First, let me mention that it’s spring break, so I’m at home, which is good, but the weather has been so bad lately that it was impossible to connect to the internet until today. Too overcast. However, I did manage it today, so here is a post I actually wrote two days ago:
Along with Gillian Bradshaw’s fantasy quadrilogy, I seem to have picked up a handful of sample and quite a few full books recently. Let’s take a look!
In this particular set, I specifically noticed the use of pronouns vs names in the opening. In my very strong opinion, it is almost (but not quite) impossible to pull off a really good opening sentence or paragraph while concealing the identity of the pov character and just saying “the man” or “he.” This nearly always a clumsy device for artificially inserting mystery into the opening scene, which would generally profit from clarity instead. This set of openings provides plenty of examples that illustrate this opinion, including one counterexample that I think works just fine with “he.” Now that I’ve drawn your attention to this feature of openings, see what you think.
I will add that many workshop entries use a “the man” or “the girl” type of opening, that this never works, and that my experience reading those entries may have made me both more sensitive to this kind of unnecessary mystery and less tolerant of it. But see what you think!
1. Mrs Brodie’s Academy, “The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart” by Theresa Romain.
“Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,” chanted Marianne Redfern as she kneaded dough for the next day’s bread. “Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf of the ravined salt-sea shark…” She trailed off when she noticed her assistant, Sally White, looking at her with some alarm. “Did you … are you making a new kind of bread, Mrs Redfern?”
Okay, that’s kind of amusing. I can’t say that I ever kneaded bread to the rhythms of Shakespeare, but why not?
2. Green Rider, by Kristen Britain
The granite was cold and rough against the gray-cloaked man’s palms. It was good, solid granite, from the bones of the earth itself. He traced barely perceptible seams between the huge blocks of the wall. It was the seams, he believed, that held the key. The key to the wall’s destruction.
Okay, well, that’s fine. My first response was positive: I like the way this sounds. My second response was less positive: I thought, good solid granite as opposed to what other kind? Possibly it isn’t useful to type opening sentences of a novel; it slows you down and permits you to ask that kind of question, rather than just turning the page to see what kind of wall this is and why the unnamed person wants to destroy it.
3. A Thousand Perfect Notes by CG Drews
What he wants most in the world is to cut off his own hands.
Wow. I’ll just stop there. I mean … wow. That is one potent first sentence. It’s going to be hard for any other novel opening on this list to top that one. Something might be catchier or more appealing, but I doubt any other book I’ve picked up recently is going to start with a more powerful sentence.
And thus we see that if a sentence has enough impact, I’m okay with “he” rather than a name in the first sentence.
4. A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare
When a girl trudged through the rain at midnight to knock at the Devil’s door the Devil should at least have the depravity – if not he decency – to answer.
Minerva gathered the edges of her cloak with one hand, weathering another cold, stinging blast of wind. She stared in desperation at the closed door, then pounded on it with the flat of her fist.
Catchy. I’ll add a sentence from the next page because it is so startling in context:
Of the three Highwood sisters, she was the only dark-haired one, the only bespectacled one, the only one who preferred sturdy lace-up boots to silk slippers, and the only one who cared one whit about the difference between sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.
Hah! Well, that reminds me why I decided to try this particular novel by Tessa Dare.
5. From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris
Lucius Quinctilius was not, by nature, a reflective man, so perhaps it was just as well that the Dictator’s men gave him little time to contemplate his fate.
The morning of his execution dawned cool and fair, and no one in the household but Quinctilius himself had the slightest inclination that anything was amiss. Even Quinctilius suffered only a mild prick of unease, no more troubling than a splinter. His tongue had overrun him during his last public speech, but as a few days passed and retribution did not fall on his head, he convinced himself that his lapse had been overlooked.
This is a prologue, and sure enough in another page or two, Lucius is dead, so don’t get too attached to him. His wife’s sister is going to show her magical gifts in saving the wife and daughter, in another few pages, and then we’ll see where the story goes from there.
6. Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre
I feel the stars.
Energy pulses against my skin, murmuring secrets about this small galaxy, about orbits and alignments and asteroids streaming in space. Impulse makes me want to dive and cruise those currents, but I control those urges. I shift my attention to the flutters of life within my skin.
Marko glows orange with crimson streaks. He is warm, always the easiest to find. Just now, he stands and stares at the blue-green orb swirling below us.
A space leviathan. Not my favorite. This is another long prologue, so I don’t know where the real story might pick up. Probably not in the belly of the whale, but who knows?
First person narratives are of course immune to the “pronoun problem” in the opening. But it helps if the pov is immediately engaging. As it happens, space whales are a hard sell for me.
7. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
The night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapel, she wasn’t angry or drunk. She was desperate.
Oh, yeah, this is a good opening. Out of these ten novels, if it weren’t for the one with the hands, this would be the opening with the most impact.
8. The Sword Smith by Eleanor Arnason
A little after sunset he came in sight of the town. He reined his horse. Ahead of him the road went down into a wide valley, surrounded by low wooded hills. The town was at the valley’s center: a little cluster of dimly glowing lights. A short distance from the town was a second, smaller cluster of lights, probably a caravan’s camp fires. Nargri, who’d been sleeping curled up in the big saddle bag, raised her head and said, “What’re you doing, Limper?”
A page later, we have an implication that Nargri is a dragon. I was certainly wondering.
Now, as a separate issue, I seem to be more sensitive to stupid-sounding names than some readers, so that, for example, I always had to make an effort of will to tolerate the stupid names in Pratchett’s books. My response to this opening is: Ah, pronoun. Followed by, Limper? ?re you kidding me?
9. Emergency Contact by Mary H K Choi
“Tell me something, Penny . . .”
Penny knew that whatever Madison Chandler was going to say, she wasn’t going to enjoy it. Madison leaned in close, mouth smiling, beady eyes narrowed. Penny held her breath.
“Why is your mom such a slut?”
These first sentences are not the least bit appealing to me. Ugh. However, I will say that when Penny lists her options for responses, that list is not without charm. Here is a truncated version of the list so you can judge for yourself:
a) punch her in the face
b) punch her pervert father in the face
c) rage-cry later
d) unleash the pyrokinetic abilities bequeathed to you upon birth, scorching the shopping mall with the fire of a trillion suns.
Okay, fine, I presume option (d) is not actually on the table, and it would of course be a trifle over the top, but including it in this list is the one thing that will make me turn the page.
10. Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
I wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, the bike’s engine purring. My shotgun, a Benelli M4 Super 90, was slung over my back and loaded for vamp with hand-paced silver fléchette rounds. I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes, secured in loops on my jeans-clad thighs. The saddlebags on my bike were filled with my meager travel belongings – clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other. As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light.
Well, fairly generic UF opening there. When I happen to be in the mood for a new-to-me UF, I will be glad to try this, but who knows when that might be. I do remember who recommended Faith Hunter to me, though, so I am disposed to like the series.
Okay, so that is, let me see:
1 actual Regency
2 ordinary fantasies
1 interestingly Roman-inspired fantasy
1 Urban Fantasy
2 contemporary YA
1 YA dystopia.
Not bad for variety. The one I’m most likely to try soon: The Sword Smith, because I suspect I may not like it, which might mean I could take a quick look and then discard it. Same goes for Honor Among Thieves. I’m always happy to be wrong about that suspicion and sometimes I am, so we’ll see. The one I’m least likely to try soon: A Thousand Perfect Notes. It takes me longer to try a book if it looks powerful.
The book I am actually reading right now:
The sixth Wings of Fire book by Tui Sutherland – the first in the second five-book arc. I hit something of a nothing-sounds-appealing period, so I thought picking up this series would get me over the hurdle. So far so good! Still looking like my favorite MG series. Enormous charm.
Actual current writing of my own:
I am essentially wasting spring break by getting stalled out on my WIP. It’s the SF thing – Invictus is the working title. I doubt I’ve written even 10,000 words in the past five days, not a great writing pace when I’m home all day and the weather is bad; particularly disappointing when the earlier part of the draft went so fast and smoothly.
Yesterday I just poked at it and didn’t get anywhere. Today I am backing up and writing a new Chapter 17. If that doesn’t work, I think I’m going to have to set it aside until I can figure out whether I might be in the wrong pov or maybe figure out how it ends. Or both, obviously. Preferably, I will come up with wonderful, compelling scenes that get me from where I am now to the end. It’s at 86,000 words, so I did get pretty far before it stalled, but it’s annoying because if I knew where it was going and was on a proper roll, I could probably have finished the draft this week. As it is, there’s no chance.
If Invictus won’t get moving, I may pick up Copper Mountain, which stalled earlier this year, and see if it would care to de-stall at this point.
I did finish tweaking a novella, though, and sent that back to Caitlin just now, so that’s something.