Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Jan 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

Could Truman Capote sexually identify as an attack helicopter?

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“On the face of it, you wouldn’t think there was any connection between the murder of a dead man and the events that changed my perceptions about my life.” – Sue Grafton’s “J” is for Judgment
In a short twenty-nine words Grafton defines the character, foreshadows the story itself and the plotline. All great.

And then it quickly descends into genre tropes. This is not a bad thing in general and I’m sure there are people who love genre tropes.

Me, not so much. I like my genres with a bit more literary flare and a bit less trope

My loss, and I’m willing to accept that.
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Fantasy Horror Author A.F. Stewart and I talk Deviltry, Noveltry, Shipbuilding, Agony and Ecstasy

Watch, leave a comment, gain a friend!

A.F. Stewart, aka @Scribe77, did me.

Interviewed me, I mean.

 
We talked about

  • The differences between writing short stories and novels (not much from a crafting standpoint, me thinks)
  • Creating sympathetic villains (even the worst person has one humanizing detail)
  • Genre writing (I don’t believe I write in a genre. My regular readers tell me my genre is “Joseph”)
  • My incredible anthology, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires
  • Being able to do amazing things with words when you’re an author
  • The link between Satan and Hamilton Burger
  • Getting kudos from your readers
  • Ritchie and Phyl, my incredible work in progress
  • How writing Flash fiction is like building a ship in a bottle
  • Great Opening Lines
  • My incredible scifi/military/thriller, The Augmented Man
  • Writing about characters rather than genre (the story comes first, the genre comes second)
  • Empty Sky and my standing offer; read the book, leave a review, and I’ll send you an autographed copy of the rewrite when it’s published.
  • Children growing up
  • Stories that grew out of my anthropology studies – Mani He and The Goatmen of Aguirra
  • Getting kudos from editors and publishers
  • Writing almost fantastic fantasies (okay, the story’s fantastic. It uses almost fantasy elements – The Weight)

So, yeah, we covered a few things.

Enjoy!

Rita Mae Brown’s “Starting from Scratch”

A Writer’s Mechanic’s Manual for Any Car on the Road

Okay, first thing and before anything else, Get This Book!

I don’t care where you are in your writing career, Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch will give you a chuckle (several hundred, probably) and clarify things that were not only muddy, but had been pushed aside because they were just too damn hard to figure out.

Worry no more, Rita’s got you covered.

 
I didn’t know who Rita Mae Brown was until a friend suggested I give her a read. This was back in the early-mid 1980s. He thought she was brilliant and hilarious.

That didn’t tempt me.

Then he told me she could benchpress 225#.

Yes, I was that much of an assh?le (may still be) that that caught my interest.

But I didn’t pick up one of her books (that I remember) until my first go-round as a writer. That book being Starting from Scratch.

Reading the book recently, it’s obvious I had read it at least once before; there were highlights in it. There were highlights of concepts I remember, if not exact phrasings. Truth be told, I was probably unprepared for the book when I first read it (my copy was published in Feb 1988). I’m glad I kept it around.

Starting from Scratch is a mechanic’s manual of the English language. Brown explains the purpose of first v third person POV with duh! level examples and lots of them. Ditto subjunctive case (trust me, you need to read this section). Ditto strong v weak verbs (another must read). Imagine someone showing you a crescent wrench and a 9/16″ box-end, showing you they can do the same thing, then demonstrating why one works better on these types of nuts, the other works better on those types of nuts.

Her Exercises chapter…remember what I wrote above about being impressed by her bench? Here’s your cardio and resistance training in one incredible package.


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Aristotle’s “Poetics”

I’ve read a few writing texts and better than half mention Aristotle’s Poetics as the original, the source, what everything else is based on. I managed to kick that gauntlet out of my way for quite a while and finally yielded.

 
Everybody mentions it’s a short book. It is. The PDF version I found is 49 pages (and that includes lots of room where explanations of Greek phrasing and words are made).

Does it have everything you need in a writing text? Yes, if you’re consider just mechanics (what is a plot? What is characterization? What is dialogue?), no if you happen to be a writer also dealing with marketing, contracts, et cetera. Let’s face it, it is an ancient text written by someone at the height of his game. Aristotle was a household name when he wrote this (if you want a writing text by someone still bandaging their scars from their early battles, read Barry Longyear’s Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics).

Aristotle was also a master logician and it shows – my god, does it show – in how explains writing concepts.
Is it accessible? ROFL, are you kidding? This is an ancient text, remember? His examples all come from ancient texts. He painstakingly describes character, sure, but his examples are from Sophocles, Euripides, Thrycine, Inoculene, Phlegmatic, and Spyrochete (yes, I made some of those up. Good for you if you knew which ones).

And it’s dense. Consider your average 300 page writing text squished into 49 pages with just as much raw information.

And some of it’s in Greek. Not even modern Greek, you’ll need to pick up a few things from konic.

So how useful is it?


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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Sep 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

Wipe the dust off your boots and have a long drink of water

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“A sharp clip-crop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.” – Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage
I mention on Goodreads that Riders of the Purple Sage is one of my perennial reads. I started it again this month and stopped with the first line. Prior readings, I wasn’t sensitive to opening lines. Since my last read, I’ve done some studying of opening lines; what works, what doesn’t, and specifically what makes one opening line great and another ho-hum.

Readers unfamiliar with Gray’s work are missing out on so much. He is a old school master storyteller, meaning his storycrafting blends so much and so expediently that the reader is either in or out of the book’s mythos as rapidly as possible.

Case in point, Riders of the Purple Sage‘s opening line, “A sharp clip-crop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.”

You have auditory (the hooves), visual (clouds, cottonwoods, sage), and tactile (yellow dust, heat) sensory information. Strong words; sharp, iron, deadened, died. Juxtaposition; nearby harshness, distant softness.

This first line also foreshadows the story; a near harshness – elegantly demonstrated in the first chapter – yields to a distant warmth and softness (not going to tell you because it’ll give too much away.

I don’t know about you but I want to dust myself off after reading that sentence. And I want a drink of water (which also plays a character development role in the first chapter). I can feel the heat of the sun, the harshness of the environment, and am primed for the conflict to come (again, the near-far juxtaposition).

Must reading, folks. Must!
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