Saturday, July 29, 2006

New Beginning 16


It’s funny how an apocalypse can sneak up on you.

One day there’s just some weird flu down in Central America, and the next thing you know a quarter of your country is dead and it isn’t over yet.

It was a virus, transmitted by casual contact. After infection, it would incubate for six to eight months, symptomless but contagious. The symptoms, when they came, had a consistent pattern, beginning with a bad cough and a drop in body temperature, followed by the gradual loss of all five senses. Finally, the lungs broke down and filled with fluid- all the fun of drowning without the trouble of going into the water. It was invariably fatal.

Fatal, that is, to everyone except that handful of people who, like me, breathe through gills.

But what's the point of living if you can't hear, taste, see, smell, or feel? So forgve me if this mnuscrpt has typos...I can't be sure I'm hirting the corect keys -- hell, I can't even be sur I'm not typig on the dog. He could be gnawing my left leg and nut off, for all I can tel. And eating? I can't tell fish sticks from feces.

So what's my plan? Walking into trafic. If I can find the dam door.

Opening: Marjorie James.....Continuation: Ted Curtis


Anonymous said...

Changing tenses is bad, mmmkay?

Novelust said...

I know it's been used elsewhere, but with a first line like that, I would weep for joy should the book be retitled, 'Oops, Apocalypse!'

Quarantown also brings up echoes of the hit Broadway musical Urinetown.

~Run, virus, run
Run, runaway...!~

But maybe that's just me.

Seriously, though, great first line, good second sentence - third: infodump. Give us some dialogue, set a scene. Cut the infodump into bite-sized pieces and give it to us on the sly over the course of the story. Like hiding medicine in spoonfuls of ice cream.

Anonymous said...

My main concern with this entry is that the concept has been done before, at least twice (Michael Crichton, Stephen King). Even if half the world is decimated by a virus, the book would probably benefit from an opening that doesn't so closely echo existing, highly popular works (in their time, at least).

Perhaps you could start the book with whatever comes next.

Bernita said...

Don't think anything the the viral/disease realm is "invariably fatal."
Always someone, somewhere - a group - who is naturally immune.

Anonymous said...

When I read "Quarantown", I thought the title referred to the Quran (Koran), and I couldn't see what the Islamic connection was.

It took a while for me to have the forehead-slapping "Oh!" moment. Quarantine-town. Right; I gotcha now. :)

Lisa Cohen said...

"all the fun of drowning without the trouble of going into the water.

Worth the read for that sentence fragment alone. In fact that would be a fabulous first line for a novel.

Anonymous said...

Crichton and King did it first? Try Boccaccio! (OK, maybe literary tastes have changed a little since the 14th century.) Actually, though, this does remind me of the Decameron, because its title implies a group of people waiting out a deadly plague and amusing themselves in a place of relative safely. (And I'd read an updated Decameron. Seems like something Calvino should've done.)

What I like about the opening is the way the tone contrasts with the seriousness of the situation. It makes me curious about the narrator and why he/she can see the situation as "funny." That tone seems to fade in the third paragraph, until you get to this line: all the fun of drowning without the trouble of going into the water. I liked the irreverence.

Anonymous said...

With some mention of avian influenza in the news I could see this being timely.

If avian flu reprises the Spanish flu you'd probably have a scientist struggling with the fact that the youngest, healthiest people died the quickest. ("all the fun of drowning" resulted from immune systems that went into overdrive.

That added to the drama of the 1918 pandemic in which my grandfather lost his three teen-age sisters. Ironic, wasn't it? He was in the trenches in WWI, getting shot at and gassed, and came home to find half his sibs gone.

magz said...

I like this! A writer's job is Storytelling, an editor's job is Detailing! Rather than pic those nits, I'll just tell the author that I'd love to read this, based only on the little bit that fits in an EE NB hehe.

WTG Author; I'd buy it (and not just cause I'm writing my own version of the apocalypse novel currently)

(wd verf: aksem: so I yam, aksem for more)

Anonymous said...

Great opening sentence.

I agree with Novelust on the 3rd sentence/paragraph - infodump. Give me some dialog or a character, something like that. I understand the whole idea of letting us know what exactly this virus does, but I think it should be spread out more.

Love the snarky attitude, though.


Daisy Bateman said...

Right, that's enough fun. Now for the part where the author shows up and gets pissy.

(Not really. I just have a few things to add. And I do appreciate all the kind words.)

Re: the infodump in the opening: You guys are really going to hate it when I tell you that the entire first chapter (about five pages) is background, but I have a good reason for it. Well, a reason anyway. I know the standard advice is to open with action and to try to "weave" the backstory in later, and I tried to do that at first. But the explaining has to be done, and moving it into the story seemed to end up being either too obscure and confusing or to break up the action with chunks of explaination. So finally I just said, 'Screw it. I'm going to put the setting up front so the reader knows what's going on, and then get on with the story.' It may be a bad decision, but it's the one I went with.

In case anyone cares (and I know you do), the book is a murder mystery, set among people under quarantine, and the investigator is the only person known to survive the infection. (So yeah, I kind of lied about the 100% death rate, but I'm going with 1 out of 100 million as statistically insignificant.)

Oh, and by the way, there's nothing wrong with using different verb tenses between a general statement and an account of specific events, alrighty hon?

HawkOwl said...

See, just because it's more convenient for you to write something readers don't like, doesn't mean readers are gonna put up with it. Does the fact that this disease killed half the world directly affect the murder story? Do the specifics of the disease directly affect the murder story? If not, just leave it out. If you can't live without the infodump, at least make it a prologue so people know to skip the first umpteen pages. Or make it a flashback in chapter two.

Miss Snark always says your query should tell her 1) who the protagonist is, 2) what happens to him in the first chapter and 3) why she should care. So now you've told us "the protagonist isn't the point and nothing happens to anyone in the first chapter, but you should keep on reading because I couldn't figure out how to make it more interesting." Um, ok, whatever works for you, but I'm gonna spend my money on someone who has stuff happening in the first chapter. First paragraph, even.

A lit fic novel might survive the first chapter being all infodump. A murder mystery, I doubt it.

Daisy Bateman said...

See, I told you you'd hate it. :>

I didn't write the begining of the book that way because it was convenient, I wrote it because I thought it worked better. And it was the reader I had in mind when made that choice. The open with action/weave in backstory approach can work, but it can also be kind of artificial, and the reader generally knows exactly what you're doing. I hope that the story of what is happening in the world is interesting enough (and the voice engaging enough) that the reader will want to read on and find out what is going on, now that these things have happened. And yes, of course all the info is essential to the story. Without it, the action and the characters wouldn't make much sense.

I know that the idea that you should get character and action up front is widely held, and a good one, but I don't believe that it's absolute. In my mind, the only thing that should matter is if the story is interesting enough that you want to read on, not how well it conforms to a formula.

HawkOwl said...

Starting a story with what happens in the story isn't so much a formula as a reflex, I think. Even drunk guys in bar generally start stories at a point where something is happening. It's not a law of physics that doing a whole chapter of backstory is a poor way to open a novel, but you'd have to be a very good writer to make it work any other way. Personally I found nothing engaging about the voice in your first 150, I thought it was callous and didn't sound genuine at all.

Good luck with it. :)

Anonymous said...

Personally, if there's background information I need to know, I'd much rather have it up front then get on with the story. It avoids those tedious 'as you well know...' conversations or characters spending several pages thinking about past events for no good reason. As long as the infodump is short and interesting, I'd read on. Though I think the murder should be mentioned as soon as possible - it's the murder in quarantine idea rather than the plague that will make the story unique.