Tuesday, December 02, 2008

New Beginning 580

The old man sat biting his lips and waiting for his trial to begin. He had never liked to speak publicly in civilian life, even to give a short message at his church. He could get out the words that he had to say, but he did not know what to do with his eyes and his hands. His lawyer’s presence at his side was not reassuring.

At their first meeting the lawyer had told him “Your only chance is to be human. Don’t try to justify yourself, for God’s sake. Let them see that you’re old and confused and frightened. Stop that ridiculous show of dignity, and don’t wear your uniform.”

He had accepted the suggestion about his uniform, which was stained and ragged anyway. He had been unable to accept the rest. His dignity was not for his own sake. He was only a low-ranking officer charged with a task as unpleasant as it was undistinguished; but he was being tried as a representative of the Pure State.

The judge came in and everyone stood. When everyone around him sat again, the old man followed their lead. Despite his lawyer's pleas, he would maintain his dignity. However, he would also try to convince the court he was human.

After shuffling herself to get comfortable, the judge turned to the bailiff. "What is the case?"

The bailiff stood. "The United States versus the Pure State."

The judge rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Just what I needed," she said. "Another Texan."

Opening: Joanna.....Continuation: BBJD


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations

The rosy-cheeked aide smiled and said, "Mr. Hoffmeyer, we always serve fish on Fridays. But you don't have to select that. Some of the other residents choose meatloaf instead. And as far as the TV goes, of course you're welcome to watch it at night. But we need to be considerate of others, and not have it too loud. OK, Mr. Hoffmeyer? Now, why don't you come play checkers with us in the common area -- won't that be fun?" She looked at the figure seated next to him and said, "You can bring Teddy Bearister with you."

--Discouraged Writer

At least it was daylight. That alone should help his cause. No one would suspect he was a weredingo.


The judge, her face lined with distaste, stared at the old man, weighing him up, before delivering her judgment. "It is obvious this man," she said, "has nothing of danger to us. He is old and impotent. A man who would stand before me like this cannot possibly be a representative the Pure State. Release him."

She shuddered at the sight of his sagging, bare arse being led away from the court.

The old man grinned. His lawyer was right.


Evil Editor said...

I have no complaints. Except I'd put the semicolon in paragraph 3 after "sake" and start a new sentence with "But."

EB said...

Nicely done. You've created some good tension here, like the calm before the storm, and it's certainly intriguing enough to read on.

As for a comment that may crop up, since it often does on this board: I rather like your old man not being given a name yet.

A minor question: might your old man have been tasked with addressing those below him as an officer?

Anonymous said...

To me, the second paragraph would flow better if you said:

At their first meeting, the lawyer told him his only chance was to be human. "Don't try to justify yourself, for God's sake..."

Instead of:

At their first meeting the lawyer had told him “Your only chance is to be human. Don’t try to justify yourself, for God’s sake. Let them see that you’re old and confused and frightened. Stop that ridiculous show of dignity, and don’t wear your uniform.”

When you say "told him" instead of "said" it feels rough/clunky to launch right into quoted dialogue.

Robin B. said...

Hi Joanna,

I really like this. A lot. I was ready to read more, and disappointed I couldn't.

I agree with Benwah - no naming necessary.

And as for the continuation, with an ex from Texas, I thought it was a hoot. I still remember the big talk I got from him about the lone star bit, and about how they were the only state that had ever been its own country.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Great continuations, especially the Texan one.
And thanks for the encouragement and advice. I've struggled with how to open this story. I wanted to introduce the old man as himself before specifying what he was on trial for, and I've read a lot here about getting to the point, or at least to a point of tension, early on. And it's good to hear that the absence of names is not irritating (at least, not yet)..

EE--I see what you mean about the changes in para 3 and will change it accordingly.

Benwah--yes, in his capacity as an officer he had to speak publicly, but didn't mind it because then he was speaking strictly as an officer and not as a person. I hoped that the 'in civilian life' qualifier would make that clear, but it probably needs to be more explicit.

Anonymous--I see what you mean. I'll change 'told him' to 'said'.

Robin--thanks for the boost! Is the part about wishing to read more polite encuuragement or literal? I'm hoping to get this story in shape for a magazine's January reading period, and would love to hear another perspective on it, and would be glad to email it to you if you thought you'd e interested and would have time to send any complaints, questions or suggestions in the next couple of months. I think it's about 11 s-s pages long (it's on my other computer so I can't check now.)

Robin B. said...

Hi Joanna,

I'd be happy to read it for you.

Please send along!

Xenith said...

This is just something that occured to me while reading. Just a suggestion, but if you take out the second part of the first line, you get more of a hook because it creates a small question for the reader.

Something like:

The old man sat biting his lips. (Hmm, what is he worried about.) He had never liked to speak publicly in civilian life, even to give a short message at his church. (Oh. Now what is he going to talk about?) He could get out the words that he had to say, but he did not know what to do with his eyes and his hands. His lawyer’s presence at his side was not reassuring. (Oh. Trial?)

Brenda said...

Ha! As a Texan, you nailed our views of our state dead on! And it's TRUE, so that's okay. *grin*

I liked this.

Anonymous said...

Robin, thanks very much! I'll send it your way tomorrow.

Xenith, I like the change.

Unknown said...

I don't have anything helpful to add, just wanted to say I liked this. Hard for me to tell from the beginning if the old man is someone to like or dislike, but that's fine -- it is interesting, and that's what matters in the first few paragraphs.

writtenwyrdd said...

I like this also, and the lack of a first name is fine at this point. I expect his name to be announced when they get the trial started or something.

I think it still needs a little bit of clarification so that we know a teensy bit more about his low ranking officer with an unpleasant job. A word or two only might do it. But you could probably leave it as is.

What genre is this, anyhow? It seems like it's science fiction or fantasy.

talpianna said...

I found it intriguing enough to want to read on. I like the ambiguity--we don't know if the old man is a victim of a tyrant state, as in the Stephen Vincent Benet story the name of which I can't remember, or the tool of one, like Adolf Eichmann. It makes one pay close attention to details to see if one can unravel the ambiguity.

none said...

I don't know how it is, but I often find myself at right-angles to almost every other minion. This opening I find easily rejectable.

The story's barely begun before we're into backstory. The scene hasn't been set; I hardly know the character. There's a lot of telling. Nothing draws me in.

And if the lawyer didn't tell the old man to make eye contact with whomever he's speaking to, and to keep his hands still, then the poor guy's sunk anyway; he has a lousy lawyer.

Anonymous said...

Good! I meant to start with the reader uncertain whether or not to admire/sympathize with the old man...and that's why I didn't give more detail about his unpleasant job, though that will come later. Talpianna, I'm guessing you're thinking of 'The Blood of the Martyrs.' Writtenwyrd, it's not SF/F. (No magic, no supertechnology.) I don't know if it should be called mainstream or fable.

Buffy, I expected to hear what you've said from a lot more minions. Points taken, but I think this is how this story works, if it works at all; I can't picture a more direct beginning that would work well.

none said...

You're likely starting in the right place. The problem is you then go backwards!

Eh, we have a "Pure State" that must exist in the future, as it certainly doesn't exist now; that's definitely going in the SF direction.

Beth said...

This is terrific. The best opening I've seen here in awhile. The voice is natural, and it unfolds logically -- giving us just enough information to become intrigued without explaining too much. I'd definitely keep reading.

I have only one suggestion and that is to start right off in the old man's POV, which means using his name and not referring to him as "the old man." That's distancing.

Otherwise, I love this. (And the continuation! (g) )

Robin B. said...

I honestly think not using the name is a good thing - at least not at first, as you have it here.

Anonymous said...

Buffy and Writtenwrydd--I have trouble figuring out genres. Fable is the best I can come up with at the moment. There are no supernatural or scientific differences between the story world and the one we live in. The old man and his country are nameless throughout. His situation has some resemblance to historical ones (more than one, I think) but isn't one that has occurred literally. Not sure what the published parallels would be. SV Benet did the nameless-country thing in a couple of stories but seemed obviously to be referring to Nazi Germany. Edith Pargeter set 'A Means of Grace' in a nameless newly Communist country and that went in as lit-fic. John Mortimer set a trial in an imaginary African country, but that was a mystery and din';t need another tag.. . Are utopian/dystopian novels classified as SF?

Anonymous said...

Beth, if I was going to name the old man at all I'd do it early on. Apparently some people find an anonymous POV more distancing than others; I'll have to think about it. It may or may not be relevant that thisold man tends to think of himself in his role rather than personally.

Robin, glad it worked for you. I've just sent the full story your way.

talpianna said...

Joanna, would it perhaps be a parable? Though that suggests that the moral is important to the story.

Another hard-to-classify work is Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, which seems to be part memoir, part fiction, and part parable.

Anonymous said...

Talpianna-Yes, parable would describe it well. And there is a point or moral to it. Thanks! Do you know if 'parable' is a description editors will accept? And in submitting a short story to a mainstream magazine is it important to give a genre description?

talpianna said...

Joanna, I'm afraid my answer to both your questions is "I don't know." Ursula K. Le Guin has written a number of stories that don't actually have fantastic or science-fictional elements but are set in an unreal, almost archetypal place--a fascist state, for example--like the setting of "The Blood of the Martyrs," which is not Nazi Germany but a place just like it that doesn't actually exist. "Speculative fiction" might be the term you want.

Check out the Wikipedia articles on Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction and see if you can find a term to your liking.