Saturday, October 28, 2006

Julie's First Page Challenge

Julie Cohen's been doing a First Page Challenge. She's challenged her blog readers to post the first few paragraphs of a story or two of theirs, and add notes explaining how they add character and conflict right away.

From the McAllister book (title tbc)

The video footage was from a CCTV camera perched above a courtyard. Okay, so this is something that's already happened, and is now being observed by a third party.

It gave a perfect view of the square yard, with the office buildings around the edges. They were new buildings, with little logos by the doors; a few businesses hiring premises. Only one logo was really recognisable, indicating a small office of the local National Park Service. Normality. A glimpse of the Ordinary World.

The film was black and white. In the corner of the courtyard grey geraniums flowered in grey pots. We're not seeing this in full technicolor - we're seeing a colourful scene greyed out. We're NOT in possession of the full picture.

In the middle of the scene was a knot of people. A row of people on their knees, hands behind their back. Four men and three women. One of the men was shaking so violently it was plainly visible; one of the women was sobbing. It doesn't take a genius to know by now that something is seriously wrong.

In front of the kneeling line were three other men. They were dressed in dark clothes, with ski masks. The man in front was tall, huge, holding a massive hand gun, and waving it at the kneeling people, in their suits and office hair cuts. His body language was taut, violent, and he stepped back and forth jerkily, shoulders heaving, mouth working. Without sound and without colour, the scene is detached, chilling.

Hmmm. You can't tell if the hero and heroine are even in this scene, yet, but the heroine becomes pretty obvious two paragraphs on. It's not a typical opening - it's on omnipresent POV for a start - but as a tense, intriguing starter I think it works. The character and conflict pile up a few pages onward....


She shouldn’t have come. Okay, we immediately have the heroine, and she's doubting herself.

There were doves in the courtyard, snowy white and silent. They slept on ledges and in niches, on the roof above the pointed Arabian arches, even on the bowl of the broken fountain. There's a sense of something dozing, dormant, and we get an idea of her being in Arab lands.

In Marianne’s mind’s eye, and in her Grandfather’s photograph, the arches, the walls and the fountain were bright and blinding white. Nearly seventy years ago they would have been, but now they were grey and peeling, and here and there a dirty orange stain showed were some elaborately carved bracket had rusted into memory. We can see that Marianne was trying to find something, follow in her Grandfather's footsteps, but that she was seeking something that doesn't exist anymore. It leaves her seeming a little lost, and that's very appropriate.

Marianne folded the map she held with careful fingers, and stowed it in her shoulder bag. For years she’d dreamed of visiting Morocco, the country her Grandfather had loved so much. He’d only lived here for a few years, but the place had burrowed itself into his soul, and woven its thread into the stories he told her years later. Now we have a location, and a visit that isn't quite the dream as dreamed.

When her father’s death dealt her grief and freedom in equal shares, Marianne had taken that rare and precious commodity in both hands, packed new clothes and a new courage, and booked her flight before she changed her mind. There's something of Marianne's fear here, and a suggestion that freedom and courage are things that are new to her.

That's another one that has more mood than character, and more tension than conflict. I was going for a kind of a held-breath sadness, and I think it works. I think. ;-)


The photograph was getting dog-eared now. It's been much handled, then?

Tristan smoothed out a folded corner and stuck it again to the black vinyl dash of the non-descript hire car. He shifted in the drivers seat and tugged at the knees of his rumpled jeans. It was astonishing how uncomfortable one could get, after three days living in a car.Hero, waiting for something, uncomfortable, but immovable.

He scrubbed a hand over his face, pushed it through his hair – hair cut time, but this job was hardly likely to yield time off for good behaviour and personal grooming – and settled back into the seat as best he could. He's here for a reason, the job. What job?

The street behind him in the rear view mirror was quiet. He looked again at the photo. Some sort of surveillance going on here?

He didn’t need to. The woman in the picture was indelibly printed on his consciousness. Whoever she is, she's important. To the job, and to the hero.

Now that last one is the one I'm most likely to make changes to. It's okay, but it's not great, and I am terribly tempted to start the book with the moment he pushes the heroine off a train. *Grins Evilly*

Go across to Julie's blog and follow the links to other posts. It's all fascinating!


At 10:37 pm, Anonymous Julie Cohen said...

Ah! I can finally comment!

I don't know if you did this on purpose, but one thing I noticed about the beginning of McWife is that you've got omniscient point of view, and you've also used many forms of "to be" as your verb choices. (Look at all the "was"es and "were"s.) Normally writers are told to steer clear of this and look at active verbs instead, but in this case I think the less active verb form works well for you to create a distanced picture, keeping the reader from participating in the action.

On the other hand, look at the metaphorical writing in the beginning to Danglies (most of them at the rhetorically important end of the paragraph)--"rusted into memory", "the place had burrowed into his soul and woven its thread", "packed new clothes and new courage" (this last technique is called a zeugma, I believe). All of this creates a scene which has more resonance than the action going on in it, something emotional rather than literal; the technique tells the reader to look beyond the visual.

I think the last scene is interesting but less evocative than the other two--as you say it's waiting for something to happen rather than actually happening. Still, it creates character and intrigue.

So did you know you were doing all these complex literary things, my dear lady? ;-)

At 10:55 pm, Blogger Anna Lucia said...

I can honestly say I had absolutely no idea.... LOL!

At least, I don't know what it's called, but I knew I was trying to create distance in McWife - I find that bald, factual description of something traumatic sends the tension into orbit - and I know I do that clothes-and-courage thing a lot to package emotion with action.

Excellent! :-D


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