The first session of our Writing Boot Camp was held last Saturday at WSI Corporate Center in Makati. We discussed the basics of writing a short story and how to develop a story beginning with the protagonist. At the second session on Saturday, the participants will read their first drafts (and if not, engage in a therapeutic session on what is stopping them from writing).
I’m a great believer in the Killer First Sentence. Ideally the first sentence sets the tone for the whole piece, or establishes the character, or encapsulates the setting, or makes an observation about human nature that will be borne out in the story that follows, or all of the above. Find your opening sentence and you’ve found your voice.
While we’re sitting out the storm—I hope you are safe and dry—take this First Lines from Famous Books Quiz.
First, look into Drogon’s eyes and swear that you will not look up the answers on Google.
Now identify the novel or short story which begins with these words.
1. Let’s start with a giveaway so you can proceed with confidence.
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.
2. This one captures how we sometimes feel.
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
3. I learned to write by imitating this.
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.
4. Someday I’m going to finish reading this doorstop.
A screaming comes across the sky.
5. There’s an ongoing argument on the best way to put this translated line.
Mother died today.
6. And another very short opening for a very long, phantasmagorical work.
Call me Ishmael.
7. Clue: It’s so strong, it even opens the movie adaptation with Julie Christie.
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
8. This book was very popular in its day. I discovered it on NYRB Classics.
“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.
9. You know this one.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
10. We should reread this, it’s our present.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
11. This is how NOT to write a first sentence. On the other hand it’s gone down in history, so it is, in a way, successful.
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 house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
12. SF classic.
It was a pleasure to burn.
13. The beginning of a perfect short novel.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
14. This novel has some very long sentences.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
15. He begins the novel by talking about the writing of the novel.
A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
The answers tomorrow.
* * * * *
1. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino. The whole book reads like that first sentence: so clever, sometimes you feel like hitting Calvino over the head with his book. However, if you read it all the way to the end, you will feel very…clever.
2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. There’s a podcast in which it is read by Benedict Cumberbatch—listen to it while you are stuck in traffic.
3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The recent “unmasking” of Elena Ferrante which, despite the journalist’s claim that it was by public demand, no one was asking for, calls to mind Salinger’s insistence on being left alone. The Thomas Pynchon model for reclusiveness is the best method: hiding in plain sight, since no one knows what you look like anyway.
4. Speaking of Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.
5. Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. In basic French: Today, mother has died. The beginning of The Stranger by Albert Camus. Check out our group translation of The Stranger.
6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, which had defeated my attempts to read it, so I listened to the audiobook/podcast by Tilda Swinton et al.
7. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I recommend it highly. The narrator, now an old man, looks back on an idyllic summer he spent in the country with a wealthy family, and the part he unknowingly played in their unhappiness. One of the models for Atonement by Ian McEwan.
8. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. Trebizond was a kingdom in what is now known as Turkey, where we’re going back in December for a shoot, yay!
9. Pride and Prejudice by everybody’s tita, Jane Austen.
10. 1984 by George Orwell. “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Oy.
11. The first sentence of Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is so cliche that an annual bad writing award has been named after Bulwer-Lytton.
12. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. One of the writers who sent us to space. When Mars is colonized there has to be a city named Bradbury.
13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
14. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There’s a Netflix series waiting to happen.
15. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.
Good effort, geeksturr and juleste! We dub you the Honestly Well-Read Readers of the Week.