Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Beginning 451 (Chapter Opening)

It wasn’t until I lived alone and it was quiet around me at night, with the screens in the windows and the hot wet air all over my skin and the dark outside, that I felt the sharp relief of something wrong, as though wrong had substance and it was standing in the room with me.

Sometimes it seemed as though the quiet was alive, that it breathed a low quiescent hum in the air around me; that it had been waiting for me; that it knew something was coming.

You know how it is, how you feel when you see something or you hear something that you haven’t seen in a while. Like maybe you find an old album in the bottom of a box, and you pull it out and you listen to the album and on it is your song and when you hear it again, when you hear the song that was your song, you see in one stripped down moment what you’d known all along, but the knowing was humming underneath, you realize you’ve been waiting for this song to come and find you and open you up again, help you find what you lost, so you can know the lost thing again; and maybe this time you can keep it with you.

It takes quiet to find what you don’t remember losing.


Opening: Robin S......Continuation: Anon./EE


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

"I see. Well, Miss, as I said, fill in this form -- date, time, place -- all the details of how you, uh, lost it. If someone does, uh, bring it in, we'll be sure and let you know. But I gotta tell you, Miss: in all my time of working here, ain't no one ever handed in a virginity before."


You have to listen to the silent whispers hidden in the hum...

La, la, la, la, la, la, sing a happy song
La, la, la, la, la, la, Smurf the whole day long

Smurf along with me
Simple as can be

Next time you're feeling blue just let a smile begin
Happy things will come to you so Smurf yourself a grin...


Evil Editor said...

You have a distinctive style, but the repetition for effect seems to come up in each excerpt, and it could start to lose the desired effect. You don't want it morphing from stylistic to tedious. Now and then pare something down a bit. Possibly the following is as strong as your version:

It wasn’t until I lived alone and it was quiet around me at night that I felt the sharp relief of something wrong, as though wrong had substance and was standing in the room with me. Sometimes it seemed like the quiet was alive, breathing a low hum in the air; that it had been waiting for me; that it knew something was coming.

You know how it is, how you feel when you see something or you hear something that you haven’t seen or heard in a while. Like maybe you find an old album in the bottom of a box, and you listen to it, and on it is your song; and when you hear the song that was your song, you see in one stripped down moment what you’ve known all along: that you’ve been waiting for this song to come and find you and open you up again.

It takes quiet to find what you don’t remember losing.

Not sure why a feeling of something wrong in the room would be considered relief, rather than sensation, but I'm sure it makes sense in context.

Not sure what the point of the window screens was. If it's that it's hot, and they're letting cool air in, wouldn't that also reduce the quiet? You'd hear frogs and crickets and joy-riding teenagers smashing mailboxes with baseball bats.

Xenith said...

That sentence there might be a tad long.

Now the first two paragraphs, I'm thinking nice, moody, setting the tone (is there a need to set the tone at the start of a chapter though?). Then comes the third paragraph and still it's this internal monologue thing and nothing is happening yet. Then comes this long sentence, and, well, you can have too much of a good thing you know.

Wes said...

Very alluring. It draws me in with familiarity and the suggestion, even forboding, that profound personal events will be revealed, and I will have great empathy for the protagonist. Great voice. I can feel the heat.

And EE, I don't see a problem with screens letting in the sound of crickets and frogs (peepers we called little ones in the south). These sounds can be white noise or reassuring background that does not conflict with quiet if the author wants to treat them as such. (Now retard teenagers are another issue.)

We have no idea of the time period other than albums existed, but that is not a problem at this stage. What is stated, sans albums and songs, appears timeless.

The opening holds great promise.

Wes said...

Quiet can mean tranquil as opposed to silence.

Anonymous said...

Pairing relief and wrong doesn't seem to work, particularly if you're using relief to mean alleviation. If you mean to use it in the sense of an outline that defines the physicality of wrong, you've still lost me.

The "quiescent hum" likewise doesn't entirely work for me. Hum to me implies sound, movement, vibration, yet quiescent suggests something coming to rest. Or maybe it's just too many Qs.

With the word "you" used 20+ times in that third paragraph, along with the length of that second sentence, I began to glaze a bit and had to re-read in order to get its full impact. I think EE's suggestions are good, because they break up the sentence to make it easier to read.

I like the image of the hot, wet air being like a quiet blanket. And the final sentence makes me want to read on.

Evil Editor said...

The key is whether the window is open or closed, not whether the screen is in the window. In much of the country, the screens are in the window 12 months a year. I, for one, don't care if the screens are in the window or not in this passage. I care about the quiet and the wrong and the hum and the song.

Dave Fragments said...

I don't get enough story (meat to sink my teeth into) in this opening. There's lots and lots of atmosphere and moodiness. Someone is searching for something but we don't know who and we don't know what.

Last night around about 11:30 pm, I tried to relax in bed. I got the blankets, pillows and drinks and lights and music on and the electric goes out.
Well minions, My house is never "dark" or silent. there's night lights everywhere to keep me fron ruining walls and doors, humming little transformers that power clocks, computers, cellphones, pilot lights on the Cable box, pipe noises from the hot water baseboard heater, and wind through the trees.
When the power went out, the house went completely dark - amazingly so. At least I was startled. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.
And I only heard the wind. Some fool smacked a telephone pole. or one of those dead trees stored as "vertical wood" by the farmers, fell on the power line.
The point is, It wasn't silent. There was no life-changing realization. (other than that new flashlight that you crank works real good)

How do:
a) until I lived alone and it was quiet around me at night
b) the quiet was alive, ... it... hum(med)
compare with this: this song to come and find you and open you up again, help you find what you lost, so you can know the lost thing again; and maybe this time you can keep it with you.

I think the two metaphors are fighting each other to make the point. And what you, as writer had to do is delay the presentation of whatever "It" is, wait.
The first metaphor is finding something significant in the silence of the night. (absolutely no jeopardy here) The second metaphor is remembering a song that was lost and it brings back a memory or realization that comforts. (and no jeopardy here either).

Let's make this a Sci Fi movie and put this sentence - Aliens had invaded the earth!...
Read paragraph one and paragraph two and add the line. Aliens had invaded the earth!

Now read paragraph three alone and add "Aliens had invaded the earth!"

Do you see how para's 1&2 and Para 3 are both setups to the same thing.

My advice is keep one or the other but not both. Additionally, the final sentence It takes quiet to find what you don’t remember losing. is great if it is definite, if it reveals.

It takes [quiet or remembering] to find [that you can't live your life in anger, you must live with forgiveness in your heart.]

McKoala said...

I like the writing (particularly the second para), and I'm ready for something sinister to happen, but I do agree that a slight prune might help sharpen this. The first para/sentence is kind of long and by the third I was ready to move on to something different - some action. I have to say I do like EE's version.

Dave Fragments said...

Just for the sake of illustrating a point here is the first 155 words of moodiness. This is the moodiest opening I remember.

It's all past tense. It speaks of future past events because it tells of a story that will happen to us in the future and in the narrators mind, has happened. {(huh?)}
And y'all know how much I despise those future perfect tenses with had and have and will have been done in my past that isn't yet your future. .. ... And it's scientific.
And it uses "scrutinize" twice in close proximity. Look at all those dependent clauses, the long sentences, the alliterative prose.
But DAMN! It works. The whole story is here, right before our eyes.

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days.

And the rest of the first paragraph - a frightening preview of the horrors to come:
At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

Wonderwood said...

Robin, I like your style, as I've said before, it's very personal and revealing, and you have a distinct voice. But I also agree with EE and the others who suggest too much repetition can take it from enjoyable to tedious. Subtlety and timing with the long sentences and repitition will go a long way and carry a lot of voice without straining. I like it, though, and I know you'll tighten it up and make it shine. EE's suggestions are a good place to start. Good job!

Anonymous said...

Robin! I printed this out and read it several times over. Then I walked away from it for a couple hours and read again. I always admire your writing and I have a very high tolerance for poetic phrasing, of which this is chock full. There is a lot here that I really like and the final line is excellent. It seems to be the heart of what the chapter may be about. I agree with EE that is needs some paring.

I figured the "relief' was meant like def #7 "distinction or prominence resulting from contrast" but I'm not sure that def is gonna pop into the mind of the average reader, unless the previous chapters set it up somehow. And if that is how you meant it, I still had trouble with the word "wrong". I really had to ponder (on the 2nd and 3rd reads) how "wrong" and "lost" were being used here. So I wonder if you could tie the sense of something being wrong and lost together, right up front. And if you find value in that suggestion you may want to consider moving para 2 (delete sometimes) up into para 1, so that the 1st para has the mood you've so nicely created but also leads into the finding the old album/song part.

you see in one stripped down moment/you’ve been waiting/[to]find something lost/[maybe] you can know the lost thing again; and maybe this time you can keep it.

It takes quiet to find what you don’t remember losing.

Now the above is NOT how I think you should write it. I just tried to make salient <-- isn't that a nice term? -- the words/ideas that seemed most important to me as a reader.

My comments are sincere and I'm willing to sign my (fake) name to them.

I really liked this and I want to read more.


Robin S. said...


I'm finally able to sit down and read and have a little peace. It's been that kind of day, since just after lunchtime.

Anyway, thanks, everyone, for the feedback. EE, I was hoping you'd do what you did and help me find the core of what I was going for in the third paragraph, and you did, and I really appreciate it.

One of the reasons you guys see a lot of these drawn out, thoughtful beginnings is because normally, at the end of the chapter, there's been something a little hair-raising that's happened. In this instance, the death scene we sent in a while back ended the previous chapter (mine was with the man named William, who shot himself in the chest and bled to death alone in his car), and the narrator is forced to make some changes, internally and externally. (For more on William, I'm working on the chapter he's in, reworking some things, on Chris's blog.)

A lot happens in this section of the book - too much to list here without sounding just like a list.

I know you're right, EE, and I have to learn where to pare back. I do like most of it, and it's not used as much as you'd think, reading what I send you here, but still, I agree I have to be careful with it.

Hi Xenith- In this chapter- I think there is a need to set the mood, because a sea change is coming at the narrator, and she can feel it, although she can't yet place why it's happening.

Hi Wes, You're absolutely right- it's not the quiet/the absence of sound as much as it's the lack of distraction - the lack of people, the lack of 'noise', as in empty sounds, used as filler. And thanks for what you said. I was hoping the foreboding would be enough of a hook - with some paring, to make a good opening.

Hi anon- What Qs do you mean- quiescent and quiet? So, you don't like th eQs and you don't like the yous. Are you iago, by any chance?

I agree with you - EE's rewrite of the third paragraph makes it much stronger. thta's why we're finishing the addition to our house - so he can come down here and live with us for a few months. My husband just doesn't know that part yet.

Hey Dave- I agree with you that the first and second paragraphs repeat a feeling- part of me thought they built on one another and the other part of me thought they were redundant- and that's one of the reasons I popped it on here. That and EE is low on openings.

Hey McK- I defer to your opinion, girl, especially as you so accurately pointed out that I lost the voice in the work we're posting at Chris's.

Robin S. said...

EE, I sent in a long comment a while ago- please tell me it wasn't lost in the ether.

Evil Editor said...

No, I've been watching American Idol the last two hours.

Robin S. said...

Wait a minute. You watch American Idol? Hmmm. I've never been able to stomach more than the previews of that one. Sorry.

Evil Editor said...

Oh yeah? Well I bought the three-season British version of The Office and lasted five minutes.

Besides, my daughter is one of the final 12 this year. If you can guess which one she is, you'll see me when they show me in the audience. Oh, right, you won't be watching.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Robin:

You know I enjoy the rhythms you create and the moods you inspire. And, hey, your writing's not bad either :o)

For me, this piece started strong, but by the end of P3, I started wondering if this was going to be too much of a good thing. My progression through the opening went like this:

Loved the first 'graph until I got to "sharp relief of something wrong." Had to read "relief" a couple of times before I got the meaning you mean. But then I loved the wrong having substance line, so I was happy again.

Then I expected a follow-on about the wrongness, but we went back to the quiet. The "that it" reps were a bit staccato for me rather than lulling me in the quiet rhythm. And I'm thinking the something coming is what earns the reps.

Sometimes it seemed the quiet was alive, waiting for the something that was coming, for the something that comes only in the quiet -type of thing.

And then I had to re-read P3 because although I thought I was reading carefully, more carefully than I would normally read if it were a novel for pleasure, I got lost toward the end.

While I don't necessarily agree with how far down EE took your writing in his first paragraph, his second paragraph is dead on.

One trap you don't want to fall into is writing your style simply because you enjoy writing your style. Well, not if you want to sell :o) I enjoy writing rich descriptions and long, rhythmic sentences. Poetic prose. And while I linger over the beauty of my words when I re-read, if I run into too much of that style in someone else's work, I'm skimming right over it to get to the story. But I know others will be happy to stop and savor my florid descriptions. Right?

Delicate, delicate balance...

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Oh, just saw your long post. You've got a handle on it, so I trust your rewrite will be spot on.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Robin, I really enjoyed this opening. It was very lovely, very thoughtful. But I do agree that it began to drag towards that last paragraph. However, I would definitely read on. I'm intrigued more by your voice then anything that is actually happening, because not much is. But it is your writing style that is worthy of continued looks!

Whirlochre said...


The problem with being 5 hours ahead of you guys is that a lot of the really cool stuff happens when I'm tucked up in bed - up to and including American Idol.

Just to say - I liked this on the whole, but with the reservations shared by the coalition of the quilling: that last para drags drags drags.

The line about wrong having substance is very good.

EE's prunded version is crisp - but I wonder if it loses something of your lyrical quality with the swishing of the shears?

Got to go - I've suddenly and mysteriously burst into flames and bolts of lightning are raining down on my cereal bowl...

talpianna said...

Although I can't disagree with the points made by the others, I was really intrigued and interested in reading more. It reminded me of the opening of one of Nora Roberts's romantic suspense novels set in the deep South--and of my days at Old Point Comfort with a hurricane hovering--humid, weighty, anticipatory.

none said...

Gah, EE, you wasted money on The Office? I coulda told you it was crap!

Anonymous said...

Are you iago, by any chance?

No, not Iago.

Anonymous said...

Besides, my daughter is one of the final 12 this year.

Evilette sings, too? Man!

Robin S. said...

Yeah, EE, that would be the daughter in the lovely pic, right?
The family resemblance is absolutely striking, my good man.

Hi WW, Me, Dave, phoenix and ello- thanks for what you all said- and I agree that this needs a pare job. I liked a lot of it- but it was ponderous- you're right. Thank God EE is merciless in his honesty as well. Sometimes I don't know when to stop- happens most often in the setup for what's to come.

The relief of something wrong, by the way- has to do with the principles of avoidance the narrator has lived by. It's just that after a while, facing up to things that are wrong gives one a feeling of relief, because you just get tired.

Bernita said...

I didn't care for 'the sharp relief of something wrong" either.
It's a fascinating twist but then you leave us hanging.
I really like the last line.
I wonder if you should begin with the last line, and the first paragraph should be put at the end.
But it's all very good.

Evil Editor said...

While it's true that my "swishing of the shears" was heavy in paragraph 1, I wasn't suggesting that the entire novel needed massive pruning, merely that once in a while readers need sharp relief from poetic prose.

The main cut here was : with the screens in the windows and the hot wet air all over my skin and the dark outside,

Is it essential that this info be cut? No. Is it essential that it be there? I don't think so. Taking a bit at a time:

the dark outside: It's already been stated that it's night.

the hot wet air all over my skin Earlier in this sentence we hear about the "quiet around me"; in the following sentence we hear that there's a "hum in the air around me". If we also include hot wet air all over me, that's three things all around me within two sentences.

As for the screens in the windows, I guessed that it was mainly living alone that brought on the sensations being described, that they might have been felt even if the storm windows had been up, and that by skipping over the screens we'll get to the something that was coming more quickly.

Chris Eldin said...

Blogger just ate my comment.
It was short anyway.

Robin, I love this, but agree with everyone's suggestions. And I would go with EE's version. It keeps your voice but it flows better.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hey Robin,

I'm really late to the party, but wanted to chime in with my words of praise. I like this one a lot. Yeah, it has a few twiddly bits, but overall it really sets the mood.

Had an issue with 'relief' here, too. I like the sentence and am wondering if it would work better in a more explanatory paragraph.

Brenda said...

I loved that as I read it, I knew it was by Robin. The voice is so uniquely yours.

Robin S. said...

Sorry I haven't been back to say hello- I've been unbelievably swamped at work (Guess what I do for a living? I talk. A lot. And smile. In DC. And I bet you can believe me when I say, I can run on and on and on when I need to.)

Anyway, you all, thanks very much for your comments about voice and style. They mean a lot, because it took me a while to find them in the first place.

EE, I agree with your changes, and I appreciate your help. And I promise there are many, many parts to this novel that move forward in a more straightfoward fashion - and I'm working on doing that in the rewrite/edit I'm currently up to my, uh, you know, in doing, and keeping the voice intact. As McK pointed out, it sometimes drops off.