Wednesday, January 12, 2011


According to my writer's group, I am obsessed with beginnings. Last night, after recovering from their teasing (which was certainly brutal and involved flaming pikes), I had to concede that they were more or less right. I love the beginnings of stories and have tried to craft adequate ones myself, a task I am definitely still working on. My favorite beginnings are the ones that manage to encompass, in a small way, the entirety of the story or the novel.

From Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God: "Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board." (Swoon, right???)

From Olga Grushin's The Line: "Who's last in line? Are you last in line? What are they selling?"

Other beginnings drop the reader wonderfully, mercifully, in the center of the action. The simplicity and modesty of these sentences is part of their power - the author doesn't let big words or ideas get in the way of the story.

From Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita: "One hot spring evening, just as the sun was going down, two men appeared at Patriarch's Ponds." (There is some foreshadowing even in that simple sentence! Brilliant.)

From Edward P. Jones's "The Sunday Following Mother's Day," a story in Lost in the City: "When Madeleine Williams was four years old and her brother Sam was ten, their father killed their mother one night in early April."

Aren't those lovely? Don't you want to read the stories? (Well, maybe not the last if sad stories aren't your thing.) But then, in spite of my love for beginnings, I forget them. There are few beginnings that I can still precisely recall by the time I've finished a captivating story. Sometimes I go back to the first page of a novel so I can appreciate the journey, and possible symmetry, the author gave us. But otherwise, the beauty of those first few words usually fades away as I become engrossed by the tale. I guess, in a way, that is the best beginning. One that lays the foundation for a story and our thoughts about the characters, but then quickly gets out of the way for the action to happen.

Anyone out there have a favorite beginning? If you're like me, it might be hard to recall off the top of your head, but it's fun to go flipping through your favorite books.

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma