Friday, February 02, 2007

New Beginning 206

It's just wrong, Melissa thought. She gazed at the green lawns flashing by the car, lying under bright sunlight and blue skies. December should to be cold, dreary and snowy.

December is when people celebrate Christmas and Hanukah, when nights are crisp and trees are leafless. Not this cheery California setting. The 10-year-old sighed and leaned against the car door, her chin in a hand.

"So where is it?" Danielle groused, pushing an excited brown-and-white mutt off her lap. "Where's this great house you told us about?"

"We're almost there," her father replied with an amused smile.

Melissa glanced at her 16-year-old half-sister, hugged the panting mutt and then returned her gaze to the scene outside. A man in long shorts strode after a leashed dog along the sidewalk. Shorts! She snorted. In December.

A few more turns, and her father drove into the driveway of a single-storied home behind yet another lush lawn. "This is it," he announced.

Even worse than I thought. Melissa squeezed her eyes shut. Home should be in an apartment building. Twenty stories, minimum. And a doorman.

When she opened her eyes, everything was still the same, only worse. Her father was pulling the luggage out of the trunk, Danielle was curled in a fetal position on the floor of the car, and the anonymous mutt had somehow gotten out and was peeing on the lawn.

She joined her father and picked up the lightest suitcase. “What’s so great about this house, anyway? Looks squashed to me.”

Her father’s eyes twinkled at her. “It’s not exactly the house, honey. It’s more the staff that goes with it.” And he gestured as the front door opened.

“Oh, gosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, is it really him?” Melissa’s squeal could have been heard back in New York City. Even Danielle poked her head out of the car to see what was up. Melissa just smiled up at the face, familiar from a dozen posters in her bedroom.

Who needs snow, when your butler is Orlando Bloom?

Opening: Kathy Lee Scott.....Continuation: Tia Nia


kiss-me-at-the-gate said...

December should to be cold, dreary and snowy.

You probably know this already, but that "to" shouldn't be there.

Otherwise, the writing here is competent enough, but I didn't find it all that enthralling. I sympathize with Melissa's concerns, but I don't know that I'd care enough to continue. I don't need a body in the first five words, but I hate long car rides and all the "are we there yet" that goes along with them enough already, without having to read about it.

Anonymous said...

Do ten-year-olds think the word 'dreary'?

I too dislike the car-ride opening. And the next one up the chain (getting used to a new bedroom) and the one after that (walking into a strange classroom).

Start wherever the real action starts.

Anonymous said...

I relate to Melissa's tolerance for the seasons. I'd read more, wonding how she's going to fare. New place, obviously a new marriage for her father... sunny days trying to portend the future, but Melissa's feeling dismal.

shaded-lily said...

Try saying "Shorts! She snorted" aloud ten times. I got a cramp in my eyes just reading that.

Is that their dog? Doesn't he/she have a name?

Ten-year-olds probably don't think the word "dreary" about December, especially if their families celebrate any holiday that involves gifts. They might think "dreary" about January and February.:)

I don't know why this doesn't thrill me. Yes, the writing is competent. But it seems distant and formal. E.g., saying "'We're almost there,' her father replied with an amused smile" instead of "with a grin." Calling Melissa "the ten-year-old." The dog with no name.

On the other hand, I don't read stories about children, so this might be par for the course for all I know.

Wonderwood said...

This isn't my kind of story, but it has some nice elements to start. I don't have a problem with the car ride opening, and it opens with Melissa's internal conflict. The environment is in conflict with her feelings, she wishes the weather matched her dismal thoughts. The introduction of Danielle threw me for a moment, a bit jarring, maybe it could be worked in a little smoother. If I were inclined to read this kind of story I'd turn a few more pages.

Anonymous said...

Nothing happens. There's no tension and no (real) conflict.

This isn't where your story starts. Find the place where Melissa realises she has a problem to solve, and start there.

Anonymous said...

No real conflict? Typical whitemouse comment, written as though she is the know-all end-all authority on tension and conflict. Says the same thing every time a dead body or a car chase isn't mentioned in the first paragraph. It's pretty obvious that Melissa recognizes she has a problem, she isn't happy about her circumstances. Conflict doesn't have to be between two people, it can be between a person and their environment, their circumstances, their feelings. Sheesh. Go play a video game.

Anonymous said...

Stick and Move:

It's a boring beginning. There doesn't need to be a car chase, but there's nothing resembling a story here. It's just events. Dull.

Love and smooches to you too, babe.

erin said...

Author - have you ever been to California in the winter? And seen people bundled in their sweaters and jackets, scurrying around like 55 degree weather is the equivalent of a massive blizzard? When it gets into the seventies, yes, in California - as everywhere else - people break out the shorts, but that's pretty rare in a SoCal winter. Usually it's chilly, and people who are used to mild weather are especially sensitive to cold. What's more likely is that somebody who's used to cold climates will walk outside in shorts and/or a t-shirt, and all the Californians will stare and say, "What's wrong with you, don't you realize it's FREEZING out here?" and you'll say, "Feels pretty mild to me."

It's ridiculous to get this stuff wrong. California has a wonderful climate, but in the north it's fairly cool most of the year and outside of the coasts there are always extremes of hot and cold. In the south, near the coast, temperatures don't vary that widely and yeah, it rarely drops below freezing - but neither does it rise above 60F very often.

E.S. Tesla said...

"We're almost there," her father replied with an amused smile.


That's almost enough to make me put it down right there and then.

McKoala said...

As someone who's moved from cold winters to sweating on the beach at Christmas, the sense of dislocation works for me. What didn't work for me was so much telling right at the start - POV shifts and all. From Melissa's POV to 'The 10-year-old...' You rip us right out of the flow to tell us that she's 10. You don't have to do that. Show it through her speech (not dreary), or tell us later in a more subtle way. Similarly 'her 16-year-old half-sister' - honestly, I don't need to know this now.

And who does the dog belong to? If it's their dog she would use its name.

Bernita said...

It's pleasant but a little banal.
Think the excerpt is too short to be fairly judged.

writtenwyrdd said...

Author, erin has it right. Only in the Great White NOrth like Minnesota or Maine do you find people running about in shorts when it is 50 degrees. In California, we always wore jackets or at least sweaters at 50 because we were cold. Especially next to an ocean, which makes it really cold. Now, I've spent time in San Diego and it was 72 one New Years Day and I spent it on the shorts. But it was over 70...

Just remember that wherever you live, your body would adjust to that climate. The new girl, your protagonist, she might run around in shorts and get funny looks at 50 degrees. Just like I thought it was nuts the first time I saw people lying in bikinis on lawn chairs with snow on the ground (it was 40 and New Hampshire).

What I liked about your opening was that the scene was clear, and the girl's feelings were clear. The conflict was present but it wasn't interesting to me, either. This "driving up to a new home" is a very common way to start a movie about a kid. (Let's see, off the top of my head, Karate Kid, Spirited Away, and several Disney movies whose names escape me come to mind...)

Books have to work harder to get a reader invested in the story. Starting with this car scene is stale. Your real story truly doesn't start here. You can begin here if you wish, of course; but you need to make it more interesting.

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine the comments if the opening of The Old Man and The Sea were to be posted here:

Dave: It's flabby. You can cut that first paragraph down to about twenty words.

Hawkowl: Boring. I wouldn't read further.

Whitemouse: There's no tension, no conflict. Your story doesn't start here, this is all backstory. Start where the old man realizes he has a problem.

writtenwyrdd said...

anonymous last, you are forgetting something: tastes change.

And the Old Man & The Sea really was boring. All the way through for all five times I had to read it and write a book report on it in junior high and high school.

pacatrue said...

Author, if you need shorts in winter, you can move it to Hawai'i. We go to the beach almost every Christmas here.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:53 AM:

Hey, I thought the The Old Man and the Sea had wicked tension, and I can't imagine anyone calling Hemingway's writing flabby.

You're so hungry for grounds to dismiss our opinions that you're making reasons up. If you want to slam us, at least do it for what we actually did say, not for the things your supple imagination figures we'd say.

But do feel free to dissent; the writers brave enough to submit to EE are only going to benefit from getting a range of opinions on their work. Arguments are welcome!

Anonymous said...

I say there _is_ conflict, and the problem with this beginning is with the several clunks in the execution, mentioned in the above comments.

True, "driving to the problem" is a cliche, but if you're convinced it's the best way to start the book, go for it.

Dave Fragments said...

teen angst, idol worship and (shudder) dating troubles. Moving with the family and changing schools is SO stressful.

Don't you wish you were young again. Look at all the terrible things that afflict their lives!

If this is for a young adult, then it works.

When I die, I want to be reincarnated as Harry Connick. He's my hero. ;)

Anonymous said...


Yes, there is tension. It just isn't anything that makes me want to read more about Melissa. It's hard to empathise with someone who is grumpy about sunshine.

The writer is doing a good job of showing us Melissa's mindset, however. We know exactly what's happening to this kid, without being told explicitly. We know the real problem is that she didn't want to move from her old home. That's done quite well.

However: does Melissa have anything that she wants to see happen in her life, even the next few moments of it? We don't know of anything.

Has she lost something? Yes, but she seems to have accepted her fate, if glumly. Nothing for the reader to care about there, either.

What motivates her actions (or thoughts)? At the moment, just despondency.

This beginning is a snapshot of a teen being swept helplessly toward something she's feels mopey about. If she was in dread, I'd be interested. If she was thinking of ways to escape the car, I'd be interested. There are no stakes here, and thus the tension present is not the sort that makes me desperate to know what happens next.

There might be a great story on the way, but it doesn't start here. It may well start in the next paragraph of the beginning, when Melissa reacts to the new house. I'd rather the writer moved us ahead to that point.

Anonymous said...

Whitemouse, now that's a well thought out comment. I don't necessarily agree with it, but you've stated your opinion and cited reasons, which is a vast improvement over your initial post. This type of commentary gives the author something to think about, which is why I think people submit their openings in the first place. I'm not the author, but I can appreciate that kind of comment.

Anonymous said...


Thank you, and even before you said that, I was thinking that I was glad you had given me a kick in the pants and made me analyse the piece more deeply.

I didn't say what the writer did well, and that was lazy of me. Although none of us owe the writer anything, as a hopeful wannabe myself, I really should have remembered how hard it is to watch your work get thrashed. It might be helpful, but it's still painful.

In the interests of simply being kind, I should have given the writer more than four sentences of negativity. Thanks for making me do what I should have anyway. :-)

Marissa Doyle said...

It was the POV shifts from omniscient to Melissa's that bugged me. Climb deeper into your POV character's head. Look at everything through her eyes. Does she think of herself as a ten year old? Does she really think about December nights being crisp? Would she think of her father's smile as amused, or would she be thinking about how his smile is soooooo annoying when obviously everything going on right now is wrong wrong wrong?

And sorry, Anon. Whitemouse was right. Something actually needs to have happened, so we give a wet slap about this kid. Starting out with a bored, grumpy ten-year-old is not appealing to anyone, even other ten-year-olds.

Keep trying, author. Don't give up.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to watch your hard work get thrashed, you're right. It happened to me, too. Maybe that's why I piped up. I've seen you make constructive comments before, I know you've got some knowledge to contribute. Thanks for taking the time, it's certainly helpful to me.

stick and move (as if you hadn't figured it out LOL)

Anonymous said...

Author here.

I appreciate the comments, although they do prick a bit. However, you picked out things my critique group missed, so I thank you for that.

I've been thinking lately that I should start the novel later, and this was my test to see if my instincts are correct.

I guess they are since most of you were mostly uninterested. Of course, like Bernita says, 150 words doesn't let you say a whole lot, especially if you're not writing a murder mystery or humor piece.

But then, the next chapter starts with Melissa at her new school, another cliche, so now I'm really worried.

Just FYI, I do live in Southern California, and I wrote that first sentence while looking out my window at a sunny December day. And my husband was running around the yard in his shorts. So I guess it spilled into my writing.

Brenda said...

Nothing wrong with it spilling into your writing. We hear all the time to "write what you know", and you obviously did that, so you know for a fact that it works.

Start your book where the action starts. What is different about that day? Why her? Why is it her story that has to be told? Why now? Is there any urgency to it? Needs to be. So ask yourself, "Why her and why now?" and you should find where your story starts.

I highly recommend Deb Dixon's Goal Motivation Conflict book (referred to as GMC). She uses a great example of Wizard of Oz. Of course, we all know the lesson Dorothy learns, but why can't Dorothy hang out in Oz awhile? Why is there urgency? Because she thinks her aunt is having a heartattack, so she's DESPERATE to get home. Of course, the conflict happens a lot from internal conflict (she takes time to help others before herself) and external conflict (witch, mission from the wizard, etc) delaying her stay and making the urgency greater as time passes. Find the why, but more importantly (imo) find the urgency - then weave in the conflict.

Also, I agree with the "amused smile" and I'd almost say that "dreary" isn't 10 year old either. I'd go with something like "gray, crappy day". Then again, I have a house full of kids, so I'm used to how they speak. (And sometimes get in trouble for what they say!)

Good luck! Fabulous in having a critique group - those can prove to be invaluable when you get a good one going. Just be careful they don't try to replace your voice with their own. In the end, it's your story you need to tell - do it the way you feel is best. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to author for putting this out there. And thanks to the commenters who risked opinions that differed. Very informative and helpful.

And also, I loved the continuation ending with Orlando Bloom. Now that's attractive to a 10 yo girl!