Monday, May 09, 2011

New Beginning 855

Dear Diary,

We geeks are supposed to be exempt from adolescent hormones, but what happened today at the swim meet shot that theory to pieces. Three words: James Carlos. Speedos.

Three more words: Hot. Hot. HOT.

He was limbering-up by the side of the pool. My eyes only moved away from those tanned shoulders to check out the tightly wrapped buns. Did I mention he was hot?

I was so busy processing every nuance of those perfectly toned glutes that I happened to miss a subtle feature of the landscape. The diving platform. Yep, I walked straight into the pylon, and next thing I knew, I was flat on my back.

I picked myself up as if I’d meant to drive my head into a concrete pillar – did it every day. I’m cool, I’m ok. Only the whole school saw. Charli and Cass ran to me, giggling, but I brushed them off. To change the subject, I pointed at James.

No, it hadn’t been my imagination. My loquacious friends temporarily lost their syntax. Their eyeballs would have dropped to the ground too, if they hadn’t been fastened by the optic nerve.

We pretended to take pix of each other whilst subtly framing James in each shot. But those revolting Scali twins caught-on. They kindly shielded him and dropped their shorts for our benefit.

So in addition to a throbbing haematoma on my forehead, I now have the image of those two scrawny, pimply derrieres etched into my visual cortex.

Unlike my phone, there’s no delete function.

* * *

Evil Editor gathered up the pages and fed them through the shredder.
She's wrong, he thought. There's a delete function for everything.

Opening: anonymous.....Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Not sure why Speedo is pluralized. How many Speedos is he wearing?

The whole school? At a swim meet? That'll be the day.

I like the voice and it's a funny intro to the character. I think if you want to mix present tense with past (I now have a haematoma...) you could just start each section or chapter with a date rather than Dear diary. This would give you freedom to be more detailed at times than a teenager would ever be in a diary.

Xenith said...

Speedo is the brand, Speedos are the item.

Is this alternating in manner of speech deliberate? Because it's very distracting.

I don't think diary (or letter) formats are very desirable either, although that might be different with novels.

More engaging than most teenage-orientated openings I've read though.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Confusing. I assumed at first the narrator was male, and gay, because every woman I've ever discussed the topic with agrees that Speedos are icky. (I think I read a survey somewhere, too, that said the same. We're talking about those bikini panties which provide a clear outline of the gentleman's not-so-private parts, right?)

But then girls come along and agree with the narrator. So maybe today's kids are different. Okay.

The first sentence lost me. Does anyone start a diary entry "Dear Diary"? Let that pass, though. I've never heard that geeks ("We geeks" is an info dump, and info dumps in the first sentence are tragic) were supposed to be immune from adolescent hormones. Quite the opposite.

suze said...

The tone isn't bad and I don't mind the diary format, but it sounds like the narrator's trying way too hard to sound smart. e.g., "My loquacious friends lost their syntax"? Phrases like this make the narrator sound tiresome and pretentious, not relatably geeky and awkward. There's a fine line between the two.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Having been on the swim team in high school, I can attest to the fact that not all high school girls find Speedos icky. Especially if the boy wearing them is, how should I say, a hottie. Heh.

I mostly had trouble with the switching up of the language used throughout. The diction feels elevated in places and slang-y in others. The juxtaposition of "pix" with "whilst" particularly threw me. "My loquacious friends temporarily lost their syntax" didn't feel quite in line with the rest to me.

Overall, though, I think the voice is well done. It's fine to have an intelligent and verbose narrator, but make sure each line fits in the overall voice of the piece and isn't trying too hard to be over-intelligently clever. Also, if this character speaks this way in the opening, make sure there's a reason for it (clearly a geek, so I assume very well-read or up on their SAT words) and that they continue to speak in the same way throughout the work. It irritates me to read a teen narrator who speaks casually throughout the bulk of the work only to throw in words like "odoriferous" out of the blue.

But, again, still a strong voice. Kudos!

Anonymous said...

I liked it. Establishes a voice with definite personality and issues for the plot. Would definitely lead on. Seems more like college freshman than high school, but what do I know...

150 said...

Well, it sure SOUNDS authentic, as it is my experience that smart kids in high school like to use long words to sound smart without realizing that those words are relatively long and obscure because they convey a specific meaning that people usually don't need. "Syntax", for example: "rules of sentence structure", not "powers of speech" or whatever you meant there, and the eye is held in place by more than an optic nerve. If that's your goal, great. There's a long literary tradition of characters not using English quite right. If you want the character to come across as actual-smart instead of acting-smart, try to make sure your word choices are impressively incisive rather than impressively impressive.

That said, I'd keep reading for a while. This opening seems to be going somewhere.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm not fond of this opening as it is. As teen angst goes, this isn't working for me.

Several words strike me as not-teenager. a) nuance, loquacious, "lost their syntax", haematoma, and the absolute buzzkill - whilst. Sorry to be language "sexist" but that last one just "STOPS!!!!" me from reading any further in any book. Cope with it. When you write about a high school with a big swimming pool in the USA then everyone sees their own HS gym of pool. "Whilst" short circuits that image as the reader tries to see someting else.
More to the point, She's more likely to say "We pretended to take pictures of each other keeping James in the background." than what was said.

This apparently is the first time this nerd-girl has been to a swim meet or watched swimming and diving on TV. The swimmers all wear Speedos and they are all "almost naked." And almost all teenage boys with no fat from swimming hard at practice look muscular. Most look scrawny, Think Davey Jones sunken chest. Who cares. Most athletic boys at 14, 15, or 16 are scrawny and giraffe-like.

The same goes true for high school wrestling which has big muscles and tight singlets and "bulges" if you look. But who looks and who cares? Apparently the nerd-girl never watched wrestling, either. How can she be so obsessed with male bodies and not near sporting events? This is written like the first time she realized some boys have cute butts, hot bods and ample reason to wear jockstraps.

To me, this reads as adult trying to be teenage girl. It doesn't read as girlish. Sorry about that.

Evil Editor said...

Alan Bradley's character Flavia de Luce uses vocabulary well beyond her eleven years. And she's one of my favorite characters.

Add to that the fact that this character is writing in a diary, not having a conversation. In theory, she doesn't expect what she writes to be read by anyone except herself, so she can say anything and use any words she wants.

batgirl said...

Does no one here remember the Buffy episode where Xander is first seen in his swimsuit? I think it's usually referred to as the Speedo episode. And nobody was going ick.

Dave, what I got from this intro was that it was the first time the narrator had been _struck_ by hormones, and it was not 'boys in speedos' but _this_ boy in _this_ speedo that had kicked the hormones into gear.
It read okay as a teenage girl to me, granting that it's been a considerable time since I was a teenage girl.

Bill said...

I like this opening. The voice of the Main Character is engaging and funny and it seems the story is going somewhere. I do not have a problem with the language at all, mixing “pix” and “whilst” in a sentence gives me an idea of the character. It makes me think of the kids I have known that are well read and use the things they learn in humorous or sarcastic ways in their speech and writing.

I never thought I would like “Diary” type books but after reading “Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk and JL Bourne’s “Day by Day Armageddon.” I changed my mind.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Mm. In theory, sure. But this isn't an actual diary, it's being written for an audience. And since several people said the word choice was a problem from them, I'm guessing the word choice is a problem.

I didn't notice the word choice because I was too busy trying to figure out if the speaker was a boy or a girl, and wondering if you would really fall flat on your back as a result of walking into a diving board. If the writer's looking for an appropriate embarrassing accident in that situation, falling into the pool fully dressed seems more likely and funnier.

BuffySquirrel said...

Maybe it is the first time she's consciously noticed. There has to be a first time for everyone.

I'm totally putting Whilst on every page of the third book in my trilogy!

Anonymous said...

If the writer's looking for an appropriate embarrassing accident in that situation, falling into the pool fully dressed seems more likely and funnier.

Because, of course, people do wander around the poolside fully dressed at a swim meet...

Evil Editor said...

She didn't walk into a diving board, it was the big support with the ladder you climb to the high diving board.

I'm sure there are people who complain that Stewie Griffin uses vocabulary a baby wouldn't use. It doesn't mean there's a problem with the writers, it means the viewer needs a sense of humor.

Julia B said...

You can really tell an Aussie writer!

EE - "The whole school? At a swim meet? That'll be the day."

We don't have swim meets as such. We have swimming carnivals, the whole school goes to the pool for the day and there are races for each age group. Pretty much everyone swims in at least one race, even if it's only backstroke.

I agree with a lot of the comments above. It was interesting, but the conscious choice of overly academic language, coupled with the "Dear Diary" opener, really ruined my suspension of disbelief. I couldn't see this as a teenager's diary. The problem with diaries is either you write like no-one's reading (which is sometimes tedious, sometimes soul-searing, sometimes embarrasing) or you write for a reader and you lose a lot of the spontaneity.

alaskaravenclaw said...

I have a sense of humor, albeit no idea who Stewie whatsis is. But this didn't seem funny to me at all.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

I have a feeling this isn't set in the USA, Dave. And I have a feeling "whilst" is an appropriate word choice where it is set and for the audience intended. If this opening is by the author I think it's by.


Dave Fragments said...

We don't have several things in front of us when reading these openings that the reader of a book might have.

There is no title.
There is no jacket blurb or front leaf synopsis.
There isn't a bookstore hanging around that encloses a book.
There aren't Amazon reviews or categories.

There are a few single word cures to the problems in this opening.

The insertion in P2 of "first" like this: at the first swim meet

In P6, you could say I pointed to James standing outside the locker room waiting for the rest of the team.

And you could put the Scali twins on an opposing swim team if they never show up again.

I might also open P2 with "Geeky girls are supposed..." instead of "We geeks"...

I might still have troubles with the other stuff I mentioned but at least I know the narrator is a girl and she hasn't suddenly become sexualized in a day or two. This is a new sports season and she's seeing him through new hormonally driven eyes. As a reader I would be listening to your narrator rather than trying to figure out who, what and why.

Dave Fragments said...

"Weltanschauung" - I had to think about that for a moment.

If, as Julia B says, this is an Australian school, then the writer might be well served to describe that scene with the same or more enthusiasm as Julia has... The opning needs a touch more color (or should I say colour).

Let me explain it this way. If I said there was a movie on Cable TV about a rugby game would anyone in the USA watch? Chances are very few people would. When I say it's about the Springboks, Mandela and the championship rugby match, lots of people might want to watch. (Invictus). The difference is about 8 words.

In many parts of the USA the sport is football. In Europe and other parts of the world, Soccer. Regardless, the point is that this lack the type of dressing and location the story needs to work well is hurting the opening. At least that's my opinion.

And I still dislike "whilst" as too formal, pretentious, elite and effete for a teenage girl who had only just discovered boy's bodies.

Evil Editor said...

This didn't seem funny to me at all.

WHAT?! Let's break it down.

P1: James Carlos. Speedos. If you don't think that's funny, you've never seen James Carlos. But of course you haven't. Try this: Peter Griffin. Speedos.

P2: Hot. Hot. HOT. Note that the third hot is all caps. That's sort of like The third hot being on fire, which would be funnier, but blogger doesn't support flaming words.

P3: Tightly wrapped buns. Buns are always funny, no matter how they're wrapped, especially to a fourteen year old, which is the audience for this book.

P4: Calling the diving platform, which is approximately the size of a cell phone microwave tower, a subtle feature of the landscape is the height of sarcasm. And then there's the slapstick scene of walking into the platform while scoping out James's abs. Also, at first I read pylon as python, which is pretty hilarious.

P5: The way she acts like she walks into massive structures all the time. It's like when a cat falls on it's ass and then acts like nothing happened even though everyone's laughing at it's clumsiness.

P6: Using the word loquacious in her diary, which isn't even a word, just to see how many people she can get to look it up in the dictionary. Plus the image of eyeballs dropping on the ground and bouncing around like Superballs.

P7: The revolting Scali twins. I mean revolting people aren't necessarily funny, but when they're twins? Twins are always funny, especially when they're revolting

P8: scrawny pimply derrieres etched into my visual cortex. Even funnier than tightly wrapped buns.

P9: The idea of lamenting the lack of a delete function for her visual cortex because she can't stop visualizing the derrieres of revolting twins? That's comic gold, even if you're not fourteen.

ril said...

Tears are rolling down my cheeks right now!

BuffySquirrel said...

Yeah, totally rewrite the whole thing to make Dave happy. He's your market.

A lot of us non-US authors come here because there are few other places to go, and because we love EE of course. Generally speaking, we don't come here to be told how to write for the US readership. We already pretty much know how charmingly parochial it is.

MC said...

I read tons of YA and this fits in perfectly. The humor is spot on and the voice charming.
Why can't it just be a story and not a diary?
Whatever it is, it's engaging, easy to visualize and would keep me reading for sure.
Good job!

batgirl said...

May I just point out that 'whilst' and 'amongst' are UK and (probably) Australian vernacular? The words may sound poncey and toffee-nosed to Americans, but to Commonwealth readers they are just as ordinary as 'while' and 'among' are to USians.

(Insert here standard-issue non-USian rant against blinkered cultural imperialism of Americans)

Sylvia said...

I've taken to using whilst as well which is somewhat embarrassing, really. But it's a useful word.

Having said that, I do think a teenager would write it but not say it. So for me, it is a defining factor of how the story is being framed (the narrator is writing this somewhere). Not a big deal but I thought I'd flag that.

And Speedos can definitely be sexy!

Sylvia said...

(and having caught up with the rest of the comments)

Buffy Squirrel, I think I love you.

Chelsea P. said...

I liked it. I didn't have an issue with the word choice and I read YA quite often. I prefer smarter than average characters to those who, like, um, totally . . . you know, talk like this.

(I'm sure there's a happy medium. Just adding my two cents.)

EE, I love that you used Flavia de Luce and Stewie Griffin at alternate times to make your point.