Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Beginning 672

Today, given her current circumstances, the point where Murphy Road met Highway 90 felt like the intersection between heaven and hell.

Honk! Honk!! The car behind her screamed encouragement, urging her to react to the green traffic light ahead. She squirmed in her seat but kept her foot firmly on the brake. The impatient driver swerved into the right lane, and drove past, his middle finger in the air.

Finally she heard what she was waiting for, still a distant rumble. Shifting her foot to the accelerator, she drove onto the tracks.

The train’s rumble became a growl.

She clutched the steering wheel and squeezed her eyes shut.

The growl became a loud roar. The smell of diesel filled the air.

She felt, rather than saw the train barrel down on her. Trembling, she howled; a loud pitiful sound that perfectly mirrored the state of her heart.

On the sidewalk of the intersection between heaven and hell, the two men who’d been watching these events unfold winced at the sound of crunching metal.

The man with the long white beard and flowing robes sighed. “You bastard. You got me again.” He dug into his pocket and produced a twenty dollar bill, which he slapped into the open palm of the other man, who was wearing a red suit and smoking. “I thought for sure that white dove perched on her windowsill this morning would get her attention.”

“Nah. Too subtle. Never underestimate the power of pitiful howling despair.”

“I guess.”

“Like candy from a baby,” said the man in red as the woman’s car exploded. The orange fireball reflected off his dark sunglasses.

“So. Who’s next?”

The man in red consulted a piece of paper. “Singleton. Richard A.” He pointed toward the wreckage. “That’s him.”

“Guy saving the engineer?”

“Yep. Double or nothing his newfound hero status goes to his head and he cheats on his wife by week’s end.”

“You’re on.”

Opening: Wande.....Continuation: Blogless_Troll


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuation:

She sobbed into the steering wheel. "Evil Editor and Query Shark BOTH hated my query. Life is not worth living."

As the train smashed her to writer jelly she sighed in relief that she would never have to write another novel synopsis.

--Jeanne Tomlin

Evil Editor said...

My guess is that freight trains don't hold to schedules with such accuracy that one can count on one showing up when you want it to. Passenger trains give a reasonable chance, but if the train derails, there could be dozens of deaths and millions in damages. So, why not an overdose or a gun in the mouth or a head-on collision with a semi-truck? Not just because it's more logical, but so that we find her a sympathetic character if she survives and becomes the heroine.

Eric P. said...

Awesome continuation.

I'm puzzled as to what's going to happen next if the story begins with the POV character committing suicide. As long as her life isn't about to flash before her eyes providing the rest of the book, I'd be intrigued enough to keep reading.

Hepius said...

I liked the opening. It was intense enough to keep me reading. Good job.

Didn't like the "Honk! Honk!" It is one step better than "Beep! Beep!" I'd just have the car horn behind her scream encouragement.

You'd like to squeeze the sensory impression of diesel fuel in there, but I don't think you'd get that from an onrushing train. You'd smell it after the train passed.

Continuation was fantastic.

Dave Fragments said...

There's a lack of focus and tone in the opening. I was startled by the seeming levity of the "honk, honk" and then the jolt of the road rage and lastly by realizing that she is committing suicide by train.

Evil Editor said...

I'm not sure "encouragement is the right word. Maybe leave out the honks and say the driver behind her urged her--with his horn and his middle finger--to react to the green light ahead.

Anonymous said...

You do put us right in the action, which is good. Of course we want to know what happens.

Hate the honk honk. Also, I thought her name was Murphy Road at first, so I had to re-read.

In the last sentence, I think you meant to use a colon instead of a semi-colon. Or a dash. But not a semi-colon. That mistake makes me less tolerant of the honk honk, somehow.

Wande said...

Thanks for posting evil editor, and thanks for the comments everyone. I guess i'd better lose the honking then.

Actually, the opening is a suicide attempt. She loses her nerve and drives off the tracks just in time. This is the prologue, so my goal is to create a compelling enough scene that readers keep going.

Dave, are you saying that the road rage is inappropriate in this scene?

Again thanks everyone. This is my first attempt at writing fiction so I am looking for feedback everywhere I can get it.

Evil Editor said...

If an intersection is busy enough to have a traffic light, it should be busy enough to have those gates that come down blocking traffic. And while it's possible to get through the gates before they come down, driving off at the last second would require driving through the gate. I assume that's what happens?

Anonymous said...

Loved the continuation. I could even perceive an entire book with those characters.

The beginning is very intense. EE has some valid points that if the intersection has a green light it would have the gates that came down.

I lived down the street from a crossing off of a highway - no light but had the gates.

Hated the "Honk, Honk" I would say "the driver behind her demanded her to react to the green traffic light by using his horn." (we know it is ahead of her).

The impatient driver swerved into the right lane, drove past and communicated his displeasure with his middle finger.

I think trains are suppose to blow the horn when they come to a street intersection. In fact - I'm pretty sure.

So you could say the "train screamed a final warning from the horn" or something like that, rather than the growl became a loud roar.

Anyway, interesting and nice beginning.


Sarah Laurenson said...

You can drive around the gates if you go into the wrong lane since they only cover oncoming traffic. If you position yourself correctly, driving off will not involve hitting a gate. My high school boyfriend should me this trick right before I threatened to kill his sorry ass.

With freight train/car accidents, there are two things that could happen.
1. The car will get munched by the train and survival is not likely.
2. The car will get shoved off the tracks and survival is actually likely.
This I learned in the police academy and because a friend passed out on train tracks and was lucky enough to hit the second option.

BT - man, you are so good!

Evil Editor said...

If I've waited until the last second to change my mind, I'm going through the gate, not around it.

However, having seen this situation on TV numerous times, I should point out that the car never fails to stall, so it's best to change your mind early enough to get out of the car and run for your life. Although the car door will probably jam.

Blogless Troll said...

Plus, the break lever that the train engineer is trying pull will break off in his hand.

Dave Fragments said...

are you saying that the road rage is inappropriate in this scene?

No, that was the honk-honk problem that other minions have pointed out.

She feels that the intersection between Murphy Road and Highway 90 is the intersection between heaven and hell. The impatient driver giving her the finger doesn't and is merely rude and impatient. Keep the focus on her thoughts and mind. She doesn't care about him, she's despairing.

I drive over a one of these "at grade" RR crossings every day and the ground shakes when the freight trains pass by. The trains don't move fast through but then considering the mass of moving metal, they don't have to... But that gives your scene the time it needs for her to move the car.

As a kid, I used to put pennies on the track and let the train squash them into ovals.

fairyhedgehog said...

I wanted to take given her current circumstances out of the first sentence as it slowed it up. I also agree that Honk! Honk! doesn't add anything.

It's a compelling way to start a story.

Dave Fragments said...

Just for information. In my work, I once had to buy tons of coal and get it crushed into basically dust for our research. That's when I discovered that 10 ton of coal is a mere pittance to a coal crusher or a RR car. Half tons of coal were shipped in drums in pickup trucks. Like think FedEx or Yellow Freight.

A few ton of coal fits into a dump truck. A single railroad car contains 100 ton of coal. If there is a power station nearby, a good estimate would be 100 RR cars a day delivery in a single train of 10,000 tons. That train ain't going to stop too fast or too quick. Bigger plants would get multiple deliveries. They really don't push those trains up to high speeds around curves or near crossings. Miles to stop, miles to stop...

And one more thing -- the turbine engine at the front of the train will sustain much damage. It's probably 10 to 12 feet tall and solid steel across the front. The real damage the car does is to dig at the tracks and rip up the timbers underneath. I meant, think about it, this engine hauls maybe 20,000 tons of RR car and freight hitting an auto made of sheet metal and plastic. Let me borrow from a BRoadway show: if the rock hits the pitcher of water or the pitcher of water hits the rock, it's going to be bad for the pitcher.

_*rachel*_ said...

I think there's a bit of fluff in there, but once I realized what she was doing, I was hooked.

Maybe change Murphy Road to Elm Road, because Murphy is a name.

Kill the honking.

Anonymous said...

I didn't want to mention this but since Dave gave us some insightful information, I shall use my real life experience.

I have had three clients who walked in front of trains to kill themselves. One, had a leg amputated. Survived because the arteries were cartharized - so she didn't bleed to death. One sustained a head injury when he was knocked off the tracks - maybe he tried to dive at the last minute. The other had a head injury and was sucked under the train. Bumps and bruises.

I have no idea why I thought this would be useful but I am sure Sarah is absolutely correct about what happens to a car. It probably depends on how fast the train is going, the size of the car and what angels are on the job. So the author could actually have the car hit by the train and be knocked off the tracks.

I agree with Dave the likelihood of any real damage happening to the train is unlikely. It would take more than a car to derail it or damage it. Another train could hurt another train.

Here is one thing I will add - in all three cases I have professional knowledge of - the engineers were absolutely devastated. Apparently watching a person be hit by a train you are driving is not good for the psyche. Also, the first person to render assistance to the victims was the engineers and railroad crew.

Please - don't try this at home. (That was one reason why I was reluctant to share this information. Remember I have no idea who tried it and did not survive).

pacatrue said...

No worries, Anon. Still no desire to stand in front of a train. :)

I would keep reading, so good job.

Wande said...

Dave, thanks for clarifying. All the responses are helping me to frame the opening so that it's more logical. How is this for an update?

She brought the car to a stop at the corner of Murphy Road and Highway 90, the intersection between heaven and hell.
The car behind blared its horn, demanding that she to react to the green traffic light. She squirmed in her seat but kept her foot firmly on the brake. The impatient driver swerved into the right lane, drove past, and communicated his displeasure with his middle finger.
Finally she heard what she was waiting for, still a distant rumble. Shifting her foot to the accelerator, she drove onto the tracks.
The train’s rumble became a roar.
She clutched the steering wheel and squeezed her eyes shut.
The ground shuddered to match her trembling hands.
Remorse, the tiny twinge that had nibbled at her all day long, exploded and flooded her heart until she felt like it would burst. Whimpering, she opened her eyes to see the train approaching. Fear drew her foot to the accelerator. The car rumbled in reply, and she realized that she had not shut off the engine. She moved the gear out of neutral, threw her weight forward, and barreled through the gate, snapping it off with the fender of her Ford Explorer.
The train’s noise faded away in the distance. The smell of diesel filled the air.

Mame said...

Anon, that was good info. I have to be honest, the devastation of the engineers is something I cared about more than the suicidal on the tracks in the car. I would try and go for some deeper emotions here, rather than a horn honking and the smell of diesel.

writtenwyrdd said...

I loved that continuation! Job explained, lol.

Author, this is an interesting beginning, but it has a few problems with it for me. First, it doesn't seem tense enough. You give a good build up of the situation with the car going around her, the train approaching, her refusal to move. It's giving us the situation one piece at a time until it leads up to suicide, and it's pretty well done.

However, you don't get me to care. I want to think, "Whoa! OMG no! Don't do it!" or something. I want to have at least a glimmer as to why it's important. Perhaps you might consider giving us more from inside the woman's head, some of her emotions besides the howl, which frankly didn't work for me. (Clenching her eyes shut and gripping the steering wheel with a death grip would have made more sense if she's there voluntarily.)

But that said, I would have read on to find out how a suicide by train is the beginning of the story.

Evil Editor said...

According to a piece in The Straight Dope, responding to a question about what can cause a derailment, it's possible (though not necessarily likely) for a large boulder, a cow or a car to do so.

Robin B. said...

BT, that continuation was freaking excellent.

none said...

Having compared the original to the rewrite, I think we killed it.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to agree with Buffy, the original was better. I wouldn't jump to take everyone's advice all at once. Maybe think about it a while first, Author. I would suggest just a few words added to give more emotional impact. This really was a decent start to begin with!

Eric P. said...

I'll agree with Buffy as well-- in the rewrite, you're overcompensating and thus overwriting.

Stick with the original and cut out (rather than adding in, as you're doing) a few of the problem phrases. Just strike "given her current circumstances," "Honk Honk!!" "encouragement" and the smell of diesel and you're already pretty much where you need to be, with a tweak or two. Less is usually more.

_*rachel*_ said...

Don't you just love it when we get into the technicalities of death via freight train?

Anonymous said...

Late to the party, and I can see there's no need for any type of useful comment at this point, so I just thought I'd mention how much I enjoyed the continuation. Nice job, BT!