. . . don’t start with strangers bashing each other in the mouth or the nuts or anywhere else. “[I]f you plunge instantly into the action, you risk losing the reader,” writes Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction. “It is hard to take much interest in absolute strangers, no matter how enthusiastically they may be bashing each other.”
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules of Write Club, as Chuck Palahniuk demonstrates in the opening of Fight Club:
Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. For a long time though, Tyler and I were best friends. People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden.
Why does this beginning work, though the narrator has a gun shoved in his mouth in the hook? (Also note the comma splice. Does that work for you? Why? I like it; it speeds the beginning, alerts you to the roller coaster ride you are about to begin, and tells you you’re about to get your nose bloodied, or worse, much, much worse.) I think Palahniuk’s beginning works, because, if you are like me, you’re suddenly asking who is this person who gets you a job then shoves a gun in your mouth? What kind of psycho is this? It raises suspense.
But Knight is probably right. You have to begin a story and make the reader care about the narrator. And unless the narrator has a gun in his mouth, you probably won’t be interested. You don’t have to have someone in such dire straits to get your money for nothing and your beginning for free. You do need tension and suspense or provoke interest, as Knight confirms, “The opening must establish character, setting, situation, the mood and tone of the story; it must provoke interest, arouse curiosity, suggest conflict, start the movement of the plot—all this in about two hundred words.”
Welcome to One Word Writing Prompts, Episode 4. Basically, your instructions, dear Reader, should you wish to participate, are to simply use the word below as a prompt to write something from it. And, if you would like, please feel free to post your creative output in the comments, and with your permission, I might share them in a later post. Have fun. Be creative.
Today, journalist and film critic Roger Ebert, 70, died. He, along with the late Gene Siskel, taught us more than we might ever learn ourselves about the movies, more than just their trademark “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. They were guides to that medium. To seeing film as both art and entertainment, as a joyful part of the world.
This essay in Salon by Ebert is, well, an elegy and I hope that when it nears (and who knows when that is?) I could only be so thoughtful about its approach. So understanding that it is just another transition.
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”—W. Somerset Maugham
Earlier, I tweeted the following link to breaking writing rules. Thought I’d share it here for those who didn’t see it then. Also, I would say you do need to learn the rules, learn to use them effectively before breaking them.
Just found your blog. Cool idea. I decided to go comic book with this, for some reason. 3 am does that to you…
Mom said I looked like a mutant when I shot out of her thirtysome years ago. A wet ball of pudge and surprise. ‘I didn’t know what to expect’, she said. ‘But that wasn’t it.’ Truth is, I looked like all the other little creatures in the maternity ward. Just your average unplanned pregnancy. A lucky break for me that something else broke nine months earlier. She took it in stride, my mother. Her policy was honesty. She did what was right. Dropped out of school and learned to take night shifts. She wasn’t great at it all, but she knew her responsibilities. But I think she never got over that initial shock–’that thing came out of me.’ I guess it would be shocking, not that I would know. I’ll never have to. I wasn’t built for passengers.
So, you understand I didn’t feel guilty telling my mother. It was almost an inside joke between us, that there was something wrong from the beginning. A mother’s instinct. I thought she’d laugh. Not take it so… seriously. She didn’t laugh. She didn’t see the humor in it–me actually being a mutant after all. I gave her the two biggest shocks in her life. First my existence and then my mutation. The second one did her in. I guess we can’t all be jokers.