Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another opening-- Mara

Reid eased to the edge of the mattress and felt around for his trousers, grimly confident that any sudden movement would have his head crumbling to little pieces or maybe rolling off his shoulders altogether. Not finding the trousers, he made the mistake of slitting his eyes for a look around, to have them seared by midmorning light through the shutters. "Damn."

Mara




Okay, so what I get is that Reid is seriously hungover. ;) Been there!


Reid eased to the edge of the mattress and felt around for his trousers,

I like that "eased"-- good verb choice there.

Felt around would be better maybe with a location? Felt around in the bedclothes? Felt around on the floor?


grimly confident that any sudden movement would have his head crumbling to little pieces or maybe rolling off his shoulders altogether.


I like the grimly confident (I, for one, like adverbs :). But the rest seems a bit overwritten-- too much. At first I thought maybe get rid of the "maybe" phrase, but the sentence builds up to that, so we don't want to get rid of it entirely. This is a case of "kill your darlings," I think. That's a nice, self-satisfied sentence... how about trimming everything extra? crumbling to pieces, not little pieces. any movement, not any sudden movement. I don't know, see how much you can trim out of that.

Not finding the trousers, he made the mistake of slitting his eyes for a look around, to have them seared by midmorning light through the shutters. "Damn."

"Not finding the trousers" is an awkward phrase. I'm not sure how to fix that, but see if you can find a positive way to state the negative.

"slitting his eyes"-- were his eyes closed before that? Should we know that earlier?

I like the way you slip in that it's midmorning.

Notice, though, that we get to the end of the paragraph, and all we know is that it's midmorning and Reid has a hangover. Now if this is a comic novel, that might be all you need, as you've established the tone. But if it's not a comic novel, you might deepen the tone or add more context.

Alicia


11 comments:

makoiyi said...

Notice, though, that we get to the end of the paragraph, and all we know is that it's midmorning and Reid has a hangover. Now if this is a comic novel, that might be all you need, as you've established the tone. But if it's not a comic novel, you might deepen the tone or add more context.

How important is it to set that scene in the very first paragraph? We all know by now that the opening should 'hook' a reader in some way. A reader, I think, almost subconsciously absorbs the voice of the piece and decides very quickly if the writing is going to appeal. We've all done it, picked up a book in a store, read a couple of lines and put it back very quickly, or, continued reading.

That engagement factor from the get-go is obviously important, but you can only put so much in a couple of sentences. Of course, even if you've written a brilliant hook, the writing has to continue is the same vein. I've seen hooks that grab and then disappoint in the very next paragraph, as though the author has placed it there merely for that grab factor.

No wonder we obssess about the first page more than any other *G*.

I think that's why I find these analyses so interesting. What people 'get' just from a few lines.

Thanks!

Sue

benwah said...

"...have his head crumbling" and "to have [his eyes] seared" strike me as passive a/o cumbersome. Also, "slitting his eyes" can be taken to mean slitting them open (which I assume is what you mean) or slitting them closed to guard against the light.

Perhaps "any sudden movement would send his head crumbling?"

"Felt around" could be simply "groped," solving the object difficulty that Alicia brings up. Or even "groped blindly" to make sure we know his eyes are closed.

Perhaps "opened his eyes to a slit only to have the midmorning light sear them anyway." Just noodling around with suggestions.

The opening here sets the stage and style, and to me that's sufficient. I expect context to come soon, though.

April said...

I'm glad you like adverbs! I really hate this movement against ever using them. :-)

I like the use of "groped" rather than "felt around."

Maybe "any sudden movement would shatter his pounding head" - I don't know...I feel like my head is going to shatter not crumble. But that could be me.

Hmmm...maybe "He was unable to blindly find his trousers, so he took a deep breathe and opened his eyes just enough to make out the fuzzy outline of his bed only to have the midmorning light sear them closed again."

Just playing. :-)

I think this is enough to grab someone's attention though. I'm wondering why is he so hungover? What did he do last night?

Edittorrent said...

I don't think you have to preview everything in the first paragraph... but something's got to make the reader keep reading. So what is that? Character sympathy maybe. Plain old curiosity. A pleasure in the language. Quickened interest because the situation intrigues.

It probably only takes one of those (or something else)-- but what? What works?
Alicia

Edittorrent said...

April said:
I think this is enough to grab someone's attention though. I'm wondering why is he so hungover? What did he do last night?

Well, he drank, I think we can assume that. :) But I think you're getting at something that could increase interest and won't take more than a few words added-- why did he get drunk?

Could be he just gets drunk every night.
Could be it was his bachelor party and he's got to go to his wedding hungover.
Could be his girlfriend broke up with him and he's miserable.
I think maybe if I had some notion of WHY he got drunk last night, that might make that sympathy increase. It's not that I'm not sorry for the poor hungover guy, but I don't know why he's in this state. Can you think of any way to hint whether it's just the usual, or if there's some emotional cause here?

Edittorrent said...

I like the "grimly confident," too, but the reason I like it is that grim is not an emotion we usually associate with confidence. So the adverb is doing some heavy lifting here, not just restating the obvious as so many of them do.

Theresa

green_knight said...

Sue, consider this:

The angel gleamed in the light of Hethor's reading candle bright as any brasswork automaton. The young man clutched his threadbare coverlet in the irrational hope that the quilted cotton scraps coud shield him from whatever power had invated his attic room. Trembling, he closed his eyes.

This is the opening of Jay Lake's Mainspring, and in it you have almost everything you need to keep you reading for a long, long time - a named character, his threadbare surroundings betraying poverty, the tech level (candles and brass automatons - oh, my), and an element definitely arousing curiosity: an angel in a bedroom.

And no, I can't write like that either - but it gives you pause for thought, doesn't it? Just look how much Jay packs into three sentences. We get a character in a situation, we get worldbuilding, we get an interaction between characters: it's all there.

I think the important lesson is that much of what makes this opening work is in the details: reading candle, quilted cotton scraps, attic room. Less precision would not inhibit the flow of the plot, but it would give me much less sense of who I am reading about and what his place in life is.

This opening isn't exactly taking place in a white room, but not far off - I'm assuming that it's playing in the present, but I don't know where and when. Given how hunover the protag is, mentioning of noise - any noise - the humming of a radio, traffic outside, far-too-brightly-singing birds, the dustmen emptying bins with loud clanging noises - would help to ground this. On its own, I'm afraid, drunkenness and missing trousers aren't enough to carry me along; I want some quirkly detail that makes me curious.

makoiyi said...

The angel gleamed in the light of Hethor's reading candle bright as any brasswork automaton. The young man clutched his threadbare coverlet in the irrational hope that the quilted cotton scraps coud shield him from whatever power had invated his attic room. Trembling, he closed his eyes.

Good example to dissect, isn't it? Good, strong verbs, nice visualization and grounding in a situation. Lots of questions there, and some wonders about why he closed his eyes at the end - are we dealing with a coward or jsut something totally beyond his control. But, yeah, you can see him raising the quilt and hiding behind it like a child does from a mosnter.

Thanks for the example. (Goes back to look at her own opening yet again.)

Sue

makoiyi said...

Phooey, and one day my fingers will type the right way around.

Dave Shaw said...

Love the example, green_knight.

Sue, there's hope - one day my fingers typed the right way around. Never happened before, and hasn't happened since, but hey... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, guys, serious thanks. All these suggestions, both from the agents and the commenters, are so helpful (and all this just from three sentences!). But it's the kind of help I can use throughout the book. Can't tell you how much I appreciate that. Thanks!!
-Mara