Feed Item

I'm struggling with the opening sentence to my first novel. I've rewritten my introductory paragraph probably over thirty times now and still can't quite get it right. This is the closest I think I've been to something I'm totally happy with, but I need to get some feedback on the below:

"Tom hated flowers; they seemed so normal and unaffected - nothing had changed for them."

"Tom hated the flowers; they seemed so normal and unaffected - nothing had changed for them."

In the second version, the addition of the definite article, I feel, makes the sentence flow better. But now it runs the risk of being ambiguous. Which flowers? All flowers? A bunch of flowers near Tom? Something else?

The first version, in comparison, is more technically correct, but I feel it falls a bit flat and has less impact. 

It could be that neither of these really work and i'll have to rewrite this sentence entirely, or perhaps even forget about using this as a book opener.

  • I'm no expert, and can only offer my opinion, but I would say that there is no right or wrong here—it depends on whether you want the focus to be on the flowers or on Tom. In the first instance, I imagine Tom being somewhere where flowers are visible (say a park, or walking through a graveyard) and there is something on his mind that the flowers around him have triggered. This sentence would likely be followed by what had changed for Tom (It had been a week since Lara had left...) In the second instance, the focus is on the flowers. Here, I imagine Tom looking at a particular bunch of flowers (at a funeral, or a gift from an ex), and he hates these flowers in particular. This sentence would likely be followed by more detail on the flowers (The bunch of roses wilted on his doorstep...)

    So it depends on whether he hates all flowers, or just these ones.

    When you've chosen the one that fits, I think you've got a great opener!

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    • He hates all flowers, so, yes, choice one makes sense here. Now I'm reading it with this in mind, the omission of the word 'the', is actually fine. Thanks, you've helped! 

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    • I agree with Ben j about the ‘the’ making the flowers specific. So you’re right to leave it out if you’re referring to flowers in general.

      But something also bothers me about the ‘had’ in the second part of the sentence. ‘Nothing had changed for them’. I wonder if it has a similar affect as the ‘the’, because to know nothing had changed, you would have to have known them before. Suggesting specific flowers. So do you need to leave that out as well? Make it a more general ‘nothing changed for them.’ It does lessen the feeling that something has changed for the narrator though.

      I’m going cross eyed trying to figure this out. It’s very interesting drilling down into sentences, but possibly puts the sanity in danger!

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      • You're definitely right about the sanity! When I first read this comment I didn't agree - the 'had' seemed important, as something had changed for Tom. But you're absolutely right, it must be 'nothing changed' if the flowers are general.

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        • Yeah, this is tricky, because I was trying to allude to the fact that something had changed for Tom, but not for the flowers. Clearly this is confusing more people than just me. So it'll be off to the reworks I think!

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        • I'm with Kate on this. As it's all flowers, definitely no "the"… but it's the rest of the sentence that doesn't work for me.

          Yes, there's the issue of nothing changing for all flowers, which we know is false (flowers in general have a lifecycle, they evolve). But, I think it's as much the word "normal" as anything that feels so wrong. Especially accompanied by unaffected. Normal is affected.

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          • Thank you for the additional input. Yes, I see what you mean now about normality and effect.

            If I remove the word 'normal', I was wondering if unaffected can still work. If I used the sentence: "Tom hated flowers; they seemed so unaffected, unlike him"

            But I'm not sure if the word "unaffected" really projects anthropomorphic intent. Unperturbed would do so.

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            • How deep is his resentment? Is it really aimed at the flowers, or are they but a handy stepping stone.

              That new version is fine, if you're just using it as a setup.

              Set it up a bit with: "Tom hated flowers; they refused to mirror his pain."

              Really lash out at anything and everything that fails to embrace his morose mood with: "Tom hated flowers; so-smugly exposing their enticements in the face of his life-shattering anguish."

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              • It's more of a stepping stone. It's not a deep seated, direct hatred of flowers in particular, its more the result of jealousy that the flowers are fine and he's not.

                I like this a lot: "Tom hated flowers; they refused to mirror his pain." 

                But now of course, this is not my own, but it has certainly inspired me to capture the feeling better in this first sentence.

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