Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New Beginning 345

It was late afternoon. I was heading for home, not really thinking about the road in front of me. I’d driven this narrow two lane blacktop hundreds of times over the years. Hell, I knew every turn, dip and incline as it wound its way along the forested slopes of northern Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.

I topped out of a long shaded incline, rounded a curve and burst into a sunlit clearing. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw the woman standing in the middle of my lane. Adrenalin and pure instinct took over as my foot exploded off the gas pedal and onto the brake while the thought I may be hallucinating flashed through my mind. I swung the Crown Vic’s wheel hard to the left and stood on the brake, gritting my teeth and sucking in a long breath as the heavy car went into a skid and began to fishtail. I tensed-- waiting for what I feared would be the inevitable impact of 3000 pounds of automobile hitting a hundred pounds of living flesh.

But then I felt a warm breeze through the car, and the road was behind me and the canyon below. My stomach lurched as I looked down and saw the trees, small as matchsticks.

I had a moment to ponder my situation as I hung there, mystified, in the air. The figure I'd seen wasn't a woman but a bird, a tall bird with a blue crest, holding a sign. It said, "Sucker."

I had just time enough to realize I'd taken a wrong turn into Toontown; then the car began to plummet.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: writtenwyrdd


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

The car's wheels complained of their lack of traction. I eased off the brake; it looked like I was going to be close. I yanked the wheel again. My eyes closed as the front of the car thudded against her body. It was two, maybe three, minutes before I climbed out of the car, moving to the ticking beat of the cooling engine.

She was in her twenties. Athletic. Heavy. I strapped her to the hood with the other one; we were going to eat like kings this Fall.


This is how you find out the limits of your driving skills. The tires lost their grip on the pavement and the steering became useless as the car barreled toward the woman. My vehicle made contact with the woman’s spindly legs, just below the knees. My irrational thought at that first, light contact was, That’s not so bad… That was before the sickening thud as she canonballed against the windshield. Then I saw her face.

They say most accidents happen within a mile of your own home. My mind tried to figure out what my wife was doing out here in the middle of the road, while her body thumped across the top of my car.

“Oh my God, oh Jesus, oh Vera!”

I Jumped out as soon as the car skidded to a halt, stumbling as I tangled in the seatbelt. I ran around back of the car to find the lifeless body. But then I noticed it wasn’t Vera at all, it was just a moose. Vera had kind of let herself go recently, so it was an easy mistake to make.

And then I thought, A moose? In Arizona?

“Oh my God, oh Jesus, oh Vera! Noooo!”


Only, she wasn't living, I guess. The Crown Vic probably could use some break work, because it went a few feet further than it should have. By all rights, I should have heard a thump-thump sound and found her horizontal under the car. But there she was, sitting pretty as you please in the passenger seat, looking apologetic.

"Do you need a doctor . . . or a priest?" I asked.

"Been there; done that," she said.

--Bill Highsmith

A hundred pounds of beauty. I saw long flowing hair and eyes that only began to register fear.

My hands exploded on the steering wheel, and I swung the Crown Vic back to the right.

More instinct took over as I noticed her ink-black eyes gaze at me through long, luscious lashes. Instinct to gain control of my fishtailing car, exploding appendages, and breath-sucking lungs. I had one more important instinct to think about now.

As the Crown Vic careened toward the sexiest woman on the road, my instincts told me to hit her. Only a little. My instincts told me this would be the only way she would give me her number.

--Church Lady

My math, as it turns out, was off.

She wasn't a hundred pounds. She was at least a hundred and fifty and surprisingly agile, a fact I might have noticed had I not been temporarily blinded by pain in my attempt to stand on the remains of an exploded limb. She was already at the side of the road as I skidded past her, and there was something vaguely akin to a smirk on her lips. As I smashed headlong into the trunk of a tree, just beyond the far edge of the clearing, I told myself I couldn't be blamed; I had been calculating on the fly.

"Well," said a voice as I pulled myself from the wreckage. "Just when you think you know your blacktop."

It was the woman and she was staring at the stump where my foot had been. Two hundred pounds, I amended to myself. Definitely smirking.


The car skidded to a halt inches before impact. Once everything inside the car stopped moving, I wound down the window, leaned out and pointed to the roof. "Jesus, lady," I said, "can't you see? Light's off."

As I steered around her and got on my way, I heard "muh huh wuh?" from the back seat as my fare picked himself up from the floor. "Wha-- Is this Grand Central?"

I looked out at the mountains. This was gonna take some explaining.


writtenwyrdd said...

EE smoothed out the continuation so that it's much better.

Author, I liked this opening despite it being the generally bad choice of opening with a car in traffic or in an accident. This has obvious consequences, and nobody in their right mind wants to be in this situation. So we are automatically hooked and want to know what happened. Good job with that!

A quibble it that the structure of "My heart leapt into my throat when I saw..." because that structure defuses the shock. We want the woman in the road introduced so that it smacks us just like it smacks the driver. Yet you have a couple of sentences that are passive construction, with the action being things, not the narrator.

Chris Eldin said...

Flogging the Quill just did a critique of an opening scene that involved a car crash. His comments were mostly about pacing and condensing. I think the author should go take a look.


Peter Damien said...

Oh my god. Wile E. Coyote. Brilliant!

Bernita said...

But please, please, please, get rid of "my heart leapt into my throat."
What Written said.
Even the bare statement, "A woman stood in the middle of my lane" - maybe as a separate paragraph for emphasis - would be better.

jjdebenedictis said...

I think this would be better without the first paragraph, which was very dull and unevocative.

I thought the second paragraph was very good, although my brain tripped over the protagonist's foot "exploding" from one pedal to the other. That didn't seem like a good word choice.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, destroying a perfectly good Crown Vic!

Anonymous said...

A Crown Vic is a Geezer-mobile around here.

smiles on sunday

Dave Fragments said...

I once had a car pull out in front of my car and I couldn't stop. It's not a pleasant experience watching the metal crunch as two cars destroy each other. That was 1979, the only year I ever bought a new car in mere seconds.

And to be grim, did you know that airbags do not blow when you hit a deer. They are designed to blow when you hit the tree or wall or concrete abutement after the deer smacks the car and your car is completely out of control.

writtenwyrdd said...

They'll blow if you hit a moose, but they weigh 800-1200 pounds.

AmyB said...

I agree with everyone else who said to cut "my heart leapt into my throat." Besides being kind of cliche, it spoils what ought to be reader shock at the next bit. One option would be to change that sentence to, simply, "A woman was standing in the middle of my lane."

Another option, which I like better, would be to lull the reader into complacency with ho-hum, ordinary-drive-home phrases and then throw in the shocker right among them. "I topped out of a long shaded incline, rounded a curve into a sunlit clearing, and there was a woman standing in the middle of my lane."

"my foot exploded off the gas pedal" doesn't work for me. Maybe all you need to say is he (she?) slammed on the brakes.

The setup's interesting enough. I'd read on.

none said...

The sentences referred to are not passive.

Passive voice is when the object of the sentence is doing the action of the sentence, or, conversely, the subject of the sentence is having the action done to it. You can often spot passive voice because there'll be a "was" (or an "is", depending) and a "by", although sometimes the "by" is only implied.

The dog chased the ball--active voice.

The ball was chased by the dog--passive voice.

The actions are the same; what changes is how the sentence is constructed.

That "may" should be a "might", though.

Having been in a few of these situations myself, I feel this doesn't reflect my experience. As I recall, the brain stutters over, is that a person in the road? oh god, that can't be a person in the road, is it? a person? in the road? while the feet are doing the automatic STOP thing.

Robin S. said...

I'm about to run out the door- but had to say- I love the continuation, and the picture!

writtenwyrdd said...

Buffy, If you look up the definition of passive, you will see that it does have meanings other than grammatical, i.e. "lacking energy or will." I was saying passive as in not energetic, not in your face, not snappy enough.

Yes, in grammar it means "the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb." Booya for you, you caught me there. But I wasn't referring to grammar, 'kay? Sorry I worded it so your inner grammarian got offended.

none said...

My inner grammarian is just very tired. Sorry if I snapped your nose off :D.

Dave Fragments said...

I keep coming back and reading this. I think my voyeurism is getting to me. Accidents happen faster. This lacks speed. It lacks immediacy. It's a good police report but that's all it is. I remember the face of the woman that I hit (the accident in my previous post). It's not a pretty rememberance. I remember the entire accident in detail as a slow motion movie in my mind.

But to tell the truth, between the time I saw the car and the time I hit, was one, two, WHAP!

I drove the rim road everyday, twice a day from home to work and back again. This afternoon as I drove up and over a hill where the road curves, a woman appeared in my lane. I braked the car and it fishtailed, sliding sideways towards the frail woman.

Everything else is inactive window dressing that slows down the action.
Sure we read on, but only because we all look at accidents trying not to see the gore but fascinated by it.

Now I have a serious question, why is this woman on the road? Does she have a story? How about beginning with:

On Wednesday afternoon, Mister A ran over Miss B on the Mogollon Rim. Her death was instantaneous.
or possibly,
On Wednesday afternoon, the Ghost of Miss A appeared to Mister B while he drove around a blind curve. He almost wrecked trying to avoid the phantasm.

Anonymous said...

Dave, absolutely. That's what I was trying to say I got from

Is it okay to cut and paste? I'm assuming it's public domain, so here goes:

Here's the deal: this is a terrible car wreck. I've been in a few pretty bad ones and survived, and they happen with lightning speed. The details fly at you, brief, intense, confused. At the least, dramatic action like this should move! A couple of years ago my car left the road on black ice and rolled. I was conscious through the whole thing, and I guarantee you that there was no time or even ability to think about anything like keeping my head from hitting a window, much less being aware that my head did indeed smash into it and break the glass.

In my view, unless you let the reader know that Emily is experiencing things in extreme slow motion, all of this thought and hearing and reaction can't deliver the experience of something like this, and can rob the narrative of credibility. In my accidents, I remember brief bits with extreme clarity -- but they are bits, fragments of action, and nothing moved slowly.

End quote.

Wish I could have said it. But at least I found it. ;-)


Church Lady

Dave Fragments said...

I missed the reference to Flogging the Quill. I guess it's a blog. I'll look for it later tonight.

I was thinking back to my accidents and remembering them. Blame it on the rain, I guess. It's a trick of the memory that the accident happens in slow motion. All of my accidents occurred fast. Less than the time it takes to read this sentence. It's the aftermath that takes long whether it's a broken glass or a lifetime of consequences.

And I was cleaning the spare room and came acorss an old book - The Bridge of San Luis Rey. That story is about a rope walking bridge between two mountains in San Luis Rey that falls causing seven or eight people to fall their death. the book is not the story of the bridge, but of the lives of the victims and why they are all there at the same time.

The accident is not the story, why the woman is in the road in front of the car is the story.

Dear old Alfred Hitchcock was once asked why he didn't use blood and gore in his movies. He used the example of placing a bomb underneath the bleacher at a high school football game. If the audience (reader or viewer) doesn't know the bomb is there, they have one moment of sheer terror - the bomb and the bloody, dismembered bodies flying through the air. However, if we see the bomber carrying the bomb and planting it. And if we see people walking around the hidden bomb, possibly handling or moving it or kicking it around, then we have suspense. The viewer or reader wants to save people by having them find the bomb. And the policeman who is trying to reach the bomb before it explodes experiences real terror, real fear. he may have to hold the bomb and run with it never knowing if it's going to explode in his hands. That's life and death up close. That's what we want to do to the reader - involve them in saving the characters.

As a book opening, this isn't as good as it could be. The writing is good but the suspense isn't there. We aren't emotionally invested in the woman or the driver. As human beings we don't want to see anyone killed, but that's the only emotional investment.

Anonymous said...

Dave said:

How about beginning with:

On Wednesday afternoon, Mister A ran over Miss B on the Mogollon Rim. Her death was instantaneous.
or possibly,
On Wednesday afternoon, the Ghost of Miss A appeared to Mister B while he drove around a blind curve. He almost wrecked trying to avoid the phantasm.

So what you're saying is, tell about the opening rather than show it? That's very bad advice. I like the author's version waaaayyyyy better.

I agree the sentence structure could be improved upon, and definitely lose the heart leaping into the throat, it's cliche and distances the reader from the shock of the woman's appearance in the road.

ril said...

Oh, I like that continuation!

Dave Fragments said...

To the last anonymous (11:07) who is merely anonymous to give people grief.

Have you any clue what I asked the author to do?
Or do you half read and write without thought?
And sign your name, even if it is faked. Be a mensch.

Obviously I wouldn't tell the author to "Tell" instead of "Show." I asked the author to rewrite the opening from a slow motion of memory to faster action.

I don't know if that's possible, but I know that the 150 or so words that the author posted only invited me to continue because it was a car wreck. It is mundane to drive home on two lane blacktop.
That's an exciting phrase, two lane blacktop. isn't it? no, absolutely not. I've driven two lane black top home for the past 30 years. It's not exciting.

It doesn't matter that it's in an exotic location, either. It is not exciting to top a long shaded incline with sunlit hitting your eyes. Been there, done that for thirty years, too.

What is exciting is the woman in the road and does he/she hit or miss her.
It's not exciting if she's real and he runs her over. Unless he/she has some as yet hidden connection to the woman. But we don't know that. That's homicide of some sort and maybe hit and run. Even CSI and Law&Order dresses up plots better than that. I doubt this writer fell into that trap.
And I hope to God that this isn't a story about a Homicidal driver trying to make reparations for his negligence. Ennui of Enuui. Guilt of Guilt. Yuck!

The only interesting thing to keep the reader in the book is whatever connection they have. It's not hinted at here. Nothing in this opening relates to anything in the rest of the book. Granted it's only 150 or so words, and that is short. But after this accident, I put the book down.
Because I don't want to read a story about the driver going to jail after being so careless.
Because manipulating the reader into reading 500 words had better be Pulitzer material.
Because I still need a reason to read the next chapter. And there isn't even a jury trial here.
Because another 100,000 word book of nice descriptions, heartfelt emotional manipulation and no plot is not my cup of tea. Sorry to be so absolutely blunt and rude.

And I apologize to the author for being so harsh. This is reasonably well written and it doesn't deserve some of the commentary I've made to anonymous, the chicken who thinks he/she can cluck.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree with Dave. Bite him.

Okay, okay. Just kidding!

But I agree with Dave on all of his points. I liked his Alfred Hitchcock example. And it was awfully nice of him to take the time to explain and try to help.

The hook in the opening isn't the accident. It's the woman in the road.

Anonymous said...

Acually, Dave, I read and interpreted your comment the same way Anon 11:07 did. I'm sure that's not what you meant to say, but it was how it came across to me, too. I think "Bite Me" is also a pretty inappropriate response to someone who disagrees with you or misinterprets what you write. If someone obviously didn't catch your drift, perhaps what might be prudent is going back and reviewing how you said it and seeing if in your haste to comment you really didn't make yourself clear. But that's just my opinion. I know I've witten things that don't really get my point across as clearly as I mean them to. That realization usually hits just after I click Send.

Author: I think the pacing and condensing advice you've been given is good. Maybe in that first paragraph, you can cut the first line about it being afternoon and replace it with something about the narrator so we get a feel for who and what this person is. Nothing elaborate. Something like, "After being chewed out by the boss earlier in the day, I headed home, my mind on how I was going to handle facing her tomorrow and not on the road in front of me. I'd driven..."

Then tighten the second paragraph, getting rid of the "my heart leapt" phrase and the whole "adrenalin and instinct" sentence. I have a problem with the words "burst" and "exploded." Both word choices are a bit over the top. Of course, if you ditch that "adrenaline..." sentence, "exploded" won't be an issue.

Your "I swung the Crown Vic's..." sentence is quite good. Last sentence, though, I think you can delete "what I feared would be".

Since I don't know the outcome of this accident, I can't comment on whether concentrating on the accident or the woman's sudden appearance is the right place to start. Could be the driver just misses her, she's amnesiac, and it winds up being a romantic suspense with this the MCs' first meeting, kind of like Tak -- er, I mean Church Lady's -- continuation implies.

Loved WW's Roadrunner!

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for taking the time to read and comment. Please forgive me if this posts twice. I tried earlier and it never showed up.


I topped out of a long shaded incline, rounded a curve and burst into a sunlit clearing.
“Holy shit!” There was a woman standing in the middle of my lane.
Adrenalin and pure instinct took over as my foot slammed onto the brake while the thought I must be hallucinating flashed through my mind. I swung the Crown Vic’s wheel hard to the left and stood on the brake, gritting my teeth and sucking in a long breath as the heavy car went into a skid and began to fishtail. I tensed-- waiting for what I feared would be the inevitable impact of 3000 pounds of automobile hitting a hundred pounds of living flesh.
Surprisingly it didn’t happen. I turned and watched in seeming slow motion as the car’s rear end barely skimmed past her. Several long seconds later the car rocked to a stop sideways in the middle of the road, a dozen yards past where she still stood.
I took a deep breath, forced my clenched fingers from the steering wheel and threw the door open. I hit the pavement weak kneed and ran back to where she was still standing. “Damn it Lady, I could have killed you,” I screamed, flinching when I heard the rage and terror in my voice. I took another deep breath, did a slow neck roll while trying to calm the hell down. “Are you okay?”

Bernita said...

Better for tension.
Don't think you have to mention the brakes twice.
I'd omit the first one.
"Turned"??? Wouldn't the driver use the rear view mirror?
And "a dozen yards"? Vics must have some fantastic brakes, assuming a speed of 60 mph.Not sure of this, but seems too short a distance.

Dave Fragments said...

That's a nice rewrite. It's more exciting than the original. Good job. And people do scream things like the driver does. Especially when they almost have bad accidents. That's a good touch.

I think even the Riders of the Purple Sage might stand up and cheer that one. (That's an inside joke about the Mogollon Rim.)