Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Thinking about novel openings

I originally posted this as a comment to a post of coneycat's, but I thought I'd also post it here so I didn't lose it.

coneycat refers to an excellent post by Patricia Wrede about story openings in which Pat talks about the implied promises a writer makes to the reader, right from the start. After considering a couple of novel openings, one of her own and one by someone else, coneycat takes that further to shows how writers can accidentally mislead the reader into thinking that something will be important in the story, when in fact it never reappears again. It's something that's well worth remembering; though an opening has to be interesting, it also has to fit the rest of the story.

Part of the problem is the way some people (in How To Books or on blogs or whatever) do bang on about how openings should grab the reader. And then there are all those famous first lines that are always trotted out as examples of how to do it, most of which have not actually enticed me to read the story, even though I agree they are memorable. :)

Anyway, just to add to the general conversation about story openings, I happened to notice this the other day while I was reading through the materials of the OU course I tutor on.

A common fear about beginning is that a writer must deliver a flourish of drama or something unexpected to be gripping, engaging or convincing. Or that a beginning necessarily involves striving after a phrase of great beauty and originality. This fear is hard to dispel. But a word of caution from Raymond Carver:

At the first sign of a trick or gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring … At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.
(Carver, 1985)

The notes then go on to say: Often the best beginnings are the ones that seem to disappear, letting the reader pass them by and get straight into the body of the story, as though they have just ‘tuned into’ that particular narrative, or just opened a door into that room or scene.

I think that's a much better way of looking at it.

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