Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » story opening

   
Author Topic: story opening
Symphonyofnames
Member
Member # 8283

 - posted      Profile for Symphonyofnames   Email Symphonyofnames         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Something I just started working on; I just have a rough draft, no revision has been done so far. Any comments would be appreciated.

The night was dark and quiet; a few cars passed by on a street that was generally busy during the daytime, the sound of the motors fading in and growing to a dull roar, then fading out as they left the other way, only stopping occasionally as the light changed. A tall, slim figure stood leaning against a building, watching the road with eyes unseen, looking out from underneath a dark cowl. He was waiting.
As he stood, the sound of a car approaching rose into the air from down the street off to his right. At around the same moment, another pair of headlights appeared from the street directly ahead of the figure. One of them was moving at a normal pace, a steady thirty-five miles per hour, right at the speed limit. The other was not; nor was it moving in a

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited December 20, 2008).]


Posts: 69 | Registered: Oct 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
wetwilly
Member
Member # 1818

 - posted      Profile for wetwilly   Email wetwilly         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Very visual opening. It actually feels to me like I'm reading a screenplay.
Posts: 1475 | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
monstewer
Member
Member # 5883

 - posted      Profile for monstewer   Email monstewer         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
That first sentence made my head nearly explode And yet it didn't tell me much--the street is usually busier in daytime (most are) the cars have to stop for the lights (most do), the cars are louder the closer they are (most are)...all pretty much redundant information without telling the reader anything new or progressing the story.

A tall, slim figure stood leaning against a building, watching the road with eyes unseen, looking out from underneath a dark cowl. He was waiting Who's POV is this? How do we know he's waiting? Who are his eyes hidden from? At the moment this feels very distant when you need to be involving the reader in the story, pulling them in from the get-go.

At the moment I probably wouldn't read on, it feels so distant that I'm too removed from the story to be interested in a car travelling at a steady thirty-five miles an hour, or that another car is coming from another direction. Maybe if you plunge us into the POV of the shadowy figure and give us a hint of what he's waiting for I'll be more hooked.

Good luck with it!


Posts: 373 | Registered: Jul 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Symphonyofnames
Member
Member # 8283

 - posted      Profile for Symphonyofnames   Email Symphonyofnames         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
All right, thanks. I have a habit of writing very visually. I probably need to cut that out. Thanks for the comments, I'll get working on a revision.
Posts: 69 | Registered: Oct 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Symphonyofnames
Member
Member # 8283

 - posted      Profile for Symphonyofnames   Email Symphonyofnames         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Here's a revised version where hopefully POV is established a bit better. I do have a tendency to leave people in the dark at first. Is this any better?


The night was dark and quiet, with only a few cars passing on a
normally busy street. A tall slim figure stood leaning against a building, watching the road with eyes concealed by a cowl. He was waiting, powerless to stop the events that were about to unfold.
Death hated his job. Day after day it was the same depressing duty from which there was no relief. He knew his services would be needed in a few minutes. Every few moments he glanced at an hourglass, the sand quickly rushing into the bottom half.
As he stood, the sound of a car approaching rose into the air from down the street off to his right. At around the same moment, another pair of headlights appeared from the street directly ahead of him. One of them was moving at a normal pace, a steady thirty-five miles per hour, right at the speed limit.


Posts: 69 | Registered: Oct 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
satate
Member
Member # 8082

 - posted      Profile for satate   Email satate         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The second is better, but you still have the two distant sentences. What I found odd, was that it starts off very serious, a dark street, a mysterious person. Then the next line with death bored of his job seems funny. I was confused for a moment wondering if the piece was supposed to be light and teasing. Then it goes back to seriously describing the scene.
Posts: 962 | Registered: Jul 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Brendan
Member
Member # 6044

 - posted      Profile for Brendan   Email Brendan         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
This is a better opening than the first. It, has one hook - that Death hated his job. This would keep me reading for a bit, as it is an amusing concept. However, there are some issues with this that are turn offs.

The night was dark and ... stormy, the crew was down below. This is a famous opening, one that is now a champion of bad writing. If you want a story rejected without reading past the first five words, these are the words you use. Besides, night generally is dark, do I have to be told?

A tall slim figure stood leaning against a building, watching the road with eyes concealed by a cowl. He was waiting...

This is very distant because it is third person, across the street POV. Then, all of a sudden, we have access to some knowledge about his intimate thoughts and motives, like the camera has snapped from the distant shot to into the middle of his ear. And all this before we know who this person is.

He knew his services would be needed in a few minutes. Every few moments he glanced at an hourglass, the sand quickly rushing into the bottom half...

I like the imagery of the hourglass, but the line before it only prompted the question, why was death waiting? Surely he had many people to process in the time that he waited. Furthermore, that line makes us feel told, when the same information is gained in the second sentence. Show, don't tell is an overused mantra, but these two sentences show up the impact of the concept.

As he stood, the sound of a car approaching rose into the air from down the street off to his right...

We use our senses to gauge the position and movement of objects, so this sounds like a flying car, that is, literally flying.


Posts: 784 | Registered: Aug 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TaleSpinner
Member
Member # 5638

 - posted      Profile for TaleSpinner   Email TaleSpinner         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The second version is way better than the first, for the "Death hated his job" line which, as Brendan remarks, is an amusing hook.

I would encourage you to work more on defining the POV clearly in your own mind, and showing us what the POV character sees. Right now I think you're telling when showing would be better. Also, there are inconsistencies--each in itself small but which collectively made me pause and ultimately would stop me reading on.

For example, "The night was dark and quiet": we know night is dark. What is it about this night's darkness that makes it worth mentioning? Are the street lights out? No moon? Also, that it's quiet is contradicted by the second part of the sentence.

"a normally busy street." I think this is telling us something that either Death or the narrator knows, and it doesn't help us visualize the scene. Busy with what--shoppers? Hookers? Street traders? Drunken revellers? Tramps and drug dealers? If you show us what the POV character sees--shops, theatres, empty bars, derelict buildings, whatever--we'll be able to see it too. As it is, we see a generic night street scene, perhaps the scene in your mind, perhaps not, and either way, we're not immersed.

One assumes the tall slim figure is Death, but since the POV seems shaky, it's not certain; Death could be observing the tall slim figure. Assuming they're one and the same character I'd recommend considering starting with the hooky "Death hated his job", rooting the POV firmly in Death, and showing us the street scene as he experiences it in sights, sounds, even smells. If his appearance is important, I guess he'll have to admire himself in a shop window or something. (And BTW, if his eyes are concealed by a cowl, how does he see?)

I like the imagery of an hour glass but wonder how he'd carry it around with him. "quickly rushed": delete "quickly", redundant.

I imagine he's standing at an intersection, but this isn't clear--he's watching a road, not an intersection. How does he know the speed of one car is exactly 35 mph--and does it matter? One assumes that the salient point is that one car is approaching at a normal speed, the other speeding. But if exact speed is something Death knows because of his privileged status, I think it should be hinted at somehow.

"the sound of a car approaching rose into the air from down the street off to his right": I don't think sounds rise into the air and thought for a moment the car was flying. (SF readers can be very literal-minded.) And, the last part could be simplified, perhaps "from the street to his right".

Hope this helps,
Pat


Posts: 1796 | Registered: Jun 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
dee_boncci
Member
Member # 2733

 - posted      Profile for dee_boncci   Email dee_boncci         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Sounds like a cool idea, but in both versions one thing sort of threw me out of the mood: the reference to the car's exact speed and its relation to the posted speed limit. Maybe it's important later on, but it seems peculiar that the hooded character/Death would bother with either of those details. I pictured him in a police cruiser with a radar gun, looking to reap the first person that went 36 mph or greater.
Posts: 612 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Khalan
Member
Member # 5950

 - posted      Profile for Khalan   Email Khalan         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I have a few thoughts.

///The night was dark and quiet, with only a few cars passing on a normally busy street.///

Your first sentence doesn't do anything. If the way you write requires you start off with a bit of filler to set the stage in your mind that's fine, just remember to go back and delete it when once you're rolling and then add back any critical information somewhere after the hook.

///A tall[,] slim figure stood leaning against a building, watching the road with eyes concealed by a cowl. He was waiting, powerless to stop the events that were about to unfold.///

You could start off here, but go ahead and call it Death right away. The mystery of "who is the tall, slim figure?" isn't a hook to begin with, and you make your reveal 2 sentences later anyway. Readers like to get a name right off the bat so they can tag the character they're following. Also, consider - if his eyes are concealed by his cowl, how can he watch the road? Finally, if your story is going to involve some sort of rebellion by Death against his job, then describing him as powerless is wrong - he only feels powerless at this moment.

///Death hated his job. Day after day it was the same depressing duty from which there was no relief. He knew his services would be needed in a few minutes.///

You're starting to dip into Death's POV here, which is good. The note about the reaper hating his job is a touch cliche, but it's a tried-and-true hook ("Mort" by Terry Pratchett probably does it best). The followup line is weak. Take us a little deeper and maybe give us a direct thought or two to cement the POV.

///Every few moments he glanced at an hourglass, the sand quickly rushing into the bottom half.///

You use "few minutes" and "few moments" in back to back sentences. I didn't like the rhythm of that. Also, where is the hourglass? Is he holding it? Does that mean he could flip it over? Will it tie up his hands later when he uses the scythe? Or can he keep it in his cloak? I think others have mentioned this. If you keep the hourglass, consider adding to the tension with a short sentence about the limited amount of sand in the upper half.

///As he stood, the sound of a car approaching rose into the air from down the street off to his right. At around the same moment, another pair of headlights appeared from the street directly ahead of him. One of them was moving at a normal pace, a steady thirty-five miles per hour, right at the speed limit.///

You don't need "As he stood", nor "At around the same moment". The lines work better and without those clauses. Keep your sentences active. "A sound rose" isn't as good as "Death heard the sound of". "Was moving" isn't as good as "drove" or "rolled". "Another pair of headlights" is awkward since there is no first pair of headlights, only a sound.

There's also the problem of helping the reader see the scene in their head. Give an adjective or a tiny (and I mean tiny) description of each car, so that when you tell us one is family sedan rolling along the highway, and the other is a muscle car tearing through the hills, we know what's what.

Verb choice is important. That last line, I'm guessing, is to let us know that the first car is being driven properly, and that the other car is going to be the cause of the impending accident. I just gave a couple of mediocre examples of alternative verbs above; find something better and replace that clunky, three-claused sentence about "moving at a normal pace."


Posts: 46 | Registered: Aug 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Symphonyofnames
Member
Member # 8283

 - posted      Profile for Symphonyofnames   Email Symphonyofnames         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
And here's another go. Thanks a lot for the comments. Openings have never been my strong point, and this does help quite a bit.

Death was waiting. He stood on the corner of an empty intersection, tapping his foot against the pavement, occasionally glancing at an hourglass held in one bony hand. The sand was rushing into the bottom chamber, with only a little remaining in the top.
It was a dark night around him. He wished it were also stormy; that way at least the mood would be properly set for what was about to happen. He knew his services would be needed in a few minutes, as they were constantly.
Death hated his job. Day after day it was the same depressing duty from which there was no relief, no change, and no reward. He’d rather be almost anywhere than standing here in the dark waiting for man to die. He wondered briefly what the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse were up to.

Any better?


Posts: 69 | Registered: Oct 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
monstewer
Member
Member # 5883

 - posted      Profile for monstewer   Email monstewer         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Personally, I think that " Death hated his job." is the ideal first sentence and would start there. Everything before that could be slipped in more naturally in what follows.

If you do choose to keep that first paragraph, you might want to keep an eye on tightening the prose such as The sand was rushing into the bottom chamber, with only a little remaining in the top. which would read better as "Only a little sand remained in the top..." the reader will know how it works from those few words and their imagination will fill in the rest.


Posts: 373 | Registered: Jul 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Khalan
Member
Member # 5950

 - posted      Profile for Khalan   Email Khalan         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Better, but I don't think it's quite there yet. You can spice up that first line and keep Monstewer happy by changing "waiting" to "bored".

/// He stood on the corner of an empty intersection, tapping his foot against the pavement, occasionally glancing at an hourglass held in one bony hand. The sand was rushing into the bottom chamber, with only a little remaining in the top.///

I like the first two clauses. Lose "occasionally" in the third. You don't need the adverb and "glancing" conveys that on its own. You might also consider breaking the first sentence up and running the last clause with the second sentence. My own preference would be like this: "He stood on the corner of an empty intersection, tapping his foot against the pavement. Bone echoed on asphalt like the ticking of a watch until it was drowned out by the noise of an approaching car. He glanced at the hourglass in his hand. Its sand was almost gone; he would be needed soon." That might be darker than you're looking for and I'm sure you can do better, but I'm trying to provide an example of pushing things together so a lot can happen at once. Death is clearly bored - you get a visual of this rhythmic foot tapping (and it's a little macabre with the bone on asphalt note). You also know that a car is coming when the noise drowns out the echo of his foot tapping, and you can't help but make the connection that the driver is gonna die because he's approaching as the sands run out.

///It was a dark night around him. He wished it were also stormy; that way at least the mood would be properly set for what was about to happen. He knew his services would be needed in a few minutes, as they were constantly.///

To me, this is the weakest part of the passage. You're trying to get into his POV, but it doesn't work nearly as well as the next part.

///Death hated his job. Day after day it was the same depressing duty from which there was no relief, no change, and no reward. He’d rather be almost anywhere than standing here in the dark waiting for man to die. He wondered briefly what the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse were up to.///

The first two sentences here I think are the strongest in the passage, because you're in Death's POV. I would move "waiting" to before "in the dark" and cut "for the man to die". You might want to rework the part about the weather and bring it into this paragraph after "no reward." Something like "He had a particular distaste for it on clear, beautiful night like this. Storms were so much better for setting the mood."

One last note: re the four horsemen - if you haven't read Good Omens, at least get a synopsis, since it's a comedy and the four horsemen play a large role in the later chapters. If you want to generate some envy for Death, make it a "cold, clear night" to suggest a northerly locale, and let him speculate that he heard War was vacationing in the Caribbean again, Famine had taken up permanent residence at a fashion lounge in Paris, and Pestilence seemed to be involved in a lot of intercourse these days (har, har).

Those are my thoughts, for whatever they're worth. I do think you're making good progress - keep at it. And remember, if you disagree with us, it's YOUR story. You have to be happy with it; we'll keep quibbling you to death if you let us. Sorry for the pun.

[This message has been edited by Khalan (edited December 22, 2008).]


Posts: 46 | Registered: Aug 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Symphonyofnames
Member
Member # 8283

 - posted      Profile for Symphonyofnames   Email Symphonyofnames         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, the people I've let read the whole thing have said that they were "pulled into it" from the beginning; just wanted to say thanks again for the comments, clearly it's helping.
Posts: 69 | Registered: Oct 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2