Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Beginning 248

If days were trains, this one would have been lying on its side at the bottom of a ravine. If the old man holding up the line at Yuri’s checkpoint wouldn’t shut up and pay his fee, she thought, it’d take an act of God to stop her from shoving his frilly collar down his throat.

Morning sunlight peered through the cracks of the old checkpoint booth -- a cutaway shack the size of an outhouse, without the comfort of a seat. Yuri struggled to keep the semblance of a smile on her face as the queue built up to the horizon.

"That's forty percent more than last week!” The man glowered. “Does the dear king of the Aya need a new palace? Or perhaps one for his dog?"

"Sir: I have no influence over the pricing policy," Yuri mumbled. “Just like the last five times you complained.”

"Getting snippy with the customers, eh?" The old man sneered and then expertly disemboweled her. There'll be less of that, he thought, now that the king of the Aya has employed the services of the Guild of Ruthless Secret Shoppers.

Opening: Karen.....Continuation: Paul Penna


Anonymous said...

Sorry, that first paragraph has no business hanging out with the other three. It feels bolted on and I think you'd have a better start if you just cut it.

I also believe colons have no place in dialog. I've never heard anyone speak with a colon. ;)

Lose the first paragraph and I think it's a good opening.

Rei said...

Colon was a typo.

Thanks for the comment. :)

Dave Fragments said...

This isn't the story of the crabby old man, is it? Please tell us more about Yuri, the put-upon toll collector. Or tell us more about the person waiting in line watching Yuri struggle. Is she amused at Yuri's effort or Peeved. It's hard to be more than peeved about waiting in line (more on that later).

And please don't use that opening line. If wishes were horses, we'd all be knee deep in manure. If wishes were fishes, caviar wouldn't taste salty. If wishes were cheese, feet would be as attractive as lips. If Kneeples were Mumples, we would foof on the mid-pole. Should I go on?

I rarely comment on POV but that first paragraph sounds like a helicopter reporter flying above the scene. It's soul-less. Some omniscient "She" viewing the proceedings from a distance. Oh wait, she is viewing from the back of the line. Same thing, and it's as mundane as getting in the wrong line at the Grocery Store. I lead an exciting life. I set aside days to get lost in line at the grocery.
{Sorry, I couldn't resist}

Oh jeepers, Yuri is a boy's name (it's Russian and possibly could follow Russian naming conventions).

Anonymous said...

Some nitpicks:

The first two sentences are conditionals, which I found off-putting. Also, I'm not prepared for the imagery in first one, and the imagery in the second one seems over blown.

What's a cutaway shack?

queue built up to the horizon. That's a mighty long queue.

Sir: I have no influence over the pricing policy," Yuri mumbled. Why would Yuri mumble? Seems like she would state this sentence clearly and mumble the second one.


Anonymous said...

Could not quite make sense of imagery in paragraph #1 and lost interest. Came back again, left after reading paragraph #1 again. Came back a third time and read the rest, which didn't exactly clarify. Starting with a metaphor doesn't seem to be working because we don't have any clue what the heck's going on. A great beginning succinctly orients readers to where, when, who, and so what. This doesn't.

Bernita said...

I rather liked the train image - assuming that trains exist in the time period.

Anonymous said...

I think I agree with anonymous 9:07, except that I love the first sentence with the day:train analogy. What bugs me about the first vs. second paragraphs is the change in POV.

Continuation: amusing, but as a public service, civil servant/slave/flak catcher, it is I who should be doing the disemboweling of crabby idiots like the old man.

Anonymous said...

Yuri is a male name.

And the continuation uses a POV lurch that would snap an old man's neck.

Rei said...


No, the story is about Yuri. The opening is the "life interrupted" style -- a moment in Yuri's normal life, suddenly thrown into chaos (one page later) as the checkpoint nearly comes under attack from a minion of her world's creepy god.

Yuri is a boy's name in Russia. It's a girl's name in Japan. Even in our world, it varies. I guess it depends on what part of the world you're more familiar with.


So did the person I ran this by before I posted here. Personal opinions vary, though. ;) Given the strength of the negative reactions, I'll probably remove the first paragraph.

The story used to start inside Yuri's head (with the thought "Just move! You're holding up the line."), then go straight to a brief bit of description, then dialogue. A guy who does proofreading for David Brin reviewed the opening over at critters. He stated that the opening line wasn't interesting enough, that one shouldn't start with a thought (and usually not dialogue unless it immediately specifies the setting) and the description of the toll booth was lacking.

I moved it outside of Yuri's head, provided more setting, and tried to open with a more creative line. It appears that the new version backfired.

Thanks, everyone! Looks like I need a fix. :)

Rei said...

On the other hand, if it's just a POV lurch problem, I could certainly fix that. Of course, that would mean starting with a thought, which I was advised against.

Rei said...

Revision based on feedback thusfar:

Morning sunlight and a leathery, old merchant glared into the checkpoint booth -- a splintering shack the size of an outhouse, without the comfort of a seat. Behind the counter, Yuri struggled to remain calm as the queue built up to the east. Had her day been a train, it'd be lying on its side in the bottom of a ravine.
"That's forty percent more than last week!” The man glowered. “Does the dear king of the Aya need a new palace? Or perhaps one for his dog?"
"Sir, I have no influence over the pricing policy,” Yuri said. “Just like the last five times you complained.” It'll take an act of God to get you out of here, won't it?

Is this any better?

Dave Fragments said...

I actually like "If days were trains, this one would have been lying on its side at the bottom of a ravine."
It's a good image. It's funny.
It just doesn't belong as the first sentence. Use it later.
This lady is having a bad day. In fact two of them are - the narrator and Yuri. Only the old man is getting some emotional satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

If your first 150 words need explaining, that's your first clue it's actually time to rewrite.

Xenith said...

I like the first version. It suggests original and well written. I'd keep reading.

The second version says "some old". Wouldn't read on unless I had to.

Just to show you can't please everyone :)

Anonymous said...

A couple of nits on the revision, rei.

Most checkpoint booths don't face the queue, do they? If sunlight is glaring into the wooden building, then it would have to be glaring in from the east, which is where the queue is building. Something needs to change direction.

If it's still morning, and Yuri's day has been a train wreck already, then Yuri must lead a very sheltered life. While the metaphorical image is good, this guy's complaining and a building queue don't really justify that image (I know; I worked in a toll booth to put myself through college - queues build, people complain, it's part of the job). What else has happened to provoke that image? Maybe those events would be better to use than this one? Yuri just doesn't seem frazzled enough for the train-wreck comparison.

I like Yuri's thought in your first version better because it shows more of her character, like maybe she isn't a milquetoast. Maybe have her think: For God's sake, just pay up before I shove that frilly collar down your throat.

And maybe move -- a splintering shack the size of an outhouse, without the comfort of a seat to somewhere else if it's important. Here it just seems to get in the way. You could delete it here, then say something like: Behind the cramped counter, Yuri... to indicate the space is small.

Ooh, where can I sign up to be one of Aya's Secret Shoppers!

Robin S. said...

"If days were trains, this one would have been lying on its side at the bottom of a ravine."

I really like this sentence -hope you don't scrap it. It's a great image of how it feels to have a day that feels like holy hell.

There is something that reads "off" in this beginning, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I'm sure you can fix it.

And I can see Yuri mumbling - as one does when speaking to an idiot when one is in a service industry, and can't quite break out and disembowel said idiot, as can be done in the fun continuation here.

I couldn't give a good damn whether Yuri is a man's or womans' name traditionally. You've made it clear it's a female here - and that's all that matters to me.

Anonymous said...

Well it's only 150 words, and of course we're going to obsess the details if that's all we've got. Look at all the conflicting advice.

You're in danger of over-engineering now, so take a step back, take a deep breath and go with your instincts: let the force be with you!

I'm in the camp that doesn't like the first paragraph here - it feels like its trying too hard and not true to the rest. Maybe that's because I've seen more of this story before and can feel the disjoint here.

Frankly, I think you know what you're doing, but you've let yourself be "over-critiqued"...

McKoala said...

Sorry rei, not much time today, but I'm with the 'not the first para' camp. It just didn't seem to link with the rest.

McKoala said...

Oh man, you rewrote it! Are you trying to make me late to pick up my son?! The new first sentence seems a little long, maybe slip the description of the booth in later or 'Yuri at the splintered wooden counter' or some such?

I remember an earlier version, albeit vaguely, from the Crapometer. Did it need such a rewrite? I take the point that you got advice from a pretty sage source, though.

OK got to go, even if that made no sense.

Anonymous said...

first anonymous,

This colon was misused, but people speak in colons all the time.
"Here's an example: people don't consciously use periods, either."

I also thought Yuri was a boy's name, thinking Russian.

Twill said...

I love the first sentence, it's the second that makes it clunk.

If A, then B. If C, then D.

But A/B and C/D are too morphologically different to scan well. In effect, the juxtyaposition of the two sentences creates a mixed metaphor.

First sentence says, in an interesting way, that a bad day is being had. The second sentence is intended to establish POV in Yuri. The second sentence is not working.

Here's a bad version of the rewrite -

If days were trains, this one would have been lying on its side at the bottom of a ravine. Yuri glared at the old man holding up the line at her checkpoint. He would pay his damn entry fee and shut up, or by God she might have to shove that frilly collar down his throat.

Of course, the line presumes that Yuri lives in a world with trains. Otherwise, it's just wrong.

By the way, I think the Yuri => boy name problem is related to trains + guard shacks + queues => eastern europe imagery. But that could just be me.