Saturday, February 9, 2008

Another first few lines!

Thanks all who contributed openings! Hope we can get to them all. Here's one:


1902 Rio de Janeiro

Sofia rounded the table and clutched it ends, eyes narrowed on the lustful countenance of Vitor Jimenez. He was spry despite his bulk, the governor's cousin staring her down the length of the elaborately-made dining table set for the romantic evening planned for her. She however, many stones lighter and many years younger, was quicker--but she was never one to underestimate the almost superhuman vigor of a man in pursuit of his quarry.

Okay, to start at the top:
1902 Rio de Janeiro

If you're writing a historical or a contemporary novel where the time and place are important, a tagline like this works wonders to establish the setting and situation. It's another of those narrative conventions that readers absorb and accept. And it spares you from having to work that into the opening scene. ("Rio de Janeiro is certainly hot!" "Yes, and I think 1902 is the hottest year in decades.")
I am already getting a sense that this is going to be fun-- in an exotic time and place.


Sofia rounded the table
What can you sneak in without being obnoxious? Maybe her last name. Maybe what kind of table it is-- kitchen table? Restaurant table? That would narrow the setting more.


and clutched it ends,
Reading aloud really helps locate minor typos like this. Also I'm trying to block this action. She is walking around the table and then turns and grabs the ends? Sometimes it's hard to describe complicated physical action in the opening, where we don't have much sense of where we are and where the characters and props are placed.

eyes narrowed on the lustful countenance of Vitor Jimenez.

That establishes conflict right away, and helps make sense of the physical action-- she's trying to escape from the lust-hound. The "eyes narrowed" phrase is a bit awkward, because it comes after two nouns it can't possibly be linked to (ends and table). Modifiers should be as close as possible to the word they modify (in this case, Sofia). Now that could be difficult in this case, so I'd suggest an easier fix- just put "her" in front of eyes. "...her eyes narrowed..." would make it clear that the "eyes" referred to the last woman identified.

lustful countenance of Vitor Jimenez.
Hmmm... here is a full name being used in the first sentence-- and it's not the name of the POV character. I'm not sure how you can get around this, but identifying someone by name in the first paragraph tends to ascribe a great deal of importance to him. If he turns out to be the villain, that might be worthwhile, but if he's just a stray lust-hound, I'd think about changing the name to his role-- like "... of the rubber salesman...."

He was spry despite his bulk, the governor's cousin staring her down the length of the elaborately-made dining table set for the romantic evening planned for her.
I love that word "spry," and it's a nice contrast to "bulk."
Now after the main clause there's a long participial phrase. That's a sentence in danger of beoming unbalanced, as the main clause is so much shorter than its modifier. I'd suggest maybe making it two sentences, or putting "the governor's cousin" as the subject rather than "he," and then trimming the participial phrase as much as you can. You actually have two participles there-- "planned for her" is a past-participle phrase. Consider "he planned for her," so the causer of the planning is identified.
Now here's something that jumped out at me. You have her eyes narrowing-- that is, she's looking at him. Then you have him staring-- he's looking at her. First problem-- you haven't really settled tightly on a point of view approach, because those two sentences could be from her POV, his POV, or an outside observer's, or omniscient, for that matter. I'm thinking you want to be in her POV, so think about the first sentence as establishing the setting, and the second as getting more into her-- her thoughts, her feelings, her fears, whatever. The elaborate table, the romantic evening, the planning-- those are all his concerns, not hers. What does that table look like from her perspective, not his? From her perspective, it's not a romantic evening, after all. So what is it? An extremely awkward situation, certainly-- her host putting the moves on her. (Did she at least get dessert first? :) So think about putting the reader squarely in her POV here-- what's her take on her situation right now?

She however, many stones lighter and many years younger, was quicker--
I like this construction, but I had to read it a couple times, I think because "She however," though exactly correct, isn't really idiomatic. It's also still not really in her POV. (This doesn't have to be in her POV, of course, but I think you want it to be, so I'm pointing that out. This is an outside observation, not an inside one.

but she was never one to underestimate the almost superhuman vigor of a man in pursuit of his quarry.
Now you're in her POV. I'd finish up with an action-- she darted out the door, she picked up the platter of roast and threw it at him-- that seals this opening as belonging to her.

There's so much to establish in the opening! But it might be helpful to try writing this in the POV character's first-person narration, as that will help you pinpoint what the situation looks and feels like from her perspective. (That's just to experiment, of course-- change the pronouns back to "she". :)

Also don't forget that your setting is a hook here, so if it's at all possible (and it might not be), see if there's anything Rio-ish that could be slid in there-- the dining room's French doors open to the sea breeze, I don't know. Of course, don't add anything that isn't needed!


Thanks to Historical Novelist!

Alicia


2 comments:

Historical Novelist said...

Ah thanks! I tend to cut out a lot of words when I edit because I can be rather verbose and elaborate in my writing, so I didn't want to get dinged on bordering on the purple. But I'm really glad you zoomed onto POV--I'm a novice at how to use it effectively, and whether I'm using it correctly. As is, I see it in Sofia's POV, but I see, based on your hints, that I'm not fully immersed in her head. Once again, thanks so much.

Dara Edmondson said...

This stuff helps so much! Thanks for doing it.