Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Beginning 302

Dalin Archer chose the wrong mark on the Camden Bridge.

He'd singled him out for his clothes. The man's blue overcoat, woolen and slightly wrinkled, extended over leather breeches all the way down to his knees. It wasn't in the local style, and marked him as a traveler. Dalin wasn't allowed to rob locals, only travelers, which exasperated him because often he couldn't tell the difference. At least this one stood out. Travelers were the best marks in any case; they carried more money.

The man was pinned shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd that streamed across the bridge in a shifting mass, like the turbulent river below. The Camden Bridge was Dalin's favorite beat. As it was the only means of crossing the river into the upscale district of Ghan, well-to-do townsfolk poured onto it from all sides of the city. The press of humanity, the jostling and bumping, and the clatter of boots on the wooden slats provided excellent cover for a pickpocket.

Slight of build and not yet at his full height, Dalin wormed his way easily through the crowd and slipped in behind his mark. His mark was tall and wore his hair long, in the style of the nobility. Dalin doubted he was a noble; his clothes were too modest. Probably he was a wealthy merchant with aspirations above his station.

Dalin took his position just behind the man, a little to the right and, just as another wave of bodies came from the other direction, moved in. He banged his shoulder against the man’s arm and used the distraction to dip into the mark’s money pocket. It was empty. And as the man turned around, showing his unkempt hair and pock-marked face, Dalin realized this was just a vagabond in cast off clothing.

* * *

Fagin looked at the three men seated before him and shook his head. “Dodger, I expected better of you. Four gold crowns; not very good. "Mr. Twist, seven pieces of silver. Nice try, but I’m still wondering if you just aren’t too nice for this kind of business.

"Mr. Archer. Hopeless. You got nothing, totally messed up the task. You chose the wrong mark. I’m looking for an apprentice who can spot a hot prospect a mile off, and for that reason, Dalin Archer . . . You’re fired.”

Opening: amyb.....Continuation: Anonymous


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

Dalin bumped the man from behind. “Excuse me, sir,” Dalin said.
“Quite alright, son,” the man said.

Two minutes later, Dalin hid under the bridge and pulled out the fat brown wallet he’d taken from the mark. “I think I hit the jackpot this time,” Dalin said.

“I don’t think so, young man.”

Dalin whipped around and saw the man in the wrinkled overcoat stare down at him. “That belongs to me.”

Dalin rose to his feet. “I found it, sir.”

The man raised one eyebrow and lit his cigar. “I doubt that,” he said.

Dalin didn’t bother with another lie. He sprinted away, the wallet still in his hand. He knew the man would give chase but Dalin knew this area better than a random traveler.

Feeling safe in the woods, Dalin opened the wallet. A tap on his shoulder startled him.

“Uh, just one more thing, kid. You still have my wallet.”

“What are you,” Dalin asked, “some kind of magician?”

The man stoked his cigar. “Police. My name’s Columbo. Lieutenant Columbo.”


Dalin trotted closer to his mark, hoping for a better take than yesterday. Onion bagel-Yuk!

The man walked fast, but Dalin knew how to keep pace. Just far enough back to get a good look and a good sniff, but not too close. No, definitely not too close. His paw was still sore from last week's mark. Stupid gentrified man stepped on him, just as he was about to grab the scone.

Dalin wagged his tail and barked. He could smell bacon in that woolen, slightly wrinkled blue overcoat.

Today, there would be breakfast on the Cambden Bridge.


Dalin hovered nearby, until a woman in front tripped, resulted in jostling of all behind her. Viewing this as the perfect opportunity to make his move, Dalin slipped his hand under the mark's cloak, cutting blade ready to snip away the cord that would be holding the merchant's money bag.

The merchant turned, just as Dalin pocketed the leather bag. It felt nice and heavy. Perhaps it had a few gold coins in it. Maybe this would be a better day than Dalin had expected.

The merchant looked straight into Dalin's eyes, then glanced down toward his empty hand.

"Thank you," he said, then turned and walked away, whistling a tune as he walked.

Dalin felt the bag in his pocket. Thank you? Odd response. He hurried into an alley just off the bridge,and opened the bag. He gasped as he saw the contents. Who would carry five finger bones, an entire severed hand, and thirty-two teeth?


“My good sir, may I beg you to spare a six pence?” Dalin said. It was the oldest trick in the book, get the mark to expose his booty, then grab the bag and run like hell.

But the man did not turn at first, so Dalin repeated his plea. Still the man continued on his way, seemingly oblivious to Dalin’s request.

“My good sir, if you could but spare a six pence, I could get back to my home in Jouster where my sister is down with the plague. You see, my wagon has thrown a spoke and I could have it repaired and get the much needed slugs to my ailing sibling if only—“

The man spun on Dalin like a whirlwind, his eyes flashing fire. “I’m sick and tired of all you damn panhandlers on this god forsaken bridge!” the man shouted. “Every time I come to Ghan, I’m hounded by beggars with sob stories about unshod horses, and broken quivers. It makes a guy want to swim the turbulent waters below.”

“But sir, if only I could—“

“Why me? Why is it always me? Do I have a sign on my back that says, ‘Traveler?’ Is it my long hair? My shabby clothes? What is it?”

“I’m sorry, sir, to have bothered you,” Dalin said, ready to find a new mark.

When the man started laughing, Dalin turned back toward him, confused.

“I’m Trifle Magnute,” the man said, “the oldest and cleverest thief from Gahn to Polster. I’m sure you’ve heard of me?”

Oh, yes, Dalin had heard of him. Magnute was legend, but before Dalin could register his good fortune, the man spun away saying, “You’re good, kid, but as long as I’m around, you’ll always be second best.”

--circus boy

He reached the mark, coming nearly abreast of him, one shoulder dipping unobtrusively whilst his hand slid skillfully into a pocket.

A slender gloved hand gripped his wrist like an iron band. "Why hello, Dalin. Long time no see."

"Ninevah?" he whispered fiercely lest anyone cry thief. "Can't you see I'm working? And how do you come to be here of all places?"

"I got tired of waiting, husband mine. Six children and not a farthing of child support for three months. The least you could do is go rot in gaol and make me feel better about your abandonment."

Realising that his disguise was no longer useful, Dalin straightened to his full height and didn't even struggle as the Bowstreet Runners came out of the crowd to clap him in irons.

"You can't get blood out of a turnip, my dear. You'd better drop the charges or you'll be sorry!"

She gave him a polite little wave as they dragged him off, cursing. "Sorry, Turnip dear, but in this case, I can."


Sorry if the chosen one makes no sense to readers in Holland and New Zealand.

writtenwyrdd said...

Ooh, if the Anon continuation was part of the story, I'd really want to read it! Severed head and teeth? Cool!

I like this well enough, but paragraph 3 had a jarring change in voice and pov. Or, it seemed like it to me. Paras one and 2, we are inside Dalin's head; in 3, we are pulled back to what felt like omniscient. I don't know how anyone else reads, but I am highly visual, and Iliterally get a swooping sensation as the 'camera lens' pulls back, and it's gut wrenching. (yes, I'm a bit strange)

Also, the phrasing of para 3 was awkward. I don't think this really requires much tweaking, except it could stand some tightening up a bit, if you wanted to give the scene more tension. The lush descriptions detract from tension, making the pick pocket attempt seem leisurely. Not sure that's where you want to go; but I'd have to read on to know that.

And I would read on. :)

Rei said...

Not bad. :) I like how you managed to work in description of the characters here: you worked it in where it could be relevant. You point out that the POV char is slight of build in reference to how it helps him worm through the crowd. You point out that the mark is tall, long hair, and provided all sorts of details about the clothes because they show the thought processes of the POV char picking out a mark.

This stands in nice contrast to how a lot of writers try and jam description into their stories. It's usually something like:

"Susan looked out the window. Taller than her sisters, Susan had blond hair down to her shoulders and wore a long, green dress.

Jane walked into the room. "Hello, Susan." How like Jane. Her dress was red, and because she was only 5'4 . . ."

PJD said...

With respect to those not chosen, I think you picked the right continuation, EE. Very well done.

Author, I liked the opening, particularly the first line, but I found myself getting a little impatient. Just a little, though. If you can tighten up the description without losing the overall scene (which I think I see pretty clearly), that would improve the opening. I think you could probably take out the end of the first paragraph, for example, from "which exasperated him..." to the end.

There are other places you could tighten to get us from the initial tension ("WHY is he the wrong mark?") to the actual action. Otherwise, I'd say it's a pretty good opening all in all.

jjdebenedictis said...

Four paragraphs and all Dalin has done is walk up to a guy. Zzzzzzz...

Even worse, three of those paragraphs are nearly all backstory and incidentals, not action. I assume Dalin is about to get a nasty surprise? Start the story there, at the moment he realises he has a problem.

We don't need to know what Dalin looks like yet. We don't need to know what the mark is wearing yet. It's nice to know what the scene looks like, but most of that description is "told", rather than "shown", and thus isn't as vivid as it could be. All of this can wait. Get us into the action first, please.


Beth said...

The first sentence contains a good hook, and that's what keeps us reading. However, this is fairly heavy-handed in imparting information about Dalin, his occupation, and the setting. Try rewriting this by converting the tell to show. Let the reader find out the information gradually, in context.

For instance:

The press of humanity, the jostling and bumping, and the clatter of boots on the wooden slats provided excellent cover for a pickpocket.

Though it contains some nice sensory details, this is still telling. If you show Dalin taking advantage of the jostling, the bumping, and the clatter of boots, you won't need to explain why it's good cover. And that's what telling is: explaining. It has its place, but not here.

"Pinned" is misused, since it takes an object. You have to pin something to something else, or pin something with something. And it also implies being unable to move. "Caught" or "trapped" would work better.

Slight of build and not yet at his full height, Dalin wormed his way easily through the crowd and slipped in behind his mark.

A couple of problems with that introductory clause. One, it's out of POV. Two, it sticks out like an extra finger, useless and just calling attention to itself. You can probably find a way to convey the information more subtly and with better syntax.

All in all, this has good potential, but needs rewriting to make it more active and interesting.

Anonymous said...

I liked this. I disagree one hundred percent that you must start at the exact moment the MC realizes he/she has a problem. I call bullshit. If a reader can't hang with you for three paragraphs for you to set it up, they need to stick to comic books.

I agree it could be tightened somewhat, and I don't care for the first sentence in the 4th paragraph, I'd rework - into what, I don't know.

I think it's pretty close to being a good opening. Good luck with it!

McKoala said...

I think this is pretty good, but I spotted a lot of repetition which slowed it down. For example at the end of the second para you repeatedly tell us that he is a traveler.

Loved the continuation! I think The Apprentice is fairly global.

Anonymous said...

Obviously some heated debate over how much action a story has to begin with. Several of the blogging agents do acknowledge they look for a quick start to the action (although one of the mss I'm shopping has a more leisurely beginning, so I think ultimately you go with what you know in your gut works).

What could make a nice compromise here would be to really tighten your POV. Instead of telling us Archer wasn't allowed to rob locals, have him searching the crowded bridge, frustrated because he can't find a "legal" mark, seeing someone who might make a good mark, only to have that someone exhibit some trait that makes it apparent he's a local, which makes Archer frustrated again until he catches a glimpse of long hair and long overcoat, etc.

That way, you can still get all the necessary setup in, but it won't feel so much like an infodump on the reader because we're searching with him for just the right guy.

It did feel a little odd to me to get a description of the mark and his dress right up front, move away from the mark for a couple of paragraphs and then come back to talking about the mark's clothes again. I would think Archer would size him up pretty immediately in one quick assessment, all at the same time.

I liked your easy-going writing style overall. And, wow, someone who knows the proper use of a semi-colon! Be still my heart :o)

And just look at all the continuations this inspired! Nice job all!

jjdebenedictis said...

I disagree one hundred percent that you must start at the exact moment the MC realizes he/she has a problem. I call bullshit. If a reader can't hang with you for three paragraphs for you to set it up, they need to stick to comic books.

I respectfully waggle my bare behind at the implied insult. I'll also note that most reviewers so far are picking out the same things I did.

If the author wants to improve their work, they are free to ignore a rude wingnut like me - but they should not ignore it when a bunch of independent reviewers all say that things started out too slowly and that the telling should be replaced by showing.


Bernita said...

Gives me the impression of information out of place, which might account for the jerky sense of narrative.
"The Camden Bridge was Dalin's favorite beat" follows our visual of the man pinned between jostling shoulders, and meanders off about the river and bridge before presenting the premier "why" fact - crowd cover - "the press of humanity..."
Feel "As it was the only means..." sentence should come after your "press of humanity..."
You might consider a little re-arranging.

AmyB said...

Thank you for the comments! I love the continuations, especially the chosen one!

I'm concerned about the POV/camera issues. I'm sensitive to those in other people's writing, but apparently not in my own :). The first sentence is deliberately omniscient, but my intent is to move from there to third limited on Dalin and stay there; jumping back and forth is not intentional.

As for the opening possibly being too leisurely, I have mixed feelings on that. This is a fantasy novel, and the fantasy genre has a high expectation for establishment of setting (part of the reason we have high word counts). I have read arguments here before about openings being too slow, and I've quietly run off and peeked at the openings of the published novels on my desk, and almost none of them open with immediate conflict. A common technique is to open with a hook, then back up a little and do some establishment of character and setting. That is what I've attempted to do here. The opening sentence is my promise to the reader that things are about to go seriously wrong for Dalin, and if the reader can't stick with me for a page or two while I set it up, I think he/she is not going to like the book under any circumstances.

That said, I'll see if I can trim it a bit. It's not easy, because every sentence is delivered on later. The description of clothes affects the details of the robbery to come (the coat extends over the breeches, making the pockets hard to access). The bit about his not being allowed to rob travelers is not really an attempt to tell the reader about that rule, but an attempt to show that Dalin is part of a criminal network, that he works for somebody and has rules to follow. And the details about the bridge being an ideal spot for pickpockets are important later when we learn Dalin is a lousy pickpocket and is too scared to work anywhere else.

I am not saying that including these details here in the opening was the right decision, just that it was a considered decision. Each one is a setup for a delivery to come. For what it's worth, Dalin is fanning his mark in the very next paragraph (checking for the location of valuables), and is in serious trouble by paragraph 10.

Beth said...


The opening sentence is my promise to the reader that things are about to go seriously wrong for Dalin

Yes, and it makes a good hook.

The problem, as I saw it, was that what followed was too full of explanations. It felt static. I wasn't involved.

That doesn't mean you can't have description, and it doesn't mean you can't throw in a needed line about who's a legal mark and who isn't...but if you want to build tension and draw the reader deeply into the story, keep explanations to a minimum and let us live it with Dalin real time, as it were. Does that make sense?