Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New Beginning 6

Anyone who has met me would tell you that I am an ordinary man. Plain in face, quiet in nature, unexciting in every sense of the word. And they would be right, for the most part, because my life has been filled with very ordinary happenings.

I was born in a small town in western Illinois, only child to an accountant and a housekeeper. With the exception of their different views of all things spiritual, my parents got along very well. My father quietly read his bible in his study, while my mother allowed him his fantasies of a God, and heaven and hell. She didn't believe in any of it, preferring to live her life simply and go through each day as if it were her last one, ever. She advised me to do the same, enjoy each day and have no hope of there being anything beyond this world. As a small child might, I took this to mean that there would be no consequences for me to face later and therefore I spent a lot of time facing consequences with her, my teachers, and a couple of times with the law.

Now, only now, as I pen this memoir from a fire pit in hell, it dawns on me: my father was not quite the idiot my mother led me to believe.

Opening: Cheryl Mills.....Continuation: Evil Editor


Kanani said...

I can see you've plotted each character --the bible studying father and the June Cleaver mother.

But you're giving me a psychological rundown of your family in the very first 150 words. I want things to be happening. Show me: what makes you so ordinary? I don't think you have to tell me you're ordinary, or that you come from ordinary parents, but you have to at least show me how. Like driving to the 7-11 and looking both ways to at the security camera before you go in, hoping that nobody comes in with a gun. That's ordinary. What's out of the ordinary is what happens next.

Watch for word repetitions and character stereotypes.

Thanks for sharing! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

LOL!! I'm snorting here...this is great :)

PJD said...

Dear EE: This is a valuable service you are providing to writers who have not yet felt the bittersweet sting of a good editor. My lesson came early, on my first radio report at KALX News waaaay back in college. The producer on my first day pared my eight-sentence report down to about 18 words. And the world was illuminated, and I understood.

I, however, enjoy the query critiques much more than the first page critiques. Perhaps it's because a query is almost like flash fiction while a first page is a promise of 300 better pages to come. Knowing those 300 pages are not on their way, I have little interest in the promise offered by the first page.

If you ever open your dictatorship to democracy, I vote for a return to the queries. (Presuming, of course, that you continue to receive queries for critique.)

Kanani said...

I like the first 150 words.
In the writer's mind, once they write the query letter, they feel as though they are done. It doesn't sit well with them that we're telling them to go back and check for clichés and such. Whereas someone who braves the first 150 is willing to change.

There is so much that comes through about the writer's craftsmanship in the first 150.
Bad habits such as: repetition or words, awkward grammar, sentence structure problems, inability to recognize clichés, bad use of metaphors or similies and long winded passages that could be whittled down.
Good attributes such as: Clear, concise description, accurate usage of words, varied sentence structure, crisp dialogue, and knowing how to engage the reader from the first sentence.

What shows up in the first 150 occurs usually throughout the rest of the novel.

I wouldn't chuck one for the other, but both are useful for different things.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather see fewer, longer entries instead of numerous 1st paragraphs/1st 150 words. Perhaps one first chapter/maximum of 10-15 pages every two weeks?

Since EE's already selling stuff, why not raffle off a full critique or 10 for the upcoming holiday season? You could just post the New Beginning and I'm sure the author(s) would keep us updated on the fate of the ms(s).

pacatrue said...

I was contemplating this paragraph for a bit, because I have the same sort of impulse as the author. I like to start off thinking that everything is normal and everyday and then let the reader slowly discover that something odd or special is occuring. The problem with this approach is that no one is left reading by that point.

I think you might try reversing things. As it turns out, the character is not boring. I've never had a run in with the law, but this character has. Assuming that there is some plot to the story, the character has had other interesting events in his life. Start with one of them and hook us. Then let us see his very boring upbringing and contemplate how he went from the Lord of Boring to become the nexus of zombie deathfish castrated prostitutes itself.

Another approach is to start right at the spiritual stuff like EE did in the revision. I have a very similar philosphy as the mother: this is the only life we've got. I therefore argue we better do as much good as we can now before it's gone. But the protagonist hears this and thinks, "woo-hoo, party at my place!"

That's interesting.

McKoala said...

I'm liking the first 150 words as much as the query letters. EE is always entertaining no matter what he is slicing and dicing.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I'm laughing again!!

I like the first page revisions - although I think the first 150 words is almost too short. However, whoever suggested 10 to 15 pages needs to bite their tongue - hard - because I absolutely can't sit through that!!!

But I'm glad to see this because I am the reader that this exercise is aimed at. I buy too many books (minimum of one a week)and when I am browsing for new books, I look at titles, cover art and the first two paragraphs. If these three things grab me, then I look at the blurb to see what the story is about to clinch the deal. The title and cover art are not usually in the writer's hands, but the first paragraphs are it better be damn good.

Now that said, I don't know if I liked EE's version better (please don't ban me!!). There was a certain rhythm to the original writing that hinted to interesting items to come. EE's version shortened it but didn't necessarily make it more interesting, although I do agree that the "but" needs to come sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

but I was the guy on the grassy knoll.

The submission was good, but EE hijacked it with this.

Anonymous said...

Bible is always capitalized when referring to Scripture, lower case when a casual reference such as "The dictionary is my Bible." This according to the Associated Press style book.

Demographically, Mom and Dad would be flip-flopped.

Other than that ... um ... it starts kind of slow for me. When something happens, why not start there?

Anonymous said...

"zombie deathfish castrated prostitutes."

Now there's a story that needs to be told.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's worth doing 1st pages, because it's just not enough to get a sense of what the book's like. It would be much more useful to provide a critique of 2nd pages. Or how about last pages? Endings are arguably the most important part of the book, and are often a let down. I can't remember the 1st page of the last 10 books I read, but I sure as heck remember the last.

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying these 1st pages immensely. It's true that I probably don't remember the first page of most novels I've read. But that first page has definitely helped determine whether I actually start reading the book in the first place.

Anonymous said...

My eyes glazed over some of this (sorry, author). I agree with EE that the "but" needs to come sooner. There has to be some sort of action - not necessarily physical, though.

I like what Kanani said, too, about having the character going into a 7-11 and looking at the security cameras before going in. Why's the character doing that? Why's he so paranoid? That sort of thing. It's very ordinary to drive to the 7-11, not so ordinary (at least in my world ;-)) to look at security cameras before going into a convenience store.

Just a couple of thoughts. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Does it count if the 'but' is in the third paragraph? And it's an action but?

Really, it is, I swear. I condensed seven long, boring chapters into these two boring paragraphs, so that's at least better, eh? I'm still stuck on 'but I need this background info in there!', working on that. Still working on revisions, so at least you all are the only ones subjected to my current boring start. Perhaps a paragraph (or chapter, even) re-shuffle is in order.

Thanks for the comments, especially the one on rhythm. That made me smile.

Luna said...

Such navel-gazing on a first page usually makes me fall asleep, unless the narrator is waxing nostalgic about this over the body parts of his many victims.

Lightsmith said...

I'm still stuck on 'but I need this background info in there!'

Is knowing that background info really necessary in order for the reader to understand/enjoy the scene which comes directly after this block of narration? Remember that the reader doesn't need to know everything about a character all at once. Part of the pleasure of reading is discovering the nuances of a character as he or she is gradually revealed to us (preferably through the character's actions).

P.S. Where exactly in western Illinois?

Anonymous said...

Not even attempting to stifle a mammoth yawn. -JTC

magz said...

Keep it up EE, for as long as it's entertaining to You Sir.

I agree with the above commenters (ala kanani) who think GRAB me!

Authors? If your writing style is Beautiful and/or Mesmerizing... I shall continue to read on irreguardless of instant disclosure.

OTOH, the World's Coolest Tale wont hold me for long if it's presented in a dull or overdone format. Be daring, and mainly be Real, (or at least True to Yourownself)

Evil Editor said...

If you're going to start by saying that to most people you seem like the most boring guy on the planet, the quicker you can stick in a "but" the better. Something like but I've killed 74 people and buried them in Central Park, or but I was the guy on the grassy knoll. You don't want readers to stop before you tell them why they shouldn't stop.