Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Beginning 156


I hate sweating when I'm not doing anything strenuous. Which I'm not; sitting here in Los Angeles stop and go traffic on a thin aired smoggy hot day in the dawg daze of August.

Why do they call it 'Rush Hour', when no one on this damned freeway is 'rushing' anywhere?

I'm wondering what I'm doing here, so far away from my stomping grounds around Branson AZ. I like my life back home! Where I'm just Margo; the Animal Behaviorist. The uncomplicated Almosta Pet Detective, Doctor to the Fixable, Euthanasiast to the Unsalvagable, The BoonieBunnyBroad. I seem to be a fairly long ways from home.

Stop, Go, stop go, I not only hear the squeals but smell hot brake linings with every slowdown and I'm watching the temperature gauge in my old Ford climb steadily. Eyeballing the same cars and trucks and SUV's race past me on the left, only to be passed by my rig on their right.

I'm busy not looking directly at a single one, watching them all closely. I've heard the stories. I've lived Road Rage from either viewpoint. I grew up in this traffic, and thought I'd left it in my past.

The gap in front of me opens up. Picking up speed feels good for a moment, but then, brake lights. The edge of my Birkenstock gets stuck as I lift off the gas. My truck crunches into the car in front, sending a box of Animals are People Too bumper stickers skittering onto the floor. Dammit.

I jump out, defensive, knowing it was my fault. A tall, well-toned man climbs out of the other car. He’s wearing a khaki safari suit, cool as a cucumber. He checks out the damage. “Jesus," he says, "why am I here, so far away from my hunting grounds around Limpopo, SA? Where I'm just Corgo: the Big Game Hunter. The introspective Wildlife Tracker, Master of the Savanna. Slayer of the Uneatable. The AfricanAnimalAnnihilator.”

The people in the stalled traffic all around us, each with his own back-story, just stare ahead, not wanting to get involved. They know, as Gary Larson would say, that trouble is brewing.


Opening: Maggie Pistel Baker....Continuation: ril

44 comments:

Rei said...

I think you should hire a new inner grammarian. Your current writintg is loitering on the beach and then showing up for work late.

"stop and go traffic" is generally written with hyphens for clarify.

Coordinate adjectives need commas between them: thin aired, smoggy, hot day.

"Dog days", not "Dawg daze".

No comma before when.

Comma after Branson

"Where I'm just Margo; the Animal Behaviorist" is an incomplete sentence that a semicolon invaded and overthrew.

Do I need to even continue? The poor technical qualities of this writing make me not want to bother to read what you're actually writing about.

writtenwyrdd said...

Okay, first impression is not good. I was left wondering Is There A Story Somewhere?

Your description of the boredom and general situation of the traffic jam is good in terms of accuracy; but it isn't good in terms of writing. There are some mind-numbing insertions of backstory here, Author.

I suggest you tighten up your description. Omit trite ideas like 'why do they call it rush hour' and 99% of the backstory. Instead, give us a reason why she is on that freeway. This location is important for some reason; otherwise the story wouldn't start here. Hint at it as soon as possible and get us to the crisis (or whatever) FAST.

If you want us to know the character hasn't been in LA long, say something like "only six months back in town and she already felt like she'd never left" or something similar.

Also, resist the temptation to inundate your writing with descriptives. Four titles preceeded by "uncomplicated" isn't. And "a thin aired smoggy hot day in the dawg daze of August" is four adjectives. That's too much.

Also the first sentence is perhaps not the place where you use cute humor: "Dog daze" instead of "dog days"?

Perhaps you just need to ask yourself what the point of this scene is. Are you introducing the main conflict? Having main characters collide in an accident like the continuation? Focus on what you want to say, then flesh out the scene when you have that down.

whitemouse said...

First the good things:
I liked the character's voice a lot, and I suspect she'll have an interesting tale to tell me. I liked the sense of scene I got in the first sentence. I think your writing reads smoothly and believably.

Now the grumbling:
Why did you choose to start the story with the main character sitting on her ass in a traffic jam? True, it makes it more believable that she would be thinking rambling self-regarding backstory-insertion thoughts at us poor readers, but why would we want to read on when the first thing we get subjected to upon opening your book is a bunch of rambling self-regarding backstory?

(Aaaand, trotting out my trademark criticism...) Your story does not start here. Find the point at which your main character realises she has a problem to solve and start the story there.

Insert backstory sneakily into the tale as you go along. Big lumps like this are dull and irritating to read and a sign of lazy story-telling. You can do better than this.

Good luck with it; I do see promise here.

Anonymous said...

Beginning a story in traffic has got to be almost as bad as beginning with a dream or with a character just waking up. It sounds like you started writing because you were bored in traffic, and wanted to make the rest of us share your pain.

If there's a good reason why you're starting with traffic, make it known FAST. Otherwise, pick another opening that actually serves the story.

marie-anne said...

I agree with writtenwyrd. Stuck on the freeway in smog, not going anywhere, is not a place i particularly want to be. Not only is it a driving scene, but it's a not going anywhere scene. This one would go back on the shelf in the bookstore. I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

Talk is too cheap. What we have here is the internal monologue of an inactive unengaged character, which is, as a rule, dull when compared to active engaged characters doing their unique thing. If you choose to zero in on the dull part of the character's day, especially if it looks like the dull part of my day, if you specialize in describing activities that drive readers to escape into fiction in the first place, you won't get much of an audience. We want action, we want diversion. We want to see someone do things we aren't already sick of doing ourselves. We've got plenty of boredom, we're not going to pay to hear about yours. Write all this kind of explication for your own authorial purposes, then cut it out, put it in another file, and start over with the main character OFF HER ASS doing something we've never seen before. You can improve your work 1000% by not having the action of any scene be a solitary sedentary person thinking about themselves. Sitting on your ass talking on the phone or eating/drinking doesn't count, either.

Anonymous said...

No! Leave "Dawg daze" and all the other stuff that is your style. I hate all those stupid style-stealing (is there supposed to be a hyphen there?) grammar rules that rei pointed out. "Dog days" is a cliche but "Dawg daze" is you!

"The poor technical qualities of this writing make me not want to bother to read what you're actually writing about."

I don't give a sh*& about "technical qualities" and I want to keep reading. So, that's one who would and one who wouldn't.

Don't let her beat yooooouuuuuuu!

-JTC

braun said...

I don't mind a little scene-setting, but if you're gonna stick me in the middle of a traffic jam you better have a DAMN good reason for it.

pacatrue said...

I'm going to agree with both rei and JTC and most importantly whitemouse. So, I agree with rei that there are some punctuation things to fix. A place where a semicolon should be absent or just be a comma; places where the capitalization is inconsistent. These don't bother me enough that I'd stop reading, but 1) they do bug some readers and 2) it does make the reading slightly harder. So go ahead and try to clean that up.

However, I disagree with rei and agree with JTC that words like "dawg daze" are important to keep. That's your character coming through. Ironically, the bit that most reads like forced backstory (the part that ril nicely parodied) is also another part where the character's voice shines: "euthanasianist to the unsalvagable, the boonybunnybroad," etc. That's where we are really getting a feel for the voice of our narrator. If there's a way to incorporate this voice in a more gripping scene, you will have a winner. Which brings up my last thought:

I think whitemouse is correct in that you started your story too early unless the asteroid hits the 101 in the next couple paragraphs - and wouldn't that be nice. In the current opening, we learn that this interesting woman is in L.A. again and doesn't want to be. But it seems like we are slowly journeying to the reason for her presence in the city. The novel should instead start at that reason. Is she going to visit her dying mother? I'd want to start at the point where she's bracing herself at the door. Seeing her discomfort and brazen attitude at this focal point will reveal more about the cool chracter than her stuck on the interstate.

BTW, did you once many moons ago submit a query letter that was very popular? This character is ringing a bell, but I can't quite place it.

Evil Editor said...

See Query 111.

pacatrue said...

Thanks, EE. And for any who want to refresh their memory without a search, here is the link:

Query 111

It does seem like we have punctuation errors here and spelling errors that bothered you in the query. Maybe you need to find a friend to go through this. You have a great voice and character, so I don't want the technical aspects to doom you.

Rei said...

"dawg daze of August" doesn't even make sense. How is something that doesn't make sense good? This isn't Jabberwocky here.

Given context, the author is clearly referring to the literal "dog days of summer" (hot sultry weather, and also a period of stagnation/inactivity). "Dawg days" would be one thing (indicating a drawl -- even though a drawl isn't indicated anywhere else), but "daze" means a state of bewilderment. There is no state of bewilderment here, and even if there was, it would have nothing to do with dogs (or "dawgs").

For a play on words to be reasonable, it needs to have meaning in its new context. This is nonsense the way you spelled it. Especially combined with errors everywhere else, it screams, "I'm Mixing Up Homophones!"

BuffySquirrel said...

Maybe because when a story began with a cartwheeling cat in the traffic y'all whined.

(No, it's not my opening, before anyone jumps to that predictable conclusion)

"Dawg daze" is obviously a pun. You can find a definition of "pun" in your dictionary.

When was the quota on adjectives introduced?

Okay, I'm done bitching now.

No, I'm not. Quit trying to reduce every opening to the same banal level. If you have no sympathy with what the author's trying to do, just leave it alone. You can't help.

whitemouse said...

"Dawg" is a slang term meaning friend or acquaintance. I believe it was used here to inject an urban feel to the prose, as was using the word daze instead of days.

I'm pretty sure the writer used those words deliberately. It's not a misspelling or a homophone issue, although arguably the phrase "dawg daze" doesn't make any sense, even taking into account the slang meanings.

Anonymous said...

I just reread the query. Can't you start with the dead chicken? That whole "red-bearded" scene sounds like comedy gold! Traffic jam... not so much.

GutterBall said...

Bwahah! I think Ril should get bonus points for mentioning Gary Larson!

Brings back happy memories of his "ship of fools; car of idiots" comic....

As to the opening, I know you're trying for a conversationally irritated tone, but there's no flow here. It doesn't feel like someone sitting in traffic, head lolling back against the headrest and sweat stinging the ol' peepers. It just feels like a bunch of awkward narration.

It needs tightening and The Grammar Comb. Read it aloud and you'll see what I mean.

Keep the parts of your voice that work and nix the ones that don't. I know, easier said than done, but you'll eventually get a feel for what works. It sucks, but it all comes down to write, write, write, and then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Anonymous said...

oh, dear dawg, read her blawgs!

It's not charming to create your own system of punctuation, or spelling, even if you are consistent. It's getting in the way of the story. The voice is fine; keep it. But step away from the grammar rules sparingly, and with confidence.

bunnygirl said...

I'm with braun, hoping there's a darn good reason why we're starting here.

Is this freeway where the first action is going to take place? Is this where we're going to find out what this story is about? If not, and the first action occurs at the strip mall off the next exit, let's start there, instead.

There are a few odd things about your punctuation and capitalization, but those things have already been covered by other minions, and are easily corrected.

Other than that, you have a nice clean style. Show me why I should keep reading, and do it in the next paragraph or two, and this could turn out okay. Or better yet, trim this opening down a little. An agent might not be as patient as a minion.

McKoala said...

I don't think that a traffic jam is the most interesting point for an opening, but maybe something big is about to happen. I do think that you need to be careful about your grammar, simply because if you aren't you are probably going to be rejected automatically. I have no opinion either way on dawg daze.

Channeling Dave (where's Dave?), I think that you could trim and cut a little in parts, particularly your backstory paragraph, and yes, maybe there will be a better place for that later.

Now I will duck and run for cover...

Anonymous said...

As usual, us amateurs are overanalyzing this stuff. Either like or don't like it, but don't nitpick it to death on subjective things as if they are hard and fast rules. Like in the Dickens example in my satirical post last month, 'rules' are made to be broken, and usually are in anything worth reading.

The lesson I'm learning is that Stephen King was right. The first draft should be written with 'the door closed'. I think it's literary suicide to post stuff on here too early in it's life (although I've done it several times).

batgirl said...

I liked the narrator's voice. I would give it a couple more pages to find out whether something was going to happen. But within those couple of pages something does need to happen. The punctuation needs a bit of work. The heaping of adjectives isn't (in my eyes) a problem in first-person narrative, though it would be in third-person. In first-person it's a conversational style.

Dave said...

Dave is in hiding due to an electric motor breaking down that just sucked 2K out of my wallet.

But yes, Mckoala - Too many words.

And besides, sitting in traffic sweating is not interesting. Rush hour is boring. Driving in LA is boring.

The character has a nice, friendly voice to express her situation. It's a shame that she's babbling nonsensically at the start of a novel.

I have nothing nice to say about: "Where I'm just Margo; the Animal Behaviorist. The uncomplicated Almosta Pet Detective, Doctor to the Fixable, Euthanasiast to the Unsalvagable, The BoonieBunnyBroad." It's probably the single most awful sentence that I've ever read. (well that isn't true. There's a sentence in facelift 230 that's edging ahead of this.)

The things that enter my mind trying to determine what the word "Euthanasiast" means are unprintably vulgar and horrific. Drop that word yesterday.

Ande then try rewriting the entire thing in half the words. I repeat - half the words. It will be a revelation to you.

Anonymous said...

I love your voice and I like your character--she's quirky.

I agree that there are some serious punctuation and grammar problems, which you need to address.

I also agree that plunking her down on the LA freeway during rush hour is NOT the way you want your story to begin--unless, in the next scene; she's being shot at by a driver with road rage. And even then, I'd start with the first shot being fired.

The 'dawg daze' didn't bother me at all. In fact, I rather liked it.

Have you thought about joining a critique group? I've found my group to be very helpful in cleaning up my writing.

Good luck with this--

ILS

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh come on, if you'd been paying attention then Euthanasiast is perfectly comprehensible in context.

Where do you think all these words you're so determined to eliminate came from, you there at the back with your Newspeak Dictionary grasped between two fingers? That's right, someone made them up. Once they've been around for a while, they become respectable, but they all have to start somewhere.

First person is allowed leeway with regard to grammar and so on, or what's the point in writing in it? Once you're done reducing everything to the same correct third-person voice, we can all give up reading and go to the cinema.

Y'all piled on Dickens for his run-on sentences and ignored the fact that he had something to say. Something important. You're missing the wood for the freaking trees.

I say, bring back the cartwheeling cat!

magz said...

Wow, now I'm glad I missed yesterday due to my inner child's tantrums, a lot of this woulda hurt! Today, with my inner adolecscent firmly ensconsed, I truely appriciate the comments!
First I gotta RAVE to ril for the continuation; it's brilliant and leads to a whole new world of possible story lines, TY, ril with many thanks and grins!
2ndly, I must agree that as a technical masterpiece of writing, this sux. Swampwater. But.. (and ya knew a but was comin, huh) it's not meant to be a masterpiece, it's a Nanovel! A personal challenge, brain and finger exercise, and the most fun I usually have with my clothes still on.

It's not old stuff reworked although it's a used charecter. This one is the 3rd in the series and in my mind there's an assumption that one is probably a bit familiar with the admitted fracturing of the language by this charecter. It's far from Great Art or Liturature on purpose; I sorta consider this batch of writing to be sort of like a junk food vice, or pop music, or trash television.. a fairly harmless way to unwind the wetware so to speak.

But y'all are right on several counts; it IS a dull beginning. And it IS sloppy writing. Fortunately, it's not the only writing I do, just the funnest. If I were to EVER haul these 2-an-a-half-so-far flyweights outta my private stash in an attempt to see them published, I promise they'd be properly edited and rewritten for clarity and compliance (provided the original Voice doesnt get totally lost).
EE baited and called for submissions, I bit with this. Someday soon I'll submit for critique something totally different and most likely anon just to see if anyone recognizes me in a more serious mode.
Meanwhile, I thank my fellow Minions for their very well thought out and mostly quite pertinent comments, and admit again that I often really do talk just like Margo heheheee. Thanks for lettin me in the Gang here my friends!

Dave said...

Concerning my revulsion to the word "Euthanasiast" ... you missed the point of why the word isn't cute.

You know, euthanising pets is on my list of THINGS I NEVER WANT TO DISCUSS OR READ ABOUT.

It doesn't endear me to the character. It makes the character hard and cruel and reminds me of pets I've lost to sickness and old age.

That's it, isn't it? A hero who makes the reader cry and despair. Maybe you can write about fatal Hemorrhoids and the hero's valliant struggle for life?

grump, grump, grump.
growl, growl, growl.
snap!

writtenwyrdd said...

It seems to me that some folks have misinterpreted the pro-grammar and -spelling argument as attacks against the writer and/or her voice.

I thought we were trying to help her with comments that would aid in getting her stuff published?? Seriously flawed spelling and grammer are detrimental. People pointed it out. NBD.

I like the author's voice, and I like other stuff of hers I've read. It's entertaining and highly original. But the creative spelling and etc. are distracting. Just my opinion, of course.

BuffySquirrel said...

Sneering at someone's blog is trying to help them get published? Gee, I think I just found a new hobby--and a justification for it.

Sorry, Dave, for believing that when you wrote about "trying to determine what the word "Euthanasiast" means", you meant you were trying to work out what it means. I'll try and be less literal in future.

If such subject matter gives you a problem, then it's fine to avoid it. It's not so fine, imo, to order the writer to remove it.

Nut said...

Dave, when I was a young nut, I had this kitten. SOOOOOO cute. Extreamely cute. Bright blue eyes, tiny paws... Did I mension, it was cute? Anywho, my little cousin came to visit. She saw the adorable, cuddly... you get the point. She decided to give the kitten a bath. She didn't realize, that there was CHLORINE in that laundry bucket. Can you just imagine the pain? A nurse, came over (no, there was no veterinarians around, yes it was illegal) and gave the kitten a shot. Euthanized. Of course everyone cried that night, including the nurse. Not me, I was asleep, and later they said the kitten went on vacation... but I think you get the Eutha-thingy-point.

whitemouse said...

Wait - this is a rewrite of the cartwheeling cat story? Oh, totally bring back the cartwheeling cat! That was awesome!

Kitty-death-squick aside (and I am a fan of kitties), that cat cartwheeling across the freeway is one of the few openings on EE's blog that REALLY sticks out in my mind.

This opening doesn't. Bring back the horror of the cartwheeling cat; oh my, yes. I still have an image of that scene in my head, and that means the writer did her job extremely well.

Nut said...

Whoopsie... Sorry, I misread Dave, and thought he WANTED to read a eu-whatever... Hence, my kitten-chlorine tantrum.
My next number was gonna be about a couple of puppies I found frozen in a block of ice, in a soup pot...

Sorry.

magz said...

Thank you Whitemouse.. and I'm really really sorry Dave. I know well the pain and heartbreak of the Reality of loving critters. Also the joy of knowing them in the first place.

Honest-ta-DOG the MC aint a cruel person. She's just a realist.
Maybe along the lines of the infamous Dr. K... her whole persona is genuinely about easing transistions, not causing pain but relieving it.

I'd like to feel that she's like that vet that holds your hand and hands you tissues to blot your tears with while s/he slips the mercy needle into yer aged or hurting pal, a compassionate Understander.
This is a world that I know well, yet it sure wont stop me from loving my furred, finned or feathered friends. Love Rules, and Minions Rock, and the books go on. There's a bit more to this series, than can be expressed in a 150 word beginning my friends. Thank you ALL for yer imput!

BuffySquirrel said...

I think I made a mistake in bringing in the cartwheeling cat; I suspect now this is a different story, possibly with the same protagonist. Just can't forget the ole cartwheeling cat!

writtenwyrdd said...

Magz, I read the cartwheeling cat stuff on your blog the other day, and I liked it.

I know not everyone will be on board for the euthanasia, but I got that it was just another of those things that are button pushers for a lot of people.

I learned about that eons ago as a much-older returning student. I wrote a poem about butchering a cow, and that squicked the 18-year-olds, none of whom had done any hunting or butchering. I thought I was being pragmatic; they thought I was a horrible human being. It's all perspective, lol.

iago said...

The things that enter my mind trying to determine what the word "Euthanasiast" means are unprintably vulgar and horrific. Drop that word yesterday.

Dave -- I think this says much more about you than it does about the writing. You're extrapolating all sorts of stuff from a very innocent, functional and correctly spelled word. That's very... preemptive.

We're not talking race hate or holocaust denial here. We're just talking about regular ol' life. I think, you making the choice not to read about certain things is much more acceptable than refusing the author the choice to write about them (if that's even the author's intent here).

And while I'm emerging out of lurkdom, You all give great feedback to the authors here and I'm sure it helps them -- but it's not just what you say, it's how you say it, that matters. Some of the eyebrow waggling histrionics that go on are a bit much, and, to me, scream "Amateur!" more than any writing faux pas... Do I need to even continue?

;)

BuffySquirrel said...

I deny any eyebrow-waggling.

Dave said...

IAGO!
Call it "final comforter of the lost" or some other cute euphemism.

"Euthanasiast to the Unsalvagable" is so cold compared to the rest of the sentence.

whitemouse said...

:::waggles eyebrows:::

iago said...

Oh, come on. Squirrels are physically incapable of not eyebrow waggling. Do not deny your genetic destiny.

Anonymous said...

What about nose twitching?

BuffySquirrel said...

*denies genetic destiny*

*falls out of tree*

Nut said...

Poor buffy... Hey, wait a second! I've seen a squirrel fall off a tree before... T'was terrible. She just stumbled and walked off... slowly... I thought she might have discovered some brandy filled candy, in my neighbours' trash, but now I realize, she might have read EE's blog...

Was that you?

(Rushes off to secure safety nets under all the trees, just in case.)

BuffySquirrel said...

Who knows? Sqrls are many, but nuts are few...

Nut said...

buffy: get off it, you know you're one in a million!