Sunday, October 28, 2012

It was a dark and stormy night...

Have you had trouble with that first sentence? Do you want to set the scene without becoming cliche? I've struggled over that first line time and time again, but have found a few ideas to help me get through that "dark and stormy night".

Certain important parts need to be included in your first paragraph. Your character, conflict, specific use of details and credibility should be included. What you choose for your first line can come out of these, but needs to be an eye opener so your reader will want to continue reading.

Character: Your opening should give the reader a person to focus on. In short stories, the person will appear almost immediately and become an integral part of the story. In a novel, the main character may take a little longer to appear, but someone interesting should be on hand for the reader to focus on.

Conflict: The point to remember about conflict is that something isn't going as it is expected to go. Your readers should suspect that as soon as the first few paragraphs. But calling for conflict doesn't mean that the first sentence has to have a body hurtling past a sixth story window (but then again, maybe it will?). In some stories, there may be overt conflict with man against man, or man against nature, etc. In other stories, however, it will be on a smaller scale; family strife, romantic misunderstandings, economic gain or loss. The conflict may be so subtle that it exists solely inside the skull of one character. No matter what kind of conflict there is, it should be hinted at in the beginning, even if it won't be developed until later.

Specific Use of Details: Effective beginnings make use of specific details. These may be details of speech, setting, characters' thoughts - anything relevant. The right details gain you three advantages.
  • Details anchor your story in concrete reality.
  • Details set your opening apart from hundreds of others similar to it.
  • Details convince the reader you know what you're talking about.
Credibility: Even the most accurate and interesting details will be undermined if your prose lacks credibility. Here, there are two kinds of credibility discussed in writing. One is that of whether or not you can handle the language you are writing in. Are you in control of your words, sentences, and paragraphs. The other kind is whether or not your characters are credible. Do they appear to be what you present them to be. For example, a character is a ninety pound weakling, but you have him bending steel. Unless this is science fiction, where he's gotten hold of some kryptonite, this character isn't very credible. He isn't real. Make your characters believable.

With all these in mind, we get back to our first sentence. We have to make our character credible, through the specific use of details and conflict. Can you write a sentence? Maybe even a paragraph? This will blossom into the beginning of a new story and perhaps a new novel. Good luck with your next new sentence. It won't be a dark and story night...

7 comments:

  1. Great mini lesson. Of course, with Hurricane Sandy looming a few miles east of me, it actually is a dark and stormy night.

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    1. I hope you can create a real barn burner with your description of the weather. I know it's serious.

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  2. Hi, Karen! Thanks for sharing these great tips.

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    1. Susanne: I'[m glad you like them. You're welcome.

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  3. My conflict tends to show up after the first few pages. The major one anyway.

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    1. I don't believe the major conflict has to be in the first few paragraphs, but it helps, don't you think, to have some kind of tension at the beginning of the story.

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  4. I just opened my google to do a bit of research on place in Brazil as I hadn't been online since yesterday and had not even looked at my google taskbar or feeds or anything. Just got out of class with the 6th graders i work with online and had worked with a student kind of one-on-one and just talked about making your story believable and using correct facts and whatnot, and then I open your blog posting, mostly because of the title - "Dark and Stormy Night" - lol, but there I am being validated for what I was telling the student. Thank you for these points. I've reposted on my blog and have shared the link with the teacher so he can share with the students since I'm only in that class once a week on Tuesdays. Wednesdays I get to work with the 4th graders and Thursdays with the 5th graders. It's nice to know that there are other authors out there who share the passion of informing potential writers - thanks again - E :)

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of Finally Home, a middle grade/YA paranormal mystery
    http://elysabethsstories.blogspot.com
    http://eeldering.weebly.com

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