Friday, November 19, 2010

Opening-- what constitutes?

Anonymous Anonymous asked-

I have what may be an odd question... Where does the 'opening' end?

What are the parameters which define the opening?

Anon, good question. What constitutes the opening? That makes me think that we might have one of two different openings. The first is in media res, in the middle of the action, so that the opening of the book is inside the first scene. This has the effect of plunging the reader into the action and getting the story going right away. Often an opening like this is "deep POV", right inside the character experiencing the action. That might increase reader identification with the character, as there's never a moment of being outside the character.

In that case, I'm not sure the "opening" is a true opening with an ending. It's just the start of the first scene, and it ends when the first scene ends. Does anyone have a good example of that sort of opening, where the reader is immediately plunged into the moment of the scene?

The more traditional opening is a true opening, that is, an opening to the whole book and not just the first scene. This type of opening might have a bit of context (who are we, where are we) and/or set up some question the story will answer or start the process of developing the scene.

This sort of opening might be a paragraph or two or three, but while it might kind of take place within the time of the scene (the action that is about to happen), it's more outside, more contextual. It might be omniscient, and it might be "overall" rather than specific to this moment.

In that case, I think of the opening "ending" when there's a transition into something else, like the starting of the action of the scene, or a descent into one character's mind. In that sense, the opening is a bit different, not just the start of the scene. It's -before- the start of the scene, and ends when the scene starts.

Examples? I'll look for some, but if anyone has examples of 1) in media res openings, and 2) context-setting openings, please post in comments! I think I've done both, and which I'd do would depend (of course) on the needs of the story. But I would say that a faster-paced book might start in the middle of the action, within the scene. What do you think?



Robin Lemke said...

I think the first book of the Harry Potter series has a true opening. Most of the book is spent in Harry's head, but that little bit in the beginning gives you context for the rest of the story and you see the world from Mr. Dursley's perspective instead.

I'm drawing a blank for an example of the other right now. ;)

C.L. Gray said...

I hope I'm right. (fingers crossed)

For in media reas, I would use the opening of my own novel: I've post just the first paragraphs (heavily edited for length):

Lieutenant General Thomas Jackson, commanding the Second Corps of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, raised his hand. His party of eight staff members halted on the Mountain Road, a half-mile in front of the corps’ skirmishers. Jackson was inching his way down the heavily-rutted path, cut through an impenetrable terrain of pines, shrubs, and hardwood trees, trying to spy out whether the Union army was going to run all the way back to Washington or make a stand in the wilderness. Since he heard nothing but tree limbs rasping in the cool evening breeze, Jackson nudged Little Sorrel, his small red horse, and continued down the road.

The moon escaped from its cloudy shroud and illuminated the thickets on both sides of the road. Jackson scanned them; they were empty. A flurry of activity, 200, no, maybe 300 yards in front of him, caught his attention. He flung up his hand. His aides pulled up, not making a sound. Jackson leaned forward in his saddle, listening. The sounds were recognizable: the sharp ring of axes on trees, shovels scraping against the rocky ground, shouts, and commands. All the sounds associated with the hasty construction of breastworks. A tree crashed to the ground. Jackson had his answer. They were going to fight.

For context-setting, I'm going to my favorite novel: Tale of Two Cites and post just the first two paragraphs.

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

Alicia said...

Good examples!

Kaitlyn R. Miller said...

Actually, most of the Harry Potter books have true openings as their first chapters. While most of the several have a first chapter told from another POV, and the first book's is especially important--it's omniscient, and shows Dumbledore and Hagrid leaving Harry with the Dursleys. Goblet of Fire starts with an omniscient chapter focusing on the Riddle's old groundskeeper who has a run-in with Voldemort. Half-Blood Prince starts with a chapter from the Muggle Prime Minister's POV in which he meets with Fudge, then an omniscient chapter showing the Black sisters meeting with Snape, so it has two openings. Deathly Hallows starts with a Death Eaters meeting, also in omniscient POV.

All of these are things that Harry could not possibly have witnessed, but that are very important to the plot and in some cases serve to heighten the tension, as the readers know about dangers that Harry might not.

Kaitlyn R. Miller said...

Goodness, I have no idea what happened to my second sentence there. Hopefully you can understand it!

Cia said...

Hi Alicia,

Thanks for answering my question.

I've been having a problem posting. Hope this gets through.