Posted in Craft of writing, Editing & Revision, fiction, Revision, Writing exercises

Three Elements for Power-packed First Sentences

INTRODUCTION: Writers continue to learn the craft no matter where they are in their writing development. Recently, I read in the January 2022 issue of The Writer magazine an article by Alison Acheson, “In The Beginning: Three elements that create a strong opening sentence,” pages 26-29. First sentences draw the reader in and give them a sense of character, setting, and emotion. They carry a lot of weight to gain your readers interest and trust in your writing. The author suggests that there are three elements to carry that responsibility of reeling in the reader. Here is my take on reading her article. I hope you will reader her article.

Three Elements in First Sentences

CHARACTER: Readers want to have a sense of the main character(s). We may not know their names, but we know something about them that will show up again or throughout the novel.

SETTING: The first sentence will offer a sense of place, maybe a location, time in history, or an event.

EMOTION: This may be indirect or implied by the setting or action or event. We likely won’t be told in the first sentence what the emotion is, but the writer will hint at it. We will get a sense of it.

EXAMPLE

I’ll offer an example from Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. I’ll give you the first sentence then I’ll dissect it to learn what Hemingway accomplished in using those three elements. Your take on it maybe somewhat different than mine, but that’s okay.

HEMINGWAY in Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountain.”

CHARACTER: The word, “we,” implies two or more people. The rest of the sentence tells us that they live together in a house. My assumption before reading the book would be that it is a couple, which it is.

SETTING: “In the late summer of that year,” tells me it is about a point in time that we will learn more about later. But it happens in a season that is waning, which gives me the feeling that something is in decline, about to hibernate, or die.

The phrase, “a house in a village,” makes me think of a remote location, perhaps isolated.

The prepositional phrase, “across the river and plain,” again gives me the feeling of being in a valley far from the big picture, or where the action occurs.

Finally, the last expression, “to the mountain,” tells me they are looking to what is or might be happening on that mountain. Or perhaps it is just a goal, a wish, or even an illusion.

EMOTION: The setting has carried a lot of metaphorical and emotional weight of distance, foreboding, remoteness. A moment in time that might entail a connection, an affair, an event that does not bode well.

Summary

As you can see, Hemingway’s sentence deftly implies a decision by his main character’s to give up his arms to fight in World War I. The relationship between he and his lover is waning because they are looking at what they need and want, which is not each other.

What’s next in the coming weeks?

Look next week for another example taken from a narrative nonfiction classic. The next week another one from a short story; and finally the last week the example from my own novel, Song of Herself, to be published next year (soon I hope).

What about you?

Does this help you think about the first sentence in your story, novel or narrative nonfiction? Examine your first sentence and tell us what you find.

Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Revision, Travel Writing, Writing exercises, Writing Groups

Endings: The Power and Types of Endings

ENDINGS. Philip Lopate in To Show and To Tell talks about a typology of endings. Here are the kinds that he mentions. This is a summarized list and paraphrased in some cases by me. My travel writing group that meets every two weeks, discussed this list in our last Zoom time together. We are eager to use this list and see where it takes us in add the power and punch of a satisfying ending. Join us in discussing these through this blog post.

Step #1: Identify the type of ending you have used in one of your last stories. 

  1. An image (metaphorical or real)
  2. A pithy saying in a clever or humorous way
  3. A line of dialogue 
  4. A joke (use this one with care)
  5. A question
  6. A quote
  7. An ellipsis (…)
  8. A return of a refrain or a different spin on the phrase 
  9. A new insight
  10. A resolve
  11. A sigh, a shrug, a sudden mood change
  12. A platitude, ONLY IF it is humorous or non-preachy 
  13. A summary in the form of a series of semicolons
  14. Restating conflicting elements (ideas, images, thoughts, etc.) and how to live with them 
  15. ________________________________
  16. ________________________________
  17. ________________________________

Step 2: Develop multiple endings to your next story by trying several of these types of endings. 

Step 3: Choose three of your favorite endings you have written. Think through those and select the most impactful for your story.

Step 4: Add to these types of endings overtime from your own experience and from your reading of others work.

Which ones have you used? Which ones would you like to use in the future? Which ones have you added to this list? I’m curious to learn what you think about the types of endings to our stories.

Posted in journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel Writing

Journal Writing about your Travel Day

At the end of a travel day, journal about the events, people, and places you encountered.

In “Launch Your Travels” blog, ­­­­­­­­­the independent traveler Jen made several suggestions that a woman traveling alone can do in the evenings. It is rich with ideas for not only her niche audience, but for other travelers as well.

I had one thing to add to her suggestions, I’d like to share it with you here. If you do nothing else but this at the end of each day, you will have succeeded as being a thoughtful, purposeful, intentional traveler.

Journal about your travels. During dinner alone jot some notes while waiting for your meal to arrive. Make more full bodied reports of your travels that day after returning to your lodging. Here are some ideas to consider writing about.

  • Record a conversation you had with a child, stranger or tour guide.
  • Describe a place, person you met, or an experience you had, using all your senses.
  • Write your reactions (emotions, thoughts, challenged beliefs) to what you encountered during this day.
  • Reflect on a theme you set for your journey (i.e., as big as history or architecture, as small as slang or t-shirt sayings).
  • Report your progress on an intention you set for yourself before traveling (such as do something each day you’ve never done before or practice your second language with locals).
Posted in adventure, paying attention, Travel

How Do You Define Travel Adventure

How do you define adventure, escapade, exploration, quest, or venture?

An adventure can be the outdoor, physically demanding kind. Like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, mountain biking, or canoeing the North Woods. But not all of us are that physically fit or daring. Many of us travel for other kinds of adventures. One of mine is to learn to pay attention to what I experience.

How do you define travel adventure for yourself?

Chiapas from the back of a van

One year, at the invitation of two other women, I went along from Isla Mujeres to practice paying attention while seeing another part of Mexico, the southernmost state of Mexico, Chiapas. Once there we decided to take a tour to three different scenic and historical sites in a single day. What we did not calculate was the amount of time we would be in the van.

Jenn, Rhonda, Cathy

We left at 4:30 a.m., got home at midnight, spent 3 hours at three sites total, hurried through meals to ensure a potty stop, and bounced on the back axle of the van the rest of the trip.

My biggest surprise was not the beauty, or the history learned at the three sites, but what I gleaned from the back window of the bus about the way people lived in Chiapas.

Each household had cleared a spot in the tropical forest and built a house on an earthen plot with no vegetation. The houses, painted or not, sat enclosed by jungle. Most yards accommodated a large, non-specific breed of dog, some on a chain, others not. Yet they all barked at whatever passed by and barked with the children who played in the dusty yards. Even at a distance I could see happy kids in tattered clothing. Occasional goats, chickens, or other farm animals roamed free, well-fed and housed in an open shed or simply in the yard.

Because the houses were built close to the road and there was nowhere else to play, homeowners had laid massive nautical ropes in front of their homes. Much higher than most speed bumps and without the merging incline and leaving decline on each side, they made for a torturous journey. Therefore, our ride took the rhythm of down-shift, slow down, (first axle) up and over, then (back axle) up and over again, shift, and speed away. Parents and extended family settled on protecting their children’s safety over the convenience of tourists or even other locals.

As we returned in the fading sunlight, a single light bulb lit the interior of homes. We could tell because they left the doors and windows open for air—their native air conditioning. Inhabitants circled a table under that light bulb for dinner, reading and/or homework, sewing, or other life requirements.

I could see bare necessities were all they had, but they looked cheerful and well-fed to me. They seemed determined to make a life with little at hand.

Americans often feel denied if we don’t have the right brand of clothing, the best margarita on vacation, or a bonus at the end of the year. Often we find it tough to be happy with blessed lives.

From the back of the bus, I could see their poverty, joy, and ability to make the most of what they had.

Is your adventure to try using your rusty French or German, or your newly acquired Japanese; eat different foods than you normally would; or simply to write about your experiences in your journal to turn them into stories later? Any of these and many more can lead you to discoveries you would not have imagined before.

How do you define adventure for yourself? Please send an answer to that question so others can consider it, too.