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Normal beginnings

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Garren Jacobsen, Jun 14, 2017.

  1. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I disagree, the traditional prologue is outside the story, these chapter prologues are not.

     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think the prologue of GoT could just as easily have been called Chapter 1 and worked just fine.
     
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Regardless of whether it was a chapter or a prologue, I'm interested in knowing how it started. I vaguely remember it was some crow who got run down by a bunch of white walkers... or it was a crow whose companions got changed into white walkers? Does someone have the book on them? Check for me...

    What was the main character doing at the beginning of the scene? (I'll bet it was something mundane like cooking).
    What was his goal?
    What were the stakes?

    GRRM is a master at story structure. He would have introduced those three key things first before making it all crazy with frozen dudes with blue eyes.
     
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  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Depends on how you define "mundane" it's getting dark north of the wall and some wildlings they are hunting are dead and there's a dispute ongoing. Will is the Character, he's rather passive. You can call it mundane, but it's a tense mundane.

    Goal: Hunting down the wildlings, alive or dead.

    Stakes: pretty much life or death, previously, whether or not they finish the job of hunting the wildlings, maybe. But life/death is established quickly with the chatter about the dead and bad feelings and the woods growing dark and cold.

    I would also say that Will's actual goal is to go back to the wall for safety, but he doesn't lead the party.
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yeah, I was just reading it in the Amazon preview.

    I don't know how much I like the relativity of "mundane." These crows may normally do this kind of work, so...mundane. James Bond may normally have car chases, gun fights, etc. across a city but, meh, mundane because it's what he normally does. Peter Quill may be in a dead city hunting down one of the most powerful artifacts in the entire universe (although he doesn't know that's what it is), but he normally does such things, so mundane. Indiana Jones....heh, makes my mundane life seem pretty exciting, since Indy and I normally do things on a normal basis in our normal lives.* Heh.

    *Edit: By which I mean, being a professor of archeology....Oh, nevermind heh.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
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  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    This is going way off topic by now, LOL. But, it's setup to be clearly out of the ordinary as I recall. Yes, they go on rangings regularly, but! hell, you could argue it both ways, it doesn't really matter. It's in media res, just not with an explosion. But I don't think it ever establishes "normal" because GRRM strikes fast to let us know things are weird and outside the norm.

    Interseting to note how Indie establishes the outside the norm in "prologue/chapter" before establishing his mundane, which of course works so well because of the contrast.
     
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  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes ^^^ but I think, when I use "mundane" this is what I mean. Basic story structures says that the "set up" should show the character in their "real world"... whatever that "real world" is. I use "mundane" to mean "real world". So in the case of GOT, the crows "real world" involves them wandering around in the wild killing wildlings. Interesting to us. Mundane to them.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think that's true. Or not. They were doing normal things but there's something unusual that happens. That's like me driving to work, same-old same-old every day, but seeing a naked streaker one day or maybe a shooting star.
     
  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes. I think the point is to establish status quo so it is interesting when it changes. Which is why the Pixar story format works so well, and it's something I'm teaching my six year old at bedtime. Even he now knows to start a story with:

    Once upon a time there was a boy named....

    Every day he....

    But one day....
     
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  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think Indy lives a dual life, so he has dual-mundanes. It's like Superman. Being Clark Kent and being Superman are probably both mundane to him. IF we are going with the relative mundanity approach.
     
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  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes!!! "Dual-mundaness" lol. Awesome. The Clark Kent example was a good one.

    Once upon a time there was a super adventurous history professor named Indy.

    Every day he risked his life to preserve important historical artifacts...

    But one day.... He was sent to find the most valuable artifact of all... the Arc of the Covenant!

    Can this brave historian risk everything in a race against Hitler to find it? Western civilization is at stake....
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
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  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I worry about the relative mundanity approach because I'm not sure it tells us terribly much vis-a-vis execution.

    New writer #1: Can I write chapter one showing the character in his mundane life?

    Expert writer: Absolutely! In fact, establishing the status quo before you break it is a powerful way to begin your novel!

    New writer #1: Good, because I was worried that showing my character playing eight hours of Minecraft would be boring.

    New writer #2: Ah, good, because I wanted to show my character surviving a booby-trapped ancient Mayan city to secure the magical orb that will shape the whole plot!

    Edit: Sorry to go to such silly extremes in my effort to explain what I mean, hah. But then again, this is my mundane living...


     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Hmmmmmm.... good point. And this is where it get's tricky. Because we say two conflicting things. "Open with a hook!" and "Show the 'real world' first." It can be confusing.

    Honestly, the only reason it all became clear to me was by studying every book intro, movie intro and TV show intro I could until I understood how it all fit together.

    There have been examples of this on these forums for years. I remember an early example a few years back where the story opened with a dude climbing a tower to find a girl he was worried about.

    I was like, WTF. There needs to be at least another chapter before this because I have no clue who this guy is, who this girl is, why he cares about her, or otherwise WTF is happening here. The writer wanted a crazy hook. It was not working.
     
  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    The basic premise of opening with a guy climbing a tower to find a girl he was worried about (while extremely generic here, I don't know the details) could be done. I think the key to attach to that is: as written, it needed a chapter in front of it.

    The first line of a successful book could absolutely be: The car exploded in a deafing ball of fire, throwing shrapnel into the crowd.

    It's what comes after that will determine if it works or not. I always like to think of an opening line that soooo many people think is brilliant: Call me Ishmael. Is it really a great line if what comes after sucks?

    Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - nevermind how long precisely - I had a wart removed from my hand. It was an ordinary wart, not a hairy ugly thing like the mole on my back. Now that bugger's a hideous thing, let me tell you, I wouldn't let a cheap hooker see that abomination on my most drunken night. This here wart grew there after a sea voyage I went on right before I had that wart removed. Nevermind how long before the wart removal, just know that it was before. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing in front of a dermatologist's office, I think of that damned wart. And thinking of that damned wart, it makes me think of that voyage, and the crazy bastard at the helm and a whale with a bad attitude.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    @Helio:

    Also complicating the matter is using the idea of in media res as an antithesis to "begin with the character's mundane life."

    You recently mentioned elsewhere that characters should always be in motion, already have a goal and be moving toward it when the first chapter opens. In a way, they are already "in the midst" of the action in their own mundane life, heh. Living as an activity, full of action. So we could actually start in media res while simultaneously starting with the mundane. [Edit: although technically this may be a pseudo-version? Not sure if I'm violating the standard definition.] This is that opening line of dialogue, "Yeah, bleed!" and a punch being thrown; but, this is just another day of getting beat up by a bully.

    I do think there's an important distinction to be made. In media res, when the action is specifically plot-related, a step in the plot, is different than in media res that is more milieu-related or simply a part of the mundane living of that character.

    So one could start the status quo in the midst of an interesting event to hook the reader.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
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  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes. That is exactly it. I think it all boils down to having a goal with high stakes, whatever that may be. In that same post you mentioned above I suggested giving the character a temporary goal and stakes, even if the point is to thwart them with the "hook". Ideally, the initial goal and stakes would play into a bigger part of the story, like character arc, which would be the point of the set up.

    This is why understanding story structure is so important. Everything plays into everything else. Skip Knox mentioned, a while back, about how everything must have the feel of 'falling forward'... this sensation of everything leading into everything else. I loved that way of looking at it and think about it all the time now.
     
  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Dem, yeah, I think that is true... "The way it was written" it did need an earlier chapter... but to be fair, I sort of feel like the car explosion opening works great in films, but not so much in fiction. I don't know why. I feel like in films, it is very visual, with music etc... there is more for the senses to attach to so movies can get away with it... but fiction is different. Fiction is very much in the brain of the narrator. It's much more intimate.

    I loved the opening line to The Martian,

    I'm pretty much ****ed.

    That's my considered opinion.

    ****ed.


    The movie can start with catastrophe. Fiction has to start with a person. It's a different medium.
     
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  18. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Mmmm, in both mediums they can come off heavy handed and bad, but I would maintain that it could work just fine, the trouble being that most of the time you see a boom event opening fiction it's poorly done. In fact, this sort of thing works best in serial fiction/movies, where you already know the characters and their general activities. Boom, and then dropping into 1st narrative could easily pull a reader in.

    I'm "meh" on the Martian intro, means crap to me. Assuming I was randomly picking up the book instead of going "hey, everyone says this is great" I would respond by saying, "Yes, you probably are." Then put the book down. I won't read that book, movie was meh, whatever. This is a case where the line in the movie works better for me than in a book.

    But then, I'm not going to pick up a book called the Martian t begin with, unless his name is Marvin and he carries a disintegrator ray.

    EDIT: And once Damon's face is on the cover, I'm really not reading the book, heh heh.

     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
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  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this point.

    But as for the other aspects, I think almost any opening scenario can be made interesting if approached correctly. As mentioned, emotion is key. Finding that emotional 'in' that will connect character to reader is part of what will make or break an opening, regardless of it's a Bond action scene or a kid playing minecraft for eight hours.

    And of course there's the issue of what type of story is being told. The opening makes promises to the reader, so if it's an action/adventure story, a kid playing minecraft might not be the best choice for opening.

    But if it's another type of story, it could be perfect. If a kid is playing minecraft for eight hours, it brings up the question of why and where are their parents in this? This can start us down a rabbit hole that explores things like what it's like to have absentee parents. Maybe the kid can play minecraft eight hours because his Dad works two jobs to support them, and their Mom is gone. Maybe they play minecraft because their homework is all done, and they're able take care of themselves, and that's the only form of luxury for them in the household.
     
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  20. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Or maybe it's like The Last Starfighter where the video game playing kid get's picked to save the universe by a bunch of aliens because the video game was really a test put on earth to find a great warrior.... in which case it serves my point that the mundane intro can be important if it serves the plot.

    But.... as PP said, it needs to be framed in a way that makes it emotional... given some sort of question or 'hook' so the reader wants to read on to find out if this video game playing kid will ever see the light of day and maybe actually make a friend or something...
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
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