New Beginnings for Old Stories

FAR RIDER is done. This is probably the time I should go back and read through it again, but it’s already on submission and I’m sure that would just drive the agent who has the full nuts if I start changing a bunch of stuff around.

Will’s been trying to rescue DANCING HORSES off the old computer, but he isn’t having much luck since the computer doesn’t recognize usb and there is no such thing as floppies anymore. I, being the consummate packrat, never throw anything away because I might need it some day. Guess what I threw away. Yes, three boxes of floppies.

So, he is driving himself crazy with the computer crashing every few minutes. He did rescue some of the work off the hard drive, but there were only three chapters of DANCING HORSES. Yes, I am disappointed. Even if I had kept the original hard copies of the first versions, I would have something to go on, but events of the day made me so disgusted I threw them away where they have since mouldered back into the elements in the landfill.

Lesson number one. Always have more than one back up system.

Lesson number two. Make sure one back up system is off site in case your house floods or burns down or is invaded by information eating spiders. One of my writing friends sent me an invitation to join Drop Box, an offsite backup system. It looks like a good system and it’s free. What more could I ask for?

Someday I will rewrite it. It’s a good story with some larger than life characters, but I just despise rewriting something I’ve already written.

In the meantime I’ve been playing with SONG OF ILWEN, a story I wrote years ago. It’s about a young wood elf who must travel back in time to solve a murder and prove her mother didn’t commit suicide so she can be released from duty as a spirit guardian.

The problem with Ilwen is it starts with description of a unique world. While the world building is important, you can’t start there.

How do you turn a story that begins with description into something a more interesting? You must do this because if your reader isn’t “hooked” immediately, they most likely will not continue to read to page fifty where it gets good.

For me, I drag out some of my favorite books and read the openings.


Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.

The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn’t have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The Dursleys shuddered to think what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street. The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too, but they had never even seen him. This boy was another good reason for keeping the Potters away; they didn’t want Dudley mixing with a child like that.

When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country. Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his high chair.

The Dursley’s are perfectly normal. They take great pride in their normalcy, but they also have a secret. As any good reader knows, that secret is going to come out and most likely with disastrous results.

GAME OF THRONES by George R.R. Martin–Prologue

“We should start back,” Gared urged as the wood began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”

“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just a hint of a smile.

Gared did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”

“Are they dead?” Royce asked softly. “What proof have we?”

“Will saw them,” Gared said. “If he says they are dead, that’s proof enough for me.”

Will had known they would drag him into the quarrel sooner or later. He wished it had been later rather than sooner. “My mother told me that dead men sing no songs,” he put in.

“My nurse said the same thing, Will,” Royce replied. “Never believe anything you hear at a woman’s tit. There are things to be learned, even from the dead.” His voice echoed too loud in the twilit forest.

“We have a long ride before us,” Gared pointed out. “Eight days, maybe nine. And night is falling.”

I love prologues. I had a prologue in FAR RIDER until Barbara Rogan wrestled me to the ground and convinced me to take it out. I cheated though and added it back in later because I felt the information was important. Even though this is a prologue, it’s packed with innuendos. You just know something is going to happen that will involve the dead. And night is falling.

Yep, something bad is going to happen.

DUNE by Frank Herbert

A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows. To begin your study of the life of Muad’Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate Muad’Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis. Do not be deceived by the fact that he was born on Caladan and lived his first fifteen years there. Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place.
—from “Manual of Muad’Dib”
by the Princess Irulan

In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.
    It was a warm night at Castle Caladan, and the ancient pile of stone that had served the Atreides family as home for twenty-six generations bore that cooled-sweat feeling it acquired before a change in the weather.
    The old woman was let in by the side door down the vaulted passage by Paul’s room and she was allowed a moment to peer in at him where he lay in his bed.
    By the half-light of a suspensor lamp, dimmed and hanging near the floor, the awakened boy could see a bulky female shape at his door, standing one step ahead of his mother. The old woman was a witch shadow—hair like matted spiderwebs, hooded ’round darkness of features, eyes like glittering jewels.
    “Is he not small for his age, Jessica?” the old woman asked. Her voice wheezed and twanged like an untuned baliset.
Paul’s mother answered in her soft contralto: “The Atreides are known to start late getting their growth, Your Reverence.”
    “So I’ve heard, so I’ve heard,” wheezed the old woman. “Yet he’s already fifteen.”
    “Yes, Your Reverence.”
    “He’s awake and listening to us,” said the old woman. “Sly little rascal.” She chuckled. “But royalty has need of slyness. And if he’s really the Kwisatz Haderach … well….”
    Within the shadows of his bed, Paul held his eyes open to mere slits. Two bird-bright ovals—the eyes of the old woman—seemed to expand and glow as they stared into his.
    “Sleep well, you sly little rascal,” said the old woman. “Tomorrow you’ll need all your faculties to meet my gom jabbar.”

Something unusual is happening. The house Atreides is leaving their home and moving to Arrakis. A crone who treats a Lady like a serving wench is observing Paul and tomorrow he will meet something threatening.

If we would strive to be better writers, what better way than to study the masters? Watch what they do and how they do it. Maybe more importantly, figure out why they do it. When you’re struggling, go back to them and read. Transcribe some of their work so you have to slow down and realize what is happening with the work. Lay back in the warm waters and let them surround you. Soak in the words and the rhythm.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *