Sunday, March 14, 2010

The First Words

I'm thinking about introduction. How important those first few lines are. The very first words.

Because in revising, this is where the work starts. How it's set up.

Is there imagery? Action? Character? Conflict?

Last spring at the Western Washington SCBWI Conference, Delacorte editor Krista Marino plugged opening with description. With suspense. And with a third-person narrator in past tense.

On page 1 (of 1074) of his new novel Under the Dome, Stephen King nails all these: in an established setting, a plane crashes at the same time a woodchuck mysteriously explodes. It reminds me of The Grapes of Wrath--how the weather, the mountains, the roads are all significant; and the turtle metaphorically plods along. Even the format is Steinbeck-ian. And yet, something also really reminds me of "The Truman Show."

In crafting a strong intro.--compelling, descriptive--that establishes setting and character, I consulted a running list of kinds of first lines that my students and I are making: dialogue, imagery, sound, setting, foreshadowing, summary, anecdote, question, metaphor, action, conflict,.

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, The Other (more veritable) James Frey suggests starting with either the character's status quo, or with the opposite of that, which then leads to the status quo.

One of my favorite sections in my Sunday San Francisco Chronicle is a 4" x 4" square called "Grabbers," the first lines of newly released novels. Last Sunday was one of my all time favorites--from The Serialist, by David Gordon--an intro about intros: "The first sentence of a novel is the most important, except for maybe the last, which can stay with you after you've shut the book, the way the echo of a closing door follows you down the hall."

Novel, no?

How does your book begin?


Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is a great "meat and potatoes" post, Jennie - love it! :-)

My book begins with the MC wading through the mess in his room, searching for a blue power ranger.

arlee bird said...

My WIP starts with the main character finding the dead body of a friend.

When you finish UNDER THE DOME, I'd love for you to check out the review I posted about a while back to let me know what you think.
Under the Dome

Jennie Englund said...

Both of those beginnings are fascinating -- with the character searching.

I'm going to think about that!