Thursday, July 27, 2006

New Beginning 7

Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo

"We have to go! I'm going to miss the plane." Ian's voice was muffled but his frustration came through all too clearly.

"I have to find it!" I called back, and continued scrabbling around under the bed, until he grabbed my feet and pulled me a few inches backward, dragging my face along the carpet."Ow!" I wriggled back out into the bedroom and stood up. "That hurt!"

"I'm going to miss the plane! With all the customs stuff, I have to be there on time. You can give me the last one when I come home."

"No! I bought thirty presents, and you have to open one a day. You're not leaving without one. I have to find it."

"Candice. There is no more time. Please."

"No! You have to have it. It's bad luck if you don't. You can't go without it, you just..." The tears that I'd been fighting all morning overwhelmed my anger at myself for losing the present and I started to sob.

"It's too late! I have to leave now."

"No! I bought thirty presents, and you have to open one a day. You're not . . . Oops, I just remembered what the last one is. Quick, drop your pants."

"Candice. There is no more ti-- Well, maybe I can spare a few minutes."

Opening: Heather.....Continuation: Evil Editor


Cheryl said...

Oh, EE, you are too funny.

I agree, the last present better be a bomb. And hopefully she won't find it until it explodes and blasts that whiny girl into little tiny pieces. I'm with Ian. Get out of there, fast.

Anonymous said...

Was it labeled an erotic romance? I guess it is now. :)

Anonymous said...

LOL...beverage alert!

Anonymous said...

Maybe not. In words 151-300 it's revealed that the character leaving for the airport is a brutal eunuch. So the pants will be going back up as quickly as they went down.

Anonymous said...

A present a day for 30 days? Where do I sign up?

Sounded interesting, esp. EE's, um, revision.


Bernita said...

Sorry, writer, but the kind of female who puts her rituals ahead of practical considerations is very high on my personal shitlist.

Anonymous said...

LOL, that's funny about the bathroom being under the bed.

Ian, the guy who dragged Candice's face across the carpet, seems like a sweetheart.

Unknown said...

!!! = reject reject reject

word verification: zimgz -- kind of how I feel after reading all that inane dialog.

Anonymous said...

Funny, whenever I travel, I don't have to go through Customs till I arrive at my destination.

Oh, I get it. Ian's a pathological liar.

Can't wait till EE critiques page 2.

Ugh. I just used "critique" as a verb. Impact me with a stick.

Anonymous said...

I'm not with either of these characters; Candice is neurotic and Ian physically injures her without a second thought. I wouldn't want to read a whole book about these two.

The scene does have tension, however. It gets us right into the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I do kind of prefer EE's revision, but in the author's defense, if she's really superstitious, then yes, the gifts are as important as getting to the airport on time. But then superstition better be a major theme in the book...I'm thinking of Tan's The Joy Luck Club, for instance.

Also, just as an observation, EE seems particularly hard on romances. I'm wondering if this is in part because romances aren't EE's thing.

Anonymous said...

radicalfeministpoet, there are plenty of airports where people have to go through customs *before* they can board their flight.

Rhonda Helms said...

This has to be the funniest opening I've ever read. Seriously. I couldn't stop laughing when I read your revised version...hahaha

Anonymous said...

That puts MOST females on bernita's shitlist.

Anonymous said...

This opening sure works for me. Maybe a little clean-up, sure, tighten the dialogue, but it seems to be setting up a good premise. Jumps right into the story. Introduces a couple characters by showing us, not telling us, what they're like.

If the writing holds up, I would think an agent wants to see more. Of course, I don't know the genre, but I'd keep reading the next 150 words to see if I wanted more. One gift per chapter can make a real page-turner to see how Candice outdoes herself. Especially if she starts with EE's version.


Anonymous said...

That puts MOST females on bernita's shitlist.

Not this one. I have to agree with Bernita. The female character appears to be a ditz, not someone I want to read about.

Anonymous said...

Since this opens with conflict between a woman and a man, it would have some appeal to Romance readers. But I agree with other commenters that she needs to have a compelling reason for her annoying behavior; either the gift itself should have importance above and beyond being the thirtieth, perhaps even making his trip unnecessary, or maybe she's oc and her behavior is even worse than usual since she's pregnant and her hormones are raging out of control.

Beth said...

The tears that I'd been fighting all morning overwhelmed my anger at myself for losing the present and I started to sob. [. . . for I knew that without the thirtieth present, a cleverly disguised bomb primed to explode at 25,000 feet, the bastard would be returning.]

OK, now I want to read it.

Mazement said...

Um. I don't want to seem ungrateful, but if I'm going to be out of the country for a month then I don't want to be toting around 30 presents and only opening one a day.

I guess it's OK if they're all envelope-sized. In that case the missing #30 could be fedexed to my hotel. (Kind of pricy, but not as expensive as rescheduling my flight if I miss it.)

Verification word: dgelfl. The sound I'd make trying to close my suitcase after wedging in 30 unexpected gift boxes.

Anonymous said...

"The female character appears to be a ditz, not someone I want to read about."

God forbid you read a book about a character who isn't perfect in every way.

Anonymous said...

EE, you naughty lad!

If Ian is an average guy, she could give him that same present every day for 30 days, and he'd be REAL happy!

Totally stupid heroine - I'd be leaving too. This reminds me vaguely of a holiday-themed romance novel someone recommended to me recently. The heroine decided her nice middle-class husband wasn't 'hearing her' about wanting to take in sewing projects as part of her empty-nest self-fulfillment (it threatened his manhood that she wanted to earn some money - are there still marriages like this?).

She was too conflict-avoidant to just force the discussion so, to get his attention, she kicked him out of the house and started divorce proceedings without the least intention of following through. Yeah, right.

Man, I still feel slightly soiled at the idea there are wives that stupid. Apparently there are also wives dim enough to want to read a book about a woman that stupid. In the ten or so pages I actually forced myself to read, I was rooting for him to start boffing his secretary and never go home again. Yeesh!

What IS the world coming to?

Stacia said...

See, on the one hand I agree that neither of these people sound particularly likeable.

On the other...perhaps if we had a blurb (I'm not suggesting extra work for you, EE, just playing Devil's Advocate) or knew something, anything about the story, we might feel differently. Like if we knew part of the story is how the heroine goes from whiny to standing on her own, or whatever, and we wanted to read stories like that. It seems like we're asking for an awful lot of information in those first 150.

I'm just going by the premise that an agent or editor reading those first few lines knows something about the story. So if the story interests them, perhaps they would read into the next paragraph or two before giving up.

(And no, I'm not saying this because of the response I got. It's something I've always wondered about.)

Anonymous said...

HA! HA! HA! HA!!! HA!!!!!!
Gum down wrong pipe... ACCCCKKKKKK!
All better.

Kanani said...

Do you realize that almost every paragraph starts with !!!!!!!!

I don't think it's necessary. By the words alone, you understand the urgency and frustration of the situation. The !!!! becomes farcical after awhile and your characaters all sound the same, are speaking in the same pitch. Exclamation points are like sweetener: a little bit goes a long way. More, and it becomes excessive.

I think you can put far more drama if you vary your character's tones.
For example.

These are statements.
Ian was frustrated. He turned to me and said in a low voice, "We have to go."

Dialogue is not meant as a packmule for information. Cut it down to only the essentials and the unusual. You've repeated "I'm going to miss the plane." That's already been imparted when he repeats it again, and everything else in paragraph 3.

Good job. Thanks for sharing, and have fun with the rewrite.

Anonymous said...

december quinn, I've been wondering the same thing.

It seems to me that, beyond a certain level of craposity, how good or bad the first 150 words is depends a whole lot on the next 70,000. An opening that is good for one story will be bad for another. To cite an obvious example, an action-thriller calls for a very different opening than a moody psychological study, even though both might begin with events that are superficially similar.

I'm seeing comments (here and on other new beginnings) about things that we haven't been given enough information to judge.

Anonymous said...

I think this woman should leave Ian for the guy who thinks runny eggs are such a big deal.

Anonymous said...

God forbid you read a book about a character who isn't perfect in every way.

I can forgive a hell of a lot in a character--from bad skin to bad choices to criminal tendencies--but I can't stand to read about people who act like this. Much like I can hardly stand to associate with them.

Secondary characters can be anything at all, but the main needs a brain.

Anonymous said...

It seems like every one of these openings, someone chimes in to say "but if we knew more, then these issues wouldn't be a problem."

But what we do or don't know about the larger book doesn't matter. The author chiming in with more background--here or in the query letter--doesn't matter. The fact that this will all make sense on page 137 doesn't matter.

All that matters is whether the writing is compelling enough for a reader to instinctively want to keep going. Nothing else.

Kanani said...

desert minion is correct (does she have a mug too?)
I don't want to spend too much time on this, as really, the thread should be more about what's been offered up on EE's pewter platter.

With the first 150 words, what I'm really looking at is the craftsmanship of the writer. Does the character have true voice, is there action or thought to compell me to read more? With the first 150 words, I'm not here to critique your plot, or look at character development.

Word repetition, use of clich├ęs, dialogue that doesn't click along, a certain flatness to the writing, & akward sentences that show up in the first 150 will be endemic throughout the book. This means that the writer has to be aware of these things, and will have to go back later and mine.

Here's a good thing to do: Go to the books you like. Read only the first page. Observe what the writer does to establish the narrrator's voice, mood and environment.

Mazement said...

Secondary characters can be anything at all, but the main needs a brain.

They can even get by without a brain. I think the best way to do it is to use the "cocktail party test": If I met this character at a cocktail party, how much time would I spend with them?

Stupid isn't necessarily a problem. If they've got an interesting story about how they're helping a Nigerian millionaire smuggle his fortune out of the country, then I might stay around and listen to it.

Annoying isn't a problem either. I'd love to be at a cocktail party with Ignatius Reilly from "A Confederacy of Dunces". (I wouldn't actually talk to him, I'd just watch from a distance.)

Boring and shallow is a problem. You just know that if Candice were at a cocktail party, she'd spend the whole time complaining about the carpet burns and the missing package and the rest of her lousy day.

I'm assuming that she undergoes a major transformation and becomes better company, but I don't know that I could stand to hang out with her for more than ten pages, so she'd need to change quick.

Maybe if she fell through a magic portal to another dimension on page 3, and renegade sorcerors were trying to kill her by page 7? Then she'd at least have something interesting to complain about.

Eh, take this with a grain of salt. I'm probably not in the target demographic.

Verification word: Toynqa. One of the models of car you can buy from street vendors selling knock-offs in Chinatown.

Anonymous said...

Seven exclamation points in half a page? I think not!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Kanani, I think your post helps us focus a lot on what we can learn from the first "page" (although 150 words is less than a full first page).

Mazement, I disagree with you and others who think Candice is automatically whiny and unlikeable. I think she loves Ian, has given him 30 days worth of presents to open for each of the 30 days he'll be gone, is superstitious and fears that if he only has 29 presents, on the 30th day something bad will happen to him. Maybe there's magic or fantasy involved. Or maybe it's romance (her love potion wears off?).

So, imho, while I think Candice is okay and the premise is okay, on the Kanani test (and anon's well-informed opinions), the writing needs work!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The Kanani Test? That's got a nice ring to it. We should quantify it, however.

Precisely how high an exclamation mark/sentence ratio must an excerpt have to fail the Kanani Test? Assuming that this excerpt fails, the threshold has to be, at maximum, 0.333.

Jane said...

I'm with xiqay; I don't dislike Candice right off the bat. I think the present thing is actually kind of endearing.

People have been known to let their quirks show in front of their spouses from time to time. I'd give the author a bit longer to establish Candice's character before deciding that she was worthless.

Ian, though, ought to apologize for that rug burn.

Anonymous said...

I don't usually chime in a second time on a thread, but What Desert Minion Said!!!!! (just keeping in with the !!!! theme)

Specifically "But what we do or don't know about the larger book doesn't matter. The author chiming in with more background--here or in the query letter--doesn't matter."

One of the things that keeps me from posting on some critique sites is the constant 'feedback' from the author. If the writing doesn't stand on its own, doesn't COMMUNICATE the author's intent and engage the reader by those words on that page (or screen) alone, it becomes a novice's painting - potentially pretty at first glance, but not compelling to look at for long.

Unknown said...

Yes, the !!! are a dead killer. I suggest this writer pick up The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. It's an eye opener for newbies and sometimes for not so new newbies.

Mazement said...

Hi Jane,

Heh, I think we're reading that paragraph completely differently.

My first instinct is that getting 30 presents in this situation would be a burden. Are they all so nice and so useful that Ian won't mind carrying them around in his luggage for a whole month? I don't think so. (Unless it's 30 love letters, which would actually be quite sweet.)

And if Ian suggests that the gifts are a bad idea, then he'll come across as ungrateful. It's a trap!

The "burden" theory gets further supported by the dialogue; Ian is really getting frantic about missing his flight.

Basically I see Candice as being self-indulgent rather than quirky or seems like she's doing this for her own benefit, not for Ian's.

(Apologies to Candice if she is actually sending 30 love letters. I'm thinking they're packages, but that might just be because of EE's commentary.)

I'll agree that Ian should apologize for the rug burns.

Anonymous said...

As my husband pointed out when I first started writing, men don't speak with exclamation points... the possible exception being any necessary interjections during life-threatening situations.

Stacia said...

Hasn't he opened the other 29, and she's trying to find the last one?

Anonymous said...

The present-a-day thing is one of those techniques for perking up your marriage that got promoted a few years back by one of the self-appointed relationship gurus on TV (no, I don't remember who, and I dont' want to remember either). You come up with a cute little present (which could include love notes) for each day the person's going to be gone. Theoretically they're supposed to be small enough not to be a nuisance and also theoretically they're supposed to be hidden in the luggage, not agonized over in public.

So one can assume the husband's going to be gone for 30 days, and that the wife is not very competent but is going to have to cope with something very soon.

I'm not in love with the story, especially the exclamation marks and the rug burns, but if I were reading this in the slush, I'd probably give it another couple hundred words before I tossed it.

Anonymous said...

December, I thought the same thing but nobody else seemed to interpret it that way. I thought he's already opened the others and she wants him to open #30 before departing.

NOt that I understand the 30 present thing, but hey, it's only 150 words...