Wednesday, March 14, 2007
New Beginning 240
I dreamed of being a spy since I was a child. I fell in love with James Bond when I came to America and saw all the movies. But to think that my fantasies would come true when I was still in college? I’d have never believed it myself. And yet, thanks to Ali Chalabi, I managed to get recruited by the Mossad when I was a junior at Columbia.
Ali sat next to me in Western Civilization. He was handsome in a slightly exotic Middle Eastern way with a prominent nose, skin of tawny bronze, heavy-lidded almond eyes and full, sensuous lips. I used to watch him out of the corner of my eye, but that was simply because I liked his looks. I did not suspect him of anything and had no idea that he was about to become my entry ticket to the world of espionage. When we finally spoke after class, Ali turned out to have a British accent, which only made him more intriguing. I guess his accent reminded me of 007.
"I really appreciated your comments on the Roman senate today, " I mentioned as we filed out the door.
"Ta," he replied. "Yers're bloody smashing as well. The dog's bollicks. Up fer some rumpy pumpy in me flat?"
"Thanks," I replied, wondering what he'd said, flattered that he'd noticed me at all. I leaned casually against the wall as crowds of students rushed past. "Hey, would you like to grab some pizza or something?"
"Oi, luv," he said to me, winking. "Tha's a nice bit o' totty. Giv'n me a stiffy, it 'as. Wot say you 'n' me 'ave a pint 'n' then shag ourselves rotten?"
He sounded so sophisticated. I knew right then that I had fallen for him.
Opening: Katerina.....Continuation: G. Clemmons, foggidawn
Posted by Evil Editor at 4:01 PM
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It's fine to write things like paragraph #1 for your own purposes but starting your novel like that converts the it-all-started-as-an-ordinary-day-at-college scene that follows, and possibly much more of the book, to backstory. It might be helpful to gather a collection of spy novels you like that did well commercially. Stack them up and read the first 3 pages of each. These pages represent the scope of pacing, sophistication, suspense, language, etc that you and numerous other readers find enticing for opening scenes in your chosen genre. I would strive for an opening that fits within that scope.
For some insight into the importance of opening scenes, I suggest checking out Karin Tabke's 1st Line Contest, which is going on right now.
I dreamed that I would be the next Van Cliburn when I was a child. In College I met girls with perfect pitch and fell in love.
This is not the way or place to begin your story. It's flat. It lacks action. it gives the reader a chance to set your book down.
The nameless protagonist (there's that no name stuff again) meets the love of her life in college. That's backstory. Try this: "I broke a leg when I met ali. I twirled my head around to see who spoke such distinguished English, that I fell down a flight of stairs. Ali brought roses and chocolates every day after that for a month."
That's, uh, romantic.
I don't read spy thrillers, but I'm pretty sure they don't start out like this. This opening reads more like chick lit or something.
There's nothing wrong with forging ahead in this manner if that's your artistic vision. But I have a feeling it will be a tough sell.
You've already gotten good suggestions. Chuck this scene and go for one of your later ones. Fill us in about how hot and foreign Ali is later.
For what it's worth I thought this was the opening to a middle-grade novel or chapter book until I hit "Chalabi" and remembered it from the query critiqued a couple days ago.
Unfortunately, within these first 150 words I'm already finding myself alienated from the narrator; I don't find her sympathetic because she comes across as naive and maybe a little arrogant, and her salacious interest in the exotic, racialized middle-eastern man is off-putting.
...which is not to say that she couldn't be salvaged, or that a naive/arrogant/Orientalist heroine can't also have enough endearing traits to make her story worth reading.
But it does prejudice me against her from the beginning. I'd say, take more time to show me why I should care about this girl--let alone like her enough to root for her and read her story. I'm sure you're good enough to do that without compromising plot-stuff and action, too.
Continuation was too good.
ROFLMAO at the continuation!
As for the beginning, I agree with the other comments. That's a good idea from the first Anonymous about carefully reading the openings of a number of published spy thrillers.
Whew! Minions are the new Snarklings. Official.
Got to agree with the majority here. That opening para is telling; and that influences the rest.
Love the continuation, but my that's a hodge podge of accents!
I just saw the comments you posted this afternoon concerning your query. The plot looks like it could be a good one. It seems more serious in subject matter than my impression of your opening paragraphs.
I don't know much about chick lit or about books geared to younger readers - but your opening does seem separated by style and tone from the synopsis given in your query comments.
I like anonymouse 4:44 pm's suggestion, to read through openings of several spy novels "that you like that did well commercially" - and then, write a strong opening of your own, to match the tone of your plot, as you described it.
Forgot to say - the continuation was really fun - I read it to my husband (a Brit) - he had a good chuckle, too.
Author, this is a bit boring. (Now I sound like Simon Cowell. Sorry.) In the first paragraph, the text is rather like a checklist of discussion points with nothing actually going on in the first paragraph. When you get to "And yet..I managed to get recruited to the Mossad" you lose me. It's all backstory, and the way it is presented it sounds a bit hokey.
I think that the sotry actually starts with the second paragraph. But it still needs pruning. That huge second sentence with all that description is too much for a reader to take in. Pick one thing and tie it to the conversation that follows. Drop the talking to the reader with things like "had no idea he was about to become my entry ticket." These sentences are the narrator talking to the reader, are backstory, and are telling not showing.
I think you can do much better than this.
The combined continuation is too funny, EE!
Columbia doesn't offer Western Civ, nor do most universities anymore (or if they do, they've repackaged and renamed it).
What a brilliant continuation! Excellent work.
I decided to do a little research on Tiny Timothy's remark about no western civ courses anymore. Basically, my concern was that the academic abandonment of western civ has been greatly over-stated. I only spent a few minutes, so this information is partial at best.
Anyway, it appears, unless there's been a super recent change, that Columbia still maintains its Core Curriculum requirement. It's been changed, though. There appears to be either a central focus on western civ with two required non-western courses or perhaps you can choose among several "Major Civilizations".
As I was reading, I discovered that Stanford, Yale as well, has received a lot of criticism "for abandoning its courses in Western Civilization." What appears to be happening is less that western civ courses are being abandoned and not taught anymore as the Great Books tradition or common classical education is being abandoned. In other words, there are still tons and tons of courses on Western Civ, but people aren't always required to take them now. However, the schools seem to think the problem is mainly that students keep taking western stuff, because they only require non-western courses. If people were taking non-western stuff rampantly, they wouldn't need to have a requirement. Similarly, almost all colleges teach French, Spanish, German, Greek, and Latin, all Western civ languages, of course. Only some consistently teach Chinese or Japanese if the money is left over. (The elites of course have all of them.)
I went to a pretty liberal liberal arts college (about 13 years ago), and they had also given up on the Great Books notion. But at the same time, the history department had a single prof to cover all of Asia and 3-4 Americanists, 3-4 Europeanists, and 1 part-time adjunct African scholar. Anyway, I think you can get out of a lot of schools now without taking the traditional classics like Shakespeare and classical civ, but it seems in practice that most of the courses being offered are still those sorts of courses.
A common curriculum does have its merits, of course, as well as pitfalls. When I was in college, I was seeking non-Western stuff, but then I had gone to a high school where I was able to do an independent study on Plautus (Roman playwright) after four years of Latin.
Sorry for thread hijack!
Rumpy pumpy. My new favorite euphamism.
Absolutely spot on continuation - bravo!
Oh, man, that continuation is hysterical, especially if you read the dialogue out loud. Great job.
A nit here (others have addressed the important points): I think an Israeli woman would have had access to James Bond movies at home.
It suddenly dawned on me.
In 1983, John Le Carre wrote a spy novel - The Little Drummer Girl - about an anti-zionist who is recruited into Israeli intellegence to spy on a Palestinian terrorist (her lover).
It was made into a movie in 1984. As I recall, there is nothing light about the novel. It is dark and there is lots of death.
I just read pacatrue's comments on your query, posted this afternoon.
The Miracle was already published in Russsia? That's great.
This is the author. Several people said the opening reminded them of chick lit. A friend who read the book tells me it really is chick lit and I should stop calling it a spy thriller. Maybe my friend is right. After all, no one gets shot, no one gets tortured, the body count is zero and no actual terrorists appear in any scenes. There is lots more sex than violence. But I am afraid that using Arab Israeli conflict as a backdrop for chick lit would be considered in poor taste and will cause agents to mutter dark curses as they stuff my SASE with form rejections. Maybe I should just call it a romance.
Dave, The Little Drummer Girl is one of my favorite novels and what inspired me to write the Miracle in the first place. I am glad you picked up on it.
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