Monday, April 18, 2016

Not in this Economy!

I thought I'd take a minute to go over actual writing techniques, since two of my last three posts were insanely personal (I know for damn sure I'm not that interesting)...

We got the chance to skype with a sci-fi writer a few weeks ago during my creative writing class I take at the university. I was really impressed with her opening to her work, and she spoke about the "economy of the first paragraph". 

Makes sense, right? That opening scene is the first orientation your reader gets. The first glance at the map, the first answer to WHERE THE HELL AM I ? that even your book jacket or summary can't accurately tell them. 

This isn't to say you need to directly just "Sandra was riding the last dirty grey bus to San Antonio to her tiny robot apartment", but you can certainly do that. Be poised and sleek in your guiding. Make this, of everything else you write, count double-count more than that. Because it does. 

A few great examples from famous works...

"The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."

Do you know where you are? You don't know what's waiting on you there, but this has done enough that you get the first feeling of the story. You have the word "studio", so you can base artist off of that, painting even. This is the opening passage to Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

Another example from a classic text, longer, more specific this time...

"Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness — a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild."

You know exactly where you are here. And even an underlying theme in the work. This is from Jack London's White Fang

And, one of my favorites:

"In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul."

Frank Herbert's Dune

This is one of the inciting incidents on Maud'dib's ascent, his set-up and passing of the test from a mystic and calculating order his mother belonged to. It's a short paragraph. But, you know now that you are going to an imaginary land (Arrakis), and there is probably a kind of epic coming forth (a crone is generally significant, it calls back to Jungian archetypes), and that Paul is the most significant person you will follow in this journey. All that, one sentence. And this is for a world that doesn't play by our rules (speculative fiction).

Fit everything you need to to make the gradual orientation and belief of your world take hold, and don't be boring with it. Some of you can get really specific like London, and do it well, and some will be able to paint with a lighter brush and succeed -just make sure you give us the information we need in that first paragraph, and make it your own. 

As for hammering out your style, find your favorite openings. Figure out why it speaks to you so powerfully. 

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