Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New Beginning 87


After I read the article, I carefully folded the paper and set it on the table next to my breakfast. The granola suddenly tasted like shredded cardboard and I pushed the bowl away, no longer hungry. But since my mouth was full I chewed and swallowed. It went down like a lump of rock. I eyed the scar on my wrist, a thin tracing of white in the smooth tan an inch or two above the bone. Nothing much, really; but if you looked at it right, it almost looked like a flowing vine, looped on itself to form a bracelet. If I squinted just right, I could watch it move.

"Are you alright, honey?" Gram asked when she turned to place a glass of orange juice on the table for me.

"Fine. I was just thinking," I told her, and met her eyes all unblinking, deliberately not looking at the paper or my hand. I sipped the orange juice. It was pulpy and tart. "Yum. Fresh squeezed." I hoped I just sounded sarcastic and not like I wanted to gag. "Gram, why don't you come outside for a little walk with me?" I asked. The newspaper article on spring gardening had given me an idea.

"If you've had enough, honey," she replied.

Oh, I'd had enough all right. There was a shiny new shovel in the toolshed. And the garden needed fertilizer.

Opening: Writtenwyrdd.....Continuation: J.E. Barnard


braun said...

I actually like this quite a bit. It's interesting, it sets a good tone, it asks some intriguging questions.

But I would leave this out:
But since my mouth was full I chewed and swallowed. It went down like a lump of rock. You've already made the point that he is no longer hungry and that the oatmeal he is chewing tastes like shredded cardboard. Not hungry, mouth full of oatmeal, we get it. You're just slowing down the flow of a very interesting beginning.

Anonymous said...

Nice tone. I didn't mind the chewed and swalled bit, but it's really unnecessary because I'd already figured out that the character was distressed by the article, and that it somehow related, personally, to the character.

I am guessing the character is young, maybe a teenager. What is the scar on the wrist? Has this character tried to kill himself/herself? I'd like to know if the character is male or female. Is Gram a brother, step-father? These questions would keep me reading.

Good job.

HawkOwl said...

I don't mind how slow it's going, because that's about how it would feel when you're living it. What I mind is it reads like this:

After I read the article, I clichéed the cliché and set it on the cliché cliché to my cliché. The granola suddenly tasted like clichéed clichés and I clichéed the cliché away, no longer cliché. But since my cliché was cliché I clichéed and clichéed. It went down like a cliché. I clichéed the cliché on my cliché, a thin cliché in the smooth cliché an inch or two above the doesn't make sense. Nothing much, really; but if you clichéed at it right, it almost looked like a cliché, looped on itself to form a cliché. If I clichéed just right, I could watch it cliché.

"Are you alright, cliché?" Gram clichéed when she clichéed to place a cliché on the table for me.

"Fine. I was just thinking," I told her, and met her eyes all cliché, clichédly not looking at the cliché or my cliché (that I was just looking at). I cliché the cliché. It was cliché and cliché. "Yum. Cliché." I hoped I just sounded sarcastic and not like I wanted to cliché.

Make it a little more original and it will be going somewhere. Although like I said before (but it got censored in comment moderation), I'm not fond of things that start after the interesting event. We have lots of beginnings that are after the phone call, after the snide comment, after the behavioural issues that land you in the principal's office. It's not as bad as starting before the beginning, but it's still annoying. I'm likely to be thinking "suck it up" as it is, whenever a character is walking around in shock; let alone when there is no obvious reason why he feels entitled to being in shock. Just start with the beginning; you can do the mysterious stuff later.

Oh, and like the other guy said, is this a guy or a girl, and how old? I figured it was a grown man from the fact that he/she/it is reading a newspaper at the breakfast table, but the fact that it lives with its Gram make it sound a lot younger, and scars on the wrist make it sound more female. If it's gonna go around feeling shocked, appalled, or sorry for itself, I'd like to know who it is. Maybe then I'll feel empathetic.

Anonymous said...

author here: After I submitted this, I did cut out the line, But since my mouth was full I chewed and swallowed. It went down like a lump of rock.

Thanks for the mention about gender, too; I didn't really state it that clearly for about 2 pages.

And while I see your point, hawkowl, I think you've gone a bit overboard with the complaint.

Here's the revised version if you care:

I folded the paper with the article face down and set it on the table next to my breakfast. My corn flakes suddenly tasted like shredded cardboard. No longer hungry, I pushed the bowl away. The memories, however, didn't budge. I glanced at the scar on my wrist, a thin tracing of white in the smooth tan, right where most people wore their watch. Nothing much to look at, really; except everyone else saw a flowing vine, a white-inked tattoo looped on itself to form a bracelet.

A 'tattoo' which had gotten me in an amazing amount of trouble three years ago, the summer I'd turned fourteen. The summer I'd disappeared for twenty-three days from the woods out back of the farm.

In a gesture that was now nervous habit, I rubbed my wrist, massaging the thin line of the scar as if it still burned from the acid of its maker.

It twitched under my fingers. I stiffened, managed not to squeal like a girl.

Unfortunately, Gram picked that second to turn, a glass of orange juice in her hand. Bad timing. I pretended I was picking at my nail polish.

"Are you alright, Haydn?" she asked.

"Fine. I was just thinking," I told her, and met her eyes all unblinking, not looking down.

She set the glass on the table. I tucked my left hand in my lap. With my right, I lifted the glass, sipped the juice. It was pulpy and tart.

"Yum. Fresh squeezed." I tried to sound normal.

writtenwyrdd said...

I agree, chewed and swallowed interrupts things.

hawkowl, don't you think that in setting the scene and characterization sometimes it's useful to use fairly common (in your terms, cliche) words?

I don't disagree that some of these words are rather common but the seem more like YA language than anything else.

Anonymous said...

I like it, and I forgive the occasional cliche. But I like the rewrite even better.

I would read on.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Hawkowl... what you suggest would make the story unreadable. I do not think the place where one eats breakfast--a table--is a cliche. I didn't think there were any cliche's, as in Wheaties. Wheaties or Maypo would be cliche, in, IMO. Why should the protagonist (a boy, I take it) eat something other than corn-flakes? The kid is numb, sorta. He's going through the motions. What should he choose to eat besides bland pulp?

Sorry, just being honest here, in the spirit that Hawkowl is gut-wrenchingly honest.

I like the rewrite, author.

Anonymous said...

I read the newspaper as a teenager. I did the crossword puzzle, too. A teenager would read the newspaper if he needed to see a particular article, or if the distressing article is on the front page, laying there on the table.

Anonymous said...

(EE if you got a post identical to this one with my blogger name on it, please delete!)

The character is a girl. Nearly 18. How would you suggest that I make this clear, since people keep thinking "guy"? She's a tomboy who lives and works on a farm in Vermont.

Anonymous said...

Agent Kristin blogged just today about opening scenes that involve eating.

braun said...

Author, it's somewhat a matter of taste but I preferred the original version! I like how "in the moment" it is, whereas in the new version you're flashing back and explaining and describing. Which isn't wrong. I just prefer the old approach: very sensory, just letting us feel the scene without explaining it too much. I'm sure you'll get to all the backstory soon enough.

Evil Editor said...

The character is a girl. Nearly 18. How would you suggest that I make this clear?

Nothing much, really; but if you looked at it right, it almost looked like the gold bracelet my dad got me on my 16th birthday.

Bernita said...

I like the revised version, Author.
Think just the bare bit of back story makes it more interesting.

Anonymous said...

that Agent Kristin blog was a hoot.

Anonymous said...

I assumed it was a girl when I read it. I'm not sure why though, so I guess that's really not much help. I agree with the others about hawkowl being a little too harsh.

Anonymous said...

"Are you alright, Haydn?" she asked.

Is this character named after Franz Josef Haydn? Or is that (a) a typo or (b) a "tryndee" spelling of a trendy name (Hayden)?

I could overlook (a). (b) would be unforgivable. But a girl named after the composer sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

Yes, after Haydn the composer. Her mom's a concert pianist. (Actually, her mom's a concert pianist because I liked the name Haydn.)

Anonymous said...

I assumed the narrator was female, from the bracelet bit. Of course the revised version mentions nail polish, too. I agree that you should omit the lump of rock bit. Good job, gentle author, makes me want to keep reading.

Anonymous said...

I like this one. Not much that I would change.

OK, now I've scrolled down and read the revision. I don't know why you changed the granola to cornflakes. I also thought the character was male. In your revised version, "managed not to squeal like a girl" seems to suggest the character isn't a girl, although you did mention the nail polish.

Beth said...

Interesting. I liked the description of the scar and I'm curious about what was in the article. I would definitely read on. However, this is also peppered with unnecessary words and phrases. For instance:

The granola suddenly tasted like shredded cardboard and I pushed the bowl away, no longer hungry.

Cut "no longer hungry," because it tells something you've just shown. You want to avoid that.

But since my mouth was full I chewed and swallowed.

Shorten that to "I swallowed." That's really all you need.

"Are you alright, honey?" Gram asked when she turned to place a glass of orange juice on the table for me.

Simplify a little: Gram set a glass of orange juice at my place. And "alright" is not a word. All right.

"Fine. I was just thinking," I told her, and met her eyes all unblinking.

You don't need "I told her."

And while I'm at it:

Nothing much, really; but if...

Comma instead of semi-colon after "really."

Anonymous said...

Alright is too a word. Found it in the dictionary. And it seems to me appropriate for use in dialog.

Anonymous said...

I like this, except for the last line. Didn't like the "just sarcastic" rather than "gag." I think this takes away from the emotional tone already established.

And I want to know what's in that letter.

The continuation is classic. very funny.

Anonymous said...

Anon, I like the first version better.

Too much interruption to the forward flow in the second one. And I kind of liked thinking the scar might be from a self-inflicted wound--it upped the ante imho (and yes, I'm writing in cliches here). Don't like "everyone else saw..."

I took it Gram was a grandmother.

And I can find out in another paragraph or 2 whether the pov character is male or female (Haydn is a name that doesn't help in that regard.)

I don't think you need to say "I tried to sound normal." That's just propping up the dialogue, which conveys that image already.

HawkOwl said...

True, not every word I replaced with "cliche" is technically one. It's more that the overall effect of the piece is flat and unoriginal. Protagonist reads newspaper over breakfast, receives bad news, snaps at female who prepared breakfast. How bland. (Speaking of bland, I wouldn't talk about bland food. You don't want to make the reader think too much about blandess.) (And speaking of food, I too thought the granola was better than the corn flakes.) It's also another of those things like the one with the D&C, that's trying to coax feelings out of us that we have no particular reason to feel just now. Canned sentiment, if you will.

With the initial version, I thought this might be going somewhere, but with the revision, I'd certainly not be trying to find out where exactly. The teenaged female protagonist apparently finds out bad news about some creep who probably abducted her two years ago. Or maybe some creep with whom she ran away two years ago. Is the book going forward from here to show how she puts herself back together, or is it gonna be a rendition of what happened two years ago? Either way, I'd lose the reminiscing at this point. I doesn't sound natural for someone to think this in first person, and it's not a good way to start a book. You're after the newspaper, before the newspaper, everywhere but actual showing us something happening now.

In any case the voice doesn't sound like it's gonna be up to telling that kind of story. It sounds like it's gonna be overdone, yet conservative. However, a lot of people enjoy that.

Good luck with it.

McKoala said...

Hawkowl, lovin' your work...but today...ouch!

I like the second version, until Gram pops up and then there's a bit too much about orange juice. Until then it's good and I'm reading on to find out about the 23 days behind the woodshed.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I missed that the protagonist is female. I thought the "screaming like a girl," indicated the protagonist is male.

I better re-read the revise.

I would agree with agent Kristen, except for this one.

Anonymous said...

Author, here's all I'd change for clarity:

My corn flakes suddenly tasted like the box (delete: shredded cardboard.)

I stiffened, managed not to squeal like a girly-girl (delete: girl).

Shredded cardboard is cliche. I don't ming, but "the box" is almost droll.

Also, girly-girl clarifies to me this is a girl... a tomboy.

I like this, though. Do not let critiques cause you to edit our your voice. The bit of backstory is intriguing and makes me want to know how she got that scar and how she copes.

HawkOwl said...

Evil Editor: You know what I think would be handy? If we had an indication of the intended genre/market before we read the New Beginnings. It's a lot easier to tell whether the style is working if we know what it's actually intended to do.

Anonymous said...

author here: Thanks for all the comments everyone. I appreciate ones I don't agree with, in particular. You help me mend my ways. (Yes, another cliche.)

Anonymous said...

If it helps, this is Dark Fantasy.

braun said...

Dark fantasy

Does that mean vampires? (not being sarcastic)

Word verification is - wines?!?

Anonymous said...

Second on knowing genre ahead of time. I'm sure nobody lists it with their 150, but maybe you can make an announcement. It would really help in critiquing.

Evil Editor said...

Okay, there's a request for a title and genre now at EE's Openings.

Not knowing the genre forces you to keep an open mind when reading the continuation. Let's hope the enjoyment of the continuation isn't reduced when it fails to maintain the known genre.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. Hawkowl's posts are so negative sometimes, she's in danger of becoming cliche.

HawkOwl said...

Good point about the continuation. Maybe you can announce the genre after the continuation. That way we get the full bathos, but then when we start making comments, we can take the genre into account. Clearly, one doesn't expect the same style of writing from lit fic, romance, thriller, and whatever Danielle Steele's genre.

HawkOwl said...

Anonymous 12:23 - What's with "sometimes"? I went back through some of the New Beginnings today to see what they have in common, or not. I only got through 54 of them so far, but out of those, the answer to the question "would you want to read more" is 4% "hell yes!", 4% yes, 56% no and 36% "hell no!" Ergo, I'm negative 92% of the time (more than that, but I'm rounding).


Anonymous said...

You could list the genre at the end, so the payoff of the continuation isn't harmed.

Then again, if it's creating more work, it's probably not necessary.

Kanani said...

Nice and easy writing.

There's something about chewing and swallowing that's already a given. No reason to put that in.

I'd get rid of 'carefully'' and try to show it a bit more. You're trying to convey a sense of wanting to get things right, a compulsiveness, such as "taking care to follow the exact creases on the newspaper as I folded it up, tucked it under my (seat cushion/napkin/plate/foot of the table --the weirder the better).

It's not necessarily an interesting piece, setting, situation or diaglogue. But I think if you work on it, it could be.

Kanani said...

A good writer can read anything and find what's working or not with the language and whether or not the writer is using it fully to convey the precise image inteded.

Working across genres is real life. They do it in college level writing classes and a lot of other places as well.

Anonymous said...

braun - Maybe ;-) (Actually, no classic vampires planned. I'm trying to build on old myths, though, by turning them on their heads. Have you ever read Gene Wolfe?)

none said...

I've seen many a published story that waited far too long to reveal the sex of the character; I've seen one or two that NEVER did. Presumably it was clear enough in the author's head...

I think it's important to pre-empt the reader jumping to their own conclusions, as it's a wrench to reassign sex once you've started getting into the story. At least, I find it so.

I like the description of the bracelet and it twisting when she touches it. Not sure I like "The summer I'd disappeared for twenty-three days from the woods out back of the farm." To me, that reads like somebody recounting a newspaper article about someone else, not talking about themselves--it's too clinical and precise. I think perhaps you have too much of the character looking at herself from outside--telling us rubbing her wrist is a nervous habit, rather than showing it. Most people only become aware of nervous habits when some other kind person points them out. Try getting a little more under the character's skin. There's time in a novel to show us that she keeps doing the rubbing thing.

Having had burns, I don't think you do massage them when they're fresh. In fact, you're strangely disinclined to touch them at all!

Beth said...

Dear Author,

While your rewrite is clearer in some ways, it still also suffers from wordiness, and from telling & showing the same event or emotion. (There may be worse sins in a novelist, but I'm hard put to think of one. When you communicate a thing through showing, and then turn around and explain it, you may as well be telling the reader you think she's an idiot.)

In addition, the first-person narrator is too self-aware at times, phrasing things in a way that doesn't sound natural. For example:

In a gesture that was now nervous habit,

That sounds like your narrator is standing outside herself, making objective observations. Try to be more subtle. Show us what she does, but resist the urge to explain it.

Also, identifying the gender was confusing. The phrase "managed not to squeal like a girl" led me to believe the narrator was a guy. Then I got to the part about nail polish and had a moment of great disorientation. ;)

On the plus side, now that you've given us more information--the odd, vine-like scar is actually a tattoo; she disappeared when she was fourteen, only to return 23 days later (presumably you will not continue to keep us in the dark about that--frustrating to be in a character's head and not be allowed to see the one thing we know she's thinking about.)--all this is a pretty good hook. I think if you can get this going without so much beating around the bush, and without the unnecessary words, and in general smooth it out, you'll have a winner.

HawkOwl said...

Kanani - How do you decide that the language is working and "conveying the precise image intended" if you have no idea what it's supposed to do and what the intended image was? It's like deciding you have the right socket before you see the nut.

College classes are hardly the standard for effective writing and cogent commentary.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to take hawkowl's comments seriously at this point precisely because of the percentages she cited, and the near-constant (and often misguided) negativity. Just my opinion.

Author, I liked this. I have to admit that I enjoyed the first version more than the rewrite. There was more tension and it flowed better. I'm not someone who needs all the details spoon-fed to me in the first 150 words. More important to catch my interest and keep me reading.

I think that's my biggest problem with a lot of the critiques on these New Beginnings. People seem to forget that we're looking at the first 150 words of a novel that could be 80k to 120k words long. The concern should not be "do we know everything we need to know to enjoy this story", but rather "do we want to read more?"

Anonymous said...

College classes are hardly the standard for effective writing and cogent commentary.

Well, Hawkowl, that's one thing you and I do agree on.

But I have been wondering how on earth you find books to read that you can enjoy. Especially if you find so many things stale or cliche. I mean, when it comes right down to it, there's nothing more cliche than smiling when you're happy or crying when you're sad. If basic human emotions and reactions are stale, how do you find anything that appeals?

There's something comforting in reading things that seem familiar (or even stale and cliche). It's one reason people stick with their favorite authors. I've read every Guy Gavriel Kay and David Gemmell book out there, and will read more--not because of the ways each is fresh and different, but more because of the ways they are the same.

That's not to say I can't be wowed by something truly unique. But I'm not so unrealistic as to expect to be wowed by every page I read. Entertained, yes. Amazed, no.

Maybe you should try reading things translated into Esperanto. Then everything would seem fresh and never-done-before.

HawkOwl said...

Anonymous 1:30 PM - Do you think one in ten novels written reaches publication? I don't. I'm actually a lot more positive than the novel publishing industry - they just don't put so many words into telling you they don't want to read your book.

We're not these people's critique groups. If they were looking for gushy praise and advice on points of view, that's where they'd be. Instead they're running their openings through Evil Editor's blog to answer the question "would people want to read more of this?" Nine times out of ten, I wouldn't. If they don't want to hear it, they didn't have to ask.

Kis - I find books like everybody else, in the bookstores. Where the selection has been filtered by a) agents, b) editors and c) store buyers, and the works are also sorted geographically so that things I would never pay money for are not generally near things I would pay money for. Very much unlike here. There are many novels on the market that are neither stale nor cliched, but it takes some sifting to get at them.

Anonymous said...

If you're still reading this thread, may I invite you to please go back and comment on my opening (nb # 31). Yes, you can be negative. But I think that there's value in seeing the negative things people can say about your story. So please?

Anonymous said...

Hawkowl is negative and highly defensive.
Spends more time here than working on their own shit.

HawkOwl said...

Anonymous 7:28 - you got it. I posted it on the NB31 thread.

Anonymous said...

Cathy, thanks for the comment about the author keeping his/her voice. I've done enough workshopping and critiquing to know how to take my own knocks, but it was a gentle reminder that I get to be the final arbiter in any argument about my work, lol. I shall keep it with the rest of my inspirations.

Whether negative or positive, I value the discussions this forum invokes. It's even better than getting others' impressions of the first 150 words.

hawkowl has some good points, but hawkowl, you are defending really harsh remarks with what amounts to the cliche "if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." Please don't bother if you cannot say something constructive. A shotgun blast of negativity isn't a critique.


HawkOwl said...

Sweetie, it's not your blog. I'm sure Evil Editor will let me know if he wants me to "not bother."

Unlike you, I post all my comments under my name. If you don't want to read them, just skip them.

McKoala said...

Hawkowl, keep on bothering. Yup, a little direct at times, but that's better than not having you comment at all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for NB#31 comment.