Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Beginning 885

I hate questioning wizards. They sit there in the witness box and give me that look: that raised-eyebrow, upturned-lip sneer that says they'd sooner alter their clocks than give me the time of day. My boss reclines in his corner office and laughs into his latte, but he can afford amusement. No wizard worth his wand fears another.

I'm worth every inch of mine, every dead inch. Mercen the Mundane, that's me. Blank as a wall and with far less to recommend him, as my criminal law professor once said. I always did like criminal law.

I take a deep breath and push my glasses up my nose.

"Mr Ambrose," I say, "are you acquainted with my client?"

The witness examines the ceiling. "Not personally, no."

"Had you met him previously?"

"Only in passing, at other seminars. I doubt he would remember me."

"So in other words..." I turn to face the jury. "He had no reason to attack you."

Silence. Several brows crease. At the far end of the bar table, Noakes stops twirling his wand.

I fix my eyes on Ambrose. "Well, Mr. Ambrose?" I say, the pitch of my voice raised.

Ambrose stares at me. I stare at him. He stares at me and I give a little wave of my wand. He doesn't know my wand is impotent.

"All right, you got me." Ambrose slumps in his seat. "We'd known each other for years. I did it. He caught me with his wife, took a swing at me and I turned him into a mailbox."

Being a wizard defense lawyer is too fucking easy.

Opening: Kerin.....Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

"I wouldn't say that," Ambrose grinned his face filled with malice.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I take taken great delight in plowing your client's work into assorted furrows several times in different directions whenever he gets something published. I call it criticism. He seems to think it was personal. That's why he attacked me and snapped my wand."

I didn't like where this was going. The broken wand, Exhibit A lay on the evidence table weeping softly. Juries were suckers for bawling wands.

--Wilkins MacQueen

Evil Editor said...

P1: I would get rid of: My boss reclines in his corner office and laughs into his latte, but he can afford amusement. Unless his boss's office is in the courtroom and Mercen is looking at his boss instead of the witness, how would he know this?

P2: I'd lose all but the first sentence. In fact, it's probably better without that sentence, as well. Yes, drop the whole paragraph and bring in his lack of power later.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This is quite good. I would read on.

The "alter their clocks" thing was the only snag. It took too long to figure out what you meant, which pulled me out of the story. You might wanna murder that darling or replace it with something that flows better.

Dave Fragments said...

The courtroom drama, but how do we know that we are in a courtroom or a chamber for depositions? We don't and you give us the wrong place by discussing he character's boss.

I would go a bit farther than EE and move the third paragraph for later. It's a court drama. Get to into that courtroom right away.

Does "The witness examines the ceiling" mean anything more than that? I'm not sure. If it is the witness being shifty and lying (like eyes flickering left or foot shuffling, or asking he question back as a question) then keep it.

The first answer is shifty. Is this a hostile witness? If it is, treat him that way. And make the duel between lawyer and witness a real duel of words. This lawyer is not a fool. He isn't going to make rookie mistakes. But the cards are stacked against him this early in the story. He's going to get hit with a two-by-four righ between the eyes and he won't see it coming.

One of my favorite courtroom drams is A FEW GOOD MEN (go to the movie) and there are two excellent courtroom examinations that I think you are not writing but can't escape.

Let me explain...

One that has Kendrick's line about "I live by two books, the Marine corps manual and the Bible" and so much is revealed in that. The examination reveals the depth of pettiness and wrong-doing in a quiet but devastating way. We almost believe that the wrong side will win.

And the second side is final climactic exam after the Nicholson character screams "you can't handle the truth" and then launches into a spectacular diatribe that holds the audience on nothing but his ugly face for a full minute and then admits guilt. This is a final scene.

You aren't writing either of those scenes. I think that this scene is the one where the witness throws the roundhouse and connects with an accusation of the defendant so damning that all looks hopeless.

Paint that opening scene in a courtroom for the reader in your opening. Your story will be better for it. Give the reader a taste of the all wood, the hard floors, the formality of that room. If it isn't dialog, it should paint the picture of the courtroom as a star chamber created for condemning the accused. Psychoanalysis of Mercen or irrelevant widdling of glasses will not benefit the story.

Chicory said...

Actually, I liked the `rather alter their clocks than give me the time of day' line. I do agree that mentioning the boss when he's not actually in the courtroom is confusing, though.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Actually, it was the word "alter" that gave me difficulty. Since they're wizards, the possibilities for what they're doing to their clocks (turning them into fieldmice?) become distracting.

"Change" might work, as might "change timezones", but they have the same difficulty.

File under things I wish I'd learned way earlier in this game:

Metaphor and hyperbole are great as long as they contain images that enhance meaning rather than distracting from it.

Xiexie said...

Great opening. The altering of the clocks isn't such a bother for me.

At first I read the boss (since I'm imagining a courtroom) as the senior lawyer who is there in the courtroom but not actively lawyering (I don't know the correct term for this). That would work with the scene; otherwise, his being in the corner office makes one go, "?????"

I want to read more!

Unknown said...

I stumbled over "I hate questioning wizards." It made me think that the wizard was asking the narrator something. Let me know I'm in a courtroom sooner.

I'd suggest taking the first two lines and make them scene specific rather than general statements. So:

"Wizard Ambrose sneered down at me from the witness box. His raised eyebrow and upturned-lip screamed that he'd rather alter reality than tell me what time it was."

The present tense is a little off-putting since most stories are told in the past tense, but I'd get over that fairly quickly reading it.

I don't have any sense of whether this is a criminal or civil trial. Is the MC on direct exam? Doesn't sound like it. If he's on cross-examination, he should lead the witness. There's a reason that the Jack Nichols scene in A FEW GOOD MEN is on his cross-examination. You can get much more drama, better dialog and better flow in writing cross than you can in direct.

Also, attorneys have strong feelings about juries. If he likes this jury, he's going to turn to HIS jury. But again, that's a picky attorney nit. I suspect the phrasing "I turned to face THE jury" wouldn't bother a non-attorney. If you do describe the jury as "MY" or "The prosecutor's" jury, you can show us how the MC thinks the trial is going. I only call a jury "mine" when I'm reasonably sure they are leaning my client's way.

Starting with a trial scene is tough because the reader's not connected to the characters or the issues. That said, I think you are really close and with some clean-up you'll probably pull off opening in a courtroom.

Good luck.

150 said...

Re: "I hate questioning wizards", I got the impression from the query that the world was, like, 95% wizards. Is that not the case?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Maybe another word than questioning. "Interrogating"? "Cross-examining"?

none said...

The correct term would be examining or cross-examining, but with the first people would probably complain they thought the narrator was a doctor!

However, that first paragraph is all over the place. Is it about the witness, the boss, or general wizard feelings? Focus!

Beth said...

I love this. Every word of it. Though I did find the remark about the boss in his office laughing into his latte a little confusing, since this is taking place in a courtroom. But the voice and humor are great.

Kerin said...

That first line's actually been changed numerous times, from 'questioning' to 'cross-examining', and then back again. I wasn't sure cross-examination was familiar enough that I could get away with referring to it in the first sentence, but it seems maybe I was wrong. I'm starting to see that bringing Mercen's boss into the picture in the opening paragraph is maybe not a great idea (especially since he doesn't actually appear in the story; he gets a reference later on, but that's it).

Dave - Mercen's no fool, but he is a rookie. He's going to stuff up. Big time. So I don't know that I can do too much with that; likewise the comments about how he should be leading the witness. Damn straight he should, but his nerves are getting the better of him. If that's not coming through in what I have, then I clearly need to rethink it (and hope that I don't end up telling instead of showing, which is my nightmare).

Would anyone read the scene all that differently without knowing about Mercen's lack of power? It comes in for more of a mention further in - round about the point Mercen stuffs up - so I'll have to consider whether it's worth keeping here, or, as several people have suggested, jumping straight into the courtroom scene.

Lots for me to think about everyone, thanks!

Unknown said...

IMHO - You already have a hook, the wizard on the witness stand, so you can leave out the fact that our MC isn't magical for now. I think you might want a little more build up about the how mundane magic is in the world before you hit us with a powerless MC.