Alternate opening

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
19,444
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
Hi all, this the second option for the opening of the new thing. More direct, less description, but is it as hooky as the slow build, or more hooky? (This is very rough, don't worry about thon English and gramma )

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was just as darkness was falling, up at the second waterfall, when Snoops found a baby in the glen. Lying under a bower of ivy, the collie’s bark brought Jim through the thick bracken to where Snoops was standing, tail going back and forth, a flash of white in the darkness.

Jim pushed back the bracken, sure it would be a fox cub – Snoops had form for finding such things – or a frog. But, there, fists balled, wrapped in a plain white sheet lay a baby. Very young, if he was any judge, maybe close to just born.

He leaned on his stick and listened. The wind through the trees, the occasional swish of tyres on the road above but no slamming of a door, or the start of an engine, to show that someone had left the baby and returned to the road - but no one had passed him on the way up through the glen, either.

“Hello!” he yelled. “Anyone there?” But there was no answer. Snoops looked at him, and then the baby, and back at Jim, and he nodded. “Aye.” The baby would did of exposure, left here.

He leant down and pushed back the long grass that half-covered the baby. The blanket wasn't damp; the baby had been just left. Long out of practice – it had been twenty-odd years since Lauren had been a baby, and her own children hadn’t been even born when the accident had happened, and with that thought the world went into a spin around Jim, and he had to take a breath and a moment before he was able to reach for the child again.

Carefully, he lifted the baby, remembering to support its head. The glen around was still silent, no late-calling bird, or early evening mammal making noise in the bushes. What would cause a person to leave their baby here? If he and Snoops hadn’t come along – and they didn’t always; he hated to admit it to himself but the climb up to here, following the river that thundered over two waterfalls and through the glen, right down to his house, was more than he liked to do some nights. His balance wasn’t what it had once been and he was acutely aware that if he fell, there would be no Joan waiting in the house with his dinner in the oven to miss him.

“If you’re here,” he said, into the air. “I’ll take the wee one down to Glen House, at the bottom. You’ll see it, it’s the house just before the village.” More in the glen than the village, truth be told, making him and Snoops feel that the glen was their home as much as the house, and only borrowed by those that visited, the families, and the walkers, and the wild swimmers who turned up even in the middle of winter, the mad eejits, getting changed in the cold air with all their bits hanging out.

No answer, but he could imagine her listening, maybe set back in the bushes. Maybe she was a young mum, taken aback at the arrival of the baby and in a panic. She might need a doctor herself, and the baby checked over – although it felt solid in his arms and didn’t appear distressed. Its breaths, too, were steady and he could feel the warmth of the child, snuggled in the blanket.

“You go first,” he told Snoops. It would be hard enough getting down without his stick to help – he had no hands free, not even for the railing – without the dog tripping him up. Snoops headed down, the streak of white on his tail the only sign of where he was as he wove to and fro across the path, never stopping, always on the move. Jim took his time. The wooden steps, cut into the cliff face, were wet from the damp autumn air, and slippery. The railing, on one side, gave a false sense of security; it wasn’t strong at the best of times. He reached the first section of path and stumbled along. It really was getting dark now. He clutched the baby against his chest, hoping he’d past another of the villages on their nightly dark walk. Stephen Drake and Finn were often out late, but there was no sign of them, of course.

Another flight of steps, this one longer and twisted past tree roots, led to the first waterfall, the spray hitting his face telling him exactly where he was on the path. The pool at its foot was still, no swimmers today, and the smell of peaty water heavy in the air. With relief, he made it to the last section of the path, over the little footbridge that was well used by tourists and sturdy. Snoops waited at the end, lapping from the river below. It didn’t matter how much water was left out for him in bowls; the dog liked the river water better.

Still no one passed. Jim supposed he should keep walking, down the path into the village, and get someone to help him. What was he supposed to do with a baby, a man of his age on his own? He barely knew what to feed one. But his right leg had gone numb. It would stiffen and, he knew, could give way, spilling the baby onto the path. Instead he followed the glen round to the gates of his house and down the path to his back door, pushing it open. He’d never locked it. He had little enough to steal and, besides, who’d know it was open?

He went through the kitchen to the living room and the good rug that Joan had bought not two months on a spending spree that he’d complained about at the time and now wished she was alive to do again. His throat tightened but, for once, he had something else to concentrate on with the baby still held against him and he found that he was glad of that distraction; there had been little enough before this.

He laid the baby on the rug. It was quiet, watching him, not even grizzling. He sank into his chair as Snoops lay beside the child, hunched and guarding.

“Well,” said Jim. “What do we do now?”
 
I think I have a general preference for the original, as the walk through the glen builds mood and mystery toward finding the baby. With the baby first, the details become secondary color to the discovery. Just details on the walk.

Some of the baby thoughts by the MC seem a little off. The die of exposure line suggests that he's considering leaving the child, as if temperature is the only consideration and therefore on the table. I think normal people would unthinkingly assume a baby can't be left outside for any reason or any time. And when his leg goes numb, he reflects that he could fall on the baby rather than taking an action like moving the baby to his other hip. Moments like this make the MC seem like he's entirely disconnected from normal empathy. Easy to fix, though.
 
It's a very different feel to the first version. I think I like the slow burn a little better, and the abruptness of the start of this felt less hooky to me. I wonder if there could be a happy medium with a little more introduction of the reader to Jim, even just an atmospheric paragraph to show his age and stiffness and the sadness in him before his reverie is broken by the baby. I quite like the idea of the dog finding the baby and Jim following him a bit reluctantly that you had in the last version.
Something like this:
The night was coming on rightly now, and Jim turned to go back down, giving a sharp whistle that should have brought Snoops to him, but the dog didn’t come. Beside Jim, the second pool was empty, only the drum of the waterfall breaking the night. On the road above, at the top of another flight of steps, the odd crunch of a car’s wheels could be heard.

“Snoops!” he called, not liking the quaver in his voice but since the accident – referred to only as the collision by the police, as if there was any doubt about whose fault it was – he was acutely aware that if he fell no one would know except Snoops.
 
I think it would depend on the length of the story as to how slow burn an opening may be. Whether fast or slow, I do like a hook to draw me in, and - from a personal prefernce, as short an opening sentence as is possible. As a suggestion here, how about cutting to the chase and using

'It was Snoops who found the baby.'

and work backwards from there, with the choice of either a long or slow burn. Straight away the reader is wanting to know more; who (or what) is Snoops, and why does the baby need to be found? (I would definitely choose 'the' baby over 'a' baby, as 'a' makes it sound like finding one is not such a singular occurrence).

Good luck whichever you choose.
 
Overall comments:
Plus: I get to the core point faster and as a jaded reader, skimming first pages to find a book to buy, I _might_ prefer this version
Minus: Because I've seen the previous version, I kinda like the slow moodiness of the original

This version is faster paced. Is the novel faster paced or more moody? If more moody, the previous one had an atmosphere I miss a bit in this one. It might simply do to bring some of the older text in.

Also, there is an interesting debate to be had whether it is better for us to know he's found the baby after knowing a bit about him or before? Finding a baby is pretty dramatic, but in the original version it raised a few hairs on my head because of all the talk of death and babies that led up to it. Again, depends on the genre/subgenre of the work. Is it gothic? horror? Then that first version was better where I got to know the sad lonely old man first and when he found the baby there was just the right tinge of the supernatural about it.

In the current version its a lot more factual, especially when he concretely thinks about the mom who might be nearby and things very logically about the baby and the mom's needs. If it's going to be a gothic I'd like more ruminations on how the heck can a baby get here, be so healthy looking etc.


and her own children hadn’t been even born when the accident had happened
Just factually (you don't have to reveal this) but did her babies die in the accident, or is this the accident that killed his wife and has nothing to do with his grandchildren?

The railing, on one side, gave a false sense of security; it wasn’t strong at the best of times.
Nice bit of atmosphere but leans on the exposition side. Is there a way to show this?

villagers

The wooden steps, cut into the cliff face, were wet from the damp autumn air, and slippery.

and the smell of peaty water heavy in the air

the good rug that Joan had bought not two months on a spending spree that he’d complained about at the time and now wished she was alive to do again
All three of these are great atmosphere builders. I like!
 
Sorry to say but I much preferred the original. I enjoyed the warm tone, and the leisurely, confident pace it took to introduce Jim, his dog, and his situation. It was also nicely written. Not that this isn't but I liked the tone of the first.

I also think that starting in medias res as you have here is a little by-the-numbers. I can see why you might want to do that, but I think you have enough capital not to do that if that's not your preference.

The situation is fine, and it's a good opening scene, but I felt as though I got an intimate portrait of Jim in V1, whereas here we don't.
 
Thanks everyone this is really useful. This is more my style of writing, quick and economical. But this story is not my usual story, so I guess I’m at sixes and sevens. It’s really slow and more about the character than the events (whilst important)

a couple of things for me to unpick.
he is cackhanded about the baby but I don’t think he doesn’t care - he just can’t let someone else into his heart. I’ll have to convey that.


I could aim for the happy medium and most likely will but it looks like i need to take it back a little more. :)

the length of story - i suspect novella length. I lean towards short work anyhow but this is an Irish magical realism story and they tend towards the shorter. But that then puts emphasis on getting the story itself right and the words. The themes here are of divided communities, forgiveness and grief and they’re all big slow ones to convey but which don’t benefit from navel gazing too much on,

Genre is magical realism with heavy undertones of irish themes and the gothic, so the slow entry probably makes more sense

and Jim is the central character in this (there are a few around him but it is his story, not a shared narrative) so the introduction to him matters.

this was useful - thank you all, as ever x
 
Hi Jo,

Late to the party. But we had grand girls all afternoon, and then their parents for a bit after that, so it was a good day.

I agree that a half way between the two beginnings would be better. This version was good because in this version I was not confused at all. You avoid that confusing game show bit, and it's clear that Jim and Snoops are on a walk. The dog also appears to be leading the action, and I suspect that's what you are going for. Plus, we find a reason why Jim brings the baby home rather than getting some other help, which I would think would be the default for most any single old man. But, the walk seemed over long to me. I would think there would be a better way of describing the location. Maybe something like "It was down the two sets of slippery stairs and the pool that Snoops found the baby." But if I'm choosing between the two, I certainly prefer the second to the first.

Also, do you really want to mention the skinny dippers? What does that bit add to the story, save that there is no one to share the burden of the baby.
 
Hi Jo,

Late to the party. But we had grand girls all afternoon, and then their parents for a bit after that, so it was a good day.

I agree that a half way between the two beginnings would be better. This version was good because in this version I was not confused at all. You avoid that confusing game show bit, and it's clear that Jim and Snoops are on a walk. The dog also appears to be leading the action, and I suspect that's what you are going for. Plus, we find a reason why Jim brings the baby home rather than getting some other help, which I would think would be the default for most any single old man. But, the walk seemed over long to me. I would think there would be a better way of describing the location. Maybe something like "It was down the two sets of slippery stairs and the pool that Snoops found the baby." But if I'm choosing between the two, I certainly prefer the second to the first.

Also, do you really want to mention the skinny dippers? What does that bit add to the story, save that there is no one to share the burden of the baby.
Thank you! Sounds like a lovely day :) The first has been made a little less confusing now I think :)

The swimmers are part of an overarching theme so are important :)
 
I think this is quite a bit better than the other opening. I have a real aversion to openings that start with something mundane like a character flicking through the TV channels, even with the obvious promise of something interesting to come. This opening line is definitely a better hook.

As an aside, and 'cause no one else has pointed it out; your second sentence read weird to me. "Lying under a bower of ivy" describes the baby, right? And the rest of the sentence describes the dog. "Lying under a bower of ivy, the collie’s bark brought Jim through the thick bracken to where Snoops was standing." What you've just told me is that the collie's bark was lying under a bower of ivy. Or, on a really generous reading, that the collie was lying under a bower of ivy. But definitely didn't feel like it related to the baby.

Nitpicking though. Editing and that. This opening is better, I think.
 

Similar threads


Back
Top