Tuesday, June 05, 2007

New Beginning 287

Amber light glowed from an open window in the back of the shack, and from the rear deck a small dock floated with the rise and fall of the tide. Waist deep in the brackish water, I listened for voices as I advanced but all I heard was thousands of frogs in full riot.

I held my Glock at shoulder level, sliding from tree to tree and trying not to stumble on the roots. I stopped to take inventory of my surroundings. Pale beams of moonlight cut through the trees and made silver designs on the water. Two dark bumps on the surface caught my attention, about ten feet to my left, and it took a moment before I recognized them as the eyes of an alligator. By the length of its snout I knew it was large, and it was pointed in my direction not moving. I stood still and held my breath, waiting to see if the monster was going to stir. It seemed to be sizing me up.

Just as I decided I should breathe again, the gator dropped beneath the surface and vanished. Now I was a statue. A frog could have hopped onto my gun and spit in my eye and I wouldn’t have blinked. Time hung like a crooked picture.

Lloyd Greasemeister covered his mouth to stifle his laugh and peeked through his miniblinds again. "Do it once more!" he said.

Gary eased the joystick of the remote control up, and the mechanical alligator reappeared. The kid dropped his toy Glock as he ran, screaming, out of the pond. His friends followed.

Lloyd smoothed the blinds with a satisfied sigh. "That should keep those little turds out of my pond for a while."

Opening: Wonderwood.....Continuation: Anonymous


Evil Editor said...

Two unchosen continuations:

“Goddammit, Jasper! Have you killed that sumbitch yet?”

“Jeez, Ma, I’m waist deep in shit water here, and your screaming ain’t helping none. Now go on back in the dang shack and let me get this mother.”

“Hell, Jasper, if I knew you was gonna screw around all night, I’da sent your one-legged pappy out there to shoot that sumbitch!”

Yeah, as if the old man could kill anything but a pint of Kentucky bourbon. Hell, he sat on the floating dock and watched a fifteen footer eat my little sister and didn’t raise a finger, too drunk to do anything but fall asleep.

I felt something brush past my leg and unloaded the Glock into the black water, shooting at shadows and sensations. I reloaded and waited, the dang frogs making so much noise now I could hardly feel my brain working.

“Jasper, goddammit, your pappy wants alligator steaks and he’s about to chew off his good foot if he don’t get something soon.”

I raised the Glock slowly toward her. It was tempting, but hell, she’s my Ma.

“And when you’re done with that damn gator, Jasper, get in here and straighten up this picture you hung. It’s crooked as a dog’s hind leg!”


Then the two bumps on the surface of the water again caught my attention. My finger tightened on the trigger, an almost imperceptible motion, but enough to break the moment.

A frenzied splashing and a naked Dorleena May stood up. "Whatchu doin' out here, you damned pervert!" she screamed. "Can't a girl even take a midnight swim without some snot-nosed kid eye-ballin' her every minute? I'm callin' your mamma!"

I dropped my Glock, and watched as the moonlight outlined it's plastic features and the shiny sticker that said Mattel on the side.

Then I ran like hell. It wasn't the first time I had been out spying on Dorleena without my Mamma knowing it, and I didn't want it to be the last.

--Kate Thornton

AmyB said...

I had a hard time visualizing the setting, despite the fact that the entire first paragraph is devoted to establishing it. It was like I was getting brain whiplash.

Amber light glowed from an open window in the back of the shack,

I picture a shack in the darkness, light coming from a window.

and from the rear deck a small dock floated with the rise and fall of the tide.

There's a dock? There's water? The dock is floating? I revise my picture to a shack on a lake, with a dock (I can't visualize the floating part), and light coming from a window.

Waist deep in the brackish water

I'm in the water?? (I revise the camera angle.)

but all I heard was thousands of frogs in full riot.

And it's noisy? My scene up till now has been quiet.

I'm not trying to pick this apart, especially since it's an interesting setup and the writing flows well, but that's what went on in my head when I read that paragraph for the first time. Instead of starting with a general picture and filling in details, I had to keep replacing my mental image wholesale. I wonder if I wouldn't get so much whiplash if the bigger details (like the narrator being in the water) were mentioned first.

I was also surprised that after the shack had such a prominent mention (first sentence! of the entire novel!), it had no significance for the next two paragraphs, and all of a sudden we're talking about alligators.

I was confused by the mention of tides, which to me suggests an ocean, and frogs, which I think of as being freshwater creatures. I'm no expert on tides or frogs so I could be wrong, but I had a hard time reconciling those two details.

"Time hung like a crooked picture." A cute bit of wordplay, but I'm not sure it works as an analogy. It doesn't give me an appropriate visual.

Rei said...

An alligator goes underwater, and he... freezes?

What, does he think this is a Jurassic Park T-Rex, and it can only see him if he moves? If it goes underwater, that's a great time for you to get the heck out of there.

writtenwyrdd said...

Author, I didn't have a problem with the setting at all-- but I did just get back from vacation in Louisianna, including time in the bayou. I like the writing, I like your voice and how the character is portrayed. I especially liked the frogs. (Up here in Maine, you can't hear yourself think for the chirping from the swamps in Spring and Summer.)

However, I think you have a couple of problems with this scene. While the setting is admirably portrayed, it just didn't work for me that the pov character is 1) waist deep in swamp full of alligators, and 2) holding a gun "at shoulder level" which isn't clear whether it's pointed out or snugged against his shoulder just to keep it out of the water.

Seems like only an idiot or someone with a compelling reason would be going through a swamp full of 'gators at night. I assume your pov character is there for a good reason, but by presenting the reader with the odd situation and not alluding to the good reason from the start, it makes me pause to wonder just how dumb the guy is. I actually had to consciously choose to suspend my disbelief in order to continue on. But I did wonder what was going to happen next, which was probably a good thing... so long as the Alligator Incident moves your plot forward. If it is not a part of the main plot, you're opting for a James Bond movie opening; and that might not work too well in a book opening.

And the bit about the Glock probably only bugs me because I've worked in law enforcement. So I'm wondering if the guy is beyond stupid and holding the gun out in front of him and accruing tons 'o muscle fatigue (and poor aim) or if the gun is just being held in a ready position to keep it dry and available for use. A minor tweak in the wording would fix that.

Overall, though, I thought this was very vivid and fresh.

Beth said...

Love the continuation. [g]

Author, you've got your narrative all out of order. What's important is the person in the water--start with that. "Waist deep in brackish water, I listened for voices, but all I heard was a thousand frogs in full riot" makes a (slightly revised) terrific opening sentence.

Then--"I held my Glock at shoulder level and glided from tree to tree, trying not to stumble on roots. [I could see well enough;]amber light glowed from the window of a nearby shack, while pale beams of moonlight cut through the trees, making silver designs on the water. About ten feet to my left, two dark bumps on the surface caught my attention." etc.

And it seems to me that when an alligator dives underwater, that would be the time to climb a tree or something. The most dangerous kind of alligator is the kind you can't see coming.

Blogless Troll said...

I liked this, but there were several bits that took me right out of it. First of all, I'm assuming they're cypress trees. If so, you should say that. You could say the MC was trying to avoid stumbling on the cypress knees or something.

Also, "I stopped to take inventory of my surroundings" can be taken out completely since that's what the MC's been doing from the start.

And if time has to hang, it should be hanging like something that's outside with the MC, like Spanish moss or the lynching victim in the tree. If the crooked picture has some meaning later on, okay. But if it's just a clever description, change it to something that reflects what's going on in the rest of the scene.

As far as the gator goes, if I'm waist deep in brackish water and I see two dark bumps ten feet away, it's not gonna take me "a moment before I recognized them as the eyes of an alligator." That would be number one on my list of things to recognize right away. But it doesn't really matter, because you'd never get within ten feet of a real gator. A more believable scenario would be if the gator was on the opposite bank and the MC watched it slide into the water in his general direction.

Lyz said...

Most people have pointed out good things so I will limit my comment to word choice.

"Brackish" is an adj that relates to taste. It is incongruent with the opening to describe something someone is walking/trudging/lurking through based on tastebuds.

Word choice is SOOOO important.

Blogless Troll said...

Actually, "brackish" water is the correct term for semi-salty water found in coastal swamps, rivers, etc.

Kanani said...

You have a good way with description. The things I notice are small, however, they should help to tighten it up, change the pace so that it really clips along.

If you're trying for suspense, then get rid of some of the small words and make it move. Eliminate the sentences that are telling, not showing.

Watch out for your alliteration: deck, dock. Strive for more streamlined description.

Also, take care with the number odd similes --frogs in full riot, time hanging like a crooked picture. The other descriptions that you have work because they are real, and your way of describing them is accurate.

One other thing. First person narration challenges you to get rid of all the "I's."

One way to do this is recognize that if you're describing your surroundings, you're not going to be saying to yourself, "I listened" or "I stopped" or "I recognized." While these all do work, you might try seeing if you can eliminate some in your novel by going full bore into the description. For instance, you can get rid of "I stopped to take inventory of my surroundings," because he's doing that already. Go with the stronger sentences that you have, such as "Pale beams...."

Overall, I'd say you have some good skills. You're at the fine tooth comb stage of the draft.

Anonymous said...

First, I have to say that I laughed my ass off at all of the continuations. I'm still laughing at anonymous. "Goddammit, Jasper! Have you killed that sumbitch yet?" Funny as hell!

Thanks for all of the suggestions. Beth, your idea is interesting, I'm going to play around with it. God knows I've rewritten these three paragraphs many times, changed sequences, words, etc., so I'm not locked into it the way it is now.

Kanani, as usual, superb advice.

Blogless, correct on a couple of things. They are cypress trees, and that is specified a couple of paragraphs later. If it's a big deal, no problem to rearrange it. Also true about the brackish water, more commonly used to describe the location (i.e. swamp, bog)than the taste. I don't believe it needs changing.

REI, I think freezing up when you see the gator is a pretty natural reaction, rather than drawing attention by flailing like injured prey. But maybe that's just me.

Anyway, thanks for all the helpful comments! Fresh eyes are extremely beneficial when you've already read and rewritten the same page a hundred times.

merper said...

Just to make things clear. Alligators drop underwater before they attack right?

If only Steve Irwin were around :(

PJD said...

I really liked this opening. I had no trouble with the setting or the MC being where he was--that alone told me exactly what ww pointed out: Either he's dreadfully stupid or he has a really good reason for being there. I think you've done a good job of relying on the shared experience moviegoers have of scenes like this, and I am expecting it to be a setup scene that leads us into the real plot once he gets into the shack.

Two quick points:
1. I thought the sentence about pale beams of moonlight conflicted with the voice and tension you were building.

2. Regarding your comment: I think freezing up when you see the gator is a pretty natural reaction, rather than drawing attention by flailing like injured prey. But maybe that's just me.
My initial impression of this MC was that he was some sort of highly trained expert. If so, I'd expect him not to freeze up when the gator goes under but to do... something else. I'm no gator expert. If he succumbs to his "natural reaction," then he must not be a highly trained expert, and you might want to throw something in there to make that a little clearer.

I liked this and would read on, definitely.

GutterBall said...

Yay! I love this story and recognized it right off. Some of the suggestions about rearranging (instead of outright deleting) make good sense. That was always my worst fault when writing essays in college.

My favorite professor numbered the sentences of my first paper for his class, then "jumbled" them all up at the bottom of the page. He didn't change a single word, just the order of the sentences, but when I rewrote it in that order, it had so much more impact.

I think your words flow nicely. Conersational style, great imagery, good tension with the bugger in the water. If you left it as-is, I'd very much enjoy it. But if you rearrange a little....

Lyz said...

I never doubted the correctness of the description and in fact, blogless, you did not disagree with me. My point was that the description is incongruent with the feeling, action, and setting of the scene.

How does the character (whose POV we are looking at) know the water is brackish?

There are stronger descriptions to be had through out.