Novel openings

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  1. #1

    Novel openings

    Here's the sister thread to my 'Putting it out there' thread about the openings to short stories. This thread will be for the discussion of opening novels.

    In novels we have the luxury of time. No looming word counts to constrict our ability to use words, gloriously words! Or do we? How long do you think a reader will really give a book they pick-up off the shelf? Sure, it's a novel, they know they are in this for the long haul, but is it safe to bore them with twenty pages of description of the world of our book, or to dump 400 years of history on them? What do you consider the 'opening' to a novel? The first sentence? First paragraph? Scene? Chapter?

    Here's the first few paragraphs of my novel, Chase. Have at it...

    Chase dreamt of sunshine. He dreamt of the rich smell of grass and the touch of loving hands stroking his broad back and rubbing his ears in places he could not reach. In this fine dream he was a young dog—barely more than apup—who ran from islands of sunshine into lagoons of cool shadepooling under the branches of tall trees. He spun and cut and jumped, chasing a thrown ball as if it were a rabbit. He’d snag the ball without breaking stride and run back to Ben and let it fall gently into a small, pink, hand. Then it would be thrown again and the dream would continue.

    His great feet flicked with the memory of running, but instead of soft grass and fragrant earth under his paws it was the cold, feces caked wire on the bottom of his cage.

    It was a good dream, but it could not last.

    Chase woke quickly when he heard excited barking from the outer room. He was coming. Chase’s heart started to pound, the dream forgotten. The big muscles in his legs began to twitch as he fought an urge to curl up into a tight ball, but no amount of trying could stop the tiny, mewling cries deep in his throat.

    The noise grew from excited to frantic, with low growls and familiar, frightening, snarls mixed in.Chase could hear the cages rattle as the dogs threw their thick bodies against their wire enclosures. Through the deafening racket some of the voices and strident yappings were recognizable: Marco’s sharp bark, so shrill and incessant, Stub’s wild snarl, as ragged and vicious as his gleaming teeth—teeth Chase new well. Cooper,Fist, McGyver, all of them frenetically greeting their master, their alpha, their god... greeting him.All their voices were raised in praise, salute, and supplication. All but Shotgun. Chase new that Shotgun would not make a sound; only lie as silent and motionless as the darkest places in this dark room.

    Shotgun only gave voice for blood.
    “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. #2
    Global Moderator velo's Avatar
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    Thread moved from Writing Discussions to Advanced WD
    Pull no punches. If you are critiquing my work, please don't worry about hurting my feelings. As long as your comments are your legitimate views they are welcome. We learn best from our failures.

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  3. #3
    The first paragraph doesn't tell us anything about the main character or the setting or the story. I think you want to create a contrast, which worked well. But at the most expensive piece of real-estate in a book, I would have made it shorter.

    It's hard to tell a story from a dog's POV. The POV jumps around. Why is that? For example, you put italics on He, suggesting a dogs point of view. But would a dog have a concept of 'alpha'? It reads like a human's imagining of a dog's life. Sunshine?

    Otherwise, I think you efficiently set a problem (mistreatment of a dog). Everything's in temporal order! There are no spoilers!
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    The first paragraph doesn't tell us anything about the main character or the setting or the story. I think you want to create a contrast, which worked well. But at the most expensive piece of real-estate in a book, I would have made it shorter.
    Thanks for the input, Emma. The contrast between Chase's previous life to his situation at the beginning of the book is the point of the entire opening chapter (along with introducing the antagonist [He] and another main character [Shotgun]). I wasn't too worried about the length of the opening. This is a long book, so the first few hundred words don't need to be a head-first dive into conflict, although IMO there's a lot of conflict inherent in Chase's fear.

    It's hard to tell a story from a dog's POV. The POV jumps around. Why is that? For example, you put italics on He, suggesting a dogs point of view. But would a dog have a concept of 'alpha'? It reads like a human's imagining of a dog's life. Sunshine?
    The POV doesn't jump. It is all from Chase's POV. It's what the dog hears, what the dog recognizes, and what the dog knows. Writing from a dog's POV isn't difficult if you know dogs and are willing to anthropomorphize a bit. Since Chase is so central to the plot I chose to give him a 'voice' so to speak.

    Otherwise, I think you efficiently set a problem (mistreatment of a dog). Everything's in temporal order! There are no spoilers!
    That's not even the central problem in the book. The opening chapter could actually be properly labeled a prologue, as the next chapter shifts to the POV of the protagonist and Chase doesn't come back on-stage until page 135. Is it in temporal order? The first scene, the dream, isn't happening in the 'now' of the story. It's a memory of a time past. One thing nice about not pre-planning a novel is that spoilers are naturally avoided. I can't spoil what doesn't yet exist in my head.
    “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






  5. #5
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post

    Chase dreamt of sunshine. He dreamt of the rich smell of grass and the touch of loving hands stroking his broad back and rubbing his ears in places he could not reach. In this fine dream he was a young dog—barely more than apup—who ran from islands of sunshine into lagoons of cool shadepooling under the branches of tall trees. He spun and cut and jumped, chasing a thrown ball as if it were a rabbit. He’d snag the ball without breaking stride and run back to Ben and let it fall gently into a small, pink, hand. Then it would be thrown again and the dream would continue.

    His great feet flicked with the memory of running, but instead of soft grass and fragrant earth under his paws it was the cold, feces caked wire on the bottom of his cage.

    It was a good dream, but it could not last.

    Chase woke quickly when he heard excited barking from the outer room. He was coming. Chase’s heart started to pound, the dream forgotten. The big muscles in his legs began to twitch as he fought an urge to curl up into a tight ball, but no amount of trying could stop the tiny, mewling cries deep in his throat.

    The noise grew from excited to frantic, with low growls and familiar, frightening, snarls mixed in.Chase could hear the cages rattle as the dogs threw their thick bodies against their wire enclosures. Through the deafening racket some of the voices and strident yappings were recognizable: Marco’s sharp bark, so shrill and incessant, Stub’s wild snarl, as ragged and vicious as his gleaming teeth—teeth Chase new well. Cooper,Fist, McGyver, all of them frenetically greeting their master, their alpha, their god... greeting him.All their voices were raised in praise, salute, and supplication. All but Shotgun. Chase new that Shotgun would not make a sound; only lie as silent and motionless as the darkest places in this dark room.

    Shotgun only gave voice for blood.
    I really like this. The opener is heartbreaking in its simplicity. I like the fact that you have turned the waking-from-a-dream trope on its head by making the MC a dog. And there's a good emotional wallop - with the person coming in, who clearly is bad news for these poor dogs. And Shotgun - what's the deal with him? He's clearly seen some shit, poor guy. There's not much I would change here. Just watch for writing "new" when you mean "knew".


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    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

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  6. #6
    I wanted to ask if the novel had a precipitating incident.

    Prologues don't bother me if they are chronologically before the next chapter. Especially since the setting and characters stay the same.

    POV isn't really an issue for starts, it's more general. But describing her cage while she is dreaming can't be Chase's POV.

    The rest is, I guess, where you want to draw the line, you obviously can't talk like a dog. But I'm not sure you draw the line consistently. You have Chase running after a ball like it is a rabbit. Chase is using a simile? I mean, that's how he thinks of it? Or just take sunshine on his back. That sounds like you describing a scene, not describing the way a dog would experience it.
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  7. #7
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post

    POV isn't really an issue for starts, it's more general. But describing her cage while she is dreaming can't be Chase's POV..
    Take a look at this blog. It talks about psychic distance & shows that character POV can be maintained while moving in and out of perspective - closer and more subjective, further away and more objective, and so forth. No obligation to write totally in limited POV.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    I wanted to ask if the novel had a precipitating incident.

    Prologues don't bother me if they are chronologically before the next chapter. Especially since the setting and characters stay the same.

    POV isn't really an issue for starts, it's more general. But describing her cage while she is dreaming can't be Chase's POV.

    The rest is, I guess, where you want to draw the line, you obviously can't talk like a dog. But I'm not sure you draw the line consistently. You have Chase running after a ball like it is a rabbit. Chase is using a simile? I mean, that's how he thinks of it? Or just take sunshine on his back. That sounds like you describing a scene, not describing the way a dog would experience it.
    I don't think in story structure terms, I just try to tell a story I would like to read so I'll need to try and apply the 'precipitating incident' concept in retrospect. If there's one incident without which the story would fall apart, that would happen in chapter 3.

    To tell you the truth, the opening chapter could be chronologically ahead of the rest of the book by days, minutes, or months, or it could be happening simultaneously with any of the events prior to Chase's re-introduction at page 135. I never thought about it much. To me it reads as if it is slightly before, or along with the events in chapter 2.

    Chase is written in 3rd limited, so, jumping in and out of Chase's head is okay.

    As far as writing from the dog's POV, a dozen writers would have a dozen opinions about that. I don't see any inconsistency, but that's just me. What I do know, is, based on reader feedback, Chase (a male dog by the way, that's why the 2nd sentence starts with a 'He') is one of the most popular characters in the book. I don't think I'd change much.
    “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. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    And Shotgun - what's the deal with him? He's clearly seen some shit, poor guy. There's not much I would change here. Just watch for writing "new" when you mean "knew".
    Shotgun started out as a simple foil for Chase, but became much more. Chase is a golden retriever being used as a 'bait-dog' by a guy who runs a major dog fighting operation. Shotgun is the man's top fighting dog, a huge pit-bull, bull mastiff cross (the image of a cane corso included here is what I had in mind for Shotgun but I hadn't heard of that breed at the time of writing). I always knew that Chase and Shotgun were destined to face-off against each other, but how that actually came about, and the result, was far different (and far better IMO) than I originally thought.

    images (1).jpg Cane_Corso_Italiano(34).jpg
    Last edited by Terry D; February 11th, 2019 at 05:32 PM.
    “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. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Here's the sister thread to my 'Putting it out there' thread about the openings to short stories. This thread will be for the discussion of opening novels.

    In novels we have the luxury of time. No looming word counts to constrict our ability to use words, gloriously words! Or do we? How long do you think a reader will really give a book they pick-up off the shelf? Sure, it's a novel, they know they are in this for the long haul, but is it safe to bore them with twenty pages of description of the world of our book, or to dump 400 years of history on them? What do you consider the 'opening' to a novel? The first sentence? First paragraph? Scene? Chapter?

    Here's the first few paragraphs of my novel, Chase. Have at it...

    Chase dreamt of sunshine. He dreamt of the rich smell of grass and the touch of loving hands stroking his broad back and rubbing his ears in places he could not reach. In this fine dream he was a young dog—barely more than apup—who ran from islands of sunshine into lagoons of cool shadepooling under the branches of tall trees. He spun and cut and jumped, chasing a thrown ball as if it were a rabbit. He’d snag the ball without breaking stride and run back to Ben and let it fall gently into a small, pink, hand. Then it would be thrown again and the dream would continue.

    His great feet flicked with the memory of running, but instead of soft grass and fragrant earth under his paws it was the cold, feces caked wire on the bottom of his cage.

    It was a good dream, but it could not last.

    Chase woke quickly when he heard excited barking from the outer room. He was coming. Chase’s heart started to pound, the dream forgotten. The big muscles in his legs began to twitch as he fought an urge to curl up into a tight ball, but no amount of trying could stop the tiny, mewling cries deep in his throat.

    The noise grew from excited to frantic, with low growls and familiar, frightening, snarls mixed in.Chase could hear the cages rattle as the dogs threw their thick bodies against their wire enclosures. Through the deafening racket some of the voices and strident yappings were recognizable: Marco’s sharp bark, so shrill and incessant, Stub’s wild snarl, as ragged and vicious as his gleaming teeth—teeth Chase new well. Cooper,Fist, McGyver, all of them frenetically greeting their master, their alpha, their god... greeting him.All their voices were raised in praise, salute, and supplication. All but Shotgun. Chase new that Shotgun would not make a sound; only lie as silent and motionless as the darkest places in this dark room.

    Shotgun only gave voice for blood.
    While I don't agree with Emma Sohan's views on POV, I do struggle with novels told from the perspective of animals, small children, or any other character who is physically incapable of expressing complex thoughts and yet whose thoughts are expressed at this level of emotional and/or intellectual sophistication. I had this issue with Black Beauty. I had this issue with Watership Down. I had it with Cujo and Gerald's Game. And in the interest of 'full disclosure' yeah, I have it with this. I tend to avoid 'animal books' for this reason.

    The story is third person so all that is less of an issue than if it was first person, to be sure, but I do find it difficult to get a clear idea of the narrative voice when it is intimate enough with the dog to know the dog's innermost thoughts and yet clearly Not The Dog - or if it is supposed to be, on some level, a manifestation of Dog Consciousness it does not work. On the other hand, I am not entirely sure how better to write this sort of thing. If we were going to adopt the kind of narrative puritanism Emma seems to be advocating it will be impossible to write this story.

    To me this then becomes an exercise in suspension-of-disbelief regarding the authenticity of voice, which is a challenging one. Challenging but doable and only pays off if it is handled with absolute competency. I think you do it well. I don't see any major issues with this as a beginning. I feel I get a very clear indication of the themes of this story, which are actually quite conventional in the 'abuse' genre. The motif of an idyllic dream juxtaposed with a hellish reality is nothing new. Which leads me to question what it is that makes this feel original (because it does) and I suspect it probably is the infusion of what feels like a human situation described in a human voice but applied to a dog. If this was not a dog but a child or a woman I probably wouldn't care for it much.

    Which leads me to think that maybe the voice isn't actually that important if the character and situation is strong enough. In such a case, the voice becomes passive. Almost unnoticeable as it simply functions to impart descriptions and information with indifference to the plausibility of POV.
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 14th, 2019 at 10:09 AM.
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