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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

IN MY BEGINNING IS MY END


What might have been and what has been, Point to one end, which is always present.
- T S Eliot

  
Stephen King can spend months or even years on his opening line.

Listen to what he told me at Meilori's:

"There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. 

It's a tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don't think conceptually while I work on a first draft --

 I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar.

But there's one thing I'm sure about:

 An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. 

It should say: 

Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."


 With really good books, a powerful sense of voice is established in the first line. 


Yet, it is not just whim that has the title of this post on first lines be a quote from T S Elliot's East Coker

I have "In my beginning is my end" start THE RIVAL and end it as well.

All through THE RIVAL that line is a foreshadowing of the ending, 

lending what I hope is depth to the climax and to all the action that leads relentlessly to the death of a major character.


Award-winning mystery author, Craig Johnson, is a master of beginnings mirroring the ending.

"My hero, Walt Longmire, is a sadder-but-wiser sheriff. 

My favorite musketeer was Athos, the heartbroken one.”


It was building his house in Wyoming that gave him the discipline to finish his first novel, he believes.

“I kind of think of it as the blue-collar school of literature,” Mr. Johnson says. 

“Never have I met a ditch digger who said,

 ‘I’m just not feeling the ditch today, the ditch muse is not with me, I have to put my shovel down now.’ ”


 Johnson tells of Longmire’s adventures from the sheriff’s perspective. 

In the novel, KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED

Craig starts out with Walt reading to a first grade class from the Brother's Grimm tale of Sleeping Beauty  

that he read to his daughter when she was the age of his listeners.

The off-the-wall questions by the first graders will have you smiling and chuckling out loud at Walt's squirming discomfort.

He accompanies his Cheyenne best friend, Henry Standing Bear, to Philadelphia, 

and then a very personal act of violence pulls him into a string of murders that he will solve or die trying.

The novel ends with Walt again reading the tale of Sleeping Beauty out loud but now to only one person.  

And the ending will tear your heart out.  If your eyes do not fill with tears, you have a heart of stone.


The ending of your novel should birth your opening line and shape all the chapters which follow.  

Only upon reaching the ending should your reader see the symmetry and breathe out low.

I hope this helps in some small way.

6 comments:

  1. First of all, Stephen King is a master in his craft. There is no doubting that, and he's one of my favorite writers.

    Secondly, I love this, "In my beginning is my end" . Love it. Great article!

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    1. Teresa, I love his DUMA KEY for the Shawshank type of friendship in it. :-)

      T S Elliot's IN MY BEGINNING IS MY END has always stuck in my mind. I found a way to put it into my novels and in this little article on how to use the beginning and end of our books as Book Ends so to speak.

      I'm glad you enjoyed it. That makes my morning.

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  2. Hi Roland ... such an interesting post - titling up a blog post is challenging as sometimes I don't want to be overt about the subject. Giving a book a title a wee bit more challenging.

    Fantastic you put the Charlie Chaplin speech up here - it's so so true to today ... we need to have hope that war will go away, and all the nasty difficulties of dictators etc ... people who just want to hurt - need to be stopped. Cheers HIlary

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    1. To think that the Great Dictator was directed, produced, scored by and starred Charlie Chaplin!

      At the time (1940) America was still at peace with Nazi Germany, and the film was frowned upon by the state department. Sigh.

      In his autobiography, Chaplin wrote that he could not have made the film if he had known about the true extent of the horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps.

      And yes, that speech is so true even today.

      Hemingway and Fitzgerald agreed with you that titles are hard, yet crucial to a novel's success. :-)

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  3. There's no muse for ditch diggers? Considering I often see them just standing there, you'd think they were waiting for one.
    Took me until my second book to find a good voice for the opening line.

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    1. There's only the paycheck -- no muse! :-)

      About your own path to the opening line -- we learn by doing!

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