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Added a post  to  , NaNoWriMo 2021

Something weird... I wrote a message last night (not the one I just posted this a.m.), and I THOUGHT I posted it here, but now I can't find it anywhere! So I'm wondering if I forgot to hit post, and it disappeared into cyberspace?

Let me see if I can re-create it... ProWritingAid and I were butting heads about the first line in my story... though I have to admit, after living with it for a while, I'm coming around to its POV... But I'd like you all to wade in, and vote for which opening line you find the most attention grabbing:

1. They were both dead, if she couldn’t lose the dogs tracking them soon.

2. They were both dead, if she didn't lose the dogs tracking them soon.

3. If she didn't soon lose the dogs tracking them, they were both dead.

4. If she couldn't lose the dogs tracking them soon, they were both dead.

I know they're really similar, but the first line is the most important one in the book, and I want to get it right... Spoiler alert... I like 4, ProWriter prefers 1... Vote please!

    • Hi Jo. If I had to pick one, it would 1 or 2, as it's best to start with a bang. However, the line is a little cliched, however you organise it. I'm sure you can come up with something punchier and more original if you give it some thought. Perhaps be a bit more specific, eg (I have no idea what the circumstances are, but try to give it some context) - Two hours to the city; the dogs just half an hour behind.

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      • I'm sorry Jo. i can't vote for any of the above. The second part of the choice is between couldn't and didn't; the third is where you place soon with respect to the second choice (which should give you eight options; #3 is distinct in that respect). Those choices are almsot afterthoughts to the real decision: sentence structure.

        The main choice is between a) Dead if dogs not lost and b) if dogs not lost, dead.

        For me, both of those feel a little unwieldy. Yes, they are common phrasings. But both have some of that clunky abstracted-subject construction feel; the type where "It was…" Yes, the first starts with They as the subject, but it's laden with a past subjunctive. The second starts with a conditional.

        Personally, I would look at something more solid – more immediately real, intense – along the lines of "She had to lose the dogs, or they were both dead." (That the dogs are tracking is largely implicit in their needed loss, and I presume is given more clarity in the next sentece anyway.)

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        • I'm going to offer another possibility, which (at least for me - and possibly me alone!) gives you a bigger banger of a first line. That's to split the line into two sentences. The first presents a stark, gritty and surprising opening. The second fills in context and the nature of an immediate problem that needs to be solved.

          "They were both dead. Or would be soon if she couldn't lose the dogs that were tracking them."

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          • Some other ways of looking at it:

            1. Psychic distance. The first two (and Jon's variant) both strongly imply we are very close to someone's head, in terms of narrative/psychic distance. Not quite close enough to be inside it, or you'd be writing "we're both dead, if we can't lose those damned dogs"

            And that's fine, so long as you stay there in the next sentence. If you pull away to give an authorial overview, you risk jerking the reader about.

            2. Sentence rhythm. "They were both dead" is an arresting first three words. But the basic unit of prose is the sentence, not the first part of a sentence. In 1 and 2 the sentences as a whole start strong and get weaker. In 3 and 4, they builds to a stronger end, which for me makes for stronger wholes. For some reason I can't put my finger on, we prefer climaxes to anti-climaxes.

            3. Simplicity. As Rick points out, all the options are an awkward mix of different tenses. As his alternative illustrates, when your sentence get tied up in knots and you can't think of the best way to express a notion, the Gordian knot is best cut by going back to simplicity: active verbs, subject-verb-object, and avoiding conditional tenses. 

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            • I'm getting lost in the semantical forest, LOL. If anyone cares... here's what I'm going with:

              They would kill her child, if she couldn’t lose the dogs tracking them soon. Viola clutched the sleeping baby to her chest and staggered on through the woods.

              ...at which point there is something she can do to throw them off the trail... so she does (but not for long...). I liked some of the offerings, but "tracker dogs" sounds too modern for the setting... 

              Appreciate the help!

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            • They would kill her child, if she couldn’t lose the dogs tracking them soon. She smiled grimly. They thought they were hunting her, and would kill her son to ensure her magic wasn’t passed on. But she sensed his power, and beside him, she was a candle next to a bonfire.

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