Exercises in fictional beginnings
| I love to exercise, not in a gym, but in fiction writing. Since I'll be exercising, I'll start stretching with a few beginnings.|
Nobody knows more about the importance of beginnings than fiction writers, because the beginning of any narrative is the part that hooks the reader from the start. Not each beginning is suitable for any one piece, and some beginnings become passé after decades of overuse; nevertheless, it is a good idea to take a look at the few types of beginnings used in fiction.
At this time, applying the same storyline, I'd like to write a few exercises. Each exercise will be for a different type of a beginning.
Beginning with the setting:
The city of Bern snuggles into a U shaped arm of the river Aare, extending its reach to the other sides by historical bridges and railways. Surrounded by densely wooded areas and mountains, Bern is not a crowded city, except for tourists. At 1800 feet altitude, as the highlight of the Bernese-Oberland region, the city ticks to the tune of a modern civilization, although still cuddling its centuries-old astronomical clock tower at the east gate right around the marketplace where one can buy Swiss goods at a much lower price than at the imported price anywhere else.
Beginning by inserting characters into the setting:
At the east gate of the city of Bern in the marketplace in a tidy corner, Rodolphe's magasin de chocolat or Schokolade Speicher sits facing the setting sun, and across, Mireille's Spielzeugspeicher boasts with all sizes of plush baby bears at its window. Rodolphe sees those brown and gray plush toys with a wary eye. He knows from behind that window, Mireille's husband Karl is watching his every move.
Beginning with the thematic way, which is with a truism, a generalization, or a philosophical idea:
Our greatest deeds we do unknowingly. Like love. Most of us fall in love unknowingly, and that is what exactly happened to Rodolphe in his chocolate store while he watched the plush toy bears from across the street and wondered if Mireille, the owner of the teddy bear store, was as cute and cuddly in bed.
Beginning the factual way; that is, a realistic no-nonsense opening derived from real events:
In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, produced chocolate that melted on the tongue, creating the fondant. Two centuries later in the same city, his namesake Rodolphe sat in his Schokolade Speicher that faced Mireille's toy store, his neighbor across the street. As he rolled a soft sweet fondant in his mouth, Rodolphe thought of Mireille, her thin waist, her large green eyes, her overly made-up face, her cadenced walk, and her syrupy smile.
Considered to be the most successful by some, beginning through the emotional way, which is aiming for the heart and appealing directly to the reader's emotions:
In the middle of the street in Berne's marketplace, a jealous Karl shot the unsuspecting Rodolphe with a hunting rifle as his traumatized wife Mireille ran about screaming. Rodolphe, the chocolatier, had the reputation of a saint to young and old alike; however, for Karl, Rodolphe was a scorpion who knelt in prayer while raising its tail to kill.
Beginning with action, that is, starting with any significant movement:
Rodolphe, the chocolatier, cocked his head quizzically. Karl, his neighbor, was aiming at him with a rifle. "No!" With the sudden blast of the rifle, Rodolphe dropped to his knees, blotting his damp, chocolate-covered hands on his denim jeans. As Rodolphe's body grew stiff, Mireille ran screaming toward the two men, but she too fell down like a folded cloth and heard nothing else except for the throbbing of the street to the thick, fast beat of her heart.
A medias res (in the middle of things) beginning, which has been in favor during the recent years:
The blast from Karl's rifle brought Rodolphe to his knees. As his blood created puddles on the cobblestone street, the last sound he heard was Mireille's screams before he grew stiff and senseless.
Beginning with a dialogue: (Most readers respond to dialogue well, especially if they sense tension or foreshadowing in it.)
"Karl is screwed up," Mireille said. "This is going to be difficult. Are you sure you want to go ahead with this give and take?"
"Yes," Rodolphe nodded. "You need my fondants. I'm like moonlight on dark water for you." Then, he looked away. "Are you still in shock from last night?"
"It was routine," Mireille shrugged, arranging her plush bears in the window in irregular rows. "Karl always gets like that. He is just jealous. It isn't everyday that he sees me eating expensive fondants."
Beginning with a character's description:
Rodolphe wiggled on the red leather-cushioned stool near the window of his chocolate store, watching the street and Mireille's plush bears, because even at his age, he was still deeply interested in toys. Tall, fat, and ugly with a crooked nose and misshapen smile, Rodolphe was also generous and jolly, except when he espied Karl putting his arms around Mireille. Then, Rodolphe's face pinched with pain and his mouth drew downwards, trembling. Still, all this was before Karl shot him and Rodolphe was pronounced dead by Mireille, though only for a short time. Afterwards, when the medics brought him to life, Rodolphe's outlook changed.
Beginning with the author's voice addressing the reader: Although this method of beginning can be appealing, confidential-sounding, and even effective, it is considered old fashioned and boring. Speaking for me, I hate it, but here it is anyway.
If memory were a movie, dear reader, you would see the marketplace in Berne from above, and in a close-up you would see me, Joy Cagil--the author here, strolling in front of a chocolate store thinking of this poignant and funny story, since a tiny part of my life was spent in Berne. Then, you would have to take my word that in this very store, Rodolphe offered his delectable fondants to Mireille because he felt sorry for the plush bear that Karl, Mireille's husband, had ripped apart.
Diary, epistolary (letter-writing), or reflective beginning:
What would you say if you knew I have your diary?
Yes, my dear one, yesterday, when I brought you the fondants, I couldn't help myself to pick it up when I saw the diary near your cash register. At that moment, you had your back turned to me, for you were putting a teddy back on the shelf, which you had knocked down when you saw me enter. I took your diary like a common thief and put it under my vest.
Am I sorry? No, believe me; I am not, although this is not a gentlemanly act. In fact, I am deliriously happy.
I took your diary because I was curious about what went inside your pretty head, but oh what joy, I found out that you had feelings for me.
Is it the chocolate that affects women to melt like cream over fire? Maybe, since I am never sure of my manly charms. But that doesn't matter now, for you have given me a new life and a new brown plush teddy bear for my counter that I will cherish forever and ever.
I am returning your diary so you can write more about me.
Beginning by asking a question:
Where was Mireille? Spielzeugspeicher's doors were still locked; although it was far later than the usual hour Mireille opened her shop. Had Karl hurt her feelings again by throwing out the fondants in the trash? Or worse yet, at this very moment, was Mireille being forced into Karl's brusque embrace? Rodolphe tapped on the counter with his plumb fingers as he sat wiggling uneasily on the red leather-cushioned stool.
I had a lot of fun playing with these exercises, and you, too, have fun with a few beginnings of your own. Who knows, you may end up with a great beginning that will hold the attention of even the most reluctant reader.