Friday, September 18, 2009

New Beginning 686

IF SHE HAD stopped to think about what she was getting into, Callie would have turned the job down flat.

She looked up at the island while the wallowing ferry that carried her and half-a-dozen other commuters docked at its weathered pier. Short, rough cliffs and jagged rock prevented docking anywhere but under the dead eyes of long-deserted watchtowers.

Both crew and passengers had hoods pulled up close to protect their faces from the lashing rain; Callie suppressed a shiver as she looked at the bent, shuttered figures; they looked more like ushers on the river Styx than human workers on their way to a bedraggled historic landmark.

The sudden burst of bad weather brought dark clouds with it, and they still hovered as the rain sputtered to a stop; it was early spring just off the Pacific coast of the United States, but it felt more like one of December's wrenching storms. Everything - trees, straggling leafless shrubs and dilapidated buildings - looked beaten down and hopeless. Callie wore a rain slicker that had long since given up on keeping out the lashing rain and the salt spray of the roiling ocean. The optimism she had felt about the project in her sunny office overlooking Coos Bay was nowhere to be found at the moment.

They docked, and one of the hardy few already on land, face hidden by the dim light and the hood of his rain slicker, turned and offered her a callused hand as she scrambled up the slick ramp onto the dock.

Callie followed the crowd as far as the courtyard before she paused, surrendering to the lashing rain as it whipped her face and neck—a punishment, she was beginning to realize, she heartily deserved.

It was worse than she thought. A total disaster. She could see that now. Even the smell of hazelnut wafting through the moldy corridors and rusted barbed wire couldn’t console her.

Her company had finally done it, crossed some invisible threshold into the darkest depths of festering soulless depravity. That it had been her idea made it all the more depressing, but, like the relentless lashing rain, she could deny it no more: a Starbucks on Alcatraz was a shitty idea.

Opening: Debhoag.....Continuation: Blogless_Troll


_*Rachel*_ said...

I love that first line; it really gets my attention.

After the first line, unfortunately, it feels flat. Not that it isn't nice to know the scene, the weather, that sort of thing, but you've lost the tension of the first line. We want to know what she's getting into, and why she'd have turned it down. Prune it down to something less flowery and more exciting. Oh, and I like the Styx allusion. Keep it.

I'd rewrite it as something like:

If she had stopped to think about what she was getting into, Callie would have turned the job down flat.

But here she was, trying to stay dry as the ferrymen, like ushers on the river Styx, brought the boat safely to the dock of the most depressing island in the world.

Evil Editor said...

Get rid of the long paragraph. If there's anything in it you can't do without, slip it into one of the other paragraphs.

Matthew said...

I liked it. I don't need the action to start right away if the author does a good job of immersing me.

I don't see the need for capitalizing the first three words.

iago said...

Rather a lot of adjectives, I thought. They start to slow things down a tad. I think the scene is set, so I'm anxious for something to start happening.

Inspired continuation.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I thought the paragraph that started "The sudden burst of bad weather ..." Sort of took away from the beginning; If such bad weather at this time of the year is rare, why does it mean that her decision to work on this project is bad? If you mean she's taking it as a bad omen, it's not clear...

Liked it, otherwise. :)

Dave F. said...

You are saying things twice. That's OK if you are writing certain types of fiction but not helpful to action.

For instance, what if the first paragraph was one sentence like this:
Callie looked at rough cliffs and jagged rocks while the ferry docked at the weathered pier. Long dead eyes of deserted watchtowers watched them.

And why not merge the third paragraph onto it like this:
She suppressed a shiver as she regarded at the bent, hooded figures; they looked more like ushers on the river Styx than human workers on their way to a rundown historic landmark.

I chose rundown over bedraggled because the latter seemed too Scooby Doo and not serious drama or mystery. And I moved the hoods idea by replacing shuttered with hoods. "Shuttered hoods" made me see Venetian blinds in front of people's faces.

I agree with EE on that long paragraph. Nice writing but not essential. The last paragraph is more than what I would write but it works. Something like these revisions brings the reader a bit closer to the action.

Or even maybe this idea as the second paragraph:
While the ferry docked at the weathered pier, Callie looked at rough cliffs and jagged rocks towering above. Long dead eyes watched them from deserted watchtowers. She suppressed a shiver and contemplated the bent, hooded figures traveling with her; they looked more like ushers on the river Styx than human workers on their way to a rundown historic landmark.

It keeps the spookiness and foreboding I think you want. I like the atmospherics of this -- doom and gloom. (psat script - I soured on the word regarded and replaced it with contemplated.)

~Aimee States said...

It's decent. Yes, way too many adjectives, and they're common ones. I noticed "lashing rain" twice, and I don't want to notice THAT when I'm reading. I agree with dumping the big paragraph.

Dave F. said...

My cryptic "too many words" and "you're saying things twice" always give me heartburn when I have to write them.

I took two sentences from my writing for explanation. I have a bad tendency to write stuff like this:
He felt his heart beating wildly. The reproach hung like smoke from a old, ugly pipe and in the silence his heart pounded out guilt and anger, a tattoo of shame and desire.

It takes me a revision or two to find these things that I call "stuff." Why because although there is nothing wrong with either sentences, together they say the same thing. It's not what you normally call redundant but it is repetitive.

The big question is do we want to emphasize the emotional impact by presenting it twice?

The next question is "is one of these inherently better than the other?" And the answer is not obvious. It's like delivering the punchline to a joke. It's all timing. The long and smoky sentence might be the long sentence in a series of short, clipped and rapid sentences. On the other hand, the short sentence might be a punctuation mark to something longer and contemplative, signaling a change in action or character changing his/her mind.

That's the context I usually see "too many words."

BTW - I revise these when I revise a story to sharpen the characters. That's why it might not be the first revision. I take each character separately.

BTW2 - I write in twos too much. Guilt and Anger, Shame and Desire, ... These I search out after I have a complete story, defined characters and I'm on my polishing, read-out-loud revision.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, here I am, sitting on a frickin' chilly island off said coast, wondering eh? Where's this supposed to be? Imaginaryland just offshore from the Forks of recent vampiric renown? Who comes north from Coos Bay with a crap slicker because they don't know it rains an inch every three days? I'm skeptical. Some bimbo from LA, yes, they're clueless, but anybody from Coos Bay would know about the rain. But the author seems to think Coos Bay is a sunny kind of place. So maybe the reason we get told it's on the Pacific Coast of the USA [a description you'd maybe use if you were in France, but not here] because she's far away and needs to do a bit more research.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, and mostly our trees don't lose their leaves, either. Plus if it was a December-like storm, you wouldn't actually see much through the mist. So I'm really wondering whether the author has ever been here.

Xiexie said...

This lost focus for me. The long paragraph and the adjectives are the culprits.

In the beginning, I'm wondering what Callie was getting into, but then that is lost until the last two sentences of the long paragraph. Some pruning is in order; I want to get to whatever this job is a bit sooner.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the shrubs you'd see on a west coast rocky sea cliff habitat don't lose their leaves, either. In fact, frost at sea level is rare here, so the vegetation would all be looking rather mossy and green, and in early spring the wildflowers bloom. December storms are more like five day affairs, than bursts. We once had a spring with 45 days in a row with no sunshine. Hence the abundance of albinos and vampires.

This description sounds more like New England. Maybe you should just call it Maine.

BuffySquirrel said...

Lol, my reaction was exactly the opposite of Rachel's; every time I look at that first line, I stop reading. It's such a cliche.

Dave F. said...

We once had a spring with 45 days in a row with no sunshine.

Gee Whizzies whoever you are...
You need a good strong drink, a double even, maybe. I hope this was as cathartic for you as it was for me!

Anonymous said...

The writing is good, but by the second sentence my mind had drifted to other things.

There are two parts to writing. One is writing well. You've shown us you can do that.

The second part is the ability to tell the story in a way that makes people want to stop what they're doing to read it.

I agree, you don't have to have action, but this story falls short because nothing happnes. We have two hundred and fifty words spent on describing the ferries approach- we don't even get to the dock.

And for me, even the first sentence isn't all that interesting. The only reason I paid attention was the capitalization. It also set an expectation for me- this writers aggressive or going to do something interesting. The text that followed isn't.

My whole first novel read like this. It wasn't until I'd written two books that I could see why it was boring. The skill you need won't come from rewriting this to comes from writing a lot of things. You should write something else and come back to this.

Stick and Move said...

Everything has pretty much been said. Good writing, just a little too much of it. The continuation, however, was full on brilliant.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Exactly what Stick and Move said.

Robin S. said...

That continuation was absolutely what stick and move said - full on brillient.

debhoag said...

Hey, everybody!

My apologies for not showing up earlier - I've been horribly sick (better now) and missed when this was originally posted.

All comments received with appreciation - thanks for your time. And you Coos Bay folks - could I pick your brain for some local details? Sounds like i picked a site too far south, but for the very reasons mentioned, didn't want to go too far up the coast.