Friday, August 26, 2005

Morley was dead: to begin with.

Thinking about hooks, lures and lines.
Agents and editors demand we hook them like muskies with our opening sentence. High carbon, cone-cut, precision steel hooks. First line, first page.
They assure us, repeatedly, they yearn to be yanked on board and whapped over the head first thing.
Though some claim that the aforesaid agents and editors are cold-blooded, bottom-feeders, the image of a gasping editor, flapping and flopping on the bottom of my boat does not entrance me.
I much prefer the term "lure."
Unfortunately, it lacks the hard, consonant, kick-ass effect of the word "hook."
There's a message there in the choice. They mean it. Writer's first rule.
The era of the elegant, leisured seduction is past.
Only established writers may sometimes deep-trawl. It's white-water casting for the rest of us.
The slowly developing story has been replaced by the flash 'n smash.
While some may claim this is a sad reflection of our attention deficient culture, anyone who has read one of Mrs. E.D.E.N Southworth's novels might suggest this ozone damaged result is not necessarily a Bad Thing. And she was a best-seller.
As murder mystery readers, we demand the de rigueur mortis almost on the first page. As sensual romance readers, we expect the hero to whack off at first sight of the heroine... I did suggest the rule was rigid.
But I meander like a river.
Back to fish bait.
On a whim, I looked at the opening lines of a few random formula romances. Remember, darling, they sell. And they sold editors.
"The beast had devoured her world." -anthropomorphic enemy, conflict and foreboding.
"Someone knows about me." - dialogue opening, quite a common device. A buried, dangerous secret.
"Gasping, her lungs straining, she ran through the dark..."- entrance, pursued by a bear.
and,
"The headlights drilled a hole through the dark." - setting, nice vivid re-do of a dark-and-stormy night.
These lines reeled in fish. These writers got their pictures taken with the catch.
My hook and lure?
"It was an invitation from a sword."
If I get a bite I'll let you know - after I climb back into the boat.

20 comments:

hero protagonist said...

Stylistically, I think this essay is your most controlled effort yet.

Since you tend toward maximalism, I enjoy your writing best when you ease slightly off the gas pedal and offer less description/imagery/ metaphor.

When you succumb to temptation and repeat the same idea several different ways, the piling-on effect takes hold, diluting the power of your message.

All that said, I certainly do find resonance with your writerly musings.

Carry on!

Bernita said...

Dear Pot, you are unkind. I was having fun.
Right now I tend toward ripping you a new one.
How very bonhomme of you to proffer gratitutous criticism and think such a sting is alleviated by a tepid pat on the head.

hero protagonist said...

I was being honest, not unkind.

Call it well-intentioned peer criticism.

I can offer more if you're willing to hear it.

Cheers.

Bernita said...

You were discourteous and presumptuous.
This is a web log. This is not a classroom. No mentor relationship exists.
You have displayed a studied impertinence in criticizing the style of a posting without invitation.

hero protagonist said...

>You were discourteous and >presumptuous.

>You have displayed a studied impertinence
>in criticizing the style of a posting without
>invitation.

Please tell me you're jesting?

A blog invites comment by its very nature.

Unless you:

1) disable your blog's comment function;

2) post an obvious notice saying
Criticism By Invitation ONLY;

3) delete your blog;

your visitors will enjoy the freedom to critique you and your content as much or as little as they choose.

Surely you understand that?

If you're this defensive about your writing, your blog, and whatever else, perhaps the blogosphere may not be the most suitable venue for you?

(As I say, I hope your diatribe is a put-on. If it's not, it certainly is illogical.)

Cheers

ScaramoucheX said...

Is this really your idea of having fun, B? I think you ought to be grateful for the attentions of Endon...your post is so studied, so cramped, so dry it is almost worthless to read, except as a tool for encouraging the arrivalof sleep...try downing a few shots of bourbon and forgetting to use big words! I cannot imagine why you bothered to write this...it soars like a fat, wingless slug...don't you have a heartbeat???

ScaramoucheX said...

PS Cheers...I'm just pulling your leg! :)

Bernita said...

A blog invites comment on ideas. It is not an automatic invitation to disregard normal courtesies.
Fortunately, most bloggers posting on blogs I have read know that, though one does see now and then, "post removed." A choice you neglected in your list.
I might privately make a number of (subjective) assumptions about another writer's style, but bedamned if I'm going to be arrogant enough to comment thus on their blog.

Bernita said...

Scaramouchex:
Why are you licking his Gucci loafers?
And if you touch my leg...

Muse said...

Bernita's post are, like the rest of her writing and general discourse, rich and witty and erudite. Her prose is elegant and fierce, much like its author.

As Bernita says, a blog invites comment on ideas. Please feel free to provide same, or go and mix metaphors elsewhere.

As for opening lines, my preference is for a sentence (or paragraph) that subtly enframes the entire novel. While reading, it is my practice to return to the first page periodically to regain my bearings. As such, a good opening sentence (or paragraph) serves as a compass, a kind of literary lodestar. Having said this, many excellent novels and short stories also simply begin. In these works, the opening sentence is simply a first sentence, a way of getting on with the narrative. Either way, though, a novel (or any other work) succeeds by creating an opening for the reader, a rupture through which we might slip between worlds.

hero protagonist said...

>Her prose is elegant.

As in, "Right now I tend toward ripping you a new one"?

Perhaps this was simply an
unfortunate misstep?

----------------

I don't dispute there's talent in B.'s writings.

It's the pleonasms I object to.

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

Bill Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style, 1918

Cheers

hero protagonist said...

btw, I feel mystified when you accuse me of discourtesy, impertinence, presumption and arrogance because I'm simply offering my honest opinion regarding your writing.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Ergo, I'd appreciate it if a) you'd project your insecurites on someone else, and b) dial down your hysterical, ad hominem rhetoric.

Both are becoming extremely repetitious.

If you're unable to conduct a calm, rational discussion about your writing, I'll have no choice but to make this my last post and leave you to your neuroses.

Cheers

Muse said...

We have a troll! How amusing it must be for Bernita to have acquired one so quickly. Perhaps there are others in Bernita's readership who would like to dance with Endon. Or perhaps not: one tires of trolls so quickly.

Esepecially when they post so compulsively (Endon has managed five out of the twelve comments on this post). Especially when their ad hominems so quickly take a ... (hmm..) hysterical ... tone.

Endon, you protest too much. Please do so elsewhere. I enjoy reading Bernita's posts, not encountering a troll soiling itself in the corner.

Bernita said...

Very kind of you, Muse. Thank you.
One expects the classic Caliban troll to show up sooner or later.
Must have stowed away in the bilges...

quasimodal said...

minimalist sentimentalist wishes blogger would succumb his way. but even if she does not, even if she persists with maximalism, he admits she makes him resonate.

she'd rather do without his resonating her parade. it's tepid and musses hair. in haste, she tends to rip him a new one. ass backwards. just opens another gushing. no way to save parading. should've sealed original.

his ad hominems are genuine, he says. why can't she succumb to the truth -- of his sentiment, his little minimalist sentiment? he says she's defensive. he threatens to point his distension elsewhere. her ad hominids are so cruel. they miss the mark. no one can say he's hominid.

she should be flattered. she would be if only.. what? neurosis? psychosis? the rag?

no matter. only question is whether there'll be a trail when he leaves. that's the issue. sealing the original.

Jaye said...

erhm, I came over to say, thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment. I enjoyed this post, and will be back.

ScaramoucheX said...

well...just to say one thing: I blog to provoke response...it is unimportant to me what kind of response...I don't care if it is criticism or flattery, respect or ridicule...I set no boundaries in the nature of the comments, unless, of course, they are tedious in nature. Being an author whose fiction is unpublished, I reckon I had better get used to slings and arrows, and not be an emotional hostage to the opinions of others...because, if I accomplish my dream and am published, they will come...and the best I can hope for is that there be a lot of them...

Bernita said...

Quasimodal: Thank you. Pure Zen.
Scaramouchex: Do you mean you deliberately rabble-rouse? Play provocateur? Pardon me, but isn't that a little self abusive?

Pat said...

Back on the topic of hooks / lures:

The most effective opening lines I've ever read were:

"'In five years the penis will be obsolete.'" -- Steel Beach by John Varley

"It was hell's season, and the air smelled of burning children." -- Gone South by Robert R. McCammon

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." -- The Gunslinger, volume I of The Dark Tower, by Stephen King

kmfrontain said...

Oh, this was brilliant. I was smiling the whole time I read it. You named almost every sin I committed while writing. Too slow to develop a disaster by page two, old style of writing, refusing to stick with the trends of get to the point quick. You didn't say it in those words, of course, but the basic sense was there. You are welcome to join my big chip club. I apparently have an enormous chip, therefore no sense of humour. Anyone else with a massive chip and no sense of humour is also welcome. :-)