This sounds like I’m going fishing and in a way I am. I’m searching for that illusive first line of a great story. In the Futurelearn Open University course we touched upon sources of inspiration: lines and images. I got hooked by the idea.
4.10 Hooked By Lines and Images.
When I first started writing fantasy, I’d say that visual images, were my starting point for inspiration. Fantasy and visual images just seem to be the perfect coupling. Having said that, my father’s first words, recorded into a voice recorder, were without doubt the perfect start to a new project, a travelogue of his life and adventures. He began by recalling, a humourous anecdote, one of his earliest memories. I’m not quoting him exactly but it goes something like this: At age two I was pushed out of the pram by the arrival of my sister Wendy. It was a cold winter’s day in February. My mother told me to go out with my big brother Stanley to play with the big boys in the snow. When I came home I told my mother that the big boys had looked after me well and they had said, “You’re a wee brother ain’t you?” When in fact they had called me a wee bugger!”
I just knew that these innocent words spoken by his two year old self were the right words, they were his essence if you like, a wonderful mix of his humour with his adventurous spirit. They were the very first words he recorded! He must have known too! They just sounded so perfect. This early release from the pram rather than disturbing him, or making him jealous of his sister, did neither, instead it just encouraged him to embark upon many travels, though the experience did have one other lasting effect, it left him with a life long hatred for cold weather! Which he still suffers from today living up in Bonnie, but chilly Scotland.
So whether you arrive at your first sentence by words or images, or a combination of both it doesn’t really matter, just make sure you get there.
4.11 Hunches that matter
If it matters then it should appear in your writing, but listing who you are, and what matters to you, before you begin writing, is not something that I have actively done before. In fact I would argue that all of who you are spills out into your writing without your even realising it. This process is scary, an unintentional disrobing, that propels you out there almost without you’re conscious consent. I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to make lists of who we are, somehow that seems a bit forced to me. Instead let that, who I am, warts and all, come out naturally in your writing. You may discover things about yourself along the way! It can be enlightening.
Writing about personal concerns
This is at the heart of good writing. If you don’t care about what you write about then your words will mean little or nothing, and your readers will feel cheated. So embed those personal concerns into your writing, let them seep into the bedrock of your words.
Extraordinary versus ordinary
We looked at the following quote from Raymond Carver:
“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about common-place things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine – the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it.”
Raymond Carver, nailed it!
It sounds to me as if a writer’s job is to make the commonplace anything but commonplace. Today I went to the gym and finished off my attempt at a fitness routine with a session in the swimming pool. A commonplace type of activity, for regular gym users, but in my case I am somewhat handicapped, not just because of my general level of unfitness but also because I am very short sighted. I only have at best a hazy view of people in the pool. I can make out that they’re humans, and if I squint I can just about make out what sex they are. Today, I thought I saw a young woman extending her hand, at the side of the pool, in an odd salute, but in fact as I swam closer I saw that her hand was actually her leg extended up close and personal to her face! I concluded that she must be a dancer and this was confirmed by a closer inspection of her hair which was wound in a tight bun, a dancer’s trademark. Being short sighted can be awkward, and downright hazardous at times. Earlier on, I saw the blurry form of a young man sitting at the edge of the pool on the steps. He sat for ages just waiting. What was he waiting for? He wasn’t waiting for the bus. I had this feeling that he was watching me yet I had no way of telling whether this was a figment of my imagination. I just couldn’t see. He eventually began his swim, and probably thought I was staring at him. I don’t blame him, I probably was, at least my myopic self was!
Images courtesy of Google images.