À la writing conference, convention panel, proposed hereby and herein, a panel discussion about what first thirteen lines requires to fulfill a start's singular purpose: to engage readers such that they will read on, to "hook" readers, especially screeners that evaluate for publication or decline. Hatrack members are the panel, any member may post items for consensus consideration. Post proposed essentials, post questions, post calls for elaboration, post more explicit details about a prior post. Contribute what works and what doesn't work for any given reader, the self, of course, and also estimations of a niche reader group, for instance, fantasy, as well as broad generalizations about all readers, if inclined.
For example, my and all readers, I estimate, singular firstmost, foremost, and lastmost start essential is unsettle routine emotional equilibrium. Further than that criteria, a near infinite variety of factors may contribute to emotional unsettlement. The purpose of this panel discussion is to narrow the horizons to a manageable inventory, a checklist, so to speak, of, say, a dozen or so essentials that every start best practice includes, that unsettle emotional equilibrium, or don't and, therefore, don't work. Likewise, other than thirteen lines, a first line, too, and first sentence, paragraph, etc., a title, as well.
Like, where existents (features which exist within a narrative's meaning space) event, setting, and character lay on the inventory, as a recipe's pre-preparation list, as it were, or actual preparation steps, or after action finish and polish, garnishes, so to speak. Are those existents pots and pans, utensils, or spices and herbs, or main ingredients? Or are those presentation processes after preparation?
What's a pasta dish without, say, a sauce? Marinara, pesto, Alfredo, ad infinitum? What pasta type? Macaroni, linguini, bow-tie egg noodles, ad infinitum? What about the pasta pre-preparation itself? Boiled, without fail, right? Al dente? What about visual appeals of the dish, say, a parsley sprig and paprika dust garnish?
Where, too, does dialogue lay, a priority? Where thought? Where want-problem motivations? On the inventory or not for starts? Likewise where conflict? Where tonal attitude? Where sensation? On or off?
Let's put together a consensus inventory of thirteen-lines essentials for posterity.
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This is a great idea, extrinsic. I've recently been thinking about the "formula" of the first 13 lines as well.
Specifically, I've been thinking about voice. An author's voice, along with an unspoken promise of consistency, should come through clearly in the first 13 lines. Most often, the voice is the hook that gets me to read on, whether I sense an interesting plot or not. However, if the story seems to go nowhere I like within the first few pages, I'll still get unhooked.
However, different readers are hooked with different voices. This means that the author's voice should shine through in the first 13 lines not only to hook readers, but also to filter readers. A consistent voice in the first 13 serves to welcome readers to a certain flavor of adventure, and it's the author's job to define this flavor as well as possible.
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I'm not sure what "author's voice" means. Many readers and writers ask for no real writer intrusions, please. On the other hand, real writer's expression of an attitude, a tone, distinguishes one type of narrative point of view from the thirty or so possible others, one not included in Damon Knight's table and that is a time-honored, traditional narrative point of view. The closest of Knight's many is detached narrator, outside looks in, at central agonist and other personas, and solely third person, except maybe real or implied writer, or a narrator who is anything but emotionally detached, though is omnisciently detached -- no access to thoughts except real or implied writer or narrator commented-upon subjective interpretations of external clues and cues. Please elaborate.
I don't mean that an author's voice is meant to be intrusive; rather, to me, it is another facet of the story itself. I just glanced at a few of Damon Knight's short stories, and I'll repost a few of his openings here. These were taken from Project Gutenberg-
It was a very different thing, Algernon Weaver decided, actually to travel in space. When you read about it, or thought about it in terms of what you read, it was more a business of going from one name to another. Algol to Sirius. Aldebaran to Epsilon Ceti. You read the names, and the descriptions that went with them, and the whole thing--although breathtaking in concept, of course, when you really stopped to _meditate_ on it--became rather ordinary and prosaic and somehow more understandable.
Len and Moira Connington lived in a rented cottage with a small yard, a smaller garden, and too many fir trees. The lawn, which Len seldom had time to mow, was full of weeds, and the garden was overgrown with blackberry brambles. The house itself was clean and smelled better than most city apartments, and Moira kept geraniums in the windows.
To me, these two excerpts have a certain style and personality to them, which is what I mean by voice. Here, the variance in sentence structure contributes to the voice, as does the tasteful imagery (i.e. "too many fir trees"). Knight's 3rd person omniscient narrator comes off as light and matter-of-fact, which to me becomes a kind of voice in itself.
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Read the essays, and am well-versed about Knight's expression modalities. I comprehend now what you mean by "author's voice."
"Voice," generally, varies widely what it means to any given user. Literary agents who demand strong and clear voice mean more than grammar and rhetoric; they mean more so strong and clear emotional commentary of a distinct and lively regional idiom. By and large, prose tends toward a pea green soup effect, a bland porridge of one texture, one taste, one lukewarm temperature, more or less rigidly formal grammar mechanics and limited rhetorical aesthetics. It's an idiom that lost all idiosyncrasy appeal due to a mediocre sameness across the globe and the opus -- no clear nor strong voice stands apart from the fray, only uncommonly so from time to time anyway. That's agents' dilemma as regards composition voice.
Writers' dilemma as regards voice is to develop one or more that is vivid, lively, and fresh. "Fresh" in its full positive and negative connotations: fresh to mean uniquely original and to mean impudent, impertinent, offensive at times, as well as "cool" (ironically cool's toxic mockery and ridicule sarcasms, for instance) and fashionable, and more.
Consistency, even in inconsistency, matters for expression, for voice. No other thirteen lines matter is likely to disengage readers more or sooner than inconsistent expression mannerisms, includes grammar mannerisms. Likewise, otherwise, consistent mannerisms avoid premature disengagement results.
Perhaps then "voice" attaches to and is attendant upon unsettled emotional equilibrium more so than, say, complication or conflict, which a tone is responsive to, and as well attends emotional charge, and which is tone. For me, after emotional disequilibrium onset and escalation, is a foremost priority; the second top most thirteen lines' essentials: complication, conflict, a tone's "voice."
Register, degree of language sophistication, and extent of poetic equipment, and degree of cultured expression, too, attend voice.
By the way, "voice" is a fourth essential part of composition theory fundamentals, a glorious concert of divisible though indistinguishable contributions: grammar, content and organization craft, expression (voice), and appeals.
Therefore, proposed, writer expression mannerism, a fresh, vivid, lively, consistent, unintrusive, distinctive writer voice, is a thirteen lines priority, near the top of the inventory.
"Reader Effect" is a past consensus of Hatrack for what matters most for thirteen lines and other parts and overall wholes. That is a broad term, decided, though, that reader emotional responsiveness comprises the term's effect intent. A rationale for unsettle emotional equilibrium, added to "writer voice."
I nominate for essentials inventory as well want-problem complication motivations; stakes, risks-rewards, and outcomes conflicts; and, congruent to the above paragraph's emotional textures, tone's emotional-moral attitudes.
Most any narrative theory also advises event, setting, and character existent introductions, and continuous timely and judicious developments thereof, are essentials for pieces and wholes, thirteen lines, too. A dramatic event unfolds in a dramatic setting before and to dramatic characters. Added, of course, adequate constraints limit an action to a few of each, elsewise, event, place, time, situation, and persona population explosions crowd a dramatic action. One and only one focused action of a complicated and conflicted complete setup and eventual whole satisfaction, mindful nonetheless so-labeled subplots might attend or parallel a main action for longer works, not short works.
Thirteen-lines essentials inventory recap to date: Emotional disequilibrium Writer voice Complication Conflict Tone Event Setting and milieu Character personas (and narrator persona) One dramatic action
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Next areas for essentials consideration is narrative point of view and type of discourse. Narrative point of view entails mechanical aspects related to grammar: grammatical person, tense, mood, an unconventional grammar notwithstood; plus aesthetics: poetic equipment and a narrative point of view's relationships to other aesthetics essentials.
Type of discourse also relates part to narrative point of view mechanics and aesthetics: an apostrophe or epistle direct address (accusative case), indirect address (dative case), in medias res, formal or informal, conversational or didactic, moral law assertion or moral truth discovery, etc.; plus, matters of expression mode: description, introspection (thought), action, narration, emotion, sensation, summation, exposition, conversation (dialogue), recollection, explanation, and transition.
The above herein, except for narrative point of view, are optional, though some modes are essential for effective reality imitation (mimesis, show) and summation diegesis and explanation and explication exegesis (tell) modes -- action both physical and dramatic, introspection, emotion, narration, sensation, and conversation among those, all of which ask for description.
Poetic equipment at the least asks for inferable subtext expression; implicit and tacit; incidental, situational, and extended, such that an otherwise often repeated superficial action is vivid, lively, and fresh, and so readers emotionally engage. How many Will They or Won't They amatory romance narratives are extant or yet to come? Near infinite quantity. What makes one stand apart from the fray? Subtext that freshly realizes the emotional-moral human condition. What is it about Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, 1966, that recommends the narrative over other romance novels? Subtext that expresses the blight and depravity of romance alongside romance's otherwise sublime harmony of beauty, truth, and goodness, a lively agonistic pluralism of every-which-a-way pushmi-pullya complication and conflict forces.
Method to draw readers in, engage readers: emotional disequilibrium, whatever emotion or emotional cluster, positive or negative, only that the emotions not be neutral and routine.
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Unfortunately, I don't believe there is any one set way a first thirteen gets your foot in the door. End of last year I did an extensive study of first thirteen on both the newest best selling fiction authors and authors of the classics and what I found was extremely varible, except for a few notes.
I began to tell by first thirteen which authors were going to have the strongest prose throughout the whole novel, but that didn't mean it was going to be a decent story. It just made it easier to read.
I could tell immediately whether the book was geared toward a male or female readership or more rarely, both. From that, you begin to divine what will happen in future chapters as the novel progresses because too many authors follow a template.
Lastly, hype. Whether it is social media, fancy covers, or editors dreaming of a future cable or movie deal. Hype moves the book, over prose. It only has to be marginally good with maybe a unique idea to be spun into the hype machine. But don't worry, the next one in the series will obviously be better. The worse part is already established writers often are allowed their weaker fiction to pass through the cracks because of their name alone, or by contract obligations.
The best thing that came from all the research was I figured out within myself how I "Did not" want to write, and that it is worth the time and effort to balance a good story with good prose. Maybe even reach for the stars. If the gods hand you a Stradivarius you better work your as* off to make it sing or turn it over to someone else who can.
A close investigation across the literary opus observes similarities for each start worth notice; that is, unsettled emotional equilibrium at the outset. Oftener than not, the unsettlement is due to irony, which may be inferable for some readers and not for others.
Cites of the opus's many examples' starts do indeed demonstrate wide variety; however, emotional unsettlement irony is within each's purview. I don't think this time is ripe for an annotated bibliography sample of standout examples and abysmal failures.
To each evaluator the selection and evaluation; note though, that subtext ironies sublimely stand up and take names from a liminal concealment blind targeted at a selected cognitive aptitude facility. Practical irony aesthetics, in particular, intend concealment such that a superficial dramatic action occupies attention, while a concealed congruent subtext dramatic action subversively persuades social adjustment.
Does, say, Twilight cycle's Isabella Swan know the perils of social ambition at an elitist degree? She's oblivious, nor is she informed. She learns at great risk, though. That's the crux of practical irony -- through self-error is Swan exposed to the trials and errors of social ambition and, meantime, ignores social influences' wisdoms of the ages. Naturally and necessarily, Swan can and must only learn for herself.
Are prior cautions ungiven to Swan? No. Swan only knows those as abstract notions, from others' dubious -- to her -- edicts, admonitions, advices, etc., doesn't know those through personal heuristic experiences, also believes those don't apply to her. Swan thinks she can handle, cope with the risks known to her and are foreseeable, not, though, ones she cannot and does not foresee. Nope, those wisdoms do apply, though Swan survives her self-errors without too much undue harm despite herself.
Ironies abound across the opus, by type and degree of many flavors for the one purpose of engage readers emotionally, albeit suited to a target audience's abstract cognitive aptitudes.
Thanks a bunch for starting up this thread. It seems a month ago you were scrutinizing topics that I just barely started wishing for.
walexander & extrinsic - Do you have any write ups of what you found in your research? I'd love to know more about your experience examining texts this way! Especially 13-line samples that you feel accomplish all these essential moves. Right now, I can hardly imagine a paragraph that hits all these bullet points.
extrinsic - From reading here, I'm not sure what the difference is between "writer voice" and "tone" nor between "complication" and "conflict". Also, it seems that identifying irony would require reading the rest of the story. Are there actual examples of 13-lines that establish irony as well as jump through the other hoops?
I agree wholeheartedly with the goal of enticing readers to continue reading, as well as using emotional disequilibrium as the key tool for that. But as I've been reading Dwight Swain, I find myself also agreeing that all you can do is write what you enjoy reading, then try to find the other readers out there who enjoy that too. There might be swing-voters who are willing to try out a story outside their usual fare, but it makes a lot of market sense to me to please niche readers rather than try to hook/reel everyone.
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The main impetus for my distinction of what matters most for starts, generally, and overall derive from study of narrative theory across the canon, and subsequent investigation for those features in extant texts within my prose reading wheelhouse, and episodic forays into new territories. What most engages my interest, plus, what other readers note they are most responsive to? Emotional movement looms largest in theory texts, prose, and responses to the latter.
Distinctions between "writer voice" and "tone" evolve from attitude, overtly, emotional attitude, covertly, from moral attitude, plus ironic context and texture. Which voice, so to speak, stands out most, whether real writer, implied writer, or narrator voice? This strongest voice is a narrative's "attitude holder," with whom readers are by design or happenstance most aligned, most shared rapport. This concept comes in part from Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse and a deep follow of that book's topics and bibliography, plus, Wayne Booth and those attendant bibliographies, The Rhetoric of Fiction, and A Rhetoric of Irony, plus sundry other rhetoric, linguistics, semantics, and semiotics texts.
Tone, in short, is an attitude toward a topic, say an emotional-moral attitude and topic. Writer voice then is congruent though distinguishable, in that a writer, real or implied, overtly or through narrator and character identity development, expresses each's tone through mannerisms unique to the writer's designs and methods, or at least strong and clear freshness of expression, perhaps bolder than polite society's expectations and impositions, private and deeply personal expression. Tone, somewhat less specific as a larger topic matter; writer voice, a tone or tones more so specific to the writer. Tone is to genus as writer voice is to species, as satire is to broader taxonomic family.
Complication and conflict echo each other, though, again, are distinguishable and somewhat indivisible. Complication is motivational forces; conflict is stakes forces and, unlike complication, are polar opposite forces in contention.
Complication, more so, forces may be opposite, however, are stronger when those as well align, oppose, and are perpendicular or parallel or of any congruence angle. For example, want and problem are complication's identities. A want is often a problem too, both coordinate to incite, develop, and strengthen motivations as well as oppose want-problem satisfaction outcomes.
Conflict's identities are stakes and outcomes in social contention at least, if not confliction, confrontation, and conflagration. Polar opposite forces relate to what's at stake in direct opposition and never coordinated for motivation-complications. The ages old conflict most common is life and death. What's at stake for that conflict is life or death and no in-between outcome. Likewise conflicts, either-or, acceptance and rejection, riches and rags, salvation and damnation, ad infinitum.
Arguably, a between life and death outcome, not stakes, per se, though, is some living dead scenario, not per se zonbi, maybe a physical disability or mental affect that prevents a sufferer from living meaningfully. Or maybe zonbi perceived as a metaphor for existence of an undead state, disembodied mind, dis-spirited soul, or similar -- lacks meaningful life: mindlessly eats brains!? Mindlessly treats other people as lifeless objects to be used and consumed for self-gain; mindful, current zonbi media is responsive to current life stresses to an emotionally heightened degree. Satire, actually.
Sarcasm, satire, and irony are congruent yet, again, distinguishable from each other; however, those are subject to divisibility as well as overlaps.
The opening from Jane Austen's notorious Pride and Prejudice:
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
"However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."
Irony, yes; satire, yes; sarcasm, yes. Of what type distinguishable and divisible? Irony, the two paragraphs are at congruent opposite ends and as well contrary to conventional anticipations a well-to-do bachelor has matrimony least in mind; the man's views on the matrimony matter do not matter, are out of his control, though he knows it not, though the first paragraph declares he wants a wife.
Satire, the start introduces the whole's commentary on the vices and follies of a human condition. Pride's sarcasm, of the Menippean satire type; that is, the targeted victim of serious sarcasm's mockery and ridicule is a human institution, an abstract notion of matrimony, not an individual victim target, the latter the Juvenalian satire sarcasm type pioneered by Aristophanes, nor Horatian satire, sarcasm which lightheartedly targets specific human immoral error and folly. The Horatian type, lighthearted sarcasm directed at the vices and follies of family life, Laurence Sterne's start of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Irony, sarcasm, and satire.
"I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;——Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,——I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world from that in which the reader is likely to see me.—Believe me, good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it;—you have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are transfused from father to son, &c., &c.—and a great deal to that purpose:—Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man’s sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracts and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, ’tis not a halfpenny matter,—away they go cluttering like hey-go mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it."
Distinction between the two satire-sarcasm-irony samples above is seriousness of "tone" attitude, Austen's serious irony, Sterne's lighthearted sarcastic irony. Charles Dicken's [i]A Tale of Two Cities[i], too, is satire, sarcasm, and irony, though a merged Menippean and Horatian satire-sarcasm type. These above examples are dated for current audience sensibilities; however, those are public domain properties and cite-able with few source attribution considerations, no cite poaching concerns at all.
Fantastic fiction examples still under copyright notwithstood, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, Keith Laumer's Retief, Barry Longyear, lighthearted sarcasm-satire, and countless others. In fact, prose is satire's domain and vice versa, much of the opus, though, less sarcastic and more serious, often Menippean rather than per se Horatian's lighthearted or Juvenalian's toxic satire.
The big blockbusters of late, the Potter, Ring, Twilight vampire, and young adult serious coming of age passage game novels like Hunger Games and The Maze, are Menippean satires all. The overall irony type of each, too, is practical irony's harsh trial and error heuristics, moral truth self-discovered after dramatic personal contests, energetic narratives, not per se lighthearted humors or serious philosophical satires that assert moral laws.
In any case, the above noted works each base initial story movement upon emotional movement, in turn, based upon some irony type, maybe sarcasm, maybe sober-serious, maybe lighthearted farce. A touch of irony goes a long way toward reader engagement at intellectual, imagination, emotional, and moral cognition levels. Abstract cognitive aptitude for irony, etc., too, is somewhat age dependent. Youngsters develop sarcasm aptitude in formative years, satire and other irony aptitude types, later in age, if at all.
I noticed in my research a distinct advantage that horror writers, history fiction writers, and writers like rr martin who steal from history, have over your normal fantasy/sci-fi writer. I highly suggest fantasy/sci-fi writers study the former writer's style of start. You universally see a stronger first thirteen in horror/historical fiction, mainly because the world building is already done for them. You have thousands of years of history to throw into the mix and create a deeper more vibrant image of characters and the world around them.
The former, do not have to worry about multiple races, buildings, foods, languages, transportation, vegetation, diseases, magic, weapons, etc, etc. It can just flow from them.
There's an Arab man speaking Chinese in a victorian house while eating a bacon cheeseburger. His adopted children, one Japanese, one South African play under the dark oak dining table with their tonka-trucks scuffing the new maple wood floor. etc, etc.
Fantasy/sci-fi writers have to invent all those taken-for-granted details, often omitting them or replacing them with common similarities to our own history. This causes a depletion in detail. Even worse, creating things or languages that really don't make any sense to how they were developed over the new world history. World building is vital to good prose. Think of a sunset and how it can bring up so many images in a modern characters imagination or comparable history, the last thing it is - is just a beautiful sunset. This sublime moment needs to be understood why it is felt to be beautiful. That is all the harder to bring to life without all those minor details to past and present or even hopeful future.
Think of the phrase: I can't wait to see in the future what an iPhone 12 will look like. How often do you read about a future character dwelling on the future?
"This old Lugnar sucks. My old proctor used one of these in the Delphin-Arris campaigns. There slow on recharge and almost useless in cold climates. The cold drains these outdated fusion cells. I'm telling you; nothing but problems. I hear Lugnar is working on disruptor technology now. That's going to be sick when it comes out. I wonder if E-LON corp. will upgrade its firepower anytime soon? Hopefully, at least to a Dran K7. I bet that b*tch packs a lot of punch. Maybe I should get my own MAT5 seven. A lot lighter in the hand with that new plas-jell molded grip. Sh*t, what am I thinking? I got to have some serious rezharies before I can think about any of that. I only have a few purels to my name. I guess I should just feel lucky I even got this piece of cr*p."
A lack of detail often plagues most fan/sci starts. Whether for condensing for space in a short story or stretching out to fill the empty voids of a book. The devils in the details and requires a delicate balance.
Just a glimpse into trying to begin to frame a well thought out start, let alone an entire novel. rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until you find the right voice, and try not to be impatient. Good work takes time.
quote:Fantasy/sci-fi writers have to invent all those taken-for-granted details, often omitting them or replacing them with common similarities to our own history. This causes a depletion in detail.
Nonsense. If you waste the first lines of your story talking about setting you will be rejected. In the words of the great James H. Schmitz: “Don’t inflict the reader with irrelevant background material—get on with the story.”
Stories are about people, not settings or events. And the average reader, or acquiring editor, reads less than three pages before making a judgement on the story being worth reading. Waste that on a travelogue, gossip, or history—bore or confuse them for one line and you've lost them.
Sol Stein put it well when he said, “A novel is like a car—it won’t go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The “engine” of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better.”
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Nonsense? Classic Jay. Forgive me but this is going to be a little wordy.
Schmitz first thirteen of legacy.
It was the time of sunrise in Ceyce, the White City, placidly beautiful capital of Maccadon, the University World of the Hub.
In the Colonial School's sprawling five-mile complex of buildings and tropical parks, the second student shift was headed for breakfast, while a larger part of the fourth shift moved at a more leisurely rate toward their bunks. The school's organized activities were not much affected by the hour, but the big exercise quadrangle was almost deserted for once. Behind the railing of the firing range a young woman stood by herself, gun in hand, waiting for the automatic range monitor to select a new string of targets for release.
first 13 watch the sky
Uncle William Boles' war-battered old Geest gun gave the impression that at some stage of its construction it had been pulled out of shape and then hardened in that form. What remained of it was all of one piece. The scarred and pitted twin barrels were stubby and thick, and the vacant oblong in the frame behind them might have contained standard energy magazines. It was the stock which gave the alien weapon its curious appearance. Almost eighteen inches long, it curved abruptly to the right and was too thin, knobbed and indented to fit comfortably at any point in a human hand.
first 13 the star hyacynth
The robbery of the Dosey Asteroids Shipping Station in a remote and spottily explored section of space provided the newscasting systems of the Federation of the Hub with one of the juiciest crime stories of the season. In a manner not clearly explained, the Dosey Asteroids Company had lost six months' production of gem-quality cut star hyacinths valued at nearly a hundred million credits. It lost also its Chief Lapidary and seventy-eight other company employees who had been in the station dome at the time.
Note the opening subject matter and its detail. The character is barely mentioned. Environment is only giving hint to character.
And I never said drown them in detail Jay. I never said give them an info dump. I said it's hard to imagine a thousand years of history to add vibrancy to an alien story.
from jay's blog,
quote:What we need to do is to make our reader become our protagonist. If we can make them see the situation exactly as the protagonist does; if we give each reader the same set of resources the protagonist will use; if all readers have the same desires, needs, and imperatives as our protagonist, then they will decide on what must be done next in exactly the same way as our hero will—and do that before the protagonist makes that decision—if they read and absorb that before they read the protagonist’s response to the situation—they will become our protagonist and react as that character does.
How can the reader make a decision first Jay if there is no detail to their environment in advance of character? Schmitz certainly understands it by his first thirteen, or did you just misunderstand what I was trying to convey?
scot asked me for an opinion about my research on first thirteen, I gave him an honest answer.
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Good stuff. Thank you for taking the time to elaborate.
With those examples from Schmitz, I wonder how much his own reputation and prior works helped create the situation where he could start by highlighting context rather than character/conflict. I don't know the business of writing enough to say it decisively, but it seems like a no-name newbie has a different rhetorical situation than well-known professional.
I can easily imagine the acquiring editor saying, "Ah, Shmitz - he did pretty good with that last novel. Let's see what he's got going here."
Whereas for my submission, it'd be more like, "Here's another one. And it's still only 3 o'clock? Is this day never going to end? Guess I better glance over this."
Am I rationalizing my non-published-ness?
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My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt - sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.
In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old.
now then - first thirteen "preface" twilight 1
I'd never given much thought to how I would die - though I'd had reason enough in the last few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.
Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble, even. That ought to count for something.
I knew that if I'd never gone to Forks, I wouldn't be facing death now. But, terrified as I was, I couldn't bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations,
You see the trick they pulled off here. you have character/conflict in the preface and environmental context in paragraph 1.
look at rowling, first 13, harry book 1.
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors.
the protagonist isn't even mentioned.
Where is the character/conflict you ask?
In the chapter title - The boy who lived.
I could make a dozen more examples about how character/conflict is often found in a prelude/preface but not the opening paragraph. Usually there is a setting of stage. How to make that interesting is one of the hardest questions an author has to answer.
But scot, we are all new at one point. Just keep pushing forward, do your own research, balance your opening how you feel is right, and learn to take tough criticism. It's just a matter of time and drive, you'll get there.
Two novels by the same writer illustrate the areas of disparity and agreement above. Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons. Both novel's writer mannerisms are identical, same structural formula, same attention lavished on literal, tangible description details, and same ample figurative subtext degrees. Those part ways at reliance on well-known event, setting, and character archetypes from overall cultural capital, like history.
Cold Mountain leans upon, overtly, U.S. Civil War history, covertly, a reimagination of Homer's Odyssey, which a niche audience appreciated, though of which mass culture audiences are unaware. A circa eighth century BCE history passed down through the ages, and a more recent history from mid nineteenth century CE.
Thirteen Moons misses many readers' abstract cognition sensibilities, entails a vague cultural capital basis for mass culture access, like history. Both novels, though, come from family tale traditions passed down from ancestors.
The different publication culture responses to each illustrate; one a runaway blockbuster debut novel and motion picture that netted handsome royalties, and popular and critical acclaim; a sophomore one that drew an astronomical advance against royalties that never earned out, drew negative criticism, and baffled many readers who tested the waters regardless. Thirteen Moons drew an $8.5 million advance yet sold only 750,000 copies, net, about the same figure of gross royalty revenue the publisher received. Editors lost their jobs, the publisher was embarrassed, readers and critics objected, Frazier was blacklisted.
750,000 copy sales would please many a writer otherwise, and what the heck, a handsome advance is no small compensation; however, afterward, publishers grew skittish about large advances, tended instead to low ball or refuse to pay advances, debut writers most of all.
The noteable difference between the two novels' culture performance is one's apt reliance on mass culture reader relatableness and one's inapt overreliance on reader relatableness.