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Something’s Happening Here

So, continuing our ways to open a story or a novel (yes, I promise after this, in two or three weeks, I’ll do possibly a hands on workshop on how to bring your readers up to date on a series with style and grace) today we come to “Something’s Happening Here” or, in other words, opening the story with movement.

Humans are like cats.  They see movement, they follow.  There is something that instantly rivets us to an action scene or even just to movement, but particularly undecided movement.

Because of course I didn’t prepare (you should forgive me, there have been things going on,  mostly stomach flu.  Better now, but it’s not conducive to working ahead) the one in my mind right now is Patricia Wentworth’s “Run”.  It opens with the word “Run.”

It’s blind fog, a young man got lost in it, and is looking for directions.  He enters some gates, a girl grabs at him, says “run” the first word in the book, and then the rest comes as flashback, as they run because someone is shooting at him from the fog.

This happens to be part of the main plot.  The couple turn out to be the love interest, and the guy shooting at them is the villain.  This is not ALWAYS so.

Action doesn’t need to be explicit, overt, running or shooting or something, though now I think about it, “I shot him” would make a bang up (ah!) first line.  Might try it.  It can be tense and riveting and “it’s happening.”  You can get the feeling you’re holding onto a thread that leads to a massive ball of yarn.  Take John Ringo’s Under A Graveyard Sky:

“AlasBabylon Q4E9,” the text read.

“Bloody hell.” And it really hadn’t started out as a bad day. Weather was crappy but at least it was Friday.

Steven John “Professor” Smith was six foot one, with sandy blond hair and a thin, wiry frame. Most people who hadn’t seen him in combat, and very few living had, considered him almost intensely laid back. Which in general was the case. It came with the background. Once you’d been dropped in the dunny, few things not of equal difficulty were worth getting upset about. Until, possibly, now.

He regarded the text from his brother and wondered if this was how morning walkers on 9/11 felt. He knew the basic code. Alas Babylon was a book about a nuclear war in the 1950s and survivors in the aftermath. The novel by Pat Frank was still one of the best looks at post-apocalyptic life ever written. And he and Tom had agreed that it was the best choice for a code indicating a real, this is no shit, general emergency. Not “I’ve got cancer” but “grab the bug-out bag and activate your Zombie Plan.” Which was why he wondered if this was the same feeling those morning New Yorkers had felt looking up at the gush of fire from the side of the Twin Towers. Disbelief, sadness, even anger. His mouth was dry, palms clammy, his sphincter was doing the bit where it was simultaneously trying to press neutronium and let go all over his seat. He felt all the cycles of grief go through him in one brief and nasty blast. Tom was not a guy to joke about the end of the world. Something had hit something or another.

Despite knowing it’d gone tits up, he hit reply.

“Confirm.”

The return message was immediate.

“Confirm, confirm, CONFIRM. Q4E9. CONFIRM!!”

Shit.

The rest of the codes were the problem. Stacey and Tom were the crypto geeks. Of course, calling Tom a geek was a stretch. Nearly two meters tall and a former Australian SAS commando, the “General Manager for Security and Emergency Response” for the Bank of the Americas might have a background in crypto and enjoy the occasional alternative clubbing night. Geek was still a stretch.

Obviously, there’s no shooting or running here, but something is definitely happening, even if it’s only a phone message.  AlasBabylon, for those of us who’ve read the book, immediately tells you it’s apocalypse.  The character’s reaction will too.  We’re in.  We want to know what’s happening.

I have, once more, misplaced Friday by Robert A. Heinlein.  That’s not exactly true, actually.  Friday is a first edition, hard cover, so heaven knows where my husband has hidden it now, to prevent my creasing the pages.

Anyway, go and read that opening until “I killed him.”  There is no overt action there, until you get to that line, but you know something is happening.  She’s being followed.  It’s tense.  (Though it also packs a boatload of worldbuilding.  Make notes of that, because same technique can be used to bring a reader up to date on a series.)

Most of the time, what happens is a central point of the story, but it could be a minor battle that you bring forward, so you can start the book with a bang.  This is very useful if your opening drags.

Some of you know I wrote Darkship Thieves 13 years before it was published.  It was my first science fiction novel outside my wretched first world I created at thirteen (and I didn’t know how to present that, so it read like fantasy.)  It was also arguably my first coherent novel.  But the first time I submitted it the action started on chapter 3.  Before that, there was (I thought) very tense and meaningful action with a doctor’s examination and stuff. I think I lost most readers there.

I set it aside for two years, and then went back to it, and suddenly it was clear that those first two chapters weren’t needed, they could be summarized in running (literally running) and it needed to open with the third.  Which is why it now opens with:

I never wanted to go to space.  Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods.  Never wanted to visit Circum Terra.   Never had any interest in discovering the truth about the darkships.  You always get what you don’t ask for.

Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.

Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin.  Not rationally.  There was no rationality to it.  The air smelled as it always did on shipboard, as it had for the week I’d spent here – stale, with the odd tang given by the recycling.

The engines, below me, hummed steadily.  We had just detached from Circum Terra – a maneuver that involved some effort, to avoid accidentally ramming the station or the ship.  Shortly we’d be Earth bound, though slowing down and reentry let alone landing,  for a ship this size, would take close to a week.

My head felt a little light, my stomach a little queasy, from the artificial grav.  Yes, I know.  Scientists say that’s impossible.  They say artificial gravity is just like true gravity to the senses.  You don’t feel a thing.  They are wrong.  Artificial grav always made me feel a little out of balance, like a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach.

Even before waking fully, I’d tallied all this.  There was nothing out of the ordinary.  And yet there was a stranger in my cabin.

Okay, so that first paragraph is atmospheric (more on that later) but we get to the stranger in the cabin before the end of page 1.  And that’s definitely “Something’s happening here” particularly when the narrator is a young woman.

You don’t need to start with part of the main plot, though.  Of course I now can’t remember any who don’t — forgive me readers, for I am uncaffeinated — but I know there are some.

You can start with an amiable fight between two characters, or a bout of sparring, which turns out not to matter for the main plot.  You can start with a race, and they’re catching up on him/her.

The important thing if the thing you start with is not the main in the book, is to remember to introduce enough of the main question/problem in between the action that when we realize the action isn’t the main thing, we still want to keep reading.  It requires finesse, but it can be done.

Try it yourself. Is there a novel that you can open with “something’s happening here” by moving things around a bit?  Give it a whirl.  It’s irresistible.

Next week: These People!

 

87 Comments
  1. Mike Houst #

    I woke up feeling something wet hit my face. I opened my eyes to see my field of vision bisected into two grey rectangles, one lighter and apparently farther away, the second darker and close up. The closer one had a dot on the edge of it, right over my face. As I focused on the dot, it seemed to swell and vibrate. Suddenly it fell, and I felt another drop hit my face again. I inhaled, and immediately smelled that never to be forgotten coppery odor of blood.

    March 7, 2018
  2. Second attempt:

    Here’s one, from an on-sale work. The first chapter lay the foundation of the novel, but was boring. I ended up starting with the second chapter, where things start to happen, and mixing in the information from the first:

    Princess Gwen sat on her horse in the early morning twilight, shivering from more than the cold. She had guessed the war was going badly, but when her father told her that she and her mother would be going to Draconis, she knew it was worse than she’d thought. Draconis lay a hard two day’s journey to the southeast and meant flanking the Sklovic armies. Going there instead of north to the coast meant King Vlad had almost encircled them.

    Worse, when she’d insisted she was safe there, her father smiled sadly and said there could be treason, as a quarter of the kingdom was already hungry, and planting time was near an end with fields untilled.

    Who does Daddy fear? She drew her cloak about her, a common slate gray thing laid out for her that morning instead of her usual green, just as her clothes were more of a plain tunic than her usual dress. She hardly looked like a princess at all.

    Does it work? Don’t know. But I wanted to start with action. Here’s a princess on her horse before daybreak, shivering from more than cold. I hope the reader wonders why. Then I try to sketch in the rest from her POV.

    I had to do the same in the second one (not on sale yet)., Both were the books I wrote for the kids, and this one, too, opened with a boring chapter. Once again, I started with the action, in the second chapter, mixing in information from the first. Unfortunately, it may not work as well. Why? Because it opens slow. Once again the princess is on horseback, but she’s drowsy with no immediate indication as to why. The reader knows why before he finishes the first page, but I think it’s too far down to grab them. So the protagonist is drowsy: who cares? I think I need to bump up that she didn’t sleep because of nightmares.

    That’s how the original first chapter opened: with the nightmare. That was cut years ago when the kids said “Daaaddy, this is suppose to be for children.” Instead, she woke, heart pounding, her chemise soaked in sweat. That may have had more of a hook than the revision. The problem is that the rest of the chapter id mostly dialog, with nothing really happening.

    Sigh.

    I still think I need to go with the second chapter with this one, because stuff happens. But I need to work on the hook and holding interest over those first paragraphs.

    March 7, 2018
    • Instead of sitting on her horse, perhaps have them trotting on a side track she wasn’t familiar with. Have her note the tenseness of the guards, the glances back. Intersperse her thoughts with observations and movement.

      March 7, 2018
      • This. You tell it too slow, Kevin. Do you want me to do a rewrite not of how it should be, exactly, but to give you what I’m seeing?

        March 7, 2018
        • Thanks; I’d appreciate that. The above is already set in cement, but I’m willing to learn.

          March 7, 2018
          • Princess Gwen sat on her horse in the palace courtyard.
            It was so early that there was no one about but a groom and her parents. None of this was usual. Everything was wrong.
            She’d known the war was going badly, but not badly enough for her father to send his family to Draconis.
            Draconis lay a hard day’s journey to the southeast. They’d have to flank the sklovic armies. If that dangerous path was the only way open, it meant king Vlad had cut off the way north to the coast.
            There might be no hope at all.
            “Papa, I’m safe here,” she said.
            Her father smiled sadly, his hand resting on the neck of her mount in a reassuring gesture. But reassuring for whom? “Half the kingdom is already hungry. We don’t have enough people to till the fields. We can’t trust the loyalty of hungry men.”
            She drew her cloak about her. It was plain and gray, like her tunic. She didn’t look like a princess at all. She shivered.

            Note, I made her father be present, but you could do it with a minute flashback. It’s stronger this way though.
            You have way too much “had said” and a feel of things past that make no difference. You need to make that immediate, as though it’s all happening right then. Her being rushed to the courtyard, told she had to leave.
            It’s probably stronger if you start with dialogue. “Why am I here, Papa?” Princess Gwen blinked in the early morning light. She and her maid had been awakened, told what to wear, handed a bag, and rushed out, with no time to ask questions.
            You could say it falls under “show, don’t tell” but it’s more than that. You can tell then, hidden in the showing.
            If you’re telling it like it all happened long ago, the reader disengages.

            March 7, 2018
            • You’re right. I noticed that with shifting the father to the present. That is actually a more straightforward incorporation of the first chapter into the second. Since her father does see her off (and drop the reader a clue that shows up much later), I could have incorporated both together.

              Being rushed to the courtyard without warning does work better. Here is a fossil of the original second chapter, but that’s no excuse, and I don’t offer it as such.

              This lack of immediacy may well be why the one not yet for sale lacks a strong hook, even though there’s more action than the first. It may also present a solution by having live dialog.

              Many thanks. I hope I can retain the lesson.

              March 7, 2018
  3. I got up and dropped money on the table, not bothering to count it. I strode briskly to the door, pulling my hat down over my head as I passed out into the bright suns light.

    Mentally flipping a coin, I turned right. Then left at the corner. I had no idea what had prompted me to leave before the servo had even dispensed my lunch. I never do.

    Three blocks, three random turns, later an explosion lit up the sky. I looked back to see a pillar of smoke rising from where the cafe had once stood.

    Three times now I had evaded death. The faulty air filter on Hadur IV. The runaway floater on Perun II. And now an explosion at a cafe on Shala which I felt certain would prove to have some innocuous cause.

    As the old saying goes: once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

    Somebody was trying to kill me and was very, very good at making it look like an accident.

    March 7, 2018
    • No, I don’t have a story for this one. It was just something I rattled off quickly. Given the planet names it’s clearly set in the FTI universe, sometime after the First Eres War. And given that, I can see what gives the POV character the ability to slip out just before things go bad. And… Hmm.

      March 7, 2018
  4. “Come to Paris in your best suit. Versalle. Right now. Drop everything. Ra’d as well, if you spot him before I reach him.”

    “Yes sir.” Ebsa clicked off. “Oh shit, what’s happened?” Urfa’s never called me before! Paer? Oh dear One, not Paer . . . No, he said to put on my best suit. What the One Hell?

    March 7, 2018
  5. From a work in progress:

    The world was ending. It had started innocently enough as a dot of light on piece of film. Or was it a digital file? It didn’t matter really. It still meant the same thing. The asteroid was a large one. The early details weren’t all that important, just that it’s orbit would intersect with one planet. One very important plant. Earth.

    (it’s bothering me a bit, and I am uncertain why.)

    March 7, 2018
    • Start with the Asteroid was a big one. After The World Was ending. Either remove the IT had started bit, or put it at the end, as you can then introduce the back story.
      Remove One Very IMportant Planet. Doesn’t add antyhing.

      March 7, 2018
      • Thanks. Will do that.

        March 7, 2018
      • Now that I no longer have a toddler on my lap…Looking at your suggestions and Reziac’s below….I will need to redo a lot of the follow on from this before I leap into the story itself. Not a much to be redone thank goodness, but I have a better idea now to get to the important stuff.

        Thank you again.

        March 7, 2018
      • Mike Houst #

        I thought starting with the Asteroid would have been better too. I hope that means I’m starting to think that way, and not just a fluke.

        March 7, 2018
    • It’s voice-over narration. Which is fine for an epigraph, but does little to involve the reader — that generally requires that something matters to a character. It’s quite a good opening, if you can jumpstart it into involving someone on the spot. Generally the easiest route is to just relax the language, so it sounds more like your neighbor’s breathless kid and less like Walter Cronkite. 🙂

      So [hat type=editor value=shameless_plug] I’d do something like:
      =====
      The end of the world started as an innocent dot of light, a telescope’s bad dream. And the asteroid was _big_. Didn’t matter where it came from, or who saw it first, only that its path would intersect with a single planet. The one planet that really mattered.

      Earth.
      =====
      If it’s first person and a local character, I’d probably do the last line like:

      _My_ planet.

      Earth.

      [/hat]

      March 7, 2018
    • RCPete #

      Maybe try skipping the film versus digital file distinction? I felt a good pace starting in the first two sentences, then a pause. Perhaps something like: “..dot on light in an image. The asteroid was…”

      March 7, 2018
  6. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Malion watch the video of the massacre, the thugs didn’t have a chance.

    Then he saw that one of the thugs had gotten off a lucky shot

    A bullet had hit the unknown woman right in the forehead but then the hole began to heal with no sign of blood coming from it.

    Malion said, “obviously a pseudo-matter construct but she not one of mine. Do you want to Truth-Scan me?”

    March 7, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      Oh, this is the start of a story that’s kicking around in my head. Haven’t started to write it.

      March 7, 2018
    • Bad.
      Because he’s watching the video. That distances us. Start with The Thugs didn’t have a chance. You can put the video thing at the end.

      March 7, 2018
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        IE Start the scene in the “dark alley”. 😀

        March 7, 2018
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        How’s the following?

        The thugs didn’t have a chance.

        She appeared to be the perfect victim for a robbery until they got her into the dark alley.

        She laughed and two beings appeared beside her.

        One was a large teddy-bear with fangs & claws and the other was a human-size winged dragon.

        They tore into the thugs but one of the thugs got off a lucky shot at the woman.

        On the screen, Malion watched as the bullet-hole began to heal with no sign of blood coming from it.

        “Well obviously a pseudo-matter construct but not one of mine. Do you want to Truth-Scan me?”

        March 7, 2018
        • after dark alley ground me with what the thugs are doing/saying

          March 7, 2018
          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

            Nod. Oh, one of the idiots was recording this on their “smart phone” which is why Malion can see what happened.

            Got to think more about about this scene.

            March 7, 2018
  7. “Peter Novilio saw the kid’s muzzle flash reflected in a dead man’s eye.”

    That came to me out of nowhere and I built my first novel around it.

    March 7, 2018
    • I woke up one morning with the words, “I bury my dead in my left wrist.” This had followed a weird dream involving yard gnomes and a pickup truck.

      Gotta be good for something…

      March 7, 2018
      • Mike Houst #

        Damn Larry C and his MH books. He’s ruined lawn gnomes for me. Have to pick one up at Lowes this spring, and some cheap bling to hang around his neck.

        March 7, 2018
  8. Or

    Work on sale now:

    ARMOURED CRUISER Isandhlwana
    CLARKSBURG WARP POINT
    ALPHA CENTAURI
    April 19, 2174, 3:17 AM Flotilla Nominal Time (FNT)

    The brilliant brass glissando of the Soviet National Anthem rose triumphantly through Pyotr Eustasovitch Kalinin’s bedroom. Every lamp came to maximum brightness. “Bozhe moi!” was his cursory grumble. The tune was utterly out of date, but it still brought him immediately awake, just as it had a century and a half ago, when he’d been a cabin boy in the Far East Russian Republic’s doomed navy. He threw himself out of bed. The brass stopped, replaced instantly with the sharp four-note trumpet of ‘Beat to Quarters!”

    “Fleet General Quarters!” called the annunciator. “Fleet General Quarters! This is an actual event. I say again, this is an actual event!”

    Work in progress

    I awoke at half past dark. To put it mildly, I hurt, far more than most girls my twelve years ever hurt. If there were any places where I didn’t hurt, I couldn’t find them. My stomach and arms hurt even more than the rest of me. Yes, I was doing mind control on myself. The pain nerves screamed their agony, but thanks to mind control I only heard them as distant murmurs. Mind control meant I could sleep. I still knew I hurt. A lot. ‘Hurt a lot’ was still infinitely better than the alternative, which involved being seriously dead.

    March 7, 2018
  9. Brett Baker #

    Thinking about starting a book.
    My phone was ringing. My hand flopped around the nightstand, and finally grabbed it.
    04:46. WHAT! Who would call this early? What? A text, not a call. I hit the message tab, wondering what was going on.
    ALL JUNIOR SAFETY SERVICES CADETS, REPORT TO BAY BARRACKS ASAP. WEAR TRAINING UTILITIES AND PROTECTIVE BOOTS. BRING AT A MINIMUM A 3-DAY PERSONAL CARE KIT. ALSO ANY PERSONAL KIT ITEMS. THIS IS NOT, REPEAT NOT A DRILL. TELL YOUR FAMILY YOU LOVE THEM.
    CAPTAIN REYNOLDS
    COMMANDER, NORTHWEST CITY TRAINING UNIT
    JUNIOR CADET PROGRAM

    March 7, 2018
    • Waking up at the start is overused. Think about having the phone ring while he’s doing something. Anything.

      March 8, 2018
  10. This time I actually have something “ready”. From a wip.

    Usema stumbled out of the Gate and looked around, checking to see if she’d been followed and making sure the gate had closed behind her. She was just outside an outdoor eating area with wooden tables and seats surrounded by brick buildings. At first she thought it was another primitive world, around the industrial era. A second look and she saw motorized transport vehicles in the distance and noted the grey man-made road, which put the tech level postindustrial. Then she looked at the people sitting in the dining area and noticed the personal communication devices in use by some of the people. That made it closer to the electronic age. Apparently, the locals had a nostalgic view of their past. Now she just had to find some place safe.

    Off the right, sitting apart from most of people she saw two women. There was an aura of power coming from that table. Muted, carefully screened, but present. One of the women was looking at her, watching her. Usema studied the woman for a moment. Short dark hair, her eyes were concealed by tinted lenses. Her attire was dark and appeared typical of the patrons. Her causal body language and bland expression belied the intensity of her study. The other woman pivoted around to see what her companion was looking at. Slightly taller, or maybe it was the plum-line straight posture that made her appear taller, with long red hair framing fair features. Her attire appeared to be more formal than many of the other patrons. Her manner was more relaxed and open than that of her table companion. She smiled slightly and seemed to welcome Usema over. Usema decided that she was a Lady and the other person was probably a guard or servant. As she neared the table she realized that the Power she sensed was coming from both of them and best of all, the Lady’s aura indicated that she was a Traveler just like her.

    “I need shelter. Can you help?” She paused for a second then added, “Can you understand me?”

    The dark hair woman gave her table companion a quick glance then looked back at Usema. The two women spoke to each other in a language that sounded vaguely familiar. Once again she was going to have to work around a language barrier.

    March 7, 2018
    • I’m interested, but it was too much work to get there. I don’t know, condense it?

      March 7, 2018
  11. This is from a short that I originally did back in the 90’s then updated for a contest a few years ago.
    ##

    ‘Boring, boring, boring.’ Officer Thaddeus Wilhelm, of the Fairfax Police Department, drummed his fingers on the armrest and stared out the window at the passing landscape. ‘Another perfectly calm night. How much more boring can it get? Better yet, how much of this can I take?’

    A rise in violence against police officers had brought about changes in how some of departments handled road patrols. Fairfax’s answer had been to start assigning two officers to a cruiser. Thad was still getting use to the idea of having someone in the car with him all the time.

    “Problem?” his partner asked.

    “No, Rhea, not really.”

    “Thad,” Rhea Yokama laughed, glancing briefly over at him, “you’ve been drummin’ your fingers for the last five miles. Would you rather drive?”

    “No. I drove last night. You know our deal. We trade duties evenly. Besides, that wouldn’t really help. It’s just so quiet.”

    “You were expecting mass riots?”

    “No,” he sighed. “Just a little more action. Hell, I’ll settle for a headlight.”

    March 7, 2018
    • NEVER open a story with the word boring. EVER EVER EVER. Readers take that subconsciously, and you already lost them.

      March 7, 2018
      • I had never made that connection. Thank you.

        I’ll note the master file so if I decide to rework this I can fix that.

        March 7, 2018
        • Mike Houst #

          Dump the first paragraph and start with the second one.

          Move some of the first farther down.

          “No, Rhea, not really.” Thaddeus Wilhelm, Fairfax PD, drummed his fingers on the armrest and stared out the window at the passing landscape. ‘just another perfectly calm night. How much more boring can it get? Better yet, how much of this can I take?’

          March 7, 2018
  12. George Phillies #

    Or for your cover “Patch was always really good at retrieving thrown objects. It would have been better to watch, if she were not retrieving a two-pound stick of dynamite, one with the fuse visibly burning short.”

    March 7, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      I “tripped” on the commas. “Patch was always really good at retrieving thrown objects. It would have been better to watch were she not retrieving a two-pound stick of dynamite with the fuse burning visibly short.”

      Can anyone back me up on the “burning visibly short” vs “visibly burning short”? The latter reads oddly to me, but I have no idea why. I think it might be that weird ordering rule that no one knows (e.g. tall brown building vs brown tall building).

      March 7, 2018
      • Sorry, seems to be a personal quirk – “burning visibly short” makes me cross-eyed when I read it.

        March 7, 2018
        • “It would have been better to watch were she not retrieving a two-pound stick of dynamite. With a short fuse. Burning.”

          March 9, 2018
  13. George Phillies #

    Two openers:

    Work on sale now:

    ARMOURED CRUISER Isandhlwana
    CLARKSBURG WARP POINT
    ALPHA CENTAURI
    April 19, 2174, 3:17 AM Flotilla Nominal Time (FNT)

    The brilliant brass glissando of the Soviet National Anthem rose triumphantly through Pyotr Eustasovitch Kalinin’s bedroom. Every lamp came to maximum brightness. “Bozhe moi!” was his cursory grumble. The tune was utterly out of date, but it still brought him immediately awake, just as it had a century and a half ago, when he’d been a cabin boy in the Far East Russian Republic’s doomed navy. He threw himself out of bed. The brass stopped, replaced instantly with the sharp four-note trumpet of ‘Beat to Quarters!”

    “Fleet General Quarters!” called the annunciator. “Fleet General Quarters! This is an actual event. I say again, this is an actual event!”

    Work in progress

    I awoke at half past dark. To put it mildly, I hurt, far more than most girls my twelve years ever hurt. If there were any places where I didn’t hurt, I couldn’t find them. My stomach and arms hurt even more than the rest of me. Yes, I was doing mind control on myself. The pain nerves screamed their agony, but thanks to mind control I only heard them as distant murmurs. Mind control meant I could sleep. I still knew I hurt. A lot. ‘Hurt a lot’ was still infinitely better than the alternative, which involved being seriously dead.

    March 7, 2018
    • remove “to put it mildly and follow up. it’s unnatural to say “most girls my twelve years.” Instead of all that, put in from To put to hurt, instead “Twelve year old girls weren’t supposed to hurt this bad.”

      March 7, 2018
      • Sarah, Many thanks for your nice suggestions. Amusingly, the complaint I often get is that my characters sound too much like me.

        March 7, 2018
  14. I assume I can join in?

    I was sitting on a bench in the forward hangar bay of the CSN Hornet. With me were the surviving members of the Second Platoon of the First Combat Armor Suit Reconnaissance Company, Confederated States Marine Corps.

    Our Dogs were racked and stacked behind us, the fourteen-foot-tall combat armor suits looming over everyone. They stood like guardians watching over children. If guardians were metal and polycarbonate monsters and the children were badass Marines.

    March 7, 2018
    • I’d swap the two paragraphs. The second one’s a much better hook.

      March 8, 2018
  15. I woke up to the wailing cry of a terrified child. At first, I thought it must be the tail end of a nightmare; that I was still partially dreaming as I woke up groggily. But when I heard it again, I realized it was my daughter. Then a shiver of terror flew up my spine, as I realized I could also smell smoke.
    I shook my wife’s shoulder, hard. “Sandra, wake up!” I shouted. Something was wrong, because Sandra would normally have wakened before me when Emily was screaming. If our daughter had had a nightmare, for instance. I shook harder. “Sandra, Sandra!” I shouted again, and heard Emily scream again at the same time. I was getting frantic.
    She slowly opened bleary eyes. “What?”she asked.
    “Emily is screaming, and I think there’s a fire!” I told her, urgently.
    She shook her head, as if she was having trouble waking. “A fire?” she asked, groggily. Her eyes focused a little better, then widened in fear. “Oh, my god!”
    “Let the dog out of her kennel and both of you get out,” I told her. “I’ll get Emily.”

    March 7, 2018
  16. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Sarah, do I need more of the fight?

    The thugs didn’t have a chance.

    She appeared to be the perfect victim for a robbery and rape until they got her into the dark alley.

    One of the thugs said “Keep recording this shit. Come on little whore, show us what you got.”

    “Please don’t do this, you have my purse”.

    Another thug laughed and said “But we want more and you’re more”.

    Then a third thug said “Hey, where did her purse go?”

    She grinned evilly and laughed, then two beings appeared beside her.

    One was a large teddy-bear with fangs & claws and the other was a human-size winged dragon.

    They tore into the thugs but one of the thugs got off a lucky shot at the woman.

    On the screen, Malion watched as the bullet-hole began to heal with no sign of blood coming from it.

    “Well obviously a pseudo-matter construct but not one of mine. Do you want to Truth-Scan me?”

    March 7, 2018
    • yes.

      March 7, 2018
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        OK.

        In my mind, it’s a bloody fight for the thugs but I’ll think about what to saw about it.

        March 7, 2018
        • Dey thugs. Dey don’ deserve no mercy, see? Haf a nudda beer an’ fugedaboutit.

          March 7, 2018
          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

            “Didn’t deserve any mercy”

            Yep, they deserved killing.

            On the other hand, Malion could have “taken them down” without killing them. The woman didn’t try to “take them down without killing them” and could have avoided combat. IE She was trolling for people to kill. What little “better side” she had insisted that they show her that they were “Bad People”.

            My Super-Heroes do understand the idea that “some people deserve killing” but also believe that the killing should be done by governments not by Super-Beings.

            On the other hand, while there was plenty of blood & guts spilled in the fight, I’m not sure how much to show when writing the fight.

            March 7, 2018
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        Sarah, my “problem” about writing the fight scene is that I’m not sure “what POV to use”.

        It’d be a different scene if I write it as the camera records the fight as opposed to how somebody in the dark alley might see the fight.

        IE The thug with the camera is very likely going to drop the camera once the fight starts so the camera isn’t going to pick up much.

        Right now, I’m thinking that I’m “pushing my luck” to have the camera pick up the bullet hole in the woman’s head let along picking up much of the fight. 😉

        March 8, 2018
        • You can do that action “omniscient” then ground us in POV character, as we realize he was watching it.

          March 8, 2018
          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

            OK.

            I’ll write the scene of the alley fight from an omniscient POV.

            Then show the MC commenting on the “Video Image”.

            March 8, 2018
  17. Hi, Sarah. I like your work over on Glenn’s blog.

    March 7, 2018
  18. Magic sparkled around the seal as he pressed it into the clay disk affixed to the bale of hides, or would have if he could see magic. Tycho waited four heart beats, then lifted his seal. The impression had taken and the cluster of watching men all relaxed. A merchant’s first seal in a new market always attracted attention. The weigh-mage gestured his confirmation, as did the market-master, who entered his approval in the great market book. Tycho had already stamped the book, using the blue-green ink of the Free City of Rhonari to confirm his place of origin and trade-confraternity. Had the seal not taken, well, another mark would have been made, closing the gates to him forever. Tycho stepped back from the weigh scales, allowing the apprentices to take the bundle of un-cut hides off the platform and carry them through the enormous doors of the great wares-house. [from a WIRevision]

    March 7, 2018
  19. lfox328 #

    Damn.

    Once I’d read this, I realized that I need to re-write the first 2 chapters of my book. And, they were GOOD chapters, if somewhat immobile.

    Crap. I need to put this down – I can dimly see how to do it.

    March 7, 2018
  20. c4c -busy rl day today

    March 7, 2018
  21. Draven #

    There’s something happening here
    What it is ain’t exactly clear
    There’s a man with a gun over there
    Telling me I got to beware

    I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down

    March 7, 2018
  22. Zsuzsa #

    “We can’t outrun them,” said Lisa.

    “I know,” said Emma. “But we need to play for time. Head for the basement. There’s a tunnel down there that will take you to the medical labs. Find Dr. Young’s office. I’ll catch up to you there.”

    “What are you going to do?”

    “What I must,” said Emma. “We can’t let them catch us today.”

    Lisa looked as though she wanted to ask another question, then thought better of it. She turned and ran down the stairs. Emma watched her disappear into the darkness, then turned back in the direction from which they had come. From her pocket, she drew what looked like an old, rusty knife. The knife was her most treasured possession and the only thing that might be able to harm their pursuers. She prayed that it wouldn’t come to that, though. She had used the knife to kill before, but she had never used it against someone whom she had once called a friend.

    March 7, 2018
    • hooked!

      March 7, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      Any comments about apostrophes? I think that I’d prefer “They’d” and “she’d” in the above. There is an “I’ll” and a “wouldn’t”.

      March 7, 2018
  23. Can I try one?

    “Don’t shoot my boy!”

    “No ma’am.”

    I kept my hands up at the elbows, palm out. I wasn’t too worried. He had a double, sawed off to about ten inches. Very nasty close up, but I was at the other end of the garden.

    “Junior, behave yourself! And gimme that shotgun.”

    “But Ma…”

    He turned his head to her, lowering the gun in the process.

    “This boy is a friend of mine. We’re gonna have a talk. You go over to the corner there and make sure nobody sneaks up on us. You can listen.”

    “Oh Ma…”

    “Do it now.”

    She waved him off. He hitched up the strap on his coverall, shotgun dropping to his side, and stumped over to the corner. He stopped just short and looked back at Granny, so she waved him on.

    She turned to me.

    “Preciate it.”

    “Yes ma’am.”

    “It isn’t loaded.”

    I lowered my hands and stepped through the missing gate.

    “You a ranger?”

    “No Ma,am. Just a runner. Malachi Foster.” He touched his hat.

    She grinned at me, “You don’t look like no runner.” I didn’t respond. “Edna make your rig?”

    “Yes Ma’am.”

    “Well, don’t worry about it. They can only hold it up for so long. What is it then?”

    “Yes Ma’am. It’s a horde, coming up from Newport.”

    March 7, 2018
    • Needs a lot more dialog tags and descriptions of the scene. I think you dropped from first person to third once. You need to give hints about the problem. Perhaps when mentioning the shotgun? as in “He had a double, sawed off to about ten inches. A good zombie killer, but I was at the other end of the garden.” Depending, of course, on what your horde is a horde of.

      March 9, 2018
      • 🙂 I haven’t figured out my horde yet. It’s a problem. It is in the title.

        Description is too. I don’t much like reading it, and the things I notice IRL aren’t good fodder, …maybe. hmmmmm

        Tags, I was trying to tread the line. Guess I fell off. 🙂

        Thank you very much.

        March 9, 2018
        • Description shouldn’t be too detailed nor in a block. Something as simple as:

          “Don’t shoot my boy!” The woman straightened up from the row of tomatoes. Her eyes darted nervously about, but she relaxed a little as she realized I was alone.

          This instantly places the scene, and adds bit of mood.

          March 9, 2018
          • Nice! I’ll try to touch it up. Thanks.

            March 9, 2018
  24. Dan Z #

    “That just ain’t natural.”

    It was not the first time I had heard the sentiment expressed and experience had shown that trouble often followed. I had hoped the side street would be quiet enough for me to pause unnoticed as I tried to get my bearings. I glanced down to run my fingers through my vraal’s spotted fur before looking for the source of the crude proclamation. Pepper, unhappy that she was no longer the center of my attention, nudged my thigh with her sinuous neck, but when she saw the signal I was making with my left hand she went still. The side street was relatively empty which made it easy to pick out the speaker. I smiled politely at him and he spit in the dirt by his feet.

    “You aren’t no Rider and those things are too dangerous to be pets.” The man said slowly, his Sarbotel accent making the words sound strange. He wore the rounded, narrow-brimmed hat that many men in this Sarbotel town seemed to prefer and, despite the early hour of the day, his eyes had the glassy look of someone who had been drinking heavily. He brushed the right side of his jacket back and hooked his thumb in his gunbelt so that his hand was close to his sidearm. I had noticed sidearms were also quite popular, although not nearly as popular as the strange hats. The man motioned toward me, or perhaps toward Pepper, with his unshaven chin. “No reason a normal person would want one of those ‘less they planned on causing trouble with it. Don’t know what you’re up to, missy, but I’m gonna stop ya right here and now.”

    I was not sure what he meant by declaring that I was not a rider, but the way he showed me his sidearm sent a clear enough message. I automatically rested my hand on the back of Pepper’s head to calm her and raised my other hand in a gesture that should have been universally recognized as a sign that I was prepared to fight using magic. The people of Sarbotel, always a nation of curious habits, had become odder than their ancestors ever were and they seemed to have forgotten even the most basic of our world’s traditions; the man’s thought patterns made it clear that he had no idea what the gesture meant. My father had told me that when in doubt, honesty would be the best course of action to take in Sarbotel. The histories indicated that the natives of Sarbotel respected honesty. I hoped that was not one of the traditions they had forgotten. I took a breath to steady myself and smiled again. “I am not here to cause trouble. I only wish to have a closer look at the steam-powered machine that arrived in town last night and then I will be on my way.”

    March 7, 2018
    • Dying to know. 🙂

      March 7, 2018
      • Dan Z #

        The story is on the work-in-progress list, but this is how that particular encounter plays out:

        Someone gasped off to my right and there was a flash of motion in my peripheral vision along with the sense that someone was drawing magic. I twisted around to face the new threat while preparing myself for both defensive and offensive action and in that one panic-stricken moment I removed my hand from the back of Pepper’s head. Her low growl competed with the sound of my heart beating in my ears as I locked eyes with a gray-haired man wearing a vest with an elaborate beadwork design in a warding pattern I recognized instantly. The man’s features were also unmistakable: he was a Plarian. My mind reeled. The Plarian brought his mental shields up and his eyes glanced down toward Pepper. It was only then that I realized she had dropped into a crouch and was waiting for my order to attack her target. I heard the drunk, off to my left now, pull back the hammer on his sidearm.

        Several things happened at almost the same instant. I turned to the left and yelled “No!” in a voice more laden with despair than command. Next to me Pepper stopped growling and dropped from her crouch to a more relaxed prone stance. The drunk pulled the trigger on his sidearm and, since I had been ordered to be subtle in my magic use, I focused on jamming the round in the firing chamber. The pistol exploded and the drunk, though he seemed miraculously unharmed, collapsed unconscious to the ground. I dropped to my knees to examine Pepper for any wounds and hugged her fiercely when I saw she had not been injured.

        When I looked up I realized that sidearms were, in fact, quite a bit more popular than the strange round hats with the little brims. There were a dozen people in the narrow street and all of them, even the women, pointed a sidearm of some sort at me. The only way Pepper and I would have been able to escape unharmed would have been through a very unsubtle display of magic that would have meant the end of my mission in the Kingdom of Sarbotel. A quick scan of their unshielded minds, however, revealed so long as I remained still they had no intention of shooting at me. I caught the sense that they were waiting for someone called the sheriff.

        March 9, 2018
        • It’s good. It moves, it’s clear. You want to keep reading. JMO WDIK

          March 9, 2018
  25. mrsizer #

    Since I commented, it seems only fair:

    Looking out through the glass conference room walls at the Rocky Mountains, Dan wondered if he would ever grow out of his “I’d rather be outside playing” attitude on days like this. The dour, little man silhouetted against the sunshine made it unlikely that today would be that day. He tried not to grimace as he opened the door and stepped into the room, his sister Kate right behind him.
    “Drasvootya, Sergei,” Dan said as he walked around the conference table to shake hands. “Ya nadayous chto me gavoreem poangleeski.”
    “Yes, English will be fine,” Sergey replied, trying not to wince at Dan’s Russian. “It is good to see you, again, my friend.” His English was as polished as his wardrobe, but neither covered a sense, almost a stench, of unpleasantness. “How have you been since my last visit to your country?”
    “Very good, thank you. The last few years have been profitable ones. As you can see, my sister Kate and I are still managing things, together.”
    Kate took advantage of the table between them, walking only halfway around to reach out and shake his hand. She hated the custom of hugs and faux kisses, let alone with him. “Nice to see you again, Sergey. How is mother Russia treating you?”
    “Very well, very well indeed. I have been most fortunate. Though, as with most things in Russia, every silver lining has its cloud. While not as attractive as you, young lady, I have some help, myself. I would like you to meet my assistant, Peter,” Sergey replied, gesturing at the sullen-looking giant looming in the corner of the room.
    Dan spoke quickly, “Nice to meet you, Peter. This is my sister, Kate.” He thought it prudent to make the attachment quite explicit. Too many powerful men – and their ‘assistants’ – seemed to think they could take whatever they pleased. He was not going to leave Kate alone with either of these men, if he could help it. Despite her abilities, handling Peter might be a bit much for her. At least Dan did not think his sister had ever killed anyone.
    Choosing not to get her brother’s warning and seeing that Peter seemed unlikely to leave his post in the corner, Kate walked over to shake hands. “Pleased to…” she began before freezing at his touch.
    “Well,” Sergey smirked, “it seems that my suspicions about your sister were true. While those two get acquainted, why don’t we talk about what you know about my business and how you came to know it.”

    March 7, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      There were paragraph-start tabs in there. Promise.

      March 7, 2018
      • I’m not sure where your MC is starting. Inside the conference room, with the other man silhouetted, or outside the room, opening the door, so unless the conference room had glass walls he couldn’t have seen the other man.

        I’d drop the wishing he was out playing, and have the MC more alert and focused on the meeting with a man he clearly doesn’t like, but considers a business partner of some sort.

        March 9, 2018
  26. Okay, I think this fits. It’s the opening of my story, “In The Driving Lane”:

    ***

    At the Elmwood exit the car made the first wrong turn.

    Len hadn’t been paying attention. Work had been a bitch, and he was exhausted. Once he’d gotten out of the parking lot and fought through the mass of commuters leaving the industrial park to the autoway, he’d reclined his seat and turned the music up loud. Let the damned car deal with the road. It knew the way. The sun was still high, but between the high walls bordering the autoway it was comfortably shaded.

    Len worked in the shipping department of a pharmaceutical firm. All over the country customers filled their prescriptions on their mobiles, and all of the orders came to Len’s office, where he and two temps processed them and told the warehouses what to ship to whom. One of the temps hadn’t shown up on Monday, and then it turned out that he hadn’t been coding orders properly for a week.

    Unscrambling the resultant mess had beaten Len’s brain to a pulp, and it would be at least another week before they were back on track.

    Plus corporate still hadn’t sent him a replacement temp.

    Len’s car—only two years old, but already filthy, with the mess on the passenger seat taking on the semi-permanent air of a squatter’s tent city—neatly merged onto the autoway’s downtown bypass lane and cruised at a comfortable seventy miles an hour.

    Len read through his news feed on his mobile. His brother’s kids were both in soccer this year, and half of the pictures were sweaty kids running around in a field. He pulled up a game instead, and rooted through the junk on the passenger seat for a half full bottle of water.

    He’d be home in twenty minutes. A couple of drinks, some mindless TV, and he’d go to bed, and tomorrow he would get up and do it over again.

    He wasn’t watching the road, but a part of his mind was keeping track of the rhythm of the turns. He knew the route to and from work like the back of his hand, although he hadn’t actually driven it since the road went full auto five years back. So when his car missed the Elmwood exit he looked up, confused.

    Usually the car shifted three lanes to the right and slowed, pulling onto Elmwood and shifting to hybrid mode, the more cautious driving style for navigating a street that allowed both self-driven and automatic traffic. Then, at about the corner where the big MagnaMart gleamed, the car would begin sounding the tone to let him know that it was time to put his seat back upright and get ready to take the wheel for the last few blocks to his apartment.

    This time the car shifted two lanes over, not three, and instead of getting in line for the Elmwood exit it started merging to the outer belt.

    Len sat up and glanced at the car’s display.

    Rerouting, the screen read, with the little hourglass symbol that meant to wait for it to figure a new route.

    Great, Len thought. The exit is closed. Damned construction.

    He leaned back again. If the car took the next exit, then he’d have a couple of miles of manual driving before he got home. He put his seat up and wriggled against the harness, getting as comfortable as he could. He hated driving and these days did as little as possible, just like everyone else he knew. Why else would you buy a fully automatic and pay the tolls for the autoways?

    The car didn’t take the next exit. Instead it went around the cloverleaf and got back on the autoway, headed back the other way.

    March 7, 2018
  27. You could say my story starts the night Peggy was murdered.

    Collin and I were sitting on a window seat in the hospital at 10:30 at night and everything about us was miserable. Six-year old Collin had hit the wall about being in the hospital anyway with his cancer and now a fever. He he was supposed to stay in his room so as to minimize his germ exposure but he had refused, his argument being that he had to get out and there weren’t any people around any more and he promised to wash his hands when we came back but he had to get , just to the big windows, just to look out at the dark night over the rooftops. So I took him….
    … he wanted his mother not his aunt, and Peggy had been his favorite nurse, so even though we didn’t know why she wasn’t around her absence was trouble.

    March 7, 2018
  28. And I love the opening to Scaling the Rim which begins with a train squealing to a stop.

    March 7, 2018
  29. Synova #

    #1

    Dancer had kidnapped a dangerous man. She stepped now into the entry room of her suite to await his arrival.

    #2

    “How do two Isanmir porcupines make love?” Dancer stared directly at the blaster aimed at her head and spoke clearly. The answer to the old joke was, of course, “Very carefully.”
    August didn’t appear amused. He kept her squarely in the sights of his Enforcer issued side-arm and stepped through the lift-door onto the deep, white carpeting of the entry area.

    Iirc, I added a paragraph or two that started with #1 ahead of my original beginning which was #2.

    I think #1 is still pretty much mid-action, but not nearly as much as having a blaster already to your head. But she’d already done the kidnapping, so now it’s just about the consequences. In my mind this is the beginning of the second or third book. But this is probably nothing very much to do with whatever plot it might have. It simply moves the two of them to acknowledged allies. (And lovers, etc.)

    I *feel* like I always start in the middle of something, but it was shockingly hard to find a beginning to share that seemed like it was.

    March 7, 2018
  30. I thought about it a lot and this is perhaps the best in media res opening I’ve ever done. Pity it isn’t text.

    March 8, 2018

  31. The unexamined life will eventually get you killed. At least according to my Ranger Course instructor, and he was totally deadly, so he would know. Eventually, your mistakes catch up to you if you don’t learn from them. Not exactly Socrates nor Sun Tzu, but tripindicular nonetheless.

    I knew South Korea’s Top Secret research lab would fight my report about their security vulnerabilities. Nobody likes some outsider examining their life for them, even if it saves a bunch of people from getting killed.

    Proving I could trick the Army’s standard-issue retinal scanner would provide the hard evidence I needed, but trying to bypass the Camp Kim spec ops fitness center’s retinal scanner during duty hours was my own first mistake today.

    I knelt in front of the gym’s glass door, the padding in the knee of my starched MultiCam uniform trousers resisting the rough concrete. Fist-sized whitewashed rocks pressed into sun-baked dirt, the only visible remains of some unlucky soldier’s past punishment detail. Spaced with military regularity, the rocks defined the borders of the demilitarized walkway.

    From a WIP, curious if you guys find the above too slow of an opening or not.

    March 9, 2018
    • It feels a little slow, and too many “I [verb]” opening sentences. Maybe you want it to feel jerky, since it reads like a mil-tech thriller, but it bounces “wrong,” for lack of a better word.

      March 9, 2018
      • Thanks. I’ve been mostly on the fence about exactly how to rewrite it (hence the ask), but I’ll keep your comment in mind when I eventually finish the book and get back to refining the beginning. Knowing the rest of the opening scene, I think part of the issue is wanting to slide in too much character/setting/plot info from the start to get people up to speed quickly on what’s going on. I’ll have to consider more how to rework that.

        March 10, 2018
        • The problem I’m having with this opening is that it sounds to me as if this person already understands some security issue but isn’t exploiting it. Or else it isn’t really a security issue or it’s been fixed. I’m not ready to listen to him either based on this snippet. Has he already given in his report? Is that why something bad is going to happen? That would make more sense but it’s not totally clear to me.

          March 10, 2018

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  1. The “something is happening” opening. – The Writer in Black

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