Thursday, June 12, 2014

Evolution of an Opening Sentence

Many of you know I've been working on a long writing project for some time now. It's been written in chunks, oftentimes out of order, usually formatted to resemble more closely a series of short stories than a cohesive whole. This summer, however, as I prepare for my final year of grad school, during which time I intend to complete the long project, I've been piecing the text together, making cuts, writing and re-writing scenes, and I've finally reached a place where the text is beginning to resemble that cohesive whole I've so strongly been wanting.

Well, in honor of reaching my fiftieth chronological page of edited, decent prose today, I've decided to post a couple of my old opening sentences with a little description of why they were cut. I had wanted to post an entire scene from the cutting room floor, but, alas, those scenes which I cut were all cut for a reason and my pride would allow no such concession. In any case, here are three excised opening lines presented in the order of which I conceived and, subsequently, cut them:

First there was heartbreak, then there was nothing; Max Astor was cuckolded at a young age.

At first the opening sentence was only the second independent clause, but I take issue with beginning a piece of writing with a character's name; it seems chintzy and cheap, the kind of shitty first line bad pulp novels tend to use. Then I thought I'd adjust it by adding the beginning, and, haha, look how clever I was by making the first word of the text the word "First." In any case, this entire scene, three-four pages of backstory about a character who has since undergone several name changes and been relegated from protagonist to secondary character, was cut for obvious reasons. Namely, it was neither important nor exciting enough to begin such a long text. Snip snip.

“Truth is this: used to be people needed to justify their melancholy.”

Oh, no, the quote didn't end there. For some reason I, at one point or another, thought that beginning my text with a page and a half long monologue was a good idea. It wasn't. There were no tags to inform the reader who was speaking, nor were there any setting details to inform the reader where the speech was taking place. There was, however, a whole lot stuffing down the reader's throat exactly what I thought they needed to get out of the scene: lots of telegraphed intentions, over-explained motives, the like. This scene underwent several revisions because I didn't feel the setting was strong enough or exciting enough to entice any reader. So, finally, I axed the whole thing. Better to trust one's readers to fill in the blanks than to overwhelm them with information which you think they might not glean on their own; always err in favor the readers' intelligence.

Julius, can't you sympathize?

Something else I take issue with, similar to beginning with character names, is beginning with a question. I swore to myself that this would never be my opening sentence, but I grew complacent and, unable to think of anything better, almost convinced myself it was okay. Thankfully, I came to my senses. This sentence - a variation of it, at least - is still present in my opening paragraph, but has since been replaced with a much better, more fitting opening sentence. Of course, I say that now, but maybe in a month as I continue editing, it'll end up appended to this post.   

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