Jack dug through his pack and counted cans.
“Damn” He whispered, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
Four days of food left if he restricted his calories more than he already was. Getting hungry would mean getting desperate and he would end up dead. It seemed everything in this new world meant death was close all the time. He hated the thought of leaving the farmhouse for supplies but he knew he couldn’t stay here forever. Two weeks holed up in this farmhouse, somewhere in western Virginia, was wearing on his nerves. Everyday the house felt smaller and the dying cornfields around it more menacing.
The house belonged to the only other people he’d seen since he came here, the farmer and his wife. They were at peace now and buried in the front lawn. Jack felt bad about burying them in the same hole, probably worse than he felt about killing them, but the dry soil made digging tough work and besides the noise could have drawn more of them.
Every damn day it seemed like there were more of the bastards wandering around in their straw hats and overalls, their faces hidden behind fluffy beards and corncob pipes.
A sudden tapping at the window made him jump. Christ, there was one at the kitchen window. "GO BACK TO HELL FROM WHENCE YOU CAME YOU FILTHY BEAST!" Jack said, pulling out his shotgun.
One blast and it was dead. The noise might attract others, but there was still room in the hole for a few more.
Things could have been different, of course. The senseless killing could have been avoided. If he had just scanned the radio frequencies, or even flicked through the stations on the old TV in the corner of their living room, he would have known. This was no killer zombie death plague. Turns out, that's just how people from western Virginia are.
Opening: Bill Collins.....Continuation: Jon Marable/Anon.
He glanced up at the farmhouse. Brian and Mike were still cowering inside, damned chickens. Whatever this infection was, this thing that killed off all higher brain function and turned regular folk into shuffling, brain craving vegetables, it--
Wait a second. Chicken and vegetables.
Jack grabbed the shovel and started digging again. Almost dinner time.
There was a knock at the door. Jack's head jerked up.
He crabbed into the entryway, as quietly as he could on the creaky floorboards. When he was close to the front door, Jack lowerd himself onto his belly and peered out. That old farmer hadn't been much of a carpenter. There was a half-inch gap under the front door, and, through it, Jack could see them.
Two pairs of feet, side-by-side. Jack eased back to his bag and dug out the revolver, cursing under his breath when it thunked against a can. He opened the cylinder: four rounds left. One for each of them, one for safety, and the last one, as always, saved for himself. He snapped the gun closed just as they knocked again.
With a sigh, he rose to his feet and crept to the door. I can do this, he thought. I can do this. As terrifying as they were, he could do it. He just had to hit them in the head. Jack took a deep breath, and opened the door.
"Good morning," said the well-dressed young man on the right. "Would you like to hear about the miracle of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?"
P2: Needs punctuation fixed.
P3: Change "in this farmhouse, somewhere in western Virginia," to "here." You can tell us he's in Virginia later, and you just told us it was a farmhouse.
P3: I like it better without "They were at peace now and buried in the front lawn." In fact it wouldn't hurt to get rid of "the farmer and his wife." We can figure out he's a farmer from the fact he owns the farmhouse. Either call them by their names (if Jack knows them) or leave it out, as it reminds me of the farmer in the dell.
Not sure why he's so reluctant to go out for supplies when he hasn't seen anyone in weeks. Better to go now than when the area is crawling with zombies.
"It seemed everything in this new world meant death was close all the time." Don't think you need this sentence, even if it were rephrased so that it was clear on the first reading.
So yeah, needs smoothing and another editing run-through, but I'm always up for another besieged-in-an-old-house post-apocalypse story.
Friday the 13th was good for Blogger!!! Knock on wood!
I agree with EE and the other comments. Tighten this up. Don't say things twice and have fun writing a zombie story.
Is Jack even human?
I want to write a zombie story but I think it might be really hard to do anything original with it. I hope the author did it.
you may want to tighten this, like this:
The thought of leaving the farmhouse scared the shit out of Jack, but he knew he couldn't stay forever. He was almost out of food.
"Damn," he whispered, as he counted the cans in his pack. He may last four more days. He would have to leave the safety of the farm to scavage.
He'd been there now for two weeks, holed up like a rat, somewhere in western Virginia, and like a holed up rat his nerves were fried. The house felt like it was getting smaller and behind every dying cornstalk he saw one of them lurking.
The house had belonged to the only other people he'd seen since he arrived in VA. The farmer and his wife were now buried in the front yard. Jack guessed the house, the farm, the cornstalks all belonged to him now. Not that owning anything is this new world was worth anything, unless it was food.
Jack felt bad for burying them in the same hole, probably worse than he felt about killing them. The dry soil made digging hard and besides the noise could've drawn more of them.
This is all telling. We're told he doesn't want to leave the house. We're told he feels bad about killing/burying the occupants. And after the second paragraph, he's not doing anything. It's the narrator explaining the situation and then offering some back story.
Have him *do* something that reflects how he feels about the situation or what happened. Even if he's just standing thinking about it, use his thoughts.
I love how you slip this in:
Jack felt bad about burying them in the same hole, probably worse than he felt about killing them
Overall, though, I think the opening is a little too generic for the genre. I think your audience will fall into 1 of 3 camps:
1. Those craving non-stop dead-on-live action.
2. Those wanting a gut-wrenching survivor's story.
3. Those wanting a survivalist's manual of how to prepare for the coming apocalypse.
I think your opening needs to appeal to one of these camps.
1. This genre fairly shrieks for a bang-up beginning, with terror and tension thick. Will he be off for supplies soon? If so, maybe start with him on his way, all-too-conspicuous in the dying cornfields and cursing the lack of supplies that forced him out of the farmhouse. Give us the same info but ratchet the tension for him and for the reader. Get him out of the comparative safety of the house.
2. If you go for the scene setting, dig into Jack's mind (not his brains!) more and help the reader feel his fear and apprehension. A single character makes it a little more challenging; but the reader wants to be right there with him in his terror. He doesn't just "hate the thought of leaving" and this isn't the first time he's counted those cans or the first realization he has that he's going to have to leave. This is finally confronting a fact that he's been wrestling with for two weeks. Help us feel all that pent fear and resignation.
3. Making this a survivalist's bible means giving us more detail here. How many cans does he have left? How much farther exactly does he have to ration himself? How far from town is he? Let's see him calculating the distance and how much time it'll take for him to get into town. Does he have a vehicle? Can he make it back before dark?
Lots of ways you can start this and with different audience appeal. I think you just went a little too safe here.
Thank you for all the feedback everyone. I was unsure of this as a beginning as I had cut the first three chapters and tried to start the story further along. I am re-outlining now to start with the high tension points in the first three chapters instead of telling it as back-story (but still cutting anything I thought was too dull or not relevant). Jack arriving at the farmhouse is a solid action scene but I told it as back-story in this version (next paragraph or two after this opening), which I can see was a mistake.
As far as showing instead of telling, it’s funny how I know this but still fall into the habit of telling and sometimes don’t recognize it. Your feedback has made it obvious to me what needs work.
@ Phoenix: As for the story itself, I love apocalypse books and movies because they give a chance to put characters into interesting situations. I think the highlight of this book (80% done), is the interactions of the two main characters and how they evolve. There is a lot of action but it really is about the characters. I guess of the three approaches you listed mine is closest to number 2.
You said: “dig into Jack's mind (not his brains!) more and help the reader feel his fear and apprehension. A single character makes it a little more challenging”
Funny thing is, I noticed that my characters really come to life when they finally meet up and start to interact, which is the 5th Chapter (as re-outlined). I will have to really dig down and rewrite the first couple of chapters what you said in mind.
Thanks again everyone.
Eh, backstory, backstory, backstory....
Start the story.
I agree with squirrel girl - backstory, backstory, backstory...
Kill it. You can work some of it back in later if it really proves important. I bet it won't, and once you let go of it you'll wonder why you ever had it in the first place.
Goodluck with your story.
TMC and RETRO, two cable channels showed George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD this weekend and if you watch that movie real close, you can pick out all of the taboo-breaking and genre creating portions.
The reason I start this comment like that is my way of saying what Phoenix wrote about.
To step beyond the "ordinary" zombie. That is the zombie that eats living flesh, the zombie that is created by blood contact, the zombie without humanity, the zombie created by science gone mad, the zombie effect spread by incompetent authorities, and all that we have seen in the various incarnations of Matheson or Romero or 28 days or the more recent comedies.
To step beyond the ordinary is what the story or novel has to do.
AMC's THE WALKING DEAD does so many wickedly evil things in the first episode to entertain -- they kill a child brutally, they have a man contemplating killing his wife. These are horrors that satisfy the fans of zombie books and movies.
Why is that?
I don't know how many people actually saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in a theater, I did. It scared the crap out of people. They screamed and cried in ways that never happened in any other movie.
Not that the audience was jaded (like today) WAIT UNTIL DARK came out the year before. Audiences yelled at the screen and screamed instructions for Audrey Hepburn at the climax of that movie.
PSYCHO opened before NOTLD and that scared audiences like never before.
But Romero and NOTLD put new scares onto the screen and left people in tears. There is no happy ending, no relief. I don't remember the movie for the iconic scene of the zombies in the graveyard, I remember the daughter turning in the basement and the cement trowel. I remember the black hero being thrown on the funeral pyre as the credits roll.
And there is the challenge of zombies. Step beyond the exiting and write either horror (like the double grave mentioned as routine) or make it silly fun like "Married with Zombies" or set it in weird locations, or dig deep into the minds of characters.
Hi Bill, Good luck with this. I must say the lack of correct punctuation stopped me before the end of the first sentence.
I teach English in a far away place and rather resent the poor presentation from a writer who should know better on Sir Evil's site.
Sorry. I do wish you luck and I hope you study some English punctuation.
Actually, it's the second sentence. But hey, you didn't say you teach math. ;)
I stand corrected your Sirness. There's a reason I don't teach arithmatickity. Chuckles ensue.
Hi[comma] Bill,[*Period] Good luck with this. I must say[comma] the lack of correct punctuation stopped me before the end of the first sentence...
I stand corrected[comma] your Sirness.
Actually, it's the second sentence. But hey, you didn't say you teach math. ;)
Did you really just use a winkie?
What is the matter with you, man?
Sorry. I thought I had to make it seem like I wasn't trying to take him down a peg for the hypocrisy of complaining about someone's minor punctuation gaffe while making his own minor mathematical gaffe (even though that was my intention), because he might be so humiliated he never returned, and I was thinking he was a frequent contributor, although further research indicates that his contributions consist mainly of one unused caption for a cartoon.
Of course, if anyone should feel humiliated, it's Evil Editor, for not pointing out that the commenter had made the same minor punctuation gaffe he was complaining about in his own complaint, but then he probably would have written in to say that it was intentional, and that I would have realized it was intentional if I had any sense of humor, at which point we would have entered into a lively back-and-forth dialogue that might have left him suicidal. Chances are he's suicidal anyway, as a result of complaining about an error a fifth-grader wouldn't make, while making an error a first-grader wouldn't make, namely not knowing the difference between one and two.
In short, if the commenter is found hanging by the neck from the rafters in some flophouse tomorrow, the use of the winkie has absolved me of any responsibility.
Fair enough, then. Wink away.
An EE and ril classic comment chat.
I love these so, so much!
That's the flophouse where you keep the REALLY evil minions, right?
Nothing to add — only here because my Winkie Alarm went off.
@Bill: Here's a peek at some of your competition -- a ZA trilogy releasing in July. It appears to be a survivor story that ALSO starts with a bang.
When Jenni wakes up one morning and discovers her husband devouring their baby, she flees into a world suddenly populated by zombies.
I guess I don't have the publishing trends high enough in my mind, because I didn't realize it was a zombie novel. I had the new world as America and this guy from some Old world (England-ish as his name is Jack) place as a recent immigrant, likely in colonial days since the world seems so barren. Therefore, this Jack was either an anti-hero protagonist or an antagonist for a future character. The only real give away was the last sentence about attracting more of them, and I can come up with other explanations for that from a colonial anti-hero's POV.
However, I assume I would be well aware when I purchased the book, from the cover, title, or back, that this was a zombie book, and so my comments here mostly amount to emoting.
I think EE should institute Winkie Alarms, Whirlio.
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