Opening paragraph

Brian G Turner

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I'm increasingly looking at how to use stronger verbs to match the mind of the POV character.

That means for the opening paragraph I want to push on a few choice words that help generate a feeling of tension to grow through the text that follows.

My original opening is:

Rynell spurred his horse along the hunting track. Exhausted, dust-stained, and sore, he weaved uphill through naked woodland. The shadows of dusk thickened as the first stars glittered. After four days hard riding he was almost safe.
I've tried to strengthen it a little more by re-arranging a few of the sentences and swapping in different verbs:

Rynell spurred his horse as the last crimson rays of evening died. He chased dusk’s looming shadows as they clad gnarled trees, up the hunting track as the first stars glittered. Exhausted, dust-stained, and sore, he was almost safe.
To me the second is stronger, because I've moved from "weaved, naked, and thickened" to "died, gnarled, and loomed". Also, the second flows a little more naturally to me - ie, holding back on the telling of his state until I can juxtapose stakes against that, as opposed to a general "damn, this is a tiring ride".

Question is, am I just picking needlessly and over-editing, or does anyone follow what I'm trying to do?
 

Abernovo

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I like the moving of the 'Exhausted' sentence to the end. It gives a conclusion to the paragraph: what he was doing (riding)...how he felt (exhausted, but now relieved).

However, the other changes seem to be trying for art. They don't strengthen the sentences for me, but make them slower and self-conscious. Sorry.
That said, it's a taste thing, Brian. I'm not a fan of flowery language except in older books.
 

ratsy

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I actually liked the first one better. It felt more to the point and less wordy.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Both were too descriptive to me, especially the second. They set a scene but not a character, and I'd like it to be about the character. But! As you know, I'm not an epic fan or reader so insert a large pinch of salt....
 

Bowler1

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I really liked the first. A nice feel of realism and nice description, while staying with the character. Stuff like this Brian and I could be a fan.

We flip the coin over and with the second attempt you'd over cooked it for me, too contrived and arty. That one step away from the character and it's lost all the appeal of the first go for me. Like a meal with a tat too much salt, season enough and it's perfect, sprinkle a little more, and well, need I say more!

The first, and the first for me was wonderful - can I have more, sir? MORE!!!
 

Christian Nash

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I like the first one. And I like the fact that it's a little wordy, and it does actually tell us about the character and his determination. To ride hard for four days shows both mental and physical strength and the hint at almost safe makes you think he's about to land himself in trouble maybe.

I understand what you're trying to do with the word choices, but maybe you are trying too hard.
 

HareBrain

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I think some of the word choices in the second version are problematic. Readers will naturally try to interpret your writing literally unless they know not to do so, and your example doesn't work literally. Take the first sentence: he spurs his horse as the last rays of evening die. "As" is a dangerous word. Spurring a horse is an action that takes a second; the last rays of evening die over the course of a longer period. To try to match the two makes it seem as though the rays of evening die in a second, and he happens to exactly match this with his spurring -- it feels wrong. Also, he "chases" the looming shadows, but this means he rides towards them as they (probably) retreat from him. Is this really what's happening?

I think you'd benefit from examining your descriptive sentences and asking yourself what they are actually saying, not what impression you hope they get across. They can work on a metaphorical or suggestive level too, but they have to make rational sense first.

That said, I can see what you're trying to do -- to get across his internal state by careful choice of the words that describe his surroundings. This can work, but it's difficult to do well, in my experience. Worth further experimenting, though.

Hope that's some help.
 

psikeyhackr

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To me writers make too big a deal of words.

I prefer the first paragraph and find this sentence

He chased dusk’s looming shadows as they clad gnarled trees, up the hunting track as the first stars glittered.
annoying.

But it is the story that matters to me not the writing so I really would not try to judge a work on the basis of that.

psik
 

alchemist

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Not original but I preferred the first. I could live with either but prefer the flow of the first and there's nothing weak about the verbs. There's nothing there that would stop me reading (in fact, its a good opening) -- I do think you're overthinking a little.
 

ctg

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I like the original is better for the opening as the altered one sounds too purple for my taste. But you are the author Brian and if the prose continues purple then you have to go with one that you prefer.
 

Mouse

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The first one is definitely better. The second one is like you're trying too hard to sound writerly.
 

Nerds_feather

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Hmm. I find the second more evocative, but would like it to be a little more crisp. I actually find a combo of the two works best for me. Like this:

Rynell spurred his horse as the last crimson rays of evening died. He chased dusk’s looming shadows as they clad gnarled trees, up the hunting track as the first stars glittered. After four days hard riding he was almost safe.
 

Ursa major

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In trying to strengthen the verbs of the first version, and tone down the purple of the second, I ended up reordering the words to give:
Though exhausted, dust-stained and sore, Rynell spurred his horse on. Four days of hard riding had brought safety almost within his grasp. But now the crimson of dusk had faded, and stars were flickering into life in the dark firmament above the wood. Their light fell on the bare branches, throwing shadows across the winding track, threatening to obscure his way.
 

Brian G Turner

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Many thanks for the replies, everyone - I think the consensus is clear I'm over-editing. :)

Teresa has my MS anyway, so I wouldn't want to do much in terms of changes until she gets back to me.

It was simply because an agents panel at WFC emphasised the importance of the first couple of paragraphs, which got me thinking my original may be too weak. I'm going to have to think more carefully on any changes, though.
 

Mr Orange

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brian i like the first better, although i would get rid of "naked" - i don't know what naked woodland is, but i am imagining sparse trees devoid of bark and leaves. i think gnarled works better..

i think you could move the "Exhausted, dust-stained and sore" to the last sentence like you did in the second excerpt.
 

Boneman

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It was simply because an agents panel at WFC emphasised the importance of the first couple of paragraphs, which got me thinking my original may be too weak. I'm going to have to think more carefully on any changes, though.

I KNEW you were going to say that!! I was at the same panel, and rushed home and examined my opening page... I do prefer the first one, but are you giving too much detail, telling a lot about him, when one line would do it all?

Rynell spurred his horse along the hunting track. Exhausted, dust-stained, and sore, he weaved uphill through naked woodland. The shadows of dusk thickened as the first stars glittered. After four days hard riding he was almost safe.
To me, the last line shows an incredible picture, that I conjure up. I don't need to know he's exhausted, dust-stained and sore, I actually might picture him as dishevelled, wet, and slack-mouthed from exhaustion with dark pits below his eyes after 4 days hard riding. And unless he's changed horses along the way, I expect the horse to be in worse condition than him... If the book opened with that last line, I'd be intrigued...

I quoted this before in another thread, but I think it bears repetition. My all-time favourite book, ever, opens with this: The gale tore at him and he felt its bite deep within and he knew that if they did not make a landfall in three days they would all be dead. (Appalling non-use of commas wouldn't you agree? I didn't notice, because the power of the words drew me in...) Only one superfluous adjective: 'deep'. (can't do without the 'three')

Open with:

After four days hard riding he was almost safe.

and let the reader's imagination do the rest. This is the most important line in your entire opening paragraph. A description of dusk as:
The shadows of dusk thickened as the first stars glittered.
is overdoing it a lot, because it's purely descriptive and not relating to Rynell at all. If you said summat like 'darkness was approaching and Rynell had to find shelter soon.' then the dusk is actually important. For all we know (at the opening) dusk/night might be his friend, hiding him from pursuers. But we all know what dusk is and we all know how stars glitter, and describing it this way when your character is lying on a blanket, smoking a cheroot, lazy and indolently looking up at the firmament, reflecting on life, the universe and everything, would be absolutely spot-on (shakespeare's external universe reflecting the inner universe of the character), but in your case it's actually a distraction, and doesn't reflect what you want to bring over.

Radical, possibly, but gripping? Intriguing? Interesting? Definitely. The story is about Rynell, not his ability (ie close 3rd person narrative) to describe his surroundings in such a flowery manner.
 
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Jo Zebedee

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I KNEW you were going to say that!! I was at the same panel, and rushed home and examined my opening page... I do prefer the first one, but are you giving too much detail, telling a lot about him, when one line would do it all?
Ha! So was I, and I also had the opening of AC up on that hook thing on the other website, so I got a double whammy. Suffice to say, I am also working on it... :D
 

DaCosta

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Just wanted to chip in here and add my vote to the first paragraph. You conjure up a very powerful image by letting me, the reader, fill in the blanks. I'm there alongside the MC.
The second example was definitely overcooked. I tripped over a few words, stumbling along rather than speeding along at pace.
 

Brian G Turner

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To me, the last line shows an incredible picture, that I conjure up. I don't need to know he's exhausted, dust-stained and sore, I actually might picture him as dishevelled, wet, and slack-mouthed from exhaustion with dark pits below his eyes after 4 days hard riding. And unless he's changed horses along the way, I expect the horse to be in worse condition than him... If the book opened with that last line, I'd be intrigued...

Open with:

After four days hard riding he was almost safe.
Excellent comment. :)

I know one of my current struggles is a basic one of wanting to set scene vs trying to establish character.

So, if I move the text about, drop the stars, and bring in the second short paragraph together, I may have something stronger:

After four days hard riding he was almost safe. Rynell spurred his horse along the hunting track as it weaved uphill through gnarled woodland. The shadows of dusk thickened, then fell away as the ground levelled. Castle walls loomed ahead bathed in Saturnyne’s soft moonlight. Lesser Pheiros barely broke the horizon, but added a bloody hue to the banners that fluttered from the battlements.
 
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