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!
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Sep 2019’s Great Opening Lines)”

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

A Pale View of Unbearable Lightness

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.

“Niki, the name we finally gave my younger daughter, is not an abbreviation; it was a compromise I reached with her father.” – Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills
I’m amazed at how much is given the reader in that single sentence. I want to know that Ishiguro agonized over it, that it’d been through seventeen-hundred drafts, endless workshoppings, backs-and-forths with dozens of editors.

Either that or it’s one of those amazing flukes the author is unaware of until someone points it out to them.

We’re given the two focal point characters in that opening line; Niki and her mother. We learn that the mother is not happy with the name, but was willing to compromise on something that would be in her life forever – if that’s not character description nothing is.

We learn that “we” made the decision about “my” daughter. Possession but not ownership. Another character descriptive element.

We learn the mother prefers names that are not abbreviations. IE, names that have more meaning, more history. However, the fact that the mother thinks in terms of abbreviations lets us know that the mother sees things confined, constrained, walled-in.

In one sentence, we have the entirety of the book.

Note to readers: I explain in my Goodreads review that this book is a major fail. It’s got a killer opening line and the majority of the book is a worthy read. Ten pages from the end it died for me. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

“The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!” – Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I (incorrectly) reference this book’s opening line in my Writers’ Corner Interview. The opening line offers this philosophical tidbit, the next line, “What does this mad myth signify?” asks the question and the rest of the book explores so many implications it’s staggering. The book’s seven sections dissect the opening posit from many angles (more than seven) and the first line’s theme recursed on every page.

I also appreciate that an opening line inviting readers to think may be a major downer to some. Never-the-less, this opening line prepares you for the exploration that begins in the second paragraph and doesn’t end until the butterfly circles the room and the piano and violin are faintly heard in the last paragraph. Definitely a keeper book.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.

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

A delightful science fiction mystery, a fantasy that’s never been classified as such, and both about gendering

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.

“The place stank.” -John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?
Tight and direct. Simple and evocative. With nothing else, you know (or at least I did) the narrator’s gender, their background, their mindset, that the story’s going to be about some kind of unpleasantness, and what to expect.

It’s worth reading the entire opening paragraph because it builds so beautifully off that great opening line: The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the ice-buried cabins of an Antarctic camp know, compounded of reeking human sweat, and the heavy, fish-oil stench of melted seal blubber. An overtone of liniment combated the musty smell of seat-and-snow-drenched furs. The acrid odor of burnt cooking fat, and the animal, not-unleasant smell of dogs, diluted by time, hung in the air.

If you have any doubts after reading the opening line, the rest of the first paragraph leaves no room for questioning. The entire story is a masterclass in storytelling and storycrafing technique for authors and writers of any genre. I offer a full review on Goodreads

“He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” – Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Here is the opening line to an incredible fantasy book that (as far as I know) has never been listed as fantasy. The first line tells the reader that the book is going to be about sex, but not coitus (there’s plenty of that, don’t worry), instead sexual identity. I’ll admit here that transgendering is an oddity to me. So many people feeling a need to specify “He/Him” and “She/Her” in their social profiles. I wonder if this need to publicly self-identity is the outcome of better surgical techniques, increased awareness, or something indicative of the unsurety of our cultural identity as a whole.

Such concerns didn’t exist in Woolf’s time. She was able to write a political novel with a protagonist who could – quite literally – take a long view and the fantasy element is subtly hammered home in the last chapter. Hinted at in the first line, hammered in the last chapter – Yowza!

Nice.

I’ve written a full review on Goodreads.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.


Yes, this post is about a week late. This blog was transferred and it took a while. Sorry for the delay.

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing

A good worker’s trade book

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing. Every writer, from beginner to professional, will find guidance, encouragement, and answers to such concerns as how to make characters believable, developing dialogue, writer’s block, viewpoint, the all-important use of conflict, and much more.”

Definitely some advice although not until the third section (Characterization). The first two sections read more like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, basically cheering sections for those unsure and/or starting out (which is to be expected. This was the handbook for the Writer’s Digest Fiction writing course).

I can believe that the separate chapters were Writer’s Digest articles. They both read as such and, from a business perspective, why solicit for something already owned?

Is it helpful? Yes. I was suprised at how much new (to me), useful information the book contained (once I got past the rah-rah sections).

There’s enough in here to keep writers developing their craft going for quite a while. I do recommend it.


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