Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christa

Christa:
Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light cleaner and purer than the whitest white. Its brilliance should have been painful, but it wasn’t. In fact, the light held such peace that Nkarra instantly relaxed, content to simply be. A feeling of comfort wrapped itself around her like a mother holding a child.

Okay, this is apparently the first lines of the book. As I said, I'm not going to try to approach it as the start of the book, as that's a completely separate analysis. (A paragraph could be great later but entirely wrong for the opening. I'm just dealing with a line edit here, so this is a paragraph as a paragraph. I don't know if it's a good opening for your story. Again, I am NOT up for evaluating openings this week. Probably not next week either. In fact, I think I'll only be able to do that after a three-week vacation, and that's not going to happen this year, from what I can see. :)

Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light cleaner and purer than the whitest white.
My first thought was "what's a light cleaner?" That is, "cleaner" as a noun (housecleaner, pipecleaner) came right to mind. Anticipate the stupid interpretations your reader can make, and try to make sentences have only one possibly meaning (except when you want to have more than one interpretations, for subtext or irony). Maybe:

Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light purer and cleaner than the whitest white.
or
Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light more clean and pure than the whitest white.
English lets you intensify adjectives two ways, with a superlative suffix (cleaner, cleanest) or with an intensifying adjective (more clean, most clean). Either choice is usually acceptable, and which you choose usually has to do with which sounds best. "Older" sounds better than "more old;" however, when you have a word like "pure," an added R might be hard to enunciate. If you use an intensifier for one adjective, you probably have to use it for both, that is, not "more pure and cleaner."

Anyway, because of the wondrous flexibility of our language, you can make that sentence impossible to misinterpret. :)

Its brilliance should have been painful, but it wasn’t. In fact, the light held such peace that Nkarra instantly relaxed, content to simply be. A feeling of comfort wrapped itself around her like a mother holding a child.

Well, I said I wasn't going to address this as an opening paragraph, but I have to point out that we're a paragraph in and we've learned nothing about the character. We've learned a lot about this light, but beyond Nkarra's name, nothing about her. Is the book about the light?

Notice that you have four sentences, and all four of them are variations of "the light is nice." It's a blanket. It isn't painful. It's brilliant. It's pure and clean and white. It's peaceful. It's comforting. It's like a mother. What if I stipulated after line 1 that this seems like a very nice light, and said, "Now what?"

What is happening? Where are we? Who is Nkarra? Where is she that she encounters this light? Why her?

Most important, what's the problem? Imagine that I had this:
Nkarra found herself enveloped by a high from the heroin which was purer than the whitest white. Its brilliance should have been painful, but it wasn’t. In fact, the heroin held such peace that Nkarra instantly relaxed, content to simply be. A feeling of comfort wrapped itself around her like a mother holding a child.

Hmm. Kind of ominous, isn't it? That's because there's conflict. Heroin feels good and light and comforting, but it's bad. We all know that. Feels good, is bad. Conflict.

That's what's missing in your paragraph, conflict. It's possible that the next sentence is going to bring on conflict, and that's good, if the reader hangs on. But since you don't actually have much going on in those sentences after the first, you have some room to bring on more interesting replacements in this paragraph.

It does occur to me that you are setting up for something-- by ironically emphasizing the benevolence of the light, you might be showing the main character relaxing, becoming vulnerable... so that she can be zapped by the aliens or something. If so, that's an interesting technique. If so, I'd put the sentence about relaxing at the end of the paragraph, as it really does set up the zap. :)

Otherwise, think about what you want going on here. What's the forward momentum? What does the reader have to know or guess or wonder to be propelled into the next paragraph?

For example:
Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light purer and cleaner than the whitest white.

Okay, now what? How does she feel about this? What about her response can tell us something about who she is? That is, make this about the character, not the light.
Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light purer and cleaner than the whitest white. She tensed, fists up, and fought the traitorous comfort that spread inside her.

That's a warrior-- she's fighting the feeling because it makes her feel vulnerable.

Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light purer and cleaner than the whitest white. It felt comforting and soft, like a mother's embrace. Well, not her mother-- her mother was still a supermodel, and there'd never been anything soft about her angular, anorexic embrace. This was comforting, like a real mother's embrace.

We learn that she didn't get the mothering she wanted, and this probably makes her especially vulnerable. We also know that she still resents her mother.

Nkarra found herself surrounded by a blanket of light purer and cleaner than the whitest white. It felt so comforting that she just gave into it, forgetting the report due to her boss and her date with John.
We get a sense of the danger of this light-- it makes her forget important things.

Etc. What's the conflict? If there isn't any conflict, can you get some in the next paragraph?

So make this paragraph reveal more about who she is and why she's in the situation, just a little bit. I think she must be pretty interesting if she's being singled out for this, so give some sense of what makes her special.

Alicia

6 comments:

JewelTones said...

I laughed at the "light cleaner" because I did the exactly same thing. What the heck is light cleaner!? and then realized what it meant and felt dumb. *G*

JT

Edittorrent said...

I was envisioning one of those special dusters for chandeliers.
Alicia

Leona said...

I felt ambivelent about this paragraph despite being intrigued by the characters name, until other interpertations were given. Then I could see it setting up conflict.
PS I too thought light cleaner in sense of pipecleaner first time through.

green_knight said...

Thanks for this article. Tieing in the character's emotions with the events is something I am somewhat struggling with, and having someone putting up a signpost of 'here be opportunities' was helpful in allowing me to look for similar opportunities in my own writing.

For me, this paragraph was too much of a white room - nothing happens, there's nothing the eye can rest on, all is white and brilliance and static, but the heroin would have made me read on.

Joan Mora said...

Reading your line edits has been incredibly helpful. I don't remember how I found your blog (Moonrat? Janet Reid? Nathan?) but I'm glad I did. Thanks!

Christa said...

LOL...I had to laugh at all the "cleaner" interpretation. I had never even considered that as a possible interpretation (put my dunce cap on here).

Alicia, you are correct about it being a set up. The next paragraph she's slammed into a fight conflict with no clue how she got there. I was going for shock factor in transition as a hook. However, you've all made me realize I need quite a bit of work on my opening paragraph.

Thank you SO much for this!

All of the edits you've been doing I've found extremely helpful on multiple levels.