Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Seven Beginnings, cont.

People’s reactions to these opening paragraphs fascinated me! What some people loved most, others hated most, down to words: “moon-face” drew some people in and repulsed others. What some considered too wordy, others loved – “It was dusk – winter dusk.” I loved the sound of those words and the image they created! To me, that sentence, combined with the “pleated hills” in the next, somehow conveyed the whole feeling of the end of a winter day with the dark and cold closing in.* Anna and I loved it, but other people couldn’t even finish the paragraph!

One thing all the openings share is how specific and definite they are, and this, I think, is part of their appeal. If the big house in the country had been “far from anything,” the opening wouldn’t be as appealing as the fact that it is “ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office.” The same with all the others: even the one I liked least (Hatchet) was specific: the plane was a Cessna-something or other – but maybe someone who would like this the best would know exactly what that plane was and be drawn in?

Specific details are risky – what one person loves, another will hate or find boring (risk to me is always a good thing and essential in the arts!). But maybe the riskiness of concrete details is why business letters and such are written in abstract, vague, general terms: so no one will react emotionally to anything.

But specific details do more than evoke an emotional response and summon up images – they offer a promise that the author is going to tell you exactly, precisely, the truth….and the best writers have an almost magical ability to know exactly which details are the most interesting, important, significant. They tell those and leave out the rest.

For me, all of these openings worked (even Hatchet, my least favorite!). I usually write my posts the night before, so I can edit them at least once in the morning, and I literally could not stop reading the first book I picked up, Homecoming. Once I had read the opening I HAD TO GO ON -- I stayed up all night finishing it. Didn’t even get to open the other books so I can’t say if any would have had this same effect….but they all made me want to go on reading (there were other books that made me want to stop immediately!) and I did go by openings, not favorite books. The first sentences and paragraphs of some of my favorite books seemed pretty blah and boring or, in one case, pretentious. But that is another topic….as is the fascinating point Nancy made about names.

*I'm not saying this BOOK was my favorite (it isn't), or maybe even this opening, I just LOVE that sentence.

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