Tuesday, September 08, 2009

New Beginning 682

Sarah sat at her hand-me-down mahogany desk, the room dim, only a reading lamp casting a circle of light. She wore a simple flowered dress, dowdy by today’s standards, that made her look more of a grandmother than her fifty-eight years would indicate. She copied from one business sized sheet of paper to another a description of all of her personal possessions not listed in her will and who would receive them. Adding one item to the new sheet she wrote: The Chinese puzzle box and all of its contents to my granddaughter Katrina. She signed and dated the paper, sealed it in an envelope, and put it where her daughter knew to look when the time came. The old sheet went through the paper shredder next to her desk.

She smiled warmly thinking of the secret she had never shared with anyone not even her Tom, rest his soul. After years of worrying what would happen after her passing, she had found the answer. Her stomach dropped a bit with adrenalin excitement. Katrina would find all the joy it had given her. Yes, this was the perfect decision.

True, Sarah herself would enjoy the contents of the puzzle box a few years longer, but Katrina was young enough to reap a lifetime of joy. As long as she returned the little Chinese statue faithfully to its secret compartment, the strong, muscular and very male Chan would appear at her side.

Ahh, Chan. She hadn't opened the box in almost two days. Chan needed air. Sarah smiled and reached for the colorful box.


Opening: Joel G......Continuation: Khazar-khum

23 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:



* * *

Thomas Waldorf -- laywer, family friend and executor of the late Sarah Willmann's estate -- sighed and slowly folded the piece of paper. Katrina, who had been expecting Sarah's four-year-old Camry, sat and scowled, completely unaware of the significance of her inheritance as Waldorf handed over Sarah's precious, time-worn condom box.

--anon.


Sarah could finally rest content in the world. She could finally go to her grave and rot in peace. Her granddaughter Katrina would take good care of it: her Chinese puzzle box and its precious white powder. Katrina would finally know the greatness of 70s floral print, see the truth of her grandmother's busy life, and become the world's greatest superhero. Katrina would follow in Sarah's footsteps to become Flowergirl.

--Rachel


After all, every girl needed a dildo.

--Aimee States


* * *

Katrina stared at her inheritance, the Chinese puzzle box, with wide, haunted eyes and began to shake uncontrollably. Not only had she seen all the Hellraiser movies, she had often heard Grandma say that Grandpa was a pinhead.

--anon

Evil Editor said...

I foresee Katrina spending about a minute trying to open the box, getting bored, and tossing it.

Nonetheless, I must admit that literally nothing is more likely to keep me reading than a Chinese puzzle box with mysterious contents.

Bethany said...

made her look more of a grandmother than her fifty-eight years would indicate

Isn't 58 kind of dead-center for the age at which someone becomes a grandmother?

Evil Editor said...

My Internet research shows the average age of a woman giving birth for the first time was a record high 25.2 years old (in 2006). If first-born children become parents at the same average age, 50 would be a normal age to become a grandmother.

Dave F. said...

I haven't said "too many words, cut by half" in a while. But before that, five of your thoughts begin with "She sat, wore, copied, signed, smiled" and that will grow boring by sameness after a few pages. You need some variation.

Sarah sat at her hand-me-down mahogany desk, the room dim, only a reading lamp casting a circle of light.
You said the same thing twice. The room is dark and there is only one light in the room making the room dark.

She wore a simple flowered dress, dowdy by today’s standards, that made her look more of a grandmother than her fifty-eight years would indicate.
Here you say five of the same things -- the dress is simple. She looks dowdy. She's a grandma. She's fifty-eight. And in a duplicative thought, in the next sentence we learn that Sarah is leaving something to her granddaughter.

She copied from one business sized sheet of paper to another a description of all of her personal possessions not listed in her will and who would receive them. Adding one item to the new sheet she wrote: The Chinese puzzle box and all of its contents to my granddaughter Katrina.
Why do we care about the size of paper? She added another possession (the Chinese box) to a list that is designed to provide inheritance and circumvent the law (not included in the formal estate). That's a lot of baggage for this sentence. I'm not sure you want that particular inference but since you chose to mention that this list is separate from the will, you put the thought in the reader's mind. This is usually done with a safe deposit box. A person buys a box in someone's name and puts a stash of valuables into it. Then when someone dies, the heir gets the key. I think that you need to bring the action of adding the Chinese Box to the list and Sarah's satisfaction together right here.

She signed and dated the paper, sealed it in an envelope, and put it where her daughter knew to look when the time came. The old sheet went through the paper shredder next to her desk.
Signed, sealed, hid and old cop shredded. There's nothing wrong with this sentence other than it can be removed and no one would know. These are words that don't advance the story.

She smiled warmly thinking of the secret she had never shared with anyone not even her Tom, rest his soul. After years of worrying what would happen after her passing, she had found the answer. Her stomach dropped a bit with adrenalin excitement. Katrina would find all the joy it had given her. Yes, this was the perfect decision.
And here is the action, the hook, the reason we might want to read on in the story. Sarah left something valuable to Katrina.

I would open with htis last paragraph... Sarah's thoughts and feelings. The dim room is contrast to her happy thoughts about giving the Chinese Box to Katrina and a mention of just why this box is so fantastic and wonderful. There has to be either great joy or hidden risk or both in both the Chinese Box and Sarah's thoughts. I don't know what is in the box but it better be the driving force behind the entire story.

~Aimee States said...

I was not excited about this at all. I get the impression she knows that she's going to croak sooner than later? If so, I would heighten the awareness of it. That's not exactly a relaxing idea, even for a person who has accepted it. Not a lot of warm smiling happens when a sane person contemplates their own death. Handing out possessions is not as joyful as you may imagine, when you consider the infighting a lot of families go through.

This really is a snoozer unless you give it some punch.

Steve Wright said...

The Chinese puzzle box may be interesting, but it's about the only thing in this intro that is ... the scene-setting stuff is clunky and unwieldy, cluttered with irrelevant over-information ("business sized sheet of paper"? Please.)

I'm not one of those people who thinks you have to start with slam-bang action - I'm happy enough with a low-key opening. But this one is so low-key, it's subsonic. I mean, it seems to me that the action of the story is going to start when Katrina inherits the puzzle box ... which, if the figures I have for life expectancy are correct, should be about twenty-two years from now. Kind of a long lead-in, I think.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I agree with Dave. The opening what's in the box? hook is good, but it's a little wordy.

Great continuations!

Anonymous said...

This opening did not do much for me either and I am not one to think every opening has to start out with a "wam-bam" let's get some action going.

(When I submitted my opening for minion and EE review, one response suggested I look at the opening pages of my favorite books. That was very helpful advice and I did exactly that. I even worked out in my head how some of the openings could have started with action when they did not. That was also a useful excercise to me. I did notice if action was not there in the first paragraphs it certainly showed up by page 3.)

I just don't care enough Sarah or her puzzle box to be interested. First, I thought 58 years old was too young to think about dying unless she knew she was dying and I wanted to know how and when.

Second, the object is described as invaluable to Sarah.

I disagree a little with Dave about what happens to family heirlooms because my family didn't do it like that. My mother and my grandmothers began to worry about what would happen to their "valuables" (like great-grandmother's wedding ring, which maybe is worth $100), only after they became ill and rather than writing down who got what, they made it a point to tell the person directly what they were suppose to get and then made another person responsible for making sure the right person got the right thing. No business size notebook needed - just guilt, and what an awesome way to pass on the work to someone else.

In addition, it has been my experience that whatever is the most valuable object to the person, like this box, is bequethed first not last.

My mom will decide and worries about who gets the ugly antique dime-store chamber pitcher that she loves (and would match no decor but her own and who all of her children abhor, especially since she constantly squealed in horror whenever we even looked in its direction apparently out of fear our mere glances could break the thing)before she'll even think who gets her brand new car.

Also - I wish the puzzle boxes would come from somewhere else but China. Why not Turkey, Germany, or Russia or Peru? I know that is nitpicky but please the world is bigger than China, Japan and the US.

vkw

Dave F. said...

I was a little harsh on inheritances, a touch off track.

My point should have been if this box opens the novel, then whatever is in the box is going to drive the novel.

batgirl said...

Wikipedia on puzzle boxes:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puzzle_box

suggests it should probably be a Japanese puzzle box. Though the only ones I've seen for sale have been in Chinatown shops, that may be specific to the Northwest Coast (of North America).

Eric P. said...

Lose some of the excess verbiage-- no need for "personal" possessions (as opposed to what? Impersonal ones?), or to say that the dress is simple and dowdy, or that the paper is business sized, etc. etc.

If it's that important that this box goes to the right person, why doesn't Sarah amend her will?

She already has a list, but she writes a copy of it, adds one line, and destroys the original? Why not just add the line to the original?

_*Rachel*_ said...

Wills can be interesting; they give insight into what people really value. But nothing much is happening here, besides description. And for a slow, descriptive opening to work, it has to have some zing to it. I'm reminded of a jillion Ray Bradbury stories that start with things like mowing the lawn, or children playing--that one with the children's game gave me chills. Or maybe that New Beginning however long ago that had a little kid deciding who gets what, including this magical game. Take it from somebody whose quiet openings have flopped, too: this is too slow.

Xiexie said...

*Echoes previous minion statements*

*Agrees that all openings need not be ACTION ACTION ACTION*

This opening just drags author. If the story isn't about Sarah -- I don't imagine it is. This is Katrina's story right? -- then maybe Sarah doesn't need this much airtime. Even if the story is about Sarah, this scene doesn't need this much airtime.

P.S. I have a Moroccan puzzle box that my ex-boyfriend's father sent me from Safi (a coastal city); so it wouldn't be so unusual if the puzzle box was something other than Japanese or Chinese. I don't have a problem with the box's origins, though.

Anonymous said...

Author here –

EE, your blog is my morning laugh. Thanks for your efforts.

Khazar-khum, great continuation.

Puzzle boxes were invented in Japan, but most Americans only know them from gift shops in Chinatown.

Dave thanks for taking the time to go through the opening in detail.

Many states allow a one page hand-written document listing items to be given to friends and family. The will needs to state that such a document exists. This seemed to confuse everyone and enlighten no one. Not a good way to start.

I’ve wondered why Lee Child can open with a guy having a cup of espresso. Yes he paints a picture in the mind’s eye a helluva lot better than me, but the reason seems to be that the scene is so simple that everyone gets it. So when new information is layered on top it stands out as important.

Inside the box is a fantasy element that drives the rest of the story. Sarah uses it in the next few pages, but I didn’t telegraph that in the opening.

Thanks for all the input. It is all helpful.

Joel G.

Anonymous said...

I’ve wondered why (insert famous author) can (insert the thing budding author wants to do)....

Listen up. What I'm about to say applies to everybody.

There are lots of reasons why author y can do x and you can't. And none of them do your writing a bit of good.

You have to options.


Option one. Moan about how unfair it is that you can't do x when famous author y does it. (lots of aspiring authors do this.)

Option two. Change until to people start to say your writing is good (lots of aspiring authors do this too.)

Only one makes you a better writer.

Anonymous said...

I’ve wondered why Lee Child can open with a guy having a cup of espresso...

But he doesn't really, does he? Let's look at his first couple of Reacher novels:

#1: I was arrested in Eno's diner. At twelve o'clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.

#2: Nathan Rubin died because he got brave. Not the sustained kind of thing which wins you a medal in a war, but the split-second kind of blurting outrage which gets you killed on the street.

What about more recent titles:

#13: Suicide bombers are easy to spot. They give out all kinds of tell-tale signs. Mostly because they’re nervous. By definition they’re all first-timers.

Those are pretty gripping openings, really, I think; in far less than 150 words...

_*Rachel*_ said...

The snarky Anon 1:22 says it well; good writing can make even the most boring of scenes exciting because, under the surface, something's happening. In the first, we want to know why he's arrested and why he was out all night in the rain. In the second, how Nathan died. In the third, why there's a suicide bomber around and what he's going to bomb. And, of course, more about a narrator who's seen more than one suicide bomber. For some reason, you usually don't see more than one suicide bomber in your life.

I think I need to go read those books now.

Anonymous said...

Also, Lee Child promises something big in his first line - an arrest, a death or a suicide bomber respectively. Because of that, the MC can tell me that he was having a cup of coffee before his world went to heck. The prose is tight and I've already been hooked. If you started describing the cafe and waited until the third paragraph to tell me that he was about to be arrested, I probably would complain about his sitting in the coffee shop drinking expresso. :)

Anyway, back to yours.

Wouldn't it be better just to start with Katrina getting the box? I'm not sure you need all the foreshadowing here.

But if you do, bring the last paragraph to the top and tell me (the reader) what's so special about it. If Sarah's "thinking of the secret she had never shared with anyone" she's going to be thinking:
"Oh my GOD. I wish I could see what Katrina's going to go with a genie sex slave. He's brought me so much pleasure. Humm, maybe I'm not too old to rattle the screen door." Mentioning the "secret" in Sarah's POV and then keeping it a secret is a problem for me.

On the Estate and Wills details, I understood but then I'm a lawyer in one of those places that a person can leave a separate list to dispose of personal property. Those legal details don't add to your narrative for this fantasy story. I'd need to know the details in a legal thriller where a central plot issue is whether Sarah wrote the note or if it was a forgery. Here it just seems to eat up line space.

Kathleen said...

hilarious continuation!

as to the opening: I like the writing, though I agree with the PP that 58 seems a reasonable age to be a grandmother. I also think that you need to rework it a bit, once she started copying from one paper to another I started to glaze over.

Also, I found "Her stomach dropped a bit with adrenalin excitement." to be a bit incongrous. Before she is calm and smiling warmly. Thinking about Katrina getting the box isn't a sudden thought, it's the whole point of what she's been doing in this scene.

Good luck!

BuffySquirrel said...

*ferrets around*

Where's the conflict?

Anonymous said...

Where's the conflict?

One post up.

enya said...

I’ve wondered why Lee Child can open with a guy having a cup of espresso.

Because it's Jack Reacher, and we ALL know he's about to start kicking some ass.