Friday, November 08, 2013

New Beginning 1017

Gwinn breathed a sigh of relief when the shop finally came into view. She’d run the entire way from her village, almost a quarter of a day’s journey. A quick glance at the sun told her she was ahead of schedule. Still, she couldn’t stay long. Her parents thought she was in the orchards and would expect her home for lunch. If she arrived late, they would ask questions.

She slowed to a light jog as she made her way down the hill, the faint path merging into the wide and well-worn road. The shop sat about twenty feet back from the road, leaning slightly to the left as if it were tired. It was actually more of a glorified shack attached to an even smaller shack meant to be a home, but it was the only shop Gwinn could reach by foot. As she approached, she noted two unfamiliar horses. Good. The last thing she wanted was to encounter anyone from her village. They could ruin the surprise. She opened the heavy door and walked inside.

Although she hadn’t been there in several years, it smelled just as she remembered – sweet, like the hard candies that glittered in glass jars along the wall, mixed with dried rosemary and sage. She paused in the doorway.

Two strangers sat at tables near the register, presumably waiting for the inscrutable shopkeeper to appear with their orders. Was that Gwinn's order on the counter? She peered into the bag. "Dammit!" The Mu shu pork had congealed into a solid mass! And the lo mein was cold. Who knew "ten minute" really meant ten minutes? Now her family would start asking hard questions, like Where's the duck sauce and spicy mustard? What was the point of surprising them with take-out if this was the result? She searched the bag. Ah-ha! Saved! At least they'd remembered the fortune cookies.

Opening: Alice.....Continuation: Kregger


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

"Hello there," a man said from a dark corner.

"Who's there," Gwinn said.

"Come over and see." His voice was deep and sexy.

Gwinn tiptoed over as her heart pounded. The smell of a man who hadn't bathed in weeks stuck inside her nostrils like melted candy. Gwinn liked this odor.

A tan naked man with a rumpled beard and greasy long hair lay on a dirty pallet in the corner. Gwinn was disgusted and turned on at the same time.

"Want some candy little girl?" he said.

"Yes, yes I do!"

Gwinn jumped on him as he roared like a lion. Now she understood why she had seen so many village women sneak off at random times in the direction of the shop.


Stunned Gwinn was, by the erotic tableau she encountered. Two burly men, bordering on ruffian standards, had stretched Montresi, the shopkeeper, betwixt themselves.

Whilst one sucked her neck and fondled her exposed breasts, the other had her head buried beneath Montresi's full skirt.

The slam of the door was barely heard over Montresi's moans, but when it was, the neck-sucker's daring green eyes turned Gwinn's way. She shivered watching his red tongue clean Montresi's blood from his fangs.

"Ah, Leopold, the second course has arrived," he said casually.

It was then Gwinn realized two things: she should never lie to her parents, and she would be very late for lunch.

--Veronica Rundell

"Here you boys are," said the shopkeep as he brought them a small package. "Too bad you missed the Scarborough Fair, Mr Simon. Here's your parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme."


The two strangers, bulky men in dark robes, stood with their backs to her, leaning over something on the counter. Only the tightly bound, gray bun of the old shop-keeper's hair was visible through a gap between the men's shoulders.

Gwinn silently padded forward until she was almost touching one of the men, and waited. No one noticed her. She took a deep breath. "BOO!!!"

The woman screamed. The two men turned around, cursing. But Gwinn was already gone; and despite her initial glee, on the quarter day's run home she couldn't help feeling that the surprise hadn't really lived up to its original promise.


Evil Editor said...

The round trip to this shop take half a day. That's a lot of running. I'd guess at least thirty miles. Which means the family is still going to be asking questions. Like, Why are you panting like you just ran a marathon? Why are you dehydrated? Where's the fruit you were supposed to be picking?

A village would have a population of hundreds, maybe thousands. And there's no shop that can be reached on foot in less than a quarter day? Perhaps if you specified the kind of shop. A bake shop is likely to be close, while a jeweler might not.

If the surprise isn't pretty cool, this might be the wrong place to start.

Dave Fragments said...

I think that that structure of the three (mostly) paragraphs that I'm reading is not working. It's not exciting or engaging. I will come back tonight and explain but right now I can't.

Unknown said...

Agree w/ Dave and EE. Ain't no candy worth a half day's travel. Also, do we need so much description of the shop? Right now I visualize it more than Gwinn, which is bad. Unless the SHOP is the MC...but I kinda hope not.

Get us to the point faster. Maybe start with Gwinn's conversation with the shopkeeper. Or, her befuddlement over the selection. Or her frustration over waiting to purchase while her sweaty feet ache after the ten mile run...

All I know about Gwinn: she's deceitful. She likes candy. She picks fruit. Her parents are protective. Now, show me why any of this matters.

khazar-khum said...

Gwinn must live out in the boonies. Like, American boonies, where you can be a long way from a village. Earlier boonies were a lot closer to town.

Queries like this always make me think of people whose only interface with rural life is a picture of a farm on a jigsaw puzzle. The setting seems antique--horses, orchards, spicy smells. But it doesn't feel right. Time is off. If it's a quarter day journey there, and she ran the whole way, either she's an endurance runner in Kenya, some kind of elf, or a were-cheetah. And if she's a were-cheetah, that needs to be said.

150 said...

I've got a pretty strong suspicion that this selection starts too early. Cut to the events that matter.

Anonymous said...

I agree, this story opens in the wrong place. Something interesting needs to happen soon, all we know is that she's putting a lot of effort into a surprise, which is sweet but lacks oomph. I also wonder about the age of the intended readership- maybe for those who like the Little House series?

I would also drop the cliche in the first line.

Writer, you clearly have writing skills, start by telling us something about Gwinn and her world that makes the reader want to read on.
Jo Antareau

Dave Fragments said...

WHen I read this earlier, I thought that each paragraph had the same elements:
a) A comment about Gwinn running to the shop
b) the surroundings and back story.

The shop comes into view.
Her parents think she's in the orchard
The path merges before the shop (she's still moving)
The shop is rundown and there are horses outside.
It smells nice.
She pauses …

and so does all the action -- pause and expire. The type of shop is not a reader-holding mystery. Nor is what the shop sells a reader-holding mystery.

Simply put:
Gwinn sneaks away from her parent orchard to buy a treat for a surprise something that she planned.

Make one paragraph of a few sentences out of all of that. Then add some threat to Gwinn:

"As Gwinn ran to buy the candy treats before anyone realized she was gone, she was kidnapped by pirates, abducted by aliens, waylaid by zombified girl scouts…"

The smoke from John's workshop rose from behind the hill as Gwinn ran to get her something or other before it burnt with the shop.

Mister Furkles said...


Too many uninteresting mysteries:
- She runs to the shop – why?
- She’s ahead of schedule – what schedule?
- She can’t stay long – why? & why would she want to?
- Her parents disapprove - of what? & why?
- She hopes to avoid fellow villagers – why?
- There’s going to be a surprise – what?
- She hasn’t been there for years – why not? & why now?

You need to raise some suspense to keep us reading. But ten mild mysteries in 200 words are too many. It’s annoying and boring.

You spend 63 words describing the road and the exterior of the shop. None of that seems relevant at this time.

Surely you can skip some of this and get to something interesting.

Still I like your prose. Now get the story moving.

Evil Editor said...

The answers to some of those questions is, she needs to get home by lunchtime. Otherwise her parents will ask her where she's been, and the answer will give away the surprise. Also, running into someone who knows her family could lead to the surprise getting back to her parents.

Dave Fragments said...

I keep returning to this. There's a reason for that and I'm not certain I want to explain.
I'm reminded of several novels I've read…
Daphne du Maurier's - Rebecca
Paul Auster - Man in the Dark
Michael Ondaatje - The English Patient
All three of them were not action narratives. It is nicer to imagine that this opening might be the next famous novel.

There's no direct opening to either of those stories. One opens with a dream (in fact, one of the most famous dreams in all literature). The second is psychologically intrusive. I fell in love with the language of the third.

My point here being that many novels do not have an action based narrative. This is a problem of making a narrative flow through existing elements.

I don't have a problem with words in openings as long as those words serve to further a story. I don't have a problem with mysterious characters without name.

As I said in my first post, this opening starts and stops several times. It doesn't make an easy path for the reader to follow. Rather, it slows the reader. The obvious answer to cut words and do an all action opening might not fit with the rest of the story in style.

Perhaps changing "Still, she couldn’t stay long." to "Time was short." in the first paragraph.
Perhaps changing "As she approached, she noted..." to something like "Two unfamiliar horses waited for their owners."

Think changes like that.

khazar-khum said...

The action probably starts after she's left the shop and is heading home. Can she get there in time, will her parents miss her, will she be able to spring her surprise, should she steal a horse, reveal her true nature as a were-cheetah, and so on.

Mister Furkles said...


I suspect that my comment was insufficiently clear. EE mentions that some of the questions raised have obvious answers. Well, be that as it may, they are boring questions.

The opening page needs to get to a story or be an intriguing narrative.

A story need not concern the main character or any character that occurs after the first few pages. What it needs is suspense and tension. The tension for Gwinn is too mild—for me--because we don’t know of any risks or consequences for skipping work in the field. The suspense is virtually nonexistent because the ‘surprise’ doesn't mean anything to us—yet. Give us conflict or risk and give us a hint why the surprise is special.

Going on about so many uninteresting questions and descriptions of the shop and the road delays getting to a story.

On the plus side, the prose is rather good. If you revise just a little to give the reader some real suspense and some serious tension, then I’ll want to read more.

My views are those of a reader not an editor.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I really do hope the surprise is a hot man.

Alice Witten said...

Author here! Thanks so much for all of your feedback (and continuations)! Clearly I need to cut this down and make it flow better.

To answer the target audience question, this is YA Fantasy. Gwinn is a good runner (not were-cheetah good, but good). It comes into play later in the story but it sounds like I’ve made it a bit too over-the-top here. The shop is more of a trading post. So I should probably just call it that. The surprise is tame (glass birds), but the shop owner refuses to sell them to Gwinn so that’s where the conflict starts. They’re interrupted by the arrival of four strange men, who kidnap Gwinn in the next chapter…and since I can’t tell an agent to make sure they read until the part where Gwinn is kidnapped before they decide if the story is interesting or not, I should clearly get to the good stuff sooner.

I’m working on the query! Hope to have that done and submitted soon.

Thanks again EE and minions!

Unknown said...

Hi Alice,
Start with the argument over the glass birds and drop the backstory and arrival of strangers into the head of the MC. Let us she her frustration over the trader's reluctance.
Let us see her disappointment over not gaining her desire.
Let us see her distracted curiosity over the arrivals and their, perhaps, imperious/scoundrelly/dismissive/lecherous behavior and give us enough to keep the tension high while she departs dejected and soon to be kidnapped.
This will be a far stronger opening than what you have here...