Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Beginning 968


When the world came to, it came, not to its senses, but to its madness. Those who were left alive learned what their needs were—these of course, were the same as they ever had been, as the nature of the ones left behind was no different from the nature of the ones who had gone on—and from one’s nature come one’s needs. They learned what their true needs were, which was almost as important as learning how to get them met.
 

Air, of course, then water, then food. Those who were left alive were at the mercy of place, and some lingered long enough to learn how to get their needs met in the place where they were; others did not, and died. Still others began to travel the broken roads, to band together, to beat back or be beaten back, to become victims or victors. Eventually, life resumed its potent, inviolable rhythm. And eventually, the things that had been left behind began to become normal.

The crone’s name was Senga. That’s what everyone called her, anyway. She was not quite the eldest of their group, but if she wasn’t, no one knew anyone older.
 

Senga knew what life had been like in the old days, the days before the days of now and the days before the days of before the days of now and even the days before the days of before the days of before the days of now. She could teach us how to function again. We could emerge, blinking, into the light. Society could regain its structure.

Our future depended on Senga's memories, and on only one other thing: that she could finish imparting these memories before we could no longer resist eating her.



Opening: Helen O'Reilly.....Continuation: anon.

35 comments:

Evil Editor said...

The first two paragraphs may seem dramatic, but they're wordy and they are basically telling us what the world is like, when you could show us what it's like by opening with a scene. With a character or two. Something happening.

As for paragraph 3, if no one knows anyone older than Senga, how can you declare that she's not the eldest? I'm going to assume she's the eldest until you show me someone older.

And what's with, That's what everyone called her anyway? That seems to imply that the narrator suspects Senga isn't her name. If there's no reason to suspect this, I'd dump that sentence.

BuffySquirrel said...

Start with a character in a situation. And credit the reader with knowing that air, food and water are basic to survival.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Argh. You spend the first two paragraphs telling us that after the great catastrophe, the survivors need air, food and water. We already know that. So, apparently, do they. Why mention it? Tell us what the great catostrophe was instead.

Sentences like this could make a reader quit:

She was not quite the eldest of their group, but if she wasn’t, no one knew anyone older.

Sounds like she *is* the eldest. But she's not. But nobody knows anybody older. So she must be the eldest. Unless the narrator knows, though the characters don't know... argh. If she's a crone, she's no spring chicken, so we know that too.

Try to rewrite everything you've got here in 35 words or less.

Oh dear, after typing the above I reloaded and saw that EE posted basically the same points. Oh well. This actually sounds remarkably like the kind of stuff I used to write circa 1992. So, work through this and in 20 years you'll be makin' a living.

But do try to rewrite this opening in 35 words.

Evil Editor said...

Many's the time I've posted a New Beginning and, while I'm typing my comments, received the same comments from someone else. Not a problem, as the author is less likely to dismiss one reader's comments if others had the same reaction.

AA said...

"The crone’s name was Senga. That’s what everyone called her, anyway." So it may or may not have been her name. Then, "She was not quite the eldest of their group, but if she wasn’t..." what do you mean, IF? You just said she WASN'T.

Look, you're the author. You're supposed to know this stuff. If you don't, the reader has no hope of figuring it out.

"Air, of course, then water, then food." Was anything stopping them from getting their need for air met? If not, then their first need was water.

"Some lingered long enough to learn how to get their needs met in the place where they were; others did not, and died. Still others began to travel the broken roads, to band together, to beat back or be beaten back, to become victims or victors."
This seems to suggest that those that didn't linger died, but some of those who traveled became victors. I don't see how that's possible.

"And eventually, the things that had been left behind began to become normal." By "become normal" do you mean they began to be seen as normal, or they began to go back to the way they were?

"Eventually, life resumed its potent, inviolable rhythm." If the rhythm of life is inviolable, it couldn't have been broken up in the first place and therefore can't be "resumed."

The biggest problem I'm seeing here is not using words carefully. It's okay to write things that sound good, but they also have to mean what you're trying to say. Maybe you're trying to say that the rhythm of life reasserted itself, or that Senga was the oldest person anyone knew of. That's fine. There's no need to complicate matters.

Chicory said...

If they don't have air -the end. Unless they're walking around in space suits looking for air pockets. To be honest, I'm more interested in those people and their struggle for survival than in whether or not Senga is the eldest person around. It's an interesting world, but it needs a strong character to hook on to.

150 said...

A lot of this is more difficult to parse than it has to be. "Those who were left alive" is passive construction that raises a question it doesn't bed down (left alive by who?). You could say "The survivors" just as easily. "How to get their needs met" ought to be "how to meet their needs".

I assume the first two paragraphs could be replaced with "It was six months after the apocalypse." But why not start with Senga saying or doing whatever you're setting her up to say or do?

I have to agree with AA about using words carefully.

vkw said...

Didn't get past the first paragraph. . . I'm a lazy reader. Ask anyone here.

Here's how my mind worked. . "When the world came to, it came, not its sense, but to its madness. (oh cool. . . .) those who were left alive learned what their needs were (duh) these were the same as before . . . one's nature comes one's needs (wtf? where's the madness)

Air. . . water, food (duh, and blah and blah) people died who didn't catch on. okay. potent inviolable rythmn (mental note looke that word up). things left bedhin (so . there is no madness?)

Crones name was Senga (and now more drama setting words like what happens in the beginning of the movie. . . Next beginning please. I can only take a sentence.)

Start over.

Show us the madness and leave the drama setting for the tweens.

Really, I want to know where this is going. . . .is there madness or not? Please try again . . .

Hellie Pie said...

The first two paragraphs may seem dramatic, but they're wordy and they are basically telling us what the world is like, when you could show us what it's like by opening with a scene. With a character or two. Something happening.

Not sure I should take this advice;I've workshopped this over the past few months, and the majority of other readers finds it wordy, yes, but captivating. I'll take it under advisement.

As for paragraph 3, if no one knows anyone older than Senga, how can you declare that she's not the eldest? I'm going to assume she's the eldest until you show me someone older.

Assume away. You'll find out soon enough. Or not.

And what's with, That's what everyone called her anyway? That seems to imply that the narrator suspects Senga isn't her name. If there's no reason to suspect this, I'd dump that sentence.

Good job with the old implication-sensor, there, Evil Editor.

AA, if you were writing this, it would be perfectly fine to say "the rythym of life reasserted itself," but this is my book, and that is my voice."

Hellie Pie said...

Funny you should mention eating Senga. There's a dreadful amount of cannibalism going on in these woods, in this book.

BuffySquirrel said...

That post doesn't show a whole lot of willingness to listen, but never mind. I shall stare fixedly at my own beam while I write.

Implying that Senga may not be the eldest would be fine. Putting up a huge sign with giant red arrows pointing to it that says BY THE WAY THEY THINK SHE'S THE ELDEST BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW IT'S POSSIBLE SHE'S NOT is an insult to anyone who's read more than three books.

Asserting something then qualifying or denying it makes for woolly writing. Sheep do well in wool. Books, not so much.

Evil Editor said...

The people in a workshop have agreed to read what you provide. Editors and agents are looking for excuses not to read it. If you want a captivating opening go with the cannibalism.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The people in a workshop have agreed to read what you provide. Editors and agents are looking for excuses not to read it.

What EE said.

The thing is, Hellie, we WON'T find out "soon enough" if the chick's name is really Senga, or if someone is older than her and not letting on. Because we won't still be reading. We'll have put the story down and picked up something else.

You can be specific about your catastrophe and mellifluous and make sense, all at the same time:

http://intertwingled.net/poets/Edwin%20Muir/The%20Horses

Basically, a writer should ask herself "Do I care whether other people understand and enjoy what I write?"

"No" is a perfectly valid answer. J.D. Salinger was satisfied with it for the last half century of his life. But if you're seeking publication, I'm afraid "yes" is the only answer that will get you there.

Hellie Pie said...

You may have a point; I, had thought of beginning the story here:

“There you are,” Hagar cried, assuming a smile that did not quite reach her eyes, as, arms outstretched, she approached Senga, who stood her ground and did not smile back.
“Here I am,” Senga agreed, and suffered herself to be embraced without bending or returning the gesture. Hagar had her troop of “Maenads,” but Senga had Pink. The fight, when it finally came, would be uneven, and Hagar and Senga both knew it was coming.
“Í heard voices,” said Hagar, still holding Senga by the shoulders, still smiling her shark-eyed smile.
“You should see a doctor,” said Senga, pushing Hagar’s hands off her as if wiping off muck. She turned to continue on her way, adjusting the gathering bag hanging from her shoulder. “Seriously,” she called at Hagar, over her shoulder.
“Very funny. I never noticed before; were you always this funny?” Hagar asked Senga. But the words fell against Senga’s back and dropped into the grass at her feet. Slowly, Senga told herself, and breathe. Do NOT let her see how frightened you are of your own anger at this moment. . . and do NOT look toward Pink . . . .
A scream from the Maenads stopped both of the older women from whatever else they would have said or done next; froze them, in fact. A wild-haired Maenad, Yuki-Kai, twenty yards back along the path, near the foot of the rock called Kettledrum Hill, was balanced on a small stump, arms above her head, stretching a thin, brown snake she held with both hands above her heat, and it was she that the scream had come from, and it was echoed by another from—not Pink, not Pink, Heavenly Mother, not Pink—but from one of Hagar’s own girls, themselves a little afraid of the wild Yuki-Kai at the best of times. It sounded, Senga thought, like Mia, a malnourished six-year-old who would have been completely unremarkable except for her ratlike face and ear-splitting shriek.

150 said...

Not that it would change my crits, but what age range are you aiming for?

AA said...

Okay- I probably shouldn't bite, but I'm not too busy today.

As for Senga's age- You say,"She was not quite the eldest of their group, but IF she wasn’t..."
This says: "Senga was NOT the eldest, but MAYBE she was..." Well, you, of all people, should know if she was or wasn't. You make it sound like even you are unsure.

As far as the phrase I made up, of course you don't have to use it. It was just an example. What I meant was, you can't really use the word inviolable (secure from violation, assault, or trespass) to describe the rhythm of life if the rhythm of life has just been badly disrupted in your story. It's like calling a bank vault impregnable after someone's just broken into it.

You do understand that you can't take an established English word and use it to mean something you decide it to mean?

Jo Antareau said...

Dear Hellie-pie. Yep, critiques sting. However, rejections hurt even more. If one person raises an issue about your work, they may be smarmy. If more than one person raises it, then it might be a good idea to take note. Remember, the blurb for this blog is 'why you're not published'.

For what it's worth, I'd drop the line about needing air, unless your characters go around wearing space suits. I do like the idea of a crone as your MC, however. Maybe study dystopian novels for some openings that work and place the MC right in the action. There are lots of these around at the moment, your competition is tough.

My opening is also in the queue, (the one about the genie), so if it makes you feel any better, go ahead and tear it to shreds.

PLaF said...

Really. And if you're not going to take EE's Advice Of Inestimable Value, why bother with a submission?

Anonymous said...

Hi Hellie. You are a wordy writer. As you say, that is your voice. But it's very hard to read, because there are too many details to place and the important ones get buried. Have you tried the "read your stuff out loud" exercise?

Also, you have a lot of POV slippage - the first sentence seems in Hagar's head and later ones in Senga's. And then you get omniscient - if Senga has turned away, she cannot see that Hagar is frozen, nor see Yuki-Kai back along the path. And Senga would simply think the second shriek sounded like Mia; she wouldn't define her to herself as "a malnourished six-year-old who would have been completely unremarkable except for her ratlike face and ear-splitting shriek" - that's back to the omniscient view.

Hellie Pie said...

Dear AA, I get it. I think the rhythm of life can be torn, spindled, and mutilated, and go on, inviolate. That's not quite taking an established English word and making it mean whatever I want it to mean. That's taking the word at face value and then some. And thanks, Jo Antareau, but I quite liked the post about the genie; I don't want to rip it apart; I get to do that with the authors I get paid to edit. BTW, I am pretty sure I know a lot about rejections and how they sting; I've had many, and many published books, as well. Thanks for the kind thoughts, though.

Dave Fragments said...

I've been busy with odd things today and just got here...
Yes, you have a better opening at the line:

"There you are,” Hagar cried, assuming a smile that did not quite reach her eyes, as, arms outstretched, she approached Senga, who stood her ground and did not smile back."

The opening you sent to EE, was two paragraphs of back-story and setup that (to tell the truth) I generate paragraphs like this for some of my own stories to guide my thoughts. The action is worked around that and reveals the situation. So I agree with other comments that the original is not a good opening.

Now this first sentence does things I try to avoid.
You are separating two smiles with outstretched arms. Your purpose in that second opening is to reveal Senga and Hagar as enemies or at least future enemies who are (at present) not happy with each other. So Hagar smiles a false smile which Senga realizes and thus she doesn't smile back. Delete the "outstretched arms" business and the sentence is more effective and serves to relate their moods. Please delete it. And later, a "shark-eyed smile" can become something not as distractingly descriptive.

Go through the rest of that second opening and pare it down to the bone. Cut it by half to start with.
WHY?
Because then, all the extra stuff will fall away and you can come back and add the important descriptions afterward. First write your story in sparse terms and then, knowing what to emphasize to get the emotional impact, come back and add in only those details. The rest of the stuff wasn't going to advance the story anyway.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Jo, yeah. Critiques are teh suck. At the workshops I've been to, there was a rule that one had to sit and listen to the critiques of one's work without responding.

The reason we were given, of course, was that as soon as we started arguing we stopped listening.

Which is true. But it's also great practice. Because of course writers also have to sit through the rejections without responding.

And then! We have to sit through bad reviews without responding.

It never stops. Basically, writers get to have the first word, but not the last. We write. Readers judge.

Anonymous said...

This is a troll, right?

Anonymous said...

Hagar. Heh, makes me think of Hagar the Horrible!

And Maenads.

Maybe a swift kick to the Maenads is warranted here...

Seems to me you've got people in a room talking about what they think might be going on in another room, and what's going on in that other room is possibly much more interesting than what's happening in this room. So why don't you let us into the other room where the action is and we can leave the passive wallflowers to it?

BuffySquirrel said...

It's okay to have occasional action tags. But not every tag should be an action tag. Not every line of dialogue needs a tag, either.

AA said...

Okay, okay-
-But it "resumed." That means the rhythm STOPPED at some point. If it stopped, it is capable of BEING stopped. Therefore it is not inviolable. Don't blame me, YOU wrote it.

Anyway, the second piece is better. It doesn't sound like a beginning, though. Two characters meet each other, and we get an introduction to both. That's fine. But from "There you are"...to "do NOT look toward Pink..." I don't know where they are. In a parking lot? In space? A desert? Being dropped into the middle of a conversation can be confusing.
Next sentence we find out there are paths and rocks.
You might want to start out with the characters meeting on a rocky path, then start the conversation.
I assume the next sentence will tell us why someone picks up a snake, then stands on a stump and starts screaming.

This sentence: "A wild-haired Maenad, Yuki-Kai, twenty yards back along the path, near the foot of the rock called Kettledrum Hill, was balanced on a small stump, arms above her head, stretching a thin, brown snake she held with both hands above her heat, and it was she that the scream had come from, and it was echoed by another from—not Pink, not Pink, Heavenly Mother, not Pink—but from one of Hagar’s own girls, themselves a little afraid of the wild Yuki-Kai at the best of times," is a run-on, and grammatically a mess. I'd suggest really studying the heck out of grammar and mechanics and then doing a rewrite.

Mister Furkles said...

I like the first sentence – the original post. But after that you need to tell a story even if it’s back story.

Did you notice that roughly ten percent of the words after the first sentence are variations of ‘to be’, ‘to have’ or ‘to get’? Nearly every predicate has a helper verb. Too much passive voice and no story.

As Alaska suggests, you can cut the original down to a modest paragraph and then plunge into the story.


BuffySquirrel said...

Non-fiction and fiction are two very different beasts, however, and success in the one area doesn't automatically translate to success in the other.

Anonymous said...

Here is a slushpile.

Here is a slushpile reader (SPR).

SPR looks at the pile of reading to be done, sighs and picks up first story. Maybe this will be the one. Most likely it will be one of the 97-99% that don't make it.

SPR reads the first paragraph, knowing from bitter experience that they first paragraph will tell them if they'll like the story/book.

SPR will not think "I'm not that keen on this paragraph, maybe it'll catch my interest further in" because IT NEVER HAS YET.

You have one paragraph, NOT to hook the editor/agent/reader, but to show off your months of years of work. Please don't waste it with a dense paragraph that makes their eyes glaze over or doesn't show anything about your actual writing style.

*SPR does recall one occasion then they liked a story despite the first paragraph, but the character develop was weak so it was still a no.

Anonymous said...

Anon 808: You wouldn't know a troll if it stepped on you.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with Anonymous who posted about the Slush Pile Reader, and would add that you can walk into a B&N and watch readers go through the exact same process as they decide whether or not to buy a book.

But hell, Hellie. I don't need to tell you that. That's a thing any editor or author of many published books would already know.

As for your second sample, I also found that much too wordy and would caution against using too many metaphors.

Hellie Pie said...

Well, thanks, everyone. You know what they say about opinions, right. Some readers have opined that the first sentence, "When the world..." is terrific. And you are all correct; I am wordy. And other readers have threatened to eviscerate me if I become less so. So it goes. At the very least, you have given me food for thought, and all you hurt were my feelings, but they're easily assuaged. Thanks again.

Evil Editor said...

The choice between being eviscerated and possibly getting the book published, or not being eviscerated and definitely not getting it published is a difficult one. Each writer must make it on her own.

Keep in mind that people in workshops and critique groups may tell you what you want to hear, so that you will do the same for them.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Hellie, I just want to leave you with one thought about the comments here: they're unanimous. That's pretty unusual for us. In fact, people that *never* agree with each other are agreeing.

Granted we're just some strangers with weird names on the interwebz. But that also means we have no vested interest in lying to you.

BuffySquirrel said...

I never agree with Alaska, on principle, but she's right.