Which Beginning Should I Use???
(Baltimore, MD - USA)
I have two beginnings I could potentially use for my book. I asked a question here earlier about it and I know I seem desperate but I'm just very confused about which direction to take this whole thing! <:)
Here are the two beginnings I'm considering. I like the description in the first one and I like the info it gives the reader, BUT the second one is fast-paced and keeps me reading longer, even though there isn't any description. HELP me find a way to get the best of both worlds!!!
She lived in the part of town where trigger-happy delinquents crept around the corners of crumbling buildings. That one avenue in town where the only cars that drove through it were police cars, the ones that suspiciously peered through alleyways with the windows rolled up and the doors locked. That little back road that parents warned their children to avoid.
At every turn in her neighborhood there seemed to be some sort of argument going on, and at night the fighting grew violent and noisy. The inhabitants of the neighborhood cowered in fear of one another during those sleepless nights, quaking beneath their cheap bed sheets and listening to the men outside holler at one another. There was always a conflicting aura surrounding the street, an unsettling cross between fear and aggression. It was a bad place.
Seven-year-old Marley sat up straight in bed, eyes wide with curiosity. Her thin arms hugged a raggedy stuffed turtle to her chest. The half-deflated air mattress upon which she perched rumbled beneath her as she crept slowly out of bed. Her bare feet tapped a squeaky hardwood floor.
Tiptoeing across the cold floor in her bare feet, she blinked a few times in confusion, and tried to adapt her vision to the night’s vast lightlessness. She could hear some familiar voices yelling at each other from outside. Shivering from a chilly November wind, she wrapped her arms around each other to warm herself up. She wore only a hand-me-down tank top that Shemar had given her and a pair of hand-sewn shorts her mother had stitched together for her years ago. They were too small for her now, and they pinched her in all the wrong places, clinging like leeches to her hips and choking her knees where the fabric ended. But they were all that she had. What few clothes she owned and that tattered stuffed turtle were her only real possessions, and she’d grown used to living that way. She never looked at anything and saw it as hers; everything always belonged to someone else.
As she entered the tiny, cramped kitchen of Wilson’s apartment complex, she listened with patient ears to the racket outside. The familiar voices were easily heard now. She came to a dead halt in the middle of the kitchen, and Marley’s breath grew faint.
“Al, ya shouldn't smoke around the kid. Put that out.” Shemar sighed and set some grocery bags on the table. As soon as Marley heard his familiar voice echoing through the apartment, her head shot up at him.
Big Al sat on the floor beside Marley. A thin, white bar hung from his mouth, and in his right hand he clutched a sheeny knife with a black handle. He pried the white bar from his lips and smashed it against the coffee table. A trail of wispy, white smoke drifted up into the air. Its bitter scent wrapped its arms around Marley's neck. She coughed and gave her stuffed turtle, Kipper, a quick hug as she gasped for breath.
“Did you hear me, man?” Shemar hollered at him from across the room. “I said put out your cigarette. You shouldn't be smokin' around the kid.”
“Ah, I can do whateva the hell I want,” said Big Al.
Shemar shook his head. “I just don't want ya smokin' around the kid, Big Al. I thought you were gonna quit that stuff, anyway.”
Big Al shrugged and let out a weary sigh. “I dunno.”
Marley tapped Big Al on the shoulder. “Hey Big Al?”
He turned to her. “Yeah? What?”
“S'that a butterfly knife?”
Big Al's eyes darted toward the blank-handled knife that sat in the palm of his hand. “Yeah,” he said. “Watch this.” “Yeah,” said Big Al, taking a thin, white bar out of his mouth and smashing it against the living room coffee table. A thin trail of smoke drifted up into the air as the white bar was crushed. “All ya gotta do's flip the thing an' it kind'all snaps a blade out all like dis right here, see.” He tucked the blade back into the shell, then flicked his wrist. Once again, the silvery knife showed its face. Marley cocked her head to the side, her eyes glittering with amusement.
“How's it work on the inside?” she asked.
“Whaddaya mean? S'a knife. Jus' cuts stuff.”
But how's the sharp part come out all quick like that?”
“Oh, I dunno, ask Wilson.”
Marley shrank back and her eyes went wide. A shudder passed through her. “Um, never mind, that's okay. Hey, Big Al, could ya do it again, though? Please?” She bit her lip, hoping he'd agree to show her the knife trick just once more.
“Nah, I got a bettah idea, lemme show you howta do dis trick, an maybe you can use it someday, jus' in case, y'know.”
“In case what?”
“I dunno, we live on Frog Street. Most dangerous place in Baltimore, y'know. Everyone here knows howta use a knife.”
“Yeah, I know. Shemar told me.”
“All right, now watch real close, Imma do it again, then you can try. Okay? Watch real good.”
He flipped the knife again, and once more the blade popped right out of its shell. Marley's eyes shined much like the sheeny metal reflected in them. “Here,” said Big Al, handing her the knife. “You try. See if ya can get it ta come outta da shell.”
Marley took the knife from Big Al and let her eyes walk along the image of the weapon in her hand. She wondered how something so beautiful could ever be so dangerous.
“Hey, tell the kid ta be careful over there. She's seven years old an' I don't want a knife in my throat.” The voice belonged to Wilson. He threw a sharp glare in Marley's direction, which sent an icy chill down her spine. His stare burned into her eyes, and she quickly lowered her head just so that wouldn't have to look at him. She hated those eyes. Always so dark and lonely.
“She'll be fine,” said Big Al. “I'm watchin' her.”
Marley's eyes narrowed as she tried to hold the knife just as Big Al had. Once she'd gotten the perfect grip, she tried to swing the weapon off to the side. There was a clicking sound, but the blade hadn't popped out yet. She stared at the butterfly knife for a few seconds. “Hey, Big Al, I don't think I did it right-”
There was another click. In an instant, the knife's blade swung out of its shell, sliced through the skin on Marley's caramel-colored palm, and flew across the room. Marley squealed as blood spread across her hand. Hillary shrieked and Shemar gasped, and the butterfly knife's silvery blade punctured the wall across the room. It quivered, making a faint ringing sound. The apartment fell silent as everyone stared at it, just watching it hang there.
I stopped them both just before they got good, so PLEASE help me find a way to get the best of both worlds here. THANK YOU! Also, any other tips for my writing would be amazing. Thanks. :DAnswer:
I don't generally give critiques of specific chapters on this site.
However, I'll say a couple of things.
Regarding the first example, it might be better to start with the little girl entering the hall (perhaps in response to some noise) and describe the neighbourhood later, when she encounters it. In other words, tell the story from her point of view rather than that of an omniscient narrator.
Along the same line, consider if, from her perspective, is she
entering "the kitchen of Wilson's apartment complex" or "her kitchen."
Also, bear in mind that it's a cliche to begin with the character waking up.
Regarding the second example, you are correct that it moves better and engages the reader. Perhaps look for opportunities to insert a sentence or so of description or exposition to flesh out the situation.
Be careful about using too much phonetic spelling in dialogue. It can be a little distracting, especially if you want to maintain it for the entire book. However, perhaps you are planning to contrast the speech of these characters with others later?
I suspect you could combine both these openings, keeping in mind the points I mention above.