Monday, July 23, 2007

New Beginning 322

Alanna Stewart was not meant to die at age thirteen. Death visits 136-year-old women with forty stringy, bluish-gray hairs poking out of their sunburned scalps; not teenagers, and certainly not the invincible Alanna.

She had cherished this foolish belief since the age of seven when an almost accident, at Busch Stadium, threatened her life. An unknown spirit wrapped its tender arms around her head just in time to keep Albert Pujols’ rogue baseball from shattering her skull. While her parents breathed a “Thank God for coincidental flukes,” Alanna believed in a guardian angel reserved just for her. From that moment on, Alanna gambled her luck by riding helmetless on bikes, scaling barbed wire fences, and loosening harnesses when rock climbing.

“I don’t worry about getting hurt! I have someone to protect me,” she once told her sister Debbie. As a result of her shoddy belief system, Alanna wore permanent scabs on her bony knees from following the whims of her teenage friends. Even though physical risks never worried Alanna, the fear of peer rejection terrified her.

Which is why she accepted Melissa's challenge. "Bet ya can't jump off the school roof without breaking any bones."

Alanna smiled and conjured up her guardian angel. "Of course I can. Just you watch."

Melissa did watch, as did the rest of the 12:30 lunch groups at Hilltop Middle, as Alanna stretched and jumped. Others would later describe it as a 'swan-dive,' not a jump.

But everybody agreed on 'splat.'

Melissa stood next to Alanna's mushy carcass. "Anyone else got a guardian angel?" she asked, scanning the crowd. "No, I didn't think so."

Opening: J.....Continuation: takoda


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

Which is how she ended up here, on the top of the cafeteria, fists on hips and fifteen classmates jeering at her. "Jump! Jump!"

"You know there's only so much I can do for you," the six foot tall rabbit told her. "I warned you about this habit of excessive boasting."

"I know, I know. But it worked so well for Jimmy Stewart and that guy in the Donnie Darko movie."


Now, crammed into the gym locker by her so-called 'friends', she felt herself slowly sliding into unconciousness.


It was with this sense of invincibility that Alanna juggled the Japanese katana while riding a unicycle across a tightrope, to the delighted encouragement of her friends. Jimmy Kobayashi had brought the knives, throwing each one up to Alanna who plucked it from the air with the deft precision of a mantis catching a fly.

I can do anything! Alanna thought, exhilarated, as sunlight sparked off razor sharp edges. However, she had not expected the stray baseball that flew from left-field of the nearby court. As the ball zinged toward her, she felt that familiar warmth of protecting arms. Missing her, the ball collided with the blades which scattered about the watching crowd, slicing off heads and limbs with the effortless fluidity of a Takeshi Kitano set-piece, while Alanna dropped lightly to the ground, unhurt.

Her parents, of course, were grateful for another “coincidental fluke.” Alanna was indeed invincible but next semester she found, to her surprise, the other students were unwilling to sit near her in the lunchroom.

And of her protector? Even guardian angels don’t like smug teenage drama queens.


As Alanna played the odds and took ever greater risks -- charming rattlesnakes, taking candy from strangers, using the hairdryer in the bath -- her circle of friends grew. She found that as long as she risked herself to their increasingly outlandish suggestions, her popularity was similarly invincible.

On her fourteenth birthday, much to her parents’ trepidation, Alanna insisted on returning to Busch Stadium. And it was there, unlikely as it seems, that at the top of the second inning, a stray ball from Mr. Pujols proved Alanna’s mortality.

Of course, Alanna had her personal guardian angel; of course, Death visits the old; but, you know, it was Albert Pujols: “In my heart and mind, I know I can hit anybody.”


Unfortunately for Alanna, the decision to participate in the ropeless bungee jump turned out to be pushing her unknown spirit with its tender arms just a tad too far.


Only her marriage at age fourteen to an ageing rock star kept her from total recklessness.

Rod needed her to help him dress, to feed him and to hold cigarettes up to his puckered mouth. She gave up on his hair.

Little did she know that his pact with the Devil would cause her death at age sixteen, one month after his own. No mere guardian angel was a match for Old Scratch, and Rod wasn't going to leave his millions to a nubile, if scabby young girl.

--Kate Thornton

Anonymous said...

The first sentence hooked me. I liked this character and would read on.

How can she not worry about geting hurt when she's got permanent scabs to show that she can, in fact, get hurt? Maybe think about re-wording so that makes more sense. She can't ever be seriously injured, for instance.

Robin S. said...

All of the continuations are really good. Every last single blessed freakin' one of 'em.

Especially the one with Rod. This must be old No-Ass Rod, the one who loves wearing purple spandex
quasi-trousers so that when he struts his stuff (or lack of thereof) onstage during a performance, everyone can see he has, in fact, got no ass. No ass, wrapped in spandex. Good times.


The opening is funny, and the setup is there for finding out about the potential peer rejection that's Alanna's true fear.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Robin, Whats'it with Rod these days?

Here's my picture of Punctuation Rod: (notice his wide eyes and puckered mouth)

O {}
>> {}
O {}

I LOVE anon's with the blades!!! I read that over and over! They're all funny, though!
I liked the opening too, and only had a problem with the skinned knee part--just a nit.

Good luck!

Bernita said...

While taking chances with rock-climbing harness is a good example, I don't see scaling barb wire fences as a particularly outre or life-threatening risk.
It wasn't that long ago when no one wore a helmet bike-riding either.

Robin S. said...

Hi takoda,

I don't know - Rod just showed up.
I like your Punctutaion Rod - nothing like a puckered mouth, is there?

I'm good with the scabs, by the way - I saw that you and anon were thinking about these - but, at thirteen, I think I pretty much had permanent knee scabs, too, from all the skating and cycling and climbing stuff I liked to do at the time. I think most kids at the age of thirteen feel immortal, in a way, unless they've had a death or major illness in the family - so I don't think scabs get in the way of the 'immortal feeling'. Just my opinion, of course.

By the way, takoda, we need more pictures sometimes, you know, for visuals. You're great at finding them.

Dave Fragments said...

I think the author ought to back off a little. This feels overwriten to me. It feels like it is trying too hard. It's a good opening but it needs to crack like a whip not thump around like an elephant.

I think this is a hard read.
"Death visits 136-year-old women with forty stringy, bluish-gray hairs poking out of their sunburned scalps; not teenage girls, and certainly not the invincible Alanna."

"Death visits old women with stringy, blue hair on sunburned scalps; not teenagers, and certainly not Alanna."

Your second money line is "Even though physical risks never worried Alanna, the fear of peer rejection terrified her. So trim the stuff between your first line and that last line. Make the words between those two money sentences a lot tighter than it is.

More examples:
"almost accident"
"coincidental flukes" (great phrase BTW but not here)
"Unknown spirit" and "guardian angel" - you're telling the same thing over and over.

And since she died at 13, you don't need "foolish" in the first sentence of paragraph two. In fact, foolish is like getting a minor injury, the better adjective (if you need an adjective) is "tragic"...

none said...

The character comes across as believable, but telling rather than showing and author intrusion aren't to my personal taste. This sort-of feels like it would do better in first person, with Alanna's own narrative voice.

Love the rabbit continuation and "everyone agreed on splat" :).

Chris Eldin said...

Robin, I'm so excited! My roofer emailed me a photo. Is this the Rod you're talking about?


Bonnie said...

The opening makes me think that in the next paragraph, Alanna is dead.

If she's not, and if it really is a story about fear of rejection, I would much rather see a scene showing me how she feels.

If she is, I'd rather have a lot fewer words.

verification: uodka, vodka by another name

Anonymous said...

Put me in the squirrel league regarding author intrusion. "foolish belief" and "shoddy belief system" are the author's judgement (or judgment), not third-person close/limited POV. Those author comments are jarring for me here.

The barbed wire and helmetless biking didn't work for me either. Isn't this the kid who goes joy riding and runs over the Mafia man's grave? Driving without a license is a much bigger risk than scaling barbed wire.

"coincidental flukes" is redundant.

There are a lot of belief/believed here. Maybe change the "Alanna believed in..." line.

The change from talking about the guardian angel and not getting hurt to that last sentence is a bit abrupt for me. Even a paragraph break before this sentence would help to point out a change of subject. But I would rather see something more hard hitting to take us into the thought of peer rejection. A really rough thought:

“I don’t worry about getting hurt. I have someone to protect me,” she once told her sister Debbie. Even so, Alanna wore permanent scabs on her bony knees from following the dares of her teenage friends.

Not that it took the promised protection of a guardian angel to prompt Alanna to risk physical harm at the insistence of her friends. No, the fear of peer rejection terrified her.

Ooh, chills time -- caught a bit on the news this morning from Arkansas: Minor league coach dies after being struck by line drive in game. Apparently HE didn't have a guardian angel :o(

On a happier note, I think Church Lady and Rod will be clinching the deal any time now.

Robin S. said...

Cheers right back to you, takoda.

I may have my re-roofing re-roofed, if this is Rod. Only he can verify this, of course.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm not a careful enough reader, but I didn't see this girl as dead. I read that death would visit her, and thought she might have a chance to thwart it. All the talk of her escaping injury led me to this conclusion. That "she was not meant to die at thirteen" makes me think she didn't. It made me want to read on to see what this threat is, and how she gets out of it.

Anyone else see it this way? I remember the query too. Again, maybe I didn't read it right.

I'm commenting a lot now - so I guess I'll name myself something. Since I'm not good at the creative names I'll go with the first thing that popped into my head, from the title of my recent query.

Robin S. said...

Hi phoenix-

This opening just makes me think of
3rd person, full stop. I see what you mean - her belief system wouldn't be anything she'd normally be aware of as being shoddy, especially at her age. I agree. But it works for me. I don't pretend to be a POV pro - I'm just asking- why does it jar you? Does it take you away from feeling that you're in Alanna's head?

Also - (off topic) does anyone besides me remember that Rod was once married to an Alanna, or Alana, or something like that?

none said...

It is third person; it's just not the third person limited to which we've become accustomed in recent years. Anything that doesn't meet expectations formed out of habit has a tendency to jar (like an unfamiliar dialect :D). We're clearly not in Alanna's head; we're hearing from an omniscient narrator.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with omniscient; it just happens to have fallen out of fashion of late. Dickens is a great practitioner--he tells you what everyone is thinking and feeling, often at length--while Austen's author intrusions are couched in first person.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin. The "foolish belief" contradicts the unknown spirit wrapped its tender arms around her head just in time... sentence that immediately follows. Both are declarative sentences expressing a viewpoint. But the angel can't be both a foolish belief AND true, can it?

And if Alanna earnestly believes in her angel and its protective power, then the author passing judgement on it as a "shoddy belief system" makes me feel less sympathy for the MC (even though I don't happen to believe in angels myself).

I think this is 3rd-person close/limited because we are so much inside Alanna's head right here. It's set up from the first sentence that way since Alanna doesn't die at age 13. This is how Alanna feels, not how things objectively are.

Does that make sense?

I can handle all kinds of POV shifts if done smoothly and well, but it's the rare time author intrusion works for me.

Re: re-roofing: It certainly wouldn't hurt to at least have that roofer come out and give you a bid on his services now, would it? He looks pretty competent to me.

McKoala said...

This reads to me as a bit of mix of Alanna and author intrusion and I'm not too keen on that, but you've had heaps of comments on that. The last sentence of para three is clearly crucial, yet it feels a bit buried. Had you thought about starting the next para with it or letting it stand alone?

Anonymous said...

Alanna Stewart was not meant to die at age thirteen.

When I read this line, I assume she will die at age thirteen, 'cause otherwise, why mention it?

The whole first paragraph, which I like by the way, sets me up for a story about how Alanna Stewart tragically dies in her 13th year.

THe first line of para 2 - foolish belief - reinforces that reading for me, because otherwise it's not a foolish belief; it's true.

That's how I read it. Don't know if that's how the story unfolds. In fact, the entire opening leads me in that particular direction until the line about "peer rejection". I kind of skid on the wet sidewalk as I turn that corner.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am expecting the kid to die. In fact, by paragraph three I'm kind of counting on it.

jjdebenedictis said...

I liked the first line/paragraph. I enjoyed the second paragraph. By the third paragraph, I was getting impatient for something other than telling.

This could be good - it's zippy and fun - but it's bogging down.

Good luck with it!


Anonymous said...

Alana Stewart is indeed a celebrity. Author may wish to choose a different name...

Anonymous said...

To me this could be someone's English class essay about a character in a book, or pages from an author's character files. It's the sort of background I expect to inform a novel as subtext. It is an explaination of the story, it is not the story.

Robin S. said...

Hi phoenix and buffy,

I think maybe the 'intrusion' here doesn't bother me and in fact feels a little bit welcoming exactly because of the amount of Dickens and Dickens-era fiction I read - albeit a long time ago. Hadn't thought about it that way.

Yeah - the roofer does look good - his buddy Rod 'poned' me, however (for a chuckle, see the comments in Bad Analogies, Part 3). I'm thinking of using as many cliches about men as possible now, in a sort of long-winded retribution. Might be fun.

Hi Invisible - glad to see you've given yourslef a name- I'm looking forward to the Josie opening being posted.

And after reading the comments here, I'm wondering about the first and last limes of this piece, and wondering if she's dead, gonna die, or really IS more worried about living with peer rejection. Good for you, author.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others: the first line sets us up to expect her to die, and I know from the query that doesn't happen. It's an interesting start, but I'm afraid it will only disappoint when people realize in a page or two that she doesn't die at age thirteen. I also agree that tagging the guardian angel a "foolish notion" probably kills more interest--people may go in expecting an angel, only to find that it's all in her head. I'd want to see the next page or two, just to see if there's a better opening in the next few paragraphs.

Robin S. said...

I don't know.I kind of like the wry feeling to the opening.

I hadn't put this one together with the query, but, even so, it seems a little bit tongue in cheek, an attitude that I appreciate.

Bonnie said...

Yeah, I like the wry and the omniscient, also. I'm just not sure what's happening. It's a matter of clarity,not style or POV.

Anonymous said...

I agree, robin, I do like the tone. It's got a neat, business-casual voice to it. It's the content I'm not sure about.

Word verification: jfkfc. Pat Sajak says: The category is Before & After. This U.S. President was killed by fried chicken, a biscuit, and two delicious sides.

Friendship Puzzle author said...

Thanks for all of the comments. I made some changes to the beginning (I had dropped narrator opinions a long time ago). 150 asked to see a little more of the story; unfortunately, the paragraph indents do not translate well from the post format.

Alanna Shayne was not meant to die at age thirteen. Death visits 136-year-old women with stringy, bluish-gray hairs poking out of their sunburned scalps; not teenagers, and certainly not Alanna. She had cherished this belief since the age of seven when an accident, at Busch Stadium, could have threatened her life. An unknown spirit wrapped its tender arms around her head, causing her to duck, just in time to keep Albert Pujols’ rogue baseball from shattering her skull. While her parents breathed a “Thank God for glorious flukes,” Alanna believed in a guardian angel reserved just for her.
From that moment on, Alanna gambled her luck by darting across traffic while on a bike, scaling tall barbed wire fences, and loosening harnesses when rock climbing. “I’m glad I’m protected by an angel but wish I could share her with you sometimes,” she once told her sister Debbie. As a result of her belief system, Alanna wore permanent scabs on her bony knees from following the whims of her teenage friends. Even though physical risks never worried Alanna, the thought of peer rejection terrified her. She wished her angel could protect her from the callous and hurtful comments of teenage girls, but her patron saint avoided the eighth grade social scene.
Alanna’s sixteen-year-old sister, Debbie, steered the family Ford around the neighborhoods near Concordia Seminary. Several kids, on summer vacation, hung by their knees from a “No Trespassing” sign that hovered over the entrance to the Concordia property in St. Louis County.
“Want to drive?” Debbie said to her little sister.
“Really? Right here? Right now?” said Alanna in a high-pitched squeak. I’ve never driven before!
“Yeah. Right here in front of that old man over there,” said Debbie sarcastically as she nodded her head toward the window. Narrow brick houses lined the street. As a cool wind blew through the air, an elderly man with a wooden pipe sat on his porch peering at the sisters as they drove by. Alanna looked at her sister yet said nothing.
“You think I’m stupid, Alanna?”
“I’ll tell you what, there’s a deserted area up the road in University City. It’s behind an old graveyard.”
Alanna paused and glanced at her ring. This is so exciting! We could get in trouble though.
“Why do you look worried? No one’s ever over there,” said Debbie.
Alanna took a deep breath, looked out the window, and fiddled with the mood ring on her right hand. Her camp boyfriend gave it to her last summer. I liked Ross at camp, but not anymore. She licked her finger and rubbed a dirt spot off of the stone. I like this ring.
“Let’s go for it!” said Alanna excitedly. So what if we get trouble! It’ll be worth it!
Debbie turned the old Ford around and headed towards Big Bend Boulevard. Before long, Alanna saw chipped gravestones outside her window. Debbie drove past the old tombstones and made a sharp right into a huge, hilly paved area.
“Here we go,” said Debbie as she stopped the car and jumped out with the motor still running.
Alanna slid behind the wheel of the Ford and stared out of the front windshield. Debbie sprang around to the passenger seat and buckled her seat belt.
“You better buckle up too.”
Alanna’s hands shook as she reached for the dirty belt and snapped it into its holster. Her white knuckles gripped the steering wheel as her right foot tapped the gas. The car gave an angry roar as it churned in the middle of the parking lot.
“You have to release the emergency brake and put it in drive,” said Debbie.
“Move the crank.”
“What crank?”
“This shift in the middle,” said Debbie as she pushed the shaft downward and moved the vehicle out of park. The car gave a sudden surge as if it were more frightened than Alanna. Debbie laughed uncontrollably.
“You idiot! Just push on the gas lightly and circle this lot,” said Debbie.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks, author!

I have to say, with the "wasn't supposed to" beginning and the ill-advised underage driving, it still sounds like this chapter is careening toward Alanna's fiery death. "Wasn't supposed to" is almost always followed by "but she did." The first two paras don't lead smoothly into the next one--it's kind of a whiplash transition--so I'd scrap 'em and use the backstory later, and put the first line somewhere soon after she drives over the grave, about the point where she starts fearing for her life. For the actual opening, I see no reason why it can't start directly in the graveyard; the driving around the neighborhood is just leading up to it, and doesn't have any real value in itself.

I liked the ring and poor forgotten Ross, but I'm not sure this is the time to mention them.

All my humble opinion, so feel free to use or discard as you see fit. Thanks for posting more! If this post is too far down to attract interest, you might consider submitting to Many of the same readers, more in-depth analysis.

Friendship Puzzle author said...

Dear 150,

I didn't see my story as a new beginning until just now. I wish I had kept up with this site.

I feel strongly, and have been told by many, that my opening line is the hook that will draw an editor's attention. I never said she dies, you're assuming. If you didn't read the query, how would you know she doesn't die? Perhaps you'd want to read to find out. If a reader grows to like my character, they'll be glad if she lives. I don't feel like I'm being deceptive. To me, "She wasn't meant to die," is a literal translation just as I wrote it. Perhaps, she really wasn't meant to die because her angel wants it that way.

Also, Alanna does have near misses in the story, and this is what keeps the attention of the reader.

I smoothed the transition into Debbie and started the drive by the cemetary. Thanks for the tip.

The ring (later in this chapter) is important because this is Alanna's unique attribute. Whenever she's upset or challenged, she fiddles with the ring. In chapter four, the ring leads her into a lot of revealing thoughts. When the trouble gets very intense, this poor girl rubs her finger raw due to the ring.

There's a lot more to my story than any of you could know by reading two pages and my inexperience in writing queries. My book is very involved with several side plots that all integrate into the main plot.

I feel confident that I have a winner with some tweaking and finding a means to get my story read. I believe I'm a better writer than promoter, and that's the problem in this business. Some of the best things never get published while crap with a celebrity name attached to it hits the shelves faster than poop in a fan.