Saturday, 26 June 2010

I have opening sentence syndrome.

Where do you start the story - with waking up, with the weather, with a train journey, a departure or an arrival?
Emma Darwin has been talking about this, Nicola Morgan talked about it recently. I have been wondering about it for a very long time.
When I was a student I could never begin to write an essay, even a short primary school "composition" until I had my opening sentence. That always seemed to come to me at the point where I had done sufficient work to have a reasonable shot at writing the required piece. I never liked being given the opening sentence by my teachers. They never seemed to understand where the story should start for me.
I was also the sort of student who chose course work over examinations wherever possible.
"You're writing an essay instead of doing the exam?!" "Yes, it's easier." "You're doing Jurisprudence?!" "Yes, you only have to write essays." (Jurisprudence was actually one of the more interesting subjects in law school.)
My fellow students clearly thought I was a little more than slightly crazy. Exams were the easy option for them. They did not suffer from "opening sentence syndrome". I do.
I have just started to read Neil M Gunn's, "The Drinking Well", a book I somehow missed. I am never likely to even begin to reach the dizzying literary heights of my illustrious clansman. The book begins with "The morning light was clear behind the mountains." It is about the weather and he gets away with it. He gets away with it because it is good, very good. The writing might well be considered slightly old-fashioned now but it presents us with a believable picture of a rare good-weather morning in the highlands of Scotland, a contrast to the tension in the house.
There are a great many other books that begin with the weather, with waking up, with an arrival or a departure. They are natural starting points. It is the way these things are used which counts.
I suspect you can get away with almost anything as a writer - if you are good enough. I also suspect that a lot of it hinges on "opening sentence syndrome".


Rachel Fenton said...

What I imagine will be my opening sentence when I start a story, often ends up being my end.

More often I come up with an ending and then make that the beginning.

If you can pick up a sentence and apply it to the end as well as the beginning, I reckon its a good sentence :)

Donna Hosie said...

I think it depends on the genre. I like to start with a short chapter, smack bang in the middle of the action, but several YA writers/published authors who are helping me with my current WIP have all said that with YA, you start that first sentence with the mc - get the reader right into their head.

catdownunder said...

I am fascinated by what other people do - and what they can do. I am often envious of how they do it as well!