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

An ever increasing sense of confinement starting with the first line

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.

“There was not an inch of room for Lottie and Kezia in the buggy.” – Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude in The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield (Wordsworth Classics)
This line is so elegant and simple it’s deceptive. It’s “not an inch of room for”, not “no room for”. “no room for” would be pedestrian, boring and unimaginative. “not an inch of room for” gives us a hint of character, mood, and atmosphere. We are shown the narrator’s attitude towards the environment the moment we start reading.
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Backcover Copy

Positioning, Priming, and the Importance of Backcover Copy

A recent Goodreads discussion asked “How do you like your scifi / fantasy?”

I responded “Well written.” A friend responded “Artesian or wishing?” I responded “Ah, to have a thirst for the magical.” Someone else responded, “Either way…DEEP.”

I followed that up with another response. It’s gone. Not sure why it got removed. I launched off the concept of “DEEP” because I’m told my writing is “deep” and “definitely not fluff.” Some readers wonder if I’m capable of writing “fluff.” “Even your short stories are deep.”

Gable Smiled – the first 10 pages, anyway – are being read by a professional actor at Concord’s Hatbox Theater at the end of this month (read the version being read here). Part of that process involves having the material evaluated by the producer.

The producer and I talked on the phone, and I received a DOC file with comments; this character wasn’t described, the environment wasn’t described, the background wasn’t described, … These comments confused me. The main characters are described. So is the environment, the background situation, the this, the that. I’ve had many first readers tell me the story’s great, when can they get more, so on and so forth. I’ve also had people tell me they don’t get it, the story makes no sense to them.

And then the producer said “There’s a lack of a reader entry points into the story.”

When in Doubt, Examine the Audience
I had no middle-of-the-road responses. Strange, that.
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Character Development

You can’t tell the assholes from the bitches from the idiots from the arrogancia without a scorecard

The image below is of a sign at my gym a few days back. My gym routinely posts “Questions of the Day.” I wish they’d keep a list of the responses because some of them are priceless.

And it occurred to me that such a device would be a good tool for character description purposes, much like how the calendar was used to set a scene in Setting Scenes with Props.

click for larger image

 
Let’s say you want to demonstrate a character who wants to portray themselves as an intellectual, someone knowledgeable:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells?”
Lori shook her head. “I don’t know. I just pick the question from a file. I wouldn’t know the difference between…what did you call it? Shells?”
“It makes a difference.”

We can also show that Emerson doesn’t know what they’re talking about:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.

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Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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What do you mean, exactly, when you tell me to Read and Write to be an author?

It’s what they don’t tell you that’ll ruin you

Almost every writing-how-to book I’ve read has something about having to read, read, read and write, write, write to be a good author. Few books (nor any classes I’ve taken in classrooms, workshops, online, et cetera) include the two pieces of information without which all the reading and all the writing are…well, maybe not worthless but definitely worth less: How to Read and How to Write.

Reading
Read anything and everything. Read omnivorously. Read trashy novels. Read pulp. Read magazine articles, newspapers. Read onlines. Read prizewinners. Read in and definitely outside your genre.

Here’s what nobody told me; Read for craft, not content.

Pay attention to what you’re reading.

 
Pay attention to how characters are developed, pay attention to how scenes unfold, how things are foreshadowed, pay attention to how mood, atmosphere and tone are constructed to create specific effects. Pay attention to how the author does everything they do to get you to read their story.

Especially pay attention to what they do that makes you stop reading their story.

An example of the former is from Fritz Leiber’s A Pale of Air. I read this story mumbledy-mumbledy years ago and remember literally feeling cold after the first few paragraphs. No idea why and continued blissfully ignorant for ever so long. Take a moment to read the opening and enjoy the chill:
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