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.
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!
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.
Good morning, everyone! Happy Monday and welcome to December! For this first Monday of the month, I am as usual analyzing the first paragraph of a novel. A Wizard of Earthsea is an excellent classic young adult fantasy by Ursula K. Le Guin (see my review for more!), which I highly recommend. Having been originally released in 1968, however, its opening isn’t quite as gripping as other’s we’ve looked at. Let’s break this down sentence-by-sentence.
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts is peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. So this might not be the most immediately engaging opening line ever written (personally, I prefer openings that start right off with character action or dialogue), but it still catches the interest, which, as K.M. Weiland writes, is required for a hook. Why? Well, I think the answer is in two things: genre and phrasing. Genre, because as a fantasy novel should, this describes an interesting setting far outside the average experience, which helps to catch interest. Phrasing, because of the short-long-short phrase structure within the sentence (look at where the commas are). There’s a graphic I’ve seen floating around the Internet about how varying sentence length and structure reduces boredom in the reader, and I think it applies here to phrases within the sentence as well. In fact, if you want to go really far, you could say it echoes the three-act structure typical of writing in general. No matter how far you go with it, the phrasing does keep reader interest, in a slightly intangible and intriguing way. And of course, the mention of wizards doesn’t hurt; it helps reinforce what we expect from the title.
From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Ah, back to my later point on the previous sentence, here’s a longer sentence to support that shorter hook. The hook can’t reveal everything at once, so this second sentence is here backing it up. By now we can gather that there’s going to be an omniscient narrator, not uncommon in older works, and that this narrator is currently setting the scene, giving us the historical context before we actually get to our character. Of course, it’s dangerous to do too much of this, which is called “infodumping;” we want to save tidbits for later reveals, both in the cases of backstory and worldbuilding. In this case, though, it’s appropriate; we have just learned a little about Gont, and now we learn a little more, and that there’s a whole Archipelago out there of which Gont is only a part. And the wizard theme is reinforced once again, which leads into our next sentence.
Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. Aha, our character makes an appearance (if only through the narrator talking about him)! And now that we have some background, we think, “Of course the greatest wizard came from Gont. Gont is known for wizards. Doesn’t everyone know that?” It makes sense with the information we’ve already been given. And the shorter sentence holds our attention better than if we’d been given another behemoth like the second sentence, which is good for introducing the main character. Oh, and dragons–don’t you want to keep reading now?
His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made. Wow, this guy really is important–they made songs about him! Oh, but we realize now that this story is about something the songs don’t tell about, which heightens our interest, because even if said songs are fictional, we like having exclusive information. This sentence completes the hook started in the first sentence.
Overall, this paragraph led in very nicely from setting scene and historical context to the context of our character, which in the next paragraph, will become a sort of biography of his early life. Although not necessarily something used in today’s fiction, this “funneling in” technique works well for A Wizard of Earthsea.
That’s it for me today! Have you read A Wizard of Earthsea? If not, I’d love to know: did this post make you more interested in it? What do you think of setting the scene in your opening? Any further analysis that I may have missed? Tell me in the comments!
*Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read this far in The Lord of the Rings*
Aragorn sped on up the hill. Every now and again he bent to the ground. Hobbits go light, and their footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read, but not far from the top a spring crossed his path, and in the wet earth he saw what he was seeking.
Good morning, everyone! It’s the first Monday of the month, and that must mean I’m here analyzing the first paragraph of a book. I currently have the joy of re-reading The Lord of the Rings, for what must be the fifth or sixth time, and recently finished The Two Towers, the underrated middle of the epic. So naturally I thought I’d analyze the beginning of that book today! Let’s break it down line by line.
Aragorn sped on up the hill. This starts with a character, and it’s also an action, which is great for getting the reader interested in what will happen next. In addition, since this is a sequel, it picks right back up where The Fellowship of the Ring left off.
Every now and again he bent to the ground. Another action. We get the hint that Aragorn is looking for something, without needing to be told.
Hobbits go light, and their footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read, but not far from the top a spring crossed his path, and in the wet earth he saw what he was seeking. This sentence makes up most of the opening paragraph, and the two shorter sentences before it lead nicely into the longer phrasing. It also reintroduces some things from the previous book: the involvement of hobbits in this story, the worldbuilding fact that they’re hard to track, and the fact that Aragorn is a Ranger, a Numenorean of the North, which will become important later on. Aragorn’s searching for hobbit footprints here also nicely foreshadows his spending most of the book searching for the two captured young hobbits, Merry and Pippin.
Overall, this first paragraph starts with a character doing an action, picks up where the previous book left off, and reminds the reader of things that have been and will be important to the story, particularly regarding our opening character. It also foreshadows events important to how this book will play out. A good beginning, all in all!
That’s all for me today! Have you read The Lord of the Rings? Did you like The Two Towers? What do you think of its opening? Anything to add to my thoughts? Tell me in the comments!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Good morning, all, and happy April! It’s snowing here in New Hampshire, which makes it a good day to analyze the beginning of a book. Fortunately, that’s always what I do on the first Saturday of the month. And today, I have an excellent beginning to analyze. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has one of the most memorable first lines in literature. I’m excited to take a closer look!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Apart from last month’s look at The Fellowship of the Ring,we haven’t seen any one-line opening paragraphs in this series. And this one has a lot more punch than Tolkien’s (no offense to Tolkien, of course; his was meant to be less, well, punchy). It sets the tone of the book immediately; any of you who are familiar with Pride and Prejudice will know that it’s all about romance and marriage. The omniscient narrator, probably much more common in 19th-century fiction than now, lets us know right off what kind of book we are reading. That’s always helpful; that way, the people who read the book are those who really want to read it. Similarly, the book is true to the expectations set by the first line; Austen does not mislead the reader. As writers, it’s not a good idea for us to mislead the reader; they tend to get annoyed by that and stop reading.
At this point you’re probably thinking: “Those are all great points, Anna, but we still haven’t discussed what makes it so memorable.” Very true, friends. What makes this line so oft-quoted, especially such a wordy line in a non-wordy age? Personally, I put this down to Austen’s tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. Men must want wives, mustn’t they? . . . At least according to the neighbors with eligible daughters. And so the story begins. It’s so subtly stated in this line that it could be lost on modern readers, and it’s hard to put a finger on exactly how she’s being sarcastic, but it’s there, and at least to me, it’s always come across. This is Austen’s brilliance: she succinctly states the whole substance of her novel in one prim, carefully crafted line, still quoted today.
That’s it for me today! I’ll see you all next week.
What do you think? Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Do you find this line memorable? What do you think of one-line opening paragraphs? Would you add anything to my analysis? Tell me in the comments!
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
Good morning, everyone, and happy March! This month marks my first anniversary of blogging here at The Story Scientist, and I thought I’d recall where I began, with a book quote analysis of The Fellowship of the Ring. Today, I have rather less of the book to analyze for you all, since the first paragraph is only one sentence, albeit a long one. So let’s analyze!
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. There’s quite a bit going on in just this one sentence. Firstly, we start with the character of Bilbo Baggins, which makes a good transition into The Lord of the Rings for those who have read The Hobbit. The mention of his “eleventy-first birthday” sets the time of the story as many years after the events of The Hobbit, and the mention of talk and excitement indicates that Bilbo has developed a reputation, which is developed in the next paragraph. And what better way to hook a reader than with talk and excitement? We know something’s going to happen, and setting this sentence as its own entire paragraph gives us a moment to take that in before moving on.
Today’s has been a very short analysis, but really, I love Tolkien (as you may have noticed by my having written two other posts about his books–do check them out if you haven’t read them). And so I leave you until next week.
What do you think? Have you read The Fellowship of the Ring? (If not, why on earth–I mean, I highly recommend it.) What do you think of its beginning? Are you hooked by this sentence? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Tell me in the comments!
Blood match. The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy.
Hello, all! It’s the first Saturday of the month (February already!), so as is routine, I am analyzing the first paragraph of a book. Today, I have selected Starlighter by Bryan Davis, which I was delighted to get for Christmas (look for my review next month!). And without further ado, let’s analyze!
Blood match. The first sentence of a story always has to hook the reader (you can learn more on this blog), and in this case, it’s done perfectly. It gives us some idea of what’s going on while enticing us to learn more. It’s also a thought, so we know we’re starting with a character right from the get-go, which is not always the case. It leads right into the next sentence.
The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Ah, here’s our point-of-view character. Just from this sentence, we can glean a bit about Jason: he’s a warrior of some sort, a swordsman, and the cadence of the words indicates his excitement; he’s probably young. (Given that this is a YA book, we’d probably already know that, but we can pick it up from the sentence, too.) We also learn about our setting and situation from this sentence: Jason is at a tourney, right in the ring, as a competitor, so this world has at least some medieval elements. If we like medieval fantasy, as I do, this encourages us to read on.
Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy. Here we learn more about the situation. This must be a pretty important, well-publicized tourney, if there’s a crowd. And “potential for bloodletting” raises the stakes for Jason; what if he gets hurt? It heightens interest for the reader. Finally, as with the previous sentence, we can get some of Jason’s excitement (and nerves) from this; the simile of a beating drum mirrors how Jason’s heart is probably beating faster in this situation. This wraps up the first paragraph with a quick, neat hook, character and setting introductions, and high stakes, making it a great enticement to read the rest of the book.
That’s it for me today! I’ll be back next Saturday with a science post.
What do you think? Did you notice something else about these three sentences that I didn’t cover? Have you read Starlighter? Tell me in the comments!
“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”
Good morning, everyone, and Happy New Year! It’s the first Saturday of 2017, and, as usual, I am here analyzing the first paragraph of a book. I reviewed this particular book, Ender’s Game, last month (last year, really), and I really liked it, so when I was looking around for a story beginning to look at today, I naturally picked this book. Let’s have a look at it, sentence by sentence.
“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.” This opening line has a lot of things going for it. Most clearly, the idea of experiencing someone else’s life, watching through his eyes and listening through his ears, is compelling and interesting and hints a little at the futuristic setting, where such things are possible. “I tell you he’s the one” is also an interesting statement; the “chosen one” trope is a major motif throughout this book, so mentioning it in the opening line is good foreshadowing. Finally, I want to mention the parallelism in this sentence. The “I’ve watched . . . I’ve listened . . . I tell” structure gives this line a certain oomph that makes the reader sit up and pay attention. The grammatical phrasing underlines the essential questions raised by this expertly crafted hook.
“Or at least as close as we’re going to get.” This sentence doesn’t have as many merits as the opening line, but it does convey some of the desperation of the International Fleet to find someone–anyone–who can defeat the bugger aliens. Mostly, however, I want to discuss here the technique of opening with dialogue. This is the first Story Starters post where I’ve analyzed opening dialogue; I think it can be a great method for getting right into the characters and the world (even though, here, secondary characters are the ones having the dialogue). In Ender’s Game, each chapter is opened with a bit of dialogue from Colonel Graff and someone else, usually Major Anderson; this is used to great effect to gradually reveal things, although it goes into overt telling in the later chapters. Basically, opening with dialogue is a good technique as long as it isn’t contrived and doesn’t tell too much (which should be general rules for dialogue anywhere in a book).
That’s it for me today!
What do you think? Have you ever read Ender’s Game? What do you think of its opening line as a hook? Have you ever read a book that used similar grammatical structure to emphasize a point? If you’re a writer, have you ever tried that technique? What other books have you read that open with dialogue? Tell me in the comments!
Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this one was sure trying its best.
Good morning! It’s the first Saturday of the month (how is it December already?), and that means I’m analyzing the first paragraph of a book, today, Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you may have noticed that I’ve ranted about this book before (a couple times). I read it a few months back and absolutely loved it, so why not make an excuse to look at it again?
Now, on to the sentence-by-sentence breakdown! It’ll be short today.
Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. As Weiland herself teaches on her award-winning blog, a book needs to hook the reader from the first sentence. As soon as we read this, we’re left subconsciously wondering, “Wow, why would the main character be thinking about this?” And we get our answer in the next sentence.
But this one was sure trying its best. This is a great second line to set up a wonderful hook. It leads into a major premise of the book (the idea that we live a second life in a different world, reflected in our dreams). It also gives us a better glimpse into the voice of the main character, Chris, whom we meet by name in the next paragraph.
The shortness of this first paragraph deserves special mention. While some books do well with longer, descriptive intros, I find that a short first paragraph has a special kind of punch to it, something that, when done well, can really hook the reader. That’s what we see here.
That’s all for me today! What do you think? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Do you like short first paragraphs, like this one? Does this want to make you read this book? (You really should read it. It’s awesome.) Or have you read it already? (In which case, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!) Tell me in the comments!
It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights.
Hello, all, and happy November! It’s the first Saturday of the month again, which means it’s time for a story starter post. This month’s subject, Redwall by Brian Jacques, was one of my favorites when I was younger. My library had (still has) a whole bunch of them, and I absolutely devoured them. They’re great books. 🙂
For those who don’t know, in Story Starters I analyze the first paragraph of a novel. I had a bit of trouble deciding what to count as the first paragraph of Redwall; there’s a poem on the page before the paragraph I listed above, but it’s one of three paragraphs that come just before the actual beginning of the story. I concluded that, since this is the first prose paragraph we actually read, that’s the paragraph I’d put. So let’s do a quick sentence-by-sentence analysis.
It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. This first sentence does little more than start introducing us to the setting; it’s summer. This will be built on in further paragraphs.
Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights. As you can probably tell right away, this second sentence is much longer than the first. The contrast draws the reader in to this beautiful description of the setting. We get to like Mossflower right away (besides which, it’s such a great name for a setting). The mention of twilight provides a good avenue to introduce Redwall Abbey, the principal setting, in the next paragraph.
Well, this month’s was a short post, but I’ll be back next week with a science post. See you then!
Have you ever read Redwall? Did you like it? Are you planning to read it? What did you think of this (albeit short) excerpt? Tell me in the comments!
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
(Just to forewarn you, Mr. Tolkien is perhaps entirely responsible for my love of fantasy. I might gush a bit. And now that you’ve been warned, let’s all gush together. :P)
Hello, and welcome to the second installment of my “Story Starters” blog posts! On the first Saturday of each month, I analyze the beginning of a book, any book, and today, it happens to be a very good book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
So let’s jump right in and do a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the first paragraph!
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.This one is pretty self-explanatory. As we’re reading the first sentence (unless we’ve seen the movie first, precious), we are sitting here wondering: what the heck is a hobbit? It’s a great hook; it poses a question that we, the readers, would really like answered. Tolkien gets to that by paragraph three, but he has to give us some hints first, which leads us to sentence two.
Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. The first thing that jumps out at me is how long this sentence is. Grammatically, it makes a great contrast with the first sentence; it’s long and meandering and draws us in by Tolkien’s vivid imagery. And it gives us some great hints about what hobbits are not, and by the end, something of what they are. The mention of comfort particularly strikes me as foreshadowing the main character and theme of the book in the very first paragraph. (My analytical writer brain is geeking out right now. I mean, isn’t that foreshadowing just awesome?!?)
And that’s it for this extraordinarily short post. I hope it had enough insights to make up for its brevity.
What do you think? Isn’t Tolkien a genius? Have you read The Hobbit? (If not . . . *shakes head* Just go read it, okay?) Do you have any further analysis that perhaps my tired brain didn’t pick up? Tell me in the comments!