The old subway station was like an art gallery for abandoned rusty signs. Nailed across the grimy wall in one snaky line were “No littering,” “No smoking,” “No urinating,” “No magic,” and, for some reason, “No cameras.”
A herd of beggars set up camp beneath all this as they stubbed out cigarettes and pissed in a corner.
Wish I had a cellphone, thought Misha. I’d take a picture.
She had to wonder where all these beggars came from, what their stories were. They could be soldiers, crippled by a long-forgotten war, or men who had gone bankrupt and lost their jobs and families during the IMF, or even demons in disguise, just wanting to feel the slightest bit human.
Either way, she belonged to a different world: the edge of the platform, with the officer workers, the schoolgirls, the taxpayers who waited for the train and ignored the bums like a brown smear on the wall no one wanted to wipe. A drunk paced back and forth between the two sides like a confused bat, unsure of whether to join the birds or the mammals.
She decided to ignore him, oblivious as a blinkered dray horse standing in traffic. She just wanted to take the next train out of there, to get back where she belonged.
She sighed, and edged closer to the edge of the platform, an impatient child willing the train to come. The drunk must have thought she looked like a jumper -- he grabbed her arm and she let out a bird-like squeal.
A security guard shuffled along the platform with all the urgency of a just-awakened sloth. Lucky the drunk wasn't trying to kill me, she thought. She was just about to reassure the guard, to tell him everything was OK here, when he raised his finger like a schoolmarm about to scold a chile, then pointed at another sign, hidden in the shadows: "No Similes. No Metaphors."
Suddenly, Misha felt like crap.
Opening: Sylvia.....Continuation: Anon.
Before he could get too far, a cowboy dropped a lasso around him, jerking him off his feet. The cowboy swiftly hogtied him and dragged him one side.
It was the first time I'd seen a bum steered.
Misha sighed as the train pulled up and took one last glance back at the beggars. If she kept forgetting her cellphone, her Flickr set of people pissing in corners was never going to come together.
Breaking three out of five rules in one shot isn't bad, she thought. Novices.
Swiping the camera of the frumpy lady standing next to her she squatted awkwardly in the middle of the platform to pee, lit a cig in one corner of her mouth while expertly biting chunks off the camera to liter, and levitated.
--The Invisible Writer
He stumbled uncertainly towards the passengers and his gaze lighted on Misha. She studiously avoided his eyes as he approached, cataloging the myriad stains on his worn overcoat. She winced as she noticed a grubby handkerchief dangling form his left cuff, praying that he leave her alone, but it was not to be. "Pick a card," the man slurred, proffering a dog-eared deck, "any card."
As a service to her fellow man, Misha explained to the drunk that, as he belonged to a class of vertebrate, air-breathing animals whose females are characterized by the possession of mammary glands while both males and females are characterized by sweat glands, hair and/or fur, three middle ear bones used in hearing, and a neocortex region in the brain, he was, without doubt, a mammal. By way of thanks, he puked on her shoes.
Fair enough. Given how openly the bums were flouting the no smoking and no pissing regulations, Misha had no qualms about turning the drunk into a platypus.
Deal with that ambiguity, bozo.
I like the way the "No magic" sign and the demon reference subtly show us that this isn't quite our world.
P.1: "No loitering" is a more common sign than "No littering." If there were "No littering" signs everywhere you weren't supposed to litter, the signs would be a bigger problem than the litter.
P.2: It sounds like the beggars are currently setting up camp while simultaneously stubbing and pissing. Which may be the case, though I suspect they set up the camp earlier.
P.5: Usually "either" means one or the other of exactly two. As there are 3+ possibilities given for the beggars' identities, you might change "either way" to "whatever" or "in any case." Or just delete it.
As it's the bat in the simile that's unsure whether it's a bird or mammal, rather than the drunk, the comma should be after "sides" rather than "bat."
Not sure how Misha knows the bums are beggars. You'd think with a bunch of well-to-do people waiting for the train, a few of the beggars would be begging instead of remaining segregated in their camp, but if they aren't begging...
I like the opening paragraph with all the signs- especially the no urinating sign. I the descriptions- "ignored them like a brown smear.." but owing to the fact that I have the attention span of a two year old, I want something to happen. I'd read on (even if it weren't yours :) but something needs to happen soon.
Of course, that may just mean I should be looking into Ritalin...
I would pull the first paragraph in just a little bit.
The grimy wall of the old subway station was like an art gallery for abandoned rusty signs nailed up in one snaky line: No loitering, No smoking, No urinating, No magic, and, for some reason, No cameras.
I'm not sure I like "herd" and I think that "beggars" is less effective than "homeless." That's a current versus older euphemism.
I'd drop the word "all" from the 4th paragraph. The same with "just" in the last sentence of that paragraph.
Also, I would slightly alter the fifth paragraph:
Misha belonged to a different species like those at the edge of the platform, with the office workers...
That creates a horizontal harmony with the bat reference at the end of the paragraph. In music one learns of various types of harmony -- the vertical harmony of ten fingers playing chords on a piano or the horizontal harmony of a violin. Visualize the notes on a page of music and it works.
I was just going to say something when I noticed what the security guard pointed out in the continuation. Wise words.
That said, I'd remove "like" in the first sentence and go for the full-on metaphor.
Take out "of" in "unsure of whether to join the birds or the mammals."
The "brown smear" and the "art gallery" didn't work for me. Not both of them in the same passage.
okay well I'll weigh in -
I didn't like referring to beggars as a "herd". Now Misha may be that cold but when she wonders about where they came from she demonstrates some empathy
She had to wonder - could be (because I don't think she HAD to. I think she chose to.)
She wondered where they all came from, what their stories were.
"a long forgotten war" infers something that occured a long time ago. It could not be that long ago if the beggars could be soldiers. A long forgotten war to me is something noone remembers - like well, I don't know because it was forgotten.
They could be soldiers crippled from the war and unable to work,
I would leave out the pacing bum. You've described the scene, established it is a different world, established Misha's interest, no sense hitting the reader again - we got it.
I am sure you stuck it in because it was good. But a good sentence misplaced is Bad, bad, bad. I have the same problem. Time to cut.
It'll only sting for a moment. . .
Mostly I liked this. I particularly liked the opening paragraph with the signs, although I did not pick up (as EE did) the "No magic" sign as a signal that this was an urban fantasy world. Instead I thought "huh?" for a moment and just went on.
One thing that struck kind of an odd note was the second paragraph, which gave me the impression of a whole lot of movement. I imagined these beggars really active and hard at work, setting up camp and stubbing out cigarettes and pissing all at once.
While I liked the writing, the content didn't grab me so much. This opening is about someone named Misha (who I don't know anything about yet) watching homeless people in a subway station. If this is the hook, it hasn't grabbed me.
I liked the mood of this one. And, as EE says, the subtle sense that this isn't run-of-the-mill terra firma.
Not sure if the last line should a new paragraph — depends what comes next.
Love the 'wonder' paragraph — and would definitely read on.
I, too, like how you snuck magic and demons in there. Smooth.
For my nits:
P1: "abandoned" for a sign doesn't work for me. Isn't the whole purpose of a sign TO abandon it and let it speak on its own? And I agree on nixing "like".
P2: "herd" struck me as wrong, too. "all this" seems a little much when it just refers to 5 rusty signs. And, yeah, I thought it was a bustling area, too.
P4: Agree to nix "had to". I also got the feeling this was an all-male camp of beggars/homeless. Is that how I should be envisioning it?
P6: Would nix "Either way". And I agree with vkw that the pacing drunk can go.
All in all, it's setting up an uncomfortable scene and I'd hang in there to see why Misha wants a picture. Is she a docu-journalist? Why is this her first time in a subway? And do the others on the edge know about demons, too?
The first three paragraphs aren't bad, but my attention span stuttered in the last two. Though I liked the allusion with the bat, animals, and birds.
I like it; like the voice, like the unemphatic working in of magic, want to know what's happening next.
A few nits: Describing the beggars as a 'herd' and wanting a cellphone for a picture signaled to me that Misha had a fairly cold attitude toward them, and then the wondering paragraph gave me a different sense.
Losing jobs and families during "The IMF" definitely suggested an International Monetary Fund-induced economic meltdown, but in that case I'd have expected it to read "under the IMF" or something like that; if it's a fantasy reference, maybe a less suggestive acronym would help?
I liked the drunk sentence, but think the 'of' in it should go.
Hilarious continuation! Probably better than what comes afterward.
Thank you so much for all your help! I definitely agreed that it was too slow, so I've rewritten the scene a while ago (had it torn apart in AW) but also tweaked it again according to your comments.
EE, is there a way I can post the edited version? Or is that a luxury granted only to queries :D?
Send it as a comment to this post.
Thank you, oh generous EE.
The revision is below. Thanks for taking a look!
The grimy wall of the old subway station was a museum for rusty signs nailed up in a snaky line: “No loitering,” “No smoking,” “No urinating,” “No magic,” and, for some reason, “No cameras.”
The homeless had set up camp against the wall. They stumbled about, stubbing out cigarettes, arguing over whose spot was whose, and pissed in a corner.
Misha watched with an artist’s eye. Wish I had my camera. Or even a cellphone.
Last week her cellphone turned up in the trashcan of her homeroom class, smashed up into shiny little pieces. She merely shrugged, in case someone was watching, waiting for her to burst into tears. Pricks. She had the money to replace it but didn’t bother. If they really wanted to get to her, they should’ve gone for her camera instead.
She lifted her fingers, squared them off with her thumbs and index fingers, and scanned left to right, capturing each person in their own little box. The bums were the most interesting as they shamelessly picked their teeth with their grimy fingers. She made up a story for each one. A soldier crippled by a fruitless war, a salesman who had gone bankrupt during the IMF, or even a demon in disguise, just wanting to feel the slightest bit human.
I hate to say it, author, but the revised version leaves me cold. I think in large part it's because when you remove the paragraph about the office workers and the edge of the platform and the other world, you remove the implied tension in the scene. There's a chance the two worlds will clash, or something will go wrong; even if that's not where the scene is going, there's a potential there that holds my interest. Without it, there's just a girl looking at some bums. It's flat; no potential, no forward motion.
The second thing is that you clunk the narrative to a halt in order to drop in some backstory about losing her cellphone--which turns out to have little bearing on the scene and didn't affect Misha emotionally. It feels extraneous and pulls me out of the story.
You have a very good start in the first draft; I'm just not sure you're revising it in the right direction.
I'm with Elle on this.
I do miss the edge of the station metaphor. I always thought that was a good addition.
I also think the new paragraph about the cellphone stops the narrative. I would save it for later. BUT, I wouldn't add the edge metaphor back there. Not just yet.
I would add the edge metaphor at the end of the new opening or possibly later in the first chapter.
When you say:
Misha watched with an artist’s eye. Wish I had my camera. Or even a cellphone.
The next line is logically:
She lifted her fingers, squared them off with her thumbs and index fingers,
and the rest of that paragraph.
Here again I seem to find horizontal harmony rather than vertical harmony. Why was there a sign "no cameras" and why did you so delicately call it out in the first paragraph? I am guessing that's because demons can't disguise themselves in a photo.
And you can to reveal that in the next section. That ties cameras, demons and homeless together.
And there is the way to work in the metaphor because when you say:
like a confused bat, unsure of whether to join the birds or the mammals. what you really mean is that the man might be not-human.
I hadn't picked up on the idea that the drunk might not be human. I'd just assumed he'd recently fallen on hard times and didn't quite think of himself as a respectable citizen or a bum. My nitpicks:
* Using the comparative "most interesting" when talking about the homeless guys struck me as jarring given that the revised opening doesn't mention the other people on the platform - maybe you could put the bit about them in the paragraph beginning "She lifted her fingers...", as in "She lifted her fingers...Office workers stood at the edge in a different world...The bums were the most interesting"
* The description of the homeless camp still doesn't sit right with me "They stumbled about, stubbing out cigarettes, argueing and pissed in a corner" has awkward grammar - stubbing and arguing connect to "They stumbled about" but "and pissed in a corner" doesn't. Also, the sentence seems to imply that they're all standing in the same corner pissing at the same time, while also stumbling about and stubbing cigarrettes. It might be better to describe what individual members of the group are doing - eg "x were smoking, y were arguing, z were pissing in a corner"
Thank you for your help, everybody!
The cellphone part foreshadows the trouble she's having at school, but now that I reread it, it really does look out of place. I'll have to push it to another scene.
Wow, I didn't think the edge of the world description was that missed. It sets up a schism that's alluded to throughout the book, so I'll be glad to work it in again.
It's amazing how much help you can get for just 200 words. If you have any other comments, please don't hesitate to say them.
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