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Thread: Novel openings

  1. #71
    It seems like a recurrent theme is that I need to make it more plain that Surrey can't remember anything of his past, does not remember waking up here ever before, doesn't remember these nurses or know where he is or even who he is. While we do find these out in the next couple paragraphs, from the sounds of the feedback this has received in this thread, even 700 words into a novel is too late.

    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Hi Seigfried. Thanks for posting. Oddly enough, I am trying to write about POV and noticed that you described the nurse's face before the character could see it.

    And we apparently have different opinions about details. For me, you have seem to have spent a lot of time describing nurses who are unimportant to the story. So you are asking me to do work to visualize them but I get no reward.

    Anyway, I keep reading but you are a little boring. You could get the doctor in sooner? Or, if there was just some conflict. Or, I don't know, he could have said "Where are my friends and family keeping vigil over me?" Basically, if you want to start with this, you have to add something of interest. Or make it shorter? Interweave his thoughts with her changing his soiled sheet?

    It's a good job of getting my interest in the plot. Why is he there? Why this strange situation? And you are trying to do setting with a scene instead of description, which I appreciate.
    Thanks for reading and for feedback!



    Surrey can see their faces enough to know that one's round and a has a "piqued expression", and the other's skinny, has a sharp nose and is ratlike (although "skinny" and "ratlike" will conjure different visuals to different readers). They're wearing ear-loop surgical masks, but you can tell the general shape of the lower face and nose through one. He can also see their eyes, because the mask only covered the lower half of the face. Maybe we're used to seeing different versions of surgical masks? Or is it that she pushed the door open with her bottom? In that case, the hallway is brightly lit, so he can still see her as she's entering the room.

    Other than saying one's fluffy, and one's skinny & ratlike, there's not much physical description on either of these women (about as little as I could get away with and still have them be instantly recognizable and memorable). Reader mostly gets to form opinions and visuals based on what the nurses do or say, because as you've mentioned (though the reader has no reason to assume one way or the other at only 500 words in), these are both minor recurring characters throughout the first four chapters. Like Dr. Havens, they'll show up much later in the book and have an expanded role, and when they do, I need the reader to remember them.

    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    As an opener, overall not bad. I feel it's missing something though. It sounds, well, very hum-drum. What exactly do we learn from this passage that teases up the next? Nothing, really. There's no mentioning of anything particularly odd or out-of-place going on. Nothing that makes me think this is not an entirely usual situation that will not end entirely benignly. If that's the case, that there's nothing unusual about this situation, the scene doesn't move the story and needs cut. If it is the case that there's something amiss with the fat-and-rat nurses, the patient's condition, etc then that did not really come across. At all.

    The only thing that kind of met that criteria was this line: “Why am I strapped in, or can't you answer that?" The intrigue around the 'can't you answer that' makes me think there's something not quite right here. Either this is not a normal patient or this is not a normal hospital. I like that line. Needs a little more TLC.

    I've got to be honest though, I absolutely loathe the epilogue*. It's painfully overwritten (which is funny considering how short it is), seems to serve no real purpose, just kind of hangs on there like some ghastly piece of flair. Really bad and a shame because the 'Welcome To December' part was quite good and you clearly have some talent.

    *By the way, an epilogue goes at the end of a book not the beginning.
    Thanks for reading!

    While it's not your bag, apparently, I'm thrilled you read it anyway. You've already read more than my husband (who caught a bit while peeking over my shoulder once and promptly loathed it). I'm ecstatic. You're one of a very precious few male readers that have even read this much, so I'm on cloud nine right now. Thank-you so much for adding a valuable and very rare perspective on this.

    I'm not familiar enough with what Lifetime is airing anymore, but in this case, loving that character is a literal death sentence (it's a Lovecraftian abomination, basically). Sounding like Lifetime isn't even a bad thing, necessarily, because the work is going to be primarily marketed toward women. The "tarnished" refers to both the color and demeanor--tarnished silver is physically darker, but a tarnished character implies this entity has lost idealism, virtue, hope for humanity. It's also alright if you read "tarnished = dirty", in either a physical or character meaning (said character is currently homeless, has recently escaped years of cruel experimentation, and is a sex abuse victim = it's "dirty"). I'm trying to get across to the reader that the entity is dangerous, unsympathetic and spiteful. POV regrets this relationship, wishes he could do it all over again and never meet this entity that's ruined his life, but he is hopelessly compelled to stay even though he knows it will kill him. It's a lot to try and get across in 85 words.

    By having the epilogue first, it sets up a bit of mystery as to how the POV got into that position (chicks dig mystery ). I've tried to pack as much as I possibly could in the smallest possible space for that "epilogue", in part because some readers automatically skip pre-first chapter material, but also because the story is primarily about that relationship, and the entity in question isn't seen until chapter 7. Just reading the first chapter won't give the impression that said entity is ever going to be a romantic interest--if it's even a person. If I don't set it up, the reader will be as falsely led as Surrey into thinking it's anything from a virus to a secret government project throughout the first five chapters, because, while the world's reeling from the effects of this entity, nobody knows who or what is causing these effects. There's a lot of speculation, and so those first chapters don't even feel like they belong in this genre-bending (erotic) Lovecraftian tragedy.


    The epilogue also goes first because the whole story's awash in time-skipping. Sorry it didn't work for you. The character is pretty florid with language once he gets going, and the test readers (familiar with the genre) have told me that under no conditions whatsoever should I change Surrey's voice. It doesn't work for everyone. I pare him down quite a bit during revisions--in part because he can drive me crazy with it, too, but also because I really want to keep the story moving.

    There are two nurses. The rounder nurse held the door open for the rat-like one earlier in the story, but I suppose you missed it. It's in the line where she says she'll have to clear releasing him with Dr. Havens. Thank-you very much for mentioning the repetition of "Mr. Surrey." I'd wanted to get his name out there early so the reader could start getting a picture of him ASAP, but you're absolutely right about there being better, more organic ways of sticking his name in. I've had a few readers that incorrectly figured Surrey was female right off the bat, and they're never happy to find out he's a he if I wait long at all. Part of having a predominantly female readership, I guess. They seem to need more description about what characters look like right off the bat, so I try to sneak it in quick and get moving with story. Such a delicate balancing act!
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  2. #72
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Thanks for reading!

    While it's not your bag, apparently, I'm thrilled you read it anyway. You've already read more than my husband (who caught a bit while peeking over my shoulder once and promptly loathed it). I'm ecstatic. You're one of a very precious few male readers that have even read this much, so I'm on cloud nine right now. Thank-you so much for adding a valuable and very rare perspective on this.

    I'm not familiar enough with what Lifetime is airing anymore, but in this case, loving that character is a literal death sentence (it's a Lovecraftian abomination, basically). Sounding like Lifetime isn't even a bad thing, necessarily, because the work is going to be primarily marketed toward women. The "tarnished" refers to both the color and demeanor--tarnished silver is physically darker, but a tarnished character implies this entity has lost idealism, virtue, hope for humanity. It's also alright if you read "tarnished = dirty", in either a physical or character meaning (said character is currently homeless, has recently escaped years of cruel experimentation, and is a sex abuse victim = it's "dirty"). I'm trying to get across to the reader that the entity is dangerous, unsympathetic and spiteful. POV regrets this relationship, wishes he could do it all over again and never meet this entity that's ruined his life, but he is hopelessly compelled to stay even though he knows it will kill him. It's a lot to try and get across in 85 words.

    By having the epilogue first, it sets up a bit of mystery as to how the POV got into that position (chicks dig mystery ). I've tried to pack as much as I possibly could in the smallest possible space for that "epilogue", in part because some readers automatically skip pre-first chapter material, but also because the story is primarily about that relationship, and the entity in question isn't seen until chapter 7. Just reading the first chapter won't give the impression that said entity is ever going to be a romantic interest--if it's even a person. If I don't set it up, the reader will be as falsely led as Surrey into thinking it's anything from a virus to a secret government project throughout the first five chapters, because, while the world's reeling from the effects of this entity, nobody knows who or what is causing these effects. There's a lot of speculation, and so those first chapters don't even feel like they belong in this genre-bending (erotic) Lovecraftian tragedy.


    The epilogue also goes first because the whole story's awash in time-skipping. Sorry it didn't work for you. The character is pretty florid with language once he gets going, and the test readers (familiar with the genre) have told me that under no conditions whatsoever should I change Surrey's voice. It doesn't work for everyone. I pare him down quite a bit during revisions--in part because he can drive me crazy with it, too, but also because I really want to keep the story moving.

    There are two nurses. The rounder nurse held the door open for the rat-like one earlier in the story, but I suppose you missed it. It's in the line where she says she'll have to clear releasing him with Dr. Havens. Thank-you very much for mentioning the repetition of "Mr. Surrey." I'd wanted to get his name out there early so the reader could start getting a picture of him ASAP, but you're absolutely right about there being better, more organic ways of sticking his name in. I've had a few readers that incorrectly figured Surrey was female right off the bat, and they're never happy to find out he's a he if I wait long at all. Part of having a predominantly female readership, I guess. They seem to need more description about what characters look like right off the bat, so I try to sneak it in quick and get moving with story. Such a delicate balancing act!
    It actually probably is my bag, or could be! Mystery/crime/horror/SF and a brush of fantasy is pretty much all I write. But yes, I'm male and I suppose that might matter?

    Anyway, if this is a piece with a certain target market in mind and you know exactly what that target market wants, then by all means go with that judgment. When I critique work I do it based on what I think works irrespective of 'market'. What I think works is writing that is compulsive.

    With that in mind, my issue with 'knowing him is a death sentence' is not so much with the sentiment, but the execution. I get what you are trying to achieve with the theme. And, you know, it's not a bad one. Well-trodden or not, it's constantly relevant, especially for a story aimed at women. The Lifetime Presents comparison wasn't a criticism of the idea but the execution.

    See, when you begin with a line like 'to love him is death' I am immediately hit in the face with a value judgment that I did not form myself. You are telling me what I must think. That's not necessarily forbidden, but this is an answer to a question I did not ask, and it's an answer that is extremely final and not at all open to interpretation or further exploration.

    So I would prefer (and I think most of your readers would - female or not) a more subtle, personal lead-in. The reverse chronology is all fine, I'm okay with the epilogue at the start, but it doesn't read like an epilogue. 'To love him is death' doesn't actually mean anything, does it? Not without you explaining it, anyway. Who is speaking? Who are they speaking about? What does it mean? And, most problematically, why should we care?

    Love isn't inherently interesting. Death isn't, either. You are quite literally introducing the two most well-worn literary devices (love and death) and expecting this to generate intrigue. Why would it? Like, there are a zillion other stories that feature both of those things. Nothing about that line, or the epilogue generally, suggests this is going to be a 'genre-bending (erotic) Lovecraftian tragedy' at all. It actually suggests this is going to be an extremely basic 'dark romance', for the reasons stated.

    And that's...unfortunate. Because I do assume your telling of the story will be interesting - as mentioned, I get a sense you have some talent - and that is why I hate the epilogue and feel the opening piece of chapter could be better. However, as Emma Sohan said, it's boring, and an opener cannot be boring. Has anybody who has read it told you it gripped them? And you need to give me some sense of Surrey's inner life. You don't have to tell me anything much about him, but you do need to put me in his shoes, give me some sense of his emotional state - as Terry does with his dog. It's a situation for which drama is easy, there's a lot of opportunity here but you must put it up front to make sure people keep reading. As it is, it reads as 'Guy in hospital with ugly nurses and he wants to watch TV' and there's nothing else there.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  3. #73
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Thank-you for responding again. I think I'm more confused by what needs to change now though. It seemed like you didn't like his more passive attitude/lack of emotional description, so I let you know that it was intentional, and then... you seem to want more emotional/action description from him or less from the nurses now. Should I be dwelling more on description generally and/or emotionally grounding him.
    It's not about like or dislike. It's just criticism. It's about pinpointing why you have comments like 'it feels hum-drum' off Lucky. It's lacking something. To me, it's because Surrey is lost to the nurse's actions. There's no characterization from Surrey, i.e., the transition from what he's doing to the nurse's actions sees him get lost as a character. Even if he's a passive character, he's going to have thoughts... feelings... observations. Look back at Lucky's example from King: the main MC is given a very distinct character voice from the word go. Where's Surrey's voice? His character?

    You say it comes later, but if Surrey is showing no interest in the beginning, why should the reader?

    A guy coming around from illness/sleep/sickness like surrey will have issues with piecing together what's happened even though he's slept and woke a thousand times before. Yet Surrey wakes with a very clear head, no mugginess from sleep: no hurting from struggling even though they say he's been strapped down from struggling, no burning need to go to the toilet, hell, even just itch his morning wood and finding he can't. Surrey just... wakes. If you want to show placid: it needs more showing otherwise you get that "hum-drum" feeling. Even if he's feeling hum-drum, you need to show how the colours are muted in his world. The readers need to see it.

  4. #74
    EPILOGUE
    To love him is death. I really like this. It’s punchy and makes me want to read on.

    If someone had told me this ten years ago, I would have listened. Works for me.

    But, faced with his silver eyes tarnished and etching me as we stood on the pier, a streetlight making his ivory skin gleam in hues of sadness and hate, I could not pry myself away. Every fiber of me knew that he was death, that I should turn around and salvage what was left of my life. But I could not move. There are images in here that don’t work for me. How do eyes “etch?” It seems like a strange word choice. “Silver eyes tarnished…” Is this character a robot? An alien? The “hues of sadness and hate” is quirky, but not very descriptive. What is the reader supposed to see?
    Overall this brief opening creates questions, which is good, but it doesn’t do anything to build a foundation for what is to follow. It’s too florid. Even if it were placed at the end of the book it would not qualify as an ‘Epilogue’. An epilogue wraps things up, serving as a coda to fasten loose threads. This does not do that.


    To love him is death.
    BOOK I

    Welcome to December

    I woke strapped to a hospital bed, an empty IV bag hanging over me, its machine beeping to be reset, refilled. No family or friends sat vigilant near me. Curtains had been drawn over the boarded windows to my right. If the curtains are drawn, how does the character know the window is boarded? At first, I wondered if I was dreaming, but as I lay, just short of screaming, (This emotion doesn’t appear again in the entire piece. Should it be here?) the door swung open slowly, and a shaft of harsh fluorescence fell over me. I like the visual here.

    A hefty nurse, clad in sea foam scrubs and a piqued expression, pushed the door open with her backside. She turned and stared at me a moment before blinking a few times. “You’re awake, Mr. Surrey!” Kind of nit-picky, but how does he see her “piqued expression” if she’s coming in backward?

    “I guess so,” I said, trying to lift my head from the pillow. “Could you get these straps off me?”

    “Um, well, I’ll have to clear that with Dr. Havens,” she said as she held the door open for a smaller, scrawny nurse whose sharp nose jutted like a knife into her mask, “but I’m sure he’ll be fine with releasing you if this bug has run its course, Mr. Surrey.”

    She flipped a switch on the wall, and the room was bathed in a sickly, greenish light.

    “Why am I strapped in, or can you answer that?”

    “Well, you had a very high fever, Mr. Surrey, and sometimes people with high fevers aren’t themselves,” she said, sporadically making eye contact with me as she set to checking my vitals.

    The small, rat-like nurse refused to talk to me but dropped a load of linens in a chair and changed the soiled bedding under me, her face hard and skeptical, her hands cold as she refused to look at me with any more warmth than one gives a mosquito before smacking it.

    I asked if I might be able to watch the television hanging over the foot of the bed, but once again, she said that she would have to have permission cleared.

    Hours later, the large nurse returned. She changed the IV bag and, before she left, turned the TV onto a round-the-clock aquarium channel.

    Try reading the piece without the words I’ve put in bold above. Removing wish-washy words and phrases, as well as redundant descriptors can ‘punch up’ the writing and make it more effective. Overall I like the dialogue exchange.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  5. #75
    Okay, so I've been working on that first chapter all day (even though I'd intended to work on a different part) and have tried to put a lot of your suggestions (as a group) to good use. From waking up to the TV, it's 550 words. Whole chapter is a touch over 1200 (that last 650 is the introduction of Dr. Havens. He sets up the major conflict and big picture view, so it's super important I get him and that conversation right). If anyone would want to read all or part of the revised first chapter, I can post it here, in a workshop, or update the existing Red Light thread.

    I'm not sure if any part of a book gets revised more than the first chapter. There's so much pressure to get it perfect for us amateurs. Once people go pro, they can write all kinds of junk.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  6. #76
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Okay, so I've been working on that first chapter all day (even though I'd intended to work on a different part) and have tried to put a lot of your suggestions (as a group) to good use. From waking up to the TV, it's 550 words. Whole chapter is a touch over 1200 (that last 650 is the introduction of Dr. Havens. He sets up the major conflict and big picture view, so it's super important I get him and that conversation right). If anyone would want to read all or part of the revised first chapter, I can post it here, in a workshop, or update the existing Red Light thread.

    I'm not sure if any part of a book gets revised more than the first chapter. There's so much pressure to get it perfect for us amateurs. Once people go pro, they can write all kinds of junk.
    I think posting it in one of the workshops would be best, or, as you mention, updating the Red Light thread.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  7. #77
    My dark skin and black hair were an inheritance from my mother’s Roman background. I was only 15 when my father killed her for adultery. Late at night while I was sleeping, she cried out, when he put a pillow over her face. Her muffled screams rang out throughout the house. I jumped out of bed and ran in to stop him. When I grabbed his arms to free her, he knocked me away. Then I hit my head on the armoire and fell to the floor. I laid unconscious for a moment, and I struggled to stand up. When my head cleared, I could see my father still holding her down as she went silent. The blankets were strewn across the bed. She had kicked the slats out from under the mattress and it had folded in over her. I screamed at my father to stop, hoping my brothers would hear me.

  8. #78
    Quote Originally Posted by LCLee View Post
    My dark skin and black hair were an inheritance from my mother’s Roman background. I was only 15 when my father killed her for adultery. Late at night while I was sleeping, she cried out, when he put a pillow over her face. Her muffled screams rang out throughout the house. I jumped out of bed and ran in to stop him. When I grabbed his arms to free her, he knocked me away. Then I hit my head on the armoire and fell to the floor. I laid unconscious for a moment, and I struggled to stand up. When my head cleared, I could see my father still holding her down as she went silent. The blankets were strewn across the bed. She had kicked the slats out from under the mattress and it had folded in over her. I screamed at my father to stop, hoping my brothers would hear me.
    While short is easy to critique, I don't have enough context to gauge how well this fits in your work. It's really brief, so is it a flyby (like a quick explanatory exposition/"lore dump") or is the reader supposed to be seeing this unfold? Part of the confusion on this is due to your verb tenses, I think.

    I was only 15 when my father killed her
    Is this a 15-year-old telling the story or a 30-year-old looking back on these events? If the POV is reliving these events or living them in past tense (which is the default storytelling tense), then you should consider padding this scene out a bit (and breaking up the paragraph). If the POV is much older and just telling the reader how something happened, then the relatively dry language and solid paragraph work.

    What is this story primarily about? When does the bulk of the main story happen relative to this event?

    I'm pretty sure I'm not picturing the murder of the mom correctly. How could she kick the slats if she's on top of the mattress? Maybe the bed style could be set up (or the folding mattress left out).

    How does the POV know the murder is over adultery? How does the POV hear the muffled murder but his/her brothers not?

    Generally, a POV won't know they've fallen unconscious. They just don't remember how they got from one spot to another or how much time has elapsed (I've passed out a few times). In third person limited, this wouldn't be an issue, but in first, it's more realistic if the person just wakes up on the floor, not entirely sure how they got there, and resumes doing as much as they can to save mom (like possibly phone the police, pick up a weapon or other object, pry dad's hands off or get between the pillow and mom, maybe tug the sheets and make the whole assembly fall off the bed that way).

    Would probably read tighter if the "only" was taken out in that second sentence. There's a few other bits that could be chopped out, too, but they're pretty minor. The major thing is going to be if you need to make it a proper scene and really make the reader live this event out. As it stands, there's too much narrative distance between us, the events and this character. We can kind of see what's going on, but it's not our mom being murdered.

    If fleshing this out and getting your readers to think about their moms is more what you're after, leave the Roman heritage out for the moment and start in with the POV waking up suddenly due to this strange noise. Maybe gets up to investigate and sees or hears something horrible going on in the parents' bedroom. Make the reader wonder what the heck is going on in that room, why dad's killing mom, if dad is going to kill mom (who's fighting back and maybe only tragically dies because the POV gets knocked out).

    Murder is good hook in its own way, but because I'm not sure exactly where you're trying to go with tee scene, I don't know how well you've executed what you were going after.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  9. #79
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    I think posting it in one of the workshops would be best, or, as you mention, updating the Red Light thread.
    That forum feels like the dunce stool. The rest of the forum goes past, blithely passing it by and pretending it doesn't exist. Nobody talks to the dunce. Feel like I've been bad and called out just visiting that place.

    One part "Unforgiven" by Metallica, another "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel (or Disturbed, take your pick).

    If members automatically had access to the Red Light Room at a certain age, it wouldn't be so lonely in there, but as it is, everyone has to jump through hoops. This is especially sad because it means society finds sex more appalling than murder and other violent crimes, when you think about it from a sick angle. Gratuitous murder can happen in any workshop thread with a tag, but sex? Banish those dirty people to their own, quiet little corner so they can reflect on what they've done. Place is quiet as a library.
    Last edited by seigfried007; July 17th, 2019 at 03:20 PM.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  10. #80
    Not wanting to disturb the originally posted, much earlier draft, I went ahead and posted the revised first chapter HERE.

    Can't shake that it might not actually be better though, which is sad. Not sure why.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

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