Monday, October 01, 2012

New Beginning 972

If Finn stared at the vegetables on his plate long enough, maybe laser beams would shoot out of his eyes and blast those disgusting things into smithereens. It had never happened before, but it was still more likely than him putting them into his mouth.

His mother was bustling around, getting ready to go out. ‘Hurry and finish your lunch, you haven’t even touched your salad.’

‘Don't like it.’

‘You haven't even tried it.’

‘Don’t need to taste it to know I don't Iike it.’

She sighed and hurried out of the room.

Finn passed a piece of capsicum to the cat. She ate stinky cat food, but still turned her nose up at vegetables. Didn't that say how revolting they were? As his mother came back into the room, Finn folded his arms.

‘Oh, we’re going to be late,’ she sighed, and collected his plate. ‘You can have these for dinner. You’ll make yourself sick if you don’t eat your greens.’

‘I’ll make myself sick if I do.’

His mother sighed, and bustled some more.

Finn thought of the super powers he'd need to make his life bearable. The laser eyes, of course, for vaporizing vegetables. A freeze ray to stop his mother's aimless bustling. The ability to talk to girls without breaking out in hives. The resolve to move out of his mother's basement. OK, that last one wasn't technically a super power, but it felt just as unlikely as being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

"Come dear," his mother said. "You promised to drop me at mah-jongg on your way to the comic convention."

Finn gave one last hard look at the pile of arugula on his plate, sighed, and got up.

Opening: Jo-ann S......Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

'Can you at least get dressed?' she asked.

If Finn sat long enough on the outfit his mother had left neatly folded on his bed, maybe lightning would shoot out of his ass and ignite the fabric. It had never happened before, but it was still more likely than him changing out of his Superman underoos.

'Don't want to.'

'That's enough!' she yelled. 'There's only so much a mother can take. After your birthday party this afternoon, when the magician is gone and your friends have had their fill of cake and ice cream, you are going to start looking for an apartment. For God's sake, you're forty-six years old!'


She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Dear, I know it’s been rough on you, three years since your college graduation and not a single job offer, living in your parents’ basement playing video games twenty-four-seven, saddled with a crippling Pell grant, but keep this thought in your heart--we’re a family and we’re in this together, so next time I serve greens, eat the fucking greens.”


'Bell peppers never made anyone sick, Finn,' she chided as she scraped the plate off into a Tupperware.

He scowled and beaned the cat in the head with a napkin. 'Don't call them that. Common names make me sick. They're Capsicum annuum.'

His mother sighed, again. She always sighed. Didn't that say how unoriginal she was? 'You know, no one else in my knitting group has a forty-year-old botanist son still living at home and demanding the corners cut off his sandwiches. You'll clean your plate tonight, or you're going back to Picky-Eaters' Anonymous, and I'm signing myself into a nursing home.'

--Stephanie Bittner

Laser beams shot out of his mother's eyes.

"If you talk back to me one more time, young man -" she started.

"Sorry!" said Finn, suddenly sitting up straight. "When am I going to be able to do that?"

"We don't know that you will. You might get your dad's powers instead."

"Great," said Finn, slouching again in his chair. "Just what I want - the ability to make an author cry with a couple of well-worded phrases."

"It's a very worthwhile talent, Finn. You could have your own blog someday, just like your dad."

"Hey, honey!" a voice called from the other room. "Could you grab me another beer? And a Hostess cupcake'd be nice, too."

"See, sweetie. There's your dad hard at work. Don't you want to be like him someday?"

Finn grumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "Not if my life depended on it," but stopped at the steely, laser beam look in his mom's eyes.

"Yeah," he said. "I'd love to be an editor just like dad."



The picture on the TV winked and died. With a yawn, I stretched out in my easy chair for a nap.

Happy Days just wasn’t the same after Fonzie jumped the shark.


Finn glanced at the cat, washing her butt on the table. "Sorry, Puss."

With a quick bite the calico vanished down his gullet. He ran his tongue over his fangs, cleaning up the remaining fur and blood.

"Did you just--"

"I told you I was hungry!"

"And now we have to get another cat. Can't you just try to cooperate, even a little?"

Finn pouted and huffed. Little balls of flame rolled from his snout, singing the tablecloth. Couldn't this woman tell he was a dragon?


* * *

As the new world dawned, the down-trodden and oppressed natives of the planet could not fathom why Field Commander Finn had been spared, or how he had garnered such a powerful position alongside the all-conquering Triffid overlords...


"How so?"

"Come on, Mom. Don't act dumb. I've seen what you do with the cucumber."


Evil Editor said...

The tone is good and the scene is mildly amusing, but unless Finn's dislike of vegetables is a crucial plot point, maybe this isn't the best place to start. We don't get any indication of where they're going, what the story is, what's about to happen. It's a lot of words to tell us Finn hates vegetables.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ah, middle grade! /rubs hands happily

Basically, EE is right. The tone is good, the voice is right, but this is probably not the right place to start. You need to start at a place where there's some tension that will draw the reader in. (Bear in mind: the fairly easily distracted reader.)

Possible ways this scene could have tension:

1. It's not his mother who's trying to get him to eat his veggies, but his cruel Great-Aunt Villia, who keeps him chained in the basement.

2. Finn's aware that the vegetables are actually sentient beings whom his mother massacres daily.

3. Finn must keep his stomach empty at all costs, or the potion that protects him from the zombies won't work.

You see what I'm getting at? Cut to the chase. There's a point in your novel (I assume) where the waste product hits the circulating device. Start there, or as close to there as possible.

khazar-khum said...

I love the tone and voice here. Petulant kid, frustrated Mom, things already going to Hell in a handbasket.

Now what?

You know what else I find interesting? How many minions pictured Finn as anything but a fussy seven-year-old boy. (I'm guessing that's his age...maybe he's 5, or 13...)

Dave Fragments said...

I think that perhaps this is too much scene setting.
The kid doesn't like vegetables... (let me count the ways)
1) laser beams
2) I don't like it.
3) cat food
4) I’ll make myself sick if I do

Meanwhile, the rest of the story is waiting. Unless the vegetables rise up and attack him (see CALVIN AND HOBBES on Mutant Spinach) nothing much is happening but greens sitting on a plate.
Keep the laser beam paragraph and get rid of everything else. There should be a knock at the door and one of his friends yelling for him to come out and play in the graveyard, or see the UFO that landed, or stare at the creepy neighbor with fangs, or that Triffid that just landed, etc... Once we know he's sitting in a kitchen trying not to eat veggies move onto the rest of the story.

Jo Antareau said...

Ha Ha Ha. Great continuations, folks.

I had no idea you called 'em bell peppers in the States. I had heard of the great eggplant/ aubergine divide, though.

As it happens, vegetables do feature prominently in this (very) short story.
In summary - Finn is fed-up (literally) with his family's healthy/ green living conversion. The family car now runs off bio-diesel, which means visits to the fish-and-chip shop are to pick up surplus cooking oil, not a greasy snack.

Finn therefore stores his vegetables, blasts them into mush (not laser eyes but with microwave) and feeds this into the car's fuel tank... with predictable results.

The punch line is "If the hippy car hated vegetables, why did they think I'd like them?"

But point taken about the opening, I'll have him looking longingly at the fish and chip shop by para 2.

Thanks. This blog rocks!

Mister Furkles said...


For MG or YA you should change “capsicum” to something like “cucumber”. For literary fiction “capsicum” is okay. You will find a list of the first 86800 best known words at wordcount dot org. “ capsicum” doesn't make the list. “cucumber” is number 19224. “bustling” is number 16391. Surprisingly, “ smithereens” is number 54155.

These numbers do not correspond to vocabulary size. In vocabulary, I think, 'go', 'going', 'gone' and 'goes' all count for the verb 'to go'. On the wordcount website they are four entries. Plurals and various verb forms count as separate entries. My guess is that for vocabulary size, you should divide the count number by three.

Fix Iike (eye-ike).

Minions think you should begin with more action or tension. But if it's literary fiction, you don't need to do that because LF lacks action; some LF lacks plot. In the last LF book I read, a self-absorbed emotionless guy goes to college and dates his high school BF's ex-girlfriend; she dumps him when she realizes he's cold and self-centered. That's it. Nothing happens. No vampires, no zombies and no porcupines.

If it's not literary fiction, then Finn is just a snotty self-absorbed brat. If he's the MC, it's not a good way to start a novel – it's okay in literary fiction because most of those MCs are creeps anyway. Maybe his mom should be the MC and after cracking his head with the cast iron skillet she must figure out how to dispose of the body.

Mister Furkles said...


Didn't see your post until after I sent mine off. So never mind. Just fix 'Iike' and you're ready to go.

Maybe you can end it as Mom cracks his skull with the skillet.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Mister Furkles, as a library-card-carrying middle grade author, I gotta tell you... we don't use word-frequency lists. We truly don't. In fact, my editor pats me on the head whenever I work in a particularly difficult SAT word.

Actually, we write just like the rest of y'all only without sex scenes.

Jo-ann, start when the predictable results of feeding the vegetables to the car have just happened, would be my advice. Or start with him in the act of doing it. Remember, kids (and editors) may not get to paragraph two.

150 said...

I second the recommendation to start with Finn feeding vegetables to his car.

Mister Furkles said...


As an MG writer, you don't need to think about it. But new MG writers should think about voice, syntax and vocabulary. There are a few online tools which can be used for a sanity check. They can't check voice but syntax and vocabulary can be checked against reading level.

In this case, it is a literary short story. If I'd seen Jo-Ann's 6:52 post, I would not have mentioned the vocabulary tool.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Actually, I think it's a MG short story. That's a teensy market here in the US (and IMHO harder to break into than novels) but it may be a bigger market in the UK, where the writer lives.

She's got the MG voice, except for a little too much slant toward the child as the parent sees him rather than as the child sees himself.

Oh cool, I can actually see the number on the Captcha!