Friday, January 29, 2010

New Beginning 724

Leaning forward, Jane Fogg trained her Nikon on the scarlet tanager in the canopy of leaves. The songbird cocked its head. It would be a good photo. The muted light was perfect.

“Stay there, you little bastard,” she whispered. “Stay there, stay there.”

Branches cracked across the creek. Mouth open, the birder forgot about her shot. A black saucer-shaped craft flew through the sparse woods on a low trajectory toward the ground, mowing down thin green saplings and clumps of underbrush. The impossible craft grazed a huge oak. Spinning, the saucer veered off, skimmed the forest floor, bounced, came down hard, and crashed in the distance with a sickening metallic thud. Screaming birds flew up out of the trees.

Twenty seconds, and that was it.

“A plane crash,” the birder said in disbelief.

Somebody might be trapped in the wreckage. With a pounding heart, she slung the Nikon around her neck and slid down the overgrown embankment to the creek. It had to be a military aircraft.


The instructor stopped the film. "OK," he said. "Now, what was Ms. Fogg's worst mistake here?"

One student raised a hand. "Going alone into an unsecured danger area instead of calling for backup?"

"Pretty stupid, but not the worst. Anyone else?"

"Assuming the flying saucer is a military aircraft and not, well, a flying saucer?"

"No, though that's still pretty dumb. Next?"

"She didn't get any pictures," the third student said.

"Right! The camera's round her neck, not in her hand. No shots of the saucer, nothing on the screaming birds flying away - she didn't even get the goddamn tanager, for Christ's sake!" The instructor glared at Jane. "You call yourself a birder?"

Opening: H. Grant.....Continuation: Steve Wright


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

But it wasn't a military aircraft. It was the great, big, fat Mother of All Scarlet Tanagers, and was she ever pissed.


Evil Editor said...

If the thing is still airborne, I wouldn't expect it to be mowing down clumps of underbrush.

I wouldn't refer to the land as a forest if you've also referred to it as sparse woods. If it's sparse enough you can see saplings being mowed down, there aren't enough big trees to call it a forest.

Christina said...

Funny - I thought about whether the birder should take a picture of the aircraft too! And maybe she does, later. I liked this. I think the last line in the first paragraph should be "It would be a good photo." flip flop the two sentences.

H. Grant said...

Steve Wright, thanks for the hilarious continuation. You made me laugh (and the birder does take lots of photos when she gets to the crash site, but that's beyond EE's 200-word limit).

EE, thanks for your thoughts about sparse woods versus forest. This is a draft prologue. I wanted to post the opening on your blog because you give good feedback.

Actually, wilderness terrain varies, but I want a simple description here. I'll change sparse woods to a clearing. Underbrush is anything under big trees, so it includes tall bushes, saplings, and so on. I'll rethink that, too.

Dave Fragments said...

I like the idea of the opening -- a flying saucer crash lands in front of a birder with a camera. I'm not sure this hits the bulls eye. I don't like "bastard" and I don't like the third paragraph with all its "s" problems. Part of this comes from a the fact that I perceive the crash to be a "WOW, DID YOU SEE THAT!" or in rougher language "HOLY SHIT!" It's exciting and this opening is so relaxed and well painted like a bucolic pastoral presentation of birds singing and cattle mooing.

How about:
Jane Fogg almost got the birding picture of her life, a scarlet tanager singing in a canopy of leaves in perfect light. What she photographed was a black, saucer-shaped craft, grazing an oak, skimming the berry bushes and digging into the ground with a sickening thud."

Evil Editor said...

Actually when an aircraft is crashing, I would expect all eyes to be on the saucer, not paying any attention to the kind of foliage it's hitting.

Not that I've ever been present at a crash.

wendy said...

Oh man! You had me right up until the spacecraft came blasting through the scene. I was completely enjoying the change of pace from our usual fare, the realness of the moment. (So says the author currently toiling away at a paranormal thriller, so much for consistency!;)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and comment on how I believe you are reacting to your own writing. Of course, this may have nothing to do with reality, so take it with a grain of salt.

Here goes:
I like your style - a lot. Clearly you've got some chops, but they seemed to be tied up in either trying to write what you think will be marketable or...throwing in crap because this making something out of nothing day after day thing can be exhausting.

Believe me, we've all been there. Every day when I sit down to write I do my best to cast off of the untruths I bring into the room with me. Some days I am successful. On the other days I write shit. It's just the way it goes. Delete - start over.

With this said I believe a little rearranging of your first paragraph might add some punch.

Here's my go at it:

"This'll be a good. The muted light is - perfect. Jane leaned forward, training her Nikon on the scarlet tanager in the canopy of leaves. The songbird cocked its head."

Oh, and in my opinion you do not trust your reader to discover enough on their own.


"It would be a good photo."

“A plane crash,”

"Somebody might be trapped in the wreckage."

So there you have my opinion and it is important to remember it is simply one more opinion. In the end it is only your's that will matter. Throw this away and don't think of it agin if it does not fit with your understanding.

However, I will leave you with one last thought. If you let go inside, let go of the lies and what it's supposed to be like. I think you might just become an amazing writer. I don't know why I feel this way, and I don't know why (in the name of all that is sacred!) I feel pressed to share any of these thoughts, but I absolutely do.

I wish you the best of luck with your story, and I look forward to seeing more from you soon.

Bernita said...

~chortle over the continuation~
Rather than "tell" us she forgot about her shot, perhaps have her drop the camera?
Like Dave, I feel she would be a little more emotive than just the "dear me, I do believe I just saw a plane crash" response.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that if I saw a black, saucer-shaped craft crash, I would then think "plane crash". Either it looked like a plane (then wasn't), or it looked like a black, saucer-shaped something and she thinks "something odd" crash...

Matthew said...

I thought it was good. I got tripped up on the word "birder", but that's just a product of my own ignorance.

Steve Wright said...

This opening worked quite nicely, for me - you've got the protagonist in a mundane setting (though with a bit of tension going on - will she get the shot or won't she?), and then wham! Crashing flying saucer. Makes for an effective jolt to the reader. (And satisfies the most exacting demands for "opening with action".)

The only vaguely false note, I thought, was the "It had to be a military aircraft". It felt like your protagonist was taking time out to rationalize the event, rather than reacting to it immediately. (Besides, my first thought on seeing a flying saucer would be "Wow! Flying saucer!" - if it turned out to be a military aircraft, I'd be really disappointed.)

(And I don't share the instructor's opinion on Jane's actions, by the way - if protagonists didn't do stupid things, there wouldn't be any novels, would there?)

none said...

No photographer tries for one perfect shot. They take *lots* of shots.

Anonymous said...

This is good. You can write.

Keep going.

Jeb said...

Nice contrast between the bucolic atmosphere of the opening paragraph and the sudden introduction of the SF element in the third paragraph.

Stylistically a couple of things bothered me, especially noticeable in paragraph three.

First, you've already told us the birder's name. Referring to her as 'the birder' insead of as Jane or even 'she' simply pushes the reader out of Jane's head, reminds them that they're reading instead of looking over the point-of-view character's shoulder as she experiences the action.

Second, you refer repeatedly to the saucer: A black saucer-shaped craft, the impossible craft, the saucer. We already know what it is. This repetition interfered with my developing the mental movie necessary for me to be further engaged with the story.

Two style choices that push the reader out of the story within the first eleven sentences mean this opening won't fly very far with an agent or editor.

H. Grant said...

Thanks for the feedback, everybody.

I'm still tinkering with this prologue and will look at every suggestion, especially the UFO versus military aircraft ones. I agree, she should take it for a UFO. This takes place near a famous military base, so when she gets to the crash site she can still wonder if the saucer might be an experimental military aircraft.

Wendy, thanks for the encouragement. Good luck with your own writing.

Matthew, we used to call these people birdwatchers, but the National Audubon Society calls them birders now (who go birding). I prefer birdwatching, but alas, I want to be current.

Matthew said...

Much appreciated, H. I thought maybe it was just a colloquialism.

John said...

One minor point: Twenty seconds is a looong time for anything to crash. Try timing it on a watch. You could have an epic crash in five seconds.

_*rachel*_ said...

I'd go with "Jane" instead of "the birder." "The birder" feels like you've got The Burly Detective Syndrome. Though I'll admit: I'd better check for a log in my own eye, as I've got a busker in my WIP.

As for me, I'd say, "Stay right there, little guy. Stay there, stay there."

Is it just me being out of touch that it took me a moment to figure out what a Nikon was, and ditto on a tanager?rei

Evil Editor said...

You may be to young to have ever shopped for a 35 mm camera, but if you
haven't heard this, you're out of touch.

Steve Wright said...

There are two brand names you can use to represent "expensive professional camera". They symbolize the concept in an almost religious sense; they're Leica Nikon, in fact.

(I'll get me coat.)

johnny ray said...

I will have to agree, a photographer, which I was many years, will only worry about shooting photos. and with a power winder that is usually 3 frames a second.

Johnny Ray

batgirl said...

Ow, Steve, oowwww!