Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Beginning 680

Listen to me.

I jogged onto Main Street, into the chaos of ordinary life and away from the silent, empty suburbs. A yellow taxi blared its horn.

Listen to me.

I hummed a tune. Its name, its lyrics, its notes didn’t matter; all that mattered was the vibration in my throat and jawbone and ears. Some friends waved me over to where they sat outside a cafĂ©, and I joined their circle. I swished tea through my teeth, laughed at clever jokes, and talked about nothing for upwards of an hour. A pigeon landed on the next table over and cooed at me.

Stop talking and listen to me.

A friend burped, and in the resulting bout of laughter and apologies, the pigeon fluttered away through the golden evening air.

Taking my leave, I wandered down the street again until I reached the movie theater. One ticket to an adventure—plenty of guns, a car chase or two, people shouting. Surround sound at top volume.

Listen to me!

After the movie, I went on to a rock concert; hundreds of people screaming and dancing while the band pounded out its rhythms on the stage. I got close to the speakers, so I could feel the music, literally, running through me, the bass line shaking my bones.

Listen to me, goddamnit.

I spent the night in a subway tunnel, with my ear pressed against the ground, hearing the trains as they rumble past.

Will you fuckin' listen to me?

In the morning, I went and found some roadworks. I stood five feet behind the guy with the pneumatic drill, watching as he cut out big slabs of tarmac, feeling the machine's pulsing in the soles of my feet.

Listen to me, jerkwad! You keep this up, you'll be stone deaf before you're thirty. I'm an ear specialist, for God's sake. I know what I'm talking about. LISTEN TO ME!

Opening: _*Rachel*_.....Continuation: Steve Wright


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

"Did anyone see you at the theater?"

"No one I know."

"And what was the movie?"


A gasp filled the courtroom. I hid my smile. I had admitted to seeing the unwatchable, and thus sealed my fate as "Not Guilty by reason of Insanity."


LISTEN TO ME YOU NO TALENT HACK. You still have 5603 words left to write today to catch up on your goal for NaNoWriMo. Do you want to actually finish this year? WELL, DO YOU?!

--Faceless Minion

Evil Editor said...

Is this the opening of a story or the Twitter postings of the world's most boring person?

If whoever is saying Listen to me would identify him/herself, or say something besides listen to me, they might have a better chance of being listened to.

Anonymous said...

Evil, how hard was it to choose between Steve Wright's and Kazhar's continuation? Both brilliant...

Evil Editor said...

I much prefer the times I must choose between good ones to the times I give up and choose among mediocre ones.

_*rachel*_ said...

Oh, my. Minus the cursing, that continuation is eerily close to what happens next. And very hilarious!

Normally I wouldn't have submitted two openings in such quick succession, but nobody else was submitting openings. Come on people, send them in!

It's flash fiction, which means that there's another one or two times the MC tries to avoid listening/thinking before s/he's forced to listen. So, really, I'm trying to get away with some things that would be inexcusable in a longer piece, like not saying the age, gender, etc. of the narrator.

If this piece is about 600 words, would you excuse the repetition?

Anonymous said...

Seems to be setup or backstory or some sort of writer's warm up. Cannot guess your intended genre. Is it all like this? Perhaps you can zoom ahead to a scene that will better serve to orient readers to your plot.

Mame said...

I was annoyed somewhere in the second paragraph. I was interested until "I hummed a tune...". You're stretching it out too far. After that second 'listen to me' something's got to give.

none said...

I would expect Flash fiction to get to the point much more quickly. You can't afford to waste words when you have so few.

Steve Wright said...

... that continuation is eerily close to what happens next.

Possibly a sign of a strongly written opening, that; there's only one right way for the story to go.

Or possibly a sign that I have distributed monitoring devices across the face of the globe and am now watching my fellow minions' every move.

Choose whichever explanation you like.

(I thought it was an interestingly atmospheric opening, BTW, but ... maybe there's room to get into the action a little quicker?)

Mame said...

Every time I read 'Listen to me' I hear Chaucer in A Knight's

Sarah Laurenson said...

Looks like I'm in the minority here. I loved it and I usually have no patience for drawn out beginnings.

Unknown said...

The fact that the story is so short makes it even harder to hook.
Why not drop the first "listen to me" and tell me in the next paragraph - "I jogged onto Main Street. . . suburbs to avoid the incessant voice in my head" ? Five or 6 incidents of "listen to me" is going to get old very quick.

In Flash you can get away with a little bit of telling. Use the first person narrative to your advantage to speed up the story. Let me know he's avoiding the voice and he knows what it is. Also, since it's first person, he knows if he's a boy or girl and so should I.

The phrase "swished tea through my teeth" bothered me. Unless he's pushing it back and forth between his teeth rather than drinking it, the image isn't working for me.

Dave Fragments said...

If this piece is about 600 words, would you excuse the repetition?

No. You're losing the opportunity of advancing the story. I had the same reaction as EE about who is speaking.

I think the detail is excessive and you can lose some and still retain the effect you want. I'd delete "A yellow taxi blared its horn" because it doesn't advance ordinary life in silent suburbs. That's a theme and a keeper.

In the next paragraph, you have three choices: the humming, the pigeon, or the cafe. two of which should be meaningless in your flash story. If "silent, empty suburbs" meant anything, I'd go with the cafe and tea. Then I would immediately follow with the Stop talking and listen to me because the voice has to intrude.

The pigeon (unless you have vampire pigeons or the pigeons attack ala Hitchcock) only serves to separate the idle chit-chat from the voice. That's why all three things (humming, cafe tea, and pigeon) aren't working together. The voice is saying Listen to me, listen to me, and third: STOP TALKING and listen to me (emphasis added). No one talks to humming and pigeons in a cafe tea.

I think the burping and pigeon leaving is distracting. It's meaningless. And the trip to the movie theater is utterly, amazingly meaningless to the point of stultification. That's not meant as mean as it sounds. We need to know more about the character than simply that he or she is ignoring the voice and acting like a child wandering aimlessly from situation to situation.

This is easy to fix. Tighten up the story.

You can have your character acknowledge the voice: "I started to go to the movie theater but the voice wouldn't let me"...
You can identify the voice with a name or a character.
The character can step into the action.

Eric P. said...

Sorry, what?

(Somebody had to say it.)

Kathleen said...

continuation was laugh out loud funny.

150 said...

If he's still not listening by the third repetition, I'm not too inclined to listen either.

none said...

Rachel, you might want to check out my new beginning here: :).

It's conceptually similar, but is the opening to a novel. Have a look?

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I liked the slow build though I think perhaps you can trim one call and response, so there's three "listen to me's" and then something new happens, even if it's just your narrator wincing or his buddy asking her/him what's wrong. When in doubt, the rule of three is always a good way to go.

Xiexie said...

I'm with Sarah L in that minority. This opening worked fine for me.

_*rachel*_ said...

So the issue is if it's too rambling or not, with all but a few saying it is. Hmm. Well, since the story is about how we distract ourselves from things that really matter, I'll give it a look as to how many of those segments I need.

Tribute goes to R, who understood it, and K, who kept it from sounding like a story about rape, which it very much isn't.

Any word/spelling/grammar nitpicks?

Anonymous said...

Its name, its lyrics, its notes

in my throat and jawbone and ears

I swished tea through my teeth, laughed at clever jokes, and talked

plenty of guns, a car chase or two, people shouting.

Too many groups of threes.

Anonymous said...

you're question is "is this working."

You have lots of people who think it's repeatative.

One person who understood it.

One person who didn't make it too much like rape (this was my wtf moment for the week)

Based on all the above I'm going to so "no" but I do have a few cents of my own.

I re-read the opening with the continuation because you said that's pretty close to what you have.

I'm no expert, but I think things need to happen in flash fiction and it needs to make sense. This doesn't feel like flash fiction at all. Its all set up for a bad punch line.

Comedian "Listen to me" He inserts a laundry list of unimportant details.

Crowed, "We're still with you but you better deliver something and it better be good."

...rinse and repeat above x number of times. With each repetition the comedian is loosing ground, she keeps on going though because she knows it's brilliant. People start getting angry enough to walk out but just before that...

Comedian delivers punch line.

Crowd goes boooooooooooo and hurls objects at comedian.

The End.

none said...

Was my comment not received or was it found objectionable for some reason?

Evil Editor said...

Sorry, I clicked on the link, and by the time I finished reading your opening and all the comments I'd forgotten what I was doing there and never went back to the email. It's up now.

_*rachel*_ said...

You think one of the main differences, then is how the MC avoids it? Distracting yourself versus threatening to kill yourself?

Evil Editor said...

I think if it's a story about how we distract ourselves from what really matters, you need to make it clear that the "voice" really matters. If the only thing it ever says is Listen to me, how does that matter? If the narrator can hear it saying Listen to me, she can hear it saying something more important, so why doesn't it just say what it wants her to listen to?

_*rachel*_ said...

So if the voice has more sense of who's behind it, and if I vary the way the narrator reacts, that should make it more catching? I tried varying what the voice says, and I do like it better that way.

Dave Fragments said...

I tried varying what the voice says, and I do like it better that way.

That's usually a good idea, if the revision sounds more natural and holds your interest better than the original to you, then use the revision.

none said...

Lol, EE, I'm flattered :). Thanks.

Unknown said...

Right. If the voice said - "IF you don't F-n listen to me someone's going to die" - I'd be more interested in what was happening. As it is, I feel like I'm the voice and the narrator's my 10 year old ignoring me when I tell him to do homework. At some point, early in Flash, if it's important the Voice needs to pick the MC up by the throat and throttle him.

Joanna said...

I was out of town when this one went up, but if you're still there, Rachel...I really liked the opening, and was frustrated that I couldn't read on. I got that something really important was being avoided, though at this point I don't know if it's a spirit voice, a hallucination, kything or an insistent memory. I wanted to read on and find out. I found the distractions suspense-building not irritating.

Umm... I've done the avoidance thing a lot myself, so maybe that's why this spoke to me.

_*rachel*_ said...

OK, I left this alone for a month and now I'm revising again before submitting. I changed the "listen to me's" to more varied and (I hope) interesting comments, and deleted some of the first rounds of not listening.

If this is the bit right before the narrator is forced to sit down and pay attention, is the length and pace working better?

Main Street was noisy and distracting—in short, perfect. I wandered along, ogling shop windows but never going in.

Everything you see, everything you hear, exists because I made it.

Perhaps not so perfect. I hummed a tune, just to feel its vibration running through my jawbone, and strode down the street to the movie theater. One ticket to an adventure—plenty of guns, a car chase or two, people shouting. Surround sound at top volume.

The hero and the heroine, victorious, looked at each other with wide, soft eyes, and the theater grew still with anticipation.

Do you know why I made it?

I stood up and pushed my way down the aisle.

When I exited, the city lights hit me like the midday sun. I blinked hard.

I made it—

Not listening, definitely not listening. Down the street I went again, to a club where lights flashed and music thundered and no one needed to think. I gulped down one, two, three, and smiled; I went to the dance floor and danced in the fog of sound and strobe lightning and sweaty bodies.

A hand clasped my shoulder.


iago said...

Frankly, for me the original was better. It had more personality, less pedestrian. I liked opening with the voice: Lsiten to me

I think:

I jogged onto Main Street, into the chaos of ordinary life and away from the silent, empty suburbs. A yellow taxi blared its horn

has more voice and feeling than:

Main Street was noisy and distracting—in short, perfect. I wandered along, ogling shop windows but never going in.

I feel you've thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

The changes to what the voice said are good and go in the right direction, but the narrative is still, frankly, uninteresting (in content), and you've written the good parts of your voice out of it.

It's like the you're writing in first person, but the words are not coming from the character's head or heart, so it becomes just show and tell. The character is trying to get away from the voice, but there's nothing in the character's thoughts that truly reflect the tension, and because I can't feel tension in the characterization, I start to feel it's going on too long. If you'll get to the conflict quicker, or make the tension in the character more palpable, I think I'd like it better.

One opinion; entirely subjective.

Perhaps you're trying too hard

Joanna said...

I preferred the first version...the more leisurely pacing of the narrator's attempts at distraction, and the more mysterious nature of the voice. Reading draft 2, I'm presuming that it's God speaking; reading draft 1 I was really curious about who was speaking.

That said, both beginnings make me want to read the rest of the story.

Matt said...

I agree with Iago. If you took the first draft and had something interesting happen after maybe the second or third "Listen to me" it would have been better. And by something interesting I mean the voice revealing itself or its purpose.