Beginnings, or A Hint of What's to Come.

“As much as I don’t want to believe it, there are some things we just can’t stop.” Tyler Miranda excerpt from THE HOUSE OF LUKE , Bamboo Ridge 94

“After the hospital, they took me to the halfway house.” Lee Cataluna, excerpt from THREE YEARS ON DOREEN’S SOFA, Bamboo Ridge 94

“This guy Kalani seems to be one busy Hawaiian, and by the looks of his camp he’s into a variety of activities, ventures that require the constant attention to detail and multi-tasking ability that only someone in management would truly understand. On the other hand, he reserves quality time to get high.” J. Freen, excerpt from HAWAIIANS TODAY, “The Copper Thief”, Bamboo Ridge 94

          I’ve been thinking a lot about where story starts and the importance of the first few lines of a piece. “Beginnings” are the focus of the workshop I’m facilitating for the M.I.A. Summer Hiatus Sessions on June 18th, and this is one of the main reasons my mind had been dwelling there. The other: as I continue to revise and put the finishing touches on BETWEEN SKY AND SEA before submitting it to publishers, I find myself focused on making those first lines both significant and tense; further weighted as you read on.
          That last bit is probably one of the first things creative writing professors teach: how the first line is meant to draw the reader in. Bait those words, hook the audience. Reading Miranda’s first line from his excerpt, the first question that pops into my head: what things can’t we stop? Cataluna raises equal interest: Why was he in the hospital? Did he overdose? As well as, who are “they”, the police? His family?
          Questions are important. The reader should have several, not just at the beginning of a work, even after. It keeps the piece interesting, in my opinion, it makes a story worth re-reading. Those questions are also what make me continue reading. A first sentence should grab your attention and not let go.
          Intrigue is not the only aspect of a first sentence that can make it “good”. Consider Freen’s excerpt, the focus on character and detail. How much about Kalani do we get from that first line? So eloquently worded. The use of a high register and the mix of colloquial speech. And then the real reason I chose it: the juxtaposition with the lower register, much more blunt and sharp, in those last eleven words. We are hooked from the contradiction. It is a perfect example of how a good first sentence can be made even better when structured well to add even greater significance to the line.
          If I were to trace the genealogy of sentence structure, of beginnings, it would probably all lead back to poetry. The importance of word choice. How the words sound together. The rhythm and movement of the line. The freshness of the verb. The palpability of the comma placement. I’m getting a bit too creative and vague here, but what I’m getting to is how the words work together. And then, moving one step further, how the sentences sound one after the other. Then the paragraphs. I apologize for the redundancy here, as this is something I’ve written about before. Which brings me back to that first line. On the surface, the sentence should hook the reader, but on a deeper level, what is its relation to form? A sentence should always be doing more than one thing. For example, grabbing the audience’s attention with the vividness of the vocabulary and sketching out the conflict. Showing us a little thigh, but also the vanity and scars that lie beyond. Miranda, Cataluna, Freen, are all grabbing our attention but also giving us insight into the characters. Giving us a glimpse of what’s to come.
          This commentary is all in hindsight, and I don’t mean to limit creativity here with any of my prescriptions. When thinking about where story starts, it is often with that “first sentence”, at least for me, and really has nothing to do with the high maka maka literary aspects of craft. All of that comes later. Yesterday, at the Royal Hawaiian hotel, it was the pink walls. The pink drinks. The pink umbrellas. That made me scribble down this line: “blood, washed in waking wave, drains pink and strains the canal.” Now I have no idea where that line will take me, if it will be the first line or the last, but there is a story there some where, and I will follow it, because that’s where story starts: the minute something catches your attention. For the writer, it is important, not just to write it down, to craft it, but to give that same feeling to the audience one sentence at a time. To capture their attention and hold it, and then do "something" with it, whatever that may be.

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