Thursday, December 13, 2007

New Beginning 419

Chris reached out to the storm door. Sleet pelted the back of his hand then clung with a nearly lost hope. The cold metal handle stung his fingers as the latch pinched his thumb.

"Fuck," he said sucking at the cut.

"I hate this fucking weather !," Chris called down to the farmhouse basement.

Grit sloughing from the hand laid stone walls turned slick under his damp boot soles. Chris slipped over the steps but caught himself. He descended on his toes from the storm's evening twilight to the sawdust twilight of Zach's basement woodshop.

"I wondered if I'd see you before the first," Zach called as a greeting.

Chris helped Zach's cottage toy industry ostensibly for the choice of a winter's evening companionship. The checks Zach left taped to Chris' front door at uneven intervals didn't hurt. Their friendship lingered from Chris' high school days when Zach taught Shakespeare with a passion now absent.

"The irregular blocks need trimmed for the lathe if your are of a mind to cut some elf bellies." Zach hadn't turned around yet but sorted bits of blond wood trinkets into a distressed apothecary's cabinet bearing the labels Viking horns, fish fins (small), and Chris' personal favorite: pirate parrot beaks.

Chris pulled the first of dozens of clamped wooden cubes from hooks screwed into the exposed floor joists above. He turned to the band saw.

"God damm it – this fucking table is still fucking covered in blood !" Chris yelled to Zach. "Didn't you think to fucking clean this bitch ?"

"You think I got the fucking time to do maid service, asswipe ?"

"You're a fucking slob, Zach. I don't know why I--"

The phone interrupted. Zach snatched up the receiver. "What ?!" Chris started to wipe down the band saw while Zach took the call. "Jesus Wept... ! Listen, you fat fuck, we're going as quick as we can. We're not fucking magic. You'll get 'em when they're ready. What's the fucking hurry ?"

Chris grabbed some wood.

Zach sighed. "Yeah. Yeah I guess that's-- Yeah, okay. But don't be surprised if they look as rough as a whore's . . . okay. Okay.... !" He slammed the phone down. "Fucking Santa Claus. Reindeer screwing dipshit."

Chris didn't reply. He remembered what it was like being on the Naughty list last year.

Opening: A. Snarkling.....Continuation: Anonymous


Sarah Laurenson said...

There's a lot of intrigue here. I like the labels on the apothecary cabinet. Almost thought they were labels for the real things, then I realized it was for the wooden parts. The blood comes out of the blue and is intriguing.

The sentence structure is a bit awkward in spots, especially with the dialog tags. I think you can work the dialog in without being so explicit about who's talking, who it's directed at and what the volume is.

Tighten this up and fix the tags and I think this will be good.

Evil Editor said...

p.1: Not sure I'm ready for sleet to have a nearly lost hope this early.

p.2: The cut? What cut?

p.4: Is the grit currently sloughing, or did it previously slough? I wouldn't need to be told that a stone wall was hand-laid.

p.7: First sentence needs work.

p.9: The blood is an attention grabber. The language seems too strong for someone talking to his former teacher. Not impossible for their relationship to have developed this way, but I suspect few would feel comfortable talking so to a former teacher/current employer-of-sorts.

Dave Fragments said...

This guy walks outside and goes to the basement entrance. It's rainy, cold and slippery. the basement is a woodworking shop filled with cute and adorable toy pieces. He's helping complete toys. Then he swears. The other guy swears. There's blood around.
What are we doing here?

That's it. that's your scene.

First, why do they swear? Are they inveterate potty-mouths? This isn't epithetical swearing (as when you hit your finger instead of the nail). Why do they swear? Profane words carry emotions and this scene isn't ready for that strong dose of emotions.
If you wonder why profanity and cursing and just plain bad language does that, go read about the Stroop Effect:
The words "fuck, shit, piss, bitch, cornhole, diesel dyke, asshole, etc... all evoke emotional responses. And they have that Stroop Effect - that is, interfering with the normal flow of things.

So I contend unless you're writing the next "Goodfellas" then you are not ready for the cursing.

More than that, as EE pointed out - the blood is the attention grabber. After the cute apothecary cabinet and the great names of toy parts, the BLOOD stands out. You don't need them to curse.

I suspect that the hook of the story involves the blood in the work room. Why don't you start in the workroom instead of upstairs and outside? Use the words to paint a workroom filled with blond wood toy parts and cute shavings, and nice work lights with yellow pools of light. I like the sixth's paragraph classy Shakespeare mention and their changed friendship over the years. Then introduce the very outstanding red blood still on the saw?

J M Peltier said...

I agree that the cursing is rather excessive. I also agree with dave f's statement of not being ready for strong emotion.

My major concern is the fact that when you start a story you have to get your bearings, and the way that normally happens is by assuming the style/diction to be representative of the entire work.

In this, I count seven curses out of 257. That's almost 3%. If this novel is 50,000 words I'm now expecting 1,500 of those words to be curses. That's six full pages of nothing but curses.

While no one but me may do this math explictly, they will do a quick-and-dirty version unconsciously. And many people will detach, not ready to sign on for it.

That said, cursing notwithstanding, I like the beginning. And your major hook is the blood. It blindsided me. Don't detract from it.

Robin S. said...

Hi author,

I have to admit I am fully capable of cussing like a sailor under certain, (well, OK, make that many) circumstances - but there's something about the fucks in your opening that didn't feel right to me when I read them.

I'm not saying I don't like quite a bit of it - I really like, for instance --
""Fuck," he said sucking at the cut." I like this a lot.

I think if you cut out the fuck in the 3rd para - you'd be good to go.

Also- first para- I'd lose the second sentence. If you take that out and read, it's much smoother in its rhythm and meaning, in my opinion.

I really like your bloody hook line.

Xenith said...

The "word pictures" don't work for me. (The little bits of descriptive stuff like "Sleet pelted the back of his hand" which are supposed to invoke an image in the reader's head, I call them word pictures.) These ones, rather than invoking an image make me go "eh?" and go back to reread them. Possibly you're trying too hard. "Sleet pelted the back of his hand" works nicely without the extra bit tacked on.

I don't think the swearing is so much excessive as inappropiate. The first two occasion seem like they're stuck in there just to make the character seem "tough" but instead he seems sullen & childish, someone who doesn't want to be where they are. That is then contradicted by paragraph that says why he is there, from choice.

Anonymous said...

The piece has the working title "A Crisis of Faith."

Imagine a reluctant Christ. A young Marine home from the birthplace of civilization, no less. That ought to address a little of the language.

Perhaps "home" has the wrong connotation.

One has to go with one's strengths.

The older man smiled broadly as he turned.

“Those blood stains might make it valuable. It might be history. Might even be a reliquary in a shrine someday.” His voice carried flat over the stem of the pipe clenched in his teeth.

“I’m not him – okay ? Stop it. I just laid my thumb open on your piece of shit storm door. The son of a bitch is still bleeding – see ? Does that sound like Jesus Fucking Christ ?”

“Probably not,” Zach said removing his pipe. The smile stayed. “But I don’t recall where Christ ever healed himself.”

“I tried it today and I can’t heal shit. I don't know what happened to your thumb but you’re fucking wrong about the miracle bit.”

“Heal yourself ?”

Zach dropped the pipe in the pocket of his sweater christened with splotches the color of mahogany. He looked at his thumb, intact.

“No – fucking patient Doc Percival killed.”

Ali said...

Writer's mantra: dialogue isn't realistic conversation.

I have characters in my novel that would do quite a lot of swearing in real life (19-year-old guys from the "wrong" side of the tracks) so I've had to put a lot of thought into the cussing issue. What I concluded is: if this event really happened and you were relating it to a friend, would you put the cuss word in? "So, there I was, peacefully working on my toys, listing to Pachelbel's Canon, and suddenly here's Chris stomping in going, 'I hate this fucking weather!'"

Yeah, you might, if the cuss word is indicative of the contrast between your peaceful mood and Chris' interruption. But, if Chris uses that word all the time, you wouldn't even hear it anymore, any more than you'd hear that he said "um" or "like" in the middle of the sentence. And if you liked Chris and were glad to see him, you'd report, "I knew Chris was there before I even saw his face because I heard him calling out 'I hate this weather!'"

As author, you pick out the crucial parts of the interaction between these two guys and create dialogue out of it. If Chris says a certain word (whether it's "fuck" or "like" or "uh") three times in every two to three sentences, find the one that matters and leave out the rest.

"God damn it – this table is still covered in blood !" Chris yelled. "Didn't you think to fucking clean this bitch?" gets the point across just as well as your original version, without the repetition that will get tiresome by page 3.

I like the idea behind this, but, FWIW, I was pretty confused in your continuation. Chris' thumb is hurt, but then isn't that him saying "I don't know what happened to your thumb" to Zach? I don't get it. Who's injured and who's healing who?

Dave Fragments said...

A snarkling,

Let me point you to a TV show - Saving Grace.. Go watch it on TNT. Find a friend with an "On Demand" or Tivo-type service and ask them to let you watch it anytime.

You're trying to create a character who is less than perfect. Who is reluctant in his role. Who is sinful. Who is in need of salvation.
Grace has sex with every male character on the show, punches out the bad guys real bad, talks back to the angel who keeps appearing to her, must admit to having sex with a serial killer and planting evidence on him, drinks, has more sex smokes, gets handcuffed to the bed naked during sex. Lies to her friends, lies to her neighbors, lies to her cop partner, lies to her lovers. Lies in court. Grace is in bad need of salvation.
And all without the word "fuck"

Go watch it.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Interesting actual continuation, but sorry to say, it lost me. I can't put the right person to the right action to the right saying. In short, I don't know what's going on.

It sounds as if you're saying all that blood on the saw belongs to Chris. Seems like a lot of blood for a man to lose and still be walking around.

The last line lost me completely. I can't parse it.

Anonymous said...

Ah...much much better.

Thank you all. I really learned something here. I think this clears it all up for me and dilogue :

But, if Chris uses that word all the time, you wouldn't even hear it anymore, any more than you'd hear that he said "um" or "like" in the middle of the sentence.

I completely missed this point - realism or not. The emotional connection - sure ...but not from constant swearing.

Dave is so right I need to convey the character through some other manner than the repetitive speech even if that's how the kid's diction might go because that's not how we HEAR the speech from the character.

It just didn't sink in why to counter the actual diction : because it doesn't work when reproduced in text.

So much better now and the way I have it today really detracts from the core of the story : A thumb was cut off, Chris held the wound, the thumb was restored.

The explanation of the event and the context in which it occured is what the character will struggle with throughout the story.

Thanks you so much all for setting me on the right track. I just never saw it this way ! Completely blind.

Thanks !

Evil Editor said...

What's the story on putting a space before a question mark or exclamation point? Is that the way it's done in some languages/countries?

Anonymous said...

No story on the space before punctuation.

I type like a drunken chimp.

writtenwyrdd said...

This was interesting, and I was right there with your character as he negotiated the crappy weather and footing. I am very curious to know what the blood is. However, there are some awkward bits.

Because you haven't introduced Zach yet, and because he apparently doesn't hear Chris' comment (based on his greeting later) you might omit "Chris called down to the farmhouse basement."

I suggest omitting "Grit sloughing from the hand laid stone walls turned slick under his damp boot soles." This seems contradictory to the following sentence. Also, the paragraph contains several unneeded words (like "hand laid," "damp," and "on his toes.")

"irregular blocks need trimmed" seems to be missing a verb. This may be intentional, but it reads like a mistake and not a colloquialism.

"Chris helped Zach's cottage toy industry ostensibly for the choice of a winter's evening companionship. The checks Zach left taped to Chris' front door at uneven intervals didn't hurt." I think this info is crucial, but it reads as somewhat awkward to me. I think it still needs a little bit of tweaking.

Just my thoughts. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

WW -

your remarks with the others does help.

I think with the comments on the swearing, a little more attention to the character development through fewer - but better - words , and EE and your constant suggestions about trimming awkward phrases to read well and remove stray adjectives...

I'm on the right track. I really need to master the "clean it up' bit. I am of the "make a mess and clean it up" school of writing and I get excited - so much so the clean it up sometimes misses.

I'm using a little more discretion in time now between edit sessions ( put it on another...come back clean ) and that is indeed helping.

I was rather excited about this plotline however and sort of shoved it off on this crowd too early (but I needed the advice, frankly).

I really am very happy at the great comments here. I think I learned an awful lot from this drill !