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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Openings: What Matters?

   
Author Topic: Openings: What Matters?
extrinsic
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Let's say what about an opening matters most. What is most essential at the moment? A routine existence, somewhat trying regardless, precedes a routine interrupted. A routine restored to a new normal follows. A common proverb expressed in writing workshops is the life-altering time span is what any given narrative is about. Or more metaphorically, three hundred sixty-five days in a year, the day that's different is the story -- and different in a profoundly transformative way, both privately and publicly.

So what matters most, say for an opening sentence? The routine beforehand? The routine afterward? The matter of the transformative moment?

Of course, the transformative moment matters most, for a story and for readers. An opening's transformative moment best practice upsets routine and compels efforts to restore routine.

Another common writing workshop proverb is that story movement begins with an implied or expressed want. The way that is metaphorically packaged for consumption is give a character a want and keep the character from satisfying the want.

Some openings depict routines that ominously imply routine interruption and proactive restoration efforts will unfold and soon. Some openings start with victimism; that is, things are done to someone until the someone is compelled to and does act. Those are problem-type openings and are attended by implied wants. Lack of money is a problem that implies the want for money. Cruel treatment is a problem that asks for and implies a want for other treatment.

On the other hand, some openings imply or express a want first and initial efforts to satisfy the want, that are, in turn or simultaneously, problematic. In this sense, the victimism is to the self from want for something. The want's problems cause the wanter to suffer victimization. However, this type is not generally regarded as victimism, rather, as proactivism. A want for a new gadget, or whatever, is overtly a proactive want, and with attendant problems that delay or prevent its acquisition.

So herein lays the questions: what type of opening and, therefore narrative type, and what matters most for its depiction, do you favor? Plus, if other, what do you consider matters most for an opening and its narrative?

[ May 30, 2016, 07:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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A story is generally a narrative that describes what happens when the status quo changes for the protagonist; usually for the worse. An incident occurs and the protagonist is set in motion, things happen, and the upset is eventually resolved either for or against. However, in order to understand the magnitude of the upset, its effect on the protagonist, and how the protagonist grows and changes as a result, we must first see the protagonist in their natural state.

Ergo, my preferred story opening, in both the long and the short form, is an introduction to the hero(ine)'s character and seeing them going about their daily routine and in their usual surroundings. This doesn't mean there can't be portentous signs of things to come, just that they are peripheral to the introduction of the character.

This need not be an onerous task, but it is a test of your ability as a writer. You are required to make the mundane interesting, to capture your reader's attention without fire, colour, and movement, without strife or conflict; you just have to entertain and delight with the power of your words.

That's what the thirteen lines requirement is reallly all about.

Phil.

[ May 31, 2016, 03:39 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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extrinsic
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I certainly believe, know maybe, that character development is crucial for openings. The several questions of trustworthiness arise in openings for me: trust a narrator, trust a focal character, trust that an untrustworthy persona is untrustworthy, etc., trust that I will like or like to dislike a persona.

I believe, likewise, that a routine is at times essential to show how transformative a status quo adjustment is.

However, routine before status quo change is to me slow in the sense that nothing essential moves, not plot, character, emotion, moral value and belief, complication-conflict movement, story movement overall.

An essential movement to me that matters in an opening is an emotional change from a routine state of being; that is, disturbed emotional equilibrium. Emotional equilibrium is a metastable state of some normality, occasional nudges buffer the equilibrium relentlessly though trivially and the stability holds. Not a death of a thousand cuts, rather a quick adjustment healing of minor wounds and pullback and pushback pushmi-pullyas to any iota of advancement of whatever kind, financial, social, moral, recreational, vocational, etc.

I count character development among the necessary existents of each and every scene segment, along with event and setting, and nuances of those three, like want-problem complication is event mostly, though character and setting nevertheless.

Having tracked my response to narratives, many of any length, I note when a piece of a whole alters my interest, emotional state, includes emotional matters of empathy or sympathy and curiosity, bored or excited, enthralled or alienated, ad infinitum.

Routine openings, though difficult to start dramatic movement, to me, entail some emotional disequilibrium from perhaps the first word of a title, or at least a first sentence, and intensify thereafter. Routine openings that appeal to me do one very curious thing; that is, imply all is not really routine and all the cosmos is about to let loose a mayhem hurricane. A persona's everyday routine all but assures an imminent interruption. A well-chosen word or two of an emotional disequilibrium symbolism signals such a pendent event, usually through a foreshadowing motif.

One of my favorite foreshadowing motifs at the present time is the thee doth protest overmuch type of excess assertions all is right with the world though that show identity insecurity that's about to suffer the final straw.

Anyway, my intent and hope for this discussion is to form a consensus agreement of a general sense of a single matters most aspect of an opening that suits all cases, all writers, all readers. Impossible, some might say. Possibly. Yet in the past here at Hatrack, universal consensus agreements have transpired; of note, a general agreement that reader effect is first and foremost what matters.

I have a thirteen-lines challenge in mind and would use that basis for a prompt. One aspect of the challenge is that the thirteen lines be a standalone narrative, not per se flash fiction, that the challenge is to start with a start, middle with a middle, and end with an end. The entries can project that the intent is for a longer short story or a novel start, only that the thirteen lines be a complete dramatic action, includes a transformation.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I've found that I like to begin short stories with the inciting incident for the protagonist (or, at least, the point within the inciting incident where things become interesting). The problem is figuring out exactly when that is, which is sometimes easier than others.

The three core things I like to see in the opening 13 lines of a story include:

  • Introduction of the protagonist. I like to know who I'm supposed to identify with. I have been known to read on in cases where this doesn't happen immediately, but the writer has to work a lot harder to hook me in such cases.
  • An indicator of the story's setting. I need to know where I'm being transported, after all.
  • Hints of conflict and/or a complication for the protagonist. It doesn't have to be the main conflict/complication of the story, but I feel there should be something to catch the attention right away. (I think this more or less dovetails with the idea of giving the protagonist a want, if done right.)

I've been trying to hold myself to these standards, and I think I'm starting to get better at it (although I've still got plenty of room to grow).

Also, that 13-line challenge sounds interesting.

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kmsf
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What matters most? I've tinkered quite a bit with the opening to my WIP, mostly trying to check the boxes of this or that formula. Ultimately, this has proven useful. Am I writing a screenplay or fiction? Fiction. What kind? What promises will I make the reader at the outset? And therein lies the crux of the issue. For my current WIP, I favor an inciting incident following a small intro (setting, establishing tone, and form) by a detached narrator who sets the tale in motion with an intriguing hook, I hope.
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Pyre Dynasty
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For me a beginning needs to satisfy the four W's. Who is the story about. What is the story about. Where and When does the story take place. (The hoW is the rest of the story.) How long it should take to accomplish that scales with the length of the work. (Although I'm finding that length is becoming less of a metric for this with digital where you can't immediately tell how long a work is.)

Whether we start with the moment of change or establish the status quo that is about to be disrupted is a question of genre/audience. Disaster stories tend to start establishing normality. You sit through it because you want to feel sad when their car sinks into the lava. Now, a spy thriller starts with an explosion or a murder.

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extrinsic
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The consensus so far recalls general discussions about reader effect matters most, albeit, matters of event, setting, and character features. A most matters follows that priority sequence, too, though other sequences as much: event, character, setting; character, event, setting; character, setting, event; setting, event, character; setting, character, event; mindful event generally entails complication-conflict's motivations and stakes for characters operant in dramatic settings.

Further meditation, in part influenced by this thread's discussions, raised for me the crucialness of complication-conflict as event and as a most-matters feature openings must at least introduce through implication or direct expression.

Many of the works in progress relequated for further fermentation in my proverbial trunk lack a conflict-complication introduction, I now appreciate. Those narratives wander directionless through pages and pages of events, settings, and characters to no meaningful end; they are "And Stories" (Turkey City Lexicon): And something meaningless happens at the start, and something meaningless happens in the middle, and something meaningless happens at the end, and to no meaningful end.

It is most of all a meaningful want-problem seeking satisfaction, meaningfully introduced at the start, meaningfully strove for in the middle, and meaningfully satisfied at the end that matters, I now realize, that provides direction for a narrative's segments, sequences, pieces, parts, parcels, and wholes.

The above may differ from the Hatrack consensus, though I now also recognize that a larger writing culture consensus affirms the matters of complication-conflict's motivations and stakes' centrality to each and every dotted iota and crossed theta of dramatic narratives -- from writing workshops and theory discussions elsewhere in which I participated and was slow to grasp those concepts. Although, here at Hatrack is where motivations and stakes matters were most raised simplest, and I developed their matters as fully realized methods, again, in part from discussions like this thread's.

Not to overlook, that other narrative types may be other than dramatic: anecdote, vignette, and sketch, in particular, that may be apart from drama or included episode parts of drama. Anecdote emphasizes event; vignette emphasizes setting, and sketch emphasizes character, not or is per se drama, that their emphases portray snapshots of interesting, entertaining, and perhaps amusing circumstances that, in general, lack complication-conflict's motivations and stakes, and narrative movement -- what they at kernel are and are not.

Another drama-type matter is whether want or problem comes first. External problems victimize a focal character and compel a want to satisfy the problem of moment. Maybe internal problems also compel want satisfactions. They are of a victimism type, acted upon. Proactivism, contrarily, begin with a want that compels problems, and wants satisfaction. In all and either case, though, complication-conflict introduction means a start as close to a first cause's incitement to action, a true cause, in other words, not an effect's symptom presentation.

And no wonder my orphaned works have no publication home -- they start, middle, and go nowhere, cannot find an end because they have no meaningful start.

[ June 09, 2016, 06:25 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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This would appear to validate my current thinking: You cannot find a proper start to a story until you know intimately what the story is really about. Once you know that, that understanding will permeate every iota, every jot, and every tittle of every word you set down.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
This would appear to validate my current thinking: You cannot find a proper start to a story until you know intimately what the story is really about. Once you know that, that understanding will permeate every iota, every jot, and every tittle of every word you set down.

Phil.

I wouldn't quite go that far--however, I would agree that a story isn't finished until you know what it is really about. Sometimes one doesn't learn what a story is truly about until after they've hammered out the first draft and their characters, plotline, or theme surprised them along the way. That's why editing is such a beautiful thing--the story doesn't have to be perfect on the first go, the second, or even the third.

[ June 10, 2016, 09:53 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I have to disagree with you, Disgruntled Peony. You're right when you imply that you need to have some idea of what your story is about when you first sit down to write it. However, waiting until you've written it to find out what the story is really about, and not what you ythink it is about, is like waiting until a house is built before putting in the foundations. I prefer to find out what my story is really about before I sit down to write it.

Once you do know what a story is really about it changes everything--including the motivations of every character; everything they do is coloured with a slightly different light, a subtly different motivation, and their wants and needs change--including the start. For me, once I know what a story is really about all the irrelevancies, all the dross, and everything that isn't necessary to tell the tale falls away like the dried husk of a chrysalis. It is only when I know for certain within myself I understand what the story is really about that the starting point of the story becomes obvious all by itself. It stands there jumping up and down and waving it's arms saying, “Pick me, pick me!” If I find it hard to know where to start then I know I haven't found out what my own story is really about--not yet.

That's how it works for me, anywho. [Smile]

Phil.

[ June 10, 2016, 07:33 PM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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extrinsic
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Detailed plan and intuitive-planned fusion composition processes are different on their surfaces though closer than they're apart. They both strive for full story realization in that they know what they're really, truly about and that they imitate reality to the fullest necessary extent.

One difference is the degree of discovery composition that takes place and when; not so much separation between those processes for that discovery that transpires, either. Although a writing consensus group asserts once and done composition is more productive and that's all they do, somehow, some revision benefits every composition. Frankly, writers who claim they write once and done, to me, probably mean they include revision phases in draft phases -- a working draft not complete until full realization.

When does what a story is really, truly about discovery manifest such that the whole achieves full realization for which process? Solely intuitive writers discover what a story is about maybe after a draft is complete, maybe not. Fused intuitive-planned writers have an idea what a story is really meant to be about, though full appreciation may not transpire until after a working draft is complete and after meditation, and a few trial and error adjustment phases. Fully planned writing writers discover surprises no less and no less achieve full appreciation for what a story is really about after a working draft is complete, and after meditation, and no less trial and error adjustment phases. Out of all, the three processes involve maybe one or two minor revision phase differences between each type, those of full realization and meditation.

The challenge for all writers, inexperienced, experienced, unpublished, debuted, or published regularly, is full realization in both its paradigms; that is, full appreciation for what a story is truly and really about and ample reality imitation to accomplish expression of what a story is truly and really about.

An oddity of fantastic fiction, however, is a general reader resistance to being preached at; therefore, fantastic fiction's emotional-moral charge content and complication-conflict -- the intangible though actual drama, what a story is really and truly about -- best practice is of a non-one-to-one correspondence to overt, tangible, concrete dramatic action. Other genre types might, more often do, portray that subtext content in a more direct correspondence between tangible and intangible dramatic actions.

It is that reality imitation paradigm and emotional-moral charge complication, veiled though accessible subtext, that distinguishes non-preached fantastic fiction from preached content and consideration matters that other genres bother less about. Frankly, for me, those mean that fantastic fiction is both more of a challenge to effectually compose and more artful and imaginative than other genre types.

[ July 20, 2016, 03:06 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Agreed. And my current writing style is to plan it to death. However, full realisation of what a story is really about may come at any time: First sentence or third draft. It comes when it comes and I can't force it to arrive sooner than it wants to. Also, I don't preach, I tell stories. [Smile]

Phil.

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extrinsic
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My method of not preaching involves personal matters I struggle to make meaning out of at any given moment and, therefore, discover moral truths thereof. Like at present, my predominant struggle is with my dysfunctional personality in a dysfunctional world. Writing, then, for me, is a transcendence therapy, or catharsis anyway, yet rigorous avoidance of writer self-idealization surrogate daydreams, and no less emotionally charged tangible action-adventure.
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Sara Luikert
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I have to agree with Grumpy Old Guy, for me I usually know what the story is about, its themes and its 'core' from the onset. It might waver and change a bit, but mostly I have an image before starting to write.

Preaching is a tricky one. I don't want to preach, but I do it in my daily life. Eventually it bleeds into my writing. I am, admittedly, a tad sanctimonious, black and white, and overly passionate about matters that most people don't give a damn over. Hence, preachy.

We do what we can as writers, but sometimes our faults leak into our writing. That's what makes us writers, right?

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Pyre Dynasty
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I'm in the camp of: I don't know what a story is about till I've written it. Then I have to rewrite it. The rewrite might be dramatically different from the first one. I don't think of the first draft as wasted, just a sketch. I guess I was just raised to be a tinkerer. Find out how something works by getting your hands into it. Dig through buckets of hardware just so I know what different kinds of hardware I have available. Always working on better ways to do things.
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extrinsic
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I hope rewrites are dramatically different. "Dramatically," there's the nub of it all.

Drama, I've sought long, wide, and far for a useful definition. This is a complex topic that no dictionary definition as yet encompasses, nor do narrative theory texts, either.

So I innovated my own somewhat concise definition: antagonal, causal, tensional private and public complication-conflict contest forces of a strong and clear emotional-moral charge that are transformative.

Therein is the creative drama forge's hammer and tongs, bog ore, coke coal, furnace, bellows, chimney, anvil, flux, muscle, etc. The narrative moves from ore to bloom to hammered pig to chain-link iron wrought. Works for me.

[ June 14, 2016, 01:26 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
This would appear to validate my current thinking: You cannot find a proper start to a story until you know intimately what the story is really about. Once you know that, that understanding will permeate every iota, every jot, and every tittle of every word you set down.

I usually start with a collection of orphan scenes from somewhere in the middle, and leapfrog my way to both ends. The beginning is likely (tho not necessarily) to be the last thing written. Often I have to back up (several times) to reach the real starting point.**

I suppose this is kinda what you said in reverse (the story informs its own beginning), but I rarely know what's going to happen, why, or even entirely with whom until it falls out of my brain and lands on the keyboard; "what the story is about" gets zero advance thought.

But as to what's important to the beginning... that it be interesting. That's it. WHAT is "interesting" is so widely disparate that there's no unifying thread other than "don't be boring".

** I lately arrived at the correct first line for my never-ending Epic.. having finally realized, 20 years later, that I needed to back up another five seconds. NOW I'm satisfied with where it starts.

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extrinsic
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Processes of fragment and whole manuscript commentary, received responses, and study otherwise have indicated to me that dramatic movement starts when motivations and stakes are introduced and accessed.

I take from sonnets and other short form poetry that poems appeal when their motivations and stakes are understood. Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, Frost, they all became accessible to me once I understood their poems' motivations and stakes, and their tones.

Slow starts, though, they are slow to introduce motivations and stakes, if at all. Quiet starts are otherwise, motivations and stakes no less, only less of magnitude.

Hemingway speaks to quiet starts: start quiet and build to an unsustainable crescendo. Henry James and Edgar Alan Poe favor robust starts; they are matters of higher magnitude and require similar escalation thereafter. Or for the digital music oriented, velocity to mean volume. Thus tone, if motivations aren't of a magnitude, or stakes if motivations aren't of a magnitude. Or all three of a magnitude.

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