Friday, August 03, 2012

New Beginning 964


Once upon a time, I stole a human baby.

Don’t worry, I didn’t sacrifice it to any gods. I didn’t even dress it up like a dolly and pretend to nurse. I’m not crazy. I simply whisked it away from its house in the middle of the night and brought it to a horned stranger on the edge of the forest.

Okay, I’m not telling this right.

 Let me try again. The year was 573, I had just turned seven, and even I knew what iron poisoning was doing to the fey. It was killing them, okay? Killing us, I guess you could say, since I’ve got a fair amount of faerie blood in me thanks to my famous mother (ever hear of Morgan of the Faeries?) So it didn’t seem totally unethical to occasionally switch one of our dying babies with theirs, since they were to blame.

See? Now we’re on the right track.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t going to give the baby to a total stranger. Plenty of faeries could vouch for him. Plenty of animals too. Even the trees. The guy was the Lord of the Forest, ever heard of him?

Yeah, me neither. But all my friends said the dude was okay, and I was only seven so how was I supposed to know he was collecting human babies to sell to the aliens?

Did I say aliens? I meant . . .

"Chelsea, are you playing on the computer again? I told you the computer's off-limits until your homework is done. What are you writing anyway?"

"It's a continuation for Evil Editor."

"Well why didn't you say so? Go ahead. Your homework can wait."

Cool. Now where was I? Oh, yeah. There was this big evil horned guy with muttonchops and I gave him this baby . . .


Opening: Chelsea Pitcher.....Continuation: Lisa

26 comments:

Evil Editor said...

I don't think anything is lost by omitting:

Okay, I’m not telling this right.

Let me try again.

See? Now we’re on the right track.


In the longest paragraph, change "theirs" to "one of their healthy ones."

Also in that paragraph, I would italicize "us" and not italicize "occasionally."


In the last paragraph, I would change "wasn't going to" to "didn't."


"Occasionally" suggests this was an ongoing occurrence, but the opening sentence suggests a one-time occurrence. If the former is correct, Maybe it should start, In my younger days I stole human babies. And change "it" to "them" in the following paragraph. If the latter is correct, remove "occasionally."

khazar-khum said...

The problem with phrases like "Okay, I'm not telling this right" is that they sound like something your brain-damaged typical babysitter would say, not what a kid in 573 or so would say. Same with "on the right track". "Let me try again" is universal, though.

Mister Furkles said...

I would skip from the end of the first line "... human baby." to "The year was 573. ..."

So many false starts and backtracking is annoying. Please do not annoy the reader who wants to get into the story.

Otherwise, it's a nice voice.

Dave Fragments said...

I don't like to address the reader the way you have. You should understand that in advance. As a reader I don't like the "wink" at me from inside the story. This isn't about first person. This is about breaking the proscenium (which would be the stage terminology).

My thoughts turn to the baby snatching. That is the MOST important thing in the entire opening, maybe even the entire first chapter of your novel. It is the attention getter. It is five words that will get people to read on. And in my opinion, you're beating the reader with cuteness and winks from inside the story.
I don't mean that in a nasty way. I'm sorry it sounds so harsh. It's a writing gimmick that bugs me.

Here's what I think you should say:

Once upon a time, I stole a human baby.
I didn’t sacrifice it to any gods. I didn’t dress it up like a dolly and pretend to nurse. I simply whisked it away from its house in the middle of the night and brought it to a horned stranger on the edge of the forest. He wasn't a total stranger. Plenty of faeries could vouch for him. Plenty of animals too. Even the trees. The guy was the Lord of the Forest, ever heard of him?

The year was 573, I had just turned seven, and even I knew what iron poisoning was doing to the fey. It was killing them. I’ve got a fair amount of faerie blood in me. So it didn’t seem totally unethical to occasionally switch one of our dying babies with one of their healthy ones, since they were to blame.


I think what follows is more important. The next lines have to maintain the interest of the reader and that means revealing even more of the story. Like getting down to a scene with the stolen babe grown to adulthood and blasting mankind with forest bombs or attacking the Fey and killing them or this baby is the savior of fairydom and all things Fey. Something that leads to severe or exciting or intriguing consequences for her having stolen a baby.

That's the danger of beginning a story with a blockbuster line and all the winky-winky at the reader.
The absolute no-no is that the narrator has led a merely normal life and done nothing bad after that one act. That would cause me to find a wood chipper and throw the book in it. Mulch.

At least in my opinion.

I'm not arguing against using the opening. I do think it needs the changes EE outlined and a bit more condensation and then after that, hit the reader with a big scene. In a movie or TV script, this would be a shootout or a car chase or a grisly murder. That's the payoff you should give the reader. At least, that's what I would do.

Lisa said...

I like this opening. I like the voice and I'm interested in the character and want to know more about her. I agree with Dave, though, that it needs some tightening and refocusing of the hook, which is the stealing of the human baby.

The word "stole" in the first sentence was a hit with me. It implies that the MC knows she's done something wrong. Then she spends some time justifying it, and I get the feeling it's going to turn out badly. I also like "Once upon a time." I've always wanted to begin a story with that, but I'm too chicken.

I don't mind a character breaking the proscenium arch, third curtain, whatever. After all, if Shakespeare got away with it myriads of times, it's not all bad. I get the comfy feeling that someone is telling a story just to me. Memories of mom at bedtime.

The problem I had was that you start the story, then stop, then start again. I just got interested when the MC tells me to forget everything she's just said and follow a new train of thought. She becomes less compelling and less of a masterful storyteller. It would worry me that the MC does this through the entire novel.

Overall, not bad, but it has potential to be much better. If you revise and re-post, I'd love to read it again.

I'm not a fantasy buff (unlike my self-described uber-geek sister), but is this a King-Arthur-just-died/disappeared tale? Just curious.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I liked it as is. The voice appealed to me and the "I'm not telling this right" etc seemed engaging to me, suggesting a character who was in trouble and needed to get his/her version out there.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thanks everyone!! You've given me a really good idea of what can be cut and what can be kept. I appreciate the help!!

Lisa, love that my MC's justifications are coming across. She knows what she's doing is wrong, but is desperate to impress her surrogate mothers, who've sent her on the job.

EE, good thoughts on "occasionally". The issue is that faeries occasionally switch faerie babies with human ones, but this is the Mc's first time.

Alaska, so glad to hear you liked it!!

Dave, I always appreciate your thoughts/suggestions.

Khazar and Mister F, thanks for weighing in on the wording and backtracking! I can definitely cut some out based on your suggestions.

My current concern with this opening is that I'm not sure if I'm starting the story in the right place. Basically the MC is born in the time of King Arthur BUT because she grows up in Faerie, where time moves differently, she's able to slip into the human world at different times throughout history to make certain changes. The main story actually takes place much closer to the present day. This opening is one of several flashbacks showcasing the various jobs my MC's done in the mortal world while growing up.

So I guess my question is, do you think it'd be too jarring to have the story start with a 7 yr old in the days of Arthur, when the main story has a teenage protag living in the present day? I have another opening, starting in present day, but I think the baby stealing one is more intersting.

Evil Editor said...

It's obvious from the content and diction that the narrator is in present times, and she tells us immediately when she stole the baby, so I don't see how it can be jarring. If we found out on page 60 that she was alive in Arthur's time, it would be jarring.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thanks EE!! :)

BuffySquirrel said...

I got confused by the "horned stranger" who then isn't a "total stranger". The character needs to make up her mind.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thanks, Buffy! The idea was that she's never met him personally, but he's very well known in her world. Either way, I'm on contradiction overload, and need to cut some (or all) of it out.

Kristine Nielson said...

I love the voice and loved the opening. This totally drew me in and made me want to keep reading.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thanks, Kristine! I appreciate the help and kind words :)

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Revised Version:

Once upon a time, I stole a human baby.
Don’t worry, I didn’t sacrifice it to any gods. I didn’t even dress it like a dolly and pretend to nurse. I’m not crazy. I simply whisked it away from its house in the middle of the night and brought it to a horned stranger on the edge of the forest.

I’m not telling this right.

Let me try again. The year was 1573, I had just turned eleven (I’m seventeen now), and even I knew what iron poisoning was doing to the fey. It was killing them; killing us, you could say, since I’ve got a fair amount of faerie blood in me thanks to my famous mother (a.k.a. Morgan of the Faeries). So it didn’t seem entirely unethical to occasionally switch one of our dying babies with theirs, since they were to blame.

See? Now we’re on the right track. Picture me sneaking into the human world under the cover of night. Me, with my gangly limbs and tangled hair. Eyes bright. Heart hammering like the Wild Hunt was after me.

Slam. Slam. Slam.

Take a breath, Morgan.

I did. And I crept across the village, past billowing fires spitting gales of black smoke. I crept up to the cottage I’d been spying for the better part of a week. There lay Our Lady of Perpetual Pregnancy, the one passed out on a pile of hay, reeking of mead. Four children spread out around her. (Daddy was away at war.) Pulling myself in through the window, I landed soundlessly on the earthen floor, which was basically mud after weeks of perpetual rain.

I’m doing this baby a favor, I swore.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I like it, but then I liked it before. The voice is good, you get your details in without info-dumping; this basically seems good to go.

Couple things could be improved:

The year was 1573, I had just turned eleven (I’m seventeen now), and even I knew what iron poisoning was doing to the fey.

The "even I" sounds off. Is there some reason the narrator wouldn't know? Bearing in mind that in 1573 eleven was practically an adult? Don't answer, it's just that the line snags a little and makes me wonder why the narrator wouldn't be expected to know what was generally known.

And then in the second paragraph, "Our Lady of Perpetual Pregnancy" sounded a little off, more like something I'd expect a snarky parochial high school girl to say, rather than a 16th century fairy. It wouldn't stop me from reading, though.

Also, you have "perpetual" twice in that graf.

But otherwise, it reads pretty smoothly and I think it does a good job of pulling the reader in.

Evil Editor said...

When you say "switch one of our dying babies with theirs," it sounds like you mean their dying babies. Which is why I recommended changing "theirs" to "one of their healthy ones." For some reason my advice was ignored.

"a.k.a." isn't needed. It's implied by the parentheses.

I would get rid of "I'm not telling this right" and change the next sentence to: Let me explain.

I'd also get rid of: See? Now we’re on the right track.

If "Slam. Slam. Slam." is your heart hammering, I'd put that in the same paragraph with the hammering heart.

I'd just say spitting black smoke. "Gales" isn't giving me a clearer picture. And "spewing" might be better than "spitting."

the cottage you'd been spying on?

I don't like "perpetual" twice in the same paragraph. "Constant" would be better describing the rain, as a few weeks does not equal "perpetual."

(I don't mind the perpetual pregnancy, as it probably feels to her like it never ends.)

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Yay, comments! You guys rock!

Alaska, great stuff! You're very right about the "even I" line. Originally she was younger, so it made more sense.

Not sure how I missed the double "perpetual." Definitely a "doh!" moment.

Thanks for your kind words!

EE, great notes, word-choice switches, and whatnot. Definitely like the idea of the "slam" line being attached to the previous paragraph.

Your "one of their healthy ones" suggestion is a good one. Some suggestions click right away, and others I need to think on.

Thanks for the help!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I still like "I'm not telling this right". It suggests that the fairy kid knows she's talking to non-fairies, is trying to put the best face on what's probably inexcusable, and is finding the task a bit of a challenge. That line draws me into the story. YMMV.

I don't mind the perpetual pregnancy, as it probably feels to her like it never ends.

Sacre bleu, EE-- seems to whom? The Perpetually Pregnant Lady? She ain't the POV character so how she feels is immaterial.

Evil Editor said...

Immaterial to the pitch, but not immaterial to which "perpetual" should be kept and which should go.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Yay, more comments! You guys rocks!!

AA, that's exactly what I'm trying to do with the "I'm not telling it right" line.

The Perpetually Pregnant line, too, is intended to be her reacting to human culture, but sort of in the opposite way: she's snarling at a society that impregnates adolescents and keeps them pregnant throughout life.

Thanks to you both!

Lisa H said...

I keep getting caught up in all the parentheses. Can the first one go? Something like "Six years ago, in 1573 when I'd just turned eleven . . ."?

The "I swore" at the end bugs me. Not sure why. What if she justifies it to herself instead? She's obviously feeling some guilt over this with the passage of time.

I think the "See?" can go, too.

It's improving. I think there's a good story here.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thank you Lisa! Good point about the parentheses. All good points, really!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, you certainly have a good attitude, Chelsea. That alone makes me think you will go far.

The ones who snarl "No, no, touch not a word of my deathless prose!" are the ones who don't make it.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thank you Alaska!! There will always be comments that sting, but it helps to remember people are taking time out of their busy schedules to help me.

It's definitely been a journey. I remember the first time I posted something here and got criticism--my first instinct was to explain what people weren't understanding, rather than make the manuscript itself understandable, ha!. But I've learned.

I think I've learned ;)

Lisa H said...

Your book "The S-Word" is being published by a Simon & Schuster imprint? Awesome, girl!

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Thank you!!! I got so much help with the query and opening here, too! :)