Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New Beginning 801

In the half-light of a wraparound porch, the man lounged feet-up on an idle swing. His eyes, like black holes, reeled in the fly-aways and the odd disproportions...of me. His Rottweiler sat untied near a U-Haul.

I might have waved neighbor-like, but the intensity of that man disarmed me. On the sidewalk, I fumbled for the mace. There had been three beatings and two rapes this week in Montrose–nothing new, nobody caught. I lifted each foot, pushed it forward and set it down: only four blocks to the safety of a crowd.

Along Kipling Street, 40's bungalows and a few, once-proud Queen Annes told of families who didn't live here anymore. Flash! Past my face two squirrels soared from oak to pecan. Otherwise, nobody lingered outside without reason.

I glared at the man and his dark eyes turned away fast. Through porch rails, I couldn't make out...he was holding something in his hand.

Two years had passed since I last stepped out for Friday night, but tonight was important, my best friend achieving his dream; I wouldn't be turning around. The man on the porch stood up, again staring. Advancing to the steps, he held something at his hip. I swerved to cross the street, wondering what he--

* * *

The beeps and rasps of the machines woke me. Bright lights pounded at my lids and I had to open my eyes slowly to avoid even more pain. I was in the hospital. And so was he. Sitting on a chair next to my bed, leaning forward, staring at me with that same monobrowed intensity that had so unnerved me before.

I wanted to ask him "Why?" But my tongue stuck to my mouth.

"Relax," he said, like that was an option, him sitting there and all. "You had quite a bump." I couldn't even remember what he did to me. "You need to look both ways before you step into the road. You're lucky that Chevy was going slow. Here. I was trying to give you this. The postman left it with me."

I tried to reach out but my arms were too heavy. He smiled and tore open the Amazon package. It was the book I'd ordered: Paranoid Much? How to get fear out of your life in 5 easy steps.

Opening: Lucie.....Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

I don't like the second sentence. You're walking past the guy's house, so I doubt you'd already have enough information to declare his eyes are like black holes, or what exactly they're reeling in. Especially when you're also checking out the dog and the swing and the porch. It doesn't take long to walk past a house, and you'd have to look at the guy's eyes a while to make such a detailed description of his eyes. Also, "reeling in the fly-aways" is going to leave some readers thinking, Huh?

Paragraph 3 has enough going on that by the time I finish reading it, I assume you're long-past the guy's house, yet in paragraph 4 you're back to looking at him. I'd get rid of p.3 or move it to after you're past the guy's house.

Paragraphs 4 and 5: You're still in front of the guy's house. You should be two blocks away by now. You need to focus on the guy and eliminate all the other description/history or declare that you've stopped walking.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

"Damn!" I muttered, jabbing at the arrow. Wrong one; I found myself re-reading the previous page. It was taking me a lot longer than I'd expected to get used to this blasted e-reader.


Bang! Something whizzed past my eyes, buffeting my face with pin-point turbulence. Splat! One of the soaring squirrels hit the sidewalk at my feet; luckily, the shock froze the foot I had just lifted, otherwise it would have crushed what was left of its head.

I glowered at the man on the porch; he lowered the pistol and blew at the tip of the smoking barrel.

"I knew I'd love this neighborhood," he grinned. "Best target practice I ever had and I don't even have to leave the porch."

--Paul Penna

Anonymous said...

It's bogged down in details.

Anonymous said...

What's a Queen Anne????

It works OK as comedy.

Paul Penna said...

A "Queen Anne" is a common variety of Victorian house architecture, often featuring a rounded corner tower with a conical roof.

John said...

In para 2, "disarmed" doesn't quite fit, as the word is often used to indicate someone becoming less nervous, less angry, etc.

Excellent continuation.

Dave Fragments said...

I have a problem with how your details keep distracting the reader from the characters.

I first thought half light meant the shadow of the porch and not the imminent darkness of Friday night. Years ago when I did photography, we called that time near or at sunset as the "golden hour" or "magic time" because it lacked the harsh shadows of direct sun. If you had said that evening shadows gathered on the wraparound porch, the reader would know the time of day.

Why is the rottweiler important enough to interrupt the narrative about the reader? Does the character eyes glance to the dog in fear?

AHA, beatings and rapes in the neighborhood and the main character suspects the watcher with the dark eyes. These are real reasons for fear and not paranoia.

BTW, are we on Kipling Street in Montrose?

And then the squirrels flash the reader and disappear. That's like watching an action movie filed with feminine hygiene product commercials and/or male erectile dysfunction ads. Really annoying distractions.

OInstead of the rottweiler line, why doesn't the character notice the thing in the man's hand, cross the street and then describe Kipling Street in Montrose?

Then, when the character worries about the unsolved beatings and rapes, the reader has choice - the man is holding a gun or the man is holding a book or the man is holding his privates.

wonderactivist said...

Thanks for the great feedback EE. You're opinions are priceless and will help me become a better writer.

Details are a hard balance since my beta-readers wanted more detail in this scene, I actually added the "flyaways and disproportions just hours before I sent this, in response to such a request.

You're proving that most professionals want less detail. Focus on the tension. I'll work on it.

I appreciate the other feedback too. As far as it being comedy, well...

It's actually the opening to a noir mystery. I don't claim to be perfect but at least I'm working on improving my craft.

You're all great for helping!

wonderactivist said...

Sorry Dave, you came in same time as me. Wow! Thanks for all the detailed suggestions and ideas.

Yes, we're on Kipling Street, Montrose, Houston, 1987. Just days before the police barricades.

Dave Fragments said...

I actually don't know what happened in Houston in 1987 but the way the original text read, you mentioned both Kipling and Montrose in separate paragraphs. I thought that wasn't necessary and would annoy the reader.

Since you say "just days before the barricades" in your comment, try to work that into the opening because it brings clarity to the dog, to the violence and whatever the man has in hidden in his hand.

Now the squirrels can be heedless of the threat of violence. You see how that could work?

Anonymous said...

I feel like this is overwritten and convoluted.

His eyes, like black holes... This sentence is trying to hard to make us afraid of the man. It's foreshadowing with a sledge hammer.

that man = him

What time of day is it?

nobody caught. I lifted ... the transition between this two feels awkward.

told of families who didn't live here anymore... Are the houses vacant? If so, why not say that?

nobody lingered outside without reason.... so there's nobody outside or there are a few people outside? I think you might be trying to say this is the kind of neighborhood where nobody would linger without reason, but I'm not sure.

I associate glared with teenage angst. Dark eyes, again it's taking a sledge hammer to foreshadowing. If this takes place at night you could say his face is cast in shadows or some such. (It's not the words themselves, they're used in stories all the time, but the application of them that is odd.)

Two years had passed... this sentence is remarkably vague, grammatically incorrect, and has tense issues.

Why doesn't the MC cross the street sooner? For me this action conflicts with the inaction of putting one foot in front of the other. It's like the character is two personalities.

Anonymous said...

I actually added the "flyaways and disproportions just hours before I sent this, in response to such a request.

You're proving that most professionals want less detail.

Listen, nobody is saying ignore your betas.

Their professional status doesn't invalidate their experience reading your story.

Your execution is causing me problems with the details. To me, the underlying problem (the reason why it doesnt' work) is almost that you don't know how to add details.

Look at some of the continuations. They're all very detailed. they're just doing it differently than you are.

Xiexie said...

I feel as if there's too many details laying out something which should happen quicker unless this man's house has one of those ginormous porches and the narrator is walking quite slowly.

I don't think we need the U-Haul and Rottweiler detail or the squirrels.

I think it would read better like:

In the half-light of a wraparound porch, the man lounged feet-up on an idle swing. His eyes like black holes, reeled in the fly-aways and the odd disproportions....of me.

I might have waved neighbor-like, but his intensity disarmed me. I fumbled for my mace, there having been three beating and two rapes this week in Montrose -- nothing new, nobody caught. Only four blocks more blocks to the safety of a crowd.

I glared at the man and his dark eyes turned away fast. Through the porch rails, I couldn't make out what he held in his hand.

He stood up again, staring. Advancing to the steps, he held something at his hip. I swerved to cross the street wonder what he--

wonderactivist said...

What great suggestions, xiexie & anon, thanks! And I adore the continuation.

This opening has been such a stressed-over piece that I think it's been revised and amended way too many times. It's the right moment to begin the tale, but I think my best strategy is to take in all the great advice, drop it for a couple of days, then rewrite it from scratch.

Kudos to EE!

Anonymous said...

I just wanna add one more thing that bothers me. Long ago, when, I was a young woman walking through bad neighborhoods, I saw many men who made me uncomfortable. (Some of them a lot more overtly than Porch Dude does.)

The last thing I would have done is glare at any of them. Eye contact would have been taken as an invitation. Hell, breathing was taken as an invitation.

Now, it may be that your character is unusual in that she's the kind of woman who would glare at them, and that's fine. But you gotta make that work. Perhaps show her thinking look at me will you? How do you like being glared at, eh? (Okay, not well phrased but... maybe you can think of something better.)

It isn't coming across as believable right now.