Ach it's been a week that shouldn't happen to anyone. I'm sorry I haven't commented this last week but... well if you're curious, have a peer in my blog. I wrote about about half of it. There are worse things, many of them, but they'd not be something you'd be trying to write through either.
But, as if someone had been foolish enough to pull the stake out of where it lay among the old bones... I'm back. Want me or not, I'm back... (cue wicked laughter and eerie music).
Now, in the course of the week a friend posted a comment about something else that comes back: That manuscript you toiled so lovingly on. That you bled pieces of yourself into, that you agonised over and polished. Or didn't. Just wrote down as it poured white-hot from your febrile mind and onto the keyboard (the mess!) Whatever. It's back. Probably with the standard lines of spurned love "not suitable for our present needs." or some other pathetic bit of patronising drivel... sorry, good sensible advice. Now my standard recipe for dealing with these editors (or sub-editors) involves pins and.... well, perhaps TMI. But rigidly, after twenty-four hours of being really... sweetness and light (and carefully not posting a reply), I put it behind me and move on. Send out again if it is practical to do so. Make any changes IF there is sensible advice. Write something else. Something BETTER. I'll show them...
Anyway that said one of the things, before you post it out, that you need to do is take advange of the time and distance to look at the only bit 99.99% of editors see of your manuscript. It's time to see if you got the magic right. No, this does not involve pins... or circles or candles nine. Yet oddly it does involve some of the classic elements of magic. You think those charlatans got that successful that often by accident? No, there is much to be learned about writing from the theory of symbolic magic, and I don't just mean the bits about black cats even the dancing around in the altogether part (which have their reasons too). We humans are creatures of symbol -- where something means far more than itself. Where the the symbol carries a load of implication and other symbols. Where a flood of emotion and memory can be triggered by the use of a symbol in the right place. Where a very small thing can be so much more than just itself. Of course I am talking about words in this case. Sometimes they do indeed come out just right, but sometimes, especially with that most powerful part of the spell, the first line, those symbols need to used very carefully to call up far more than just a simple meaning. This is where you catch that demon of nether regions, the editor, and needs must the spell should be powerful, and binding... and fast about its work. Because they're slippery devils and they get away. And they are not easy to bespell, being resistant to many kinds of common magic, and not going to give you two chances. If you're lucky you have a page, or even a few paragraphs. But the must puissiant and powerful need to caught caught quicker than that. In that first line. And, the truth be told, if you can catch them, you can probably catch readers. And we too must have those or die the real death.
So, novices: You have entered the black cave. The first line of the spell to en-trance your reader, to suspend his disbelief needs to sneak past his defences, and to evoke the the magical world which is the story. To call it from the dry pages, to pull down fire from heaven... or up from the mind of the reader. You see, it's all down to those symbols again. The ones that carry so much more than just their own weight. Yes, there is magic in the cadences of it, but we humans look for more in words... even quite innocent seeming ones.
"Mama don't make me marry him," Miss Sophie Warrington said.
Innocuous eh. Ah, but the pictures in our minds. And not quite as innocent as this spell-binder seems. There are key triggers, symbols if you like, hidden in these words. I can spot four. There may be more. She's good at this. 'Miss' for example -in this day and age? You missed that one didn't you? It evokes a sense of historical setting. The name itself hints at a certain class, especially when tied to the Miss. Mama. - she's young - and deep ingrained sympathies and protective instincts are aroused. Marry - that carries baggage enough for the entire wagon train, especially when added in the right place to the rest. The author has, in one short, simple sentence implied the age of the protag, her helplessness, difficult position and historical setting. She's even pulled in a few sympathy symbols.
Did you think this happened by accident? Maybe it does, sometimes. We humans do this, and some of us have a natural gift for it. That doesn't mean we can't make it better. But we need to spot it first.
"Macon Fallon was a stranger to the town of Seven Pines and fortunately for him he was a stranger with a fast horse."
Another first line that does an excellent job with simple words of casting a powerful spell of place and character, and trouble.
"This is the story of the children of Adara - of Ayna and Ceri who both had gifts and of Gair, who thought he was ordinary."
Now there is a masterpiece of cadence, symbols and the powerful use of what isn't there. WHY isn't Gair ordinary....
Now it's your turn. Give me first lines. Either ones you wrote or ones which entrapped you. And if you spot them, the words of power. Oh and Í'll make a plan to get a copy of Dragon's Ring to first person who places all three first lines by author and book.