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, fiction, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing exercises, Writing Workshops

Flash Fiction

The Story Behind the Story 

The story behind a story, I recently had published The City that Stole His Daughter, offers insight into the kind of an exercise that can stoke the imagination of a writer.

The Exercise 

In Rolf Potts‘ course, Travel Writing as Memoir, in October 2019 sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops, he set before us a “pyschogeography” exercise to prompt the imagination as a flaneur, wandering not so aimlessly through the streets of San Miguel de Allende.

We were to select a color — I picked blue. Wander the street to find the first instance of the color while walking the streets and follow it until it disappeared or ran out of sight. Then pick up the next element of blue and follow it until I walked past it or it fell out of sight. Again and again until a story or fragments came into being.

 The Outcome

This process led me to notice a man on a park bench with his hat tipped to shade the sun with a big fat yellow lab asleep underneath. I imagined he had come to the city to see an adult son or daughter who had left the countryside for a better way of life.

I sauntered to a yellow coffee shop with a lavender blue door and shutters, Lavanda, for lemonade and asked for the owner. The manager, Karla, came to visit me about where they purchased their lavender and leapt to the topic of “specialty” coffee.

I recall her excitement as she told me, “Our coffee is fair trade. It is good for the farmer, the roasters, the coffee shop, and our clients. It is a win-win for everyone. It makes a good economy for our community. When asked by customers if our coffee is organic, I must tell that that ‘Yes, it is farmed without pesticides and with the old ways of tilling the fields and harvesting, but sadly no, our government does not regulate for an organic label’.”

When I combined the image of the old man and my imagined story of him with the enthusiasm of Karla about speciality coffee, I had my story.

The Resulting Story

I have submitted the story to contests and for publication several times, revised it each time a bit, and then won honorable mention by WOW! Women on Writing in early 2020 but it was not published. I submitted it for review and feedback by Flash Fiction Magazine and then received substantial recommendations to make changes. They published my 1000-word flash fiction, The City that Stole His Daughter, this week, August 18, 2020. Thanks to Flash Fiction Magazine.

Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing, Writing exercises

Revision: Ways to Improve my Writing

REVISION 

Editing a paragraph from my book-in-progress illustrates the kind of work entailed in revision. This is the “line edit” kind of editorial work that I do on an ongoing process with my writing partners and for myself.  Continue reading “Revision: Ways to Improve my Writing”

Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Travel Writing, Writing

Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction

via How to Research a Location You Haven’t Actually Been To

This blog post above by fellow writer, Helena Fairfax, has been wonderfully helpful to me in writing my novel set in India and on a ship in the Pacific and Indian oceans.  As an example, I wrote a scene in the book of slaughtering a sea turtle for eating aboard ship after watching a YouTube by today’s Aboriginal Australians.

Read the scene below from my book in-progress, Salwar Kameez. I’ve added a few notes to the reader to be able to grasp who the characters are in the scene, because it is out of context for you.

SCENE from BOOK on Butchering a Sea Turtle  Continue reading “Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction”