Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Beginning 534

I’d only been in a steam room once for five minutes – Mom had let me ignore the No Children Under Sixteen sign – but since we’d arrived in Washington, D.C., whenever I walked outside, I had that same feeling of wet air bubbling on my skin, invading my nose, pounding in my head, just like it had that day. This weather made my chest feel tight and sweat drip down my back. The heat pressed on me. And it was only June 14th, a full week before the official start of summer.

Thank goodness for air conditioning. As my family dragged through neighborhoods, traipsing in and out of houses, I rushed from cool car to cooler house, lingering inside to dry my back and to review my list. I’d learned that there was a street with every state name in DC and I had collected twenty-four – or twenty-five, depending on whether I gave myself credit for California Street. Technically, I hadn’t seen it, since I’d dozed off when we passed the sign. But everyone else had.

Eventually I learned all those street names and where they were. In fact, I now have the entire map to the D.C. area memorized. Yes, even including North Dakota Avenue.

With my extensive knowledge of the city and my HVAC certification from Northern Virginia Community College (see attached résumé), I feel I'm the very best candidate for your Air Conditioner Repair Tech position.

Thank you for your consideration.

Opening: M.C......Continuation: Bunnygirl


Sarah Laurenson said...

Very interesting to equate humidity with a steam room though I personally found that kind of humidity more in the south than in DC. I also know what times of year to avoid DC.

Is this the beginning of a novel oe a chapter? Doesn't seem like a great place to start a novel. I'm left feeling 'so what?'. What is the point of starting here? Are you leading up to something?

Or is this middle grade and you want to add some education about DC to your novel?

Evil Editor said...

When you say "I had that same feeling..." we assume you mean the same as the time you were in a steam room, so there's no need to also say "just like it had that day."

"that there was a street with every state name in DC " may not be clear to those who don't already know it. Slightly more clear:

"that every state had a street in DC named after it...

Wes said...

I know it's difficult to work with so few words, and sometimes it's better to have a different New Beginning than the actual opening of your book. Maybe that is why we don't know what is at stake. Knowing what's at stake is critical for a reader to want to continue. Don't be discouraged. Take another cut at it.

writtenwyrdd said...

We even get that kind of hummidity in Maine during the summer, so I found the steam room analogy worked. I especially liked the line, "the heat pressed on me."

Nice beginning. I bit wordy in that first paragraph in that a bit of tightening would make it really hammer home the point with a bit less detail to spoil the verbal rythm.

I'd have read on, because you give me a lot of info without actually telling me stuff outright. obviously we are looking for a new house, the kid's a kid, is fascinated enough by new places to rack up a list of streets he's seen . A good set up for what seems like a YA or mid-grade novel.

Anonymous said...

So many great books have slow beginnings, and there's nobody more patient about this than I.

However, this is a little different. If I were picking this up in a bookstore I'd be worried about what to expect on subsequent pages. Maybe a little too much detail about uninteresting stuff.

Anonymous said...

Not to be picky, but when is the main character spending so much time outside getting hot a nd sticky? It sounds like she's only outside long enough to run from car to house.

EB said...

"Wet air bubbling on skin" makes me think raised blisters. Then again, my mind is warped.

Anonymous said...

Do not use "had" in every sentence.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest giving an early indication, in paragraph 1 or 2, what was lost or hoped for in moving: friends, boyfriend/girlfriend. (And maybe give the MC's gender.)

I'm not sure it's a big deal, but I think the correct spelling is Washington,DC. (Not D.C., though that is common enough.) Some editors might suffer a brain hemorrhage, otherwise.

--Bill H.

Anonymous said...

Hi M.C.,

Is this opening fiction or non-fiction? To me, the opening reads like non-fiction, and I can't tell if that's your intent (whether or not it's fiction).

And bunnygirl - super continuation, there.

Anonymous said...

Cut first paragraph work in some important info. later. This is where the kid begins to explain his (her?) experience.

Thank goodness for air conditioning.(!) As my family dragged through neighborhoods, traipsing in and out of houses, I rushed from cool car to cooler house, lingering inside to dry my back(.) This weather made my chest feel tight. The heat pressed on me. (It was only June. And it wasn't even Summer yet. Well, not officially.)

(At least I had my street list to keep my mind off off things.) I’d learned (every state in DC had a street named after it. -EE's Change)I (cut-had)collected twenty-four – or twenty-five,(already) depending on whether I gave myself credit for California Street. Technically, I hadn’t seen it, since I’d dozed off when we passed the sign. But everyone else (cut-had) (did, so I counted it anyway).

I hope this is of some use to you. As always, keep what works trash the rest. :) Good luck with your project!

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

This is chapter 2 of a MG novel. I used the bookend approach where Chapter 1 is in present tense and where we dive right into the MC's life and story problem.
Then chapters 2-24 are the history. The last few chapters go back to the present - if you know what I mean - for the resolution.

I wanted to stress the heat and humidity because the MC notices it alot when she first moves to DC, then, distracted by other issues, doesn't care as much. The idea was to subtly parallel her change in feelings about the weather with her change related to the people/events in the story.

Also, I've been told this story "could happen anywhere" and "lacks a sense of place" so I've been working to change that.


Anonymous said...

Oops, EE's change looks more like this "that every state had a street in DC named after it..." than the way I wrote it in my comment.

SO very sorry, Evil Master.

Anonymous said...

EE is there any way we could delineate between real "beginnings" and the beginning of chapters?

Evil Editor said...

If the author informs me whether it's the opening of the book or of a chapter or simply an excerpt, I'll be happy to pass it along.

Wes said...

"Then chapters 2-24 are the history." Does this mean all those chapters are backstory? If so, why not change it from backstory to the actual story? I can't recall a novel where the vast majority of the book was setting up the resolution.

Anonymous said...

I like your version better than the revision(s), Author, for what it's worth. We are only seeing the first 200 words, and I think that you are allowed a paragraph or so to set the mood. Just tighten it up a bit!

Xiexie said...

I do like the humidity-steam room comparison. I love DC's humidity, except when it rains hot. When that occurs, it's as if the sky decided to pee on you, and those are the same days when you get on a bus with the A/C on full blast, your glasses fog up.

Anywho, why not make those "history chapters" active? I think the "had, had, had..." will eventually stifle the action. Are those chapters more like recalling the past so that your book is Present-Past-Present in sequence?

Even if they are some of the I'd learned... I had collected... I'd dozed...etc could be made into active forms to push the action along.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other anon -- the author's version is better than the revision.

Author, take the criticism seriously but in the end, write your own book! We don't know enough about it to be trusted after a mere 150 words.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, XieXie's ideas are good. Yank out the hads, rearrange a bit and you could tell the story chronologically and with more action.

Of course, it's your book though -- you make the call.

Anonymous said...

Author here.

Thank you Wes,XieXie,anonymous. I have considered at length whether to cut the prologue-like chapter 1 and tell the story straight. I appreciate your suggestions to cut it. Decisions, decisions...

Anonymous said...

Popping in late to second several comments:

- since the bulk of the book precedes Chapter 1, lose the 'had' factor and tell the story in real time. For this to work, you'll have to find something interesting in the history to put up front. Looking for a house isn't it. 'Moving' is one of the most over-used (and thus cliche'd) openings in juvenile/YA fiction.

- To all possible submitters: for your own sake, always identify from where in the book an excerpt is drawn, and, if it's later, give us a summary of the characters/ main action that led up to it; otherwise our feedback will be blind, and therefor largely useless). If I'd critiqued this excerpt as a novel opening, this author would still be wiping blood off the walls at Christmas. Well, not that bad, but not good, either.

- as wes pointed out, we need to see our main character facing some challenge, seeking some goal beyond staying cool. Otherwise, it's just a kid blathering about street names and whining about the humidity. I can get that at home any day [grin].

talpianna said...

You might also open the paragraph with a punchy line that shows what it's leading up to.

"The new house was the same one I'd dreamed of since I was five years old."


"Who would have dreamed that a pretty white house on a quiet suburban street could hold so much horror?"


"I never guessed that on that very afternoon I would meet the person who would change my life irrevocably."

or even

"We wanted a house with a big yard so there'd be plenty of room for the zombie meerkats to play."

none said...

I like the voice here. Lively and readable.

Beth said...

The writing's not bad (save for a couple of awkward places)...but where's the story? This reads like a "what I did on my summer vacation" essay and not a particularly riveting one at that. Can you drop in some hint of conflict or mystery or even just a compelling problem the character is facing?