Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Beginning 915

What was I doing on this diving board?

I was so high up, a plane might graze the top of my head. It hadn’t seemed that far when my feet had been on the ground. The kids in the line before me had no problems. Some had dived off, others jumped, and one had flip-flopped.

I’d been fine going up the ladder. It wasn’t until I reached the platform and looked down that it all went wrong. The diving tower must have stretched and grown on my climb.

My stomach felt heavy, like it did after Christmas lunch when I'd had three servings of pudding. Except worse, because my heart was thud-thudding in my ears. My legs felt wobbly, and I needed to sit down. The life guard asked if I was ok, but I couldn’t answer.

There were only two ways down. The kids waiting on the steps were starting to point and giggle. Think how much harder they’d laugh if I climbed back down.

"Hey mister. Nice swimsuit," one of the brats called out, setting off a round of snickers. "What do those two E's on your butt stand for, Enormous Elephant?"

The nerve of that pipsqueak, mocking my custom-made Speedo! I'd show him. I shuffled out to the very end of the springboard, which sagged sickeningly. It was a mile down. Why did I have to take Grisham up on his stupid dare?

As it turned out, I never had to jump. With a loud crack the board gave way. Must have been all that pudding. My belly flop stung like hell, but at least I had the satisfaction of splashing out so much water that they had to close the pool for the day and send those twerps home.

Opening: JAS.....Continuation: John


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

The horizon, so far away, shifted like it does when it meets a hot road. My scalp prickled as I inched my way closer to the edge. This was a mistake. I didn't belong there at all.

The lifeguard asked again, shouting, pushing more attention at me, was I sure I was okay?

And then the kids, bored now, started chanting. Jump! Jump! Jump! Nowhere to go.

I dropped from the board, ramrod straight, and the world blurred then became blue, then I could see again, coughing and spluttering and trying to catch a breath.

Next time, no short-cut back to the office. I can't afford to ruin another perfectly good suit.


Fearing she was about to lapse into a boredom-induced trance, Dr. Rosenburg interrupted: And I take it you blame your fear of flying, your fear of water, and your fear of heights on this one incident from your childhood?

I told her I did, that in fact it was the reason I chose a doctor with an office on the second floor.

She congratulated me on a breakthrough, opened the curtains, and invited me onto the terrace.

As soon as I was out there I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was fifty floors above the street if I was a foot. Vertigo set in.

There are two ways down, Dr, Rosenburg yelled as I fell over the railing.


none said...

It's okay, but it feels like there's too much of the same thing. Also, it feels as if there's nothing here we haven't heard before. I think you need to bring new insights to the experience, or just hustle along and get to the next bit.

Evil Editor said...

Here's a shorter version without the lifeguard and the kids in front. See if you like it better focused on the narrator's feelings. Maybe you will, maybe you won't.

What was I doing on this diving board? It hadn’t seemed so high up when my feet had been on the ground; but when I reached the platform and looked down... The diving tower must have stretched and grown on my climb.

My stomach felt heavy, like it did after Christmas lunch when I'd had three servings of pudding. My heart was thud-thudding in my ears and my legs felt wobbly. The kids waiting behind me were starting to point and giggle.

They’d laugh a lot harder if I climbed back down.

none said...

I do like that better.

Laurie said...

I agree, I like the shorter version better. Gets to the punchline quicker and sets us up for what follows. Nice hook. I'm sympathetic, we've all been there.

That was a laugh-out-loud continuation, too.

Anonymous said...

It might be more gripping if you didn't start out on the board and then make an immediate switch to backstory, followed by an even deeper excursion into the backstory of Christmas overeating, followed by speculation about what the other kids would do if...

See if it helps to rearrange your sentences so the story proceeds forward in time instead of backwards. Also, I think anyone who goes through the anxiety you are trying to convey to reach the board has done so for a reason and is dwelling on something other than the existential question of why they are there.

This seems more like the writer starts by asking why his character is on a diving board. Then you, the writer, delve into backstory on a quest for some reason. Is it something about the kids? Maybe it's about overeating, or Christmas?

The story would be more gripping if you started with the character knowing their very very big reason to go there, plus their big big reason for not going there. The need to achieve this and the obstacles should be very well known and of major significance to the character so readers soon understand getting there, if he/she does, will be a major achievement and not getting there will be a major failure. Otherwise we don't care much whether he does or doesn't. Nothing's at stake. Especially when you don't start at the beginning.

Evil Editor said...

Let's not go overboard, anon. It's page 1 of a kids' book. The kid's jumping off a diving board, not murdering his teacher. The Christmas pudding is just an analogy, not backstory. No different than if it said My stomach felt heavy, as if I'd just eaten three servings of Mom's butterscotch pudding.

none said...

There's this small part of me that thinks JAS is you, EE. No need to publish this comment if I'm right....

Dave Fragments said...

The diving board trauma and the Speedo trauma. Both are funny and true. And I can say from experience that more than 1 foot off the water is high. Three foot (1 meter) can really hurt if you land wrong and nine feet (3 meter) looking into 9 or 12 feet of water is really daunting. Even in college the gym teachers used certain techniques to get the swimmers at ease with the height. I remember the first times I had to do 3 meter boards. It's not something the sensible brain wants to do.

That's a good place to start a kids story.

Evil Editor said...

A search for JAS on the blog reveals other openings, and a quick scan of the comments on those posts reveals that Jas is also known as Jo-Ann.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm gonna side with Anonymous. "It's a kid's book" is no excuse for getting sloppy-- quite the opposite-- and the Christmas pudding is a distraction.

No matter what you're writing-- middle grades, mystery, free verse, or Twilight fanfic-- you swerve off into metaphor or analogy on page 1 at your peril.

Faceless Minion said...

I'll join the shorten-it-up-a-bit camp.

Love the continuation.

none said...

So it IS you! ;)

ril said...

I kind of thought the point was that the MC was on the diving board keeping everyone waiting.

Nothing wrong with a story about a twelve-year-old with existential angst...

Evil Editor said...

"It's a kid's book" is no excuse for getting sloppy.

I can find nowhere in any comment that anyone said it being a kid's book was an excuse for getting sloppy.

My statement that it's a kid book clearly was meant to illustrate that demanding that a kids story, in the first few paragraphs, be gripping and demonstrate the MC's major achievement and the obstacles overcome in achieving it, is going overboard. Unlike adults, kids don't need explosions on page 1.

For all we know this incident is just a way to introduce the MC and show a bit of his/her character, and is not a major achievement and isn't significant in the main story line.

And unless this story is for three-year-olds, I'm pretty sure the reader will have no trouble avoiding the peril of the pudding analogy.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Unlike adults, kids don't need explosions on page 1.

Ah, well, whatever you edit, it ain't kids' books.

Evil Editor said...

I bow to your knowledge of the field.

I will say that while my comment was meant as a joke about the widely held belief adult books need to start with action, a bit of in-house research reveals that the two Harry Potter books I have on hand begin with domestic scenes; the two kids books we've done in our book chats (Newbery winners Holes and The Higher Power of Lucky) start respectively with a page of description and a mundane scene; and the thousands of Goosebumps books Evil Jr. left behind all seem to start innocently enough, and build toward the scary stuff.

ril said...

A similar research here shows that The Very Busy Spider starts quietly with the spinning of a web. The murder and devouring of the corpse doesn't come until almost the end of the book.

Dave Fragments said...

I just bought two middle grade books (sweet farts and Sweet Farts 2 - ripping it old school) and neither start out with anything more gripping than kids anxiety over SBD flatulence and a cure for it.

Also, "I Love You, Beth Cooper" has been sitting on a shelf in my house for years and it is definitely YA and begins with mucho sweaty angst of his graduation and his speech of "I Love You, Beth Cooper" ...

TWILIGHT, as I recall does not start with anything gripping other than a girl moving to a new city. I didn't keep the book and my memory is a bit foggy so I could be wrong.

Kavalier and Clay begins with a learned discussion at a comic book convention about superheroes.

Now I don't want to pick a fight but clearly MG, YA, teen and other novels do not begin with murders and car wrecks and other gripping events that adult novels begin with.

In fact, I would say that dating angst, appearing in public in a speedo swimsuit, girlfriends, boyfriends, flatulence and pimples, moving to a new school, bad hair, hair in the wrong places, dating, dating, dating, etc.. are the great worries of our children.

In fact, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK got into lots of trouble with the opening line: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." That was a kids book starting with a murder and it caused lots of grief if you read it to a child unawares of what was going on in that chapter.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Little late, but here's my 2 baht worth.

I would move the first sentence into the present tense and make it a little longer. Combining the last two sentences in the first paragraph would work for me.

(Second last sentence in paragraph one reads like carefree children are lined up in front of the reluctant jumper.)

Needs massaging to crisp it up. I'd be interested in reading the revision.