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The opening to my novel (1600 words)

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Old 07-16-2010, 08:27 PM
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Default The opening to my novel (1600 words)


It's called The Mice, and it's a black comedy drama. I was wondering how people feel about it. This is only a small part of the first chapter. Any feedback would be appreciated.



The rows of glass tanks spread out in all directions between stacks of cages and animal toys. Jenny knew exactly what she wanted for once, which made a welcome change. It was common for our shopping trips to degenerate into the kinds of arguments I wished I was mature enough not to get into in the first place. I can’t really comment on the theory that shopping friction is largely down to the fact that women are natural foragers and men are natural hunters, but what I can say is that in our case shopping often provoked tension; furthermore, the getting of the thing we were after today had no business being as difficult as it had so far been. The pet shop was big but it wasn’t that big.

We browsed the tanks and cages and looked at all the animals. The rabbits didn’t look particularly happy; all they did was sit like vegetables in the middle of their cages and twitch their noses and every now and then flick one of their ears. It seemed they had been fully institutionalised and had long ago accepted whatever was coming to them. The hamsters were sprightlier and seemed better off. They could at least run from one side of their respective tank to the other, though there seemed to be large numbers crammed into each tank, meaning that every hamster was regularly trampled by his fellows. The scene reminded me of my university days and the chaotic clutter that I had to live with for three years. One snoozing hamster was having his head jumped upon by a hyperactive friend, but he didn’t seem to care. I wondered how he was able to put up with it. As for the rats, they seemed the happiest of the lot, scampering around with boundless energy and chewing on almost anything they could get their little chops around. Rats have a bad press but they are actually quite friendly. I think that when most people think of rats they imagine the gigantic sewer beasts that will come into your house and eat your baby, or the monsters that infested the trenches of the Great War and ate cats. This is a little unfair – just go to the pet shop and check them out if you don’t believe me. Their have innocent faces and generally make loyal companions. There were also budgies and chipmunks cheeping and chittering on the other side of the room; and gerbils and guinea pigs were lurking in the corner. But none of these would do because Jenny had not set her heart on getting a rat or a rabbit, a gerbil or a hamster, a budgie or a chipmunk. Mice were the creatures we were after and I was aware that mice were the only things she would accept. Anything else would be considered failure, and not just an abstract kind of failure, but my failure. This, I was also aware of. ‘You know, we may have settle for a Russian hamster,’ I ventured.

‘But I don’t really want a Russian hamster,’ she replied without looking at me.

‘They’re pretty cute, though,’ I said, jabbing my finger at the tank. ‘Look.’

‘Mmm, but I thought you said they’d have mice.’

‘I said probably.’

‘Well I don’t know why you’d say something like that and get my hopes up just to dash them. Don’t forget what we came here for.’

‘Well, why don’t we go and ask someone? They might just be out of stock.’

She nodded and we walked to the counter, past all the dog toys and the beef jerkies (which reminded me, I hadn’t had my lunch), and waited to be seen. ‘Can I help you?’ asked the man whose badge announced that his name was Joseph.

‘We were just wondering if you sell mice here at all,’ I replied. ‘We looked but we couldn’t see any.’

‘No, we don’t I’m afraid, only gerbils, hamsters and rats.’

‘Well, we’re really looking for mice, so, do you know where we can get some?’

‘Sorry, but I don’t. And I think you’d be lucky to find a pet store that sells them. People feed them to their pet snakes, so it’s pretty hard to buy them alive. If you’re looking for frozen ones, you can get them at Pets on Cowdray Avenue.’

I sensed Jenny squirming at the allegation. ‘We don’t have a snake. Do you think you could order some live ones in, just for us?’

‘Sorry, we don’t do that. To be perfectly honest, mice don’t make great pets anyway. If I were you I’d go for a hamster.’

‘But I don’t want a hamster, I want a mouse,’ she replied, not to the Joseph, but to me.

‘Okay, thanks for your help,’ I said in a way that I hoped would convey my lack of appreciation. ‘We’ll try somewhere else.’

We turned and walked away from the counter. I saw that Jenny’s face had dropped, and that was enough to raise my stress level. But then something happened on the way out of the shop that seemed so predestined that some people, had they been in my shoes, might have considered it proof of the existence of a higher being. Almost at the door now, I heard someone whisper, ‘Excuse me!’ from the corner where wheels and cages were stacked. I turned to see a tubby, middle-aged man in a long brown raincoat – the type you have to do up with a belt – and a cloth cap and sunglasses. Jenny had seen him too. He beckoned us over. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing you at the counter,’ he began. ‘I heard you were looking for some mice.’ His way of speaking was quick and concise. Even then, the word ‘dealer’ sprang to mind.

Jenny’s eyes lit up. ‘Why, do you have some?’

‘Actually I do. If you’re interested you’re more than welcome to come by my place and take a look. I’ve got plenty; most of them are babies and you can pick out the ones you like. Couple of quid each. How does that sound?’

The bizarreness of the situation made me a little relieved he didn’t open up his jacket to reveal rows of living, squeaking mice all hanging by their tails. Jenny turned to me with a beaming face and I knew then that the deal was already done. ‘Where do you live?’ I asked him. ‘Can I get your number?’

‘Yeah, just a minute,’ replied the mouse dealer, searching his pockets for a piece of paper and a pen. ‘It’s Brian, by the way.’


The drive home was less demanding than it could so easily have been, but that didn’t mean it was agreeable. Jenny was in high spirits. ‘Oh, I can’t wait!’ she said while typing out a text on her phone, presumably breaking the happy news to one or more of her friends. ‘Soon the whole apartment will be crawling with little babies! I’ve always wanted to have mice as pets, they’re so cute and clever and friendly. And I can’t live without animals, I’ve always said as much. That’s the main reason I moved in with you, you know.’

I didn’t want to bring her down, but her words were making me a little worried. ‘Jen, listen, it’s good we’re getting some pets at last, but before you get too excited we need to establish some ground rules. They stay in the cage for a start, and when they’re not in the cage they can run around in a ball, one of those little plastic exercise ones. And I don’t want them in our bedroom, for any reason. Okay?’

‘Oh, don’t be such a grumpy grump, you’re always ruining the mood,’ she said with a gesture of dismissal. ‘They aren’t toys we’re getting, they’re living breathing animals; you can’t just stuff them in a cramped cage and leave them there all day to die of boredom. It’s sad you feel that way, it really is.’

‘I didn’t say stuff them in a cage and leave them there to die, I’d just rather we keep them under control. Debra had a hamster once; she left the cage door open, and before anyone knew what was going on it was crawling through the pipes and the spaces between the walls. If you let a mouse run around the apartment we’ll probably be evicted before long.’

‘Oh, stop worrying about every little thing. The important thing is that the mice are happy – and also that I’m happy, but that goes without saying!’

‘I’m serious, Jen,’ I said, my foot pushing down a little harder on the accelerator. ‘And, by the way, just how many do you intend to get?’

‘I think ten is a good number, don’t you?’

‘No way! Two.’

‘But they’ll be so lonely. I thought you cared about animals.’

‘Two,’ I repeated.

‘I’ll settle for eight.’

‘Three at the most. Three wouldn’t be so bad.’

‘But what if two of them gang up on the other? If we get six there won’t be any bullying.’

‘Okay, four, but that’s the absolute maximum. Don’t forget we could get into trouble for having even one.’


‘Well the company can get screwed,’ she said unconcernedly. ‘Okay, four, but the mice will be allowed to run around wherever they like. We’ll teach them to come when we call their names. I’m sure they won’t do anything naughty.’

I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter as I tried to control my temper. I knew this whole thing was a bad idea right from the outset, but, like so many other undesirable things in my life, I didn’t have the strength to prevent it from happening. Sometimes it was easier just to submit and allow nature to take its course, even if it made me feel like less of a man.

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Old 07-17-2010, 06:53 AM
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Hello.

Honestly, it's great. I didn't think I would like it when I first started to read it, but as I got farther along, it really grabbed my attention.

I have a comment, however. Your first paragraph moves a little slow. So I would edit it and make it less wordy.

Besides that, it's good.

Happy writing!
-WG
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Old 07-17-2010, 07:20 AM
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Cheers WG, I will take a look at that!
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Old 07-17-2010, 07:51 AM
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Very good start! It hooked me.

I am very curious to know why she wants mice. When I think mice, I think the little critters that run over your toes and find sneaky ways to get past the traps and into the food cupboard.

But, I suppose that curiousity would lead me to read the rest of the book! You've got the reader thinking, and thats what a good author does, right?

Great job, and I can't wait to read more!
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Old 07-17-2010, 08:11 AM
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I really liked it. The dialogue was nice and it was nice and easy to read, would love to read more.
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Old 07-17-2010, 08:48 AM
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One snoozing hamster was having his head jumped upon by a hyperactive friend, but he didn’t seem to care. I wondered how he was able to put up with it.
I've noticed (and obviously you don't have to agree) that the shorter a funny joke is, the funnier. For anyone who ever owned a rodent, this is so true. I think it would be funnier if you'd cut the part I highlighted, but that is just my opinion.

Rats have a bad press but they are actually quite friendly. I think that when most people think of rats they imagine the gigantic sewer beasts that will come into your house and eat your baby, or the monsters that infested the trenches of the Great War and ate cats.
Oh, this is good! (note, my 'good' is usually said in a pimp's tone... anyone know what I mean? No?... oh, okay...)
But I do think it would flow nicer if. Sentence number 1 ("Rats have...") would actually come after sentence 2 "I think..." becasue I know in school they always say that the more general statement should go first, but with the way you are changing the tense here, I think you need a dubtle transition and sentence 2 should be first. I think you'll like it more two, after moving it.

‘But what if two of them gang up on the other? If we get six there won’t be any bullying.’

‘Okay, four, but that’s the absolute maximum. Don’t forget we could get into trouble for having even one.’


Haha, I love that bit. Mice ganging up on each other...there would be the popular ones and the nerds.

I like it : ) I think if it was a novel about the mechanics of this particular family, and I'm assuming he's a single father, this could be very interesting. The kind of things you'd read quickly and that would be a great uplifting read. Keep it up!

Abby
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Old 07-17-2010, 07:02 PM
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Thanks to everyone for the encouragement! And thanks especially to AbbyBlack for the advice. Actually, I agreed with everything you said.

Mice are tiny little creatures, but their size is disproportionate to the chaos they are capable of unleashing in a little apartment if allowed to run free in large numbers. Honestly, when I first began writing this, I was seriously considering making it a horror story.
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Old 07-19-2010, 03:53 AM
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Good one - very commical.

Just one typo that I found: You said "Their have innocent faces and generally make loyal companions"

I'd have written They have.

Well done.
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Old 07-19-2010, 07:34 PM
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Oops! cheers for that!
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Old 07-19-2010, 11:54 PM
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Wow! This reminds me of studying French in Chambery. One day out of curiosity I stumbled into a pet store and found myself attracted to a chubby little field mouse. I never liked rodents, was always afraid of them but for some reason this little kernel and myself became best pals. I purchased him and I could walk with him around town and he would sit on my shoulders or crawl on top of my head. He didn't live long and I had it buried next to a tree. I loved this excerpt of your story and feel only disappointed that there wasn't more to read. I hadn't thought of that mouse for years.

Last edited by electricbazooka; 07-19-2010 at 11:56 PM..
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Old 07-21-2010, 02:43 AM
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No problem.
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Old 07-26-2010, 12:18 AM
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(skipped reading other replies so as not to be biased)

I really like what you've done here. Good job of building tension. Simply the thought of a rodent "dealer" is amusing enough in itself to keep reading.
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Old 07-26-2010, 08:27 AM
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Thanks for the feedback! Most of this story is fictional, but some of it isn't. You may be interested to know that the mouse dealer belongs in the second catagory.
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Old 07-26-2010, 11:14 AM
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Default Intro.

The only suggestion I'd make is to use a better hook. May I suggest you either use "The pet shop was big but it wasn’t that big." if you want the petshop to be the focus or "I wish I were more mature" if the argument was the focus. Or, a description of one of the shop's inmates.
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Old 07-26-2010, 01:50 PM
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I agree with Brent Miller.
The personnel in petshops are awful! They give a fish without telling you anything about keeping them, and then are surprised your fish dies the next day. I'm just glad they don't keep pups or kittens because that would come under animal abuse.
A comical description that makes fun of the shop assistant would be great

Abby
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