Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Beginning 529

The first time I knew to be afraid of my father was the one summer night he swung for my skull when I was five years old, when I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in my parent’s bedroom. I woke up in the dark and felt around to find the door. What I found instead was their big bed, when I walked my shins into the wood rail on the side of it. My shins stung so hard the hurt made my eyes water. I rubbed on them fast, up and down, whispering ow ow ow there in the dark while I rubbed, so they’d stop stinging.

Then I reached up on the bed and fingered my way up one of my father’s legs. When my fingers had walked just about up to his knee, I felt air moving over my head, and I heard him scream. Screams sound louder in the dark; they make you afraid even if you weren’t afraid before.

Another time, when I was twelve and he was taking me and Mama and my best friend to the beach in his big old Ford, I wanted him to change to the Country station and I tapped him on the shoulder. He closed his eyes and hollered so loud, and though it was daylight, screams sound louder when you're in a little car. Mama had to grab the wheel so he wouldn't steer us right into the concrete bridge support. That was when my best friend knew to be afraid of my father.

Jamie here's the first boy I ever brought home, and I guess I should've warned him not to try and shake hands with my father, but I forgot and . . . anyway, doctor, if you could just pop his shoulder back in?

Opening: Robin S......Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

"They're after me!!!!!!" he screamed, over and over, while my mother tried to calm him. She had her pick pajamas on that night, the flannel ones with the little bows all over them. I can't see pink bows and not think of my mother.

"See?" she said, turning on the beige glass lamp. "It isn't zombies. It's just Jimmy."

He stared at me for a long time. I saw the familiar gleam in his eyes and I knew, right then, my mother was right: zombie hunters never rest.


"Freaking Murphy beds!" screamed my father.

I managed to climb up on a chair and turn on a lamp on the side table. Dad was hanging by one leg, between the bed and the wall. Mom was out cold on the floor. I was out the door and hiding in the basement for two days.


WouldBe said...

I liked it, Robin. This sounds like the opening of a short story. I'm not sure about the age of the MC. She(?) sounds young, as if she's telling a fairly recent anecdote. I'd read on to find out what sort of relationship we have here and more about the girl.

The last sentence of the first paragraph is a little repetitive, with the double I rubbed and reiteration of the darkness.

Bill H.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Great first sentence. Great rest of the piece.

I had a disconnect between the two. There's a microjump back in time between them and I didn't follow that until I was further in and that left me confused from sentence two on. Not sure what's the best answer here, but maybe work the first sentence in further down.

Anonymous said...

Rbin! Will comment more later. B'day celeb to be done. Bye!!!


Evil Editor said...

One could get the impression from the first sentence that the father swung at the narrator's skull while the narrator was sleeping.

"I rubbed on them fast" could be (seems to be) referring to the eyes.

If I'm ever awakened by someone's fingers walking up my leg, I'll be thinking, Keep going.

Wes said...

"If I'm ever awakened by someone's fingers walking up my leg, I'll be thinking, Keep going."


Dave Fragments said...

This opening was hard for me to parse (I hate that word) my way through.

If I were writing this, I would put a period after five years old...

Then I would make the rest of that paragraph stand alone by itself. I think it needs some trimming. Bill H notes the repetition of the "rubbing" in the last sentence.

P2: I'm not sure why we need to know how a five year old walks his fingers up his father's leg. What we need to get to is the swing that just misses his head. Then I reached up on the bed and grab my father's knee might be sufficient.

You seem to want to say things twice. It works as a style but it's not helping the action. Why do you present the swing only once?
- sleeping twice
- shins twice
- fingering legs twice
- screames twice
- Swing ONCE

There is a better reason to tighten this up. You load a cannon in the first sentence and you must fire that cannon to maintain the tension. It's a matter of beats. You only have so many words between the opening sentence and the near miss. Right now, the emphasis fails to highlight the swing.

As the two paragraphs sound right now, the writing loses a bit of the tension.

Robin S. said...

OK. I'm gonna be a bad girl and come on here during the day.

Hard to believe I'd be bad, huh? Sure it is.


Hi Bill,

Thanks! It's not a short story but it's the next best thing - it's the opening to a chapter in my novel - and the novel is told as a memoir - this is a flashback of sorts.

I agree with you - I have some work to do on those sentences you mentioned - I thought I had it fixed, but, as usual, once I saw it on the screen here, I realized it needed more work.

Hi Sarah,

Thanks - I really like the first sentence but I think (see EE's comment below) I need to break it in two - keep the words intact - but separate the two sections. It might help.

Hi ME,

Hope the celebration is a good one!

Hey Sparky,

Dammit. Both of the things you said make perfect sense (I know you know that, I'm just sayin'..), and now I wish I'd seen them before I popped them to you.

As for the fingers - I'll definitely keep that in mind. (Actually, I won't be able to (or wnat to) not keep that in mind...)

Ahem. However, since I don't know who you are or where you live...

writtenwyrdd said...

This is an interesting and evocative situation, but I was left a bit confused as to what was going on. I think there is too much irrelevant detail between the great first sentence and the dad screaming, though. I lost the "oooh, what does she mean?" curiosity and was forced to try and figure out what was going on. So perhaps tighten this up and increase the tention. Because I do think you picked an interesting beginning point.

Kiersten White said...

Dangit, stupid internet connection. I'll try again. Robin, I think you have a beautiful voice in your writing. It needs to be tightened just a bit, but I'm intrigued, and would love to read more.

Robin S. said...

Hi - I'm home now.

EE, I see now that I have a strong opening sentence and I want to keep it - but, as Dave and others mentioned, I have a disconnect.

This chapter (#6) has been my most problematic. It is, in fact, giving me fits - because the tone has to tow a line 'just so'.

Any advice on the disonnected feeling there? How do I start with that sentence and NOT back up and explain? I really need to deal with this - not sure how. this chapter is short (for me) - but integral to the way forward.

Evil Editor said...

The part of your sentence that's strong is:

The first time I knew to be afraid of my father was the summer night he swung for my skull.

The rest of the sentence is just information. If anything it dilutes the sentence's effectiveness. It can come in the next sentence or two.

none said...

Doesn't sound like a five-year-old's view of the world. That would start with "...all I did was..." :D.

Anonymous said...

End the first sentence after 'skull' as EE advises, and trim down the repetitions as others have advised.

Dave f., this is most timely advice:

[i]"You load a cannon in the first sentence and you must fire that cannon to maintain the tension. It's a matter of beats. You only have so many words between the opening sentence and the near miss. "[/i]

I am mulling over phrasings for a new opening this week, and the novel starts with a man slapping his wife at a company party. I will keep your wise words in mind.

Julie Weathers said...

"If I'm ever awakened by someone's fingers walking up my leg, I'll be thinking, Keep going."

Oh, man. Why do I keep coming back to this blog?

Oh, yeah, because I laugh out loud.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hey Robin:

Repetition is a great device -- used sparingly. But there really is a lot of rep going on in these two little paragraphs. And don't forget the power of a short, hard, declarative sentence, especially when placed amid a bunch of other sentences slow as a southern drawl.

One little nit I had reading was that the MC starts out wanting to find the door. I wasn't clear on why she reaches up on the bed and walks her fingers up Daddy's leg when the bed wasn't her goal to begin with. Shouldn't she be feeling her way alongside the bed and moving away from it rather than reaching into it?

Stacy said...

I really liked this and would read on. I want to find out why this kid's father is a screamer. War experiences, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Back from celebrating. Wanted to make sure I mentioned that I enjoyed reading this and was captivated by the (admittedly young-sounding) voice. Very much wanted to read on.


Robin S. said...

Hey you all,

Thanks for the comments - you've given me a lot to think about.

EE, Dave, and others - I am going to change the first sentence and stop it after skull. Thanks for that.

And thanks for saying you'd read more, guys - much appreciated. Now I have to carve some of that out, and keep the best parts.

Maybe I'll pretend I'm sending in a writing exercise to EE. i've done that before when writing scenes (no kidding) and it works to help me remove the extraneous.

EE - Can we maybe begin to write and submit other scenes for you that aren't opening scenes, and have them checked out here with everyone? I don't mean on the weekends. I was just thinking - I'm close to being out of beginnings, even of chapter beginnings, and maybe I'm not alone in that. Just a thought.

Evil Editor said...

If it's going on this blog, it has to be funny. Would the excerpts have continuations? Or would the minions write funny openings for them? Or perhaps you'd rather I just started a new blog where you could post excerpts and get comments. Such sites do already exist, but if you want one here I'll create it and see how much activity it gets.

ril said...

Well, I think it's the humour that makes this site unlike all those other sites. And I think continuations work best. Funny openings would seem to depend on the "real" writing becoming the punchline for the joke, which kind of feels wrong.

I don't suppose it matters where in the story the excerpt comes from, so long as it's open enough, and interesting enough, to prompt a funny continuation.

McKoala said...

All the comments are relevant, but I liked it. Agree with shortening that first sentence.

Scott from Oregon said...

Umm, even though you are in first person character mode, you still have to consider your work as a piece of fiction.

If your character is the repetitive sort (as Dave pointed out) it makes the character, umm, repetitive.

Just be a little careful with TMI because it weighs down the story and dampens the picture you are trying to create in our minds.

It is the balance between verisimilitude and storytelling.

But you knew that...

none said...

Depends if we'd get comments from you, EE :). We can get comments from other people just about anywhere online!

Robin S. said...

Sorry. I went to sleep last night before I saw your all's comments.

It seems like other scenes besides openings could be sent in - i'd say maybe scenes people were having trouble with and wanted discussion on - but don't know how many of those would be sent in, so it could be that OR a scene that a writer just wants comments on- anyway - "a scene" of approx 150 or so words - then a continuation could still be written for it - scenes aren't written in vacuums after all - and they could (and definitely should) be humorous.

Just an idea. Also - I like this blog - and I'd rather see them here than somewhere else. Same format - just different scenes.

Robin S. said...

Oh- I'd skimmed ril's comment before- and now that I actually read it, I see he already thought of that part about it being any scene, not just a beginning, that could prompt a funny continuation - and that's what I'm talking about.

I agree.

Dave Fragments said...

Just to clarify...
I didn't mean the character's repetition of certain things was a fault in the writing. That might be the character's voice. The writer has to make that sound real and to use that repetition as a tool.

Wes said...

Don't change your blog, EE. There's a reason it got a million hits. We love it.

none said...

This discussion benefits my plan to get EE to edit my novels 500 words at a time.

Stacy said...

LOL, buffy!

Robin S. said...

This isn't a request for change.

This is a request to keep the format the same - simply change to open up possibilities for what can be submitted - scenes OR openings, so it keeps on keeping on.

I tell you what, Sport. When you've been around for the better part if two years...well, never mind. I'll keep the rest to myself.
Sometimes it's better that way.

talpianna said...

EE said: I just started a new blog where you could post excerpts and get comments.

Only if we're time travelers. You posted on October 31, 2008.

[Cue Twilight Zone theme...]

Julie Weathers said...

"I tell you what, Sport. When you've been around for the better part if two years...well, never mind. I'll keep the rest to myself."

Perhaps I'm tired and not really understanding. Does this mean if we haven't been around for two years we don't or shouldn't have an opinion or contribute enough. Or those who have been around that long are looking for new venues?

Like I said, just trying to figure out what this means.

Robin S. said...

Means those of us who've been around a while may need more options for submissions - since our wells may have run dry.

Robin S. said...

Also it's fun to mess with Wes.

Julie Weathers said...

"Means those of us who've been around a while may need more options for submissions - since our wells may have run dry."

I hoped that's what it meant. Of course, my brain was fried last night and wasn't really comprehending much.

As for messing with Wes, hands off, Woman! If he needs messing with, I'll do the messing.

*Ruffles Wes' hair* So, is that a pistol in your pocket or are you glad to see me?

Robin S. said...

Hey, Jules. You have at him if you want him, sweetie, and have one big, good, time. I'm not in the market, as I much prefer EE.

Julie Weathers said...

Phffft, we all know EE is taken.