The boy with the butterfly on his nose sat on the path, his cotton-candy coated hands moving slowly towards his face. Quickly, without missing a step on her walk through the insect exhibit, Prunella reached out and tweaked his cap. The butterfly flew to the safety of the trees as the boy’s small mean eyes focused on Prunella’s name Tag--“P. Bird, Head Keeper.”
“You may not touch the butterflies!”, she barked. The boy made a noise of a piglet in distress, half squeal -- half grunt, and fled to the arms of his parents who looked daggers at Pru. Giving them a queen’s wave to the troops she continued her march to her office.
Twelve years of Zoo work had taught her it was useless stopping to discuss behavior modification with a family group that sported mismatched socks, plaid shorts and three different plastic animal noses from the gift shop. This was the type that would teeter their small children unattended on the edge of the savanna overlook rail while they were busy downloading ringtones for their cell phones. Oh well, as Walter the grumpiest man at the Zoo once told her, “ It’s no loss, better the Hippo Pool than the gene pool.”
Due in no small part to her brisk and purposeful stride, Prunella had exited the insect house, passed through the reptile house and reached the Savanna Plains compound before the family caught up with her.
"Ma'am," the objectionable, plaid father accosted her. "Listen here, we're customers at this here zoo and you ain't got no business talking to customers like that."
"Really?" Miss P. looked the "customers" up and down and sniffed. "Well customers should look and not touch"-- she fixed her gaze on the boy -- "so if you'd be so kind as to return the monkey to its enclosure..."
"Well I never!" the mother exclaimed, letting out a grunt not unlike a rhino in heat--which was somewhat unfortunate as the gate to the compound was not secured and the bull rhino was feeling particularly frisky.
Needless to say, this was a vacation the "Plaid" family would remember for years, not least because Mrs. Plaid had to stand the whole way home.
Opening: RW Glover.....Continuation: Anon.
Some of the words/phrases lead me to believe it isn't a kids' book. On the other hand, adults may feel that while you've introduced the character, you might be able to introduce her doing something more interesting. Like whatever she's heading for her office to do. Or like snapping and releasing the lions so they can devour the Plaid family.
I'm inclined to do surgery on this. The nip/tuck type of surgery.
I don't like "quickly." I think it says the same thing as "without missing a step". And, "on her walk" is implied in "step"...
Now "the boy's small mean eyes focused" ... Actually, I think the little brat (he is a spoiled brat, isn't he?) snaps his head around and his eyes find Pru's name tag with the name "P. Bird, Head Keeper" ... Instead of mouthing off to her, he stops because she's someone of authority. How about rather than "she barked" -- Prunella wags a finger admonishing his behavior. Then his grunt and dash to his parents flows a little easier.
And now I have to go wrap gifts. I hope my boat motor (food mill) arrived. I hate water and love smooth sauces -- ;)
This would probably be more favorable if I weren't knee deep in holiday prep for the Christian Relatives, and procrastinating, and feeling guilty about procrastinating. (BTW I love the relatives--just not the prep.)
I find this full of cliche ("looked daggars"), overwriting ("family group"--is that different from a family?), gimmick (the small child focusing on the name tag so we know what her position is), and telling, like "she barked." Show us with the words that she said something snippy. Show us the grumpiest man is grumpy. Etc.
And I'm not sure why but the florid description of the boy in the beginning led me to think he was going to be more important than he appears to be.
I would be interested, however unlikely it seems from the above, to see where this is going.
Thanks, Dave and EE, for the comments so far. It amazes me how much can be cut from a draft.
It seems that to get life down on a page in an entertaining and skillful way you need the skills of a good sauce cook. The best words, the right pace, and then reduce slowly, checking for the moment when the essence comes alive. Add too much and you’ve got tasteless soup-- cut too much and you are left with just a shiny spot on the pan. I do agree, it’s the lumps that are the most worrying.
EE- More interesting... I’ve had her gluing pupa to cardboard in preparation for b-fly hatching, fishing stuffed toys out of the seal pool, and ruminating on the differences between bird, mammal and reptile people. The truth is I’m impatient to get to the part where she finds her nemesis, the Curator of Reptiles, lying dead in a snake house gutter while gila monsters chew on his private parts. Perhaps a truncated plaid family rant combined with a nemesis muse would work or perhaps the plaid family will have to go. I’ll try starting with a radio call and go straight to the grisly bits.
The truth is I’m impatient to get to the part where she finds her nemesis, the Curator of Reptiles, lying dead in a snake house gutter while gila monsters chew on his private parts.
A general rule is, if you're dying to get to that scene, then GET to that scene. The opening sentence of the last book we did for the EE reading club was "Black and White and Dead All Over" and it begins with the opening line: Ellen Butterby had never before seen a dead body. So she was not at all prepared for what she found on that mid-September morning.
And then goes on for 1400 words before we see the body again. We stick around because we want to see the body. It's like a car wreck -- we can't help but look even thought we know we don't want to see the dead.
Instead of continuing to her office at the end of the second paragraph, send her into the snake house.
Have her say something like “You may not touch the butterflies but I have a big snake you can make faces at." And then the kid thinks it's so neato to find a dead body being eaten by gila monsters. He is a little twirp and pokes at things with a stick. Can't you just see his parents trying to drag him away from the dead body and his refusing? That's when you can bring all that third paragraph stuff about unattended children. Or if I really wanted to besmirch his parents, have them taking cellphone pictures of the dead body while their kid mugs for the camera. That might be too over-the-top.
So start with her finding the guy dead. Problem solved.
So here we have a beginning that starts with characters doing something, and then at the third paragraph, the story stops while the writer explains something to the reader. Again. Is this some new Rule for Writers?
Speaking of "Rules for Writers": start where the initiating event occurs, the thing that changes the character's life or brings the events of the story into being. (I'm sure someone else can word that better, Ihave just woken up & trying to catch up on email, blogs & stuff while having breakfast).
I liked this one a lot. I wasn't sure whether it was for kids or adults, but after reading your comment about the grisly bits, I'm guessing the latter.
Thanks to all for the critiques and comments! They were very helpful. I've got lots of ideas for the re-write now.
Xenith said: So here we have a beginning that starts with characters doing something, and then at the third paragraph, the story stops while the writer explains something to the reader. Again. Is this some new Rule for Writers?
Yes, it is. As you know, Xenith...
I actually thought this was one of the more interesting beginnings in a while. I love the way you brought the characters to life.
I'm not very good at dissecting so I will comment on what stands out to me. You have interesting people. You paint your characters vividly. You have an interesting setting.
I'm afraid the cliches jumped out at me, too.
Also, I tend to notice logic issues more than most, I think. In P3, the family is sporting "three different plastic animal noses." So which nose was the butterfly on in the first 'graph -- the boy's real nose or a fake one?
And I don't think you really mean "family group" since the actions you attribute to the "family" -- teetering their small children -- are really aimed at just the parents. Another small logic break.
If this is really going to be an adult suspense/murder mystery type book, then may I suggest dumping the plethora of animal references here? Bird, butterflies, bark, and piglet all thrown into the first couple of paragraphs do make it sound, as I think EE was alluding, rather juvenile.
Or dump it all and open in the reptile house. Besides, what characterizations are you setting up in the first pages that will matter when Prunella discovers the body? No need to get the radio call first. That's equivalent to the cliche of the detective being awakened by a ringing phone and being told there's been a homicide, get down to the shipyard now. Yawn.
Try throwing the reader in at full boil, then back off to a nice, long simmer.
The setting's interesting enough to make my ears stand up, but the errors make me go all droopy again.
In casual writing typos and "real" errors don't matter much, but I maintain that a writing sample or submission should be proofread.
As no one else here has mentioned the problem, I guess you can safely ignore it. The minions are not uptight about this kind of thing, focusing on (supposedly) larger writing skills.
Your beginning has energy and a setting with great possibilities.
You haven't been here long, have you, Vi?
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