9/6/06

Opening Paragraph #13

[Editorial Note: Since the comments trail on this post has turned into a conversation on whether or not the Confederacy existed at this point in time, rather than about the paragraph and its other literary merits, I am making the executive decision to delete the man's title from the paragraph. For more details, see my post in the comments trail. Please disregard the deleted rank title when judging this post.]

In the black winter night, a man clung to the top of a telegraph pole while around him icy winds blew. Skeletal tree branches popped and swayed in the storm. Angry gusts grabbed at the tails of his woolen overcoat, cracking them in the darkness with the sound of a bullwhacker's whip. The man tested the abyss for signs of approaching humans but there were none--for none dared to enter the swirling, black eddy of nature's wrath. Tonight, he knew, Satan was awake and pushing open his mighty doors. Working a pocket key under the wire the man took a deep breath, then tapped out the message. "Lincoln en route. Assassins waiting." Once, twice, three times he sent the encrypted message while the wind howled its protest. Would the eight assigned men succeed in killing the gangly president-elect? If Abraham Lincoln lived or died tonight, he wouldn’t hear about it over these lines. Removing a pair of wire cutters, [deleted rank title] Eli Slater leaned out into the darkness as far as he could, clipped the wires and climbed down the pole into war's coming fury.

See comments here.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I vote for this one. Definitely. And I want to read the book as soon as it's finished, too.

Melanie Goldmund

Anonymous said...

I vote for this one, too. It sounds quite intriguing and I would love to have more. I do have one nit-picky thing, though. If Lincoln was president-elect, there wasn't a Confederate army yet. South Carolina didn't succede until Dec. 24, 1860 and others followed. The Confederacy would have been formed later. Your Eli Slater would more likely have still been in the U.S. army.

Anonymous said...

Good detective work, anonymous! Even prior to the first battle the states were dividing and the armies were taking sides...with the Union or the Confederacy. Officers, spies and assassins were already being positioned on both sides despite the fact that the war was not yet 'official.' I liked your comment. It tells me you've paid attention to that time period. Thank you. That means something to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know everyone was lining up well before the war began, but he still wouldn't have been a Confederate YET. Even Lee didn't leave the Union until Virginia did....

Anonymous said...

But you're spilling the beans!!!

And, I just have to say I love General Lee! The Lord told him to turn down Lincoln's commission to lead the North and go South. Lee followed the Lord and was divinely directed during the surrender. No other man could have stopped the war like Lee did, for no other man had command of such loyalty from his troops. How grateful I am that Lee listened to the Lord and went South!

Anonymous said...

Hey, with all your knowledge of the Civil War I would love to have your critique and input on the novel.

Anonymous said...
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LDS Publisher said...
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Anonymous said...

LDSP, Thank you for your help. I've copied the email address and will contact the writer directly, so you can remove the address from this site now if you'd like. Thanks again.

LDS Publisher said...

I deleted two previous posts to take out personal info that could have created a spam attack for the poster. The remainder of the comment was:



If you're really serious I would love to read it! It sounds fascinating.

Anonymous said...

I might not be a Civil War expert but I vote for this one.

Anonymous said...

I vote for this one as well.

And as to the person who pointed out the fault in the Confederate army forming before Lee left the Union, most people don't know hardly anything about the Civil War besides the fact that the North won and slavery was abolished. I believe the author simply used the word 'Confederate' so we could realize that this character fought for the South, not the North. I don't know about you but 'Confederate' triggers the thought that he fought for the South MUCH quicker than something like "The man who agreed with slavery and was willing to fight those who didn't agree with him about it"

LDS Publisher said...

I received a rather lengthy e-mail from the author of this post. The pertinant part is as follows:

The paragraph I submitted is a condensed version of my book’s prologue, dated February 22, 1861. It is historically accurate, including the pre-inaugural assassination attempt on Lincoln.

In the actually prologue the main character is never introduced by name but, to comply with the requirements of the contest, I mentioned him by the name he is known as throughout the majority of the book. In the manuscript, Confederate sergeant Eli Slater is “officially” introduced by name only a few pages later--in chapter one. That chapter is dated September 1864, well into the ravages of the Civil War and only a few months before Lee’s surrender in April of 1865, at Appotomattox Station.


I am satisfied by this explanation and will not subtract points for historical inaccuracy. After all, I did say you had to introduce your main character.

Anonymous said...

The poetry in this paragraph is excellent, however it lessens the effect the story could have. And keeping the identity of "the man" from the reader until the end of the paragraph has the effect of annoying the reader rather than drawing the reader into intrigue and mystery of the scene. The reader wants to know who is viewing the scene right up front, so tell him that its Eli hanging from the top of the telegraph pole. And let the reader know that Eli is an officer in the military (if not the soon to be confederate military). The suspense and intrigue in this paragraph come from two sources---betrayal (advising the assassins) and subterfuge (cutting the wire). There is nothing intriguing about not knowing who is hanging from the telegraph pole. It simply makes the reader wait five lines until they find out that it was Eli.

The poetry in this paragraph (black winter night, angry gusts, cracking in the darkness, tested the abyss, swirling black eddy of nature's wrath, Satan awake, deep breaths, etc) are all very fine descriptive details, but they have the effect of notifying the reader that the author is hard at work selecting poetic verse to add emotion to the scene. However, Eli Slater would never select those words if he were telling this story to the reader and the use of so much poetry has the effect of the author speaking directly to the reader and pretty much leaves Eli out in the cold (literally and figuratively)...we never get to see this scene through Eli's eyes.

I learned from a good friend, Dave King, to write 1 + 1 = 1/2 in the margins where repetition of technique, word choice, and other repetitive writing, water down the impactfulness of the scene. In this paragraph, in addition to the poetic verse removing the character from the scene and repalcing him with the author, it also has the effect of weakening the impact of the scene through repeition. A single metaphor or a poetic word choice discretely placed among the forward thrust of the story may not weaken the lines too much, but more than once and the author becomes the viewpoint character....Eli be darned.

If you were to re-write this scene, place Eli as the viewpoint character at the very beginning of the scene. Edit out all of the poetry and replace it with thoughts and descriptions that Eli would see and feel. Then Eli gets to tell us the story from his point of view without so much author instrusion. Something like:


Eli Slater clung to the top of a telegraph pole with one hand and held the pocket key with the other. The icy wind cut through his officer's coach like a dagger between his shoulder blades, but there was no one to stop him from sending the message. None of the other officers dared venture out into cold night. He tapped out LINCOLN IN ROUTE and it was done. The eight assassins were on their way and there was no one to warn the president. He reached for the wire cutters in his pocket. At least no one from this part of the growing confederacy. Eli cut the wire.