Monday, October 23, 2006

New Beginning 146

His hands slipped another inch. The metal railing was wet with sweat. His desperate gasp strained three octaves above his usual range. He craned his neck, trying to make eye contact with the figure above him. “Look, just tell me what you want. Money? I’ve got fifty thousand in bonds. I’ll cash them in. They’re all yours. A car. I’ve got a car. A new BMW. Just bought it last month. It’s yours. All I have to do is sign over the title. Take me two seconds. Jesus, just tell me what you want.”

The last word ended in a screech as his fingers slipped another inch and his feet scrabbled for a foothold on the slick glass wall of the skyscraper. His left shoe came off, tumbling over and over, thirty stories down to the dark empty pavement of Macquarie Street.

Deparde looked over the balcony at him, silhouetted in the warm glow of the lights, his lips smiling thinly, his eyes cold as steel. “You overestimate our needs, Mr. Johnson. You clearly do not understand the protocol.”

Johnson tried to pull himself up, get a better grip on the steel. A loud creak told him the railing wasn’t designed to take this kind of punishment. “What then? For God’s sake just tell me what you want!”

“The standard thirty-five percent, Mr. Johnson. No more, no less. Now will you or won't you sign with the Sobol Agency?”

Opening: AttemptingFiction.....Continuation: ril


writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, now that continuation is sick. You are making me fear for my authorial life here. Heh.

Seriously, this is really gripping writing. Lots of tension. I would suggest, Author,that you might rethink a bit of the drama, as it is a teensy bit over the top. But otherwise, I liked it. And I am not fond of this genre.

Anonymous said...

This is a good start to a potentially exciting story. I would read further. -JTC

McKoala said...

Exciting stuff, but he did seem to manage to say a lot rather smoothly and grammatically while holding on to a sweaty railing. Could you make him sound a little more desperate in tone as well as offerings? Loved the shoe tumbling down to the 'dark empty pavement of Macquarie Street'. Although, technically he couldn' t see it...oh shut up me, I liked it.

Topical and witty continuation!

GutterBall said...

Oh, I like this! I'd definitely read more. I don't care if it's over the top. Good times.

Sobol. Heheh. Ril, you are sick, sick, sick. I like it!

ril said...

Well... I need to bow my head and step out of the limelight here. The punchline was EE's not mine, and very sharp it is too, compared to what I submitted.

Given the punchline is the point, and the rest is basically set-up, I feel kind of a fraud getting the credit on this one...

Anonymous said...

ril, don't feel bad. Evil has punched up many of my continuations too, to the point where I also felt like a fraud.

I like what this author wrote. It certainly has tension! One technical thing I might point out is that there aren't many people in the world who can raise their voices three octaves. That would be like going from below James Earl Jones to way above MIchael Jackson.

...dave conifer

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I guess I'm just old-fashioned, but the en media res style really annoys me. Where am I? Who are these people? What kind of situation am I encountering?

I don't want page after page of description, like a Thomas Hardy novel, but just one or two sentences to ground me before I'm launched into some fraught situation.

A gust of wind scattered the trash and pigeon feathers on the skyscaper roof. Johnson flinched from the cold, struggling to keep his grip. His hands slipped another inch.

This is still a little quicker than I like to be introduced to a life-or-death situation (not to mention that it's not my best writing, LOL), but at least now I don't have to wait until halfway through the second paragraph to get a visual. Otherwise I don't know if I'm on a building, a bridge, a spaceship from Mars, or what.

And just FTR, Author, I'm not really picking on you in particular. I've seen a lot of openings like this posted on this site and I'm just finally saying what I think about the technique in general. Your writing is quite good and I liked the way you described the action. It's a tricky thing to get right.

I guess I just find it a little insulting that some writers don't think their reader is worth a brief orientation in time and/or place before being jarred with some dire situation.

Good writing, though, Author. I may not be too crazy about where you started the action, but it was done well.

braun said...

bunnygirl: en media res isn't exactly a new-fangled style. There's a reason it's a Latin phrase.

At any rate, I'm guessing that we're not going to get the chance to know this guy very well, or at least other than as a red stain on the pavement.

author: I like it! One thing - no need to say his desperate gasp and even the three octave pitch change is probably unnecessary. This guy is hanging from a railing drenched in his own sweat and begging for his life. He's desperate, I get it! You've clearly communicated this without having to say it.

Anonymous said...

That was a good ride. Kind of like a roller coaster, except you see the track suddenly end. Eeek. I almost broke out in sweat reading it.
Yeah, three octaves is a bit much.

Anonymous said...

you've never actually chatted up anyone in actual fear of falling to their death, have you? as an outward bound instructor, that was my job. truly terrified people emit few words. some can't speak at all.

GutterBall said...

I guess I just find it a little insulting that some writers don't think their reader is worth a brief orientation in time and/or place before being jarred with some dire situation.

Maybe it's more that they trust the reader to pick up on the vibe they're setting without having to be informed?

Not trying to pick here, just saying that different styles appeal to different people. Some people think even an introductory sentence like the one you suggested is intrusive to the tension of the moment (and vaguely insulting, as well). Others want to know right up front. Both are equally valid, but a writer can't please everyone at once.

I personally like being dropped right into the moment. It didn't take but a moment to figure out what was happening, and I'm on fire to know why. It makes me want to read more.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Uh, braun, could you please enlighten me as to which works of ancient literature begin right at the point of conflict with no buildup or background whatsoever?

Virgil, the first Roman author who comes to mind, sure took his sweet time getting to the point. So did "Homer" before him, and Murasaki, Cervantes, Voltaire, Swift, and most, if not all the writers after, until we get to the late twentieth century.

I maintain that starting a work of literature right in the middle of the action is a modern device, regardless of whether one uses an ancient language to describe the practice. There's a notion these days that our television-besotted brains can't handle so much as a single line of description, and that if you don't plunge your reader into the middle of a catastrophe in progress on Line One, no one will want to read further.

I personally find the technique jarring and an insult to the attention span of modern readers. If other people like it, fine. Styles change. But no matter how good the writing, it doesn't work for me, and the instructors in my creative writing classes always said it was a cheap way to avoid having to craft a genuine hook.

I think the author of this beginning has enough talent to hook a reader without having to have him dangling by his fingertips in the very first sentence. Sorry if that offends anyone.

Unknown said...

Okay, I'm going to be a bit more critical than the rest of y'all.

Way way way too much vocab for someone facing certain death. Where's the fear? If you're being dangled over the edge of a skyscraper the very LAST thing you'll notice will be pidgeon feathers let alone have one single coherent thought other than "God help me!"

Also, pidgeons on top of a skyscraper? Errr, have you ever been on top of a skyscraper? Skyscrapers = The Sears Tower, WTC, Emporis financial center in Hong Kong and the like, not your average tall business center. You might want to revise that description.

Malia the Picky and also wordver stupid -- 4th attempt might be the charm

Kate Thornton said...

Lovely hook - fun writing - and super continuation.

Sigh - sometimes it all come together!! (And ril, EE has punched up my continuations, too! This one is particularly good - you are awesome!)

Anonymous said...

"Not trying to pick here, just saying that different styles appeal to different people. Some people think even an introductory sentence like the one you suggested is intrusive to the tension of the moment (and vaguely insulting, as well). Others want to know right up front. Both are equally valid, but a writer can't please everyone at once."

Gutterball, you are so right. If that scene had begun with a description, half the minions would be posting about "not enough tension!", "Where's the action!", etc.

Style is the choice of the author. There's no style that has never failed and never succeeded.

pacatrue said...

First, for the author, I too liked this opening, but I concur that the dangling person seems a little too coherent. Other than that, it snagged me.

I also got intrigued by the history of the "in medias res" literary device. I did a quick Wikipedia glance , and it looks like the technique is indeed as old as literature itself. Apparently the term can be traced back to ye ole Horace who praised its use in epics such as Homer and later Virgil's Aeneid. (Horace, besides using the phrase "carpe diem" is worth a read. The way his Latin changes when he writes his poetry about being liquoured up is pretty hysterical. Of course, that means you have to go study Latin, and I haven't done so since 11th grade - 17 years ago now... ugh.)

However, my memory of the Aeneid is kind of like bunnygirl's. No one starts off there dangling from a skyscraper. Instead it starts off "arma virumque cano" or "I sing of a man and arms/weapons." Homer's Iliad is similar in that is starts with a line about the pride of Achilles.

However, both epics do indeed start right in the middle of things. The Aeneid is the story of Aeneas travelling from Troy after it is sacked by the Greeks and his adventures until he lands in Italy where his descendants found Rome. And yet Book 2 is the one about the fall of Troy and the horse. In Book 1, Aeneas is already being tossed around in the ocean untl he gets dumped with Dido in Carthage. The Iliad is similar plot-wise in that Homer throws you right into the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles over the hot slave Breises several years into the Trojan War. (Sorry for spelling; doing this from memory.) Again it's only later that you go back and read about all the ships that gathered in Argos to travel to Troy at the beginning of the war.

So if "in medias res" means starting in the middle of the story that the novel/poem tells, then the device is as old as it gets. But this is slightly different from starting in the middle of a scene. Both Virgil and Homer 1) give you a few sentences to invoke the poem before launching and 2) already have readers who know who every single one of these characters is before they ever read or hear a line. No one hearing the Iliad is whispering to their husband, "where is Choy again and who's this Agamuminonenon?"

It is very possible that starting in the middle is very old, but starting without orientation is not. Further research would be necessary.

Anonymous said...

The continuation-ho-hum. The opening-got my attention. I'd keep reading.

GutterBall said...

*bows to the Pacatrue*

Anonymous said...

It's "IN media res", not "en media res", everyone. "En" in Latin means "behold". "In" means "in".

Sorry, I am a Latin geek and that bugged me.

I liked this beginning a lot. I didn't think it was over-wordy, even if it's not entirely realistic -- it gets across what it needs to get across. Good job, author.

And the continuation -- brilliant.

Anonymous said...

You give us two sentences about someone just barely hanging on to a railing, then begin the third with, "His desperate gasp..." I had to read it three times before I realized you hadn't written, "His desperate gRasp..."

ScienceSleuth said...

Thank you all for your comments.
Good point about the dialogue being too coherent for someone dangling off the side of a building. I'll fix this.

The "in media res" discussion is very interesting. Personally, I like starting a scene in the middle of the action, but I get bunnygirl's point about it being disorienting.

The author