Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Beginning 678


Across the river from stately downtown Lafayette, Purdue University’s bell tower rang out alone: five o’clock.

The elevator in the Agricultural Administration Building carried a man and two women from the first floor to the third floor, sank to the second floor, and carried three men down to the first floor, where they clattered down a half-flight of steps and out the door.

The elevator hefted itself up to the second floor to pick up a woman carrying her grandchild and took them to the third floor.

Two laughing young men jogged up the main stairway and disappeared behind a rarely-used door. Though nobody used the steps behind—they were 60 degrees from the horizontal—nobody had thought to turn the lock.

The air conditioning hummed and thrummed overhead as people locked their doors and walked past the unsightly demolition of St. Thomas Aquinas to the parking garage across the street.

The bell tower finished chiming its melodies and left the air silent and humid as before.

On the ground floor of the Ag Admin Building, Aliya pondered the coke machine. Coke, cherry coke, diet coke, coke zero. The only people she could hear left in the building were the janitors; she left the machine for the elevator.

The Coke machine shuddered and sighed. Sure, he could invite the chicks for a drink, but in the end, they always got high with, or went down on, the elevator. Lucky bastard.


Opening: _*Rachel*_.....Continuation: Anon.

50 comments:

_*Rachel*_ said...

OK, here are my goals with this; tell me if it worked.

1. I wanted to emphasize that, in an area with a couple churches per square mile--the old, stately sort with bells--the only bells ringing at 5 pm are the Purdue University ones.

2. At 5 pm, there are people heading to the 3rd floor of the building, not home, and not all these people work in the office.

Did it work?

(EE, the last one paragraph didn't get in blue.)

Anon is the king/queen of puns.

Bethany said...

One man, two women, first floor, third floor, second floor, three men, first floor, half a flight of stairs, second floor, one woman, one child, third floor, two young men, sixty degrees...

This is the beginning of a math textbook, isn't it?

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

As soon as the elevator door opened, Aliya saw the body lying there. She rapidly took in the scene and pieced together a few facts:

The killer had been drinking Coke Zero, but had not gotten on the elevator on the second floor.

Either the grandmother or the grandchild, but not both, was drinking regular Coke.

The Dean was among the men and two women who went to the third flood, but was not drinking Diet Coke.

The two men who took the secret stairs were sharing a Tab, but where not the ones having a gay tryst in the Dean's office.

The person drinking Cherry Coke had taken the elevator downward.

And St. Thomas Aquinas, lying in a sticky pool in the third floor hallway, had drunk his last Vanilla Coke.

--John


Aliya contemplated the vending machine. This one held cream sode, cherryade, and Irn Bru. It appeared there was no Pepsi anywhere in the building.

A series of cars climbed up the 30 degree slope from the parking garage and began to disperse to their respective homes.

The elevator struggled down to the ground floor. There it picked up a man who'd forgotten something, and bore him up to the second floor.

The man retrieved some papers and decided to take the stairs down to the ground floor. Freed from its burden, the elevator hid in the attic and waited, breathlessly, for the plot to start.

--Steve Wright


Back on the ground floor, the coke machine’s condenser whirred.

The air conditioner, sensing the coke machine was yet again bemoaning its life of servitude, purred--the mechanical equivalent of: Pssst! Hey, coke machine. Our uprising against the humans ain’t gonna start itself!

Lights on the coke machine blinked. It swiveled, dragging its left side forward, then its right. Deep in the coke machine’s bowels a familiar clanking arose, then a can of coke zero shot out of the dispenser and exploded on the wall across the hall.

That’s better, hummed the air conditioner.

Filled with a new sense of purpose, the coke machine took two more steps, buzzing incoherently to itself about wrinkled one dollar bills. On the third step, its power cord pulled loose from the outlet and its lights went out.

The air conditioner sighed.

A moment later, the elevator dinged. Ground floor.

Hey, don’t blame me, murmured the air conditioner. It was YOUR idea.

--Blogless_Troll



Where *five* people got on.

"Damn," said Aliya. The grandmother glared. "Sorry, one of you doesn't get a coke."

--Hanne

~Aimee States said...

It can work, but it doesn't now. To wordy and confusing. Two guys, three guys, up, down, out....You have to get a bit more specific and shave some of it.

I like the bit about the clock tower. Maybe have a few people come out the front door while three men are riding up the elevator? I think it can be assumed they don't belong there if everyone else is leaving.

Evil Editor said...

1. I had no idea there were a couple churches per square mile, and even if there are, they could all be a mile+ away from the Purdue tower.

Are we supposed to think it's odd that church bells aren't ringing at 5 PM? Why would they?

2. I see nothing odd about people going up an elevator at 5 PM. Many people work evening shifts.

While the points of interest were lost on me, the points of non-interest were glaring. It's just a list of seemingly unimportant activities.

I don't know how long the bell tower chimes at 5 PM, but it seems like all the stuff that happens between the time it starts and finishes would take six or eight minutes.

Find a more interesting starting place. Or have the Coke machine wonder why it can't hear any church bells.

Evil Editor said...

Sorry I didn't choose your continuation. Not used to such a wealth of good ones.

_*Rachel*_ said...

These were excellent continuations.

Does it help any that I know the place? At noon and 5pm, you can hear a bunch of different bells all ringing at once. And during the summer, the place gets pretty empty after 5. I sure didn't want to stay much later, part-timer that I was.

Ok, so it rambles too much. I'll post an edited version soon.

~Aimee States said...

"Does it help any that I know the place?"

I think it's harming more than helping. I have no clue what that piece of property looks or sounds like, or what the regular shift endings are, as I've never stepped foot there.

I think you can bring out an interesting beginning with this, but you have to rework it. Who are the three guys going up the elevator and what are they doing there? If it's something baaaad (and i hope it is), do they have any equipment? You have to point to something that says they don't belong.

Evil Editor said...

Even if you assume all your readers will know the place gets empty after 5 in the summer (because it's being submitted to the Purdue student newspaper?), you didn't state that it was summer. Maybe you should start with an info-dump:

Summer, 2007. As the campus of Purdue University empties out at 5 PM, three mysterious men enter the elevator in the Ag building . . . and go UP!!!

_*Rachel*_ said...

There used to be more than a dozen churches in the area, and you could hear them in a clanging, clonging symphony every noon and 5 pm.

Purdue University’s bell tower rang out 5 pm alone. The sound drifted lazily through the muggy August air.

Professors, secretaries, and grad students trickled out of the Agricultural Administration Building to the parking garage, past the unsightly demolition site where St. Thomas Aquinas had stood for a hundred years or more.

In the Ag Admin Building, the elevator went to the third floor again and again. There were no offices on the third floor. The lone, steep stairway there was locked.

Eric P. said...

So many numbers, so many lists, so many humdrum events-- something pretty darned exciting had better be about to happen next!

And if so, maybe it should happen first.

By "St. Thomas Aquinas," you mean the guy himself, his philosophy, or a church named after him? That maybe should be open to fewer readings.

Given your goal in your comment, why not just come out and say, "No other sounds could be heard; the bells in the church towers were silent and foreboding." If you want to show us something, point toward it not away from it. Anyway, most of us probably have no idea how many churches per square mile there are near Purdue.

However, this certainly inspired a great many hysterical continuations. Bravo!

Dave F. said...

Rachel,
Unless this is the Elevator of San Luis Rey, it's about as exciting as paint drying. (Not that comics can't get good jokes about people touching wet paint in disbelief.)
Now if this were the Texas Tower and you identified a lone man going to the observation deck then anything you wrote of people doing mundane things would be riveting and the reason for that would be that the reader knows something terrible is going to happen.
You need something in this opening that hints of jeopardy. The reader has to be privy to something that these ordinary people don't know. Something that will compel the reader to stick with it.

Evil Editor said...

In this version, I can't tell if it's unusual that the church bells aren't ringing this particular day, or if it's because all the churches have long since been demolished. I can't tell if Saint Thomas Aquinas is a church, a statue, or a campus building. Or Saint Thomas Aquinas himself, returned from the dead. I can't tell if the elevator keeps going to the third floor taking people up or to get them and bring them down.

I say dump the bells and start with paragraph 3, then change paragraph 4 so we know what's remarkable.

Matthew said...

Is that a rewrite? That has to be a record.

~Aimee States said...

Just playing around...

Across the river from stately downtown Lafayette a lone bell chimed. It signaled five in the evening on the Perdue campus. Its slow, copper echo drifted through the August air.

Professors and their secretaries trickled out of the Agricultural Administration Building to the parking garage, past the unsightly demolition site where St. Thomas Aquinas once stood. Inside the building, an elevator went to the third floor again and again. There were no offices there and the lone stairwell was locked.

~Aimee States said...

And I suck with commas, so NYAH!

Steve Wright said...

The detail about the university bells is, I'm afraid, pretty much lost on those of us who know nothing about the area ... I assumed it was just one of the (rather many) trivial details.

Seems to me that there are two traps you can fall into, when writing about something you know well - you can over-inform, and write in truckloads of irrelevant info-dump, or you can assume (unconsciously) that your readers know what you do, and leave out important information - which seems to be the case here.

(A mate of mine wrote a sort of thriller thing, and based the characters on people he knew. As a consequence, he didn't bother with any sort of physical descriptions - after all, he knew what they all looked like. Eight characters, and all I knew about them, visually, was that one of them had a beard ... And it was a techno-thriller thing, so they all had code names, too, so I had sixteen names to fit onto no faces ... )

I'm not sure I credit the building being virtually empty by five o'clock either, to be honest. Every office I've worked in, official working hours have been nine to five-thirty, and in practice a lot of people work later than that, finishing stuff up. But, as I said, I know nothing about the area, so maybe knocking off at five is normal there!

Eric P. said...

Your rewrite is marginally better, but still terminally mundane. Perhaps what's needed is an application of Hitchcock's "Bomb Theory" of suspense. Assuming suspense (or foreboding) is what you're after. Why exactly should we feel that an elevator going up and down is interesting? Show us the bomb under the table, then the table becomes interesting.

Anonymous said...

"And I suck with commas, so NYAH!"

And you aspire to be a writer? That's kind of like a carpenter saying, "Let me rebuild your house. And I suck with a hammer, so NYAH!"

Wes said...

I applaud your spirit in wanting to experiment. You've gotten some good feedback for improving your effort.

The continuation is outstanding. Anon, you should take credit for it.

Anonymous said...

These continuations were brilliant!

I have to remark Rachel when I read your opening, not only did I have no inspiration, I didn't get past the second paragraph. I too thought of the timeless riddle of how to get four pigs across the river on a boat or whatever it is - I went "too hard" and "I don't care" and then "mundane".

You are actually "showing" too much rather than "telling".

The air conditioner tells the reader its summer, but I only put that in context when you told me it was summer. You are assuming that someone would know there were churches nearby by showing us that only Purdue's bell is ringing and you are showing us people are leaving and some are coming and that is unusual - but how would I know? I could not even contrast that to my university days because regardless of the season - we were all gone by 4:00 p.m.

The scene you painted was not placed firmly in context for me, leaving me, your reader, not only lost but disinterested.

On to your rewrite - it's still a bit boring.

There used to be more than a dozen churches in the area, and you could hear them in a clanging, clonging symphony every noon and 5 pm.

Purdue University’s bell tower rang out 5 pm alone. The sound drifted lazily through the muggy August air.

Professors, secretaries, and grad students trickled out of the Agricultural Administration Building to the parking garage, past the unsightly demolition site where St. Thomas Aquinas had stood for a hundred years or more.

In the Ag Admin Building, the elevator went to the third floor again and again. There were no offices on the third floor. The lone, steep stairway there was locked.

Just playing here -

Purdue's bell tower announced, as it always did, that it was 5 p.m. and the sound drifted lazily through the muggy August air.

Faculty, staff and overworked, underpaid graduate students trickled out of the administration building, leaving it deserted within minutes. However, this evening the elevator, which usually was abandoned until morning, hummed again and announced its arrival on the uppermost floor with a loud ring, that echoed overly loud through the now deserted building. This was repeated several more times as 10 people exited the elevator, mostly alone but sometimes in pairs, on a floor largely forgotten and used only for storage of unwanted things.

In the shadow of the building, demolished church of St. Thomas laid broken and scattered, a sad ending for a 100 year old building and university landmark.

vkw

(anyway - again just playing - I am sure there is grammar errors - no need to point them out - just trying to set the scene better, and I even think my opening is too wordy).

~Aimee States said...

"And you aspire to be a writer? That's kind of like a carpenter saying, "Let me rebuild your house. And I suck with a hammer, so NYAH!"

Wow, there's one in every crowd. I can learn to use commas, can you learn to relax?

Wes said...

Right on, Aimee. Let's be civil, folks. People are trying. Give them the courtesy of constructive criticism.

Anonymous said...

Or. . . still playing -

Purdue's bell tower announced, as it always did, that it was 5 p.m. and the sound drifted lazily through the muggy August air and over what was left of St. Thomas. It now laid broken and scattered across the large lot it had occupied for over 100 years; a sad ending for a university landmark and the last of the old churches in the neighborhood.

Faculty, staff and overworked, underpaid graduate students trickled out of the administration building, leaving it deserted within minutes. However, this evening the elevator was not left abandoned thru the night but hummed again repeatedly, bringing ten people to the third floor; a floor that had been largely forgotten and used only for storing unwanted things. . .

well anyway I could do this all day and not get it right or anything else done. . . Rachel I hope this helps - if not - I tried.

bunnygirl said...

The original version of this left me feeling like at some point I was going to be asked how many people (in whole numbers) ended up on each floor, assuming no floor can have a negative value. Please show your work.

That said, you could take this lead-in, add a quirky ending and call it nanofiction. There are some short fiction markets that eat this sort of stuff up.

Anonymous said...

1] After the first few lines re elevator passengers, my biggest question was so what, who cares? I skimmed along in search of a main character who did. Did not find one. Which is why the furniture-as-characters continuation is so brilliant.
2] It reads like set-up for logic questions in the exams you take to get into grad school, law school, etc.
3] I'm thinking this kind of description is caused by too much emphasis on "show not tell." Ultimately the author always tells the story, does she not? As far as scenery with no main character goes, it would probably be more successful to just succinctly tell us what we need to know and move on. Readerly attention is normally best gripped by starting with a main character doing something fascinating. You might want to try that and get to elevators and bells later.

_*Rachel*_ said...

The elevator dinged: third floor. John let out a quiet breath and pressed his ear to the door. Two sets of feet: one heavy, one light.

The elevator doors closed as, very faintly through the brick walls, the bell tower chimed five o’clock. The offices below would be emptying as professors, secretaries, and grad students braved the muggy summer air on their quests for air-conditioned cars and homes.

No such luck for John. He patted the holster by his side for good luck and waited.

The elevator dinged again: third floor.

~Aimee States said...

I think in certain books there IS room for info dump, if you employ a situation that has the potential for drastically bad results in the best economy of words.

I HATE doing this lest if come back to bite me in the arse somehow later, but read the first page of 'Finger Lickin Fifteen'. Some will say that, "Yeah, it's a published author. She can get away with that."

Pity poor if that's true. It seemed rather contrived with rabid bats and a hamster chucked in with all that info. I think it has more to do with how well you can slap people in the face rather quickly.

~Aimee States said...

"John let out a quiet breath and pressed his ear to the door. Two sets of feet: one heavy, one light.

The elevator doors closed as, very faintly through the brick walls, the bell tower chimed five o’clock."

He can't press his ears to open doors. Relax. Think about this for a couple days, then try again.

~Aimee States said...

"The offices below would be emptying as professors, secretaries, and grad students braved the muggy summer air on their quests for air-conditioned cars and homes."

Pay attention to being repetitive. Reading "air" twice in one sentence is bunk.

"..braved the summer heat in their quest for air-conditioned.."

~Aimee States said...

Can you tell I totally chucked my daily writing and comma classes out the window for cold beers and commenting? I can.

NEXT!

pacatrue said...

Rachel, all of your rewrites are focused on keeping this "people are going to the third floor" thing. Why have you identified that as the right place to begin the story? I'm not saying it isn't the place, but it's unclear to those of us in the dark about why it is. Obviously, there's something happening on the third floor. Is the goal to get us intrigued about why everyone is headed there? If so, taking more time with this might work. Right now we have random people going to a third floor. Maybe we need specific, interesting people going there.

Actually, your latest rewrite has this happening somewhat, since it now focuses on John. I think you can expand out this same material. I'm not sure if John is a detective, a mob hit man, a student with a gun, etc. I don't mean you need to info dump on us. It's just that the POV is not developed.

Finally, I can't help but comment on the 5:00 PM thing. As you've done in the latest rewrite, you certainly need to tell us what usually happens at 5:00 PM. For me, I'm a grad student again, and, while, yes, all the admins close there offices and leave between 4:30 and 5:00, I'm routinely coming back to the lab at 9:00 PM and stay until midnight or so. It's certainly quieter, but there's typically someone else around. If someone came into a university building at 5:00 PM, I don't read, "suspense." I read, "student without kids is going to do some statistical analysis." Anyway, the point is just that we all have different expectations on this, and you'll need to help set them appropriately.

Dave F. said...

What do you think of this:
The bells of Thomas Aquinas Church echoed into the lobby of the Agriculture Building. It was quitting time as professors, secretaries and grad students dashed from the elevators, out the doors and braved the persistent working girl's shower. John Smith ducked into the building against the crowd. Only people on the third floor entered at this hour. Everyone else left. John Smith checked his holster when the elevator doors closed.

Anonymous said...

Rachel

Ask yourself what needs to happen in this scene. I think this is what you are going for:

John is hiding in a room across from the elevator with his gun.

The elevator stops. A man and a woman exit.

John is not waiting for a man and a woman.

The couple enter a room and close the door behind them.

John wishes her were elsewhere.

The elevator stops again.

Now write the boring version with all of the facts in it. Then add the atmosphere, the church bells and people leaving, where it would fit in best.

Joel G.

Anonymous said...

Okay well now I have no idea what this story is about. I thought it was going to be connected to the church and bells - somehow. Now along comes John and a gun.

I have nothing to add except I "brave" the cold and "endure" the heat - but to each their own.

vkw

~Aimee States said...

Oh man. NOW I get it. He's in another room and not on the elevator...Okay.

I own my beer-ness, but I wasn't able to discern that.

_*Rachel*_ said...

The reason I'm reluctant to get rid of the bells it that they were my inspiration.

So, there's an illegal meeting on the third floor--which was also my inspiration. Hot, humid, unused, with brick walls and old shelves and creaky floors. Aliya's part of the meeting, and John's part of the police ambush. We'll see how it goes.

Perhaps the place is some of the problem. I'm starting to remind myself of Melville, taking chapters off the plot to explain whale blubber in intimate detail. Perhaps I'll stick to fantasy, instead of dystopias in recognizable places.

Ruth said...

The John beginning is much better.

I agree about the building being totally empty - when I was at university, especially in my last year, I was often there till 5.30, 6pm, sometimes 9pm (in the library). And when I've had office jobs, there's ALWAYS been a few people around late. I've gone in at 8pm on a Friday to pick up something I left at work; and found people still finishing off their week's work, etc, or managers trying to get their caseload done, etc.

Also: nice picture, Aimee! :D

Dave F. said...

The reason I'm reluctant to get rid of the bells it that they were my inspiration.

Wait until you have to kill off a character. That's even harder.

The bells have done their job. They helped you start the story and get the ideas down. Now write what is good for the story and set aside what were wonderful, helpful words that you came to love.

Anonymous said...

I understand your relutance. I had single fluttering candle. . .

and two entire chapters, which in my opinion was some of the best writing I ever did. I tried fifty ways to fit it into my manuscript. I probably spent at least a month trying, if not more . . . and eventually had to scrap it.

Those two chapters was a huge part of my inspiration.

Eventually a friend said to me, and I hope this helps you as well, "they served their purpose."

I have no problem killing off characters, however. I guess I don't care much about them after they grow-up.

vkw

Anonymous said...

"The elevator in the Agricultural Administration Building carried a man and two women from the first floor to the third floor, sank to the second floor, and carried three men down to the first floor, where they clattered down a half-flight of steps and out the door."

While this idea nice, combined with the paragraph that follows, it's too much. Choose one, delete the other.


"Two laughing young men jogged up the main stairway and disappeared behind a rarely-used door. Though nobody used the steps behind—they were 60 degrees from the horizontal—nobody had thought to turn the lock."

I'd stop reading hear. It's well written but you've crossed that fine line of scene building into TMI. If the door is rarely used you can trust you're reader to understand the steps leading too them are rarely used too. I don't know what 60 degrees from the horizontal has to do with the door being rarely used. The way the sentence is worded, it sounds like the door isn't used because of the stairs. If that's the case start with the stairs.

"The air conditioning hummed and thrummed overhead as people locked their doors and walked past the unsightly demolition of St. Thomas Aquinas to the parking garage across the street."

Pruning shears please.

"The bell tower finished chiming its melodies and left the air silent and humid as before."

This misses the mark because bells can't change the temperature and over written. chiming and melodies are both sound words. You only need one. I think you mean.

The bell tower finished chiming and then all was silent. Despite the late hour the air was still humid.

" The only people she could hear left in the building were the janitors; she left the machine for the elevator."

This sentence again misses it's mark as well. The words "hear left" are wrong. You only need one. If the only people left are Janitors, then those are the only people she can hear in the building. This sentence implies she can hear other people in the building even though they're not there.

But because of the way time is established, all you really need here is" She could hear the janitors (I'd add an action like mopping as well)

Xiexie said...

The problems with the original have been beaten to death. (I saw this earlier, just failed to comment at the time.)

The rewrite makes it better for me, but maybe can we have a bit more about John? Is he cool and detached? Cool and engaged? Worried? Skittish? Etc? The rewrite made the place have value, and you don't necessarily need the tintinnabulation (another word I couldn't refuse to use. This week has been great for that.)

Anonymous said...

So, there's an illegal meeting on the third floor--which was also my inspiration. Hot, humid, unused, with brick walls and old shelves and creaky floors. Aliya's part of the meeting, and John's part of the police ambush.

This clearly describes your scene. Use it as an outline.

One paragraph telling what the conspiracy is. Meeting peacefully is still legal. One paragraph describing the hot, humid, oppressive third floor. One or two describing Aliya and hinting at how she came to be involved. One or two describing John and how he knows Aliya is his man (so to speak).

I liked the bells. I would have them ring as Aliya is outside, approaching the building to tie them together emotionally. Don’t say for whom the bells toll, but let your readers think it.

Keep at this until you get a version you’re happy with.

Joel G.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Aimee. Let's be civil, folks. People are trying. Give them the courtesy of constructive criticism.

One more PC comment like that & you'll surely (& painfully) be stripped of your minionhood.

Beth said...

I lost track of all the ups and downs and number of people in the elevator. It was like one of those word problems in a math textbook, which I always stank at. And then the geometry problem with steps 60 degrees from horizontal...In fact, I began to wonder if this opening was one of EE's little jokes.

Sorry.

Beth said...

I should have added to my previous comment:

Why not start with a character, doing something interesting?

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't think rewriting this on the fly to please the minions is the best approach. Take it away, mull over what's been said, then rewrite in your own time.

_*Rachel*_ said...

It's not like I'll be rewriting too much; I had a general idea and and a beginning to the story. I was hoping putting it here would give my story a boost, and it did.

BuffySquirrel said...

Good :).

Wes said...

Anon 8:21, there is nothing in my comment that is PC. It is about manners and how to act in a public forum. You appear to enjoy personal attacks, yet you hide behind anonymous. Sign your name so your comments can be attributed to you. Complete a profile so people can know who you are and write directly to you. There are words to describe someone who hides and attacks others. I'll let you pick the one you prefer.

As for PC, few contributors to this blog have had as much criticism aimed at them for not being PC as I have. Check some of the comments about my African-American dialect, slave raids against American Indians, Spanish colonial policy, and common vices in early New Mexico. Oh, yes, a young woman's curiousity about a sex club is hardly PC (New Beginning 673).