clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Very Good Place to Start

With the eye on the new purpose here at J Welling, we turn to books.

I want to just comment on the past several months of posts briefly: thank-you, indulgent readers. Thank-you.

As Maria says in that horrendous story of a happy family The Sound of Music: "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start."

I'm a Tolstoy guy, myself. I'd rather the unhappy family story. I also like stories with horses whose nostril's flair like Anna's; but, that's just me. Tolstoy must have been a fun drunk.

The beginning: some text. The Gnashkycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.
B is for Basil assaulted by bears.
C is for Clara who wasted away.

And thus the alphabet in one-sentence vignettes begins.

I am increasingly drawn to concise openings where I as a reader am provided with the elements I need to appreciate the first 100 or so pages. That is, I want to read the first 100 or so pages because of the writing and the information in the first few paragraphs. I had a discussion with some critique partners yesterday who really helped clarify this for me. ( Isn't that really what critique partners do ? They clarify our muddled view of things? Thank DOG for critique partners).

There is an older post in this blog here about John LeCarre and an opening in the novel Our Kind of Traitor. The first paragraph really ties the reader to the story.

I am trying to employ this technique in a short story I am revising for submission. I have been fumbling the hook and opening for most a year now and thus have decided: I will be a three sentence fellow (until and editor tells me to "stop it you daft bastard").

What do we see above in the three sentences? We know the alphabet? Is there a story here? Of course.

There is a lovely story that our characters are imperiled by forces beyond their control. No one "plans" on falling down stairs. Wasting away is not an ordinary demise. Bears? Why is a child in a position to be assaulted by bears?

There is something amiss here and the sinister nature of "it" happening to "them" is the compulsion. If I excise all the lovely graphics (and they are lovely) and merely rely on the text, you'd feel compelled to read the whole alphabet because the unspoken character - the agent of death - is particularly interesting for the creative harm he's visiting on the children. Yes, he's hurting children and you read on and on.

I'll try an on-the-fly opening here for a yet unwritten story and solicit your input. There's something missing. I'm wondering if you see the same missing bit I do in our consideration of compulsion from opening.

In the still of a late-August dusk, Alice lay dead amidst the sweetness of a white clover meadow ready for the prairie haying. No one was looking for her; though many would have suspected her demise. She had ruined two marriages so far and planted larkspur in her motor-grader ditch to kill stray cattle who might happen upon it and feed. Some things just were not done in Paradise, Kansas.
Murder was not however one of those things.

I hope you're writing. I know you're reading. I had snow again yesterday falling on the foxhound during his morning walk. He's getting tired of it and so am I.

Back on Tuesday. Thanks for the time.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I don't see a thing missing from this intriguing opening.

Gorey is one of my dad's favorites. :)

Unknown said...

Hey Jack,

Maybe I'm twisted, but I prefer dark stories to rainbows and daisies because they're more realistic. I'm all about the opening line too. If the first paragraph doesn't grab me, I move on.

I read your excerpt over and over, but can't find anything missing. I do agree, the sentences could be broken up for a boost of power, but I love the dark picture it paints. Someday, I hope I get to read one of your stories in full. :)

jack welling said...

Elizabeth - Wow ! He's always been one of mine. Oh, Amazon sent me an email last week with book recommendations - and you were first on the list for me. Bar-b-que series.

C -

I love the dark stories, too. Horrible, isn't it? I'm also prone to laughing at the wrong time in horror movies. I don't go to see them any more. Annoys the natives.