Friday, August 18, 2006

New Beginning 80


In the pasta aisle at Sven’s Market, Marne studied the lasagna noodle selection. She preferred a meatless, spinach recipe with whole wheat pasta, but Ken liked it with meat and traditional noodles. She went traditional, not wanting to give him anything to bitch about.

“Marne, how are you?” Annie Mott, her bleached blond hair pulled tight in a pony tail, rolled her cart next to Marne’s.

“Hi Annie. I’m fine. How are you?”

“Good. Missed you at the meeting Thursday. The Big Moon Friends of the Arts isn’t the same without you.”

“I’ll be back. It’s just been a busy week.”

“Getting ready for the new job, no doubt.” Annie looked in Marne’s cart. “I buy frozen dinners, cheap wine and beer and you have ten buck chuck and the fixings for a home made meal. What’s the occasion?”

“Ken’s getting in this evening. He’s been out of town again, another two weeks on the east coast, and I thought I’d surprise him with his favorite meal.”

"The east coast again?" Annie said. "Last time he went off he had an affair and you almost divorced him. I'd be making him arsenic lasagna."

"Very funny. Actually, I'm making a special dessert." Marne held up a jug of antifreeze. "Lime Jello with pineapple chunks."


Opening: Edd Tury.....Continuation: Cheryl Mills

23 comments:

Cathy said...

That continuation was way better than mine.

These exercises are not only fun but helpful. I need to learn to turn faster on a phrase, dialgue, etc.

Marne is such a familiar name to me. I see it everytime I visit my dogs' graves. Cuddles (my toy poodle) and Terence (my Yorkshire Terrier) are buried next to Marne, some kind of Schnauzer thing. I can tell Marne's a Schnauzer because the bronze engraving of Marne's image is of a Schnauzer. Marne's marker is never clean, out of pity for the poor neglected dead dog, I clean around his marker.

Ok, I'm a little crazy. That qualifies me to be a writer, I think.

Anonymous said...

Yaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnn.

Sorry, that was rude. There's just nothing there. Not a good way to begin anything.

Just MHO. -JTC

HawkOwl said...

It might be going somewhere (though it's not going there was enough for me), but I would really do something about that first sentence. Well, the whole first paragraph is pretty dull, but the first sentence is so bland and so lacking in tension, I hardly even got to the second one.

Your dialogue is quite plausible and introduces the situation well enough, without "as you know Bob," but so far there isn't enough of a situation to care about. Her man's getting in and she doesn't want him getting bitchy right away. Eh, we've all been there. It needs something darker and more dramatic. Is Ken beating her? Cheating on her? Running drugs into New York?

We should feel a lot more stress and have more of an idea, by the end of 150 words, as to why this is a stressful situation.

Good luck. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to agree, this is a dull opening. There's no real action and the dialog is not aiding your story, just slowing the pace. You don't want a slow pace in your opening, generally speaking; you want a hook to make the readers curious as to what happens next.

As I don't know what happens next, I cannot say whether the dialog is pointing out any useful future info. But I hazard a guess you could have skipped paragraphs 2, 3, 4, and had Annie do your work for you by saying: Annie eyed Marne's cart, smirked. "I buy frozen dinners..."

If it is important that we know Marne is busy and in a hurry, the hurry can be inserted in the first paragraph. In fact, it probably should be and that means you need to pick up the tension there as well.

Is she supposed to be resentful or anxious? I get a vaguely harried and anxious feel, but it's not strong. I think your reader needs it to be strong(er) whatever the emotional overtone should be.

Inkmandoo said...

Thanks for your help. It's in its third revision and I continue to struggle with the opening. Punching it up without over doing it is a challenge. If anyone cares I'll post the original opening on my blog and take your hits there.
http://inkmandoo.blogspot.com

whitemouse said...

She preferred a meatless, spinach recipe with whole wheat pasta, but Ken liked it with meat and traditional noodles.

Aaak! I don't care! Where on Earth did you get the idea I would care about this?

“Marne, how are you?”
“Hi Annie. I’m fine. How are you?”


Nothing could scream louder than this dialogue does that these people are going to be dull.

“Good. Missed you at the meeting Thursday. The Big Moon Friends of the Arts isn’t the same without you.”

That's a nice mouthful. Uh, Annie? I'm sure Marne already knows what it's called.

“I’ll be back. It’s just been a busy week.”
“Getting ready for the new job, no doubt.”


Annie is so slick about telling the reader things the writer wants them to know, isn't she?

“I buy frozen dinners, cheap wine and beer and you have ten buck chuck and the fixings for a home made meal. What’s the occasion?”

Ooh, so slick.

“Ken’s getting in this evening. He’s been out of town again, another two weeks on the east coast, and I thought I’d surprise him with his favorite meal.”

JTC put it more succinctly than I could. Yaaaaaaaawwwwwwnnnnn.

Okay; time for me to stop being a cow. Here's some suggestions for how you could fix things.

Readers want to read about something. We don't want to read a scene that has no purpose other than to inform us of the backstory. An infodump would almost be better than this, because it would go a lot faster.

Think about your book's plot. At what point does Marne's life change irrevocably? My guess is that Ken is going to drop a bombshell on her when he gets home. That's where your story should start - the point of no return, the point where Marne finds she has to do something.

The reason why this scene isn't a good place to start is that we're just watching a woman pushing a shopping cart. Yaaaaaawwwwwnnnnn. If you start at the point where Marne suddenly has a problem, then there's something to hold the reader's interest. We want to see how she solves her problem.

Think about this scene. What's Marne's goal? Groceries. What's her stake in obtaining her goal? She can't make dinner without groceries. What gets in her way? Well, nothing.

So there's nothing to make us care about reading on. She's obviously going to obtain her goal (groceries).

Figure out what in your story is going to make the reader curious to see what happens next, and then stick that in our faces right away.

Beth said...

Two problems here and both of them are centered on the dialogue.

1) It suffers from the "as you know, Bob" syndrome. For instance, Annie, to sound normal, should have said: "Missed you Thursday night. It wasn't the same without you." I mean, if I had just run into a friend at the store, I wouldn't say, "Hi, Mary. Missed you at meeting Thursday night. The Tri-City Writers and Poets Critique Club just wasn't the same without you."

Why would I speak to a friend as if she were too stupid to remember the name of the club we're both members of?

Well, I wouldn't. And neither would Annie Mott. Nor would she say, "Getting ready for the new job, no doubt," which sounds stiff, though she might say, "Are you looking forward to starting the new job?"

Also, I don't think Annie would feel it necessary to list what she bought or what Marne bought, since the food is likely in plain view in both carts. It would sound more natural if Annie just peered into Marne's cart and said, "What's the occasion?"

(Marne might well take note of the contents of Annie's cart in her thoughts--which are markedly silent during this conversation. We need to be in her head more.)

2) For the most part, it was normal chit-chat. Bland and dull.
The only time you can get away with writing dialogue like that is when there's a definite sub-text: the characters are saying one thing but thinking something else, or there's a whole conversation taking place between the lines.

That may well be the case here, but because we don't know the characters or what's at stake, we have no way of picking up on it.

If the real conflict starts when Ken gets home, that's where you need to begin the story. Start with the inciting incident.

Frainstorm said...

Does it help to add a redundant post here? I guess you can see that others think the same thing.

The dialog needs help. Here's a thought. Read it aloud. I think then you'd realize you're trying to slip in some story information and that your characters aren't speaking like real people.

And things like "Annie. I'm fine. How are you?" might actually be what a real person would say, but we don't need to hear the entire conversation in the story. Push it along faster.

One other thought to ratchet it up a bit. You may only need to add a word or two up front. Right now, it sounds like Marne is just appeasing her husband because she's a boring housewife. Without knowing the story, I can say exactly what would work, but give just a taste of why she doesn't want to give him anything to bitch about "this time." Or, "tonight especially." Or "not wanting to give him one more thing to bitch about."

Just something small that tells us something extra might be riding on tonight's dinner. Good news, bad news, just something.

John

HawkOwl said...

Can I change what I said? I thought it wasn't bad for "as you know Bob," compared to a lot of other things we read, anyway. Now that everyone points it out, I too think there's too much of it.

Kathleen said...

good luck anonymous author! I agree with the other comments here.

also, I would suggest a name change for Annie Mott. I think there is an Anne LaMott in real life, as well as Annie Potts. It just grated on me a little bit.

GOOD LUCK

Jessica said...

That continuation was funny. The thing that really bothered me in the original (although I'm not exactly sure why this bothered me) was that she complains about making the food the way he likes it so he can't complain, but then at the end, it comes out that he's been away and she's making his fav. meal for him, so why would she even consider making it the way she likes it. I'd probably be a little annoyed if someone was making me my favorite meal as a welcome home gift, but they made it the way they like it, not the way I like it. It's small, but for some reasont that bugged the heck out of me.

Bernita said...

This is a vegetarian beginning.

Anonymous said...

Where is the conflict? There was a wisp of it when she considered making the lasagna the way she wanted it, but then changed her mind (for self-preservation?), but the dialog killed it.

Try, try again!!!

kis said...

Nor would she say, "Getting ready for the new job, no doubt," which sounds stiff, though she might say, "Are you looking forward to starting the new job?"

Yeah, even changing the original to "Getting ready for the new job, huh?" would sound more natural.

As to the whole shopping for ingredients thing, unless Marne practices cannibalism or witchcraft, I'm just not interested. Lasagna? Boooring.

Plus, I just can't relate to anyone who'd prefer meatless, whole wheat, spinach lasagna to the traditional. Why doesn't she just make quiche?

I know it's a simple taste issue, but she already irritates me.

December Quinn said...

This reminds me of a scene in Judy Blume's Smart Women, which was, no disrepsect intended, one of the dullest and most insipid paragraphs ever written. Ms. Blume first detailed the discussion over what type of pizza to get, with no subtext. Then they get the pizza and everyone picks off a topping or two that they don't like. Then one character says, "Maybe veggie was a bad choice." Absolutely nothing happens in the entire scene.

This isn't badly written, it's just dull. Skip the thoughts of wheat pasta and vegetarian lasagne, which only make me wonder why the woman is making lasagne when she could make something else that she and her husband both enjoy, and cut to the chase. Bring the husband home and let's see them interact. Or cut the first paragraph and make that neighbor women a roaring b**** who's sleeping with the protag's husband and makes catty comments. Gets us on protag's side right away, and gives us someone to dislike.

Kathleen said...

I'd probably be a little annoyed if someone was making me my favorite meal as a welcome home gift, but they made it the way they like it, not the way I like it.

funny and true!

Zombie Deathfish said...

How is Marne pronounced? It's not a name I've ever heard before.

Bernita said...

Marne is a departement in NE France named for the river that runs through it.
Two significant battles were fought there in WWI.

I have no idea if "Marne" as a girl's name is derived from it. The name is not that uncommon.

Virginia Miss said...

Just not compelling enough. Start your story with a situation that contains some conflict, or action, or the hint of something interesting, perhaps a situation that will show the readers just how interesting your character(s)is.

xiqay said...

This sounds like a NaNoWriMo beginning. When you first start your novel, it's okay to start anywhere. Just get going. Write, get your momentum. Eventually you'll get to the good stuff and get it on paper.

But then you need to edit. And conversations over the grocery cart generally get cut.

In the next millenium, when only your book survives the armageddon/nuclear holocaust/alien war, this kind of stuff could give important clues about the early 21st century. (I use this example because of my own silly fantasies.) But I don't think you're writing for that audience.

And we already know something about shopping carts and frozen meals.

Start someplace else. (and don't drop long group names into idle conversation. People don't talk like that. The author put it here to clue in the reader. Not a good technique.)

Anonymous said...

Bernita 4:02--brilliant!

Beth said...

kis said...Yeah, even changing the original to "Getting ready for the new job, huh?" would sound more natural.

Much better. When I went back and read my rewrite of that line, I thought, "Still too stiff." If we could edit our comments here, I would have. [g] I always have to write out dialogue sentences a dozen different ways until I find the right tone. Hardly ever get it right the first time.

(Is it you who's writing a hefty fantasy? Me, too. :) )

braun said...

I believe it's pronounced "marn-ee", I knew a girl in school called that.