On your mark, get set ….

 How important is the beginning of a novel?  They say it’s the most vital in terms of getting it sold, but this applies more for new writers than established.  (Stephen King isn’t going to get his book axed because his first paragraph is a little awkwardly phrased.)

This is true of any writing, of course, but it’s more difficult with a novel.  By the time you’ve finished, the tone will have changed.  Even on longer short stories, I always have to completely rewrite the opening pages to match the tone that the story develops.  And that’s not to mention changes in plot or character that make for some necessary retconning.

This has been on my mind because there is a great writing blog called The Sharp Angle, run by a husband and wife writing duo, that asked for the first 500 words of one’s novel.   I polished up my intro, sent it, and then promptly regretted it as I changed it quite a bit more.  And then shifted things so that particular POV doesn’t even begin the novel.  But Lydia said nice things about the piece, and it’s always great to get good feedback from someone you don’t know.

I don’t normally care for the omniscient point of view, but you’ve done it here in such a way as to feel natural. This was a smooth read for me, and it piqued my interest. Your description of people and setting has just the right balance. I felt like I was there. Bottom line, I would keep reading.

Her comments showed a real insight: the omniscient point of view is the single element I’ve thought about the most in the opening chapter.  Actually, it fades to a mostly limited POV soon after the opening 500 words, but the omniscient narrator returns again. A lot.  A removed POV has become unfashionable, but it’s one that spec fic quite often requires.

Cathy Day in a terrific essay, states the case for omniscience very clearly.

We really, really like minimalism. “Show, Don’t Tell” is—amazingly—a quite teachable concept in an otherwise subjective discipline. The opposite of “Show, Don’t Tell”—the tell tell tell of artful narration—well, that’s complicated and hard to do well, so perhaps you shouldn’t really try that.
I think it is very hard to know when to narrate and when to let characters’ perspectives take over.   A couple of authors come to mind (Tolkien, Guy Gavriel Kay, Neil Stephenson) but it’s a hard craft to master.  Hopefully I can strike the balance in my narrative.

2 thoughts on “On your mark, get set ….

  1. When I first decided to toy with writing, back as an undergrad, I seemed to be stuck in omni no matter what I wrote. Your thoughts on the subject are quite interesting to consider. Thanks for sharing.

    Best of luck with your future writing,

    • Thanks, and thanks especially for reading. Now that you mention it, I do think beginning writers write in omni quite often. It must get trained out of them quite early, however, by the “show don’t tell” crowd.

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