Standing on the median strip of the highway, washed intermittently in light, he chooses his name. He has had his old one for three months, and that is long enough. He has been in California for three days, and that is far too long.
He is on the coastal highway, one abrupt drop away from the ocean. Before sunset, he'd seen the water—rocks flung out like ponderous accidents into the glass-calm of the tide, pelicans and cormorants circling down to land on them with a lazy lack of intent. There were so many birds, roosting even on near-vertical faces, that the skins of the rocks looked black and boiling.
The driver who brought him to this point had bought him a drink at a bar just off the highway, right by the water. It was a nicer bar than the ones he'd been to in the Rockies or the Midwest: carpets rather than gap-toothed floorboards, jazz rather than country. Michael—the driver—hadn't offered him money, but he'd given him a clean bandanna and a word of advice: Get the hell out of California, son.
That's what I'm planning, he'd told Michael, who slapped him, a fraction too hard, on the back.
Why do people do that? he wonders. Everything was cool and then Michael goes and does that shit. He looks down at the inky water. And now they're gonna blame me, when they find him and his car tomorrow. If only the damn thing hadn't hung up on those rocks.
Opening: Juliet.....Continuation: ManyAndVaried
This sets a scene but it doesn't compel me to anything but a "HUH?" and a "So what?" ...
Other than "get out of California, you drifter" there's not much else to make me read on. Choosing a new name might be intriguing if there was some jeopardy attached to the new or old name. I feel stuck in a sea of description. (Keeping with the ocean metaphor).
BTW - The median is the middle of the road and a highway is generally 100 feet wide.
I wasn't bothered by the wealth of description. Why he changes his name so frequently is intriguing.
I wouldn't think a rock covered with sea birds would look black and boiling before sunset, as most sea birds are light in color. Maybe after sunset.
I'm not sure who the driver is, but if someone drives you somewhere, you might offer him some gas money. Why would he offer you money? Sure kid, I'll give you a ride. And a bandanna. Aw, take my money, too . . . what the hell, take my car.
I'd replace one or both "rather than"s with "instead of." Less formal sounding.
I love this. Quibbles merely - because it's so good I'm looking at the detail.
I'm not sure that the double use of 'long' in that first para quite works. I think I know what you're trying to do, but maybe it needs a tweak?
'brought' and 'bought' tripped me up in such close proximity to one another.
I don't recall a median strip on Highway one, but it has been a few years since I was down on the southern end of it.
Also, Highway one is BUSY. You can't stop in the middle of it, and have a conversation while letting off passengers...
Some Japanese tourist would run you over.
I was rendered more confused than curious by this bit, but it was odd enough to make me want to see if reading more would resolve that.
Perhaps "shoulder" rather than "median?"
I think the name change is interesting enough to pull me on. By naming the driver and not (yet) your main character, it suggests that the driver is going to continue to be a presence beyond giving the protagonist a lift. If he merely roars off into the sunset, naming him makes him more important than he is.
The way I read this opening is that "something of value" came to the driver from the rider.
Money would be offered from driver to passenger if something illicit traded hands (or bodies).
I know I'm writing this at my own peril. I'm going to, uh, well, you know, disagree with EE. (Forgive me, EE.) But the second paragraph took me out of the tension and interest cleverly created in paragraph one. Paragraph two did not advance the story for me, rather it stopped it. That's an easy fix, though, author. You had me hooked, and you can easily do it again. Good luck.
Damn. I love this, and I'm not kidding, not one bit. This is good.
You hooked me with wondering about the name change - witness protection, some othersort of subterfuge.
The image of the "skins of the rocks - black and boiling". Spot fucking on.
The bar description - concise and evocative - hard to do.
I'm absolutely impressed, and that doesn't happen to me all that often.
You go, honey.
I had a hard time with the lack of contractions in the first paragraph. 'He has had his' is a mouthful and tripped me up. Which brought my attention to the lack of contractions. Then I couldn't get past it.
I reread it using contractions and I really like it. So it was only that part which took me out in the beginning.
Good job. And think about using some contractions in the first paragraph. You use them later on.
I liked it. I think the dark boiling of birds could easily be cormorants. They cover rocks in crowds.
I can see a sympathetic motorist listening to the MC's sob story and giving him a parting gift out of pity. Even if the MC was lying.
I see nothing wrong with a descriptive opening. We don't get enough of them! Contractions would help the flow.
Like the idea of the name change - sets us up for something interesting.
Agree with Sarah - you have to find a way round that 'he has had' in the 2nd line.
The 'before sunset' line is great - as is your description of the bar.
Not sure about the bit where the driver slaps him on the back - an odd detail in an odd sentence.
But - I'm ready for the next para, so this works for me.
Other than being on the median rather than the shoulder, and the money confusion (I also didn't get that part), I really loved this. I would definitely read on.
I wouldn't call the money issue confusing. It was deemed worthy of remark that the driver didn't offer the narrator money, which is another intriguing point that might keep one reading. As it's unusual in a book for two people to part and for the author to make a point of informing the reader that no money changed hands, we assume it's not rare for the narrator to be offered money, and we want to know why. Presumably we're going to find out, if we keep reading.
I liked this beginning. It's wordy and goes on about nothing, but it's interesting nevertheless. Maybe a little tightening, but the overall voice works.
Good opening paragraph. The changing name and hint of dire trouble that made California too hot for him in three days suggest those dire days are going to be important soon.
I agree with BOTH those commenters who like the descriptive flow in para 2, and those who say it slows the pace. The flourishes could be pared down a bit and the descriptions better integrated into the action as opposed to opening a short (we devoutely hope) flashback.
I've been away writing for a few months, and it's good to come back to see familiar names still here.
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