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  1. #11
    Instead of trying parse out what is and isn't "odd", we could talk about how and why we begin our own stories. Is having a 'hook' important to you? Is it more important to establish setting, or time? Do you generally begin your stories in a similar way? Does it matter if you are working on a short story as compared to a novel? Do you have any 'rules' you follow? Any you enjoy breaking?

    I don't mean to hijack, or detour the thread, but it seems that the intent of the OP has been a bit distorted. To answer my own questions:

    Hooks? Setting the hook quickly is very important to me in my short stories, but I do it in different ways depending on the story. For instance, in one of my stories I wanted to try and capture a bit of the whimsy with which Ray Bradbury wrote so I opened the story like this: It was banana o'clock on May thirty-seventh when Brian Bruce Titus Summerland's new and very best friend spoke for the first time.

    Many times I start a story right in the middle of something happening, or with dialogue, so the reader is involved in what's going on from the start. A lot of my flash fiction starts with dialogue. Other times I'll start with a character physically doing something, like this: Bam, bam, bam. Bam-bam-bam. It felt good to pound the meat.

    But other times I don't start that way at all: Rising up like a stone tumor from the scant soil of a clearing at the crest of a slumped and sagging mountain in West Virginia, the church consisted of limestone layers and granite blocks jumbled together, rearranged, torn apart, and rebuilt with no apparent plan or purpose; like a plaything, a whimsical construct from the haphazard mind of some gigantic toddler.

    The tone and pace of the story determines how I choose to open. Other times the word count I'm working toward plays a part. But, however I choose to start, I'm looking for that hook. In my long-form work I often take more time and try to be more subtle about how I hook the reader. I've also been know to break some 'rules' about novel openings. In one of my books I opened with a dream sequence (supposedly a big no-no), in another I started with a prologue (another much-discussed topic). In one book I start with someone arriving, in another I start with someone leaving home (both of those are pretty common tropes).
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

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  2. #12
    Here's a rather lengthy list of opening from well regarded novels from many ages. I think our opinions of which ring odd and which do not might vary quite a bit among us.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  3. #13
    A good hook for me I read is disaster or facing defeat. That is the status quo.

    Should the hook always reflect the main plot? Because plot reflects unity? What is each person's experience when writing a story? For some subplots for a short story are difficult to do.
    We need one event, that creates the plot and not two subplots if a short story.
    so who thinks this isn't true and why? I think I believe in concentrating on one one plot before concentrating on a subplot. It has proven difficult for me. I also started many subplots.

    I haven't read the examples but will since it is uncomfortable with this reading device.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  4. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Here's a rather lengthy list of opening from well regarded novels from many ages. I think our opinions of which ring odd and which do not might vary quite a bit among us.
    Actually, it seems like a list of 53 opening lines that are interesting by themselves. Yes, it would be interesting to learn what people think of them.

    But we can't evaluate how well they fit into the rest of the story or even the rest of the paragraph. If you analyze:

    Anything can happen, Will Dando thought, in the next five seconds, in the next five years. Anything at all. (Oracle Year)
    That sounds good, right? But the point of the first chapter is that he knows the final outcome of the football game everyone is watching. So that start was not merely pointless, it actually confused me.

    They were chosen because they were interesting BY THEMSELVES. That leaves us out of the process of judging their aptness. Whatever you want to make of Orwell's clocks striking 13, there's nothing in the following paragraph or several to indicate meaning. You could take that out of the book and nothing would change except the loss of a goofy first line. I guess it could contribute to mood, but it's almost more misleading.

    There's not many spoilers in there. We cannot evaluate how well they fit into the time-line of whatever follows.
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  5. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Instead of trying parse out what is and isn't "odd", we could talk about how and why we begin our own stories. Is having a 'hook' important to you? Is it more important to establish setting, or time? Do you generally begin your stories in a similar way? Does it matter if you are working on a short story as compared to a novel? Do you have any 'rules' you follow? Any you enjoy breaking?

    I don't mean to hijack, or detour the thread,...)
    Be my guest, I am eager to learn about starts. Do you identify a precipitating event? Do you start with it? I almost always do, but I'm growing an appreciation for the "life-as-normal" start leading up to the precipitating event. Or do you just ignore it?
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  6. #16
    You could always start with a crisis, an event that promises a lot of trouble. The newspaper is a great source for an event. Now whether this qualifies as a precipitating event I dont know the definition to this.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  7. #17
    [Hook: a thing designed to catch people's attention. "companies are looking for a sales hook"]

    ^The comparison with a sales hook is quite good because when we look at a variety of well-known TV commercials/promotional campaigns we see a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle differences that are roughly aligned with the differences between novel openers. Many start off with a blaring jingle and a lot of 'buy my product' flashing color. This, I guess, would be the literary equivalent, of beginning a book with: ""I'm pretty much fucked." Immediate and punchy and obvious. It's a 'I'm here and you better pay attention' approach which, assuming it's not obnoxious, cliche or totally out of line with the mood of the story that follows, is usually effective. Other types of openers are way more understated. I always remember a Guinness commercial from the 90's that was mostly silent, building up with slow drums and a pensive, almost frightening tone. I remember that commercial better than almost any.

    So a slow-burn can definitely work Deep, contemplative can work. Funny/wacky/goofy can work. Sinister and freaky can work. I think there are as many different kinds of workable 'hooks' as there are people in the world. Because every human is in some way unique and every perspective has the potential to be transposed into a narrative voice and every narrative voice can become interesting provided it is authentic. The beginnings that don't work for me tend to be the ones that don't seem to have a distinct, original approach. Like if a commercial was just one person repeating 'buy this, buy this' over generic background music and the image of a toaster.

    Maybe it would be easier to say what doesn't tend to work*?

    (1) Lengthy descriptions about banal details don't work. Talking a whole paragraph to wax lyrical about how gray/blue/white/black a sky/ocean/river/dress/eyeball is. Unless you can paint these images in flawlessly original ways and tie them into a sense of story, these are usually a solid sign of crap. I stop reading.

    (2) Bad dialogue...I like starting stories with dialogue. It's actually something I often have to stop myself from using every time. It just seems like the most obvious and natural way to draw somebody into a story, to appeal to the human desire (need?) for listening-in, and I like writing it. That's fine, but clumsy, stiff, trying-to-hard-to-sound-tough or general weak/cringe-worthy dialogue at the beginning of any story (other than parody) is a big red flag. I stop reading.

    (3) 'Wisdom'. It's everywhere, probably we all do it, the self-absorbed 'trying so hard to be profound it hurts' profundities. First lines built on a 15 year old's idea of nihilism or pop-philosophy and isolated lines riddled with budget Sylvia Plath fart-water. This does not work for me, certainly not these days. So I stop reading.

    (4) Jargon dumps: Inserting a ton of specific references to made up worlds/countries/cities/races/places/machines/religions/technologies/weapons and expecting, on some level, the reader to know what it is you are talking about and care about it without explaining/giving a clear indication as to what the damn thing is and why it matters. Steroiding openers full with an ton of information that is extremely specific to the world in which the story is set too quickly and assumes outright that I care about Z-12928 ZAPDUSTER SPACE POD or the KWORTH EMPIRIAL ARMY LEGION or whatever else...strikes me as arrogant. I shouldn't have to work that hard from the first line to figure out what you are talking about and I shouldn't need to keep notes to form some sort of glossary. So I stop reading.

    *IMO
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 6th, 2019 at 11:15 AM.

  8. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Actually, it seems like a list of 53 opening lines that are interesting by themselves. Yes, it would be interesting to learn what people think of them.

    But we can't evaluate how well they fit into the rest of the story or even the rest of the paragraph.
    I think it is safe to assume that the openings fit well into the rest of the story since those 53 writers and books are considered some of the best in the business. As a contrast, take a look at these openings from novels that, let's just say, aren't particularly well done.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  9. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    They were chosen because they were interesting BY THEMSELVES. That leaves us out of the process of judging their aptness. Whatever you want to make of Orwell's clocks striking 13, there's nothing in the following paragraph or several to indicate meaning. You could take that out of the book and nothing would change except the loss of a goofy first line. I guess it could contribute to mood, but it's almost more misleading.
    I have to circle back to this. As I mentioned above, those lines come from books generally considered to be excellent books, so the lines were not chosen "...because they were interesting BY THEMSELVES." They were chosen as examples of great openings to great books, so they are apt.

    Also, Orwell's classic opening to 1984 is classic because it so swiftly and succinctly immerses the reader into the world of the book. In that one sentence Orwell tells his readers that this world is very different from that to which they are accustomed. In the first two paragraphs (not too much to be considered 'the opening') Orwell shows us a dirty world ("vile wind" "Swirling grit"), a broken world where the lift seldom works and the electricity is rationed, a world where there is something called "Hate Week", and, of course he introduces us to the ubiquitous presence of Big Brother. To me a clock striking thirteen fits perfectly into that world.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  10. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    I think it is safe to assume that the openings fit well into the rest of the story since those 53 writers and books are considered some of the best in the business..
    #2:
    The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes.
    This locates the reader in space and time. That's good, right?

    There had been tensions beforehand, rumors of disturbances in other towns whispered above my head, but no explosions, nothing outright.
    This is an event from before the first sentence. That's not rare, but it's not common either. Is the reader supposed to stay in the time where the war had begun, or move to the new time? Note that the reverse in time was marked in two ways; it's a lot easier grammatically to present events happening in order.

    Caught between the mountains, Zagreb sweltered in the summer, and most people abandoned the city for the coast during the hottest months. For as long as I could remember my family had vacationed with my godparents in a fishing village down south.
    Except for "remember", which I cannot place in time, this is before the second sentence. So the author is moving backwards in time!

    But the Serbs had blocked the roads to the sea, at least that’s what everyone was saying, so for the first time in my life we spent the summer inland.
    This is after the previous sentence (moving forward in time, finally); I couldn't guess whether it is before the pack of cigarettes or at the same time.

    Do any of your paragraphs hop around time like this? It seems very unusual, except of course that out-of-time-sequence first sentence, which apparently pushes the following lines out of order.

    Plus, I'm pretty sure that's going to be a spoiler for an upcoming scene involving a pack of cigarettes. Really, the emotional impact can be reduced by the reader knowing the result of a scene.
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