Monday, December 07, 2009

New Beginning 710 (Chapter opening)

There were no screens on the long windows in the old houses on Third Street, and mostly no curtains either, but only wavy panes of old glass, or new thinner glass where any wavy panes had been cracked or broken. As the weather got warmer, the windows stayed open, even in the backs of the houses by the fire escapes, like no one believed anyone would ever want to climb inside to do them harm.

The houses were all the same, lined up one side and down the other on the street; and if you stood out in the front yard just right and looked down the sidewalk and squinted your eyes, they looked like they ran on forever, one after the other in an unbroken long line; and standing in the center of them all, you could make yourself feel a good dizziness, imagining you'd been painted into a picture on perspective.

The houses had rounded corner parapet rooms on the right hand sides up their three stories; and the houses were built of thick red brick with a solid, standing-forever look to them. They’d had a strength, a staunch standoff grandeur to them a long time ago, but that was long gone. You felt the distant pulse of the place if you lived there, because you felt it missing.

Now the houses had been sliced and diced inside; reconfigured into small apartments of one room or two; tall-ceilinged warrens to hide away in, rented to students and bartenders and waitresses and to other people nobody seemed to know about.

You could see into people’s lives at night from the sidewalks out front, if they had their lights on and they walked near their windows.

The floors were stripped to bare wood...

Hmm? Not this one either?

Well, no worries, Mister McWilliams. We're a large firm, I'm sure something in our listings will suit you. Ah, here's a condo on Langdon. Ahem...

The stark whiteness of the post modern building stood out against the blue sky like a splat of seagull poop floating on a serene ocean--

Hey! Where're you going!?

Opening: Robin S......Continuation: Sarah from Hawthorne


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

The streetlights in front were all the same. They just stood there. You could easily get on top of them using some heavy-weave straps and rubber gloves. Like no one believed anyone would ever want to climb up there and look inside the dark apartments through a pair of night vision goggles.

“So as you can see, Officer, it really wasn’t me who was doing anything wrong here. The city architects are the ones you should be talking to.”


...That was the first time I saw you naked.

Want to see the pictures?


Evil Editor said...

I'd shorten this. Even if nothing exciting is about to happen, that I want you to get to faster, I'd enjoy it more if you got rid of:

P1: but only wavy panes of old glass, or new thinner glass where any wavy panes had been cracked or broken.

P2: lined up one side and down the other on the street

, imagining you'd been painted into a picture on perspective.

P3: , but that was long gone.

P4: 2nd "to"

In "You felt the distant pulse of the place if you lived there, because you felt it missing." is "it" the grandeur? I thought it was the pulse first time through. Maybe it's clearer as one sentence:

They’d had a strength, a staunch standoff grandeur to them a long time ago; you felt the distant pulse of the place if you lived there, because you felt that missing.

fairyhedgehog said...

A couple of disclaimers: I tend not to read literary fiction and I always find chapter openings harder to critique than book openings, because a real reader would have so much more background.

The first thing that struck me was the absence of any people in this section. I wondered which of the details were important to the story.

In the first paragraph I'd remove "or new or thinner glass where any wavy panes had been cracked or broken". I rather like the first mention of wavy panes of old glass. I didn't quite see why it mattered that open windows were near fire escapes but I don't think UK houses usually have fire escapes.

I find it hard to imagine myself in a picture on perspective. I saw it more as mirrors facing each other.

I didn't understand the last line of paragraph three.

I like the last sentence. It feels like we're going to find out about some of the characters now and there's a sense of threat about it that makes me wonder what's going on.

Anonymous said...

There is way too much setting for me. I think it's written well, but I have a tendency to skim if there's too much time devoted to describing things for me.

Anonymous said...

This might work really well in its context but on its own like this we're disoriented and don't know whose point of view this is or why these details matter and instead of being excited to dwell on this descriptive passage with the author, I, for one, am skimming for information that would orient me to the who what when whatfor of your story.

So I guess the only advise I can give is to use this after the reader has been introduced to the story, don't start with it.

Dave F. said...

I think you got four nice openings here but not one. Each paragraph is about "The old houses on Third Street" and you could begin each paragraph that way (much like the first paragraph). IT might make a nice stylistic touch to begin four chapter with the statement about the house but all together, it's too much description all at once.

Let's say you were writing a murder mystery. The first paragraph could be the opening.

If you were writing about a young couple moving into an old house that's haunted, you could use the second paragraph.

Or if it is a historical drama, the third.

Or if it is about something like "In The Heights" (a musical) try houses divided into small tenements (paragraph 4).

Or just combine the best of all four paragraphs.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes reading these openings here can color the perception because you know there is a punchline coming, and you wait for it. So you're reading with a view towards the humor to come. Particularly with a more descriptive piece like this.

But if you stop and picture it in a book... the writing here is lovely. And vivid. You can see the houses, picture them, and get a feeling for the kind of neighborhood this has become.

I can see the argument for shortening it a bit, but I wouldn't slice and dice it like the houses. You're telling us something here, painting a picture and I'm interested in the detail. I do want to know whose pov I'm seeing this through, but overall I think it's well-written.

Bernita said...

I'm with Anon 3:21.

Robin S. said...

They’d had a strength, a staunch standoff grandeur to them a long time ago; you felt the distant pulse of the place if you lived there, because you felt that missing.

Thanks, EE. I like this way much better than the way I said it.

Thanks, anon 3:21 and Bernita (Hi, Bernita, I'm so happy to see you!!!) This is a chapter at the place, roughly two-thirds of the way through the novel, where the narrator, a young woman in her twenties, has spent a year keeping to herself, working through some decently bad recovered memories, and a few other things, and she's coming out from under this and other things, and starting to look around. She's moved to a different part of town and she's working to change her life - and it won't be instant gratification like the movies. The pov is first person, even though it doesn't seem like it here, because the narrator has backed away from interaction, and is content, for a while, to be a quiet observer.

This chapter is the beginning of the end of the novel. (I sent it in because EE was down to one opening, and when I see that, I send something in.)

Dave, I see what you mean, and I'd agree, except for the place this lies in my novel. It isn't the beginning of the novel - if it was, I'd absolutely agree with you - this would need to be pared down.

Hi FH,

The absence of people you noticed (and it's great that you noticed, because that's part of what's happening) is the thing I mentioned before. The narrator has been with people and been with people and now, she's decided to be a watcher for a while. Cool that you saw that, and said something.

Anyway, I appreciate the comments, you all, and that continuation was a good one!

_*Rachel*_ said...

I like most of the second paragraph, but the first and third feel like overwriting to me.

I really like that wavy glass, though. It implies a lot.

Dave F. said...

I understand where your story is and what this opening means.

WOuld it be possible to describe a house to match your character?

Like a neighborhood of houses under construction for a living with parents.

Or unoccupied new houses when she is just setting out.

Or a burnt out shell for those nasty recovered memories.

It's only thirty to fifty words a few times in the novel but they could make the character a bit richer.

It's also the type of thing you add in after the first edit when you want to flesh out the characters.

Just a suggestion.

Anonymous said...

"As the weather got warmer, the windows stayed open, even in the backs of the houses by the fire escapes, like no one believed anyone would ever want to climb inside to do them harm."


The windows stayed open when the weather was warm because the people of third street weren't afraid.


There are hints of things that make me want to like this, but the narrator is so intent on their ability to string words and give description the story has been left behind. Are the windows central to the story? How? Is someone going create fear in a fearless neighborhood? That's why I wrote "They weren't afraid."

Description needs to tell the reader something. Good writers use setting to "set up." I don't get the impression any of this is important beyond the "lovely words." Pick out description that is central to the story or theme of the story,then use it to foreshadow. I quit carrying about this after the sentence with the window panes.

Yes I get that this is supposed to be literary, however it seems to me that classification is applied way to often. Just because the writing is "good," outside of being long winded and pompous, doesn't make it "literary."

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin:

I do have one observation/question. Is this story more of the character's remembrances, or are we living the story with her in close to real time?

I ask because of the "As the weather got warmer" line. This implies that the narrator is telling the story several months in the future of what's actually taking place on the page now, in this scene.

Is it OK that your narrator lives that far in the future that she can look back on this scene over a few seasons?

Whirlochre said...

Chiming along with the minions who got here before me, there are some good individual paragraphs here, all of which convey a clear mood — but you have to be selective.

One indicator of this need to cut lies in the first paragraph, with repetitions of words such as 'old' and 'wavy'.

I've no idea what follows, but if you wanted to keep some of the detail, maybe it could be woven into the main body of the text. Failing that, paras 2-4 could be merged together somehow, like a Vulcan mind-meld-menage-a-trois kind of thing.

And as for the missing person criticism noted in the comments above, para 5 covers that better than the others.

That said — I enjoyed this.

McKoala said...

Beautiful description.

Could you cut down on the repetition of 'the houses'? It jumped out at me; perhaps because two paragraphs started with it, and then I guess I was on the alert! Also there was a repetition of 'old' in the first line. Gee, I'm getting anal in my old age.

I found it slightly odd when the piece jumped from the outside to the inside? Why? Hm, probably because it seemed like the narrator was an outsider looking in, then, suddenly she had the omniscience to look in every house.

Robin S. said...

Hi anon 11:26 pm,

The narrator is looking back on what happened, kind of a 'remembrance of things past'; she has serially compartmentalized events in her life and only recently has begun to look at them in total, and put things together.

Hi anon 9:41 pm,

This was a first draft of a chapter many, many pages into my novel; I hadn't seen it in close to a year, so I'm glad to have fresh eyes take a look.

The thing is, if a person writes only for quick comprehension, without underlying meaning, that's the kind of writing that bores me.
Bluntly, I don't see this as 'long-winded and pompous', although I do agree as EE pointed out, some tightening would help.

In his excellent way, he tightened it, clarified meaning, but kept the word use and the flow intact.

Some of what's recently been called 'literary fiction' is a navel-gazing waste of time - you'll get no argument from me about that. But I don't categorize that fiction as literary, because I don't see it as well-written.

Robin S. said...

Hey McK,

I see what you mean about 'the houses'. I noticed that on para three when I read over before I popped it to EE. I agree I need to smooth those last houses mentions - I liked the rhythm of it in the first two paragraphs, but by the third, it was getting old.

Hi Whirl,

I see what you mean, and I think between changing the wording as EE mentioned, on that one section, and reworking to remove the 'houses' reps after the second para should smooth out pretty well.


Anonymous said...

As I read, I was thinking: I would use a semi-colon after either and get rid of the butand then I figured it was a style thing and read on. I did not become impatient for action, and I tried (& succeeded in)absorbing the ambiance of the locale as described. So I was in a pretty mellow mood by the end of the black words (note: EE's comment about the "it missing" line, as I "misread" it that way too) and ready to find out how the setting would affect the MC and/or action. Agee completely with EE's edits and McK's observation on "The houses" repeat. Overall, I thought it well written and like-able before I ever got to the author credit. Hi Robin!