Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Tidbits

Declarative Openings

During last week's Friday Tidbit, Victoria asked me what my favorite kind of book opening is. Here is her question:

"Anne Elisabeth, what is your favorite kind of book beginning? More specifically, I mean. A lone person crying? The middle of an extremely important discussion? A frantic search for someone or something missing?"

And I started to write up an answer, got so caught up in it, that I found I'd written an entire blog post's worth of material. So you're going to get that answer now for this week's Friday Tidbit!

My favorite type of book opening is something I will call a "Declarative Opening." By this, I mean that the story starts with an important, stated piece of information. Something intriguing that soon points to the primary character and an important conflict, but without immediate action or dialogue.

Jane Austen did this kind of opening to most famous effect when she wrote: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife."
This is a declaration of what will end up being the driving conflict of a great part of the novel. Ms. Austen goes on with a certain amount of narrative embellishment and then, eventually, moves to the characters themselves.

I did something similar with the opening chapter of Veiled Rose, which begins:
They said a Monster lived in the mountains.
They couldn't say where it hid. They couldn't say when it had come. They certainly couldn't say what it looked like, though they had plenty of conflicting ideas on that subject. But they all agreed that it was there. Somewhere.
They being no one in particular and everyone in general who lived and worked at Hill House, where Leo spent the summer of his eleventh year. (Veiled Rose, p. 16)
You see how this begins with one of the important conflicts, but it's neither a conversation nor an active scene. It's a an opening statement that declares a conundrum and that eventually leads on to our hero, who will now face the conundrum for himself.
This is a trick that works very well if your story is written in the omniscient narrative, as my stories are. Doesn't work with every narrative voice, but I'd definitely recommend experimenting with "Declarative Openings."
How might it look in your current novel?

 

12 comments:

Kessie said...

David Farland addressed this in one of his Daily Kicks. Define the character, the setting and the major conflict in the opening sentence.

The opening to my current WIP, after much tweaking, is:

Nobody wants to witness the death of a whole world, but when the Subspace Storm devoured her world, Xironi and her grandfather were among the last to flee.


It's not perfect, but it's getting closer.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Wow! That is an intense opening, Kessie! Can't imagine any reader wanting to put the book down after that!

Kessie said...

Thanks! I think the type of opening depends on the sort of book, too. A more literary novel (like Veiled) benefits from the detailed opening (and I confess, I'm getting the rest of your books as soon as possible because I love that style.)

Mine's more of an action/adventure, so it's more about submerging you in the action as quickly as possible.

One of my favorite opening lines is from one of the Dresden books. "The hotel was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."

Victoria said...

Thank you so much for your answer, Anne Elisabeth! I love this sort of book beginning too...and I was quite please when I realized it's how I started my novel! I love Friday Tidbits. :)

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Now I'm curious, Victoria! Since Kessie shared her opening line, don't you think you should share yours as well? ;)

Victoria said...

Alright, here goes! My novel is getting pretty long, so I wrote this months ago and haven't edited it since. It might get changed, but who knows? :)

"For as long as she could remember, Alyssa had looked every night out of the small window beside her little white bed to catch a glimpse of the moon."

My novel is historical romance.

Molly said...

Wow, Kessie, I love your opening lines! I laughed out loud when I read, "the hotel was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."
Hee hee hee that is so funny!

Victoria, you got me really curious! I wonder why Alyssa is trying to glimpse the moon; has she never seen it before??

Anne, I have never tried a declarative opening before; I think I'll try it and see how goes.

Sarah Scheele said...

All these opening lines are great! I personally love the declarative opening, because it sets the story on such a firm foundation. But great openings are like great stories--amazingly varied.

Rachel6 said...

I love a well-done declarative opening! It doesn't really count as one, but the start to The Hobbit has always been one of my favorites. (I dunno, the conversation just brought it to mind.)

Sadly, my WIP does not really allow for the use of a declarative.

Nadine said...

Your blog post made me realize my opening sentence is declarative, too! I never really thought of all the different types of openings.

My WIP is dystopian fiction and the current opening sentence is:

"There once was a time when only God knew the day you'd die."

My novel is in first person instead of omniscient, but seems to flow best with that.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

@Nadine: I really like that opening! Moody, and immediately forces me to ask questions . . .

Victoria said...

Rachel, I completely agree with you on the Hobbit's opening line, and even paragraph! The Hobbit was the first Tolkien book I ever read. When I had finished the first paragraph, I remember staring at the page in astonishment, with a vague but deep feeling that I would love his writing forever. I wish I could write an opening paragraph that would have the same effect on my readers!