Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Beginning 653

Deep within the vaults of the celebrated Academy and Library of Anaran, a pale man fretfully muttered when the page he was reading crumbled to dust in his hand. The poor light of a single, fluttering candle and the scrawl on the ancient text made his eyes water with fatigue.

Etan, however, had many hours to go before he would give up for the night and steal a few hours of sleep. In the morning, he would return to his studies in the academy before sneaking down to the basement again to resume his surreptitious research.

The scholar’s subject, Tiruces, was one of the most influential scholars of history and a favorite subject of professors and students, and as such, was not a subject most kept secret. During his lifetime and even now he was renowned for his lectures and writings on government and virtues of man. He was also one of founding fathers of Anaran and it had been endlessly argued, and largely agreed upon, that without him the Republic would have never been born.

Zzzz...Zzzz...Hmm? What the--? I came here to write a continuation, but I must have dozed off. Let's see, where was I?

Though it was long postulated that the origins of Tiruces' erudite disquisitions lay in his draconian upbringing, contemporary academicians have recently advanced the hypothesisqzxqw ...Zzzz.

Opening: Vivian Whetham.....Continuation: Matthew


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

However, this little stash of scrolls penned under the rather flowery name of Aninibah the Gyrator was certainly an eye opener, and would certainly gain Etan certain dismissal from the Academy if the librarian discovered Etan's true research project.

As he swept up the crumbling remains of yet another bawdy work, Etan reminded himself to use both hands whilst unrolling the scroll. If that's what they called it back in Tiruces' day.


It was only unfortunate circumstance that had made him an incumbent alcoholic - and a hopeless pedantic. It was likewise unfortunate for Etan that the majority of this book - Tiruces' final work, before it was revealed that extensive knowledge of proto-Anaran mythology was no defence at all against the uncomfortable reality of a manure cart - was covered in Tirunes' pedantry. The pages were rife with crazed scribblings - but rifer with burns, where Tirunes had decided a particular word was hopeless and embraced arson with fervour. Sighing, Etan pored once more over the page, hoping that Tirunes would soon become a little more sober. There was always hope.

--Jacob Topp-Mugglestone

Tiruces' wanking diaries therefore constituted a priceless artifact, and Etan knew he would come upon them eventually.

As he paused to dab his weary eyes, a shabby figure emerged from bewteen the lofty bookshelves, clutching a small length of rope and a perforated tangerine. Nervously, the man drew his raincoat about his naked body.

"Just...browsing," said the man, his pupils spread wider than a 2-for-1 gateway to the Abyss. With a whispered apology, he scuttled to the exit.

Etan rose to his feet and began scouring the vacant aisle.

"W" read the sign.

Of course...


Mame said...

I fretfully muttered halfway through the first paragraph. Then I spastically babbled, right before I twitchingly mumbled.

Anonymous said...

Hey EE, you're not Evil at all, in fact you seem quite fluffy. I think you need to find some way of letting the inner beast out into the open.

Evil Editor said...

If you're reading a page and it suddenly crumbles to dust, you need to work on your gentle side.

"With fatigue" isn't needed when you've already attributed the watery eyes to poor light and scrawl. Not sure why the guy doesn't bring more than one candle, or an oil lamp if he does this regularly. It's not like using only one candle makes him invisible.

And yes, the third paragraph is almost as dull as a Tiruces lecture. Jazz it up or put it later or shorten it to something like:

Etan’s subject, Tiruces, was one of the founding fathers of Anaran, without whom the Republic would not have been born.

Adam Heine said...

Choose one method of reference for Etan. Right now he's called "a pale man", "Etan", and "the scholar", and though I can deduce that they're all the same character, on first read I thought they were three different people.

Steve Wright said...

"Etan" spelled backwards is "Nate", and "Tiruces" spelled backwards is "securit", so I was wondering if he was originally something to do with security. I couldn't make anything much out of "Anaran", though.

Even though this looks like one of those low-key sort of openings, if I'm mucking around spelliing the character names backwards, then the opening's not caught as much of my attention as you might like ... is there any way you could jazz it up a bit? Maybe tell us a bit more about why Etan is motivated to read manuscripts to pieces in the dead of night?

Sarah Laurenson said...

No reaction to ruining a page of history? Seems if he's a student, he'd be upset or afraid of being found out. Or if these pages do that regularly, he'd take more precautions. And it sounds like he's been down here doing this every night.

At first, I thought he was an old man with the fretful mutterings. Then it became obvious that he's a student. Then when it was starting to get interesting, you wandered off into snooze land with the history lesson.

I would call him Etan right away instead of pale man. But that's my preference to have a unique label to stick on a character when I start to read about him. Then when you did name him, I wasn't certain if he was the pale man or someone new.

Overall I would read on (skipping the history lesson).

Mame said...

Paragraph three reads like a resume. It doesn't tell me what's going on in the story. I want to know what happens, not what your MC can do. So far he can take notes in secret, sort of, and.....who cares? What HAPPENS, and why does it suck? (Because it must suck)

Matt said...

I'm not saying you have to lead off with the library exploding (although that would would be cool), but your opening looks like it's about to segue into a page-long infodump.

If you would rather not start with the excitement, do as Steve says and put us into Etan's mind.

writtenwyrdd said...

I also found this full of inane details and rather dry. I did like the voice, though. However, it does need tightening and it does need a bit more of a logical reaction by the scholar Etan when the paper crumbles. He's a scholar and a student. Like Sarah mentions, he's logically either going to fear being caught having damaged the valuable old piece or upset he's lost a bit of history, no matter how inane and dry and dull.

I also agree that we have too many references to Etan. And, if you do not want omniscient narration, you might consider that "pale man" is a pov shift to omniscient. (Or subsequent references are a pov shift, however you prefer to term it.)

I didn't hate this, but it isn't the right opening yet.

Anonymous said...

One sees this structure a lot in workshops and crit groups: the opening paragraph[s] show protagonist doing something -- author immediately diverts the narrative to explanatory history/backstory that goes on for potentially about 300 pages.

It rarely works.

Usually you can improve by cutting all the essay-like explanation/history paragraphs and putting them in a separate file for your own reference. Try beginning the narrative at another point in the story's arc. Commonly the best beginning is at the latest point in the story at which readers won't need an immediate history lesson. So I'm guessing your opening scene here actually belongs later in the book and you'd be better off starting with an episode that is currently somewhere in your backstory.

It can be helpful to gather a selection of recently published novels in the same genre as yours, ideally your own favorites, and study the first paragraph of each, paying careful attention to the ways these authors oriented readers to the time/place etc of the protagonist's dilemma.

none said...

We're starting well with a character in a situation. Now we need something to happen.

Why can't it be a vital page that falls to pieces? The page on which Etan had read half of an answer to something?

Something needs to happen. And that something is not backstory.

Stacy said...

This starts off very well, but the continuation does a nice job of pointing out the problems of the third paragraph. Still, it's a nice scene and I'd read on for a few paragraphs to find out if anything good happens.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read the opening and post comments. I absolutely agree - it was a boring start.

Mathew it was going to be six pages of infodump *sigh* not just one. I never do anything just a little - its a character defect.

Anonymous 12:53 - your critique was also very helpful.

Jacob Topp - what a wonderful continuation. that was my favorite. "incumbent alcoholic" for whatever reason, if I saw that line in a book I would probably read it to the end, unless it went on for six pages about a dead philospher who has little to do with the book.

And, of course, EE thank you for your assistance as well and the opportunity to get free valuable feedback.

Fortunately, after my boring narrative on all the details of a dead philsopher and a misguided student, I have actually put some action into the first chapter and have two very good places to restart the story.

Thank you, again.


Dave Fragments said...

Let me suggest (and I'm open to critiques of this) when a writer opens their story, don't worry about revealing the setting all at once. Let the reader explore your setting. This opening is trying to establish a world and a character both at once and it's not succeeding at either effort. It's also why the auhtor feels obliged to call the Academy Library "celebrated" and his actions "fretfully." Don't rush into those descriptions.

You have a full chapter to reveal why Etan is researching a historical Tiruces and why he has to do it at night. You don't have to present the entire history on the first page.

Maybe instead of asking yourself How much can I tell the reader, structure your story to reveal bits at a time. This requires more explanation.

We just discussed Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence and he doesn't reveal the Enchantress until deep into the book. In fact, Rushdie narrates several chapters before the main characters even meet and we begin to understand what they have in common. The way he lures us into the novel is with very rich and compelling characters who travel towards each other and finally meet. The reader becomes invested in the characters and wants to know what they have in common. Very little is revealed in the opening other than a traveler arrives at a fantastical town.

Develop Etan into a character and then let him face the problem he is researching. Perhaps you can even mislead the reader into thinking the information is less critical and he is innocently researching the past on his own time. Then you can close the chapter by revealing the danger he is in or the problem he is about to uncover.

In Rebecca, Agatha Christie opens with the line "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderly again" in which the narrator discusses a dream. Typically Dream openings doom a book. But here, we have that naughty word "again" and by the end of the first chapter we reach an emotional and thoughtful climax -- The walls haunt, Manderly is a ruins, secretive and silent and we are told we can never go back. That tells us what we will see at the end of the book - Manderly in ruins and the reader is left to wonder why and how and most important, we we can't...

So don't rush and try to do everything in the first few paragraphs. It is a revealing of information that will make the reader continue reading. What does the reader need to know and how will it guide him or her into the depths of the book?

Evil Editor said...

Let me save everyone the trouble of correcting Dave's attribution of the Rebecca opening to Agatha Christie. I'm sure it was a temporary brain spasm.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dave - very thoughtful and informative. I will use the guidance found here to rewrite.

P.S. EE I forgot to say why Etan was given only one candle - He is about ready to inadvertly open the gates to hell and if you give a misguided scholar more than one candle they become very dangerous. Can you imagine what would have happened if he had 12 candles?

This advice comes from Rule #58 - how to write a fantasy novel. (the book I write after I actually write a fantasy novel worth reading)


Dave Fragments said...

OUCH! Daphne du Maurier.
I knew that. Sorry, my bad.

debhoag said...

I didn't realize there were any wee French men in Rebecca. I see a new writing exercise coming up though: take a classic and rewrite the opening as it would have been done by someone really . . . different.
War and Peace by Barbara Cartland, for example.

Evil Editor said...

Wee French men?

_*rachel*_ said...

You're really good at metafiction, aren't you, Matthew!

I've always been cautious about the general adjective-adverb phobia, but I think it could apply in this case. Trim away the frippery--not everything, but everything you don't need.

Adam's right: you've got The Burly Detective Syndrome. (Whatever did I do before I read the Turkey City Lexicon?)

You're about to open up hell and you're writing about a somebody reading boring stuff? Seriously?

Mame said...

Maybe the corner of the scroll catches the candle, and by crumbles to dust, you mean ashes and pants crapping. It could work, just sayin.

Xenith said...

Only one comment on the adjectives & adverbs in the first paragraph? With all those words, the important ones get lost. What is important here anyway? Or is it just scene setting. I agree with Dave here. Give us a sense of the setting, please, but let use discover most of it through the story. If you reveal the setting through story, you keep it moving forward. If you stop and take time to set the scene, you're not moving forward. Doing this before the story has even started...

But it's the ad-words I was going to comment one. Let me cut most of them out. (I also got rid of the library/academy name, because I believe you want to minimise the number of proper nouns within the opening sentences.)

Within the library vaults, Etan muttered when the page he was reading crumbled to dust in his hand. The light of a single candle and the scrawl on the ancient text made his eyes water with fatigue.

(The scrawl ON the ancient text?) Now it's pared down, I can see what's actually happening. So I have to ask, is the the light and the scrawl making his eyes water? Or the effort of reading them? That's the problem with the ad-words muddling up the sentence. You're not always saying what you think you're saying :\

Anonymous said...

Xenith thank - you. All of you thank your the collective wisdom here is valueless.

What if it started out like this:

And the gates of hell were opened not by the mutterings of a misguided student, or the ramblings of an aged philosopher or even by the fluttering of a single candle but by the guidance of a Golden Knight, Tlestes by name.

EE: Can I have a do over?


Evil Editor said...

Send your do-over as a comment. I'll alert the minions when it's there.

Whirlochre said...

Late in, but just to say that what you have here is an Explanation Opener — two paragraphs of action text followed by some backstory/explanation. This, so we're told, is less preferable to getting straight into the action, but you handle it well, and it's an intriguing prospect overall.

batgirl said...

deb, deb, Poirot is a wee Belgian man - you know how testy he gets when he's called French!

vkw - I have to caution you against having a character named Tlestes. It immediately makes me think of an Aztec ceremonial castration. No, wait, keep that name until the continuations have been written.

_*rachel*_ said...

Get rid of that name NOW. Please?

debhoag said...

Batgirl: I know, but I had EE going for about 2 seconds, I think. Moby Dick by Danielle Steele.

150 said...

Protip: If your character name is one letter away from genitalia, think hard about how much you want to keep it.

VK Whetham said...

Do Over -

“Stop!” a voice boomed inside Etan’s head so loudly that he froze in terror. Still holding the notes he was going to burn, he looked around for the source, but did not see anything out of the ordinary and what was even more alarming was that no one else seemed to have noticed anything either. Students, faculty and even the finicky, bossy librarians, dressed in their gray nondescript robes, continued to go about their business without even a glance in his direction.

Etan’s eyes flicked first one way and then the other until he came to the only conclusion that made sense - he had gone mad. The pressures of the Academy and the daily scorn he suffered had finally pushed him over the edge. And, the only thing to do that made any sense was to leave, and quickly at that, before anyone else noticed his lunacy. He began shoving his notes into the satchel, but froze when he noticed the strange light, twinkling oddly, in the mirror over the fireplace.

Matt said...

Cool, I like it. I want to read more.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Cool. I enjoyed the redo. Snappy, good tension, nice detail but not too much.

Personally, I'd change 'was going to' to 'had intended to' because that tense choice fits better. At least, it does from how I interpreted the scene, though I could be wrong.

Mame said...

WAAAY better.

*shakes hands*

Hepius said...

Waaaay better. I'd definitely keep reading this.

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Eh. Sorry to be negative, but I don't really like this one either. It's much better than the first one though, which I did find really dry and couldn't be bothered finished reading.

I like the action and the scene unfolding in this beginning. I don't like the first sentence at all. A story that starts with "Stop!" doesn't entice me to read on.

Maybe something about Etan closing his eyes, wondering if what he's doing is really the right thing, taking a deep breath and moving the scroll closer to the candle - and THEN the voice booms out?

Also, if I heard a voice no-one else heard, I wouldn't assume I was mad. I don't think people tend to assume that. I'd just assume I'd misheard something - that someone had dropped a book and it had sounded like something else - or that someone HAD said "Stop" a few aisles over to their friend, or something like that....

I wouldn't assume I was mad unless other factors already pointed that way in my mind; unless this was the last of many (imagined?) voices in my head.

I don't like the writing style, but I think that may be personal preference, so I'll shush on that. But I would change the first sentence, and the MC's assumption that he's going mad.

Jeb said...

Much more snap to this opening!

Kathleen said...

great beginning - I would definitely read more.

Shoshana Beaubahna said...

I like this opening much better. The fact that I didn't have to use a dictionary in the first two paragraphs helps me out a lot. (It's just because I'm not all that bright).

Faceless Minion said...

I don't think you need both gray and nondescript to describe the robes. They both mean the robes are uninteresting.

Mame said...


"A voice boomed inside Etan's head so loudly that he froze in terror. It compelled him to stop from burning the pages he held in his hand."

...or something.

Anonymous said...

Since boomed means loud, you don't have to tell us that the booming is loud

The only conclusion he can draw is that he's gone mad???? Most people would draw a hundred others first. Unless he hears voices all the time, this is far fetched.

Unless he's squawking like a parrot (insert your own better simile) no one's going to notice the voices in his head. Even if he does shout "The END IS NEAR" no one is going to know he's got voices in his head unless he tells them.

This is better than the first though. However, try something like this...

“Stop!” a voice boomed inside Etan’s head.

Students, faculty and even the finicky, bossy librarians, dressed in their gray nondescript robes, went about their business. But Etan froze, dropping the notes he was going to burn. He bent over quickly gathering the pages. The booted toe of so and so appeared.

"Let me help you," said (insert whoever he does't want to read the notes he's going to burn)

"No," Ethan sqwawked and took a deep breath, speaking calmly "Thanks but I got it."

So and so raised an eyebrow. Etan swallowed. So and so can't read those notes, and that's just what so and so was trying to do. Etan pulled the papers to his chest.

"Suit yourself," so and so shrugged and ambled away, his boot heels ringing down the hall.

Etan took a deep breath, when he heard it again, that voice. "Buy me a cheese burger extra pickles and no ketchup. I mean NONE this time."

Etan rubbed his head. The pressures of the Academy, the daily scorn he suffered had finally pushed him over the edge. But before he could go made, he had to burn this notes, hundreds of pages of: "Buy me a cheeseburger" with itemized condiments. What the hell was a cheeseburger?

Etan shoved the pages into his satchel, and noticed a strange light, twinkling oddly, in the mirror over the fireplace. Great, just f-ing great. First cheeseburgers. Now this.

writtenwyrdd said...

Vastly improved! I liked it, but the conclusion he must be mad wasn't logical to me either. Something else has to happen other than hearing "Stop!" to come to that conclusion. If you remove the "I must be mad" stuff I think this is a great start.