Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spontaneous on Beginnings

Over at Spontaneous Derivation, Arachne Jericho has come up with a post about the beginnings of novels, looking at why the ones that work for her worked. Strangely enough, Acacia is on the list...

Glad to hear my "assassin on a mortal mission" beginning got the hooks in some folks. I'm aware, though, that I'm not a quick-grab sort of writer. I don't think I ever will be. Sure, I want readers to be intrigued by the beginning enough to keep going, but really it's not until about halfway through that I'm confident the different narrative threads I've been building are getting sufficiently tight and compelling. That's my hope at least, that readers are increasingly engaged as the book progresses. Certainly, I'd rather that be the case than that I hook them early and disappoint them later, which happens often enough.

Anyway, the Spontaneous Derivation piece is here.

What works for you all with a beginning? For me, one of the main things is just the quality of the writing. I felt that the first time I read A Game of Thrones. I'd started and then put down a few other fantasies prior to coming to Martin's, but from the first few lines I was, "Whoa, this guy's a pro." It was easy to read on just because of that, and I wasn't let down.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there! Thanks for the link and mention.

The first chapter of Acacia is beautiful, where beginnings are concerned (and in other respects too). The assassin moves through an engaging environment, and he's on a mission. It's not things blowing up, and it's not direct confrontation; it's quiet and stealthy, yet still pulls the reader in.

I tend to like more quiet openings. The problem with starting with a bang is that by definition you lose momentum unless you've managed to compensate in some other manner. Building up, on the other hand, is more difficult but gathers momentum.

Or maybe it's just because I've had the (mis)fortune to read a slush pile where "guns-a-blazing" openings were too... prominent, and ill-handled. It's like the other side of the coin of the "wake-up-brush-teeth-dress" openings.

Anyways; you write awesomely. I compare you favorably with Martin. And I love his work.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

I think it has to do with the type of book I'm reading.

If it is a scifi book, I like something "interesting" happening, like a spaceship moving into orbit, or an alien "procuring" a live meal, or something to that effect.

If it is a horror book, I like to have nothing really happen at the beginning, but to feel a sense of dread at the nothing as it slowly builds throughout the book, referring back to the beginning as I realize I actually read something quite horrifying.

If it is "Literature" I expect nothing to happen at all, until the end. I just plow through if I can stand it.

It just depends on the book.

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can’t really say what’s grabbing me at the beginning of a book. I guess every book has his own history. I do like books which start with a bang, but anyway, if a beginning is interesting, I really don’t mind even if the book starts slowly, building up its momentum.

I happened to read an excerpt of Acacia before I bought the book. It was the first chapter and a part of the second.
Well, I thought the beginning was somewhat unusual for a fantasy book (fantasy books, I think, tend to start in an impressinve way, if you know what I mean), but I was immediately hooked. I think it was the way the book starts very quietly, but every step it takes, it gives the reader more very little pieces of information, until, at the end of the chapter, you have huge expectations about this mysteryous assassin, and – more importantly – you already feel to know him well enough.

Anyways, I finished reading the excerpt and immediately ordered the book (I work in a book-shop, so it was really a matter of minutes!).

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People always say action is key... but, as with the article, I'd have to say the term "engagement" is more apt. And I think the key to that is partly dramatic tension in one form or another, and otherwise mostly style and voice. Great writing... there will be something about the voice that grabs you, that convinces you within words of the reality of this particular story. I think it's about trust. You pick something up and start the first line, the first paragraph, and I often think it's the writing that demands you read on. Yes, a great and interesting idea or action is helpful... but if it's poorly written are you going to be convinced enough to read on?

I think the quality of that voice, its ability to convince, is the outward sign of the writer's authority. And that authority indicates that the writer is in control, that they're in command of this story, and it's going where they want it to go, and they're going to take you along with them. So, for me, it's all the subtle complexities subsumed into the voice, into the writing, that hooks me and pulls me on.

For example, there's the old opening, as Arachne mentioned, of the person waking up, brushing their teeth, etc. Sort of "the character starts his day here so the story starts here", which is usually the worst way to go. Except... I just read Saturday, by Ian McEwan, and he opens, yes, with a guy waking up and starting his day. And it's brilliant. And once we get into it a bit, we do see something unusual, but by then we're already hooked, and I don't really think it's by anything but the sheer command of the writing, of how purely convincing that voice is, building fascination out of small things.

Anyway, that's my take on it.

Best to everyone,

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you know I think the world of you (although, I still don't like Corinn). I believe your strength is in world building. Cultural diversity, moral dilemmas, and lots of delicious descriptions are what I think of when I think of Acacia.

When I think of GRRM... well I can probably repeat lines his characters uttered like one repeats lines from their favorite movie. His characters are utterly delicious. Intricate plots, POV characters, grey characters, more witty than they have a right to be characters... well these are a few of my favorite things. Needless to say... I think he's a god.

Rothfuss's dialog is almost as good... thank you for making him wear his seat belt.

1:05 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Thanks for the comments. All duly noted and very sensible.


You're welcome.

8:02 PM  

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