Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man

Let philosophers look for the substance that underlies all of creation; that is the unreduced element of matter. Let mathematicians, astronomer, biologists, and physicists construct axioms and build a cosmos and so interpret reality within their limited models. Let linguists search for the Adamic language--but let master writers be free.

The fiction and non-fiction writer must be free to explore the depths of humanity. D. H. Lawrence said, "Being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher and the poet. The novel is the one bright book of life."

Yet, as disparate and chaotic as fine writers might seem to be, we can see that there's some method to their madness. Master writers will tell the reader what their novel is about right from the very beginning; they may not say it openly, but the hint is there for the reader to catch.

Tongue in cheek: Opening Sentence

Whether we like it or not sometimes we just have to go on reading as we ask ourselves, "Where's this going to?" If Jane Austen in her opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice uses the language of axioms and mathematics -"a truth universally acknowledged"- we have no choice but to assume that she is being not only lighthearted but also playful.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Right away we feel that the novel will be humorous, light, and that the main theme will be about fortune and marriage.

A Sunday sermon: An opening Sentence

Having written his masterpiece, Ana Karenina, Tolstoy proceeds to write an opening sentence that would encapsulate what the long monster of a novel will be about. This is opening sentence what he came up with:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

And unhappy families are the main attraction. I can just hear Tolstoy saying, "Anyone can write about happy families; there's nothing interesting about them. But since unhappy families are unique in their own ill-fortunes-let's be on our way, let me tell you about the Oblonsky's, the Levin's, and the Karenina's."

More than a dream-a nightmare: A masterful opening sentence

The Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez once declared that Kafka's opening of his novelette The Metamorphosis, convinced him that he could write equally --if not better-- fantastic stories.

To dare to write the following sentence opener and book opener, Kafka must have felt total intellectual freedom:

"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."

Lesser writers beg for the readers' indulgence and suspension of disbelief. Faced with the problem of verisimilitude most fiction writers agonize over this speed bump. Not Kafka. With one stroke of the pen he dunks his readers into the depths of a hellish nightmare.

A flash-forward and a flashback:A Violent Sentence Opening

Years of solitude, firing squads, colonels, the Buendias, ice, fathers, and distant afternoons is what Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is about.

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

Master writers distinguish between sentence openers, sentence openings, and first sentences. To ignore these basic concepts can only work to the detriment of the writer's creation.

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