Monday, August 17, 2009

New Beginning 674

What the fuck? That bastard just tried to kill me. This was the first thought that popped into my head when I regained consciousness. I pushed myself upright from the ground and wiped the dirt from my face. It was dark, and very hard to make out where I was. I could smell and feel the earth beneath me, I had to be outside. I looked up, but couldn’t see the stars, something was obscuring their light. It is night - isn’t it?

I wrung my hands together, trying to stop them from shaking, and felt the gritty batter-like consistency of mud. Oh Jesus, am I bleeding? I looked down to my hands, but couldn’t make out if it was sweat or blood that had mixed with the dirt. The ground wasn’t wet, that much I could ascertain even in the dark. I stood up, wobbling a little, like I was drunk. My clothes felt stiff and hollow, like they were frozen, and my body rattled around inside them as I stumbled through the dark. I patted myself down, like a guard checking a prisoner, making sure I wasn’t injured. Nothing hurt to the touch, thank God, but the unpleasant wetness seemed to be all over my body, and my clothes were beginning to chafe at my skin.

Remarkably, though, my feet were dry. Just as well, given the five mile hike to the nearest outpost of civilization.

J. Peterman hiking boots. $149.00. Because we all have those "What The Fuck?" moments.

Opening: Stacey.....Continuation: Anon.


_*rachel*_ said...

Lose the 3rd sentence.

I'm put off by bad language, especially at the very beginning, though the reason for it here is understandable.

Lose the feeling the dirt beneath you; you've already got dirt on the face.

It is night is in a different tense; you might need to change it.

Not bad!

fairyhedgehog said...

I was going to say that you don't need the third sentence, but Rachel got there first.

When I read it is night - isn't it? I wondered if the narrator had gone blind but a bit later s/he looks down at his/her hands so presumably not.

I'd read on to find out what's happening with the stiff clothes and the wetness and the nearly being killed.

fairyhedgehog said...

PS I didn't even notice the "bad language" until I read Rachel's comment!

Adam Heine said...

This might just be personal preference, but the jumps between tenses (present in the narrator's thoughts, past in the narrator's narration) kept throwing me. I think I'd prefer present tense thoughts to be in italics, and the rest to be in past tense. Like this:

"What the fuck? That bastard just tried to kill me. That was the first thought that popped into my head when I regained consciousness.... I looked up, but couldn't see the stars, something was obscuring their light. It was night - wasn't it?"

Also, in the second paragraph I found myself wondering just how much one would have to sweat in order to create mud. Wouldn't it be a lot? Then again, I've never woken in mud created by my own bodily fluids - maybe sweat would be one of the first possibilities I considered.

Those are both nitpicks though, really. I liked this. I'm intrigued.

Anonymous said...

Too much like the dark version of 'white room syndrome.' Seems like maybe your timeline is inverted. The mischief that landed the person here would perhaps be a better episode to begin with. Or else skip ahead to where the person knows wtf again and takes action. This start seems to throw away too much excitement by making it backstory. Because whatever perils you invent for the following [hundreds of??] pages of what happened before scene 1, we already know the end result.

It is a common ploy to start with the end, but yes, I've seen it to the point of finding it more tedious than brilliant. The end first is most gripping when the opening generates a lot of interest in the protagonist and/or his/her Greek-like predestined fate. You focused on sensory deprivation and disorientation, which, when you think about it, is really a lull in the action, a pause in the storyline, is it not? And that's what makes me think -- white room syndrome.

Evil Editor said...

In this situation I wouldn't consider the inability to see the stars worthy of remark. That's a common-enough phenomenon, what with the existence of clouds. Nor would I wonder if it was night if I was outside and it was too dark to see. The stars may be obscured by a giant spaceship and it may be noon, but to the character it's night and cloudy until proven otherwise. He might say, It was night and too dark to see, but he wouldn't say Something was obscuring the stars; is it night?

If I regained consciousness after someone tried to kill me I would assume I was in the same general area this took place. As this guy is wondering where he is, we can assume he's now somewhere else. My first thought would probably be, where's the bastard who tried to kill me? Is he still set on killing me?

Not sure "rattled" is the best word for a body in stiff clothing.

Mame said...

You keep stating the obvious.

"I pushed myself upright from the ground and wiped the dirt from my face."

Ok, you're outside.

"It was dark, and very hard to make out where I was."

Obviously, it's hard to make out where you are if it's dark.

"I could smell and feel the earth beneath me, I had to be outside."

I thought you had that established?

"I looked up, but couldn’t see the stars, something was obscuring their light."

Off course something is obscuring their light, you can't see them.

We don't need THAT much help!

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why I don't like this opening. But I just don't.

"What the fuck, that bastard just tried to kill me!" was my first thought when I pushed myself upright off the ground. How long had I been unconscious? I couldn't tell but I knew I was outside. (now right here if I was inside when I lost conscioussness the next thought would be - how did I get here! not analyzing the situation)

I guess my first thought in a situation like this is what just happened?

It feels contrived, like the character is teasing the reader rather than acting like a real person.

"What the fuck just happened - that bastard just tried to run me over!"

"That bastard just hit me . . ."

Rather than trying to figure otu where I was, I would thinking about what happened and if my life was still in danger and then where I was compared to where I was when I lost consciousness - rather than the condition of my clothes.


Anonymous said...

WTF. First sentence, really?

Sounds like you're trying to be edgy. But then you get all nerdy by saing "This (this!) was the first thought that popped..." So the big fat fuck just didn't fly. Sorry.

pacatrue said...

Hm. I'm okay with the opening overall. I think a few of the trims mentioned in the comments are worth doing, but I'll keep reading.

Dave Fragments said...

Let me say this about the opening language. Please understand that certain words completely disconnect all thought processes and occupy our attention. These are the usual seven dirty words and most profanity. SO when you use them, it's like smacking the reader in the face with a 2x4.

You have their attention. So that brings me back to opening with the "F" word. You don't need the "F" word because this is the first sentence of the book. It stands out without any help.

However, on the other hand (there always is another choice) this character has apparently had a bad time and the language makes sense. I would phrase it like this:
That fucking bastard tried to kill me, I thought as I lifted my face from the ground and wiped the dirt away.

Remember, profane speech can reduce physical pain and can so distract the mind that the eye doesn't see what is before it. Steven Pinter in Chapter 7 of his book The Stuff of Thought speaks to profanity and the power of profane speech. He suggests that profane words exist in the deepest parts of the brain. People who suffer traumatic aphasia (memory loss) do not lose the ability to use curse words. So these words exist in the mind not as memories but as show-stoppers. In fact, he thinks that these forbidden concepts, these forbidden words, are stored as constructs in the emotional parts of the brain so that they may stay under control. In simple terms, our minds make us fear using those words casually. Those words and concepts are taboo.

Try a Stroop test (in Wiki - Stroop Effect) with profanity and you will experience the power of curse words. It is an amusing test that will give you giggles but it illustrates the attention getting point of using profanity.

So to come back to the opening, like I said above, I wouldn't write "What the F!" as the opening sentence. I might write "F do I hurt!" or "F-ing A$$h000 tried to kill me." The speaker is using the "f" bomb to relieve his/her pain, to defuse his/her fear of death, and now, to buck-up his courage because he/she realizes just how near he/she came to death. He/she doesn't say in wonder and amazement "What the F?" ... it is said in relief that he/she is still alive.

fairyhedgehog said...

What the fuck is a common exclamation of shock amongst some young people. In our house it's often abbreviated to WTF but I wouldn't expect that in a moment of crisis.

Just offering another view.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I think the continuation was f-ing brilliant.

Kool Kat said...

My two cents:

(1) Vary how you begin your sentences. This is part of the craft of writing. Too many sentences begin with I.

(2) You have some run-on sentences that need an "and" or need to be rewritten.

(3) Remove extra words that explain the obvious. They just weaken your writing.

I rewrote this a litte:

What the fuck? That bastard just tried to kill me. This was the first thought that popped into my head when I regained consciousness. I pushed myself upright from the ground and wiped the dirt from my face. Dark, it was hard to make out where I was, but I could smell and feel the earth, and knew I had to be outside.

I would drop the next sentence, below. We all know when it is night. It just weakens the writing.
“I looked up, but couldn’t see the stars, something was obscuring their light. It is night - isn’t it?”

Ruth said...

Agree about the repetition. I didn't like this either - the main thing that bugged me was how the tense kept changing. Was this the character's thoughts? In that case, try italicising the thoughts to make that clearer.

If it's not the character's thoughts, and you just shifted tense without meaning to or realising... then I'm worried for the book.

none said...

If you're going to complain yet again about writers using the words people actually use, at least get the terminology right. Fuck is not profanity; there's no religious element. Fuck the Virgin Mary, now that's profanity.

I didn't much like the opening; it's too wordy and lacks immediacy. But let's concentrate on its strengths and weaknesses instead of trying to tell people they can't use simple words like fuck.

Unknown said...

My first thought would be "I'm NOT dead!" Having been knocked senseless and regained conciousness myself my first thought was "Head wound." Quickly followed by "How badly am I hurt?" and the ever popular "where the hell is my horse?" If the horse had actively tried to kill me, I suspect that order would have been reversed and there would have been a different emphasis on the horse question.

I'll try not to repeat what's already been said.

One thing that really annoyed me a as a reader was all the similes in the second sentance: (1) like I was drunk; (2) like they were frozen; (3) like a guard. Not everything needs to be further explained. One really good image is all you need. Trust me, I'll get it. I don't need to be spoon fed. Of the three similes the "like a guard" was the best IMHO because it added a detail and wasn't itself cliche or expected.

The continution was great.

Xiexie said...

I like this. I'd read on.

Some fixes:

Eliminate the comma in this sentence and split it into two: I looked up but couldn't see [any] stars. Something obscured their light.

When you say thestars, it makes me wonder if there's some purpose for that kind of emphasis. I also eliminated the passive voice in the second clause.

I think you can lose the [so forth and so on] clauses. It becomes repetitive, and the actions are descriptive enough.

I'm pretty OCD about comma usage (thanks to my Grammar-Nazi middle school English teacher), and there should be a comma + conjunction when the second clause introduces a new subject; so:
It was dark and very hard to make out where I was. should not have and doesn't need the comma.

That's just my grumbles. Good job. Lovely continuation, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Author here -

Thank you all so much for the comments, they are really helpful!

I have already made corrections to the opening chapter, after re-reading it. I did notice the repetitive useage of 'like'.

As for the use of italics, it is not meant to be a representation of past tense, it's meant to show when the main character is speaking to herself and not to the reader. This is my first adventure in the 1st person voice, so I know I have a lot of wrinkles to iron out. Any helpful advice on how to differentiate the main character's voice when she is talking to herself and not out loud, is welcomed.

Also, this is not the end-action-scene-used-as-beginning type of plot. The main character is actually dead and doesn't know it, (until the end of the 1st chapter), and the story begins from there. (And I can already hear you all saying - "but he can feel the dirt/mud!" - I know, and this sensory perception is explored in later chapters).

And now for the infamous F-bomb! I wrote what I would say in that situation. A good 'ole WTF has always worked well for me in most cases...

I have dropped it, for now. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for that line, and will probably end up using it - after my Mom has read my MS!

I will post my revision in the comment section in the next couple of days, if that is agreeable with the powers that be...

Thanks again everyone!

Anonymous said...

Author again -

WTF? I just realized my italicized sentences did not show up that way!

Oh my goodness - very embarrassing. The first and last sentence is in italics, as well as sentence 2 in paragraph 2. I wasn't tense shifting on purpose...

Adam Heine said...

"I have dropped [the F-bomb], for now. But I... will probably end up using it - after my Mom has read my MS!"

Ha! I totally understand, Author. All my stuff gets scrubbed for my first reader, too.

Evil Editor said...

Email often messes up italics and line spacing.

_*rachel*_ said...

I understand your use of the bad word in this situation, I just hate bad words.

Kool Kat said...

"Any helpful advice on how to differentiate the main character's voice when she is talking to herself and not out loud, is welcomed."

Use she thought versus she said.

"I am here," she thought. You can also put her thought in italics without the quotation marks and the conversation tag: I am here.

We get that she is talking out loud when you write: "I am here," she said.

There is a place for swear words. Stephen King's Christine wouldn't have worked without them. At the same time, they do offend people, so you have know your audience.

Xiexie said...

I don't believe in "bad words". Yeah italics do sometimes fudge. I emailed EE to correct an opening once that needed the italics. Just check to see how it looks on submit-a-continuation page.

fairyhedgehog said...

The thing is that many of us don't consider strong language to be bad, just strong. It has a huge impact and can offend people so probably shouldn't be used lightly but I think that it has its place.

Stacey - I took out the strong language from a story to show my Mum because she doesn't like it in real life. When I told her she said, "You didn't need to do that. If I worried about that I wouldn't read anything these days."

none said...

Oh, Belgium, man. Belgium!

_*rachel*_ said...

I guess Belgium is one I might use, just for kicks. Other than that, I only get up to rats and shoot. Bit of a difference in the level, isn't there.