Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Beginning 465

In your minds, you are all special. You like to fool yourselves that your experience and outlook on the world is different, unique. Any suggestion that even your most unusual thoughts have already flitted through the minds of billions of others on this rock you live on is instantly quashed. You are convinced by your significance. If only others could just look in to your souls and see what a unique being you are, oh how they would worship you.

“The things we’ve seen... way beyond anything you could dream of”, you cry. The reality is that even Saturday afternoon B-movies have dreams that are more exotic and astonishing. You are mediocre, unoriginal, clones. You live your lives desperate to prove yourselves... with bad relationships, risk taking, playing with fickle fame. You laugh at those who have reached the pinnacle who claim that really, they just long for the simple life, an ordinary existence. You know they are lying.

The irony is that those few individuals who have genuine originality are hunted down and ousted from society. We’re labelled insane, heretics, psychopaths... or, if feeling somewhat generous, merely eccentric.

Freddie stopped reading the letter and, after a moment's thought, threw it in the trash.

Jeez, she thought, I knew The New Yorker had a reputation as pompous assholes, but do they have to send out such pretentious form rejection slips?

Opening: Pewari.....Continuation: freddie


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuation:

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Soft. Soft.

'That's £25 exactly. Do you have a store card?'


'OK, if you just want to insert it in the reader, I'll process your 2% discount.'


'That's great. Thank you. See you again soon.'

'See you, ta.'

It's for your daughter's bedroom, isn't it? I know: I watched her being born. Watched you.

I was there when you wrenched yourself free from the cross. Saw your hands tear though the nails. Watched you throw down the crown I made. Helped you stand.


And stupid not to put right all those lies about the cave and that fucking stupid stone.

I shouldn't think like this, but in spite of myself, I'm sorry it's you.

Sorry becuse she doesn't deserve this. She's a good kid. I can see that now.

But I'm such a blasted wretch, I can't help myself, and I will do what I must to save my soul. This time.


Evil Editor said...

It seems the third sentence would make more sense if you replaced "unusual" with "mundane." Or get rid of the word "even."

It's dragging on a bit. I'd consider dropping "You are convinced by your significance." from p.1, and cutting p.2 after "clones." This'll get us to who's talking and why faster.

Bernita said...

Freddie? Perfect.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the continuation, Freddie! Very near and dear to writers' hearts.

This is good. Some tightening will help. I'd read on to see where it was going at least.

Dave Fragments said...

Put down by the New Yorker as "pretentious" - deliciously funny continuation.

This opening treads the fine line between the unique and the mundane, between the exceptional and the mediocre. I like the opening but we need the story to appear real fast.

There's an elegant pas-de-deux in these words between the narrator "accusing" and "declaring"... The last half of the second paragraph is like a polka intruding.

Do you see that the repeated idea in these three words is working against you? "insane, heretics, psychopaths" Pick one at most two.
And I would not say "if feeling somewhat generous, merely eccentric" because it shifts focus to outside speakers. I would say "We're labelled insane at worst, eccentric at best."

jjdebenedictis said...

I stopped reading at "You are mediocre, unoriginal, clones." Yeah, thanks a lot, writer.

The problem with uncomfortable truths is that the reader really might feel offended by being told point-blank that they fit the bill. You want to pull us into the book, not alienate us.

Also, this piece consists of "telling", not "showing". It's an essay. Maybe get us into the story before you slam us with deeply pessimistic musings like these? I would have engaged more with the piece if there was a character thinking these things (especially if there was some emotion attached to the monologue.) I can empathize with mopey, cynical characters; I just don't like being lectured at by them.

Stacy said...

Thanks, bernita and sarah. EE edited this and made the point clearer. Thanks, EE! : )

This beginning intrigues me, but You are convinced by your significance should be changed to You are convinced of your significance. Makes more sense. If you don't delete the line altogether, that is, as EE suggested.

Things do drag on a bit, so I'd trim. Yet even as is, I'd read on in the hopes that we'll get to some action soon.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I skimmed down to the continuation. I don't like my books insulting or denegrating me. If I want that, I'll take a job as a telemarketer.

Robin S. said...

I liked this. I have to be honest and say that at first glance, it pissed me off, because, I'm, you know, such a unique being and all.

But then I thought about this being a bit like an outward-directed punch in the gut, like Notes From The Undergound's first words are inward-directed in their blunt, hard hitting. Not comparing the prose- comparing the feeling they gave me when I read them, although this one made me more uncomfortable, as it's much more enjoyable to read all about someone else's failings.

Anyway, I'd read on, as this could go either way - it could be quite good, or it could be a piece of self-righteous schlock.

I'm willing to suspend judgment to find out precisely because of the uneasy feeling this gave me.

And I want to know about the narrator, and his/her reasons for this diatribe. There may be good and personal ones.

And Freddie - good one!!

none said...

I'm sorry, Pewari, but this reads like sociopathy by-the-numbers. Worse, WO's continuation is much more engaging and scary--it has specific detail; it shows, rather than tells.

There's a wealth of real data out there about sociopathy and its associated states; try reading some of that and maybe you can create something that doesn't read like every schlock Horror novel ever written.

EB said...

Freddie's continuation is sublime.

I'm not a big fan of the opening, because I find it rather mundane in itself. Putting down the teeming millions for their blase existences...yada yada yada. Or perhaps it's because it takes on the aura of a lecture.

And if this is the crazed pyscho killer defining his manifesto that will explain why he likes to wear his victim's skins, well, I'm not a big fan of such defenses. The narrator is hoisting himself on his own petard, no? Now if it's Bruno protesting just before he's set alight, that would peak my interest.

I like Stephen Crane's approach to the nature of an individual's significance:

A man said to the universe,
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"That fact has not created in me
"A sense of obligation."

Unknown said...

I'm going to be a bit harsh, but only because I think your narrative style evokes (and falls short of) the one employed by Dostoevsky in his Notes from the Underground. The fiercely bright, exceedingly resentful, self-crippling anti-hero makes for an intense reading experience, but you sell your narrator short by having him (or her) attack the reader in gross generalities, without the benefit of concrete reasoning. This might be less troubling if he were speaking only for himself, but because your narrator goes on to say "we" and seems to believe there are others capable of "genuine originality", he winds up in the unenviable position of having assumed (and therefore insulted) an alien audience without truly knowing the audience to be alien. It is one thing to tell a reader, "You know nothing about me because no one does." It's quite another to say, "You know nothing about me, not because it is impossible to know me, but because I have assumed you are stupid and/or naive." Readers will make the first leap, but it's far more difficult to make the second.

You can only get away with insulting your reader if your narrator comes across as being truly bright/incisive (a little self-deprecation à la D.'s Underground Man works wonders; by loathing his self-proclaimed abilities to perceive the world around him and hating his own faults, D.'s narrator convinces us that his perceptions might be worth our attention). The sort of mind that analyses its surroundings to a crumb and concludes, with convincing brutality, that most people are oblivious is also the sort of mind that subjects itself to the same merciless analysis. At the moment, your narrator, hiding behind broad antagonistic statements and questionable conclusions about his audience, just seems narrow and stupid.

Because I can't tell by this sample whether this is genre or literary fiction (I assume whatever constitutes your narrator's definition of originality will tell us that), it may be that what I've said bears little relevance to your story. Perhaps your interest lies not in creating an ultimately sympathetic, if intensely problematic, anti-hero, but in following the evolution of a seemingly flat, idiotic character. If the latter is the case, then perhaps you need only worry about making this apparent sooner. Either way, your opening seems too much like an attempt at channeling a voice, and not enough like the uncensored outburst of a voice that can no longer be contained.

Scott from Oregon said...

I could easily tolerate the first paragraph of being told how inane my thoughts are, but after that, I realized I was smarter than the lecturer and bailed...

Unknown said...

Going back over the comments posted as I was commenting, I see that Robin mentions Dostoevsky as well. The difference between beginnings is, of course, the self-loathing (inward, as Robin says, as opposed to outward). Before D.'s Underground Man insults us, he calls himself sick. I'm not saying it's impossible to hit outward without counterbalancing somehow, but there needs to be concrete reasoning for your character to stand on. And I do think that needs to be apparent immediately or you'll lose readers before you have a chance to win them over.

(I would not have read on if I hadn't had the added motive of commenting here.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all your comments, very thought provoking and given me some good ideas and direction. Loved both the continuations!

This is actually the first piece of writing I've done in a long time, and almost totally off-genre for previous things I've written. It was an experiment, and I guess it showed :)

The main character isn't supposed to be very likeable, but do agree that the lecturing right at the start is probably a bit full on and off-putting rather than intriguing. Will work on tightening it up too.

Thank you so much for the feedback!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Must admit that on my first read of this, in the first couple of paragraphs, I was thinking about 1950s / 1960s science fiction where the alien rails at the stupidity of humans before doing an updated riff of Hamlet's "more things ... than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

I used to love this kind of stuff in high school because I thought it was deeply philosophical. Alas, high school is many years and many experiences past, and now, when I encounter something like this, if feeling somewhat generous, I merely snicker.

Agree that there needs to be something here right off for me to either accept the narrator's hubris, or denounce it.

Some sentence construction nits:

You like to fool yourselves that ... isn't saying what you think it says. If they like to fool themselves, then the choice of fooling is a conscious decision. The "You like" needs to go.

And I completely didn't understand The reality is that even Saturday afternoon B-movies have dreams that are more exotic and astonishing. Is the narrator actually saying that the movies themselves have dreams? If so, I guess I am one of those close-minded, unoriginal folk who think the narrator is a bit off his/her rocker. Therefore, I don't sympathize with him/her.

If the narrator is saying the stuff IN the movies is more original than what you (the reader) can conceive, then does that mean people like the narrator are responsible for the content in B-movies? If that's the case, the logic there really, really befuddles me.

Dead on with the contin, Freddie!

Whirlochre said...

I quite liked this - but I don't think it works.

I like the protag's audacity - and there is more than a modicum of truth in the first para - but I'm not sure this snippet goes at the start.

Once we know who's talking and what the situation is, I think this could be dynamite if tweaked.

But at the start?


Once this has been said, you'd better have something else in the hopper or the rest of the book will be an anticlimax.