Thursday, January 31, 2008

Opening for Mayhem

Again with the contest.  I noticed that the folks that posted links to their blogs and posted their entry there got some comments back.  It's early but I haven't gotten anything (yet) so I thought I'd follow their fine example and open myself to comments on my own opening.

Thanks to the INKers who've already commented on the opening when I posted it on our website.  You guys are always welcome to add more, of course, but I don't want to pressure you to comment here if you're not inspired to.  I didn't intend for this to be extra work for the group.

Here goes:

As a small child I once lost my balance and touched my hand on a red hot stove.  Before the pain stabbed into my fingers and struck my mind I remember feeling foolish and frightened.  I cried out a not-very-small-child curse and put my fingers in my mouth just as the pain hit me.  My mother hurled herself across the kitchen and pulled me up into her arms.  That scent of our tribe's plush wool, the softness of homespun cloth against my face, the red hair of a Kilhells woman and green eyes staring into mine had always brought me comfort.

I know I'm dreaming, but that same hot pain I remember feels real, and there's no comfort this time.  I'm trapped in that room again, the desert heat doubled by infernal fire in a hearth.  I'm tied with bark rope on top of a camel hair rug.  Instead of hot pokers, carving instruments are heating to white brilliance three feet from my face.  There's a helefrit straddling me.  Nearby, the blood of an infant has dried to black flakes.  I want to wake up, but just like when it was actually happening, I'm helpless

Something wooden cracks nearby and all at once I'm awake, gasping, my heart pounding so hard it hurts.  My body tingles from the memory of my flesh burning and I'm sticky and smelly with sweat.  I'm back in the present, cradled in a hammock in the belly of a sailing ship.  Sailors stand around a barrel they've dropped.  One sailor glances my way from under the brim of his dirty white hat with an apologetic look.  The others don't meet my gaze.  I'm not sure if they know something's wrong with me, or if it's just me.  My name is famous.  I'm famous, though hardly anyone has met me.  It's always a surprise when people take my word for it that I am who I say I am.  I'm plenty tall for a woman, but I don't think I'm tall enough for a myth.  I don't wear armor, I've lost my sword, and not only did I fail to do anything to aid the war, I think I might be on my way to assassinate the only man who can save the world.

I think people believe that no one would dare claim they were me.  I don't feel up to defending my name or my honor, though, as I awkwardly climb out of the hammock and go to ease the pressure in my bladder.  I don't stagger as the massive ships rocks from one side to the other.  My sea legs come back faster each time I sail, and take longer to go away when I'm on dry land again.  For hours after a long voyage, sometimes overnight, it feels like the land rolls under me, and I often dream of storms at sea.


C.J. said...

hey -
thanks for the tips on nathan's blog. sure, here are a few things i noticed about your first page entry:
--first off, this is a bit more fantastical than the kind of books i read, so take my comments with a grain of salt.
--you do a good job of providing two different sides of your main character, it's interesting to get the often overlooked youthful picture of your heroine right away. i think it would allow me to relate to the character as you go along better than if you had jumped right in to the present scene.
--there are a few places where the sentence structure could be changed to make the language flow a little more smoothly. have you tried reading this page aloud? sometimes that helps me. again these are very small stylistic things, for example in the first paragraph i would make it "When my mother hurled herself across the kitchen and pulled me up into her arms, the scent of our tribe's plush wool, the softness..." and i'd take "had always" out of the end of that paragraph too.
--anyway, looks good, i like the idea of staggering more on land than on a boat.

good luck,

Brenda said...

Hi Kami
I read your post on Nathan's blog and enjoyed it. Really agreed with everything you said about starting. I also like the voice of your submission. It definitely has the ring of worldbuilding and the protagonist is an intriguing woman already. There is a definite 'african' sense to this even though she is on a ship.

I think you are trying to tell too much here though. I liked the beginning until I found out it was a flashback and then you went immediately into a dream. It just didnt feel immediate enough for me. What I want to get a sense of is what her problem is right off. I think it has something to do with her dreaming, but I'm not sure if that's what makes her famous or something else entirely.
I think you are getting way more into the story as you reach the last paragraph of your submission, but the don't thinks kind of put me off. They make her seem indecisive. Is that what you want?

I am really interested in this woman who is a myth and want to know what it is that makes her one.
I want to know what she has that makes her an assassin.

I love the sentence "I might be on my way to assassinate the only man who can save the world." I want to find out why and how. This sets up lots of questions that I would read on to get the answer to. :)

Hope this helps
Good luck with your writing

Kami said...

Thank you both so much! I appreciate you taking the time to come over and comment. Your comments are great and they'll be a great help.

Heidi the Hick said...


millhousethecat said...

I love, love, love the opening sentence. It grabbed me and hooked me. Then I found myself confused. I don't feel there is enough context to understand the plight of the heroine.

Your prose is beautiful, though. You have a great command of the language and of "showing." I just wish there was more of a clue about the plot of the story.

Hope that helps. Good luck!

Ruth said...

What was communicated: The thoughts of a ‘heroine’ as she wakes from a recurring dream and contemplates her task ahead and the role she might be playing in the world’s demise.
I like the premise of your story and you create a lot of interest in the character and their plight. Empathy with missing home and mother, awe at the idea of a heroine on a journey, interest with the location of the story.
Opportunities: I feel you do a lot of telling instead of showing. To take the reader into the mind and body of the character it is good to provide a layered experience for the reader. Some examples might include replacing things like
• I remember feeling foolish and frightened with ‘a blush of embarrassment warmed my cheeks as I remember feeling foolish before the pain registered.
• I'm sticky and smelly with sweat with something like ‘I used the drenched blanket to soak up the sweat beading on my forehead. ‘
• I'm back in the present, cradled in a hammock in the belly of a sailing ship with ‘my hammock rocked to unsteady rhythm of the ship”
This just serves to take the reader into the characters experience.
Also, avoid clichés like ‘heart pounding’.
Some of your sentence structure needs work. E.g.”I don't feel up to defending my name or my honor, though, as I awkwardly climb out of the hammock and go to ease the pressure in my bladder.” Might read better as this: I don't feel up to defending my name or my honor. The pressure in my bladder in intense and I awkwardly climb out of the hammock to ease it.
I hope this helps. I like your blog and think this opening has a lot of potential.
I entered Nathan’s competition too.
Kind regards … Ruth Fingret

Laurie Ashton said...

It could use some more commas. Yep, just call me Anal-Retentive Girl.

I'm not a fan of first person for the most part - it seems to me it's difficult to do well, and you're not quite there. I think with some more polishing, it could work, but right now, it doesn't flow as well as it could. It feels a bit stiff.

I don't like the transitions from memory to present or dream to present - they're a bit, I'm not sure, stiff. Awkward. I think they can be done better. I don't have any suggestions how, though - I suck at them. :)

On the positives, though, it sounds intriguing and has me hooked. It's true, I do want to know more, like what a helefrit is and how she ended up in the position she's in, off to kill someone who could save the world. Fantasy is one of my genres of choice, so this is one book I'd pick up.

Good luck with Nathan's contest. :)

Kami said...

You guys are the best. I'm so happy that you came to comment on my opening. Sounds like I have polishing to do. It's difficult to figure out which direction to take a revision when I have so many great insights that I can identify with and agree with--and yet will take me in different directions. This is where the 'following your gut' advice that we all hear comes in.

I think our writer's group will turn this into a project. We'll spend a meeting talking about the comments and the opening and see if we come up with insights into the process. I'm fairly certain, left to my own devices and these comments, I could make this opening stronger. Rather than leave it at that, though, I'd really like to find out if I can create some guidelines and offer specific suggestions to writers who really struggle at this stage.

It may be that we won't come up with anything aside from the standard 'follow your gut' and 'listen when people agree on the same issue' but there's a great opportunity here to discover something vital to the revision process. There's so much focus on writing and not much out there on how to take care of business when you get feedback.

If there's anyone out there who knows about a resource on how to manage feedback, let me know and I'd also encourage you to post it on Nathan's blog. It could do a whole lot of good for folks who are now getting some great, insightful comments but aren't sure what to do next.

If we come up with something good, I may turn this into an article. Would any of you allow me to quote your comments? If I don't get a response here (there's so much going on right now I really don't expect you all to check back) I'll contact you individually. You would of course get full credit for your quotes. If the article sells you may even get some exposure out of it (or you can be anonymous if you'd prefer.) I won't use anyone's comments without permission.

Thank you again for your time and insight. I hope the comments keep on coming.

Laurie Ashton said...

Feel free to quote me.

I know what you mean about how the comments take you in different directions. I have no advice for you except, yep, just like you predicted, to follow your gut. :) In the end, we're nothing more than readers with only our own preferences and filters with which we judge and interpret what we read.

Catherine said...

First off, I like your voice here, it's very evocative - you really paint word pictures that are clear and compelling.

Something is bugging me about the second paragraph, and I'll be damned if I can tell you what it is - how's that for helpful? lol.

Honestly though, the line that made me go "hmmm, yes" is oddly, this one:

" One sailor glances my way from under the brim of his dirty white hat with an apologetic look."

Why - 'cause it intrigued me.

So yeah, I'd definitely read on. Good job.

Rosemary said...

Hey, your comments on Nathan's blog made a lot of sense, thanks. Great first page! I really liked the movement, the hammock and the full bladder made it immediate. So who is she? What is her story? You made this reader curious. Just two minor items. IMO, I'd take out a couple of the 'that's. I read on a blog recently about 'drat that that' (I also use it too often). I noticed you have three 'thats' in three consecutive sentences. Perhaps you could take out the one before 'scent' and start the sentence with 'Scent'? IMO the next 'that' could go too, but maybe keep the third one. Also, suggest you lose the 'had' before 'always brought me comfort' and it would still convey the same thought. Well, this is fun, now I guess I'd better send you mine.
I'm such a newbie at this sort of thing, I hope I'm not doing it wrong by just inserting it here.
Please be gentle...


Several of the children found it hard to pay attention, whispering and shifting in their seats. The noise prompted Mrs. Bradshaw to purse her lips and make a sharp SSH! At the front of the classroom the gnome-like guest ignored the goings on behind him and continued to make various marks on the blackboard. When the board was covered, the little man turned to face the children who now sat straighter and regarded him with curiosity.

Greetman cleared his throat and said in a high-pitched voice, "Darlings, you have been selected to participate in the Kaset correction project. Today we search among you for those who will find themselves in the K, and bring order to the K. If you are chosen, this will become clear. Now please look at the board and concentrate. Let your eyes see everything I have written. Study the pictures and letters and then raise your hand if something strikes you as important.”

The children were quiet as if absorbed in a game and Mrs. Bradshaw, nodding with satisfaction now that they were behaving themselves, smiled at Greetman.

But seconds later she gave a start when little, blonde Leati raised her hand. Greetman, his expression unchanged, went to the six year old girl’s desk. Beside her, his red eyes were level with hers. “Yes, Leati darling, what do you see?”

Leati pointed to the centre of the board. “I see my name.”

“Yes, my pet. Come show me.”

Together they walked to the front of the room, Greetman hobbling alongside the pale child. She stood and pointed with a small finger to a picture of a square and five vowels.

“Ah, yes. Words in a box. Well, there you go then. Find yourself.” And he reached over and placed a blue veined hand on top of her head as she looked up at him, her eyes shiny and clear. In an instant she was gone.

There were gasps from a few of the children, but most continued to stare in bewilderment at the blackboard. Mrs. Bradshaw watched, her smile hardening, her eyes suddenly reflecting less light. Greetman took a brush and wiped away the image of the square with the vowels from the blackboard. He set the brush back down and glanced about the room once more.

Another hand shot up. Mrs. Bradshaw jumped the tiniest bit in her chair. She breathed “Oh, please no, not Silvi!”

Greetman rushed over to the dark haired little girl in the front row.

“Yes, darling, you see something too?”

“Yes Mr. Greetman.” With self–assurance she stood, walked to the board, placed her finger on a picture of an eye and said “I’m here.”

“Oh! Excellent! The clear path. Well, off with you then.” His hand rested on her dark curls only a moment. Then she was gone.

Mr. Greetman looked over at Mrs. Bradshaw who no longer smiled.

“Almost finished” he said, thrusting his out chest and bouncing on his heels, unable to contain his glee.

Kami said...

No worries, Rosemary. I'm so glad you came to visit my blog! Thanks for your comments.

My critique:

Is the first Pay Attention! the title? I wasn't sure if it was or if it was part of the text. If it's part of the text I'd be careful about shouting that loud with all caps from the get-go. Also, I think you convey the sharpness of Bradshaw's shush without the caps and exclamation point.

I was entranced once the children started staring in the blackboard. When the first one disappeared, you had me. I was totally hooked. Very well done.

I would state right away that the gnome like guest is Greetman. His calling the children darlings is a great touch. It made me smile and it's a great character tag.

I think Bradshaw must have had an inkling as to why Greetman had come, otherwise she would have interfered much more strongly (as in tackled the guy!) when the first child disappeared. Either that or she might be too afraid, in which case I need to feel her feel. Or she might have political constraints, in which case we need to see those constraints holding her back on the page. She might even think about defying them, risking jail to protect her kids.

Would the thought of what to tell the parents cross her mind?

This is very good. I'd read onward if I picked this up off the shelf.

I'd like to invite folks to comment on rosemary's opening and also the opening posted on my "Because I can't leave well enough alone" entry if you're inspired to do some more critiquing.

Thank you everyone!

sophie said...

As someone multi-tasking long after midnight, I have to say this hooked me from the second paragraph. I'm interested in this story, and want to see where it goes.
Not reading in-depth enough for any crit right now - I'm uncertain of the age of the viewpoint character, kinda guessing anywhere from late teens to late thirties.

The 'not-very-small-child curse' amused me, more because it brought back memories of tiny children innocently repeating such phrases, to the shock! horror! of adults present (especially the one who had unwittingly taught them). First paragraph didn't flow well, though it was intriguing; by the second paragraph the language no longer mattered because the story had become more important.


Chris Marshall said...

Hi Kami,
I really enjoyed your first page, it's so different from anything I've read lately. You did a great job with your main character, I'm already attached to her. You have so many interesting, unexpected aspects to your story; I would definitely want to read more.

Someone may have already pointed this out, but I think "ships" in the last paragraph should be "ship."

Chris Marshall

Anne Bradshaw said...

I liked it well enough to want more. An unusual beginning that intrigues. Already wondering about the main character and feeling for her. I'd buy this book.

Kami said...


Hey regolith, it's great to hear from you! I've got to remember to add your blog back onto my list. My old computer was crashy and couldn't access your site. It'll be good to check in there again.

No one had pointed out the ships thing yet, Anne. I totally missed that. I'm laughing now. It's not the only mistake I made (I rolled my eyes at myself with using that so many times once that was pointed out that that that argh that!) but still, it's right there. Am I going blind? Hee.

Rosemary said...

Thank you Kami for commenting on my first page. Yes, Pay Attention was supposed to be the title. I now wish I hadn't tacked the ! on. You are absolutely right, I should make Mrs. Bradshaw appear more nervous. Thanks for your help.
I'm new to your blog but read you have 5 dogs and am curious what kind you have. We have been thinking of getting a dog for our girls this spring and have been looking at a few different breeds.

Kami said...

Hi Rosemary! My opinion on dogs would fill multiple blog entries. I'll post a blog entry in answer to your question and I'll try not to blather on and on and on ...

sophie said...

Hi Kami,

I've gone friends-only on livejournal, thanks to wandering parents :/
Let me know if you're on lj and I'll add you.

Kami said...

Unfortunately I'm not on livejournal. Rats! I'll let you know if I decide to cave and join up. I'll search for regolith and find you somehow! Or you can email me and send me a link. When I sign up I'll use the link and we'll be good!