Sunday, February 24, 2008

More on that opening

Stormy Cat half-reared and whinnied then took off in a thundering gallop across the frost-tipped Kentucky bluegrass, which stretched out for miles and glistened like Swarovski crystals on a bed of green velvet.

First let us thank everyone who contributes a first paragraph! It's very helpful for us to have something to analyze. Theresa's great at creating examples, but that stretches my brain so far, I fear it will snap. So working on actual paragraphs saves me a lot of pain!

With this, I just want to say a couple things, as Theresa's done such a good job already of analyzing it. I love that "frost-tipped Kentucky bluegrass"-- beautiful image!

Now the horse taking off-- I am NOT trying to get anyone to write in personal POV at the beginning of a scene. Often omniscient works effectively at the opening and closing of scenes. However, it helps to keep focused on the character even if you're not squarely in that person's person point of view. We started out so focused on the woman's experience that we "felt with her" the pill bottle in her jeans. But by the end of the paragraph, we're distanced from her. The horse takes off across the field... and she's supposedly on the horse's back, but we're not getting any sensory information at all, except that lovely description of the grass. I'm not a horse person at all, but I'm assuming that's a real experience-- hanging on as a horse opens up to a gallop. Don't let us wonder if the woman slid off and is standing there in the field watching her horse gallop away. What's it feel like to be on the horse's back? What's the winter wind feel like? You don't actually have to add much. If you just added, "She clung to the mane as...." we'll probably be able to fill in the blanks. Just put her there in the experience so that we know she IS experiencing it.

Thanks again for the contribution!


Becky Burkheart said...

Alicia said: I'm not a horse person at all, but I'm assuming that's a real experience-- hanging on as a horse opens up to a gallop.

not exactly. :) There's really much too much power and motion for anyone to have the real physical strength to hang on. You have to be perfectly balanced and in rhythm with the horse to gallop bareback. It's a very Zenesque, in the moment, 'be the horse' kind of thing.

At a canter, she might notice the sparkly grass, not at a gallop.

(and that wouldn't be a whinny, it would be a squeal or a scream or ...I'm not sure what she was going for. I wasn't going to comment on that. really I wasn't. I did and deleted it and here it is again. sorry.)

Anonymous said...

I know nothing about horses or riding, but I've certainly found the comments by people who do quite interesting. Details make such a difference, at least for those who recognize when they're incorrect. Those sorts of things make me grit my teeth when I encounter them.

Edittorrent said...

Whenever we know a world or activity, I think we find problems with the fictional portrayal. I was just with a reporter who had been reading a book about a reporter... and reporter worked for a newspaper and there was a direct (same city) competitor, and there are probably three cities left with competing papers, and they're NY, Chicago, and LA, and this was some minor city... so anyway, I suspect no matter how much research we do, there'll always be people involved in that world who will find some problem.

Becky Burkheart said...

Yes, I totally agree that there will always be fussy people picking at details they know well, but as both a reader and a writer it seems to me that there are some broad categories (horses, journalism, guns, period clothing - to pick out a few) that so many people know so well, it pays to do at least minimal research.

Staying on-topic of openings (rather than continuing the tangent of horses) I am not such a picky reader that I can't forgive a few missed details, but in this opening the details were so far off that, as a horseman, I would never have read past the second or third line because reader trust and believability was shattered by that point. If I had picked this book up off the shelf and opened it to the first page, the author would have immediately lost a potential reader. By changing about three words, the picky stuff would have slipped past, I could have fallen into the story and the author might have gained a reader. If this passage was later in the story, I would certainly still cringe, but I might keep reading if I was caught up in the story.