Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Beginning 778

Clara Dietrich’s heart was still.

The point of her sketching pencil quivered above the page. It itched to draw, but she dared not move a millimeter. She might frighten it.

A pair of black eyes housed in a tufted red face regarded her. The cardinal tilted its head, deciding the level of threat she posed. After a moment of serious deliberation, it came to the conclusion that she was neither a hawk nor a cat, and continued to peck at the seed she’d spread on the ground before her bench.

With a whoosh, she released her breath into the cool October air and allowed herself a smile. The park near Old St. Mary’s was her favorite place to sit and observe local wildlife. There was so little of it in the city outside of the parks – brief respites of color caged between the gray and brown buildings.

Careful to move as little as possible, she shifted her day dress so she could lift her leg to use as a makeshift table. Her pencil flew over the creamy page as her eyes absorbed the cardinal, drinking in every claw and marking before he took flight.

She didn’t have long to wait.

"Sorry about that."

Clara jumped at the voice behind her.

"Oh. Sorry again. Didn't mean to startle you. Just wanted to say, sorry about the cardinal."

Clara smiled. "It was quite something. I've never seen anything quite like it before."


"I know, I know. Really quite curious. He's new here, and frankly, I'm rather worried about him, as is the bishop."
Father Murphy waved goodbye and followed the cardinal back to St. Mary's.


Opening: Steph.....Continuation: anon.

18 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:


"Well, what took you so long?"

Clara didn't have to say the words to make them register. The little cardinal gave the tiniest skip back, unwilling but accepting; he was late and he know it. Still, he never broke eye contact.

"Okay, let's get it over with," Clara snapped, no small feat in total silence, "Start clearing out your brain, this soul transference shouldn't take long." Still the little red bird held back just a smidge too much; Clara sighed. Even if the exchange went through without a hitch, she knew she'd have to pay for this slipup. The Overseers insisted on complete smoothness and would accept nothing less, one reason Clara has accepted in the first place.

--Panda Rosa

writtenwyrdd said...

Overall, I think you have a good eye for interesting details. The issue is that you aren't seeing shifts in perspective in your writing and you still need work on seeing the implications in what you are saying, e.g. structuring the information you reveal so it points the reader in a direction that moves the plot along.

This is totally fixable, and with work could be a great start to a story. Without seeing where you are leading us with this scene, though, it's impossible to guess what happens next or to decide if this is an appropriate starting point. I'm inclined to suspect not at this juncture.

First paragraph, you have an omniscient voice telling us a heart is still, implying Clara Dietrich is dead-- but no further information. Readers are left to think that if Clara isn't dead, the metaphore is off.

Second paragraph, we know the metaphore is off but we are suddenly in a different perspective: that of a sentient (and, apparently, female) pencil that is itching to draw but not daring to do so. If you do not understand why it's a bad idea to write as if the pencil is having thoughts and desires, you are not seeing what your sentence structure is saying, and I recommend a grammar course. That said, just turn that sentence into it being from Clara's perspective so it reads, "Her pencil quivered above the page. She itched to draw, but she dared not move a millimeter. She might frighten it."

The "she might frighten it" line is good, though, making me want to wonder what might be frightened...except that you have used the pronoun 'it' previously, which makes the second 'it' a vague reference.

Third paragraph, you have a complicated noun clause for the subject, which distracts from the verb. The verb is the pertinent thing here, IMO, so you might consider reducing the verbiage in the first part of the sentence. Actually, I would recommend you cut it entirely and go with the second sentence. However, if you really want to keep elements of the first sentence you can use some in the second sentence.

The 'black eyes' are very evocative! The 'tufted red face' is a strange image and makes me think of mange instead of a crested head. So I'd just keep the 'black eyes' and say something like, "The cardinal tilted its head, black bead eyes assessing the threat she posed. After a moment, it came to the conclusion she was neither hawk nor cat and continued to peck at the seed spread on the ground." (Notice the cuts I made?)

Fourth paragraph,you start with an awkward and non-sequitir-ish clause. I'd just say "Clara allowed herself a smile." The following sentence, however, is also a non-sequitir and has nothing to do with the will-he/won't-he of trying to sketch the cardinal. So, as a reader I'm left to try and figure out what the pencil and sketching and watching the bird and hoping it will hold still have to do with anything. It feels at this point like you might be using the cardinal a trick to lure my interest and now are getting to the meat of the scene.

In the fifth paragraph, you start with another clause (watch the repeating sentence structure in paragraph openings; it stands out!) and you are again providing unneeded details before the meat of the paragraph. Clara moving her leg to serve as a makeshift table makes no sense, either, considering she is already poised to draw, which implies that she's done this shifting about already. With "Her eyes flew over the page" you have an inanimate object doing something impossible again, so I'd rephrase that. Also, male cardinals don't have much in the way of markings, so perhaps just say "drinking in every detail?" I'd suggest you just say something like, "She began to sketch, taking in as many details as she could before he flew away."


Perhaps post a revision here when you have it?

Dick Margulis said...

Among the hundreds of illegally posted Charles Addams cartoons turned up by Google Image Search, I could not find a copy of the pertinent one: a middle-aged man, seated in his easy chair reading a newspaper, asks his wife, who is standing at the living room window, "What's so strange about a cardinal in the bird feeder?"

Evil Editor said...

"She might frighten it" can go. It sounds like you mean the pencil.


"drinking in every claw and marking before he took flight." suggests that he took flight, but he hasn't quite left yet. Change it to "trying to drink in..."


If I were going to declare that I knew what a cardinal was thinking, it wouldn't be that a human wasn't a cat or a hawk. It would be that I was willing to risk death at the hands of this monstrous creature to avoid starving.


Hard to believe her heart was still. You're trying to make it sound like a tension-filled suspenseful scene, so shouldn't her heart be racing?


This is a lot of words just to bring us to whatever scares the bird off. You might consider jumping toward the end and starting:

Clara Dietrich shifted her day dress ever so slowly and propped her sketchpad against her leg. Her pencil flew over the creamy page as her eyes absorbed the cardinal, trying to drink in every claw and marking before he took flight.

She didn't have long to wait.

arhooley said...

The "whoosh" is inconsistent with the minimal moving. If she's going to exhale in relief, it should be silent and controlled, unlike a whoosh.

I suppose that her pencil flies with minimal arm movement on her part -- just a sort of wrist thing, which is hidden behind her sketch pad. You might say so, since Clara is still controlling her limbs.

BuffySquirrel said...

I would think the bird would fly off when she goes 'whoosh'. It seems strange to hold so still then spoil it that way.

The third paragraph seems off to me, perhaps because there's no real reason why Clara should be thinking about how this park is her favourite place, or where it's near. If she goes there often she wouldn't be thinking about it in those oh-so-useful-to-the-reader terms.

Also, 'her eyes absorbed the cardinal'? I'm thinking not.

Generally speaking, there's nothing much here to invite me to read on, I'm afraid. If this is your opening scene, then it needs deeper insights or to evoke more powerful emotions.

Dave F. said...

I once went out on my front porch and got checked out by a hummingbird that saw the red in my tie. It hovered about a foot in front of my face and I can tell you, my heart wasn't still. I first thought it was a giant bug but then I realized it was a bird. Those little wings were fast and it was so tiny. I was more startled because it happened so fast.

It's nice to start a story about a gray and desolate city with the exact opposite but you lost your way in the wonders of bird watching. That is the information you want to present to the reader? Isn't it?

Clara visited the park near Old St. Mary's to sketch/watch the cardinals; a brief respite from the oppressive gray and brown buildings of the city.

Then you can say something like "Today, Godzilla disturbed her."

Kings Falcon said...

I felt cheated. You built up all this suspense but it was false suspense. For gosh sake she's looking at a cardinal. Just tell me that.

The "tufted red face" image didn't work for me. I had a visual of the "Fireys" from Labyrinth (tufts from the cheeks pointing out) in my head rather than a crest.

You spend a lot time 6 paragraphs) to get me to the heart of the matter, which is whatever scares away the bird. Please get there quicker since the setting is mundane (something we know - a park in the city) rather than something fantastic (Middle Earth/ Narnia).

"She didn't have long to wait" also didn't work for me. I think "She didn't have long to sketch" might work better. Or even better, "She'd just roughed in the outline when . . ."

". . drinking in . . ." also sounded strange since she's drawing. You told me in that sentance that she "absorbed the cardinal" so you might not need to use both analogies.


Maybe something like:

The park near Old St. Mary’s was Clara's favorite place to sit and observe local wildlife. There was so little of it in the city outside of the parks – brief respites of color caged between the gray and brown buildings. The point of her pencil quivered above the page. The cardinal tilted its head as its pair of black eyes regarded her. After a moment, it pecked at the seed she'd spread on the ground.

Careful to move as little as possible, she re-shifted her day dress to better use her leg as a makeshift table. Her pencil flew over the creamy page as her eyes drank in the bird's every claw and marking before he took flight.

She didn't have long to draw.


Good luck.

Beth said...

EE said: "She might frighten it" can go. It sounds like you mean the pencil.

I thought at first she meant the heart.

This beginning was overwritten--too much inconsequential detail and it took too long to get the reader's eye focused on a coherent picture. It was kind of like looking at pieces of a jig-saw puzzle with a macro lense. You can see individual details but have no idea what the whole picture looks like.

_*rachel*_ said...

I dunno about this. It's not bad, but it doesn't hook me. Probably not my genre, though.

Wouldn't the cardinal be startled by the sudden whoosh and her drawing, even if he'd just decided she wasn't a threat?

Anonymous said...

With KF on this felt cheated. Best, Bibi

batgirl said...

'tufted red head' would work better for me than 'tufted red face' - I don't think of birds as having a face, but maybe that's just me.
And the whooshing sigh - wouldn't that frighten the bird just as much as sudden movement? Maybe just letting her breath out slowly?

Vivian Davenport said...

Continuation:

When the ambulance siren sounded, the little bird flew off. The paramedics were careless with Clara's quivering pencil and clumsy drawing, but by that point, she was unable to protest. The heart defibrillator paddles were on her and the last voice she heard was, "Clear!"

Her heart was still still.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this.

Thank you, everyone, for your input.

I have a revision. Please let me know if this works any better. I think I was a little in love with my imagery, but getting to the action is a point well taken.

Clara Dietrich normally found the parks of Chicago proper quite calming – brief respites of color caged between the gray and brown buildings. There were no whispers among the trees, no pitying or accusatory glances from the birds.

But today it seemed she could find no peace.

Expensive but ill-fitting leather boots clomped on the path toward her bench, fracturing the stillness of the cool October air. The little cardinal she’d been drawing chirped an alarm to its companions. They took off in a flurry of red and black, leaving the seed she’d spread on the ground sad and forgotten. The disruptive boots took the birds’ place. Clara’s eyes followed them upward toward their owner.

She sighed and snapped her sketchbook closed. “Hello, Mirabelle.”

arhooley said...

Hi, Steph

Definitely an improvement but still a tad overwritten, perhaps heavy on the anthropomorphism. I know you mean to negate the whispers and glances, but I conjure them right up when you write, "There were no whispers among the trees, no pitying or accusatory glances from the birds." Later, the birdseed is "sad and forgotten."

I could have gotten Clare's frame of mind and the mood of the passage with fewer adjectives.

vkw said...

I'm not sure you're there it, author.

It's still too wordy.

Clara Dietrich normally found the Chicago parks calming - brief hours of peace and color in an otherwise harsh gray world. But not today.

The cardinal she was drawing took flight as Mirabelle marched up the path in her expensive leather boots, uining the cold October afternoon.

"Hello," Claire said as she closed her sketchbook with a sigh.

That's all you need. Too many adjectives, too many details and not enough.

Dave F. said...

This sounds OK. I would remove a bit of the third paragraph like this:

Expensive but ill-fitting leather boots clomped on the path toward her bench, fracturing the stillness of the cool October air. The little cardinal she’d been drawing [...] took off in a flurry of red and black, leaving the seed she’d spread on the ground sad and forgotten. [...]

A) We only care that the cardinal flew away. The deletion slows the action.

B) Boots clomping are by definition disruptive. You don't need to say that twice. And you don't have to go through Clara's every movement. The reader will know that she is looking and talking to whoever clomped down the path.

writtenwyrdd said...

Yes, a tad overwritten, but still a decent opening. I think just some trimming, in particular in the first paragraph, and the birds reference. You could just say "the cardinal she was sketching" flew away.

"Clara Dietrich normally found the parks of Chicago proper quite calming – brief respites of color caged between the gray and brown buildings. There were no whispers among the trees, no pitying or accusatory glances from the birds."

This is a bit skewed in perspective, I think, when the main point isn't what she usually finds but what she WANTS. I'd go with vkw's
"Clara Dietrich normally found the Chicago parks calming - brief hours of peace and color in an otherwise harsh gray world. But not today."