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Monday, August 23, 2010

In the beginning...

This last week, I read two books on writing; 'Hooked' by Les Edgerton and 'The Art of War for Writers' by James Scott Bell. I highly recommend both.   

On Saturday, I found myself sitting at Target. I caroused the book aisle in search of opening lines. I peeled back the covers of 40 different books, both in & out of my genre. I didn't look at the cover art, I didn't read the backflap. I rifled past the prologue & shot right to page 1.

I wanted to give myself a bird's ogle in the same manner agents & editors begin to review our work. I have to say that it presented quite an education. Of all the bound material, only one sucked me in until I realized I had already turned the page.

This, of course, led me to consider my own opening lines, question my judgment & peruse some of my own collection when I returned home. So, I plucked 4 stories from their shelves & sneaked a gander. Here's what I found...

From 'The Pall Bearers' by Stephen J. Cannell - "In 1976 America was just coming out of a protracted depression called the Vietnam War, but back then I was still deep in the middle of mine." - This relayed a sense of time & place. It also immediately set me in the emotional sneakers of the MC. And, based on my knowledge of that era, not just because I lived it either, I gleaned that this story has trouble abrewin'.

From 'Prophecy' by Elizabeth Haydon - "Meridion sat in the darkness, lost in thought." - Simple enough. The word choice conveys a host of gloom, doom & possible confusion; from my perspective of course. I don't normally read fantasy, but my hubby does & I found the opening intriguing. Economy of words conveying a wealth of information.

From 'The Wolf and the Dove' by Kathleen Woodiwiss - "The clash of battle rang no more." - Wow! A series of questions flooded the neural pathways. Why not? What happened? It also created a picture of deafening silence, a battlefield littered with bodies, loss, tears, etc. And all of that from 7 little words only one of which is more than one syllable.

From 'Le Morte D'Arthur' by Sir Thomas Mallory - "It befell in the days of Uther Pendragon, when he was king of all England, and so reigned, that there was a mighty duke in Cornwall that held war against him long time." - Holy long sentence, batman! 33 words. In today's mechanized, motion picture driven world, I do not believe this would fly any farther than the standard rejection letter. So, being the newbie that I am, I thought I would put my learnin' into practice. Here goes....
     The king had united them all; all except the duke of Cornwall.
Yes, I know it's protracted (to borrow from Mr. Cannell) but you get the point. Of course, it is all subjective & you will come up with a version of your own.
At the end of the day, that first line has to lead the reader to the second, the third & so on. Everything is an organic distillation from that first introduction to the world, the character, the story. Hook 'em hard, hook 'em fast. Give 'em trouble, make it last. There could have been a fishing metaphor, but I just couldn't get there - oh well.

Happy Writing,

Patti Struble

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