I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it—the whole story doesn’t show.
~ Andrew Wyeth
Yes, it really really is Autumn. And not just because the leaves are turning. Check this out:
The first persimmon of the season.
This bit from Jim Van Pelt, via John Schoffstall’s blog (who I was at Clarion with, and writes extraordinary, haunting, stories—speaking of which, Neil Gaiman is teaching at Clarion next year…)
I don’t know who it was who said it, but it always stuck with me: all that is necessary for fiction to be interesting is an attractive narrative voice (or something like that). A narrator with a solidly specific and individual point of view will make word choices and observations that aren’t generic. The reader will feel enveloped by a real point of view (which is, of course, also a fictional construction, but a good one).
A master at this is Laurie R. King, who is one of my favorite writers for her Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes mysteries. She has a blog. I should have been aware of its existence, and perhaps I was—a long time ago—but I was still surprised when I stumbled upon it. I love her books. I love them so much. And this first line is a favorite from one of my top ten favorites, THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE:
I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defence I must say it was an engrossing book, and it was very rare to come across another person in that particular part of the world in that war year of 1915. In my seven weeks of peripatetic reading amongst the sheep (which tended to move out of my way) and the gorse bushes (to which I had painfully developed an instinctive awareness) I had never before stepped on a person.
A whole story is told in those three sentences. You can’t help but fall in love. At least, I can’t. Everyone is different.
Mr. Van Pelt says something else about beginnings: A story that is interesting at the sentence level in the first couple of paragraphs has a much better chance of being interesting at the end than one that has no hint of freshness early.
Yes. Definitely, yes. You can feel that energy from the first sentence—which makes or breaks a book, at least for me, as a reader. Because I expect writers to do their best to hook you from the very beginning, in all the ways that matter, and if a writer cannot do that, my confidence in everything else wavers. It does not have to be the most beautiful sentence, or the longest—but it has to crackle and have energy, and life. Because reading is another kind of life.
So, having gone all melodramatic—what are your favorite lines? I’ll sweeten the pot with a copy of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Leave your favorite beginning in the comments, and I’ll draw the name Wednesday night.