Friday, July 13, 2012

49 ~on writing


[first lines]
HUMBERT: “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms, she was always— Lolita. Light of live, fire of my loins. My sin. My soul.”
HUMBERT: “Lolita.”

—Lolita, 1997, Adrian Lyne.

How do I begin a novel?

First lines are quite tricky to write. Most likely the author will rewrite them several times until they show the pretended expectation to the reader: The promise.

What’s your promise?

Your promise can be emotional—I want the reader to laugh, to cry, to thrill…—  or an intellectual challenge—If you read this, you’ll see the world from a different perspective or you’ll confirm what you believe about this world.

So the writer must know what promise their novel makes, and write a killer opening line with the following traits:

1.     A character to care about.

2.  Conflict. The beginning should tell some indication that something isn’t going as expected. Of course, the development of the conflict comes later.

3.    Details. You should know what you are talking about. Details convey reality to the story.

Here are some examples.

“Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.”—Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes.

Magic’s Promise: Adventures of a knight errant. What?

“They found him in Ponta PorĂ£, a pleasant little town in Brazil, on the border of Paraguay, in a land still known as the Frontier.” —The Partner, John Grisham.

Magic’s Promise: They found someone who’s missing. Who? Why?

“Helen opened the window to air the living room, for that Sunday they expected a crowd to come in and out. She eyed her watch and rushed out to the convenience store, while her roommate Marleen tried to jam her toilet kit into the suitcase.”—Deconstructing INFATUATION, Merce Cardus.

Magic’s Promise: Marleen’s departure and someone’s arrival. Who?

“It is the saddest night, for am I living and not coming back. Tomorrow morning, when the woman I have lived with for six years has gone to work on her bicycle, and our children have been taken to the park with their ball, I will pack some things in a suitcase, slip out of my house hoping that no one will see me, and take the tube to Victor’s place.”—Intimacy, Hanif Kureishi.

Magic’s promise: The narrator abandons his family. Why?

Now, it’s your turn. Write a bunch of opening lines quickly, with different ways to show the information. It may give you some surprises. Enjoy your writing!

Copyright © 2012 by THE PYTHAGOREAN STORYTELLER. All rights reserved.

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