“Opening” or “It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged, That a Book Must Be In Want of a Bang-Up First Line”

“You can take this job and SHOVE IT!”

            I wish I could remember exactly where I read that – some book of advice for writers on how not to begin their stories. The above was an included (and, I thought, hilarious) example of one such poor “first part or stage, as of a book”, the excessively impassioned quote followed by the character throwing papers and kicking chairs and otherwise behaving like someone trying a little too hard to catch the readers’ attention.

            Of course, catching the readers’ attention is precisely what we writers wish our opening lines to do – and, once hooked, we want to hold onto it for however long the story lasts, be it a hundred-word drabble or a hundred-thousand-word epic. So there’s a decent amount of pressure attached to selecting a first sentence, fragment, or paragraph that can really go the distance – so much so that one might view as a substantial boon the provision of a mandatory opening line as a part of a short story contest or quarterly publication.

            I refer specifically to The First Line, a literary journal in which “each issue contains short stories that stem from a common first line” (quoting from their website’s “About” page, folks). It was my boundless pleasure to have a piece of mine published in The First Line’s latest issue (on sale here in PDF and paperback!), and a more moderate pleasure to build the mythological tale in question from the given starting point, “It had been a long year.

My story, “The Shining Son”, features the resplendent original D.E. Shipley character seen here. Doesn’t that just make you want to read it all the more?

            More often, though, we’ll be required to come up with our own story openings, our perhaps repressed desire to see our first lines up there with the greats (or, at least, the very-well-knowns), such as:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”

The famed opening spoofed by my first Ever On Word blog post subtitle. (First one to comment with the title of that book gets happy dance rights; brownie points if you can quote the actual line correctly.)

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

“Once upon a time…”

“Once upon a time…”

“Twice upon a time…” or “Once upon a something-other-than-a-time…”

You could come up with a three-word opening sentence to match this cetaceous pic pretty quick, couldn’t ya?

            Most of these openers will probably be familiar to you, even if you’ve never read the books from which they hail – a case of the first line achieving renown practically surpassing that of the story it’s introducing. How daunting to think of penning openings to rival such as these!

            I’ll let you in on a heartening little secret, though: The opening is not the story. Even should the first line fail to brand itself into the minds of the general public for generations to come, you’ll be given paragraphs and pages to more than redeem yourself, and there is yet time for your story to become one of the most beloved books in some reader somewhere’s library.

            I don’t have to be able to quote by heart “You who so plod amid serious things that you feel it shame to give yourself up even for a few short moments to mirth and joyousness in the land of Fancy; you who think that life hath nought to do with innocent laughter that can harm no one; these pages are not for you” in order to cherish my copy of Pyle’s “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”.

            That I can’t remember a word of “I do like a road, because you can be always wondering what is at the end of it” without dashing off to my bookshelf to look it up diminishes my love for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “The Story Girl” not a bit.

            If no one but my future fans can easily recall that the first chapter of my “Wilderhark Tales” begins “Doctor Villem Deere was not easily surprised”, I’ll be okay with that.

            Unless you’ve somehow managed the remarkable feat of employing an opening that turns off your entire readership forever before they even glance at the second sentence (which almost seems worthy of a twisted sort of authorial pride), your first line is only that: The first line of many, many more.

            So, important as your beginning words are, don’t spend too much time stressing over them – plow on through with an eye toward finishing strong, and leave your readers with more than just an opening to remember.

“Reminiscence”

The last days of December are upon us; once more, we approach the annual threshold: Old year’s end, new year’s beginning.

            The end of a thing often breeds nostalgia; we turn to stare at the footprints stretching out behind us through rose-colored lenses (or perhaps a black-and-white lens would be better, so everything looks all Old Hollywood glamorous), romanticizing memories our minds have generously half-forgotten. Less sentimental types may observe the footprints from the bird’s-eye view of hindsight, discerning patterns in the movement that, before, they were to close to see. And those who are neither sentimental nor analytical may simply glance back with a “Yeah – good times, good times…”, then give their attention to their present or immediate future.

            On a typical day, I’ll probably end up being all three. Whether wistfully, critically, or just for fun, I enjoy “the act or process of recollecting past experiences or events”. So I figured now is as good a time as any to look back at the kind of year 2011 has been for me. With the help of my rosy hindsight glasses, I’ve been able to break it up into three roughly chronological categories. My 2011 has been:

A Year of Inspired Creation

            …Which I could just as easily rename “The Year of the Minstrels”.

            January was hot on the heels of my first NaNoWriMo, and Gant-o’-the-Lute, having once been released from my inner-brain’s confines to assist in the writing of “Ballad”, had only just played his prelude with a symphony to go. With his one-Tirzah cheerleading squad backing him up, Lute demanded the transcription of his early years, which resulted in a song-studded novella.

            While I was in Wilderhark mode, I finally finished the closing installment of the series, which had been languishing somewhere around page thirty for about a year. (As Lute would say, “Triumph!”)

            And in the meantime, I interrogated various characters through the infamous Anything and Everything Character Questionnaire and played with them in our immaterial Sherwood, which led to more stories, more songs, drawings galore, yet another minstrel protagonist, and – pulled straight from the mire of mental shenanigans – a full-length “Ballad” sequel. (Just goes to show how productive a so-called waste of time can be! The creative process is a curious thing.)

My minstrels and tailor, reimagined as alternate-universe superheroes. You never know how far a collection of inside jokes will take you...

A Year of Nerdy Entertainment

            My parents really went above and beyond in hooking up their fantasy-geek daughter, this past summer.

            My dearest mother made me my very own minstrel outfit – tunic, feathered beret, and that piece worn over the shoulders that Allyn-a-Dale tells me shall be known as a “swag”, all in blue. (I felt so Gant!) Mother and Father both took me to the Evenstar Faerie Festival, where magical fun was had by all, and visually chronicled here.

            Think that can’t be topped? Think again, for Daddy and I got to watch a screening of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, complete with the score played live by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! (A minstrel outfit wouldn’t have been quite appropriate. Fortunately, that’s what hooded brown cloaks are for.)

            And then, of course, there was the whole family’s traditional romp at the Bristol Renaissance Faire… where Robin Hood kissed my hand… thereby ending the summer on a note that really couldn’t be topped!

This shot was taken just before the kiss. I wouldn’t have had the wits to pose, after.

 

A Year of Unexpected Blessings

            Then came the autumn, and the birth of Ever On Word.

            I was initially leery of starting this blog, unsure whether I would find it at all enjoyable, or just another reputedly necessary writing-related chore. Well, readers, you probably haven’t been able to tell, given how remarkably subtle I am, but I’ve been having fun with you guys. I’ve traded words with some great folks, since September – read some grand posts, received some priceless encouragement… Yeah, I’d say this has most def been less than a total waste of time. (:

            Many of you will have been here for my NaNoWriMo-turned-PerGoSeeMo. I sure didn’t see that coming; but then, God is kind of a master of surprise. We had some special times, my Author and I, and we mean for it to be only the beginning.

            Speaking of the beginning, this month has set my personal publication ball rolling in a way that knocked me breathless. I’m giddy with excitement over where my words have gone, and am giddier still as I look with eager expectation to where I’ll go from here.

            After all, as lovely as a few moments spent in reminiscence can be, the future’s made of epic memories waiting to happen.

            And what of yourselves, readers mine? What were the highlights of your 2011?

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 31

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 31. PerGoSeeMo Psalms 1-30

            In the beginning, a single thought

A challenge to offer what most I prize:

My time – the hours that would have been Story’s,

For you had another tale in store for me.

A tale that began in the chapters of John,

And continued in spite of my clamoring mind;

You led me to quiet and up to the sky,

And drew me into your invisible arms.

            You showed your name’s power, of which I’d been told,

And guided my steps to the bridge where you waited

To prove that you’re more than my heart ever heard,

Even though you were speaking wherever I turned.

We traded fairytales blended with truth,

Spoke author to Author, and sung songs anew;

Reflected on plans and desires, and watched me

Fall into patterns of disciples of old.

            But more than words only, you gave me your peace,

And assurance that we’ve only just now begun –

This month the nativity of the days onward

For Father and daughter and Spirit and Son.

            Amen.

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 1

I’ve decided that I’m going to start giving each of my PerGoSeeMo psalms their own posts, consolidating the page that hitherto hosted them into a list of links to aforesaid posts.

            I held off on this originally, because I doubted my motives – what with there being greater visibility for posts vs. the page, perchance leading to more views and potential Ever On Word subscribers. I didn’t want to do such a thing for a selfish reason, when that’s not what this November’s about. (For those who may be wondering what it is about, here’s the scoop.)

            But upon further reflection, I do want the psalms to be more visible – not for me, but so others have better odds of gaining something from them. And on another hand, it might almost be considered an inconvenience to me, since my home page would now be covered with a backlog of psalms. It would be like plastering God all over my face, and meekly daring anyone to be turned off by it; putting my blog where my mouth is, or my mouth where my faith is, or something like that.

            Well, so be it. “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16)

            So, fair warning, my current wonderful subscribers: Your email inboxes will be temporarily flooded with psalms while I get caught up. If you’re like me and start to stress when there’s a pile of unread posts staring you in the face, feel free to trash them; they’ll still be around here when you’re good and ready to deal with them. And of course, you’re also free to read them – or reread them, if you’ve been visiting the page. Do what you will. I’ve no expectations; just doing what I feel called to do.

            To get things rolling, then, let’s take it back to the beginning…

* * *

Psalm 1. John 1:4, 14; John 3:19-21

            In the beginning, a single word

A word of all others and life and light

A story in full, you spoke into being

Anthologies springing from wakening singing

A tale with a prologue that is, with no start

And an epilogue that, once begun, will not end

And chapter by chapter, the middle unfolds

‘Long a plot line planned down to the smallest detail.

            Onto the blankness, the wordsmith inks

The opening phrase, story line’s genesis

An author, of course you would draw on yourself –

On your light, on your life — and infuse your world with it

The words tumbling faster, you set up the stage

Backdrop of perfection you knew would not last

For it’s character nature to stumble their way

To the ever after they have no way of seeing.

            But you saw from the first how they’d cling to the darkness,

No matter provision of heavenly dawn;

So many predestined to choose to ignore you,

Backs turned on the glory of the risen son.