Thursday, June 25, 2009

First lines, contd.

As a technical matter, I'm fascinated by my work on the opening lines -- how it has me thinking in more focused ways about theme and plot and character and voice and deciding which is predominant in this book and what needs to be signaled at the beginning. As a practical matter, it's pretty scary, for reasons I stated before.

Yesterday afternoon I read through the first grafs of several books, noticing how they function differently. That inspired me to make a few more attempts at mine in addition to the several I wrote yesterday morning. I also read them all to my wife and talked them over with her.

Basically, I'm torn between a story-telling opening and a scene-setting opening. (And, if the former, being clear on which aspect of the story I'm opening with.) My head and my wife are telling me the former works better. But I continue to be in love with the scene-setting openings I've written, which my wife keeps telling me don't work. Maybe mine don't work now, but I'm drawn to them for some reason, and I think it can work if I figure it out.

I'm thinking especially of the opening grafs of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. When I read that over yesterday, I was amazed and a little uncomfortable with how similar it sounded to the scene-setting opening I had drafted earlier in the day. There's an unconscious influence there I guess. Functionally, there's really no story in those opening grafs. It's all geography. Literally, it gives the lay of the land. Which would seem to be an unnecessarily long way around to starting the story, but what it does is establish the voice and sound a thematic note about the perspective and presumptions that the narrator is starting with and that we are getting a hint of a challenge to. It works.

Well, even though I'm drawn to my attempt at something similar, I started this morning by typing in one of the more vivid and tactile of the story-telling openings that I came up with. That works too--for sure and right now for this book. I returned to working on the computer and doing a lot of the patching that I complained about the other day. At certain points where I have to rewrite because of how I'm combining two episodes, I was able to get in the zone OK and produce it on the computer and then move on to patching in the next section.

Still, it's slower work than I want at this point. I got through about 11 pp. Since this four chapter section that I'm reorganizing is 75 pp., it's looking like a longer journey than I planned on for this draft.

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