Sunday, October 01, 2006

New Beginning 132

Kurt stumbled to the door of his little one-room school. The silver essence in the gas was choking him and making him want to claw at his eyes. He could hear his students whimpering inside.

When he shoved open the door he smelled hot metal, blood and the beginnings of a fire. The framework of the little building was creaking. The rocket must have cracked a beam. He couldn’t tell how many children had survived. They needed to hurry before the roof caved in or the Cardinal’s men got too close.

Barely able to see, he reached for the closest child. “Shh, don’t rub your eyes; it will make it worse,” he told her. “Follow me. We’ve practiced this before. Remember our drills.”

The child moaned but straightened up. “This way. Hurry,” he called softly to the rest. He heard the children crawling and scurrying toward him.

When they were all gathered outside, coughing and choking but safe from collapsing beams, he stood over them in his teaching pose. "What do we learn from this terrible event?"

Charlie spoke first: "To pray for the Cardinal?"

Margaret added, "To put our lunch money in the Cardinal's collection plate?"

"Come on," Kurt demanded. "What else?"

"To never, ever say out loud," Elsie whimpered, "that we don't believe the Cardinal really dines with God."

Continuation: J.E. Barnard


Anonymous said...

One problem with starting with action-action-action is that we can't get caught up in the action if we don't have an inkling of the characters or situation. If you started before the explosion here, maybe I would know who these kids are, who this guy is. Then it might be gripping.

Bernita said...

"was choking" - "choked"
"was making" - "made"
"was creaking" - "creaked."

Anonymous said...

his little one-room school

I expect a one-room school to be little--using that word isn't telling me anything extra.

I do like the sensory details, and I'm going to disagree with anonymous 9:10. Although I don't like starting with meaningless action, there are a lot of implications here about what kind of world this is and it interests me. I'm assuming, however, that we begin to get acquaintated with the characters very soon.

Anonymous said...

This ought to have been more exciting than it was. The situation is intriguing but the writing is flat. I don't get any feel for Kurt's emotions -- fear for himself, concern for the children? -- or for the urgency of the situation. And at the end of the first paragraph, it sounded like he was fleeing and leaving the children behind.

pacatrue said...

But... but... I had zombie death wolves in my continuation!

I like the opening overall, but without a title or back page to key me in to what I was about to read, I was a little confused. I just kept associating "Cardinal" with either historical fiction like a Cardinal Richelieu or fantasy. But then we have these rockets, which make me think modern day.... I realize there are still cardinals but I don't usually fear them launching attacks on me with missiles. Maybe it's an alternative history? Since I had no idea what the world was like, I had a hard time knowing what to imagine or expect. Am I afraid that the cardinal's men will start shooting arrows at them or bullets?

I don't know what the author can do to remove my confusion (other than send me a brain through email since I lack one), but that's where I was. Maybe just changing the description of the rocket so that I imagine a catapult or magic or whatever instead of an ICBM?

pacatrue said...

Another thought. Perhaps the rocket could land in paragraph 2 or 3. This way 1) you still get action up quick to snag people; 2) you have a few sentences to set the scene so that we know who these people are and where they are; 3) You have a couple sentences to make us care about the characters. A simple one line joke by the hero or one of the children would do it. Then we can really feel the tragedy more and understand what we are reading.

Ooh, ooh, was that productive? Go me! Go me!

Anonymous said...

This was my continuation from weeks ago. I really struggled to make sense of this opening, and I assume other continue-ers did as well. It's not up there in humour with Kate's keyboard-endangering continuations.

This opening has action and plenty of potential, but it is disorganized and lacking context. There might have been more clarity before it was cut to 150 words (if it was). Excising everything but the action is equally as misguided as letting your characters drivel on, either internally or on their cell phone, for that precious first half-page.

Readers need to be oriented a bit to the location and the key characters. How about starting with the rocket landing rather than the post-explosion fallout? "Just as Kurt placed his pointer on the map of [country/state/town] for his eager {6-year-olds, or whatever ages the students are], the rocket came through the roof. In seconds the place was filled with dust and the choking odor of the gas..."

I would hate to think people are slavishly slashing the carefullly explicit openings of their precious manuscripts for this max-words exercise and then submitting the tattered rags to agents and editors. The challenge here, as I understand it, is not to get the 'perfect opening in 150 words' (or did I miss a prize announcement?), but to have a competent, credible opening that intrigues sufficiently in the first 150-200 words to get a reader to turn that first page.

Anonymous said...

The continuation works. Not LOL funny, but imaginative. (I tried to come up with something, and nothing seemed remotely amusing.)

This is a pretty horrible opening-I don't mean the writing, I mean the idea of burning a building with children in it.

Some things I didn't like in the first paragraph--"little one-room" --redundant. "silver essence in the gas was choking"--is it the essence or the gas that causes him to choke.

And then Kurt, the teacher, is not in the room with the kids, but has to open the door to save them. Why wasn't he there to begin with? And why is he choking on the gas if he's outside? (One room schoolhouses open to the outside world, in my experience.)

What does the "beginnings of a fire" smell like? If there is gas, wouldn't any flame explode? (if the gas if flammable).

"Rocket" seems anachronistic to "Cardinal's men." (or I could be showing my ignorance).

Then we get to the "we've practiced this before" line. Were they expecting this to happen? Why and how?

"crawling and scurrying"-pick one.

I'm not liking this. I'm disoriented about time and place and problem. It's full of action, but it's the kind that makes me want to read something else.

Sorry I can't be more helpful.

Dave Fragments said...

I did like the opening but we need to know some context (as other writers mentioned). It could be later, we could follow the kids and Kurt to safety or even more jeopardy, but the reader is going to need a resolution to the drama.

GutterBall said...

Call me crazy...*waits for the cacophony*...but from the words "silver essense" and "the Cardinal's men", I got the impression that something vampire this way comes. Or at least shape-shifter-ish. You know, something susceptible to silver that would really tick off the clergy.

Maybe that's why the rocket didn't jar me out of the story. I kinda had it as a supernatural thriller (perhaps) from the start, so rockets and Cardinals didn't throw me.

But I'm curious now, after reading everyone else's comments, what the actual setting is. 'Twouldn't be the first time I've jumped to the wrong conclusion.

HawkOwl said...

"Readers" don't need to be spoon-fed. Some readers need to have everything explained before the action starts, some don't. Those who do, don't read this.

Bernita - "Was choking" doesn't mean the same thing as "choked". Likewise with your other tense substitutions. There's nothing wrong with the author's choice of tense.

And there is nothing wrong with "crawling and scurrying." There are several children; some could crawl, some could scurry, some could alternate. Big deal.

The only semantics complaint I agree with is "little one-school room." Like the others said, that's redundant. Plus we have "little building" later on as well.

The style really isn't catchy, but the action is, and I don't think it would make any sense to add a paragraph of pre-action. It would achieve nothing, it would spoil the shock value of the opening, and all that superfluous info will probably be duplicated in the back copy.

I'd definitely be looking at the chapters and synopsis. This has lots of potential, if the plot holds up and the style isn't any worse than this.

Anonymous said...

I'm with gutterball and hawkowl (on this one anyways). Silver essence says to me that Kurt and the kids are vamps or werewolves, probably in a remote settlement of their kind, Cardinal's men says the church is out to do them in, and as I may have said before, there is no rule saying that fantasy must have a pre-industrial setting. I didn't have any trouble following the action, and would be willing to read on for the background. Though if the author favours progressive tense _throughout_ the narrative, it might start to irk me.

acd said...

Wow, jeb, nice job. I honestly had no idea how to continue this.

McKoala said...

Fantasy, I assumed. I'd read on. My biggest question is: is he inside or outside the little one-room?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, all. I appreciate the pointers and warnings about style and confusion. gutterball, hawkowl and barbara have it right. Kurt and the children are werewolves. The Theocracy has modern weaponry, but the rest of the country is a bit more primitive.

Bernita said...

I did not say the choice of tense was "wrong", Hawkowl - just not preferrable, imo - especially since we can assume that the conditions that produced the effect ( as in "choking") continue in the present.
Pace in narrative is slowed by exquisite precision in the use of tense.

Anonymous said...

I like the action to come first. The suspense is automatically built in for me that way. I want to read on and find out the cause of the action and the reasoning behind it. What is the problem between the actors, etc. -JTC

writtenwyrdd said...

This is a decent beginning. The writing isn't bad, I know what's going on and the conflict is implied and keeps me wondering what happens next.

It's obviously fantasy, although since the kids could move through the cloud of silver-whatever, I wasn't sure they were the things the Cardinal was after.

I'd read on.

Kate Thornton said...

Loved that continuation!!

I really like jumping into action asap, especially if children are involved. The rocket & the Cardinal had me going - when/where *is* this, anyway? I would red on and see what happens!

Anonymous said...

Hideous coincidence of today's hostage-taking and shooting at the Amish school in Pennsylvania. But I noticed that the police spokesman referred to "a small one-room schoolhouse."