1. SaltnVinegar
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    SaltnVinegar New Member

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    Does this sound stupid?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by SaltnVinegar, Sep 9, 2010.

    I am half way through writing a novel and the first line of it is:
    "The moment I fell to my death, my Gran was turning on the porch light."

    The problem is she doesn't actually die because, in the end, another character saves her. If you were reading this would you be let down that I sort of lie on the first page.

    EDIT: In my book a serial killer has gripped a small town. In the climax, the main character will nearly be killed by the killer. Would it be better if I wrote: "As my head thudded against the frozen tree, my Gran was turning the porch light."

    This is the first line of the preface. The preface then goes back a few minutes to how she ended up facing the killer. Then chapter 1 begins a few months in the past. Is it stupid to do it like this?
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that really depends on how you want the reader to feel. A lot of the time a baiting opening line that is only picked up again at the end is honest, and the story does build towards it. As long as you're always bearing it in mind you may be able to get away with twisting it at the last minute, just 'cause you're always emphasising it so it looks like you're aware of what you've done. Hmm.

    However, I've read some amazing books that pretend to be telling the truth all along and once you read the last line you suddenly doubt everything that's said. If you wanna leave the reader doubting absolutely everything you've written, go for an untrustworthy ending. However, if it's ONLY that line, you might actually have to work harder to establish maybe truths and deliberate lies. I think standing on its own it could just be seen as a "huh what?" moment if you aren't clever with it. Hmm. It IS a good opening line - just the issue is how much people would think you only wrote it to be clever and not to make a point.
     
  3. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    It could be seen as valid, if the character THOUGHT she was falling to her death and was suddenly surprised to be saved at the last minute.

    That technique was employed by cliffhanger serials in years gone by, so I think it might qualify as an accepted practice.

    EDIT:> In retrospect, the phrase "The moment I fell to my death..." implies that it is a fact that you fell and died (because its past tense). Rephrasing it to something like "As I was falling to what was obviously certain death..." or something similar in present tense, would place the character in the "falling" position, but before the "death" occurs. Things can happen, situations can change as you progress through falling towards what you might perceive as impending death, that may prohibit you from actually arriving there.

    Just an idea.
     
  4. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    It might work, but personally I won't like reading it or certainly not writing it, because to me it is like "cheap suspense" or whatever you may call it which will make my respect for the writer significantly reduce. But I am guessing it's been done before so it might work.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it can work because it is first person but only if you change the tense. In past tense the narrator knows she didn't die however if she says something like

    While I am falling to my death, my Gran turned on the porch light.


    You are not deluding anyone she is falling to her death and doesn't yet know a rescue is at hand. I know present tense isn't popular but this is the kind of situation I love using it to manipulate - you are telling the story as the narrator/main character see's it, allows for plot twists that may seem silly in past tense. Otherwise it will work third person past tense.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If your narrator says in the first sentence that she fell to her death, then she's dead, and the reader wonders immediately how she can be narrating this story and, basically, where her soul is. Is she in heaven, telling us the story from there? Is she a ghost trapped on Earth until something happens to free her? This kind of story could work, as it did in Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.

    If she is, in fact, still alive, then she has lied to us in the first sentence. The "unreliable narrator" technique is often used, in which we can't trust what the narrator is saying, but that generally works only when we at least begin by believing the narrator, and if there's an obvious lie in the first sentence, we don't. So I don't think this opening would work if you're using the unreliable narrator technique.

    So if your narrator did die and is telling us the story from beyond the grave somehow, I think this beginning can work. If she didn't die, then she's blatantly lying in the first sentence, and I wouldn't begin the story that way.
     
  7. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Thing is, if you change the tense of part of the sentence, you should change the tense of the rest of it too. The example you gave just sounds odd, and to the best of my knowledge, it's grammatically incorrect. Instead of "While I am falling," I might say "While I was falling." That way, the truth of the "falling to my death" bit isn't quite so certain as it would be in plain old past tense, and it doesn't clash with the rest of the sentence.

    As for the question, my problem isn't that the narrator lies to me (I actually like that in first person). My problem is that it just reads like a hook to me. Opening lines like this make me think that the author is consciously trying to create a dramatic intro, which, for me at least, tends to turn out badly. I don't have the faintest idea what your story is about, so I can't offer much in the way of suggestions, aside from what I wrote above. All I can think to say is don't TRY to make an engaging opening line, or it will show. Think about the scene, find the most interesting place to start from, and then just write it like any old scene from the rest of the story.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wasn't trying for grammatical correctness lol It was merely an idea but yes it would mean changing the whole manuscript tense. But you are correct it should have been Gran turns on the porch light.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    FYI: a preface is an explanatory note about a book, not a preliminary passage for the story. What you are describing is a prologue.
     
  10. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stupid? My first instinct is to say, "Oh, my, yes! Incredibly stupid!" But that's just to be snarky and ... you open the door to an answer like that with such a question ... (especially for me!) My honest reaction? No. It's not stupid but it is pretty difficult to pull off. Much as I enjoyed the movie "Saving Private Ryan", I have always resented feeling ripped off by the whole story line because, in the end, the viewer discovers the whole story is being narrated by a dead man! Perhaps if I read the story before seeing the movie it might have come together differently and I would not have felt so cheated at the end.

    Your premise is not quite the same but it still leads the reader into the illusion that the narrator is dead. But then, in your case, by the end the opposite of "Private Ryan" occurs and we find the narrator is not dead. A far better twist. As I said, you can make it work but it won't be easy.

    Good luck.
     
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  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the second version makes better sense, since she couldn't be falling 'to her death' if she didn't die from the fall...

    it's not stupid to have a 'preface' or 'prologue' and then go back in time with the first chapter, since it's done successfully all the time... and we can't tell if you do it well enough to work without reading what you wrote...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    What if you just changed the original first line slightly:

    "The moment I fell toward my death, my Gran was turning on the porch light."

    Or "As I fell toward my death..." etc.

    To me, if she is falling "toward" her death, then she hasn't reached her death yet and there is still time for something to intervene.
     
  13. white
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    white Banned

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    I like the original version. Maybe the narrator was convinced he was going to die.

    Don't let honesty handcuff your writing.
     
  14. Elvis
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    Keep in mind that one of the negatives about writing in first-person is that the reader knows up-front that the main character cannot die.

    So to me, the bigger problem with that statement is that, while intended to be a shock or a hook opening, it completely lacks punch because by the nature of writing in first-person, the main character/narrator cannot die. Armed with that knowledge, I as the reader wouldn't be confused by that opening sentence, but I would completely disregard it. It won't achieve your desired effect.

    Other than outright lying to your audience, the only possible way to have a first-person narrator die would be to have a twist-ending that would make the main character/narrator a ghost writing it from beyond the grave, which would be an extremely weak cop-out.

    The advantages of writing in first-person are numerous, but because I like to put my main character in peril, I almost always write in third person just to keep alive the slim possibility in my readers' minds that maybe I am sick enough to actually kill off that main character.

    EDIT: My "readers," of course, being my friends; I've never published anything, so anything that I have to say should be taken with a grain of salt. It's just my two cents and it is by no means an expert opinion.
     
  15. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    How odd that I saw Saving Private Ryan when I was younger and didn't even notice that cheat. It makes me think about it completely differently now. I suppose they just wanted to turn the "narrator is always alive" rule on its head. It's a bit cheap though, you're right.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ever read Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones? Drawing breath is not a requirement for narration.

    The big disadvantage of a first person narration is being tightly locked into that person's perspective. Third person narration isn't as sticky - you can more easily take flight and alight on another character's shoulder without it being glaringly obvious.
     
  17. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Suspense! Drama! Epic cliff-hangery! ... Now, dear reader, let me wind back a bit and start at the beginning..."

    This kind of opening always makes me toss the book. I get the impression the author is desperate to get my attention and deeply insecure about their own ability to hypnotize a reader. Further more, the whole wind-back will feel like a tread mill leading to the inevitable point I've already been exposed to, in line one.

    My suggestion is to write your story cronologically and then shave stuff off at the beginning until you hit a good spot for starting. Any missing information can then be subtly weaved in further into the storyline.
     
  18. SaltnVinegar
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    SaltnVinegar New Member

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    First, I want to thank everyone for their input. I've changed it slightly and all your advice was really helpful.

    Although it will probably never be published. The target audience of my novel would be teenager/young adult. I fear if I don't have a hook, then they would lose interest.

    That sounded really mean and stereotypical of me to say that teenagers need a hook or they won't bother to read it but,well, there isn't really a but.
     
  19. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're struggling to make something sound right, it's probably because there's something (else) wrong. On many occasions I've struggled hard with a piece of dialogue only to realise that the whole scene had to go because it was out of place. I believe this is where "kill your darlings" applies.
     
  20. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Every reader likes a good hook. I have a group of teenagers reading my work, I know the one thing they have all without exception has been with my stories they don't have to wait for the action to start. I try to start it from the first word. I am the same I don't care how well written it is I don't want to be sat there 150 pages later wondering when the story will start.

    I am with the Young Adults here it is not unreasonable to demand a book that entertains you all the way through.
     
  21. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    First person present tense does mean you can kill off the narrator, but it's pretty cruel, and you can't tell anyone you're going to do it or it loses the effect anyway. Never read a book where it happens, but when I get into discussions like this someone always has an example of a story that abruptly changes narrator halfway through 'cause the one the writer just spent a lot of time building up has just been killed off. :p

    I found my own way around a past tense 1st person narrator death including death scene, but it is extremely complicated to keep it as an account rather than, you know, pulled out of nowhere. I like narrations where the character is blatantly writing it down themselves. :p
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. It doesn't have to be a main character, either. It can be a minor character, but his/her presence in the story tends to give it, in my view, more authenticity.

    I know from prior discussions that Cogito tends to disagree. As I recall, his view (and Cog, please correct me if I'm mistaken) is that the first person narrative is somehow less trustworthy, particularly if it is the main character. Frankly, I don't see that. I would think the opposite is true, particularly in discussing motives, emotional reactions, etc.
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I disagree. I've read at least one first-person book where the first-person narrator does indeed die. Pretty sure I've read more than just one of those.

    I think first person can be a much less trustworthy point-of-view. You've basically got a character talking to the reader, and that character should be doing so with all of his or her biases, misconceptions, prejudices, and the like in place. Whereas with a more detached point of view I think things tend to be more objective.
     
  24. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I'd bet most unreliable narrations are done in first person. It feels less like a betrayal in third and more like the author themselves has no idea what's going on. :p
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I much prefer writing first person you have so many options I get to keep my Lord of Evil's identity secret etc

    I did intially write my first book before I found Angus and it became a junior fantasy from the point of view of the dead King it worked quite well.
     

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