Tuesday, July 03, 2012

New Beginning 960

The clouds were acting weird. Really weird. Twelve-year-old Cassandra Kelly had been staring at them ever since she'd gotten far enough away from the skyscrapers to see them, but they'd only just started...misbehaving.

She'd started watching out of boredom. Her mom hadn't let her bring her cell phone on the ride - not that Cassie had anyone to text since her supposedly BFF Emma had started sharing all their secrets with Jess-the-Snob - so Cassie had decided to try and make shapes out of the clouds to pass the time. At first it was the usual: blobby shapes that if you squinted just right, or turned your head just a little, lazily morphed into a bunny or a dragon or a lop-sided unicorn. But now Cassie didn't need to squint or tilt her head at all. And there was nothing lazy about the way the clouds were moving. They were forming shapes, quickly and precisely, like a cartoon character blowing smoke rings. An apple. A parrot. A shoe. A mushroom.

A skull.

Cassie inhaled deeply and blew out another thick cloud. Her eyes widened as the wispy tendrils knitted themselves together into an exact facsimile of Justin Bieber.

Cassie let out a little yelp. And never, ever did drugs again. 


Opening: Kimberly Callard.....Continuation: anon.

28 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


And then, the parrot ate the mushroom, put on the shoe, and kicked the apple at the skull. After that, things got seriously weird.

--anon.


Cassie smiled to herself. A skull. Perfect. As usual, her budding telekinesis had helped her to sort out what she was feeling.

She was going to kill Emma and Jess-the-Snob, using a poisoned apple and a death cap mushroom. Cook it in a shoe, use a parrot to deliver the goods, and they would both be skulls.

She didn't feel bored anymore.

--Rachel6


Cassandra was no genius, but it didn't take one to figure out what that spelled. Just then, she felt her abdomen tighten as sharp pains shot through her.

"Mom, my tummy hurts," she said.

"Where does it hurt, honey?"

Cassandra placed a hand over the affected region.

"Ah," said her mom, in the tone of voice that indicated she was about to say something wise. "It's your first menstrual spasm. I thing we need to have a talk."

--Lisa

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Okay. My comment got eaten. Once again: not a bad beginning, but too info-dumpy. Lose Cassandra's age, surname, BFF concerns, the skyscrapers, and above all please, her boredom. (Invites reader to share her feeling.)

All of that gets in the way of the clouds' behavior, which is your main point here.

Tk said...

Hi Kimberly,

I liked this - I liked Cassie's word choices, especially misbehaving, and you have lots of lively words such as blobby, squint.

If you're in her head (which you should be!) she'd never think of herself by surname and age. Just say Cassie.

Thought - apples and mushrooms are pretty simple shapes - it seems odd they are weirder than dragons or bunnies. Consider upping the ante with truly complex shapes? A merry-go-round with actual moving horses. A harp with perfect strings. A freeway with a motorcycle dangerously overtaking a milk tanker and a vintage model T.

Maureen said...

I'd keep the skyscrapers, but lose age, surname and either the BFF worries or the mum forbidding the phone - right now, both this info works towards the same outcome (no texting) so one of the info sources is unnecessary.

PLaF said...

She started watching out of boredom....

This is backstory and brings the momentum to a screeching halt. Anytime you try to bring someone up to speed, it has the reverse effect of bringing the story to a screeching halt.

If you feel you must work the information in, try morphing one of the clouds into a cell phone or the big nose of the snob. That at least could remind her of why she can't text at the moment.

I agree with Tk's assessment of the clouds. I would like to add that none of the shapes you described seem particularly ill-behaved. King Kong smashing the apple or a tidal wave taking out a tiki hut - that's misbehaving.
This is a great opportunity for some foreshadowing as well.

I'd read on, but only if I didn't run into much more backstory.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm wondering how she got to be 14 y/o and never saw the shapes of puffy little cumulus clouds.

I'd move those first two sentences in the second paragraph to somewhere else in the story.

There's a great Studio Ghibli movie called "Spirited Away" that handles the "bored spoiled girl" opening scenes very well.

Evil Editor said...

Perhaps if the skull is a sign of what's to come, the other clouds should be such ominous items as a dagger, spider, ghost, cobra, Evil Editor.

Rachel6 said...

I liked the simile of a cartoon character blowing smoke rings. Actually, I thought that apples and mushrooms worked, because of the specified precision.

I've been in cities; skyscrapers don't hide the sky enough to make clouds invisible. Did you, perhaps, mean that this is the first time she's had leisure to really watch them?

Author (KC) said...

Thanks everybody. I'm working on a re-write which I hope to post by the end of the week.

Rachel6 - Cassie's in a car. In my experience you can't see much sky from a car when you're in the heart of downtown.

But I can see that it's an unnecessary detail.

Thanks again.

Author (KC) said...

Thanks for the input, everyone. I hope that this version is better. Thanks in advance for all your help on this one.


Was that a bunny? Cassie wondered. Yeah, if she tipped her head to the side and ignored the fact it only had one ear, it definitely looked like a bunny.

She pressed her face against the cool glass and watched as the next group of clouds lazily morphed into a lop-sided turtle – or was it a crab? She squinted. A turtle with really long arms, maybe?

She was still trying to decide when things got weird.

The clouds were...misbehaving. Cassie didn't need to squint or tilt her head at all to figure out what they were forming now. And there was nothing lazy about the way the clouds were moving. They were forming shapes, quickly and precisely, like a cartoon character blowing smoke rings. An apple. A shoe. A trophy. A star.

A skull.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

It's better, but I still question whether it's really where the story begins.

And I'd cut it a bit. We've all looked at clouds, and nothing interesting has happened as a result. So cut this scene by maybe half so you can get to the part where something interesting happens.

Also, the first paragraph doesn't mention clouds, so she could be looking at... well, roadkill.

Dave Fragments said...

KC,
This is good. I think you should go with it. It gets YOU where YOU want to be. It's got your voice and as long as your character comes across as you want her to, then go with it.
Dave

Wilkins MacQueen said...

The opening of your "funnel" is too wide/broad. (I looked for meaning/relation between/among the critters in the first lines. I went down the wrong path needlessly.)

I got interested at "misbehaving". You hooked me at skull.

I thought she was in a house in winter (cool glass).

No mention of clouds in first 'graph so a little baffling.

Can you start here?

The clouds were...misbehaving. Cassie didn't need to squint or tilt her head to figure out what they were forming now. The shapes appeared quickly and precisely. An apple. A shoe. A trophy. A star.

A skull.

Xiexie said...

The rewrite works much better. I think you can nix the first paragraph and simply start with:

Cassie pressed her face to the cool glass.....

Evil Editor said...

I think Cassie's reached the age at which she would think "rabbit" rather than "bunny."

You seem to think that putting skull on a separate line makes it significant. Why should I think the skull is an ominous message when it was preceded by an apple and a shoe and a mushroom? For all I know the next item will be a ducky. Cassie can't see that the skull has its own paragraph; to her it's one item on a list of seemingly random items. If all the formations seemed ominous (serpent, knife, etc., then the skull becomes part of a progression that would be worrisome. As it is, why should the skull have any more significance to Cassie than the shoe?

Dave Fragments said...

I think we're at the point of editing an opening to death. This is like seeking perfection and great grand literature on the scale of Milton and Proust and Joyce while forgetting that most novels are not that and yet we enjoy them.

I mean, "Married With Zombies" was not great literature yet it was fun to read. Neither were "The Hunger Games" or "Twilight" or "the Graveyard Book" unflawed. Yet they have big audiences and lots of readers.

When I made my second remark, my big and unstated concern was that the story that comes after this opening is not going to lead anywhere. I didn't say anything because I'm not clairvoyant and I don't know what comes next. That's the author's job -- what comes next.

This opening started out as about 180 and is now 137 words and if the author were to follow the advice would be nearer to 90 words. I have many times said "cut" but not on this second version.

Indeed if we cut all the stylistic crap out and decided that
"SKULLS FILLED THE SKY ABOVE CASSIE."
...was an effective and dramatic first line and should open the story, where would we be?

Lost in the search for perfection.

I'm not alone in this.
http://kriswrites.com/2012/06/27/the-business-rusch-perfection/

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Dave, I'm a big fan of not searching for perfection in query letters.

But I think searching for perfection in openings is absolutely necessary. Most submissions are rejected on page one.

To paraphrase John Gardner, page one does indeed need to be perfect.

I still feel looking at clouds is the wrong way to begin this novel, given the action-packed plot the author has described to us. But if we must look at clouds, they'd better be damned interesting ones.

Dave Fragments said...

Well, AlaskaRavenClaw would you rather I don't venture opinions on EE's blog? You both make and take these comments very personal. Having been around EE for few years, I know not to make personal remarks to an author or take the critiques personally. And the answer to my question is that it is not up to you to decide how and when I participate in EE's blog.

Cassandra of the Crescent Moon (FL 1039) is MG fantasy about witches.
It begins with a car wreck and these words are a good, reasonable opening for the plot outlined in that query. I offered my opinion and that was it. It's up to the author to take the advice or leave it.

PLaF said...

KC
I think this has great potential, so I pulled out all the parts I liked:
The clouds were acting weird.
… staring at them ever since she'd gotten far enough away from the skyscrapers to see them, they'd only just started...misbehaving.

blobby shapes that if you squinted just right, or turned your head just a little, lazily morphed into a bunny or a dragon or a lop-sided unicorn.
there was nothing lazy about the way the clouds were moving.
like a cartoon character blowing smoke rings.
A skull.
I am not a fan of any element that involves the following: were, had, had been, was, just and almost anything that ends in –ly.
These words indicate backstory or lack of action to me, neither of which is entertaining. I don’t want to read a lot of words where you tell me something. I want to read words that show me a story.
Every word must move the story forward.
Example:
Twelve-year-old Cassandra Kelly had been staring at them ever since she'd gotten far enough away from the skyscrapers to see them, but they'd only just started...misbehaving.
Now far enough away from the skyscrapers to see them, Cassie watched as the clouds began…misbehaving.
Don’t bore me with the past; dazzle me with the present and make me want to experience the future.
Now, show me how the clouds are misbehaving. (And by the way, I’m hoping for really cool shapes like a carousel or something with complex moving parts, not something boring like an apple or a shoe. I’m also hoping there’s a shape before “the skull” that is connected to what’s causing the clouds to be bad so I can look back and say, “Oh, that’s why she saw that. Cool.”)

Author (KC) said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I think I know now where to go with the next draft.

As for the shapes issue - the weirdness is supposed to be in the precision of the images and the speed with which they form.

The shapes before the cloud all tie in later to another prediction in the story.

The skull stands out to Cassie because it is scary - and the rest of the first chapter explains her reaction to it.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

W. T. F?

Dave, I've just reread my comment and I don't see anything "personal" in it, other than that I used your name to indicate I was discussing the point you raised. I certainly didn't suggest that you shouldn't participate in anything you wanted to participate in, here or anywhere on God's green internet.

All I see is that I said I thought openings had to be perfect, and I explained my reasons for thinking so.

Since it bothers you so much, I'll try not to address you again. Hope that helps.

Author (KC) said...

All right, here we go again. I like this version better than the last one, and I hope you do too. It's a lot shorter, but I think it works. Thanks for your input.


The clouds were acting weird. Really weird.
When they'd left the city the clouds had been normal: blobby shapes that if you squinted just right, or turned your head just a little, lazily morphed into a one-eared bunny or a lop-sided turtle. But now they were definitely misbehaving. Cassie didn't need to squint or tilt her head at all now. And there was nothing lazy about the way the clouds were moving. They were forming shapes, quickly and precisely, like a cartoon character blowing smoke rings. An apple. A shoe. A trophy. A star.
A skull.

Mister Furkles said...

Kimberly,

The opening has improved. It started as nearly 180 words and is just over 90 now. The "clouds misbehaving" really stands out. If it had been left the way it was it would not have been as effective. Since, I’ve used all of PLaF’s hated words: What happens next?

PLaF said...

The flying monkeys attack.

PLaF said...

It’s a much faster paced opening. A couple of nits:
Reads as if the clouds left the city
Use of “now” twice in adjoining sentences is redundant
Reads as if the shapes are forming a cartoon character blowing smoke instead of the shapes are like one a cartoon character would create

Rachel6 said...

I like this, KC! Brisk, intriguing...nicely done!

Funnily enough, the trophy and star are what stood out to me from this list, maybe because I can picture them easily, and yet they're weird shapes to see in clouds.

Good luck with the rest of the novel!

Dave Fragments said...

I like that opening, too.

BuffySquirrel said...

After struggling through that third sentence a few times, I think you need a comma after 'that'.

Also, PLaF is right: the proper antecedent for 'they' is the clouds, which is probably not what you had in mind.