm going to read, you've as good as labeled yourself amateur.
Think about re-writing.

BuffySquirrel said...

Phoenix, after a few weeks of reading slush, you'd be much less horrified!

:D

Evil Editor said...

Actually, regarding interior monologue, I must point out that Dune, considered by many the greatest science fiction novel ever written, is loaded with interior monologue, probably at least 1000 instances of it, and I would estimate at least half of them are attributed to the thinker. Also, a quick scan reveals that two of the chapters open with attributed interior monologue. (The chapters aren't numbered, but these begin on pages 363 and 381 in my hardcover edition.

As Phoenix points out, if it's the first sentence in a chapter, how can we know which character is thinking the thought if it's not attributed?

Also, the first sentence of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland includes a thought attributed to Alice.

Anonymous said...

If their biggest concern here is the thought attribution, then perhaps they are not seeing the wood for the trees, Anon. thought...

Phoenix said...

So, I picked up two books and took a peek.

Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey has many multiple instances of speaker attribution. Granted, she does introduce interior dialogue, too, but the second sentence in Chapter 1 starts us out with the first of many, many attributed interior monologues.

Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett doesn't have much internal monologue, but does have lots of "he could see" type language written when in the MC's POV.

That's the first time I've ever heard that *rule* about not ever attributing interior monologue. And while I'm not a book or mag editor, I've been around the block a few times: MA in English, had a few short stories pub'd in pro venues, and I edit in the corporate world for a living.

I'm thinking if I haven't run across that particular rule after nearly 50 years given the social and educational circles I've run in, it probably isn't that widely known -- or, as the books EE and I took a peek at attest, not widely followed.

batgirl said...

Hm. I had a character's interior monologues set off in separate paragraphs, first person, no attribution. One of my beta readers complained that I was switching pov, from 3d to 1st.
I was just trying to avoid 'filtering'. Can't win!

Wonderwood said...

As a general rule, I try to avoid speaker attribution in internal dialogue, because it's telling and it is a writer intrusion. However, when writing in multiple 3rd POV, opening a scene with internal dialogue pretty much requires it to orient the reader. Once we know whose POV we're in, it isn't necessary and I generally avoid it. But that's just me.

The Editor said...

batgirl makes a good point. Every editor is different. There are a plethora of works that tell a great story a get published despite questionable writing.
Don't let my little quirks upset you.

However, allow me to illustrate what I am talking about, then you can be the judge of whether you want to use attributions in interior dialogue.

Let's try a little exercise in editing. See if you can spot the attributions:

"It was an odd-looking vine, Richard thought. Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Richard could see sap drooling down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumping, making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.

He could smell the decomposition of something that had been wholly unsavory even in life. Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair as his mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine."

Now, let's look at this piece the way it actually appeared in Mr. Goodkind's book.

"It was an odd-looking vine. Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumped, making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.

It was the smell that had first caught his attention, a smell like the decomposition of something that had been wholly unsavory even in life. Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair as his mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine."

Did you have trouble determining whose POV this was without the attribution?

I'm just trying to help you write in a contemporary manner for an ADD generation. And yes, there are many wonderful books written a while ago (and currently) that are the editor's nightmare (The Great Gatsby and Twilight, for example.)

As a side note, Mercedes Lackey and Terry Goodkind have the same agent and publisher.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think a bigger problem for me is one I've seen in a few novels I've read lately, including McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men", where there are multiple POVs, and McCarthy is quite happy to go halfway or more down a page with "he" this and "he" that, so that you don't know for ages which "he" it is.

Often I have to go back and reread in the light of knowing which viewpoint character we're with at that point. Very annoying. And it's not just McCarthy.

Phoenix said...

Did you have trouble determining whose POV this was without the attribution?

In the Goodkind example, I would argue that adding "Richard thought" in the first sentence of the actual passage would plant this firmly in the mind of the reader that it's from Richard's POV. Till we get down to the second paragraph, that description could well be authorial 3rd person.

Then, in the 2nd 'graph, we have "his" before we know that "his" is "Richard's".

So, to your question, yes, I had trouble immediately determining POV. I still contend adding an attribution in the first sentence is not lazy writing; it is a useful cue precisely for those ADD readers.

I'm not arguing the "he could hear/see/smell/touch" stuff. But to immediately cue the reader in to whose POV we're in is, to my mind, never a bad thing.

Evil Editor said...

I don't see the Goodkind example as internal monologue so much as description from Richard's POV.

If internal monologue is the thoughts of a character, and there are several characters present, we need to know which one is having the thoughts. For instance:


The football coach stood before his team and said, "Okay boys, we're down by forty five at halftime, but it's not over yet."

Who does this ass think we are, idiots? Leave us alone and let's get this fiasco over with.


The football coach stood before his team and said, "Okay boys, we're down by forty five at halftime, but it's not over yet."

Who does this ass think we are, Bubba thought. Idiots? Leave us alone and let's get this fiasco over with.


In the first example we have no idea which player has enough sense to realize the game is over.

The Editor said...

While Richard's thoughts are descriptive, who is he describing them to?
Another character? No.
The reader? I certanily hope not.

The first line is what he is thinking to himself.
"Wow, that's a weird looking vine."
Namely, interior monologue.

Anywho, I didn't mean for everyone to get so caught up with this little picky issue.

The main thing is to write a good story. Hell, if I'm in a good mood and haven't had too much slush that day, I might overlook this.

But, if you put this in your first line and suddenly there's a form rejection in your inbox, could be me. Sorry.

Evil Editor said...

Who is telling the reader the story? It's either an omniscient author, or the POV character. In this case, Richard is telling the reader what he saw: an odd-looking vine.

Robin S. said...

Interesting stuff, EE and Other E.

Other E, I'm not big fan of ever saying 'never'.

With writing,I think knowing what the rules of language and composition are (historically a rather fluid set of rules) is important - but then, I'm not that worried, when I read, if they're followed to the letter if what I am reading draws me in without the words calling attention to themselves.

I agree with you, 'Other E', that the attribution didn't work in this chapter opening. No arguments there.

But I just popped over and checked your blog. I know you're on a purposeful ranting tear there, and I 'get it'. It's your blog and you can do whatever the hell you want to do with it. I do the same with mine.

And I imagine some of the crap you receive makes you crazy. But even so, it seems to me that 'always' and 'never' don't work when describing fiction. In theory, this is a fine and clean way to proceed through your slush. In practice, don't you think it's a bit murky - what does and doesn't work?

The Editor said...

I would say that the author is allowing us to be privy to Richard's thoughts.
The character doesn't tell the reader anything (unless he's Ferris Bueller). The character just is.

Evil Editor said...

All fiction consists of the author telling us what he wishes to; the distinction is whether the author is telling us what was reported to him by one omniscient narrator or by one or more POV characters.

The story, to me, is told by the narrator or characters. The author merely writes it down, for the author wasn't there. How could he have been? The events are fictional.

In any case, the argument seems to be over what constitutes internal monologue. In my opinion

Wow, that vine looks strange, Richard thought.

is internal monologue.

It was an odd-looking vine (followed by a report of what was odd about it)

isn't.

Certainly everything that's in a character's POV isn't that character's internal monologue. I see internal monologue as what a character thinks, not what he sees and hears and smells.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think that extract, in its revised form, has exactly the problem I was talking about--I have no idea whose POV we're in, because the author doesn't tell me until halfway through.

I prefer the viewpoint character to be established at the start.

The Editor said...

Robin S,

Yes, things can get murky. As I stated somewhere previously in this thread, fresh stories will get published regardless.

If I were already hooked into a good story and these thought attributions started appearing, it likely wouldn't deter me from finishing the read. I would notice, however.

And in my defense, I did preface the nevers with an "In my opinion."

All I'm saying is, if you are doing this, try a simple re-write.

Instead of opening with:

I think I'll go for a walk, John thought.

try starting with an action instead. E.g.,

John walked among the trees.

Xenith said...

If you don't believe me, go open your favorite book. I'd bet good money there won't be a speaker attribution in interior monologue in the first sentence.

Given that very few books start with interior monologue anyway... :)

In my opinion, it is never, never, never, necessary to use a speaker attribution in interior monologue. It's just lazy writing.

I don't think there's anything in writing that you could say that about. There are things that 99.9999% of the times you should avoid, but no NEVERs.

(At which point someone will come up with one to prove me wrong, I know. This is the problem with absolutes, and therefore proves my point! :)

The Editor said...

I agree that there is typically an exception to every rule.

Why don't we have a little fun and play a game of stump the editor.

If you'd like, send a short passage to my blog including a thought attribution. I'll post them with a re-write. If I can't think of a way to write it without a thought attribution, you win the glory of knowing you've stumped me.

theditorrant.blogspot.com

Robin S. said...

I don't wanna stump you, Other E. What I want is a story (a novel excerpt, actually) published, and since you're anonymous, that won't happen 'on your watch', as far as I can see.

I take your previous point about the attribution issue - it's just that the 'my way or the highway', all or nothing bit rankled me.

The way I see it, if I changed my prose according to the writing rules/likes/dislikes/pet peeves of every editor whose opinion I came across, I'd be doing a helluva lot of rewriting.

I'd certainly like to think you guys (gender neutral, in this instance) out there haven't become so overworked and jaded that you're using 'personal disdain shorthand' to dismiss otherwise well-written fiction.

And again, I'm not talking about this opening. I'm talking about the bigger picture.

Xenith said...

If you'd like, send a short passage to my blog including a thought attribution. I'll post them with a re-write. If I can't think of a way to write it without a thought attribution, you win the glory of knowing you've stumped me.

No challenge. Anything can be rewritten. Whether it's always better or necessary is a different question :) I know when I was editing how tempting it was to make changes to reflect how I thought something should be written, even if it didn't strenghten the story -- erasing the athour's voice rather than enhancing it. :\

An interesting coincedence today though, because I bought a book by Chaz Brenchley. You've probably never heard of him, he's a professional British fantasy writer and like most novelists, his books are hard to get out his home country. I was modding an online chat for him on the weekend and I was impressed enough that I'd made a note to watch out for his book, so when I saw one in the bookshop and it was the first in a series, of course I grabbed it.

The first line is:

Not the first, Marron knelt in the Chamber of the King's Eye and thought, What need Ascariel?"

Now you might think amateur. I, long term and very jaded fantasy reader who considers epic fantasy to be dull and predictable, thought, "Hust read. Where's the price? Have I any money on me."

Of course, not every considers encouraging readers to hand over money as an important part of writing.

Phoenix said...

Yeah, Xenith got here first with the "no challenge" comment. I can rewrite anything to obey just about any arbitrary rule laid out: no adjectives, no adverbs, no complete sentences, no dialog tags, no metaphors, no gerunds, no passive, no... Well, you get the point. Being able to right something out doesn't necessarily mean it shouldn't have been in there to begin with.

Sorry to continue hijacking your feedback, Wes!

BuffySquirrel said...

EE, what do you think about leaving the reader afloat without a viewpoint character?

Evil Editor said...

Is being afloat good or bad? Do mean afloat in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean, or afloat as opposed to asinking? Are we talking about switching POV character within a section? Or omniscient?

I think anything goes as long as you're consistent. If you aren't consistent readers will think you slipped up.

E if you ARE consistent, if you don't write in one character's POV at a time some will think you're slipping up. On the other hand, I have a feeling readers who aren't writers pay little or no attention to POV in the first place.