Story Starters #8: Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

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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!

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Story Starters #7: The Fellowship of the Ring

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!

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This is the version that I have.
  • 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.

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Goodbye!

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!

Story Starters #6: Starlighter

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.

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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!

Story Starters #5: Ender’s Game

“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.”

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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!

 

Story Starters #4: Dreamlander

Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this one was sure trying its best.

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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!

Story Starters #3: Redwall

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.

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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!

Story Starters #2: The Hobbit

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.

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(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.

 

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Yes, that’s right: the hobbit.

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!

 

 

Story Starters #1: By Darkness Hid

A short introduction today: You may have noticed that this is not my usual post. Usually, I post about book quotes on the first Saturday of the month, but to be honest, I’ve gotten a bit bored with that, since it’s difficult to find good book quotes that I’m not saying all the same things about as I analyze them. The first paragraphs of books, however, are all different, and I think it will be interesting to look at how different stories start off. Hence “Story Starters.”

Onward to today’s selection!

Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic. He clutched a wooden milking pail at his side and held a flickering torch in front to light his way.

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This is the first paragraph of the first book in Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings trilogy, which I highly encourage you to check out if you haven’t already! We begin following hero of the book Achan on his journey as he heads out to the barn to milk the goats. This beginning is really descriptive, meant to get us into the world of the book and the head of our main character. Let’s go through it sentence by sentence.

  • Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. We start right off with our main character’s name. We know whose point of view we’re in right off the bat, which keeps it clear for us who we’re following. His stumbling hints at his lower rank in society; if Williamson had portrayed him as more confident, striding, perhaps, instead of stumbling, we might have gotten the impression that he was higher up than he is. And lastly, the darkness and the barn give us the first hints of a setting. We get into this more in the next sentence.
  • The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic. This sentence tells us more about the setting. It’s morning, and since we already know from the last sentence that it’s dark, it must be early morning. This, combined with the reference to Achan’s clothing and his discomfort at the cold, confirm that he is some kind of lower servant sent to do a menial task at the crack of dawn.
  • He clutched a wooden milking pail at his side and held a flickering torch in front to light his way. This sentence just gives us more information about what Achan is doing (it later turns out he’s milking goats) and the tools he uses to do it. At this point, the reader has already guessed from the castle-like building on the cover that this will be a medieval-style fantasy, and the primitive tools Achan is using help confirm that. So more details about the setting are conveyed here through what Achan is carrying.

Tell me, have you ever read this book? Did this beginning make you want to read it? What do you think of my new first-Saturday blog posts? Tell me in the comments!