Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Beginning 869

Clotilde clutched the dead man's wallet as if it could save her. She shoved her way through the slow-moving commuters with a single focus: get to the river. She should never have risked the Tube, never allowed herself to become surrounded by people. Tears pricked her eyes as she thought of home with its plentiful dark streams trickling through the wooded glen. A soft moan gathered in her throat. She swallowed and ran up the stairs, hoping desperately that she was moving away and not towards. Finsbury Park station seemed to be a maze of bright white tunnels and stairwells. Hard-edged people whirled around her in a blur. She stumbled against the soft give of leather shoes underneath her feet as she pushed her way up and out, searching for the exit. A ticket inspector stepped forward then looked at her face and waved her on. She burst through the brightly-lit corridor and bolted out, her hand at her throat.

As her eyes adjusted to the bright daylight, Clotilde looked around to get her bearings. People thronged around her, unaware of who she was or what she was doing, all except one: observing, judging, filming her every move.

But Clotilde hadn't prepared for the task at hand, and her mistake was such a basic one: Finsbury Park was miles from the river. Could she hope get there ahead of the others? Sick to her stomach, she was sure of only one thing: The Amazing Race was getting more brutal with each passing year.


Opening: Sylvia.....Continuation: anon.

23 comments:

Evil Editor said...

I like the first 2.5 sentences, but at that point I feel we've been hit with enough mysteries. Who is the dead man? Why does Clotilde have his wallet? Why does she want to reach the river? But the questions keep coming. Why is she thinking about plentiful streams in a wooded glen in this tense situation? Moving away and not towards what? Would she really have to search to find the exit? Why is a ticket inspector checking people leaving the Tube? Who is named Clotilde?

In parts it sounds like a terrorist attack has happened or been threatened and only Clo knows about it.

I think you can cut some of this and keep the sense of urgency. Something like:


Clotilde clutched the dead man's wallet as if it could save her. She shoved her way through the slow-moving commuters with a single focus: get to the river. Hard-edged people whirled around her in a blur. She should never have risked the Tube. A ticket inspector stepped forward, looked at her face and waved her on. She burst through a brightly-lit corridor and bolted out, her hand at her throat.

This version, like the original, doesn't have her going up and stairs, which I assume is the way out of the Tube, but perhaps not at this station?

BuffySquirrel said...

Tube fares are based on zones. Once you get on a Tube train you can travel the entire network without ever going through another ticket barrier. So you have to be checked as you leave in case you've travelled to zone six on a zone one ticket.

Mostly it's done by machines. Ticket inspectors tend to gather by the wide gates that are for people with lots of luggage.

(more than you ever wanted to know about the Tube, right, EE? XD)

Anonymous said...

If she has a single focus, to get to the river, then why is she also hoping desperately that she was moving away, not towards? And if she's also thinking of home, well, her singular focus is getting rather pluralistic.

Finsbury Park is not all that close to the river. Maybe you knew that...

Can people be "hard-edged" if they are in a blur? Aren't blurs by definition soft-edged?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous and EE are right (and I assume Buffy Squirrel is right; that's similar to the way the DC Metro works, only without humans). The comments all point to the same thing-- this paragraph does not create the suspense it's trying to create.

It's too long.

Too many distractions.

It would work better as:

Clotilde clutched the dead man's wallet. She shoved her way through the commuters; she had to get to the river. She should never have risked the Tube, never allowed herself to become surrounded by people.

Tears pricked her eyes. Finsbury Park station was a maze of bright white tunnels and stairwells. Hard-edged people whirled around her in a blur. She stumbled as she pushed her way up the stairs, searching for the exit. A ticket inspector looked at her face and waved her on. She bolted out.


Admittedly, that's a bit messy, but it takes out the extraneous description that's slowing things down. (The paragraph break is to rest the reader's eyes.)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

PS-- I assume she's leaving the Tube although still far from the river because she should never have gotten on it, quod vide. She's going to have to get to the river some other way. Something could be added to that effect.

Evil Editor said...

Shouldn't the ticket inspector look at her ticket rather than her face?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Ditto to what everyone's saying. I really loved the first few lines. Then it gets a bit muddled.

But really, really loved the first few lines.

BuffySquirrel said...

Our ticket inspectors multi-task. They can do BOTH.

Anonymous said...

Our ticket inspectors multi-task. They can do BOTH.

Though to be honest, they'd be most likely to be looking at her chest...

Adele said...

Small details that may seem obvious to you might be stumbling-blocks for readers. For example:

"She stumbled against the soft give of leather shoes underneath her feet"

I can't tell if she:
- isn't used to wearing any shoes at all, or
- isn't used to wearing *leather* shoes (ie, but wooden clogs, sure), or
- (and this was my first impression) she is stepping on lots of other people's feet in her hurry to get out.

Multiply that by all the details and you can see why confusion reigns.

Sylvia said...

Thanks all. I'll look at tightening this up and making it clearer.

One thing that gets lost without context (query letter, book cover) is that Clotilde is a Wailing Woman on of the Fords (bean nighe) so the obsession with moving water isn't quite as odd as it looks.

Buffy's explained the Tube issue already. Finsbury Park doesn't have ticket barriers so the only checking is done by humans (who are not actually all that interested).

The closest river is the New River which is across the park just outside the station.

I know I can't get all this into the introdcution, just thought you lot might like to know the detail.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

There are lots of rivers in London. If she's at Finsbury Park, going to the river, wouldn't it be the New River she'd be looking for?

BuffySquirrel said...

Finsbury Park doesn't have ticket barriers? Wow, I thought all Tube stations did! *makes note*

You might want to name the New River for non-Londoners, as I hadn't actually heard of it myself. I think for most people London + river = Thames. Altho there is the Fleet.

Ah, Anon, interesting assumptions you make!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I do like EE's revise for better hooking the reader right off. Sylvia writes quite lovely prose, but this is a tense opening so not the place really to slow the pace with too much description and tangential thoughts. Those can come later during a more reflective time when the pace has cooled. At the least, to make it seem pacier, try breaking that one paragraph into three or four.
_______

Rant: One of the most aggravating things about writing is trying to second-guess how your words will be received. So much depends on what the audience's preconceived notions are. In this case, not recognizing there are other rivers than the Thames in the area. In other cases, believing some famous volcano has only ever erupted once, so referring to another eruption 300 years later just isn't credible.

I wonder how many books get flung across the room because the reader thought something that was correct in the book wasn't??? Hmmmm???

I can see the day when authors will start including links to their research in their ebook editions:

She shoved her way through the slow-moving commuters with a single focus: get to the river. She should never have risked the Tube, never allowed herself to become surrounded by people."

batgirl said...

Phoenix, what a great idea! Finally, a real advantage to e-books besides space!

Evil Editor said...

First, authors have to include links to their research in their query letters. For five examples, check out the 5 fake query writing exercises posted 2/1/09. (A couple of the links no longer work).

Whirlochre said...

I'm more with the original than some of the edited rewrites.

That said, Anon 1 has valid points about the fuzziness of focus. This, rather than the volume of details itself, is where I think people are being led astray.

Tighten Clothidle's perspective and this ought to work better. Given the situation, things ought to be a little confusing, a rush of images all at once. Don't need the trickly glen though. That's one detail I'd fit in somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

There are lots of rivers in London. If she's at Finsbury Park, going to the river, wouldn't it be the New River she'd be looking for?

Sorry, had assumed she would be looking for the real river, not an artificial one...

Dave said...

When I pick up a book and read the back cover, inner flap or first page, a sure thing that turns me off to it is complete unfamiliarity with its subject. If a book says it is about the horse culture of Mongolia or about the vampires of Oklahoma or inner city high school struggles or even )and I'll use a real plot here) children fighting to the death in "battle royale" style matches. I tend to put that down and go to something else.

The same thing happens when I pick up a book and emblazoned across the pages is "fairies"... Face it. Y'all love faery (the Fae?) stories but most people would rather read murder mysteries and political thrillers.

So what does that mean for this opening?
First - I had to look up "bean nighe" and I'm sure that many people do the same. That doesn't sell any book to me. If you are going to use that concept, make it plain to the reader. IMO.
Second - Clotilde is a harbinger of death. I am guessing that she took the dead man's wallet as part of that mission. (BTW I first thought she was a pickpocket). That isn't used to advantage.

Remember EE's question: Why is she thinking about plentiful streams in a wooded glen in this tense situation? Moving away and not towards what?

Third: Clotilde must be moving to water. However, the way the opening is structure, only you know that. That's not good for the reader. In O Henry's story "Gift of the Magi" we know it is about Christmas gifts what we don't know is that the story is about true love that withstands all that batters against it. Likewise, if he title of the book establishes Clotilde as a Washer Lady, then I think that the lack of a flowing river or stream is bothering her.

Think about beginning: Clotilde clutched the dead man's wallet as if it were a divining rod and would take her to water.

And then later: The subway car doors opened and she ran up the stairs, hoping desperately that she was moving
{away from a murder or to the river?}

And here I would change it to something more daylight and watery: She burst through the brightly-lit corridor and bolted out into the sun. She scanned the roads for the river, her source of comfort.

And in those changes the reader is seeing her seek water and flee something else (a death, I guess). And doing it with some urgency. You don't have to say explicitly that she is a Bean Nighe. You don't have to worry about the station agents or turnstiles or whatever exists at Finsbury Park. Instead, it's focues on Clotilde's actions to get back to water. (I think that's where she wants to go...) I could read that and be happy about it.

Robin B. said...

I learned a helluva lot from being here at EE's place. A LOT. One of the things I learned is, sometimes only a few words, or maybe a paragraph change-up, is all you need.

And sometimes no change, or hardly any. In this instance, I'm in this camp. If you pick up this book and see the back blurb and know who the protag is, you're gonna know why, or have a feeling why, Clotilde has a deep need to get to the water and is in a frenzy. I'm not in the camp that always wants to cut prose. In this instance, I like feeling the frantic, confused feelings along with Clotilde, and to me, a little mental 'rambling', ie, notsuper-tight prose, but the beautiful meander of this worried wailing woman works for me, guys.

Evil Editor said...

I don't encourage the author to lose the frantic feeling. The question is, is the character this frantic whenever she's away from water, or is she especially frantic because of the dead man/wallet? When the story opens with a woman clutching a dead man's wallet and apparently needing to be saved, I expect her to be frantic, but I find myself more interested in whose wallet that is and why she has it than in whether she can find the river.

Apparently the option of opening with the scene at which the wallet is acquired has been rejected, and no doubt we'll find out what happened eventually, maybe very soon. I'm just not sure, after that long paragraph to get through the station, that I want to read several more paragraphs in which she makes her way to the river before I find out what happened. I feel in Clotilde's position I would be thinking, Why did that complete stranger hand me his wallet right before he was shot by those men in sunglasses, and why are they chasing me now? rather than, O to be wading in the stream that trickles through the wooded glen in olde Eire.

Sylvia said...

Many good points here.

Funnily enough, I was encouraged to add the dead man's wallet when I workshopped the piece, so that's new. It is referred to again in the next few paragraphs and thoroughly explained a few pages in but it may be too distracting in that initial paragraph.

The franticness continues a bit longer but only a paragraph or two. Then the explanations begin. :)

BuffySquirrel said...

The lack of focus wouldn't be a problem if the text didn't specifically state that Clotilde is focused.

eh, what, Anon? The text doesn't state 'natural' river. And in any case, there's little natural about any of London's rivers, given the way they've been diverted, had their channels narrowed, &c &c.