Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Beginning 836

"No one lives forever," I said as I pulled myself across the ravine clinging to only a vine with my hands and feet. Capac, our native guide, did it without a safety harness and in a third the time it took Gunny and myself. When I reached the other side, Gunny grabbed my bare shoulders until I balanced on the slippery rocks. We stood atop a waterfall several times the raging Niagara.

"Methuselah lived 1000 years," Gunny, my valet and companion brushed the water from my back. We wore only native kit; the vines on our arms and legs and a strap to hold our tender parts.

"Tommy rot. Biblical hyperbole." I unwrapped the vines that protected my forearms from rope burns. Capac motioned to put them back on. He pointed to vines a dozen feet away that hung into the falling water.

"You mean we have to repel down through the waterfall," I said.

"You told us to leave the climbing harnesses back at camp," Gunny pointed a finger, accusing. Capac laughed at his consternation.

"You want young body. You want to life forever? You must go."

I nodded.

He was right. I'd come this far, and if I had to rappel through Angel Falls to get my manuscript on Evil Editor's desk, then so be it.

Opening: Dave F......Continuation: Khazar-khum


Evil Editor said...

P2, s1: Change 1st comma to a period, add a comma after "companion," and change the semicolon to a colon.

P4: rappel, not repel.

P6. Standard nativespeak would be You want live forever rather than You want to life forever.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the two use of commas after dialogue without a dialogue tag. I would use a period, and then have the action be a sentence following the dialogue which would still serve the purpose of letting us know who is speaking.

"Methuselah lived 1000 years." Gunny, my valet and compainion brushed the water from my back.

Otherwise, I like it. And I guessed it was Dave's before I saw it, so you have a recognizable (and good) style/voice.

Karen said...

Methuselah lived 969 years.

Okay, I'm assuming this is set in British Colonialland. It sounds Tintinesque. Personally I think it would be funnier if the colorful native guide was making Gunny and the narrator speak his language, so they could sound comically childlike, but I appreciate that the effect would be lost on us because we probably don't speak it.

The chitchat between Gunny and the narrator removes any tension you may be trying to set up in this opening scene. If we're in a scary situation (and personally I don't buy it; I have faith in Capac's Native Guiding, especially if he hasn't been paid in advance) then the characters need to help show us that.

I wouldn't grab someone's bare shoulders to help them up. Arms maybe. Shoulders are slippery devils.

just the facts said...

If Capac had them leave their climbing harnesses back at camp, then saying in P1 that Capac did it without a safety harness isn't warranted. None of them have harnesses.

If the waterfall is so enormous, surely it's famous enough to not need to be compared to Niagara. If it's off-Earth, then why not compare to the larger Victoria Falls? What does 'several times' refer to? width? height? rage (as in it tumbles over rock and isn't a sheer drop of water)?

Are they crossing a dry ravine to get to the ravine that houses the waterfall? I don't have a clear sense of what they're crossing at the beginning.

Is 1000 years supposed to equal forever?

When I first read "No one lives forever" I thought it was a cavalier throwaway line since it seems they're risking death. I didn't really get it actually had to do with why these guys are doing the death-defy until a closer second read.

Dave Fragments said...

I wasn't satisfied with this. I didn't like it when I went back to it after a few days away.

Evil Editor said...

I would apply the adjective "raging" to the current waterfall (assuming it's raging). Not to Niagara. Actually, if this is Earth, there are limited waterfalls that are several times Niagara in any dimension, and they all would have names.

Dave Fragments said...

I submitted this when the queue was empty and it waited for the queue to get empty again. SIGH!

As I got halfway through the story, I found that I didn't like the first person. I changed it to third person with the primary "eyes" being Brendan's (the speaker's) eyes. This story spoke to me in third person.

What you couldn't know from the opening is that this is about the Fountain of Youth and thus the two very repetitious longevity statements. The draft version has them 68 word apart and lots of important details in those 68 words. That puts a burden on the reader. The final version has those two references 18 words apart and only introduces the two characters who are seeking the Fountain of Youth. The third character already has found the FOY.

I'll put the final version up later.

Dave Fragments said...

The two lines "Tommy Rot & Biblical hypocrisy" always irritated me but in the interest of getting the story to an end, I used them. They might be OK, who knows. The character is expressing doubt and yet, he's standing in a very precarious place, a very long way from civilization. To add more navel gazing thought -- He's not a wavering fool. He has no doubts at this point. If he does, he's a moron and my character ain't no moron.

In the new version, the speaker says "but we want to" which is more than just saying something to move the story. It sets the entire plot into gear. They want to find the Fountain of Youth. They believe it will be beneficial. They think they will return to civilization rich men with an advantage over everyone else. HAH! What am I setting up - all that glitters is not gold!

Here is the new version's opening three paragraphs.

"They say Methuselah lived 1000 years," yelled Gunny, as Brendan pulled himself across the ravine, clinging to the vine with his hands and feet.

"No one lives forever," Brendan huffed to catch his breath.

"But we want to," Gunny answered. When Brendan got close, Gunny grabbed his bare shoulders and steadied him until he balanced on the rocks. Gunny could feel Brendan's heart thumping in his chest as he brushed the dirt and mist from Brendan's back. Both wore native kit, only a leather string holding their tender bits up against their stomachs, keeping it safe and vines around their forearms and calves to grip the ropes. Otherwise, they were naked.

Dave Fragments said...

Then and only then can I and do I introduce Capac in the revised opening.

I thought that the reader was going to have brain-farts trying to sort out three characters and the scene in the draft opening. It's a mess of interactions that the reader doesn't need. Although I like to drop the reader into the middle of a story and immerse them quickly, I still have to give the reader a chance.

So the revision gives them two characters in a setting and described the two characters for the reader. Now I can introduce Capac the Guide who at the end of the story says that he is John the Fifth Lion of Spain. (hint, Ponce is fifth in Spanish).

And this works is the time to take the reader to the impossible height of twice Niagara and rappelling through the waterfall as an Indiana Jones type stunt. It only looks like it's twice the height of Niagara to the person standing on the precipice. The lesson being that to get immortality, one must perform courageously and fearlessly and earn the right to do it. It's probably a smaller river and half the height and nowhere near the width of Niagara. But that's not the physical point. It's a metaphorical point

In the end, the near impossible task in their mind contrasts with what happens when they actually face the Fountain of Youth. It's not the fancy fountains spraying the air in Las Vegas that sway to music, nor is it Old Faithful. It's a stream flowing out of a wall like a water fountain. There is a simpler way up the mountain but you cannot attain immortality without sacrifice.

What they see is more than what the reality is. What they want is something that cures all of their previous failures and gives the success. What they get is another chance to grow up and have a good life.

Here's paragraph four just because it contains all that was in the original:

"Where do we go from here?" Brendan asked Capac their native guide, a physically small man. He stood tall at four foot eight and was twenty-five years older than either Brendan or Gunny. Twice as fit, too, surprising them by traversing the ravine without a safety harness in one-third the time. The three men stood atop the waterfall and watched the water roar over the edge. It was twice the height of the cataract at Niagara. Capac motioned to a series of vines hanging in the falling water a dozen feet away from them.

Dave Fragments said...

What no one could know from the original opening is that the FOY is wisdom. It is getting to live over with knowledge and not merely immortality.

That's the distinction that drove my changes. The FOY gives a new life but does not let the knowledge of the old life inform the new life.

All that glitters is not gold, for one.
Life is what you make of it, for two.
What is really important, for three.

none said...

No, from the longevity mentions it's pretty obvious this is some kind of Fountain of Youth tale.

'valet and companion'? No. Just no.

Dave Fragments said...

BTW, the story is set in the early 1930's during the Depression.

And there are other ways to open this story. I'm sure the way I chose isn't perfect nor will it suit everyone.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I'm not sure about starting the story with the characters in mid-conversation. It certainly can be done and it can be useful for getting past boring pleasantries into the more meaningful bits of dialogue. But beginning with the characters already partway through talking about that particular subject can be kind of disorienting. As the opening goes on, I get that these men are discussing immortality and that this is central to the concept of the story. The reasons for this conversation being in a story about the Fountain of Youth make sense. But I'm still not sure why these two characters are having this conversation or what they might have said before the story began. In some cases the dialogue that happens before the story begins doesn't matter; I have never in my life wondered what Fern from Charlotte's Web said to her mother before asking what he father was going to do with that axe because her first line of dialogue tells me everything I need to know. But here, I feel like it would explain a lot.

I feel like in the revision, Brendan's line should be "But no one lives forever" or something along those lines so it feels more connected to Gunny's trivia about Methuselah. I'm assuming the point is that Methuselah may have lived for a very long time, but Brendan is pointing out that even he was not immortal. If it Brendan is still supposed to be brushing off Methuselah's age as hyperbole or the intention is something else, I think it needs to be clarified.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Dave: You'll want to re-examine your POV in the revision if you're wanting it to be from Brendan's POV. I see Gunny's POV (only Gunny would know he feels Brendan's heart thumping) and I see an omniscient POV -- the one that notes the three men standing on the brink of the waterfall watching the water fall. Nowhere do I see Brendan's.

Neither of the POVs we do have are working to give us the metaphorical distances or challenges you want the reader to eventually understand. Neither feels like the unreliable narrator necessary to accomplish that.

I actually caught on they were looking for the FOY in the first version by Capac's words at the end. In the revise, I have no idea what's going on even by the end of the 4th paragraph. How soon do you want the reader to know what's going on?

Beth said...

What you couldn't know from the opening is that this is about the Fountain of Youth

Actually, I guessed that from the last line.

Anonymous said...

Murder your backstory. There is nothing the reader needs to know on the first page except whether or not she wants to read the story.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm lousy at naming POV and I regret saying what I did in the comments about it. I think I wrote the comments too fast and wasn't as thoughtful as I should have been.

What Phoenix said about third person omniscient is most likely true.
The point I wanted to make was that I changed it from first person to third and that made the story work for me.

What wasn't working for me was a statement like:
"No one lives forever," I said, huffing and trying to catch my breathe...
I wasn't sure for a long time why it didn't work until I hit the end of the story and realized what words I had to write to bring a twist to the end. In first person, the story turned into stupidity at the end. A character cannot speak from the dead or without the ability to speak. I wasn't going to dare do what Harlan Ellison did in "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." That was never going to work in this story. I'm not good enough to pull it off. First person hurt this story. The twist at the end only worked only in this third person POV. This may be incoherent babble without seeing the end of the story.

I understand the rest of the comments.

Valet and companion are gone. That was ugly and unworkable.

Brendan and Gunny are half brothers, BTW.

The FOY statement is right after where I stopped the new language.

I understand about the backstory. I can't explain it but I do understand it.

vkw said...

I guessed they were looking for the fountain of youth too.


Anonymous said...


Is the part with the three men watching the waterfall really omniscient? How would you say that in 3rd person limited?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Is the part with the three men watching the waterfall really omniscient? How would you say that in 3rd person limited?

Actually, all of para 4 points to omniscient. Would Brendan necessarily know exactly how tall or how old Capac is? The phrase "the three men" distances the reader more than, say, using "the three of them." Then the reader is treated again to a precise height of the falls, yet we don't know if Brendan or any of them have been to Niagara to compare. In whose estimation is it twice the height? The reader can't tell.

One way to alter the POV (although I would also suggest breaking it up into a couple of paras at least):

"Where do we go from here?" Brendan asked Capac. Their native guide stood tall at somewhere around the four-foot-eight mark and was easily twenty-five years older than either Brendan or Gunny. Twice as fit, too, surprising Brendan by traversing the ravine without a safety harness in one-third the time it had taken him. Standing hip-to-hip, the three of them stood above the waterfall and watched the water roar over the edge. Brendan whistled low. This sucker had to be at least twice the fall of the cataract at Niagara. Capac motioned to a series of vines hanging in the falling water a dozen feet away from them.

Dave Fragments said...

Thanks, I see what you mean.

Anonymous said...


You rock. Those are such subtle changes, but they totally change the feel of the paragraph.


Seeing clear examples like that are very helpful for the learning experience.

Thanks for tweaking for us :).