Friday, June 20, 2008

New Beginning 519

“Lydia is a lucky girl, and a very pretty one too. The little marks on her face will be gone in a couple of months. If she continues her physical therapy, both her eyes will appear and move almost identically by the time school starts.”

Second Lieutenant Brett Johnson spoke easily - the words were mostly true. The ‘little marks’ were in fact a network of ugly red scars, but they would heal – the bacteria used to infect them had been treated quickly. Brett was the neurosurgeon who had hooked up her optic nerves to her artificial eye.

“Thank you doctor. I really appreciate the wonderful job you did.”

Brett kept his face solemn with an effort. He remembered the grey haired grandmother’s dismay at the youth of the surgeon who would be operating on her new ward. The Unificationists had attacked a rural town hundreds of miles from anything of military value – or any major hospital. It had been faster to send a Space Force emergency landing shuttle from Brett’s ship the Defender than try and divert resources from elsewhere on the planet Roundhouse.

Brett shook the woman's hand. "This is state of the art technology, Ma'am. Electromagnetic focusing, gps positioning, superior night vision, laser targeting, and it's a perfect match for--"

"Uh, laser targeting, doctor?"

"Yes ma'am. Lydia could take out a whole platoon in the, heh, blink of an eye."

"Doctor, I--"

"By the way, does Lydia have a boyfriend?"


"Better tell him he doesn't want to make her cry. This thing has a hair trigger; don't want any accidents."

Brett grinned at Lydia and winked. Lydia winked back. The lights went out.

Opening: David Weisman.....Continuation: ril


Evil Editor said...

The last two sentences stick out. I'd try to weave in this information more gradually:

...on her new ward. But getting a neurosurgeon to this rural area would have taken far longer than sending the shuttle to the planet surface.

You can work in Defender and Roundhouse and Unificationists as the story progresses.

EB said...

Intriguing start. I'd read on.


"...both her eyes will appear and move almost identically."

My first thought was "is she a flounder and we're waiting for her underside eye to migrate next to the top one?" With the juxstaposition of appear & move, it can be read as if the eyes will appear (as in arrive). I think you're trying to say the eyes will appear (to be) normal.

"...optic nerveS to her artificial eyeS." One nerve per eye, please.

2nd Lt. Brett Johnson spoke easily. But a mere 5 sentences later he's keeping his face solemn with effot.

The last two sentences are an information dump, telling not showing, etc., and clumsy given the way you're introducing us to the story.

The use of "ward" can be confusing. Since, y'know, hospitals have various wards. I've known many seasoned nurses who've been dismayed at the youth of the surgeons operating in their wards.

Is there a bar called the Double Deuce on planet Roundhouse? Oh wait, that's planet Roadhouse.

Great continuation.

Dave Fragments said...

This is an interesting opening. It's relating significant events rather than action.

"Brett kept his face solemn with an effort might be better said. Why is he hiding his feelings?

And those last two sentences are you, the writer being impatient with telling the story. EE's right, work the details in later.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Personally, I'd love for this to come in on the whole scene rather than this aftermath. Show the trauma arrival at the hospital or the doc arriving at the triage, the bickering about the youth of the doctor, the waiting for the surgery to be over. Why tell about the war when you can show some of its effects?

You hint at how hard it was to perform this surgery given the conditions, why not show the conditions and let the reader experience them?

Just my nickel.

none said...

I'm with Sarah. This reads like the end of a scene--in fact, more like the end of a story--than the beginning of one.

Anonymous said...

Ril, you are an evil genius. I spewed coffee through my nose. Just goes to show that you should never go government surplus when it comes to cosmetic surgery.

Reminded me of "Small Soldiers" - the movie where the toy company bought government surplus computer chips for war toys, and got more than they bargained for.

EB said...

Sarah & Buffy, I see what you're saying, but I wonder what the focus of the story is. If it's Lydia and her growth & development, maybe. If it's Brett and his experience, maybe not. I see your point, but this opening creates questions/curiosity that might be dealt with by non-linear chronology.

But I'm not the author. Just a thought.

Scott from Oregon said...

Opening with the dialogue was a bit hard to get a bite on.

I wasn't sure of the meaning of anything he said.

But the details were intriguing so I want to know more. I was just a wee bit put off by my initial confusion.

Grabbing me with a detail is good. Confusing me with one is not so good.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

What a great lot of Contins. Ril's, as always, is quite brilliant.

Hey, Benwah, I was thinking flounder, too! Only I also had an image of the eyes sort of dissolving in at first.

So I was giggling by the second paragraph when I ran across the bacteria. Somebody or something had used bacteria to infect her scars? Then they treated the bacteria? Or was she blinded by some sort of combo weapon that gouged her face then sprayed bacteria in the wounds?

The second mention of Brett in that paragraph didn't really to seem to follow. I'm assuming a neurosurgeon wouldn't leave a network of ugly red scars so they're not surgical wounds. Which makes the explan about Brett being the neurosurgeon kind of a non sequitir.

This is good news; why is he struggling to remain solemn? I get he doesn't want to go 'nyah nyah' to the grandmother, but if it's his nature to feel like smiling, why doesn't he?

Then the last half of that last 'graph has already been discussed enough.

Maybe something like:

“Lydia is a lucky girl. It looks like we got to the infection in time. Those scars on her face will be gone in a couple of months. And if she continues her physical therapy, both her eyes will appear normal and be tracking together by the time school starts.” Second Lieutenant Brett Johnson gave the girl's gray-haired grandmother a reassuring smile.

“Thank you doctor. I really appreciate the wonderful job you did.”

The woman's gratitude was a far cry from her open dismay on first seeing him. He knew it wasn't easy to put trust in a young neurosurgeon. Especially one who would be putting artificial eyes in the last surviving member of her family. But the rural town had sat hundreds of miles from a major hospital, and when it was attacked, General McGee sent the fastest aid he had: a shuttle from Brett's ship, the Defender, with Brett on board.

talpianna said...

I want to marry Ril when I grow up.

Whirlochre said...

I like what's going on with this one — all that business with eyes and bacteria sounds very promising — but I can't help thinking that the abundance of past tense verbs sets things on the back foot to some degree.

It's fine — but as some people have commented, it has a middle-of-chapter feel to it, and the end passage is a bombardment.

none said...

I take your point, benwah, but for me there's nothing in the opening that hints at the story going forward. Lydia isn't even in this scene--if she's the protagonist, maybe she should be? I get the feeling this is meant to introduce Brett, and I think showing him "in action", so to speak, might be a better way to do that.


Robin S. said...

Hi David,

I think this opening works well if you don't give it the backstory feeling with the ending paragraph - this has been said before- but I wanted to mention that I like it, as long as the story moves on and you skip the info dump feel in the last few sentences - if the story simply flows on - then I'm interested.

The "both her eyes will appear,etc." in the first paragraph grabbed my attention and the second one kept me there, attentive.

I'd subtract the "thank you doctor" - shorten the background to a reference as the story moves on. We can learn he (the doctor) young later on, in the next page or so.

Continuation - so, so good.

batgirl said...

Excellent rewrite from Phoenix. Suddenly I understood what was going on.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

Brett shook the old woman's hand as he left the room. Lucky for him that Lydia was green-eyed; it meant he could implant her with a special high-resolution camera that could be activated from aboard the Defender. Next time the Unificationists attacked--and he knew, with grim certainty, that there would be a next time--he could use the girl to take pictures of the aliens playing their own sick version of TPing the House.


“Well, just take it easy the next few days, okay?” Brett turned to Lydia. “See? We’re not just about intergalactic war and laser canons,” he said, and winked at the young girl.

Lydia grinned and winked back. The new eye shot out of its socket narrowly missing her grandmother, flew across the room and exploded against the wall. As the smoke cleared, daylight shone in through the gaping hole in the side of the shuttle.

Brett coughed. “Uh, yeah. That happens sometimes; it’s, ah, perfectly normal. Let me show you out. We do take Visa, Mastercard or American Express.”


"Brett! Dinner!"

"But Mom," he whined, pressing pause, "I'm fighting the Unificationists and restoring baby's sight!"

"We're having hamburgers."

Brett flipped off the telly. Blind babies could wait.


All the same, Brett made a mental note to have the Space-psycho Squad stop by within a few weeks to check up on the old woman. Sure the scars would heal, but there was something just sad on how she kept insisting the old Raggedy Ann was "Lydia" come back. This had been what, the fifth operation in three months? The doll could jerk around, make gabble-gobba sounds meant to be conversation, but nano-technology could only carry dreams so far.

--Panda Rosa

The attack had been biological. Aerial dispersal units had spread the bacteria over several square kilometers. It only attacked the left eye, leaving the Space Force doctors confused. But not Brett.

It had been a test. The bacteria used, was his creation.

Brett remembered his training. He couldn't show excitement, or someone might notice. He said goodbye and waited for the old woman and Lydia to leave, before allowing himself a grin.

The Unification had a plan. If everyone was a cyclops, then there would only be one point of view. Once enough of the bacteria was weaponized, and artificial eyes were banned, the whole universe would see right.


The little girl's bionic eyes had better work properly. If she couldn't pick out the face of at least one attacker so the military had someone to chase down for payment, Brett's budget-blowing experimental surgery on her would be coming out of his next year's consultancy fees. And wouldn't that just suck!


Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone. Hopefully I can fix some ambiguities without unduly prolonging the opening. The story is about Brett, the girl was captured and deliberately mutilated, the torturers did not expect aid to come so fast and cut her face - while infecting the wounds.

Author said...

Revised opening:

At first the young girl's eyes looked identical, but when she glanced around the room the left didn’t keep up with the right.

Second Lieutenant Brett Johnson said, “Keep practicing. Your eyes will move together by the time school starts.”

“Okay,” Lydia replied tonelessly. The flat expression on her face reminded Brett that her parents had been murdered and her home town destroyed a few days ago. Even so, there might be another reason for the lack of enthusiasm. Her immune system had accepted the new eye – but if her mind rejected it there would be trouble.

“How do you like your new eye?”

She brightened just a bit. “It’s wayout. I can see in the dark.”

A moment later she explained seriously, “Infer red vision.”

“Most people call it infravision,” he told her with a smile, but his mind was elsewhere. So the eye wasn’t the problem. He continued to study her solemn face. It lay under a mop of red hair and was covered with freckles.

Brett had no training in pediatric emotional therapy, and no authorization to perform it, but Lydia’s flat affect bothered him more than a natural display of grief could have. The tired looking grey haired woman waiting outside was now responsible for the girl. How deep did her bond with Lydia go?

“Do you talk with your grandmother a lot?”

The child replied, “Sometimes. I’ve heard her crying when she didn’t know I was around, so I don’t want to bother her.”

Brett asked, “Maybe your school could find you someone else to talk to.”

She shook her head. “I don’t like either of the counselors, so I said I didn’t want to talk to anyone.”

Yet Brett felt strongly that she did.

“Talk to me,” he suggested.

She looked at him. Brett wondered how he looked through her eyes – new and old.

She declared, “You have too many muscles to be a doctor.”

“That’s exactly what they told me in medical school. At first I was supposed to enroll in goon school.”

Brett let his face go slack, hunched over, and let his arms dangle, a parody of an over muscled and under brained goon.

Lydia giggled, and smiled the first smile he had seen from her.

“Unfortunately the classes were filled up already, so I decided to be a nuclear physicist. I got the course numbers mixed up though, and when I got my degree I realized I had learned a lot about eyes and stuff, but only a little physics.”

The smile vanished. What she needed right now wasn’t a clown. Brett cursed his approach. Lydia burst into tears.

She didn’t seem to blame him though – when he awkwardly moved closer she buried her face in his doctor’s coat and cried into it.

Dave Fragments said...

You are tying too hard. This is the stuff I write first and then when I hit the end of the story, I go into edit.

So if I were to edit, here's what I would do. I explain as I go along. These are only suggestions.

First off, I don't like to announce dialog. I keep the "saids" at the end and after the dialog.

At first the young girl's eyes looked identical, but when she glanced around the room the left didn’t keep up with the right.
“Keep practicing. Your eyes will track together," Second Lieutenant Brett Johnson said.
“Okay,” Lydia replied tonelessly. "

I dropped a chunk of stuff for two reasons. 1) It felt like too much information for the reader, 2) Tou reveal the eye problem and almost on top dump the dead parents. I think there is a better place for the dead parents to be revealed.

“How do you like your new eye?”
“It’s wayout. I can see in the dark.” Her solemn face brightened from under a mop of red hair.
“Most people call it infravision,” he said with a smile.

That completes the artificial eye reveal and keeps dialog together. I struggle to keep dialog between two people clear of description. It's a pacing choice. Some conversations are true back and forth without pause. IF you take outmy comments you can see a young man and a teen talking and moving. Trust that the reader sees that. The descriptions are sparse but sufficient for that to happen.

Now I do have trouble with the next bit, but moving it to another point depends on the rest of the story which I don't have. So here it is. I took out the "authorization remark. I don't know why you need it unless he is going to do unauthorized stuff later.

Brett had no training in pediatric emotional therapy, but Lydia’s flat affect bothered him more than a natural display of grief could have. The tired looking grey haired woman waiting outside was now responsible for the girl. How deep did her bond with Lydia go?

Dialog next. There are only two people. He is the only one who would ask about the grandmother. So dialog tags aren't needed. I also changed her responses to what I think are more girlish and youthful responses. That's subjective.

“Do you talk with your grandmother a lot?”
“Sometimes. I hear her crying when she thinks I'm not there. I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Maybe your school could find you someone else to talk to.” She shook her head.
“I don’t like either of the counselors, I won't talk to them.”
“Talk to me.”

Now you want to stop and insert something here because you want the reader to stop and absorb what your characters just said. I know that sound strange but look for places that the dialog seperates into natural chunks and insert the description stuff at those points. This also makes the paragraph about Brett's pediatric emotional training important. He's inadverdently stepped into the role. He's trying to get out of it by suggesting the grandmother or the counselors but as you structure the scene, he won't escape the emotional outburst that will serve to create a dramatic point.

Continued in the next posting...

Dave Fragments said...

Continued from previous post. There is a size limit in Blogger. Blogger hate Dave. Dave verbose

Now here is one of those POV things that gets me in so much trouble. We are seeing this entire scene through Brett's eyes. What sort of action/reaction does Lydia do to size up Brett? Stuff is getting real close to the edge here. Either nothing happens in this scene and they part company. In which case the usefulness of the scene lies in how much information you packed into it. OR, you reveal real emotions from your two characters. Brett seems to have a heart and Lydia is bursting with sorrow. Give all of that a chance to pour out in ways that bring tears to the reader's eyes. This is the time to make the reader feel her hurting and his reaction to it.

Her eyes ran up and down his body, making him self-conscious.
“You have too many muscles to be a doctor,” She declared. Brett laughed and hunched over, letting his face go slack and his arms dangle, a parody of an over muscled and under brained goon.
“That’s exactly what they told me in medical school. Go enroll in goon school, young man. You have too many muscles.” Lydia giggled, and smiled the first smile he had seen from her. “Unfortunately the classes were filled up already, so I decided to be a nuclear physicist. When I got the course numbers mixed up though, and when I got my degree I realized I had learned a lot about eyes and stuff, but only a little physics.” He laughed again but Lydia's smile was gone.

Now they are set up to deliver the drama. Now the reader is struggling to find out what

Lydia burst into tears. He leaned closer and she buried her face in his doctor’s coat, wept harder.

Now the reader wants to know about the dead parents. Now the reader is reader for Lydia to cry her heart out onto Brett and he has to be compasionate, not from training but from nothing but humanity, empathy and real concern. It's a good scene. Think of the final session between Robin Williams and Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting" when Williams hugs him (At the very end) and says "It's not your fault" and the two stand there in an awkward embrace and Damon answers mechanically "I know" and Williams as the counselor holds him and keeps repeating "It's not your fault" until the Damon character finally accepts and understands his past and his future. It's a dramatic and teary scene. That's what you have here.

Think of that as you edit this again. What words will make Lydia seem like a kid holding in the troubles of the world. What words make Brett the reluctant hero of the scene. And you will edit this again. This entire episode is the reveal of the bad things that happened to Lydia and Brett's rather reluctant, unrehearsed response to her.

I'll say some more. If this were mine, I would let her tell the story of the village's destruction adn her parents death. I would write it so I had tears running down my cheeks as I wrote and then unleash it on a reader. When it is too horrific for her to tell the reader, Brett can remember the details. Now don't write HOSTEL (blood and gore) but do write that last scene of Romeo and Juliet where we all cry as they say goodbye.

If you get the words right, that won't feel like an info dump the way it did in the first couple paragraphs.

You want to gently read the reader down a very innocent path with what seems to be idle chit chat but is really a prickly journy into the darkest episode of Lydia's life. If you get that right, the reader will follow Lydia on a journey to hell and still love her. That's the challenge.

You want to see this done better than anything I could say here. There is a movie out called "Rabbit Hole" and it will make you love each character but cry real tears. I've seen it live onstage as a play and in a movie theater.

Good luck.

David said...

Thank you very much for all the feedback. I appreciate your generosity even if blogger doesn't. I want to ask you one thing. Mostly this novel isn't about Lydia, she's one of the memories that keeps Brett hating all hive minds even when the evidence becomes ambiguous. Would that affect your advice? It might not, since one of the major points of this chapter is to get the reader caring about Brett, but I thought I'd ask.

Dave Fragments said...

I have no clue about hive minds beyond what popped up in your question. I can't say anything.