Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Weather Opening Cliche

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Here  is the complete first line of the famous and somewhat infamous beginning penned by English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. For all its now perceived corniness, this line still manages a hint of antagonism. So it's a little unfair that we quote this line when referring to the weather cliche or discuss cliche in general. Search the label weather opening cliche on this blog and you will find far worse weather openings than Bulwer-Lytton's.

There are so many novels on the market today that begin with situational weather on the first page, that if we reviewed them all here, the statistics would be lopsided, inaccurately portraying how overused this cliche is. It's mind-boggling how many books out there begin with weather, instead of character and conflict. It is by far the largest cliched beginning readers are confronted with. Weather either in the first sentence or second sentence or anywhere in the first couple paragraphs slows the pace and disrupts the unfolding of conflict and character - the two things that hook a reader. Why there is an urge to do this alludes me. If it is to establish mood, it is a cheap, hackneyed way to do so. A better challenge would be to establish mood though characterization and behavior. If it is to create an image for the reader, sort of like a fade in to a movie, then one is confusing mediums. A novel, does not need to begin like a film. However, there is a tendency to present the novel like a visual art form, with images and actions and less with emotions and ideas. Ideally, there should be a combination of all of the above.

I'm aware of the debate and of how many people disagree with this, but beginning a story with setting is not an effective way to hook, unless the setting is unusual, exotic or filled with conflict. Generally speaking, hook is made using character and conflict. This is the essence of storytelling. We do this every day, when we tell our stories to our friends and relatives. We begin with conflict: You'd never guess what happened to me... We do not begin: It was a sunny day, the temperature around the mid-thirties. the air thick with humidity... Or: It was raining and the air felt refreshed, when suddenly I was pushed in front of a car.

A storyteller's natural instinct when telling a story is to lead in with conflict, not setting - unless the setting is important to the conflict as in: It was raining cats and dogs when I fell into a puddle and ruined my new leather gloves.

Therefore, instead of saying a weather opening is always wrong, it is better to say that there are degrees of the weather opening, from less effective and necessary to more effective and essential.

1. An opening sentence that is all about weather and nothing else. Zero conflict, no characters, just rain, snow, sleet or sunshine. Epic and utter fail and is actually worse than: It was a dark and stormy night..., as at least that line had required a little more creativity when it was written so long ago.

Examples:

 The July heat was unbearable.
Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski

On the surface this line might sound like it has a hook, but bad weather, even if it is figuratively unbearable, does not make anyone go: Oh, my God, I must read on!

It had been raining hard since five o'clock that morning.
Hell House by Richard Matheson

2. An opening sentence that is about a character caught in bad weather. This opening suggests conflict, but being in bad weather is not a gripping read and usually does not involve a story worthy problem.

Example:

As the dawn was beginning to extract the outlines of things from the night and the rain, if someone had happened to pass by the foot of the monumental staircase leading up to Capodimonte, they'd have seen a dog and a child.
The Day of the Dead by Maurizio de Giovanni

Lily Thomas lay in bed when the alarm went off on a snowy January morning in Squaw Valley.
 - Winners by Danielle Steel

3. An opening sentence that is about weather but tries to be creative by comparing it to something unusual, or revealing something unusual about setting, like snow in Africa or weather on some other planet. While still about weather, which is tiring, at least there is an attempt at creativity.

Examples:

The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.
The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

4. An opening line that uses weather to reveal a character's disposition or state of mind, which in turn foreshadows conflict, or uses weather to reveal something unusual about character (how he or she is reacting to it for example that reveals something important).

Examples:

She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham

It was an unusually warm day for April, but the weather did nothing to brighten Khalid Yassin's mood.
The Deadliest Game by Hal Ross

5. An opening sentence that is about weather that reveals conflict of the novel. This is the only acceptable use of weather as an opening. Natural disaster fiction would fall under this category. A novel that is about tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, etc. It's only in this case in which opening with weather is not only acceptable but, indeed, should be a requirement. With no reason to withhold this information, reveal the weather as a story antagonist early.

Example:

Ella Santos stood on the sidewalk with a cigarette in her hand, watching the snow fall and feeling more alone than she ever had in her life.
- Snowblind by Christopher Golden

As this book is about a snowstorm that brings icy figures who steal people away, it is fitting that this story begins with weather as that is what sets the conflict of the novel in motion.

This is what happened. On the night that the worst heat wave in northern New England history fainlly broke - the night of July 19 - the entire western Maine region was lashed with the most vicious thunderstorms I have ever seen.
- The Mist by Stephen King

I don't like the opening line; it's redundant and used, one supposes, to establish tone. I've read others say it is pure genius, which further puzzles me. The next line and rest of the paragraph is about the weather, and the mist that the whole premise for the story is based around and which is vitally important to the conflict, as it is the mist in which the creatures hide.

Of course there are plenty of other examples, just go to the library and start opening random books, you'll be surprised how many open with weather or with references to weather on the first page. With so many modern novels beginning with the cliche, I was curious if this phenomenon of opening with weather can be truly dated to the 19th century, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton's work indicates and so I started flipping through the old classics.

Thomas Hardy does not begin with weather in any of his major novels. For the most part neither does Charles Dickens, though there are a couple exceptions:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.
 - Bleak House by Charles Dickens

In these opening lines the weather is used not merely to paint a landscape painting picture but to create a rather unusual image of a Megalosaurus.

Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.
- Little Dorrit by by Charles Dickens

This opening line, however, is a fail, and from the major novels I checked the only Dickens novel that begins with weather. If a character was literally burning it would incite emotion. Dickens goes on with more weather in this opening before coming to a man in prison with a chill.

Here is another example:

Jeanne finished her packing and went over to the window, but the rain showed no sign of stopping.
- A Woman's Life by Maupassant

All in all, I was not able to find many examples of weather openings from a 100 years or more ago. Not that there aren't, I'm sure there are, just that it doesn't look like it was as common as it is today.

Then there are the writers who are stuck in a rut. I wonder if they are aware of it. Henning Mankell, in particular, is obsessed with the weather opening.

Frozen snow, severe frost.
- The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell

I always feel more lonely when it's cold.
-  Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

One day in the cold month of July, 2002, a man by the name of Jose Paulo opened up a hole in a rotten floor.
- A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell

And in particular fog.

In the beginning, everything was just fog.
 - Wallander's First Case by Henning Mankell

Fog.
 - The Man who Smiled by Henning Mankell

It's so cliche, it's eye rolling. Though to be fair Henning Mankell employs other cliches to begin his stories, as well.

Oh, and I don't think it's necessary to open with weather, even as a joke, as in the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time by  Madeleine L'Engle: It was a dark and stormy night. Any writer caught doing that has only revealed that he or she is not well read. It's not clever.

It's been done before.

Trust me: It's been done before.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

So begins the quintessential teenage angst novel. Oddly though, most teenagers do not like reading it. I didn't like being forced to read it in high school. All I remembered before rereading it as an adult was that it had swearing and a gay scene. Teaching teenagers today, I'm always confronted with frustrated, disbelieving and annoyed teenage faces when they are made to sit through a reading of the book. Perhaps this is because it is a little too close to home, or maybe it's because its themes are self-evident to the teenager and therefore a bore. Most likely it's because teenagers are just as confused as Holden is. It's like trying to read a book on how to swim when one is in the middle of the ocean during a bad storm. The book, therefore, is better understood and appreciated once its readers are old enough to distance themselves from the whole horrible experience of teenagehood and are able to look back upon it as it really was. When read in middle age, The Catcher in the Rye, suddenly makes sense.

One of the first things that readers may notice is the length of the first line. Most people say that the number one rule of writing is show, don't tell. This novel begins with almost five pages of telling, but as it reveals character and not merely back story but the state of mind of the protagonist the average reader is fascinated, being able to get a glimpse into the mind of a kid who is, to put it mildly, a little off his rocker. So in conclusion: This telling technique thing is not all bad, depending on how a writer uses it. Of course it doesn't hurt to be able to write like Salinger.

After reading the line, what is most apparent is the mood and the tone that is captured; it's what makes this line famous, revealing a sort of apathy most kids and those who were kids can identify with. As well, even though Salinger probably worked and reworked his first draft into a second and third etc., this line and the rest of the book has a feeling of being improvised, as if the novel were an interview given off the cuff and the narrator is just letting it all out however.

The only downside with this opening line is the feeling of preamble, akin to some of the writing of the late 19th century that this opening line seems to attack; nevertheless, internal character conflict and external conflict soon unfold. In fact, despite the preambly nature of this line, it indicates an internal conflict that something about the narrator is not right.

First thing said:

"C'mon, c'mon, somebody open the door."

Verdict: Pass

This is from the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list and in what order, but his reasoning is as good as any. The Catcher in the Rye comes in as the 94th greatest book of all time.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

Anthony Xavier Ricci never set an alarm clock because he never needed one.

How kind of the author to give the full name of the character, which of course is better than simply using a pronoun, but in point of fact provides no concrete information about the character other than the fact the character is most likely male. Despite my flippancy, a name is a million times better than a pronoun.

Now, despite the fact that there is the bed setting cliche used here (or someone waking up from a nap in this case), it is used in such a way that does manage to reveal a bit of character: that this guy doesn't need an alarm clock and has an internal clock. It could mean many things, like this guy is obsessive-compulsive or was in the army and had the alarm clock drilled into his brain. However, even though there is some data to work with, there really isn't anything yet to get us caring about this Anthony guy.

The next paragraph is descriptive with fragments of a back story dump about Ricci being in the NYPD for X number of years, his apartment that looks like a cellar but is really neat with various things inside it. We even get to learn what kind of stereo and TV he has!

Then we learn why Ricci needed a nap because the previous night he'd been to a cop party until 4 A.M., and of curse Ricci had to get up at dawn to do his seven-mile run before doing his laundry and doing some grocery shopping. So, anyway after napping, Ricci showers and shaves and even weighs himself! All explained in loving detail. He then puts on his Dockers, tennis shoes, a Knicks sweatshirt and hoodie. Then he sits on his bed and looks at some photos which is the writing method for which Terri an ex-girlfriend is introduced...

I don't know what comes next because I got so bored that I needed to take a nap. That's right, I stopped reading. Why would anyone be surprised with stopping? There is no conflict, just boring mundane details in the day in a life of some guy I care nothing about, because on the surface he's like every other human being out there trying to make a positive go of it, you know, keeping fit and clean. Lord, why did I read this?

First thing said:

"Anybody want anything while I'm up?"

My mother used to say that during the TV commercial break. So I like that opening bit of dialogue, even though it doesn't move plot forward or reveal character.

For a thriller which is supposed to have "nail-biting suspense" this opening is anything but.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Power Play by Catherine Coulter

Buckner Park
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Middle of March
Saturday, late afternoon

She always ran at sunset.

I love reviewing books by this author because they are so dumbed down that it is fun to write about them. However, I resist reviewing books by this author because my natural instinct is not to give this crap any more exposure than it already has. You know there is something wrong when the chapter heading is twice as long with three times the amount of information as the opening line - an opening line that has zero conflict, little setting and a mysterious pronoun impossible to care anything about.

She rarely ran all-out, rather she maintained a smooth, steady pace because this was her thinking time.

Not that I really care, but I don't think this line makes much sense when one looks closely at it. The way to understand this line is to assume a thing or two and read between the lines but this can lead to many interpretations. The author almost seems to be missing in action and isn't helping the reader out much at all and not least of all because of the pronounology. What we may surmise here is that this pronoun can't run fast and think at the same time, which suggests some epic stupidity or mental issue, like those people who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Or perhaps one may infer that running at a smooth pace is the only way she can think, as if her legs are somehow attached directly to her brain.

The third line:

Thankfully, it wasn't freezing cold on this early evening.

Okay, so which is it: late afternoon or early evening and if Ms. Pronoun always runs at sunset and since it's March does the sun set in early evening or late evening? Anyway, this line is about the weather, so who cares what time it is.

So, this is this pronoun's thinking time. Here is a sentence that explains what thinking time means to this pronoun:

Diplomatic protocols with endless snafus, relations with Her Majesty's government, and now too often about people who wanted to blow up their neighbors, or London, still fighting out thousands of years of hatreds seemingly bred into their bones. Sometimes there are victories. Thankfully she is good at her job...

That's the second time on the first page the adverb thankfully is used. In any case, if this is how she thinks, her mind's pretty cluttered as it manifests a series of sentence fragments, that reads like incoherent mental shrapnel.

On this occasion she's thinking about why someone would want to kill her when lo and behold someone tries to kill her when a car tries to hit her. Think it and it shall be. We never even learn if this pronoun has a name. Thankfully, chapter 2 begins without this pronoun.

He turned stone-cold and his focus narrowed laser-thin on the man who held the woman in a choke hold.

But begins with another pronoun. Why? At least in this case we can ignore the pronoun because of the conflict in the form of someone choking someone.

First thing said:

Cursing. Yawn. Sounds like the person choking another person is in grade three: "I'm big now; listen to me swear!"

The pronoun had been walking to his jeep with a large Starbucks coffee (What's that? A grande or a venti? Because go into any Starbucks and ask for a large something and the chances are they won't understand what you're talking about.) when he interrupts this carjacking. Everyone can relate to that, yeah? Actually only people in these type of crap novels are confronted with violence everywhere they go, that's why they're in books, I guess. But the believabilty factor is hard to swallow.

Honestly, this opening is like every other opening of this genre. Where do these writers get their opening ideas? At the mall?

Verdict: Fail

Was there ever any doubt?

Thankfully,
Rudy Globird

Monday, 28 July 2014

Death at the Door by Carolyn Hart

Everything was set.

Before anything else I added the byline hook label, as that is what will draw people more than anything else to this novel. The plug on the cover won't hurt either: a Bookstore mystery. So I will add the book about books label too.

The opening line is short and does nothing to establish plot or character. Pure preamble. The only thing good about this is that it is short and can be easily ignored, except it can't because it is the first line. Unfortunately, the opening line is next to impossible to ignore. I try all the time but can't do it, unless it is long and tiresome like the opening line of Robinson Crusoe.

It's the next line that has the semblance of a hook:

She should be dead next week.

Not bad, but the pronounology is annoying. Who will be dead? Why all the mystery? Why hold back? What's the secret? Why be stingy with the plot points? Share! Authors don't because they want you to have a reason to read on. Clever, huh? But once someone has passed the threshold and read more than a few hundred books and perused thousands more in the quest to find a good read, this technique fails, it's like the carrot trick on the end of the stick - readers learn it's a trick.

As this is about a bookstore, I'd kill to have a beginning that tells us something about the bookstore, or even better, something about a mysterious book and all its quirky characteristics. Instead, the whole first paragraph has that flavor of preamble; all we learn is that something is up and that people are going to die.

First thing said:

"Not my lucky day."

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Freud's Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

Vienna, 1895

The season for suicides had begun.

This is what I would classify as a great line by writers for writers. That's not to say that others won't like it, but I think this is a line that most writers would like. As well, this opening line works well in conjunction with the title. The mention of Freud and suicide has a decidedly pleasurable effect.

The next line introduces a scene of a woman writing at a desk, complete with a simile! Then the third line in the book employs the cliched weather report. Since it must be important, I will provide it here for your reading pleasure:

Outside, the sky was ashen gray. Since early November, the air had been bitter cold, and patches of ice had spread over the breadth of the Danube.

So weather introduces the river which introduces the fact that a young bride had just the other week jumped off a bridge, killing herself, with her body washing up, shrouded in white satin.

So the narrative text on the opening page is lyrical, but I'm asking the question: What does this have to do with the lady writing at her desk and as soon as I ask, it hits me, is this lady writing a suicide note? If so, this is a cool beginning. Unfortunately, by the third paragraph Ms. Pronoun is writing a letter to her sister asking for help and then cryptically the third paragraph and page 1 ends:

She would remember this day. It was the beginning.

So a little preamble is inserted assuring us not to worry, there is conflict and story to come, just not really on page 1.

Page 2 begins:

Two Days Earlier

The sky was raining ice...

Someone obviously has a weather fetish; however, the sentence ends well and indeed the weather in this case has some importance in establishing character:

...but the woman hurrying down the boulevard wore no coat or hat.

First thing said:

"Good evening."

I will give this opening a 50/50 rating for the opening line and title and the scene that emerges on page 2 of a frantic woman carrying a sick baby through bad weather.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. 

This novel may not be for everyone, but at least we know in the opening line what it is going to be about. In this line there is setting and conflict and I think it works quite nicely in conjunction with the title.

The rest of the opening paragraph:

I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive . . .' And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?'

Whoever the narrator is, he is with his attorney who is pouring beer on his chest to help get a tan, and obviously the attorney did not see or hear the giant bats. This opening page not only establishes the premise but also reveals something of the characters and perhaps most importantly, the tone of the the novel.

Verdict: Cool

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Until that phone call it had been an ordinary day.

This opens with the phone call cliche, and with that opening phrase: Until that phone call[,]...there is a comma that's gone AWOL. Kids, look away!

Anyway, I suppose there is some foreshadowing in this line, but it's so obvious, like saying: This story will have a problem! Next line:

Laden with groceries, I was walking home through Bermondsey, a neighborhood of London, just south of the river.

Another cliche, the walking cliche, with a standard GPS info dump, which in a most uncreative way, introduces the setting. This could have been revealed as a subheading like: South London, Bermondsey - except there are no headings in this book and the fact that this bit of information isn't at all important or interesting, unless we infer that Bermondsey is the Farm. I couldn't care less where this pronoun is at this point. He could be walking down the little yellow brick road for all I care. I just don't need to know. What do I need to know in order to care? Answer: Conflict, pain, suffering directed towards this pronoun. So, in theory, that should come before explaining where Mr. Pronoun is.

As well, I'd move that last comma up to the first line if there is a shortage of commas at Grand Central Publishing. Next line:

It was a stifling August evening and when the phone rang I considered ignoring it, keen to hurry home and shower.

The third line of this novel rounds out the three-hit-cliche wonder. Absolutely nothing in these three lines is interesting and worthy of being published. A writer only gets one opening, one opening line, and this one wastes it on boring cliches of some pronoun getting a phone call while carrying groceries. Who wants to read about that? It happens everyday to millions and millions and millions of people.

Then we get a smidgen of back story after we learn that the person calling is this pronoun's father.

First thing said:

"Dad?"

As was just mentioned, Dad is calling, and he's crying, something this pronoun has never heard before. So, while still on the first page, conflict is introduced in the form of a sick Mom, who is apparently imagining things. This is the hook, and I think it will hook most people. I mean, who isn't interested in hallucinating mothers? If this hook were on page 4 or page 10, this book would have been highly recommended as a cure to insomnia and would've given some of Henry James's work a run for its money.

Overall, the first paragraph is a waste of space and a fail, but the opening recovers quickly with dialogue and conflict. The first section ends on page 3 with the pronoun, now with a name, Daniel, promising to get on a plane and fly to Sweden and to...the...farm, because suddenly Daniel realizes that that is where the story of this novel is, and Daniel is not where the story is and has to get his butt there, hopefully before chapter 2. However, first the reader must endure a back story dump that is not very thrilling.

My advice: Wait for this book to hit the remainder bins and pick it up for two bucks, because Grand Central Publishing almost certainly overprinted this one. That's what I did with the other books by this author, books which I still have not read. They do serve as excellent dust catchers though.

Verdict: Pass (Barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

Rome, New York
The last night of April, 1998

They put me in a room with white tile on the walls and a pair of long fluorescent lights glaring down from the ceiling.

The pronoun "they" sounds ominous, but other than that there is nothing really untoward in this line. "They" could be hotel staff. Using pronounology is a technique writers use to to create suspense by withholding information. It's like telling a story by way of omission; any intelligent reader will see through this ploy and have the subtle feeling that their time is being wasted. With the third sentence we get something that makes me wonder if this is a bad situation:

I had a cut on my temple.

We learn that it's itching, and the narrator tries to ignore it. So, I'm thinking that this person is tied up, but that's not the case, the narrator is only locked up in a room.

First thing said:

"Why'd you kill the girl?

This comes on page 2, and it is the first thing a detective asks the narrator after coming into the locked room. It's direct and gets to the point, moving the plot forward. There is lots of dialogue after this as the narrator and detective butt heads with witty dialogue as both try to outwit the other for no other apparent reason than that is what people try to do these days.

This opening scene will hook all those who love this genre. We have a character in conflict, a problem in the form of a dead girl, which raises a few questions. The scene is not as transparent as it seems from the beginning, which only aids in pulling the reader in.

There is no narrative back story in the opening and yet the reader is able to understand what is happening, just like one would watching a scene play itself out on the street - without any context. So you see, back story is not always necessary to make a story beginning be understood; credit the wondrous nature of the human brain. The back story we do get a little later on is in the form of dialogue with the characters telling it in their own words as the narrator explains what happened to the dead girl and what his past relationship was with her.

The lack of a back story dump frees this opening up, and lets the story unfold organically, like real life does, so I'm giving this opening a high rating of 3.5 stars.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos

Six years ago, my bassist was shot dead in a New York nightclub.

Even though this line is of the back story variety, it is effective. We have some conflict in the form of a dead bassist and a character in the form of a narrator who, we may infer, has some musical tendencies. There is some setting thrown in for good measure. This is enough to navigate with and be pulled in by. The short prologue goes on to describe and explain the circumstance,s and before you can contemplate finishing, it is over. The reader is hooked. Unfortunately, it is a prologue and the writer will have to rehook in chapter 1, especially if the story starts in another time and place, like those annoying Cussler novel.

Chapter 1:

It almost didn't happen - the kidnapping and everything after.

This is preamble. The next line makes it go down a little easier.

That's the part that gets me, even now.

So as this is preamble that points towards some upcoming conflict in the form of a kidnapping that could have been avoided, what needs to happen next is dive right into this opening line. The next line:

The phone call came early Sunday morning, waking me out of a dead sleep.

Oops, two cliches: bed setting and phone call opening in one sentence. So this makes the opening preamble even more preambly, that is, something that was added in a later draft of the novel to make the cliches of bed and phone go down easier or even unnoticed. Not that I'm saying this author did it that way, but it feels like it. Sometimes that is where preamble comes from: a desperate attempt to spice up an otherwise mediocre opening line, paragraph or page.

First thing said:

"You're going to have to count me out, man."

This is still on the first page as the 4:55 AM conversation dances around a top secret plot point forcing the reader to read on if they care to find out what is going on. Then the caller decides that it wasn't a good idea to call and hangs up. So basically the reader learns that there is a problem but isn't told what it is. Personally, as I'm holding a novel, I don't need to be assured that there's a problem in this novel, that I will take for granted, as a story without conflict is no story. What I do want is the problem, and some, if not all, of the sordid details.

Verdict: Pass

I will give this three stars for the engaging prologue and writing style, but chapter 1 has the type of opening that's been done before - many times. No amount of preamble will fix that.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 21 July 2014

Private L.A. by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

It was  nearing midnight that late-October evening on a dark stretch of beach in Malibu.

Exposition that is pure setting doesn't work for me. Exposition that introduces character and conflict does. I want to know what the story is about before when and where the story takes place, unless of course the setting is strife with conflict. This one isn't. I suppose there are some people who would feel differently, who would be very put out because they understand nothing of a story if they don't get the when and where first. But the essence of a story is things happening to people. That's just me, digging the essence of things first.

The next sentence:

Five men, lifelong surfers, lost souls, sat around a fire blazing in a portable steel pit set into the sand.

The lost souls bit is a little strange and needs some explaining. One possible inference being that they are lost souls because they are surfers.

First thing said:

"Bomber weed, N.P."

Then we learn that at least one of the five men had done two tours in Iraq and was incapable of love, hence the lost soul reference. A bit cliche, Terminator style, but anyway, these men sit around the fire so their back stories can unfold. In the second chapter of the prologue they are killed with a Glock! So there we have it, another violent prologue that fails to hook.

Chapter 1:

Shortly after midnight, as the first real storm of the season intensified outside, the lovely Guin Scott-Evans and I were sitting on the couch at my place, watching a gas fire, drinking a first-class bottle of Cabernet, and good-naturedly bantering over our nominees for sexist movie scene ever.

Exposition is fine if it's setting up conflict. This, however, reads like a Marlboro advert from the 1970's. Then, horror of horrors, we actually get the whole conversation of them discussing the sexist movie scene, like, ever. As if I care. This goes on for all of chapter 1, mercifully broken up, unfortunately, with back story until finally at the end, after being forced to go through this totally uninteresting character "development" to have the phone ring so the narrator can be told about the dead bodies in the prologue. Mindless character development, for the sake of character development never hooks.

Here's an idea: why not develop characters with them reacting to the difficult circumstances of the inciting event that's riddled with conflict? At least then it would be fun and not sound like one's reading pre-adolescent Flaubert struggling to inflate a story so as to buy another round of Botox treatments for his beloved grandmother.

Opening outline:

- Prologue: Mysterious men on a beach are discussing random things, getting drunk and high until they are mysteriously slaughtered by one of the mysterious men - who is sort of like the strong silent type who Americans love reading about and watching on TV or the big screen, but hate hanging out with and ignore in real life, as these strong silent types come off as rude and arrogant.

-Chapter 1: Two people are getting romantic talking about sexy scenes in movies, and are also drinking, until the phone rings and they are informed of what happened in the prologue.

There's a formula here (slaughter to sexy) and I expect the bestselling writers will continue with what works. I don't expect the market will reject this formula as the consumers who make up this mass market read on average only three books a year and so will never read enough to discover that this has been done a million times before.

Books today don't shine a light on the soul of the reader like they used to. Quite the opposite; it's as if we are scared of reading good literature for fear of what we might find inside ourselves.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Vanished Man By Jeffery Deaver

Greetings, Revered Audience. Welcome.

I have tried to read this novel on several occasions and after a couple years now, just can't finish it.I was attracted to this because of the locked room mystery angle to it. This premise comes early in the story and is resolved fairly early as well. Here is some more of the opening:

Welcome to our show.

We have a number of thrills in store for you over the next two days as our illusionists, our magicians, our sleight-of-hand artists weave their spells to delight and captivate you.

The short of it is that this is a presentation given by the crazy person that's out and about killing people to show off his magic tricks. After this intro that's in all italics we get a break and the story starts thus:

The building looked as if it’d seen its share of ghosts.

I like the sentence. It's short and contains foreshadowing. Then there is description:

Gothic, sooty, dar. Sandwiched between two high-rises on the Upper West Side, capped with a widow's walk and many shuttered windows. The building dated from the Victorian era and had been a boarding school at one point and later a sanatorium, where the criminally insane lived out their frazzled lives.

Usually, I don't like so much description so soon, but this description is dark and quite a visual stimulation.

First thing said:

"Yeah….No."

I guess the problem with finishing this book is that after the hook of the locked room mystery is solved, and it was clever, this loses its interest. The characters are stock and stereotype rolled up in Americanism.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich

Circassian Mountains
Ottoman Empire
1578

One spring morning as the sun dappled the rocks with golden light, drying the dew from the night before, making the world look as scrubbed and as fleecy as a cloud, Leah made a blunder that was to lead to her death.

Preamble. This reads something like a blurb that would be on the back cover, minus, of course the poetiky weather report. And I'm no expert, but Leah doesn't sound like a 16th century name. It may well be, but it sounds a little too modern for me and somewhat obstructs the historical image that this novel will undoubtedly try to create.

By page two there is some back story dump about Yuruks. Slowly, over 13 pages the circumstances of Leah's death emerge.

First thing said:

"Be quiet, or I'll slit your throat too."

This dialogue works at building up conflict and tension, so if there is more conflict like this, that is, to the point, then that's something to look forward to.

Nevertheless, I shan't be finding out.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird


Friday, 18 July 2014

The Day of the Dead by Maurizio de Giovanni

As the dawn was beginning to extract the outlines of things from the night and the rain, if someone had happened to pass by the foot of the monumental staircase leading up to Capodimonte, they'd have seen a dog and a child.

Two subordinate clauses slammed together like in the above sentence is awkward and not right. There's an evilness about this that disturbs me. Other than that there is not much happening here. Night is ending, as it always does, and there is a boy and a dog out and about. It has a little of the film fade in technique. Unfortunately, this is a novel, not a film. The next sentence and last in the first paragraph you can just skip, as it states that if someone had been there, but of course isn't, then it would have been hard to make the figures of dog and boy out. Whatever.

Paragraph 2 goes on to explain the boy and dog are just sitting there. Paragraph 3 begins by stating that ...if someone had...stopped to look they may have wondered [things] - or not; it would depend entirely on who these hypothetical characters would be. It goes on to say that someone [what about the reader?] might wonder what the boy and dog were doing before describing the boy and dog and then finally we arrive at page 2. By the end of this short opening chapter we may surmise the boy is dead. Amazing it took two pages to reveal something that could have been stated in one powerful sentence at the beginning. In other words, by using the if only... technique this opening reminds me of homework I've read in the past, published homework, and therefore is a fail.

Chapter 2 begins with a phone call with a header stating it is 1931, an interesting time period for some, so this might help to hook your brain.

First thing said:

"Commissa', you didn't think they'd let us finish our shift in peace, did you?"

Overall, I think this opening shows promise, but there isn't enough data here to raise any questions that need immediate answering. Yes, there is the question as to why the boy froze to death outside. Was he waiting for someone, or running away from something? However, it's not an usual enough situation to make me want to read on. If it was a real life situation, of course it would interest people, but this concept of a scene of a dead child found in cold weather has appeared before in the cruel fictional world that the human imagination has created.

I have a feeling this novel would make a great movie, which one may interpret as an insult or as a compliment to the book.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Death Trade by Jack Higgins

The man who called himself Ali LeBlanc surfaced from a deep sleep to cries of anguish, screams, gunfire, exploding grenades, and the roaring of many engines.

It is a sad commentary on the human psyche in this period of time that violence should hook people into reading books, or, in the very least, that writers think it will. It's cliche, kitsch really, and so not very creative. Added to this beginning is a character waking up in bed to what seems like the ultimate alarm clock therefore we have a nicely little packaged cliche beginning.

This line introduces some standard conflict in a foreign locale, unless this is set in Detroit. Fortunately, we learn in paragraph 2 - designated the back story paragraph - that it's actually Baghdad. It's not so good to have back story so soon, but in this case it is brief and some of the info is important, though perhaps not all necessary on page 1. The third paragraph is the paint me a picture of what this guy looks like paragraph.

First thing said:

"Stay back from sight. It's a butcher's shop out there."

For some reason comparing a battle scene to a butcher's shop is lowbrow, tasteless and overdone.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Where Monsters Dwell by Jorgen Brekke

There are no monsters under the bed.

That doesn't sound very interesting. It would be more fun to read that there are monsters under the bed. The paragraph is about a pronoun who built a spaceship in his room that is wrecked and about a crazy person downstairs who might have heard the crashing to the floor. There is no obvious connection between the second paragraph and the opening line so we must continue to read this short prologue to see if a connection is made. At the end there is the statement:

There are no monsters under the bed. But there's one towering over it.

Presumably this is a person the boy (he's been upgraded from a mere pronoun) is afraid of. The prologue is effective as a scene unfolds, in which someone is attacking the boy and his mother. We are made to assume they are both slaughtered, so two more prologies are sacrificed at the beginning of a novel for dramatic effect. Personally, bloody prologues don't hook me.

Chapter 1:

Bergen, Norway, September 1528

The mendicant monk had heard few good things about Bergen and even fewer about Norway, the land where he was born, about which he had forgotten so much.

No surprise that the prologue and chapter 1 are in different time zones. A monk in an opening line of a horror/mystery novel attracts attention, but there is little else here that will hook. Having heard few good things about Bergen, is too vague to hook. What else can one expect with words like: things and so much?

First thing said:

"I am everywhere."

The killer says this in the prologue. Part 1 begins with a quote from Alan De Lille, ca. 1100 stating: God is an understandable sphere in which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere. This suggests that whatever killed the two prologies was godlike?

There are no obvious cliches, there are scenes with conflict, there is little back story, yet the forward narrative is understandable, so this opening could receive a much higher rating. It's just that the bloody, violent prologue opening has been done so many times that it starts to bore and wear thin. It's becoming a cliche in its own right.

Verdict: Pass (Barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Do you generally use alcohol or drugs more than once a week?

This opening line is in italics, so we may infer that it is a question being asked to someone, presumably the protagonist. The next line:

I hesitated with my hand over the page.

This reveals some character, that moment of truth when people have to be honest with themselves. It doesn't matter if they need to admit an alcohol or drug problem or a pizza problem or a TV problem. Arguably, we are capable of and willing to abuse our bodies as much as people did in the Middle Ages, and even cause more damage they ever could have, but because of technology and modern advancements we stay alive longer. The narrator then checks yes.

This is part of a scene in which the narrator is waiting in the doctor's office, waiting for a pediatrician to see her daughter. So the fact that this person has a substance abuse problem coupled with being a mother establishes some conflict in the making. But it is unclear where this is heading, so readers will read on, but that doesn't mean they are hooked yet. If they don't get something juicy soon, they will stop reading. The scene continues with this lady filling out the drug questionnaire in the magazine. Besides the bratty kid, there isn't much to hold my attention and so I bow out of this book by around page 9.

First thing said:

"How much longer?"

I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with this opening. There are no obvious cliches and the writing is all right, it just didn't grab me.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Resurrection of May Mabel McTavish by Allan Stratton

Mary Mabel's decision to kill herself wasn't taken lightly.

This is about all one can expect from an opening line. We have a character, a problem based on previous problems as of yet unknown. This line raises questions which is what a hook is all about. Why would this person wish to commit suicide? What happened in her life to want to take such a drastic measure; moreover, this decision wasn't taken lightly - she's obviously put a lot of thought into it, which raises more questions.

The next line establishes some queerness:

She'd considered it off and on ever since she was ten.

A child contemplating suicide makes said child/character readable. The rest of the paragraph describes setting but it isn't the boring type of setting that makes an opening fail, you know stuff like: It was a sunny day. We are introduced to the Academy for Young Ladies, Gothic with turrets, parapets, gargoyles and bats. Unfortunately, after paragraph 1 the narrative slides into a little too much back story for a page 1.

First thing said:

"Devil child."

The dialogue hereafter is well written, to the point and moves story forward and reveals character.

I like the title, even though it may not mean what I think it means, but that is fine for titles, even preferred, as there's nothing like a title to provide a little misdirection.

If it weren't for all the back story so early on, this opening would score higher.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

"Something happened, Addy."

So instead of showing the something we begin with telling us something happened. I actually know that something must happen or what is the book about? Better to begin with the something, which I would presume is the hook, at least I hope it is.

The rest of the first paragraph is:

"I think you better come."

In other words, "Addy, hurry up! The novel is beginning! Where are you? Get over to page 1 as quickly as you can! Like, now!"

Then:

The air is heavy, misted, fine.

Isn't this a bit of a contradiction of terms? Heavy and fine. Something can't be both heavy and fine, unless fine means okay or nice. Oh well, I guess we'll never know for sure what is meant. Cryptic sentences like this is what can lead to hours of discussion by bored, drunken, disillusioned writers all over the world. Plus, listing the adjectives like that, gives them a sense of isolation, as if each wields a power all its own, which means this is an attempt at the artsy-fartsy but fails - of course.

There's still more confusion with what comes next:

It's coming on two a.m. and I'm high on the ridge, thumb jammed against the silver button 27-G.

Then the person is buzzed in and presto! she's in the lobby. But I thought she was high on the ridge. Hm? Like the fool I am, I actually googled ridge to see if there is some urban slang term perhaps used by thirteen-year old girls in northern Saskatchewan who are afraid of heights and have freckles or something. I couldn't find anything except what ridge actual means: a long narrow hilltop, mountain range, or watershed. So I don't understand how this character goes from a ridge to a lobby.

Then we get some poor grammar:

...Beth and me wedged tight...

Anyway after this short prologue in which we learn nothing but that the narrator is somewhat hysterical, we come to chapter 1:

Four months ago
After a game, it takes a half hour under the showerhead to get all the hairspray out.

Of course chapter one does not continue where the prologue leaves off. I wonder if this is the hook, the conflict, because a full half hour in the shower is dangerous for the skin, not to mention all that hairspray which can cause heart palpitations, nausea, dehydration and tumors. Then:

To peel off all the sequins...
Sometimes you stand under the hot gush for so long, looking at your body, counting every bruise.

God, how I love this crap. I love to learn about new ways to abuse the English language. It's all about the reader - you - for the first page, and what you do under the hot gush. Another Calvino in the making?

You're really just trying to get your heart to slow down. [That's what too much hairspray will do]
You think, this is my body and I can make it do things. I can make it spin, flip, fly.
After, you stand in front of the steaming mirror... [A steaming mirror is a fire hazard]
You don't look like anybody at all.

Personally, I don't look at my body in the hot gush. When I take a hot gush, I keep my eyes closed. But then again, I only usually take a five-minute hot gush, not a half hour hot gush. Come to think of it, after writing this paragraph, I'm beginning to feel dirty and am desirous of taking a hot gush.

Then one more peculiar sentence:

At first, cheer was something to fill my days, all our days.

Mine too?  Woe! I mean, wow!

The Book of Peculiar Sentences would be a more apt title for this crapola. However, without any obvious cliches in the opening, the worst I can give this is a 2-star fail. I will read on, out of respect for the newest member of the Horrible Writers Club.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

I found a funny comment in Goodreads that sheds more light on this book's writing:

I can't even go far enough in this book to find out the premise. I do not even care. This is god awful. This is the worst kind of writing (edit: FINE. THE WORST KIND to me. I suppose you're allowed to like it). So many analogies that don't actually even MEAN ANYTHING. You can't just... say things... and call it writing.

"wishbone arms?" What do you mean by that? What is that? So, what? They're... all bowed out? They're skinny? They're dried out like after it comes out of a turkey and sits for a while? They're IN THE MIDDLE OF A BIRD?

"hair like a long taffy pull" - okay, so... it's sticky hair? It's wide at one end, and then at the other end it's all thinned out and white and stringy?

YOU CAN'T JUST SAY WORDS THAT SOUND PRETTY AND "AUTHORY" AND CALL IT WRITING. THEY NEED TO MEAN ACTUAL THINGS. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

He walked the old mare out of the pen and led her to the gate that opened out into the field.

Besides the obvious usage of pronounology there isn't much else to comment on. Mr. Pronoun is walking a horse. It's descriptive, though slightly better than a mere visual as at least something is happening to someone, if it is only just someone walking about. The next line introduces weather - it was frosty out. So yet another novel is gobbled up by the weather opening cliche. But the weather here has a purpose besides creating an idyllic picture: because of the frost they (whoever they are) left tracks.

First thing said:

"Get ya some breakfast."

The dialogue that follows is of the incidental type but it's interesting as we learn that one character, the pronoun of line one, is leaving. From the conversation between the boy pronoun and the old man we learn a little about their situation, what they eat etc. One might think food is boring to talk about and even more risky to put at the beginning of a novel, but the conversation is terse and moves forward quickly. Nevertheless, not much is happening in the first couple pages, until on page 4 the paragraphs get long and dense which can only mean one thing: back story and description. Okay, two things.

Verdict: Boring Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Friday, 11 July 2014

You Don't Want to Know by Lisa Jackson

Again, the dream creeps in.

...and it creeps in with weather as the dreams starts like this:

It's a foggy, gray day...

Seriously? Who actually dreams about weather? Or remembers the weather in their dreams? Or cares? Anyway, this is the nappy beginning of what must be a nappy prologue so we will stop here. Not hooked by a dream of foggy weather, and like a dream, this opening is vague and in parts one of those: ...it was like this, but not really... type of descriptions.

This author has one chance to hook me and she failed. Dream openings are perhaps the oldest cliche and the most obvious sign of an amateur, regardless if they've been published or not. Since this is a prologue, we can skip it for now and see if chapter 1 has a hook in the opening.

Chapter 1:

"I'm serious, you can't tell a soul," a breathy voice whispered.

Is that a comma splice? I'm serious and you can't tell a soul, are independent clauses so should be joined with a semicolon instead of a comma. The other thing that's weird about this line is the breathy voice. Is this opposed to a non-breathy voice? Lungs breath, the mouth and nose breath but a voice can't breath. Sound can't breath. If this is figurative and not to be taken literally then what is the image the author wishes to convey? A windy voice?

What this most likely means is that the person is breathing when speaking, as in heavy breather/creepy pervert, yet this voice is whispering. I'm of the camp that a person whispers not a voice, but if one wants to say a voice is the character, in order to create suspense and avoid the pronoun, well, whatever.

This gets the bed setting award when we learn that Ava is in bed and listening to characters talking, nicknamed Breathy Voice and Second Voice. It's silly when one stops and thinks about how this story is told.

The wording and structure is meant to create a scene with tension with a secret about Ava, but with sentences like those below, it doesn't come off as intense or mysterious at all, but more as an overwritten absurd prose assignment by a bored grade 10 student.

Inhaling a deep breath, she blinked.
Ava felt a jab of betrayal.
More whispering... [This so-called line reads like grade 5 material.]

The short of it is that Breathy Voice and Second Voice are talking about Ava in bits and pieces and this is supposed to make the reader curious and want to read on, as not all the information is provided to understand what this is about. Obviously, this will work for some, but I don't appreciate having my time wasted with melodramatic openings that belong in a horrid novel that Jan Austen would giggle over. In the final analysis, I really don't want to know.

Prediction: This author will not be read after her death as there will be other crap being published by her successors. In hundreds of years she'll be as well known as Bulwer-Lytton's editor. This type of work will be a mere footnote in the decline of Western civilization. That will be the legacy of such work, and there is plenty of it clogging up the bookshelves.

Verdict: Boring Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Ice Cold Kill by Dana Haynes

Ray Calabrese looked up from his BlackBerry to see Daria Gibron stride into the Rodeo Drive wine bar in Lycra exercise togs and sneakers, her hair slicked back, sans makeup.

So the prologue begins with the characters showing up at a meeting place, one with a phone and the other without makeup. This is a visual intro, more fitting for a film than for a book. The attempt at figurative language tries to make up for the filmy beginning with:

She poured herself into the opposite chair.

Now, that' more like it; figurative language is what novels are made of; it's not something that would particularly work well in a film. Writers need to remember the medium in which they are expressing themselves and think less about how the book would look as a film. In this case, the opening line reads more like the script of a TV show about to be canceled than a movie though.

The short opening scene is about two people discussing another meeting that didn't happen, dropping the hint that these two are FBI. The prologue then shifts to four hours earlier and Daria from the first scene is being offered work and checks with Ray, the other character from the first scene before accepting. So the opening scene in the wine bar is a prologue to the porlogue. Prologues within prologues is not something I've come across so often and I'm not sure if I should scoff or go, "hmm," and stroke my chin in intellectual delight. In the end, I do neither. This should just begin with the meeting rather than with a meeting about the meeting.

Chapter 1:

Desert, South of the Sea of Galilee

The prisoners lay in their cots.

The cells are then described only to confirm that they are regular cells, so the description wasn't necessary and only serves to defuse my attention span. In the second paragraph we are introduced to some characters playing name that singer or composer or whatever game. This does not hook.

First thing said:

"Hallo, Ray."

Dialogue that does nothing but give us a name is considered incidental on this blog and therefore not effective as it does not move plot forward nor reveal character, and no, a name does not reveal character.

The prologue is not short and switches scenes multiple times with back story and description interspersed. I  lost interest on page 3.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow

Two villages, where two rivers meet.

This is a sentence fragment that would look much better as a header or title to the prologue than an opening line. The fact that it's about geology makes it worse. All of page one is about the geological formations and the history of the setting - that is to say - it is not gripping. The only question this raises: Where's the bad blood?

This prologue begins with the word "One" which I thought meant that the prologue had a couple of chapters of its own, but it turns out that there is only one chapter to the prologue so I'm confused as it why it was necessary to say one when there is only one.

Then we come to Act 1 and chapter two. So this means that chapter 1 is the prologue and chapter 2 is chapter 1 of Act 1.

Chapter 1:

Tuesday July 10
Kushtaka

Tyler Mack was an eighteen-year-old stick of postadolescent dynamite just waiting for the right match.

This sounds like Jessica Fletcher (who doesn't actually exist) meets Raymond Chandler. I laughed reading this, the postadolescent dynamite reference is funny, hyperbole has a way of doing that. The narrative goes on to say he is smart in all the wrong ways and describes him, accusing him of being mostly muscle and bone, as opposed to the American standard of being, what, mostly fat and bone? The slang used in the narrative is weird. For example:

...dark hair flopped in dark brown eyes...

He was a shirttail relative of Auntie Edna...which made the entire Shugak clan part of his extended family in Byzantine ways known only to its elders.

...quick to grab him up by the ears...

Overall, the narrative reads like its parodying the mystery genre. Some sentences look like they've been thrown together into a blender, I mean, word processor.

Uncle Pat's outboard was so finely tuned and so diligently maintained that its muted purr was barely audible above the rush of water beneath the skiff's hull. Eagles chittered from the treetops.

First thing said:

"Goddamn good-for-nothing little..."

Verdict: Fail

Looks like we have a new inductee to the Horrible Writer's Club. The sentence structure and paragraph structure is so unnatural that it feels like I'm reading grade 7 homework written by a student pulling an all-nighter, desperate for that B-.

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Accident by Chris Pavone

Prologue

He awakens suddenly, in terror.

A pronoun waking up in terror has been done to death as an opening in books, short stories, films, TV shows, commercials, poems, raps, banner ads, eulogies and gossip, etc. Obviously, however, some people haven't gotten the memo. As there is little in this line to interest the well read, let's read on at least to the end of the first paragraph and see what happens with Mr. Pronoun.

He spins his head around the spare room, searching the darkest shadows in the blue wash of moonlight, sitting bolt upright, head cocked, alert for noises. He reaches his hand across his body, and grabs the gun.

Yikes. He spins his head around the room? Who is this guy, the love child of Wile E. Coyote and Regan from The Exorcist? And of course, he reaches for "the" gun, which is even more predictable than a tough, hunkly (did I just make that word up?) pronoun waking up. It's also a little awkward that as Manly Pronoun spins his head around the room, he is searching the darkest shadows while in the process of sitting upright - that is, all at the same time. Present participle forms of the verb are used to show those verbs are occurring at the same time as other verbs like spin. Example: He walks down the street and goes into the store. Happening at the same time? Nope. What about:  He walks down the street, going into the store. Happening at the same time? Yes, with the aid of the multi-moment phasing app now available for download from Google Play.

I would have the pronoun bolt upright first and then spin his head around the room, searching for whatever...

As well, it sounds strange that "reach" is used transitively, that is, with an object (hand): He reaches his hand across his body. Why is Mr. Pronoun's hand the object of the verb reaching which his hand is doing? Hm? In my neck of the English woods, "reach" is used intransitively (without an object): His hand reaches across his body... Of course, that's not to say "reach" never has an object, as in traveling: I reached the shore. A quick Google search shows that this He reaches his hand... phrasing has been used before: He reached his hand down. Not many search results though,  so it's a construction with only a small cult following. I still think it sounds weird, but I might use it.

Aegis: Can you reach that book for me?
Superman: Sure I will reach my hand to that book, because I like reaching my hands.

I guess this opening paragraph feels like writing. With the next paragraph we learn that that first paragraph was a false alarm! In other words, it's a clumsy way of foreshadowing that there is a problem, which is, put quite simply, not where it should be: in the first paragraph. This technique dangerously borders on the "ha-ha made you look" trick that I hate. You know, the openings that begin with an exciting dream or film scene on TV that the character is watching and the scene has nothing to do with the actual story.

The prologue is short, but out of the 13 paragraphs, 8 start with pronouns. Later we learn that Mr. Pronoun is a writer and he's written a memoir and that an earlier draft was in first person but in the final draft he'd changed it to third person and was obsessing whether he'd caught all the first person references - not really fascinating. His epilogue ends:

...if what you are reading is a finished book...I am...dead.

Chapter 1:

It is just before dawn when Isabel Reed turns the final sheet of paper.

We assume that this is Mr. Pronoun's book in the prologue and that Mr. Pronoun is dead. Honestly, I don't care if I'm wrong and I don't have much interest in finding out one way or the other.

First thing said:

"My God."

Indeed.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has ever seen before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.

The first fifteen pages are in italics which is annoying and hard to read for me. I'm turned off just like that. But I ignore the italics, which are there, I suppose, either to stress the first fifteen pages and/or make them stand out as special, more special than what comes after which is not in italics. But there are other sections throughout the book in italics so one must assume that the sections in italics are about some other person, are diary entries, or take place in a different time and space etc. from the the rest of the book. Whatever.

As for the sentence itself, of course there are some things that we are still learning about, like some weird deep-water fish that's discovered and looks like the devil's offspring, so I tend to disagree with this line. On the other hand, those who don't read odd news, might agree with this line. Most likely one would have to in order to allow oneself to be pulled into this. Okay, so weirdness exists. But I'm still not hooked. Next line:

I can tell you with certainty that such things exist, for beneath the water there are beasts as huge as elephants with hundreds of legs, and in the skies, rocks thrown alit from the heavens burn through the bright air and fall to earth.

With the date of 1862, we learn why this is all possible. Then we get into back story and family history. As the premise for this novel has already been revealed early on page 1, it is interesting to read about this family whose father is both magician and scientist. This holds my attention for a while but then things get a little too mundane to bother reading on, things like Coney Island history, parks, housekeepers and electricity coming to town, and other descriptive tidbits.

First things said:

"Keep walking"

I like the title, and with the byline hook this should stand tall on the bookstore shelf or display stand.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

They said the typewriter would unsex us.

This is what one may consider a writer's opening line. It is a striking statement that is successful at doing what it is designed to do: attract attention. Anyone at a bookstore who comes across this book accidentally, and opens this to the first page and reads this line will most likely want to read the next and then the next until they find themselves wandering towards the cashier book in hand.

This line doesn't necessarily foreshadow a any particular conflict per say, but rather hints at the premise as the next paragraph explains:

One look at the device itself and you might understand how they - the self-appointed keepers of female virtue and morality, that is - might have reached such a conclusion.

I don't much like the POV switch, but that is my little pet peeve I've yet to come to terms with. This paragraph ends with:

Add to that the sheer violence of its iron arms, thwacking away at the page with unforgiving force. Unforgiving. Yes; forgiving is not the typewriter's duty.

One can't help think that the typewriter is a symbol for something. I'll let you to figure out what. The next paragrpah begins:

I don't suppose I know much about the business of forgiveness, either, as my job has so much to do with the other end of it. Confessions, I mean.

She works for the police and writes out reports on rape, robbery or whatever. Not things a lady was in the habit of being privy to in 1924.

There is more telling about the the life (back story and establishing character motivation) of the narrator and a return to the typewriter unsexing people until finally we come to a scene on page 8 and some dialogue.

First thing said:

"I'm not a ninny, you know."

I like the premise for this and the fact it is revealed early: a secretary to the police. I'm still not sure if this is a mystery or what (I don't read blurbs as they might affect the review process. I have this fear this is a romance or a combination of one with a mystery, but I will read on, as the beginning has pulled me in. Perhaps the time period has something to do with it, you know, the roaring twenties and all.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Headline from the Weird News Network, online edition, October 19:

The Hungry Man of Prince County!
By Huntington Mulvaney

Fearsome news, dear readers, from one of our loneliest outposts - the tiny fishing community of Lower Montague, Prince Edward Island.

So begins this novel with a news article,which effectively establishes tone and made me laugh, which is no small feat, because I don't like to laugh. We are introduced to a setting not so commonly used (the majority of the planet will not know where this island is) and a little conflict in the hungry man. Those who are aware of where this island is may also be aware of the tourist propaganda that comes from Prince Edward Island as being a friendly geological paradise, so what comes next is amusing:

The perfect location for devilry, methinks?

Apparently a truck has been stolen by Starvin' Marvin, the emaciated thief. Rumors abound from news readers, which I assume refers to those on the Island, of how the emaciated thief might be an evil member of the Templars or the Illuminati, as he eats everything, napkins and god knows what else - perhaps the truck he stole?

Chapter 1:

Eat Eat Eat Eat

I don't know if that is supposed to be some kind of sentence, a header or perhaps a child was doodling on the author's manuscript before Kraft Dinner night.

The boat skipped over the waves, the drone of its motor trailing across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

A boring scenic fade in type of sentence, that establishes place before conflict. However, conflict comes soon enough as we learn while still on page one that a pronoun has stolen a boat after hotwiring a truck he stole. So the reader assumes that chapter 1 picks up where the prologue of sorts left off. I like this. The hook is obviously the bizarre Weird News article but that this plot point continues into chapter 1 ensures the reader stays hooked.

Rest assured, this guy is hungry and to make matters worse, he's ruptured his stomach lining and the contents of his guts were...now leaking through the split tissue.

First thing said:

"If this gets out, it'll make Typhoid Mary look like Mary Poppins."

In the opening scene we have a person running because it seems he's in trouble with the law. It's a classic inciting event that leads to worse things.

Verdict: Cool

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Augie Odenekirk had a 1997 Datsun that still ran well in spite of high mileage, but gas was expensive, especially for a man with no job, and City Center was on the far side of town, so he decided to take the last bus of the night.

There is something to be said for opening without death and violence, as if they are the only things that will hook the world these days. Of course, conflict is essential to a hook, and there is little in this opening line, at least nothing that would make one care to read on. Expensive gas and being unemployed are not engaging.

I award this with the car opening cliche because the character has gotten into a vehicle to drive to the beginning of the plot and conflict or in this case to be taken to it by public transportation.

By the end of this prologue we get the violence and death that the modern consumer demands.

First thing said:

"Good luck, man."

This dialogue neither reveals character or moves plot forward, it's only purpose is to establish King's tone, and champion the average man that we've deceived ourselves into believing is interesting enough to read about. When the truth be told these "average" joes in King's novels are anything but average or normal.

The opening scene is about this guy at a City center job placement place talking to some girl who has a kid and the struggles of being in a lineup with a baby and in unpleasant weather. Almost ten pages are invested in getting the reader mildly to care for these characters in dismal circumstances before King exterminates them, turning them into prologies (expendable characters that die horribly in prologues and whose only purpose in the novel is to hook us with their bloody and sometimes creatively violent deaths).

I flip through the prologue and I wonder why I needed to read all that. It's too long.

Chapter 1:

Hodges walks out of the kitchen with a can of beer in his hand, sits down in a La-Z-Boy, and puts the can down on the little table to his left, next to the gun.

The gun opening and drinking cliche begin chapter 1. The gun is treated like a dog (he pats it), on comes the TV and then we transition to paragraph 2 and back story. However, I like the writing style; it's a little more literary in tone - with long paragraphs, a trademark of a King novels - until page 2 when the obligatory swearing starts and that famous King tone starts pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Honestly, this opening doesn't feel any different than any other typical novel of this genre.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Gifted and Talented by Wendy Holden

Isabel stared out of the train window.

In this opening line there is nothing but a name and a window. No conflict here, it's not even dramatic. It is not special, odd, or out of the ordinary. So this line is an epic fail and will hook no one except people called Isabel and window cleaners - and that's being optimistic or even naive. The next line:

The English fields flashed by, sometimes with cows in, sometimes sheep, sometimes nothing but a couple of troughs or an oak tree with russet-leaved branches.

This line is setting and contains errors in parallel structure. The cows are in what? And why aren't the sheep in too? Then the final paragraph of this spectacularly boring paragraph:

Beneath the surface of the fields the ancient plough and furrow pattern rippled like the sea.

How can plough patterns be beneath the surface of a field? Are they not what would define the surface of the field, or am I missing something?

The first sentence of the second paragraph:

Isabel glanced at the man and woman opposite.

Opposite what, the field? The cows? Or could it be that they are opposite her? Readers will need to rely more on their brains and powers of inference to figure out what is going on rather than on the writer's writing abilities. There are many more examples of poor sentence structure in this work that would get a C or D in any middle school program.

Emotion is expressed, funnily enough by characters blinking hard. They do a lot of hard blinking.

First thing said:

"Every room's got central heating and there's a laundry and kitchen at the end of every corridor."

As this is a romance novel, proper syntax and clarity is obviously not necessary when it comes to expressing the flavors of the heart.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

This was written in the days when the where the story is happening was more important than what is happening. However, all is not as it seems with this opening that begins with setting. At first glance, the setting may be regraded as a drawback with its overdose of semicolons, but there is some nicely written prose here. More importantly, this opening takes advantage of the setting to introduce and establish the character of Mrs. Lynde,which is not a technique one reads every day.

The opening line begins idyllically enough until the stream reaches Mrs. Lynde's house. I like how the stream and perhaps all of nature, must behave according to Mrs. Lynde's sensibilities with due regard for decency and decorum. Adding that the stream must be conscious of where Mrs. Lynde is as she is a gossip and busybody. By making the river a character that is perhaps afraid of Mrs. Lynde, tone is established, subtly hyperbolic, much like one might find in a Harry Potter novel.

Right away we are made aware of the stark contrast between character and setting. The beautiful countryside of Prince Edward Island amidst the strictness of the Victorian age; this motif continues throughout the opening pages.

So, in this long sentence that sort of cheats with all the semicolons, we get some foreshadowing of conflict in that Mrs. Lynde is not the kind of person one can have much fun with and any child that comes in contact with her or those of her kind will suffer. Indeed, the next few pages are written, it seems, with only one purpose in mind: to drive the fear of Mrs. Lynde and perhaps adults in general into the hearts and minds of readers.

First thing said:

"I'll just step over to Green Gables after tea and find out from Marilla where he's gone and why."

So says Mrs. Lynde.

When Mrs. Lynde learns that Marilla's husband has gone to pick up an orphan to work on the farm, Mrs. Lynde expresses her fear of orphan children. Enter Anne.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht