Saturday, August 19, 2006

New Beginning 82

Mary was mad. Really mad. She tightened her crossed arms as she shifted in her seat. She should be in second period chemistry with Mr. James, but instead, she was in Mr. Lando’s office. He was Mary’s appointed guidance counselor. It was the first day of school.

The. First. Day. Of. School.

The man just couldn’t leave her alone. He wanted so desperately to be her buddy, but Mary would never become chummy with him. Why couldn't he get that? She was forced to see him. These weren't voluntary visits. He had to summon her to get her through his office door, and she was forced to see him because of behaviorial issues, which meant she didn't get along with people in general anyway, that went double for people she didn't like.

Her very demeanor was sprinkled with subtle clues for Mr. Lando to grasp how much she disliked him.

Too subtle, it seemed; the only thing Mr. Lando grasped . . . was her breast.

Her. Breast.

Maybe he'd enjoy a little patella-to-scrotum action.

Patella. To. Scrotum. Ouch.

Mary dropped him to the ground and walked out of the office, taking her file with her.

Opening: S.A. Hunter.....Continuation: Cheryl Mills


Anonymous said...

"Mary would never become chummy with him" seems a bit out of synch with the rest; I'd expect something more colloquial. The rest of it is clearly Mary's thoughts, whereas this sounds like an outside observer.

Anonymous said...

Hi author,

This is ok writing for setting a scene, and I'm interested to know why Mary is in the guidance office on the first. day. of. school. You have a good sense of voice as well, but the whole piece is telling, not showing.

Mary was mad. Really mad.

This sentence isn't needed. She tightened her crossed arms as she shifted in her seat shows us this.

You also might reconsider this: The. First. Day. Of. School. This is effective if you have two or three words, but using it with this whole sentence really slows the reader down. You could keep the sentence, and keep it separate like it is, just maybe lose the periods.

and she was forced to see him because of behaviorial issues, which meant she didn't get along with people in general anyway, that went double for people she didn't like You could lose the most of this sentence. Most people know what behavioral issues are, or can guess, and I'm sure you will get into the specific details later, but you don't have to define it like you do above.

Her very demeanor was sprinkled with subtle clues for Mr. Lando to grasp how much she disliked him.

This sentence needs to go. You have already shown us this in the begining with her arms being crossed. This sentence is very vauge, and unless you have new specfics about her demeanor, this sentence is useless. Is she clentching her jaw? digging her nails into the arm of her chair? chomping on her gum? Be specific.

Like I said though, I do want to read on and know what's going on, but if you make the scene more vivid through description instead of just telling us what's happening, you will hold on to the reader's attention more.

Good luck!

writtenwyrdd said...

I get it that Mary was really, really mad. What I don't see is a reason for being mad at Mr Landro. What is the issue here? Without knowing that, there is no reason for me to care.

I also was thinking pedophile...was that what you were trying to hint at?

Perhaps have the conflict in the first paragraph and give the reader some reason to sympathise with Mary's anger. Good luck!

Feisty said...


KRUROOBS is the word verification so I just couldn't resist.

Bernita said...

Didn't. Bother. Me.
I like this construction, unless it's over-used in a piece.
Don't mind the statement of her emotion repeated by action for emphasis either.
You lose me after The. First. Day. Of. School.
Explain in dialogue, not backstory/exposition.

HawkOwl said...

Of all the things I didn't like, the one I dislike the most is "her very demeanor was sprinkled with subtle clues for Mr. Lando to grasp how much she disliked him."

Why does it say "her very demeanor"? That means "even her demeanor." What else but her demeanor could possibly give clues that she doesn't like him? Fiery writing on the wall? No. Of course it's her demeanor that gives it away. Nor is it "sprinkled" with "subtle" clues. Like most people, she's not at all subtle about disliking him, and being a counsellor, I don't think he's dense enough to need clueing in. I'd just lose the whole sentence and rinse my eyes with eye soap.

What else did I not like? "The. First. Day. Of. School." Like someone else said, stick to two or three words. Try "The First. Day. Of School."

I don't like that it's a teenager again. Not exactly your fault there and it's too late to fix, but it seems like everyone is doing young-adult these days, and not doing it in an engaging way at all. And like the others said, way too much talk and no action. "He was Mary's appointed guidance counselor. It was the first day of school. The. First. Day. Of. School." Boooooooooring! Get to the action. Or at least get to the dialogue. Right now there isn't any conflict. Yeah, it's an angry teenaged girl in a school counsellor's office. That may sound like a conflict, but it's not. It's just a teenager being bitchy. It would be more unusual if she wasn't bitchy.

Also, there is no hint of the plot here. Is the whole novel about her not liking the school counsellor? I hope not. There should be some hint of where we're going.

So far it doesn't look like a sexy concept at all, so you need to rock the writing if it's gonna work. Make things happen.

Good luck. :)

Anonymous said...

When I was almost 3, a very nice old neighbor lady lured me from my yard and into her house to visit. She wouldn't let me leave. I was lucky she was just delusional and lonely - and that my mom saw me through a window.

You evoke that sort of creepiness here. Was that what you intended?

Anonymous said...

I got a creepy feeling too. You might need to tweak this a bit if it's Mary's bad-ass behavior that's really got her in trouble, and not her GC's lecherous behavior.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lando? Who's the superintendent, Ms. Vader?

Anonymous said...

Having been forced to visit with the guidance counselor for a while during junior high, I was not thinking pedophile at all. More of a generic angry young girl with no intention of sharing personal issues with someone who might not have given privacy assurances. Guidance counselors are not therapists, and aren't bound to the same confidentiality agreements. The "her very demeanor..." sentences might work better if it is presented as her thought, ie: "What part of my attitude is he not getting?" or however a teenager might phrase it today.
Is this YA? Good luck and kuddos for being brave enough to do this.

Anonymous said...

My problem with the "her very demeanor..." sentence is this: are we inside her head, or outside of it? Up until that sentence, we've gotten interior monologue, thoughts that a teenage girl might conceivably formulate. And then, all of a sudden, we're getting thoughts that only an omniscient narrator could possibly give us. No teenager would think about his or her demeanor, let alone use the word "demeanor" to describe it.

Anonymous said...

Whose POV is this? Mary's? The first paragraph sounds reasonable (it doesn't knock my socks off, but it isn't terrible) for a teenager with attitude. "The .First.Day.Of.School." sounds just right--but don't overuse that gimmick.

The third paragraph, except for "Why couldn't he get that? She was forced to see him.", is a completely different voice. It doesn't fit with the first one.

Then comes "Her very demeanor..." We're pulled all the way out to an objective view, until we're back in her head with "that went double for people she didn't like."

All this zooming back and forth is making me seasick.

none said...

The first 150 words of a 100k novel are 0.15% of the entire work.

Therefore, I don't think it's appropriate to expect the central conflict to be set out in that tiny space. Seriously. That's going to lead to novels that start with introductions. The protag is x. The main conflict is y. But right about now we're going to start with the bridging conflict, maybe introduce the protag a little, get you wondering what's going to happen next, that all right by you?

Literary novels often start with an encapsulation of the central conflict (eg The Go-Between's "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.") but that does little more than hint at what the novel's going to be about. If you want the plot summed up in just a few words, maybe you should be reading query letters :).

(this opening isn't mine either, fyi)

Anonymous said...

True, a hook is a hook, it gets the fish, but you still have to make a meal out of it.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with you, buffysquirrel - we can't really set out the entire central conflict in 150 words - but I think the first paragrah should have a clear conflict for that scene. Why is she angry this time? It doesn't have to be much, but enough so we have an idea what's going on.

And you're right: It might take a bit longer than 150 words to give a full idea to the reader.

McKoala said...

I agree on the POV issue. The vocabulary and the sentence structure shift about, as well as the narrator. Some examples: 'Mary was mad,' is simple and direct. 'Mary would never become chummy with him,' suddenly sounds all Enid Blyton - 'Come on Mary, be a brick...' etc. Then 'very demeanor' as well as shifting POV uses a very different vocabulary again.

HawkOwl said...

Buff - The first 150 should be a) interesting and b) relevant to the conflict. Otherwise, what's the point of writing it? You could just have started with the next 150 and saved a tree. This is certainly not (a) and probably not very (b) either. If you can make an interesting, relevant beginning that doesn't somehow involve the protagonist and the conflict, eh, I look forward to reading it. (Yeah, not really.)

Anonymous said...

Gentle author, I suggest some cuts. The first two sentences aren't needed, begin with her crossing her arms, shifting in her seat. I don't think we need to be told the chemistry teacher's name, and you could combine a few sentences "She should be in second period chemistry instead of waiting to see her guidance counselor, Mr. Lando--on the first day of school."

after that, you lost me. I suggest you consider re-writing so that she reveals her feelings toward the counselor while interacting with him, instead of feeding us backstory.

The sentence with demeanor struck me as a POV slip.

Good luck!

Dan Lewis said...

Hmmm. Mary's in an involuntary situation, but the longer Mary sits there thinking about how bad it is, the less I believe her. She sits there, grits her teeth, and wallows in internal monologue. I get little sense that the situation is going to explode into open conflict or that Mary is going to come to some decision.

Is she hot for Mr. James the chemistry teacher? Why does she care if she's out of class?

Did she have a behavioral issue today? On the first day of school? If not, why did he ask her in there? Would Mary really think he asked her in during class so he could build a relationship?

There are lots of ways to cut down all the redundancy and telling. My piece of general advice is to not use expository author-speak to explain what will shortly become obvious through action or dialogue. Just do the action and dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Hm, the conflict seems very clear to me: Mary doesn't feel she's had time to do anything wrong--on the first day!--and so regards the guidance counsellor's interest in her as a big ugly imposition, probably from dubious motives. She wants to get rid of him but doesn't yet know how.

The bit about her sending signals with her body language I took to be her reported thoughts: she's thinking, I'm giving this guy hints and he's not picking up on them!

I'm not hugely grabbed by it but I sure don't see a lack of conflict.

Anonymous said...

Too much repetition. (I just re-read Renni Browne's chapter on repetition. This could have been an example from it.)

Otherwise, I like it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, hawkowl, you wanted "an interesting, relevant beginning that doesn't somehow involve the protagonist or the conflict."

I give you the opening of A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh's satiric masterpiece:

"Was anyone hurt?"

"No one, I am thankful to say," said Mrs. Beaver, "except two housemaids who lost their heads and jumped through a glass roof into the paved court. They were in no danger. The fire never properly reached the bedrooms, I am afraid. Still they are bound to need doing-up, everything black with smoke and drenched in water and luckily they had that old-fashioned sort of extinguisher that ruins
everything. One really cannot complain. The chief rooms were completely gutted and everything was insured. Sylvia Newport knows the people. I must get on to them this morning before that ghoul Mrs. Shutter snaps them up."

This heartlessly cupiditous interior decorator and her gold-digging son are at best tangentially associated with the protagonist of the story. (You're not even sure he's the protagonist until at least Chapter 3 or so.) Moreover, this opening does exactly nothing for the central conflict of the novel. But it's interesting, isn't it? I mean, my God, two people jump to their deaths escaping a fire, and she's thinking of the commission she'll get for redecorating the place??

It's also relevant. In Waugh's satires, typically there's one central character who is sane and has centered, traditional values. He's surrounded by a pack of mendacious, self-centered nutjobs, generally with "modern" values, who proceed to destabilize Our Hero's life in bizarre and hysterical ways. Here, you're meeting the first two nutjobs--in other words, we're setting up Satire Land.

HawkOwl said...

Mark - Thank you, but no, I didn't find it interesting at all. It was overdone and went on way too long. The most interesting part of your post was actually googling to see if "cupiditous" is officially a word. :)

Anonymous said...

I love waugh's "A handful of Dust"!

Kanani said...

If this is a book aimed at teens, then you've captured the mood perfectly.

However, there are some style issues that you might consider.

The repetition of fact is a way of telling not showing. To do this throughout the book will not only be tiring to write, you miss out on describing things in a way that will give your character more depth and action. It can become cumbersome to write, and also for the writer to read during the course of an entire novel.

Single. Word. Sentences.
Some authors have used them sparingly to great effect. However, it usually conveys description or feeling. Such as: Inebriated. Confused. Lost. Stanley slumped to the gutter.

Anonymous said...

I believe we can safely assume that hawkowl hates everything.

Anonymous said...

Everyone will come at this from a different angle. Some will boil it down to what they like, for others it's less of what they like, than trying to find works or doesn't work in regards to the tone, imagery conveyed, and accuracy by the writer.

It's part of the crapshot of having your work read by the public! Unavoidable!

none said...

hawkowl, if you only had 150 words of what I wrote, you wouldn't know whether it involved the protag or the central conflict...

Nor do I have any idea what you'd find interesting!

Anonymous said...

Author, if you are writing in Mary's POV, this would be greatly improved if you only stuck to things that Mary would really be thinking about, and not give any info at all. The reader will trust you. For instance, you could make this cut in the first paragraph: "She should be in chemistry, but instead she was in the guidance counselor's office on the first day of school." Mary wouldn't think out the other details. Sprinkle them in later as necessary.

A reader who feels like he or she is eavesdropping on a character's thoughts will be far more interested that one who you spoonfeed.

Anonymous said...

I'm the person who wrote this.

Wow! These are great comments, and I will be definitely using them.

As. For. the. Sentence. that people had trouble with. I think making it a single sentence on its own might be better. I don't use this trick anywhere else in the story, and with it being a long phrase, putting a period after each word is clunky.

I think cutting the first two sentences is a good idea.

The last sentence is actually the beginning of the paragraph that lists some things Mary did to reject Lando.
[blockquote]When she'd entered his office, she'd stayed silent, did-n't return his smile, and left his hand hanging when he offered it, but he merely shrugged off all of her anti-social behavior. She briefly wondered if she should try blubbering and wailing like a baby to get her point across but discarded it when she realized Mr. Lando would just try to hug her. The very thought made her shudder.[/blockquote]

But it's backstory and it sounds like everyone here would say "NOOOOO!" So maybe I should consider revising it.

I left the sentence thinking the continuation could play with it. I was afraid Lando would come off Chester the Molester in the excerpt, and he did. He's not by the way. Just a normal guidance counselor.

The session is pretty much Lando telling Mary that she needs to shape up this year, or she'll be expelled. I'm trying to introduce Mary.

I agree the behavioral issues sentence is a cluncky sentence, and I shall pare it down. (I'm sorry for the spelling mistakes as well.)

Regarding 'demeanor', I use some advance vocab in the story with the idea that it will better the tweens who read it. It's my sly way of schooling them. Maybe I shouldn't...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Hawkowl doesn't find anything interesting--especially sex. She said so herself! Oh, wait that was sex scenes

Anonymous said...

I thought school counselors were for scheduling classes not disciplinary issues.

I. Don't. Get. This. Maybe if I did I wouldn't mind it. What's it mean? -JTC

HawkOwl said...

That's right, I only find it interesting if there are fuck-me shoes, clowns, or shagged up Chinese gods. Or Chinese clown gods wearing fuck-me shoes. Sex, New York, teenagers, walking through snow... That doesn't do it for me.

Anonymous said...

Chinese clown gods wearing fuck-me shoes.

Actually, that does sound kinda cool.

Anonymous said...

Scheduling classes is one of the usual duties of a guidance counselor.

But they can also have one-on-one sessions to work with students and group therapy sessions like one for students with alcoholic parents.

Beth said...

The voice is inconsistent; it keeps shifting from very close POV (The. First. Day. Of. School...Why couldn't he get that?) to almost omniscient (she was forced to see him because of behaviorial issues, which meant she didn't get along with people in general anyway...Her very demeanor was sprinkled with subtle clues for Mr. Lando to grasp how much she disliked him.)

Unsettling and off-putting, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

I'm behind in critting, so I'm not sure if everyone is saying the same thing, sorry.

You lost me after the second sentence. Two chances to hook me and it's Tell, Tell with no Show or Show. Oh, then you go on to show me that she's mad.

The. Second. Paragraph. Has. Gotta. Go.

Typos in 150 words ("behaviorial") won't impress an agent.

I like the idea of a kid getting called to her counselor on day 1. Reminds me of Earl Weaver getting tossed from a Baltimore Orioles game before the first pitch. Who wouldn't want to find out what's behind that story.

So the idea is great, but you need to tighten the execution. Good luck.