Story Starters #11: King’s Folly

Aldair Livina sat at the table in the great cabin of his privately owned ship, the Half Moon, looking over his most recent chart of the Eversea. After an eleven-night voyage north-northwest from the Port of Everton, he had discovered a new island. He had named the isle Bakurah in honor of the first ripe fruit of the season. Aldair hoped that this island would be the first of many.

King's Folly
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Happy New Year, everybody, and welcome to my first post of 2018! In case you don’t know, Story Starters is a series of posts, on the first Monday of every month, where I analyze the first paragraph of a book. Sometimes that’s just a line, sometimes it’s a great big block of text, but today we have one in the middle.

King’s Folly is the first in the Kinsman Chronicles, a trilogy from Jill Williamson which is currently awaiting its third installment. I recently read the second book, King’s Blood, and it reminded me how much I love this series, so I thought today I’d feature the first. Let’s break down this opening sentence by sentence!

  • Aldair Livina sat at the table in the great cabin of his privately owned ship, the Half Moon, looking over his most recent chart of the Eversea. All right, so this is not the best opening line ever written. It does start with a character (although not a major one) and set the scene, though, which are good things. But because this first sentence is actually from a prologue, the character and setting we’re starting with are not things we’re going to return to as we read on. I have seen prologues discouraged for this very reason: they often block the reader from getting into the book right away. But in the case of this 544-page epic fantasy, the prologue exists to set the tone for the whole story in an immediate way you couldn’t get from any of the more major characters’ points of view. Read on for more about this.
  • After an eleven-night voyage north-northwest from the Port of Everton, he had discovered a new island. Here we have some action, or some narration of past action. But still, we’re left wondering: so a new island has been discovered. Why should we care? This turns out to be setup for the next paragraph, in which the immediate conflict of the entire story, the Five Woes that will destroy the continent, are first brought up. If you think about it, a lot of openings contain at least some setup, like the contextual zooming-in technique used a lot in classic literature. So this sentence is perfectly at home in the opening paragraph.
  • He had named the isle Bakurah in honor of the first ripe fruit of the season. This sentence is more or less filler, although it does actually plant some seeds of a goal for the end of this book and the beginning of book 2, which is impressive foreshadowing when you think about it.
  • Aldair hoped that this island would be the first of many. Again we wonder: Why? Why does he hope that and why should we care? And this leads us to the whole purpose of this opening paragraph: raising questions. We, as writers, must raise questions in our openings in order to get the reader to read on–as I’ve talked about before, this is the essence of a good hook. Of course, answering the questions is just as important; you want to give enough information to keep readers appeased and interested, while holding back enough that you can continue to have reveals throughout the book. That’s more of a second-paragraph thing, but still relevant to this first paragraph.

So there you have it, everyone! Before I go, I should note that most of the analysis in this post springs from my extensive reading of Helping Writers Become Authors, which is an excellent blog for all things writing! For more on hooks and so forth, check out the “How to Structure Your Story” series linked to on the left sidebar. I highly recommend it!

That’s all for me today! Happy New Year! Have you read King’s Folly or its sequel, King’s Blood? If so, what did you think? I’d love to discuss it with you! Did you have any further thoughts on this opening that I may have missed? Tell me in the comments!

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