Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Opening sentences-- Keri

Thank you again to our contributors. Please let us know if you have contributed an opening and now don't think this sort of deconstruction would be helpful to you so we can take it out of the queue- and it would be great if you could let us know -before- we spend the time working on it. :)

Keri, hope this is helpful to you, because it's already done!

Keri posted:
The last time I went on a hayride I had hay in places I could only see with a mirror. And don't even get me started on the rashes. I refused to go through that itching experience again. But then Jared bumped me in the arm and smiled as he walked toward the hay were Barbara, the biggest floozy in town, patted a space at her side.
I survived the dead grass last time, I could do it again. Tucking my shirt in, I headed that way.

A hayride promises an active scene-- that's a good example of a setting choice that invites action.

Okay, again, tense issues for me. Since most writers are writing in "literary past"-- that is, the convention is that narratives are told in the past tense-- a -real- past event-- something that happens before the time of the story-- needs more marking than just past tense. So "the last time" is one indication of "pastness," but then we have "I had hay in places I could see only with a mirror." How can you make clear (and it won't take much) that she didn't have hay in places when she WENT on the hayride, but as a result of the hayride?

Try "I ended up with hay in places..." to show that the hay-in-places is in a different time than the "went on hayride". Then "the rashes the next day" will also show that you're talking about the results of the hayride, not the hayride itself.


I refused to go through that itching experience again.

Any idea what I'm going to say next? :) It's that word "refused," because -- keeping in mind that you're in literary past here-- the refusing could be after the first hayride, or in the minute before she actually accepted. I suspect you mean:
After that, I refused

That is, the "After that" is that marker of a past event before the time of the scene.

Now "itching experience" stopped me. I guess "itchy experience" sounds more colloquial. Also "itching," being a participal, indicates a contemporaneous action... so what's the experience? The hayride? Or the aftermath of the hayride? Itch-producing experience, awkward as it is, probably most closely represents the hayride. So I don't know exactly how to fix that, other than to be direct-- "After that, I refused to go on hayrides." Or "After that, I spared my delicate places by refusing ..."

But then Jared bumped me in the arm and smiled as he walked toward the hay were Barbara, the biggest floozy in town, patted a space at her side.

I like the way this sets up a conflict between her former awowal and her current desire.

Bumped me in the arm and smiled as he walked toward-- watch your blocking there. "As" implies that all these happened at the same time, but if he's walking away from her, can she see him smiling? And "bumped me" doesn't make clear what body part does the bumping. I mean, you can bump with your hip (but unless he's as tall as Shaq, his hip probably can't bump her arm, can it? :), or you can bump with your elbow. Or? Not a big deal, except that the reader wants to visualize the action.
toward the hay were Barbara, the biggest floozy in town, patted a space at her side.

Toward the hay or haywagon? And see if you can sneak in more physical info -- patted the seat at her side? Patted the floor by her side? Watch for generic words-- space, time, thing, people-- and see about replacing them with sharper, more meaningful terms.

I survived the dead grass last time, I could do it again. Tucking my shirt in, I headed that way.

Just a little point here-- think about putting something in front of "last time," like "that last time," something that makes it clearer that she is referring to the last time mentioned in the first paragraph.

And again,, participles indicate simultaneous action, so "Tucking my shirt in" sounds like it's happening while she's heading that way. That's fine, as long as you don't mean "I tucked my shirt in and headed that way," which indicates sequential action.

One more thought-- "that way" is a bit unrevealing. Towards the wagon? Towards Jared?

Now I'm thinking this is a historical, because the hayride is a major form of entertainment apparently, and then of course there's the word "floozy". But the narrator tucks her "shirt" in. Hmm. Most women wore "blouses" in the past, but I am getting the sense of a tomboyish type who might wear men's clothes. And that's a very subtle way to convey that character aspect!
Alicia

4 comments:

Dave Shaw said...

Doesn't have to be a historical - hayrides are still run in some of the more rural areas of North America, such as where I grew up. I'm not sure if there are still places where 'floozy' would be in a young woman's vocabulary (it isn't in my 16 y.o. daughter's), but I could conceive of it in a sufficiently conservative town, especially if the girl has a lot of older relatives or neighbors that would use it. Perhaps more to the point, many urban and suburban readers would like to think such areas still exist, whether they do or not. To me, the hayride and 'floozy' signal conservative small town or rural, and could be contemporary or historical. Just an amateur's opinion, of course. ;-)

Congrats on your opening making the blog, Keri!

Susan said...

Yes, we have hayrides in our small rural town in Alberta, especially around Christmas and 'Beef and Barley' days.

I guess I identified with this because of it. I liked this opening because I could 'see' it, and I work with horses so could feel the prickling hay and experience the rashes.

What I 'got' from it was that I immediately took a dislike to Jared, who is obviously manipulating the situation, but I wondered what the mc had done to make him act that way.

Yes, the tenses threw me, too, but I would have read on. I could feel the mcs angst at what was happening. I would have said this was a romance, which I don't often read, but I liked the set-up.

Sue





The last time I went on a hayride I had hay in places I could only see with a mirror. And don't even get me started on the rashes. I refused to go through that itching experience again. But then Jared bumped me in the arm and smiled as he walked toward the hay were Barbara, the biggest floozy in town, patted a space at her side.
I survived the dead grass last time, I could do it again. Tucking my shirt in, I headed that way.

Keri Ford said...

Alicia, your timing on posting this opening is perfect! I'd written this opening when ya'll put a call out for it a while back and forgot all about. Just yesterday I was thinking of a contemp I wanted to start after finishing my WIP, this fits the characters I had in mind! And yes, it's the start of a romance

Hay rides are very popular in rural areas, especially during Halloween and Fall Festivels.

Wonderful tips to make improvements!

green_knight said...

This mostly works for me. I've got a strong sense of the character - she's a bit wussy, but no wimp, not *quite* at home on the farm, but could come to love it; and I've got a sense of where this is going - she's got to keep her man (or decide she doesn't want him); and find her place and comfort level. We also immediately have a hint of conflict - the floozy invites Jared, and he's quite happy to accept; so I wonder whether he's clueless, prone to playing around, and how strong their relationship really is. That's enough to keep me reading for a bit longer.

That said, I would like to see it tightened up a little - 'that itching experience' sounds a little convoluted to my ear; I'd want something more personal, more ideosynchratic. 'I headed that way' also is a little impersonal, a little too neutral, and I think I'd replace it with 'I followed him' or putting it in context with the wider surroundings - what season is this, who else is there, what's the occasion? And can you work any of them into this passage?