Monday, August 19, 2013

New Beginning 1012

“Penarddun verch Morfudd! The reception begins in less than two hours and you are still dressed in that, that …”

Penny jumped and the sleek, Bakelite horn in her hand crashed to the marble floor. The voice boomed like the voice of a god. Or the voice of her uncle and boss, archdruid and head of the Madocian Institution of Arts and Sciences. Same thing, really. And it was true that if she showed up at the opening social event of the year in a capacious men’s overall and dingy white plimsolls, her mam would have her head on a plate.

“Plenty of time for me to change, Uncle. It’s just that there’s something wreaking havoc with my narration for the Cauldron of Rebirth. I recorded a lovely piece, how King Bran received it from the Otherworld in ancient times, how Prince Madoc brought it with him to these shores from Wales in 1170, how it saved the Allied Forces in the Great War by reanimating our fallen warriors, all recited in my most mellifluous tones and … well, listen to it now!”

She propped the horn back in its holder and pushed a button on the stand. A screech of feedback burst from the speaker, a mindless giggle, and ...

...Elvis somersaulted through a momentarily radiant rainbow portal, his pelvis gyrating with the nervous glee of a pre-Prom cheerleader shot through with a thousand volts of hot cattle prod action, his hair slicked back as if coiffured by angels with Don Cheney’s infamous saliva-drenched comb and 50ml of prime coipu sebaceous gland extract.

The reincarnated 50s icon of rebellious crooning and cheesy movie fame brushed down his lime tuxedo and approached Penny and her uncle.

“There’s big trouble brewing in Ffestiniog — and only a full stage production of Heartbreak Hotel at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff will save both your dreams of oratory success and the fate of the kingdom of RuthMadoc in one fell Barry John swoop.”

As the onLlookers Llooked on, Elvis paused for dramatic effect masquerading as melodrama dressed as comic relief.

“Or shall we put the goddamn show on in Swansea? Or Llanfairfechan? Or Betwsy-coed?”

Penny leapt like a gambolling Snowdonian lamb and cLlapped her hands with glee. “It’s the perfect solution for our dilemma, Mr Prestatynley! And while we’re at it, let’s ditch all these ludicrously outdated Bakelite funnel effects and get hip to the point of acetabulum with a dinkily happ’nin’ bunch of spanking new Nexus 7 2s...” 

Opening: Unknown.....Continuation: Whirlochre


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations

...squeaky cartoon voices broke into a rendition of “Everybody Wants to be a Cat.”

“Unc, what am I going to do. I can’t turn the damn thing off. And it repeats for three hours.”

The Archdruid started tapping his foot to the rhythm, “… pickin’ up on that feline beat … Penny, maybe you should just go with that. It kind grows on you.”

Uncle Festus walked out tapping his wand against the limestone wall while singing along.

--Mister Furkles

a horrendous, shrieking voice exploded into the room, with clashing drums and squawking 'music'.

"By the Oaks!" he shouted. "What is this abomination?"

"I don't know," said Penny, "but I think it's a demon called a Bessiesmith."

"Well, stop it! That caterwauling is driving me insane!"

"Yes, sir." Ever obedient, she pressed the button. "But Uncle, there's some noble music on here, too."

"Nobles? IN MY house?"

"Yes, Uncle. I heard it's from the Duke himself."

"I will not hear it!" He rumbled off, muttering curses as he went.

Penny smiled. Now that he was gone, she could get the rest of her music ready to play at the boring meeting. Just wait till they heard the "Charleston"!


Evil Editor said...

This sounds much more entertaining than the query ( led me to expect. If the humor, which at times borders on theater of the absurd, is consistent throughout the book, we need to get some of that tone into the query. Which is pretty much what you said in your 4:24 comment on the query.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

A few thoughts.

1. First lines are important, and your first line is in Welsh.

2. Your dialogue is bogged down with as-you-know-Bobs and excessive detail.

(An as-you-know-Bob, in case you don't know, Bob, is a form of info-dump in which characters tell each other things they presumably both already know.)

Here's Penny's monologue shorn of info-dump:

“Plenty of time for me to change, Uncle. It’s just that there’s something wreaking havoc with my narration. I recorded a lovely piece, and … well, listen to it now!”

With that, we get the problem. Something odd's happening, and presumably it's important because it's where you chose to start the novel. With the other, all we see is info-dump. The important problem is lost in the verbiage.

If you let your characters speak for more than a line or two, the other characters will stop listening. Just like in real life.

3. I know what Bakelite is. And I know all the different things a horn can be, none of which made sense in context as I tried to puzzle out that little noun phrase. I'm on the point of asking "You mean one of those things that talks to you in a museum?" but I'm afraid you might actually answer me!

(Questions raised in critiques are generally meant to be answered only in revision. In this case, revise to make it clear what she's holding. Call it something that immediately makes us think talking-museum-thingy.)

Thought for the day: You obviously know a crudload about this Madoc fellow. I only know about him from Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, where he's the bad guy. You have beaucoup de info in re Celtic mythology, etc. But!

And this is an important but.

Readers who want to be fully and exhaustively informed on these arcane but useful subjects can and will read nonfiction books. A novel's job is to entertain. It can inform quietly in the background, but not loudly in the foreground.

I noticed that in the sample you provided, you switch right away to another character, Ruby. Don't do that. You're trying to get us interested in Penny.

Everything I've said above is pretty basic, general knowledge among the novelist crowd; not earth-shaking and not stuff I made up. A good writing workshop or critique group will provide you with the same info. If you're in one, and they haven't, then you should probably find another one.

Anonymous said...

I thought someone was swearing in the opening line.

PLaF said...

I agree with Alaska on the info dump. It also gives the opening too many starts and stops.

If I were to reorganize the flow of the opening, it may look more like:
1. the uncle barging into demand an explanation of the horrible noise he heard coming from the room
2. Penny's explanation of the problem with the recording
2.5 the uncle might suggest she'll never attain her goal of X with a recording like that.
3. Lead into the way she's dressed and introduce the problem of her mother's matchmaking at the upcoming reception.

You can work in the history lesson during a conversation at the reception.

And, if we're voting on titles, I liked "the cauldron thief"

Unknown said...

Actual continuation:

“How many brehon lawyers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Sixty. Eight to argue, three to get a continuance, five to object, one to demur, ten to research precedents, one to stipulate, one to depose, one to interrogate, two to settle, one to order a bard to change the bulb, and twenty-eight to bill for professional services …”

Unknown said...

PLaF, I like your reorganization. The Cauldron Thief is a good title, too, but I think it sounds a bit too YA.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

De Guatemala a guatepeor.

Evil Editor said...

I don't see any of this as telling someone something they already know. She's not telling her uncle about the cauldron, she's telling him about the recording. He doesn't know which facts about the cauldron she put on the recording. She could be bragging to him about how much she lnows about the cauldron or fishing for him to tell her some fact she should have included. A smooth way to get the info in without the narrator dumping it on us, in my opinion. The uncle might even tell her some little-known item to make her talk more interesting.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

PLaF, in re the relocation of the history lesson, I was thinking of how Diana Wynne Jones handles her alternate history in Witch Week. The historical split that created the world is that Guy Fawkes succeeded in blowing up Parliament.

This is revealed not in the first chapter, but somewhere near the end. And not because the author is withholding the info for purposes of suspense, but because the reader doesn't really need to know it until then. What's important, as in any novel, is the characters and their dilemma, not the backstory.

Somewhere or other I read that all backstory should be plucked from chapter one and stuck into chapter 15. And if it doesn't fit there, it should be deleted. Works for me.

IMHO the matchmaking mama and Penny's sartorial sins are also backstory, but YMMV etc.

EE, if she's upset that her recording is fubar, then she's not going to bother telling her uncle all the scintillating facts that were on her recording. It's peripheral to her problem, which is where's the damn recording. If she is telling him all that, then it makes it seem like she's not really that upset about the recording.

Eg, if I'm all "Where's my dog!?" I sound way more upset than if I'm all "Where's my dog, Bowser, whom I found as a stray wandering in rush hour traffic at the intersection of Northern Lights and Fireweed when he was but a puppy, and have nursed through not one but three bouts of pancreatitis?!"

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

(NB- Guatemala comment referring to lawyer joke, not to title. The title may sound YA but at least it doesn't sound middle grade.)

Evil Editor said...

Sorry, but we'll have to agree to disagree. Just last week I was telling someone about a file I had created and that disappeared from my computer, and I made a point of telling her how much work I'd put into the file, what was on it, etc. If I'd just said I accidentally deleted a file, she'd have either said Big deal, who hasn't done that, thinking I'd lost 5 minutes of work, or she'd have asked me exactly what I lost, in which case I end up telling her all about it anyway.

Likewise, if Penny just says One of my recordings is screwed up, Uncle will say, So? Redo it and quit your whining. By telling him how much was on the recording he gets a better idea of how big a disaster she feels this is and will be more sympathetic.

When I'm upset about something that's gone wrong, and talking to a loved one rather than a stranger, I always elaborate, and I suspect those who don't are in a very small minority.

Dave Fragments said...

I thought about this for a few hours before I had time to type a response. I don't think that anyone is going to read this opening unprepared for the Gaelic wildness.

And is this a little steampunkish in that the equipment is old style - for instance, a Victor Talking Machine rather than a tape recorder? That would explain the bakelite and horn. It's set early in the 1900's isn't it?

So the reader will not expect cellphones and sleek cars and TWO World Wars... Just one, the War to End All Wars - the one celebrated on Armistice Day and that people used to wear red poppies in remembrance.

I would move Penny's formal name to the second paragraph and open the second paragraph with "Penny, Panarddun..., jumped "

Then I would replace "And it was true that if" with something like "Uncle MMM was correct, if she wore men's overalls" etc...

And that would be friendlier to the reader.

BTW - not every detail you have is necessary to the story. So a slight trim would help move the story along.

One last word: I'm still giggling at "onLlookers Llooked"

khazar-khum said...

It's a good spot to reveal her character. If she says it in a rush--
"But you don't understand! I had my whole history of the cauldron on there that I spent weeks on and that you kept telling me was good and I wanted everyone to hear all about it and how I did all that work and now it's gone!"

That shows us a lot about her, as would this:

"Why, Uncle, I recorded a perfectly lovely piece about King Bran and his Otherworld allies. I even found the correct music to augment it!"

You can learn a lot about a character with dialog, and without falling into As You Know Bobs.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Agree to disagree-- cool! I like agreeing to disagree. I agree.

I see your point, but the specific nature of the info makes it feel dumpy to me.

BTW, I meant the intersection of Northern Lights and Arctic. I have performed a misinfo dump.

Evil Editor said...

Dump or not, I'd rather get this highly condensed version of the information from Penny than get the full version by listening to her making the recording with no Bob in the room.

150 said...

For what it's worth, I'm standing on the remove-the-info-dump side of this line, because the specific info being dumped sounds like kindergarten stuff. Removing it gives Uncle the benefit of the doubt that he knows the most basic elements of the Cauldron's story.

Evil Editor said...

I never argued that uncle didn't know anything or everything about the cauldron. I argue that he knows absolutely nothing about Penny's recording. Not only what's on the recording, but that she was even making a recording.

Tk said...

Hi Unknown, Penny has energy, that’s good. Also good, I think, is the lively debate you’re generating :)

I thought the voice came out of the horn, which was confusing (then how does he know what she’s wearing?). Also, if I didn’t know about the query, I wouldn’t have known the first line was her name; I probably would have thought it was a fancy Welsh swear word. (Tho’ cover copy might take care of that.)

I’m in the infodump camp, and here’s why: the dialogue didn’t feel natural. If he’s a fellow cauldron expert, I’d expect something more like: “It was lovely, I started with King Bran and had the whole Madoc story; I even put in the Great War though everyone knows that part...”

If he doesn’t know anything about the artifact, I’d expect more like: “It was lovely, I started right back in ancient times, told the whole story about how it got brought over here, and best of all the bit no one knows about the Great War – did you know Lloyd George used it to reanimate fallen soldiers after Vimy Ridge? True story!”

Anyway, a character with energy who makes a plot-driving mistake in the first paragraphs sounds like a good place to build on, so good luck, Unknown.

Evil Editor said...

If by the artifact you mean the cauldron, he knows about it. It's the recording she's telling him about, not the cauldron. Furthermore, it' one sentence. You people are griping because the author has ONE sentence with information in it in the first five paragraphs. Sheesh.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

EE, it's not like you to become so involved.

This is the first page. Every *word* had better be hauling its weight. Never mind a whole draggy sentence.

But personally, I'm not just quibbling about the Tale of Madoc. I stand by all my other objections, as well. I see a lot of drag here.

What ought to be on this page, IMNSHO, is a character facing a crisis. Everything that obscures that should be somewhere else. Eg later in the chapter, later in the book, or the recycling bin.

Evil Editor said...

The Cauldron of Rebirth was the only interesting aspect of the query, and it's the most interesting aspect of the opening, but you don't mind the author spending two paragraphs on Penny's wardrobe, while you refuse to listen to her description of why the Cauldron is important.

Also, the author has declared that this is a comedy, not an adventure. Humor tends to build, not open in crisis.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Actually, I thought the stuff about the wardrobe was pointless, too. Like I said, everything but the character and the crisis is extraneous. That would indeed include the clothing.

As far as I can tell, the only important thing here is that the Bakelite Horn is malfunctioning. And I'm only assuming that's important because the writer chose to begin the story here. I'm guessing (though there's nothing to suggest it) that some mysterious force that's caused the malfunction is going to turn out to be a major crisis in the story.

If it's a comedy, then the writer needs to cut all this stuff so we can get to the laughs.

Mister Furkles said...

I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy and some alternative history sci fi. Most must start with some bit of background information. To me it’s not info dump but needed to explain the tension of the first scene.

From time to time I prepare presentations for our customers. My manager usually stops by to ask if it’s ready. At those times, I usually summarize the presentation. We know her Uncle is knowledgeable, but the history she is presenting may be her expertise and she may know the details better than her Uncle.

I would change “the voice” to “his voice”. I’d cut the last sentence of paragraph 2 down. Or maybe start paragraph 3 with it. P2 starts with jumping up then goes to defining Uncle and winds up with a verbose description of attire. It goes Action to Boring and dampens the tension.

Other than that I have no real problems with it.

Dave Fragments said...

This is alternative history set in the 1920's and it deserves some grounding in the first few hundred words. Go back and read the Face Lift that it belongs to (F-1146) and you'll find all that information.

Her clothing isn't the draw into the story. Being late for a meeting isn't either. But the fact that she's related to the Head High Druid and doing something symbolic and magical and that is being affected by magic. Or supernatural if not magic.

That's why I made the comment that I thought a few hours before getting to a computer.

If the opening was "Penny you're late for school" with all of the included information about her clothing and Uncle, and history classes then it would be an info dump. But this isn't about anything common or typical or mundane.
This is about a "Cauldron of Rebirth" that was used to animate the dead. That's not info dump. That's zombies and Druidic magic. I know a few things about druids.

I'm on EE's side on this for more reason than that.
The second reason is the 1920's setting of the Alternate History. It's will be massively different than the Roaring Twenties.
Every page of this story is going to be odd to the reader either in character names or in places or situations. The Readers will stay with the story even on a quickie read. No reader is going to pick this novel up without knowing its alternate history and involves magic. Readers buy these novels from blurbs or back covers or front flyleaf, and if there is a glossary of unusual names in it, the reader will be prepared.

Komal J Verma said...

I too don't mind the info dump section per se, I just think it needs some rewording so it comes across as less 'specific' or 'classroom teacher-y':

I recorded a lovely piece, how King Bran received it from the Otherworld in ancient times, how Prince Madoc brought it with him to these shores from Wales in 1170, how it saved the Allied Forces in the Great War by reanimating our fallen warriors, all recited in my most mellifluous tones and...

I would take out 'in ancient times', 'from Wales in 1170', 'by reanimating our fallen warriors'. Basically I read it out loud and without those 'addendums', it sorta sounds better, like something someone might say. It also helps to give a sense of exasperation but with these specific details, I actually thought she was momentarily excited, keen, rather than agitated.

The other specifics can be later revealed to us when it's more acceptable to have a school lesson? Better yet, integrated into the action/scene.

Veronica Rundell said...

Sorry, but I'm chiming in on the "too much info" side here.

It's a super fun concept, but I feel like the pace is too slow. And, I can't really tell if Penny is nervous, frustrated, excited or hysterical. She seems to be any or all of these, and this makes the mood fall short, I think.

And, I'll be honest, I was completely detailed by the Bakelite horn. Not because of Bakelite-- per se. Mostly I wondered if it cracked or shattered. As a goof who spent way too many youthful hours watching Antiques Roadshow I sorely lamented the potential loss of an exquisite piece...

Can't believe this will derail more than 1 in 7 million readers, so...carry on, with fewer details and more tangible emotive aspects.

Unknown said...

I want to thank everyone for extremely helpful input. I knew that my ms. was not query-ready but I felt like I had taken it as far as I could on my own and really needed external input, which I got in spades. I was particularly flummoxed by my inability to come up with a good working title after more than a year of working on the story. Now that I have a working title of The Cauldron Caper (or, as I am privately calling it, It's The Cauldron, Stupid), I can see where the focus has gone astray. There's going to be a lot of rewriting, and I will definitely work with a professional editor as well after that. I'm also thinking I might be better off looking for an agent/publisher in the UK, where the inherent absurdity of the premise will be more immediately evident. Thanks again.

Evil Editor said...

The absurdity/humor in the opening is plenty evident. All of the continuation authors picked up on it and maintained the tone. (Of course, at least one of them IS British, so perhaps that's not the best evidence).

Unknown said...

I meant the inherent absurdity of the Welsh ruling the world. It's kind of like Vermont being the most powerful state in the Union. (I know, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders would beg to differ...) But it was pleasing, after the response to the query, that the continuations got it so right.

Evil Editor said...

Don't knock Vermont. Before Vermont became the fourteenth state of the union, it was a sovereign nation for more than a decade. How many other states can claim to have once been countries?

Unknown said...

As a former resident of Vermont, I have nothing but admiration for the state. (Well, except for all those mornings I spent digging my car out of a snow drift before I could get to work. And the fact that there are areas in the middle of nowhere in Africa that have better broadband and cellphone service than my mother can get.) And your gut response about Vermont--that's exactly the point I'm making about Wales. Except Vermont doesn't have its own, interestingly spelled language.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I'm laughing as I learn. Author, please remember to let us know your success story when it happens.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, Unknown, if nothing else you seem to have won EE's heart and mind, and that's pretty unusual.

I'd advise against both the professional editor and the UK search, but especially the latter, and here's why.

1. Self-editing is a skill you need to learn. A critique group or writer's workshop is the place to learn it. You'll need those skills again and again so you might as well learn 'em now.

After all, look; you've already learned not to argue with us.

2. Here's my experience of UK sales. Advances are 1/10 what they are in the US, tho' they have 1/5 our population. Books tend to be issued as paperback originals, they get fewer reviews, and a large portion of sales (a third, maybe?) seem to actually be in India and Australia anyway, so there goes your but-this-is-a-British-story angle.

(If it's a UK original, a lot of sales will be in Canada too. If you're published in the US then your Canadian sales will come from the US publisher and/or their Canadian branch.)

JME, YMMV, etc.

And if you start looking for a publisher abroad instead of at home, the natural question will be "Why?"

Unknown said...

I have, in the past, done workshopping. Perhaps it is merely my bad luck, but they have always ended up being counterproductive, indeed fatal to the project at hand, primarily because my co-participants have tried to push me in directions that the story doesn't go--insisting a cozy mystery should be noir, that a fantasy should be chick-lit, and that everything (I do live in LA) should be a Hollywood script. Perhaps I could find an online workshop that would be more in line with what I need, and where my input would be useful for others; that was really not an option the last time I tried this. I just have a feeling that working one-on-one with someone who actually knows the industry would be more productive.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, it's your money. Just be sure you really are hooking up with someone who knows the business.

One of my former editors is providing that service now but not in your genre. But it proves (to my satisfaction anyway) that at least some of the people out there are legit.

Unknown said...

Like I said, I am an editor. (I find it nicely ironic that I will end up doing freelance nonfiction editing to squirrel together the money for a fiction editor.) I have contacts.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I used to have contacts, but I find glasses much more comfortable.

Mister Furkles said...


I don’t think you need an editor because you already know grammar, usage, and syntax. Maybe you need a better crit group.

What I think you need is to reorganize your novel scenes in order to start at a better point. Then flash back to this point later. A couple of agents have written that most new novelists don’t know where to start their novel.

A successful novelist [I forget who] suggested that you get a set of 5x7 cards. On each card you put a scene name, characters, what happens, how the scene advances either plot or character or both. Then rearrange the novel in different ways.

Lee Child said, “As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer.” Does your first scene do this? I don’t think it does. At least the first page does not.

A little Gracie Allen humor from Alaska. LOL.

Veronica Rundell said...

Listen to Mr. f. A good critique group is an immeasurable asset. Unfortunately it takes time to cultivate one. As this novel ins't timely (contemporary) I'd advise finding a group you are comfortable with and working diligently until the manuscript is 18 times more polished than you even dreamed it would be.

Better to polish the stone than let every agent in creation chuck it into the abyss...