A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #12: First Impressions

swtcbradbury“Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”

That’s the opening of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic science fiction novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. Intriguing, isn’t it? And I can tell you that I don’t know a single science fiction writer who hasn’t thought, “Damn. I wish I’d written that.” Ray Bradbury’s opening for just about any of his novels—ditto. My personal fave is Something Wicked This Way Comes: “The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.” Dee-licious.

If you haven’t read those books, consider doing so. They’re magical. And magic is what writers want to perform. Hmm. “Today, C3PO came unglued.” “The seller of droids arrived just ahead of the sandstorm.” … Or not. But my point is every novelist wants to write an opening that makes you, dear reader, want to read more. Even if it’s not as  immediately evocative as Vonnegut’s or Bradbury’s openings, our aim is to draw you in, to immerse you in a scene, in the characters, in the action in such a way that you will be sucked into our clever trap, and-

Oh … did I say that out loud? Pardon me.

Ahem. To enlarge on my theme: A writer may approach the opening of a book in any number of ways. They may opt to toss you head first into the action, or engage you in a quirky conversation that will quickly endear the characters to you. They may set the mood, so that you enter the action with a sense of foreboding, or set up a mystery for you to unravel.

cn1_jedi-twilightIn Coruscant Nights I: Jedi Twilight, Michael’s opening was calculated to walk the reader into the looming, gloomy atmosphere of the planet-city of Coruscant: “In the lowest levels, in the abyssal depths of the ecumenopolis that was Coruscant, it was a rare thing indeed to see sunlight.” This is an elegant, more evocative way of saying, “It’s freakin’ dark down here!” and it leads into a very tense game of cat and mouse that takes place in the stygian depths of Imperial City. The sequel, Street of Shadows, begins with a character profile of Typho and his secret love for Padmé, and sets up an integral subplot, his “quest” to discover her murderer. Patterns of Force opens with a conversation that introduces the reader to the cast of characters and one of the subplots—Rhinann’s extreme dissatisfaction with his position on Jax’s team—again, something that becomes an important element as the story unfolds.

So, as I contemplate the beginning of Holostar, I consider the possibilities: Atmospherics? Dialogue? Character study? Action? Hm. So many choices. How to decide … ro, sham, bo; rock, paper, scissors; X-wing, Star-Destroyer, Death Star…

Given who Dash is, I immediately lean toward action. But he’s almost a blank slate as a character, so I’d like you to get to know him and his companions. Dilemma. Well … what about a combination effect? Lull the reader into a false sense of security, then suck him into my clever trap, and-

Well, I guess you’ll have to read the book. First, we have to write it.

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #12: First Impressions — 3 Comments

  1. “I think I will start with placing your sleen into your already filthy brain…”
    –Bob’s opening line from Palpatine (Eh, I know it’s corny)

    I think given Dash’s past, the opening should be before the Emperor himself, playing with Dash’s insides and brain, in response to his brother’s crashing the Emperor’s museum (perhaps the location of a few dead Jedi Master’s personal belongs, i.e. Mace Windu’s lightsaber?). We only know of a few paultry stories and easter-egg like cameos for Dash. What we don’t know after that is how he became a shadow of Han Solo.

  2. “The Hassayampa River, a burly stream with its share of trout, rises in northern China, meanders through an Indian reservation in central Wisconsin, and empties finally into Croton Lake not a mile from where I live in southern New York State.”
    Blood Sport, Robert F. Jones, 1974