Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Beginning 902

News flash – funerals are boring. I’ve no idea which old-family-friend-relative has fallen off the perch this time. Probably some second cousin of Nonno’s who I last saw at somebody’s wedding and tried to dodge knowing they would want to kiss me and I’d end up with gravel rash across my cheek thanks to their feral facial hair. This treatment comes equally from the men and women.

Ok, even I have to admit it’s disrespectful. I’m sure Mama told me who died - probably between the times we were shrieking at each other - but right now I can’t even remember the conversation.

I’m slouched in a pew, hoping the heating will get turned up. More people drift into the church. Oh, there’s Celine. What’s she doing at a family funeral? Drama queen Celine, all dressed in black like a crow and hugging everything in sight. She’s more at home here than I am. My relatives think that if they don’t wail and howl and throw themselves onto the coffin everybody would disapprove because they’re not grieving enough. Celine’d remind me whose funeral it is if I asked, but then she’ll sit at this pew and I’d be stuck with her.

Luckily, she doesn’t stop, just walks past me. An usher is handing out booklets, but she doesn’t give me one. I peek over somebody’s shoulder.

The photo jumps out at me. Somebody screwed up. Big time. The girl is wearing the dress I wore to Maria’s wedding, with her hair done the way mine was.

And her face is the face I see in the mirror.

Wait. It's coming back to me. Maria's wedding . . . My reclusive great aunt Phyllis slouched in a garish muumuu, her long frazzled hair falling onto a plate of fish. God, I remember that fish. It had the weirdest taste. I'd managed to choke down half of it and then swapped with Phyllis for her chicken.

"Poor Phyllis," Uncle Ernie sighs. "Food poisoning. On what should have been such a happy occasion, too."

"I heard she wasn't found for a week," his wife adds. "No one bothered to check until the neighbors complained about the howling cats."

Food poisoning from the fish? I think, leaning back to enjoy the organ music. Maria must be feeling sooo guilty right now.

Opening: Anon......Continuation: Tamara Marnell


150 said...

This is good. I don't ride the YA-with-dead-MC train, but the voice here works, and it should appeal to those who do. It could be made clearer by replacing "photo" with "the photo of the deceased". Good luck!

Evil Editor said...

This sounds like a good YA opening.

P1: Change "old-family-friend-relative" to "old family friend/relative."

I'd change "they would" to "they'd" and "their feral facial hair" to "his--or her--feral facial hair," and get rid of the last sentence.

P3: Change "heating" to "heat."

If Celine is more at home at the family funeral than the narrator, why did the narrator question Celine's even being there?

If she's going to mock someone for dressing in black, it's going to be a while.

A less-wordy way of saying this sentence: My relatives think anyone who doesn't wail and howl and throw themself onto the coffin isn't grieving enough.

Last sentence: I don't like Celine'd. Celine would is better. And "she'll" should be "she'd."

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

There's much that's intriguing here-- an extended crazy family is always fun-- but the voice is off.

The being kissed and not being given a booklet suggest a child. But much about the voice is adult (referring to everyone by their first names, the descriptions of the relatives). And not knowing whose funeral it is is frankly unbelievable unless the child lives far away and barely knows the relatives-- yet the descriptions indicate she knows them quite well.

There are POV slips-- we don't think we slouch, we think we relax comfortably. Other people slouch.

And "Ok, even I have to admit it’s disrespectful" sounds like a "message from Fred"-- ie a writer's recognition that something in the story is not working. For this scene to work the voice has got to absolutely spot-on. One misstep could kill you.

But, like I said, it's intriguing. It's got promise. Now just work your tail off on the voice.

Evil Editor said...

The usher doesn't give her a booklet because she's dead. It's her funeral. Referring to Celine and Maria by their first names wouldn't be unusual if Celine and Maria are teens like the narrator.

Dave Fragments said...

I don't like the second paragraph. I think it reads better without it. However, in these YA or Teen novels, you can leave it and the kids will no doubt love it. Teens like that kind of excess and it turns into a benefit in novels aimed at them.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ah, then I completely missed the point.

If she's dead, it's not intriguing. It's done. To death.

vkw said...

I use to say YA isn't my thing then I read the Hunger Games series and Marbury Lens.

I like the voice. I think "becoming aware" while at your own funeral is a bit cliche. But, I do like crazy family members.

I think I would tighten this a bit - try cutting. Put a period after "dodge" in the second paragraph.

I think maybe "I deliberately slouch in the pew, hoping to avoid eye contact." I think one would do something different than slouch if cold.

So if the point is the narrator is cold, "I pulled my sweater around me, hoping the heat would be turned up" would perhaps be more coherent.

Okay if Celine is a teenage friend, then she shouldn't be the only friend in the room. Teenage funerals are usually packed with teenagers.

Hope that helps.

If Celine is the first teenager to arrive, then maybe something to the effect, "I must be early. People are just piling in."

none said...

Everything's been done to death. I mean, vampires? I'm sick of them, but obviously lots of readers aren't.

What matters is how it's done. This isn't so bad.

Evil Editor said...

If anything's been done to death, it's first-person narrators who are alive. I get those all the time.

none said...

Most of them *should* be done to death, EE.

Anonymous said...

Then what would we write if we couldn't reuse a plot -- change the characters, the setting, the circumstances, the families, etc...

St0n3henge said...

I like this because it's interesting and gets to the point pretty quickly. There's not a lot of info about the main character crammed in that should be revealed gradually, like in a lot of openings.

Tamara Marnell said...

I made fun in my continuation (I've got three posted now! It must be because I'm brilliant, and not just because no one else submitted any!) but I actually liked this. The realization that you're the one who's dead isn't terribly original, but I assume this particular ghost will move on rather quickly to the action. She doesn't seem like the type to dwell on the minor inconveniences of dying. Maybe I'm just fond of it because I'm equally bitter and apathetic.

I don't think the "disrespectful" line is necessary. It doesn't have anything to do with the dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. The priorities are a little fuzzy, too: it's cool to ask flippantly who's "fallen off the perch this time," but pointing out her aunts' facial hair is disrespectful?

If the author wants the speaker to show a little bit of humanity, she can attribute the thought to someone else to indicate awareness, but not complete acknowledgement. I'd also tone down the introspection a tad, if it's a teenager. Teenagers blame their parents; they don't see themselves as part of the problem (even, presumably, if they're dead). E.g. "Mama would scold me for being 'disrespectful.' She probably told me who died, somewhere between the times she was shrieking at me..."

Jo-Ann said...

Hi Author here
Thanks to all who took the time to comment and double thanks to Tamara for the continuation.

I guess I need to get out more, coz I didn't think the dead MC thing was all that common, other than the Lovely Bones and the narrator on Wisteria Lane.

@Alaska - the whole kissing thing is very Italian, as is the feral facial hair. Sadly, an unfortunate combination and even as an adult I wince at the prospect of a kiss greeting - why can't they air kiss like the Brits?. (although thanks to laser technology it aint as bad as it used to be). Good point about the POV regarding slouchng.

BTW I've been to funerals where there was lots of dramatic wailing and throwing oneself on the coffin. At one funeral, a woman did a great wail-and-howl and simultaneously muttered under her breath telling her kids to behave themselves. It's part of the culture.

@VKW - I'm going to drop the reference to heating, as later in the narrative she complains she has no sensation of touch or temperature (ah! revision!). And, yes, in the following para, a gaggle of schoolfriends arrive, and huddle together, bereft. MC is not amused to see who is comforting whom, however.

@Tamara, very good point about the introspection, and the priorities. I'll tweak that.

Overall, the suggestions have been very useful and I feel encouraged to continue (I have about 35000 words done and I'm not sick of her yet), so this one might get finished!

It's a sort-of NaNo project, as it was started a few months ago, left to simmer, and recommenced in Nov at the rate of about 1500 words per day.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Sorry, late in to the funeral. Jo-Ann, predictably, gives good voice. Although, Jo, yeah, you do need to get out more ;o). As vkw mentions, this type of opening has been done and done. But as long as dead teens keep showing up on YA covers (ref:, I think the trend is still on life-support, although Buffy appears ready to call it.

Nothing to add to the other advice here. A thorough copy edit/content edit by a couple of good beta readers (and I know you've got a couple!) when the ms is done, and you should be golden.