Sunday, August 19, 2007

New Beginning 343

She struggles feebly against her bonds. She has little strength left, but at least she has courage, or desperation. After the fact they're much of a muchness, really.

I slice her face again. It doesn't look pretty, but then again, it never did. I get really close so I can look at the fear in her eyes, see it not just on the surface of the eyeball but deep in the retina, where the fear really dwells. I speak low and she follows human instinct - she stops screaming to hear what I have to say. It's an old trick interviewers use to keep control over recalcitrant interviewees. And what I have to say is pretty gosh-darn important even though I am almost only whispering it.

"I'm going to kill your children."

Before she can even begin to deal with that, I stab her. The heart isn't so far from the front of the chest, only about 5cm. You can stab someone to death with a paring knife. I use rather more than that. I make sure her last thought is of her children dying.

The way she purses her lips for one final scream tells me everything I need to know. Just as fear dwells in the retina, last thoughts are always betrayed by mouth structure.

"My children! No!"

These are the words she utters as her lower lip buckles and she goes limp. I yank my twenty-four-inch carving knife from her chest, admiring its blood-slicked blade. Rather more, indeed.

"Much of a muchness," I tell her hideous corpse. "Can't get much more much than that."

I'm holding my breath. I let the old air out and inhale deeply; perhaps I breathe in her escaping soul. There is silence, and then noise. I can hear the approval, it fills the room.

I don't need to be judged. They don't need to voice their opinions. I already know: I'm through to the finals on Fox's America's Next Serial Killer!

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Reine/ril


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

* * *

"Mr. Fletcher. A quick word, if I may? There have been, ah, one or two concerns raised about your choice of material for the end of year review. Now, as both you and I know, Diary of a Serial Killer is not on the approved list until fifth grade. I think you'll find Caligula has served us perfectly adequately in previous years."


The music swells. I'm in my own movie. It's a familiar refrain, dancing at the edge of my memory, what is it, what is it? I see her eyes begin to glaze.

There's a sharp click, a sudden silence; I hear my heartbeat, slower than I expected. And then the voice again...

All of our customer service representatives are busy at the moment, but your call has been queued and will be answered shortly...

She struggles feebly against her bonds, already scorched by the boiling, spitting acid in the bath below her. I hold the winch controls in my hand--

...thank you for calling Sociopaths Anonymous.


writtenwyrdd said...

I don't read true crime or horror/slasher stuff, so my opinion may be biased by my dislike. However, this seems well enough done for a beginning to such a novel.

The chillingly conversational tone does a good job of setting up the killer's character. He kills her and lovingly describes the details and why he does what he does. Creepy. Very, "look how clever I am" to the audience. I might have read on a few pages just out of curiosity; but this isn't my sort of read at all.

One nitpick: I think that you need to change 'much of a muchness' because it is pretentious and calls attention to itself. I think I know what you are trying to do, but I'd change the phrase because it is a bit too awkward and disturbs the flow of the narrative. Just say, "after the fact it doesn't matter" or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Might just be to my ear, but if he's the kind of guy to slice up her face and promise to kill her children as he thrusts the knife into her, it seems a little incongruous that he should say something like "gosh darn"...

Chris Eldin said...

The continuation was spot-on brilliant!

Author, I also had trouble reading 'much of a muchness.' I enjoy reading thrillers, but I don't think this would be something I'd read. But writing it in present tense draws me in, and I think you've done a good job.


Bernita said...

A nit, perhaps prompted by you success at horror generation - and therefore reflecting a need to find something wrong and by doing so destroy the illusion you have created.
"It's an old trick interviewers use to keep control over recalcitrant interviewees" is, I think, extraneous and incompatible. A reader may pause to assess the truth of the comment and doubt it.
Why not just say, suggestively, "It's an old trick"?

Dave Fragments said...

When I first read this, I had the thought that it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. I think it wants to be a truly evil psychopath.

I'm reminded of Dilbert who has a demonic character who cannot damn you to Hell to burn, the demon damns you to HECK to be annoyed. He's not the Prince of Darkness, but the Prince of Insufficient Light.

When you write a psychopath, you can't step back and soften the images and descriptions. You must let the reader imagine the worst, the most vile, the most evil, bloody situation. In this opening, you back away a couple times like you don't want to tread in the bloody mess. the other commentators caught this, too.

I'm not saying make this cartoonish (like Freddy Kruger, or Jason, or Chuckie the doll) make it evil. Make the reader feel his pathology.

She struggles against the ropes (or chains). She's weak, exhausted. At least she has courage.Desperation really, the last act of a the dying prey - flailing, fluttering.

Unknown said...

The continuation I wrote lacked the fantastic humour (and scathing critique) of ril's closing lines, so I'm thrilled EE worked his magic on this one.

This is a classic case of needing to show rather than tell. We do not need advance warning to understand that the threat to her children is important, and you do not need to spell out the bit about lowering one's voice to control recalcitrant interviewees. You've chosen the present tense, so a lot of the reflective thinking you've included becomes irrelevant, if not entirely implausible, on the fly. If your narrator is a trained killer, speaking softly comes naturally to him/her and it seems unlikely that he/she would be thinking things through in such detail.

Consider instead:

I speak in a bare whisper and immediately her screaming ceases. Seconds from death and she's still desperate to hear what I have to say.

If you're going for scary, show us how ugly the victim's face looks with a gash running through it. You make an attempt with the fear-in-retina bit, but what we want to know is how fear changes the retina. Does it pulse? Change colour? Dilate? (I know nothing about eye structure, by the way, but you need to research a bit to make this point.) Otherwise, I'm left with an image of the word FEAR printed haphazardly toward the back of a woman's eyeball. Not quite the effect you're going for.

This is a visceral scene. Be visceral. Don't tell us that the heart is only 5 cm from the front of the chest (most of your readers can already guess this). Show us what the narrator uses instead of a paring knife. Rather more than that is not a description and gives us nothing to visualize. Is he coming at her with a meat cleaver? A lance? A medieval sword?

We should be able to get a sense of how dangerous and cruel this narrator is by the clean precision of his actions, his choice of weapon, his powers of observation. This means you need to be precise. Don't waste words, don't over-narrate. Otherwise, your narrator comes across as an amateur who needs to reassure himself of his actions every step of the way.

Finally, be careful about pulling us out of the narrative with things like much of a muchness and gosh-darn. The second seems out of character (far too tame, like a little old lady) and the first is an expression that makes absolutely no sense to me.

Okay. Hope this was helpful. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Well, I did have a "True Crime" phase in reading + "Notes from the Underground" and I was a little "creeped out" by this opening. I agree with the tech. points made by reine (Also excellent on the continuation -- isn't EE a wiz sometimes?) and dave. Also with churchlady and others on the distracting aspect of "gosh & much muchness. Also seems like several have mentioned a need for the author to tighten up the POV. Not really something I would read beyond the opening lines, under normal circumstances.

Nancy Beck said...

As others have pointed out, 2 things struck me about this: "much of a muchness" and "gosh-darn." I'm not sure what the former means, and I think the latter is too soft for the character.

You nicely build this (even with the "muchness" phrase) but then it all goes pfft with "gosh-darn." Even if you used "damned" (FWIW, I would go with a much stronger word), it would be more in keeping with this dark character.


jjdebenedictis said...

I really, really liked this after I got past the first paragraph. The piece was chilling and it got me hooked right away. I would definitely read on.

Would you consider starting with the second paragraph, however? I don't think the first one adds very much, and "I slice her face again" is one heck of a hook. A reader would have trouble not reading further, after having read that line.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

To start, I am a big Dexter fan. Love it. So this is a great opening for me, but I think you should start with the second paragraph. That is where your hook is. Also, the first paragraph doesn't really add anything to your opening. Starting from the second paragraph, this is a Kick Ass opening! Really great, except instead of gosh darn it should be fucking or damn, unless what you have is a murderer with a prudish mouth. Which would be fascinating, but if that is the way you're going, you would need to build that up by including an explanatory line to that effect. But I'm thinking someone who wants his victim's last thoughts to be of her own children dying, a horrendous way to die, then I think he shouldn't have a problem with swearing.

But for that, I think you have the type of opening where people would be unable to put it down. Great job.

WouldBe said...

I'm not a horror fan. I go out of my way to avoid the genre.

I guess the gosh-darn bit was meant to give the character a sort of soulless detachment. "I cut her throat; ain't that a shame." But it didn't work.

The muchness bit was much about nothing.

Anonymous said...

This is a slow start for me. Just kidding :o)

I, too, would like to see this more visceral. It's almost there, but not quite. You want that matter-of-fact, conversational tone, of course, to contrast with the horror of what's going on. The lingering gestures of the psychopath in complete control of a grisly situation. I think the contrast here just isn't q-u-i-t-e stark enough.

I have the same problem with "much of a muchness" and "gosh-darn" as other commentors do. A couple of other observations:

She has little strength left, but at least she has courage, or desperation. "but at least" makes sense with "courage," but not with "desperation."

It doesn't look pretty, but then again, it never did. I was thinking the first "it" references the gash in her face. Then I'm tripped up by the second "it" and the past tense "never did" -- till I realize the second "it" refers to her face. Does that mean the first "it" does, too? That doesn't work for me.

Before she can even begin to deal with that, I stab her. Since the narrator's been toying with the woman, I didn't immediately get that he killed her (I'm assuming "he" in these comments). It was like, Oh, he stabbed her somewhere. Wonder if he's stabbed her before and how many times? Then I read about the heart. Oh, is he about to stab her again and this time in the heart? Then a couple of sentences later, Oh, he killed her? Already? I thought he was still toying with her. I guess he must have stabbed her in the heart.

Then between the time he tells her he's going to kill her children and wanting to make sure that's her last thought, I've gotten an anatomy lesson and a vague description of the murder weapon.

I kind of like the vagueness, but then I see so much potential in instilling character and motivation by revealing what the weapon is up front: a genuine Ginsu knife, a machete, a bayonet, an epee...

none said...

Clearly some people found this creepy, but it doesn't convince me. What is the narrator's motivation, anyway? It isn't coming across.

Brenda said...

I liked it but agree you should start with the 2nd paragraph.

I don't mind the "gosh darn" stuff. It reminds me of Stephen King's MISERY, where she's a vicious sadist tormenting the author yet refuses to utter a single curse word.

McKoala said...

Ick. Creeped out. Yup, nits, but it worked on me. I like the idea of starting with the second para. Love the bit about the eyes. 'recalcitrant' kind of jumped out as an unlikely word, but then I haven't read much narration yet.

I think that one good point was that you should show what he/she actually uses for that final blow, but the heart stuff is interesting to me, I didn't know that, it's the kind of trivia a serial killer would be steeped in.

Would I read on...probably not, but only because I don't like horror much and I've a feeling you'll be creeping me out a whole lot more very shortly... Good job, I think, just not for me.

Anonymous said...

I think the situation is so "creepy" and grabby, it's kind of easy not to really notice the writing -- and its faults. The openings done its job of hooking the readers, but the writing will need to sustain.

This can definitely be tightened. We don't know the character yet, so can only build off assumptions, and for me there's a lot here that doesn't feel quite right.

Most have been mentioned already - word choice; a little overwriting.

I am almost only whispering sounds odd - too many modifiers?

The heart isn't so far from the front of the chest, only about 5cm.

This sentence drags a bit. Could say something like "The heart is only about 5cm from the front of the chest."

You can stab someone to death with a paring knife. I use rather more than that. I make sure her last thought is of her children dying.

I'm not sure what "rather more than a paring knife" means. I'm guessing you really want to modify "5cm"?

Although the last two sentences are complete sentences, they feel like they ought to be connected thoughts in the same paragraph; like: I use rather more than that so that her last thought is of her children dying. That last sentence doesn't feel like it logically belongs in this paragraph. The talk about the heart and knives disconnects this idea from the line "I'm going to kill your children." You either need something to link it back to that earlier idea, or move it to the previous paragraph:

"I'm going to kill your children." I want to make sure her last thought is of her children dying.

It would be interesting to see how this piece continues to see if it has staying power.

Bonnie said...

I like the much of a muchness, with its Alice in Wonderland connotations. I like the "rather more than a paring knife" and its deliberate cruelty and vagueness. I didn't like gosh-darn though. The rest of the passage is a bit formal and intellectual, detached from any emotional connection with what he's doing. Gosh-darn sounds both less educated and less detached.

I don't know whether I'd read this, because psychotic killer stories are not my thing, but this is very well done.