marketing, Writers Co-op, writing technique

FIRST LINES

First lines should (obviously) suck the reader into the next line and launch the tone of the story.

“Alan Smith watched the man who had been shot through the brain.”
Serious.

“The home looked like any other on the street. But it hadn’t been there yesterday.”
Mystery sci-fi.

“Roy’s Reconditioning Camp for Cats was doing better than expected.”
Humor.

My favorite first line is from Catch 22. “It was love at first sight.”
Great!

Oh, and my least favorite first line:
“Since the publication of the eleventh edition in 1949, each new edition has been marked by a significant shift in publishing technologies, starting with the advent of phototypesetting in the 1950s, whereby text was rendered on photographic paper rather than as lines of metal type, the norm since the first edition.”
– The Chicago Manual of Style Gag me with a spoon.

Good first lines entice the reader to read on. What are some of your favorite first lines, including ones that you have used in your own stories?

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Paean to the Assault Rifle

Ave, Armaments Industry!

or, Paean to the Assault Rifle

By Carl E. Reed

Written after the July 4th, 2022 Highland Park parade mass murder (one of five mass shootings that occurred that day in the US) that killed seven people and wounded dozens. Among the dead: an elderly man in a wheelchair and a married couple who left behind a bloodied 2-year-old who was found wandering the deserted, debris-strewn street in dazed incomprehension after the massacre.  

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Darts, spears, arrows, quarrels, bullets— 

long centuries a beast of killing heart 

penetrated prey via projectile. 

Behold—the refinement of his art! 

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A rapid-fire instrument of war: 

wicked-looking polymers & steel. 

How comfortably it nestles in the shoulder! 

How rightly pistol grip & barrel feel! 

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Blam! Blam! Ka-pow! Ker-blam!

Blam!-blam!-blam!-blam!-blam!

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An itchy finger twitches: thirty bullets 

explode from orange-stutter muzzle-flash; 

stunned victims scream & scramble, duck for cover

spurt-wheel, totter-tumble—join the past.

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Kalashnikov, Armalite, Smith & Wesson 

Sig Sauer, Colt, Remington, et. al.  

market wares to glazed-eyed, grim psychotics— 

ensure our homicidal have a ball! 

___________________________________

Blam! Blam! Ka-pow! Ker-blam!

Blam!-blam!-blam!-blam!-blam!

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Author’s note: Remember, it’s not the gun that kills people, but . . . hold on! It is the gun. It is definitely the gun that kills people at ever-increasing numbers of American assault rifle massacre sites. (Perhaps this should be an acronym now: ARMS.) It certainly isn’t hard stares, morbid ruminations or nihilist wishes that are killing countless scores, is it? Or butcher knives, brass knuckles or shuriken. In these ever-more-unhinged, violent times we routinely sacrifice our people to Gunsmoke Moloch whose sacred text is the 1791-ratified 2nd Amendment. Amendment! Perhaps this one could be un-amended or otherwise amended again by people of conscience sickened at the ongoing incarnadine carnage? Such massacres occurring with numbing drumbeat regularity “from sea to shining sea” in 2022. I suggest repeal or revision of the 2nd Amendment since nowadays well-regulated militias bearing muskets seem to be in vanishingly short evidence amongst the increasingly desperate and alienated masculine electorate itching to get their hands on their “man card” . . .  

PS. Though I am grateful to any who read this post (yes, even those who disagree with my sentiments) I will not respond to any comments made here about this poem. Res ipsa loquitur. The debate around this issue has grown tiresome, tedious, nauseatingly feckless and exhaustingly over-tread/familiar. The pro-assault-rifles-for-everyone argument has degenerated into nothing but an exercise in cynical sophistry, “Look! Squirrel!” misdirection and sophomoric trolling by sociopathic gun zealots. (Details of the latest bone-chilling assault rifle mass murder? Yawn. Shoulder shrug. I mean, whatta ya gonna do? ‘Cause white-wigged, infallible, far-seeing forefathers; the-people-are-the militia; fetishistic impulses; legions of gun lobbyists; record profits for a problematic industry and freeeeeeedom!—or sumthin’. ‘Murica!) Meanwhile, the body count grows. (How long until the next mass murder? Or has it already occurred?)

FYI: This blog post was written by a former US marine well-acquainted with the M16 assault rifle. If you want to play with one I suggest you raise your right hand, swear allegiance to the Constitution, and vow to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic. Then shave your head and get your feet on the yellow footprints . . .              

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Uncategorized, world-building

Should writers care?

While complaining to my lady about the quality of successful TV shows – one of my common complaints she commonly ignores – it ocurred to me what I was really complaining about. The protagonists are complex; they have depth of character and they become easy to identify with. But the antagonists are cartoons.

The easy formulas grow stale. I’m bored by antagonists still damaged from childhood trauma. Antagonists fighting others because they want something only one can have are maddeningly repetitive. Antagonists who can’t get along with others who are different from them annoy me. And don’t get me started on stupid conflicts arising because the antagonist simply misunderstands reality. It’s time for better antagonists.

Obviously, real world conflicts arise from all of the above situations. But conflicts also arise when good people in opposition to one another are both right. The new antagonist should have all of the depth and the likeability of the protagonist. That lends the story a background of realism right out of today’s world. The reader is presented with three choices: Choose a side, toss the book for not being escapist, or learn from the ambivalence.

According to thinkers, philosophers, and mathematicians like Marshall McLuhan, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, the greatest invention of the 20th century is the art of suspended judgement. We don’t seem to have much of that these days. Important issues are divisive and everybody is urged to takes sides, to become an automaton.

So, the question is, should we give our readers whatever side we think they want, avoid real world conflicts altogether, or encourage them to get along with those with whom they disagree?

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Howdy Stranger

In the early days of online gaming, people tended to trust one another. We visited each other not as strangers so much as acquaintances willing to be friends. We were excited to be on the interface of something breathtakingly new, a gateway that eliminated physical distance between people.

Those days, we played over long-distance phone lines. And we paid by the minute. The people you met in online games in the mid 1990s spent hundreds of dollars a month to be there. I remember sitting up at 2:AM talking to an architect in Belgium about raising kids (he had six.) I especially remember the evening many of us spent with a woman D.E.A Agent who had that day shot and killed a man. She logged online, understandably upset. But she felt comforted by talking to us quasi-but-friendly strangers. One evening, I returned to my home in Colorado to find two unexpected guests, an independently wealthy lady from Florida and a businessman from California. They were vacationing by traveling cross country, separately, and had independently dropped in for a visit. I was delighted.

That general feeling of trust was founded in self-confidence. And when prudent, it was confirmed. When I wanted to meet a woman in another state, she had three people from the game – who were local to me – invite me out to lunch. Only by the grace of their report was I then permitted to visit her. I sent her my photo and requested one of her but herself only replied, “You won’t be disappointed.” I wasn’t. We are still together but that was 26 years ago and a different story.

One insight into online gaming relationships was revealed to me by a woman about to “get married online.” (I had made an avatar that was a monk who performed Wiccan hand fastings. Heretical, I know, but hey, it was a game.) In real life, she traveled around the country selling instruments to music stores. He was an extremely shy acoustical engineer. She was vivacious. He was geek personified. She explained to me, “Here, you get to know the real person before you see them. You don’t judge on anything else.” She and her shy engineer eventually did marry and live together until she died of Lupis. Something he knew about from the beginning.

Those were the days, my friend. But that’s retro. Today, we meet on WordPress. And the future, well, the future is the metaverse. See you there soon.

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Blending facts into writing fiction

I’ve been invited to submit a 1000-1500 word post on the topic: “The importance of blending reality and fiction in thrillers” for an online magazine that focuses on crime, suspense, and thriller books. I have some ideas about this but they are not well formulated. I would be grateful to have you share some of your thoughts on this topic.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Thriller readers want compelling and believable fiction. If readers are presented with some information they know to be true, along with fictional information, they will tend to also believe the fictional elements. For instance, if I was writing a novel with a plot element that included discovery of one of Sir Isaac Newton’s hidden journals and I wrote the following: “Sir Isaac Newton, in addition to discovering scientific principles such as the law of gravity, was also an accomplished alchemist. Given his Christian background and interest in the occult, the Archbishop of Canterbury secretly organized an assassination plot. When the attempt failed, the Archbishop denied any involvement.” How much of this is fact and how much is fiction?

In this example, the scientific accomplishments, interest in alchemy and the occult, and Christian background are all true. The assassination plot by the Archbishop is fictional, but it is believable when embedded among other factual details. The credibility is further enhanced if a reader is aware of the factual elements but didn’t know about the Archbishop of Canterbury fictional detail. A reader would be inclined to believe this given the known truth of the other elements.

From reading Dan Brown, I’ve observed that he is very skilled at blending fact and fiction; he is able to craft excellent fictional stories by doing so. Any other authors come to mind?

Some research is difficult to ascertain as fact or fiction. Many “facts” uncovered when researching a book do not include the source documentation and are therefore difficult to verify. If I am writing a book that portrays a character who claims to have been abducted by aliens, I can include many “facts” about alien abductions, UFO sightings, government coverups, and the like. Yet, even as an author doing research into these details, how many represent actual facts. Often, these “gray” details are not black or white. The more spectacular the supposed facts are, the more believability gets called into question. Statistics sound very factual, but numbers can be manipulated. Scientific research sounds factual, but conclusions are frequently based upon various scientific biases and methodologic flaws. Do these become facts? partial truths? opinions? subject to interpretation?

As I consider what goes into writing a thriller, I can think of multiple ways to weave reality into plot, characters, and storytelling. At the end of the day, it is a work of fiction. Still, truth is often stranger than fiction.

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