Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It's All In The Words

Once upon a time...
It was a dark and stormy night.
The phone rang.

These beginnings are classic...and using them in a current novel is the kiss of death. I have read so many blogs, articles, books and tweets that advise against using any form of these. I've been to workshops that promise these lines will push a manuscript to the slush pile. And I keep wondering: Why, if these opening lines are so classic, wouldn't they be something you would use?

I think that almost every story, at its heart, has been told before. Recurring themes (think back to high school English class: good vs. evil; man vs. self, etc.) are present in every book out there; it must be identifiable to the reader if the author has any shot at reaching him (or her). The originality of the story lays in the characters, the plot, the setting.

Romance books follow a very specific set of guidelines. Ensure the characters are likable; ensure there are redeeming faults of both hero and heroine; give the happy ending. If all romance books are written with the same arc, why are they the top-selling adult fiction genre?

It's all in the words. 

Crafting a sentence for some is an absolute nightmare. Thinking of the subject, then the predicate; the direct objects, or should it be an indirect object; hyphen or ellipses points - it's easy to get bogged down in the grammatical details. 

I'm different. (Bite your tongue.) I love these things. I made it my goal in high school, then in college, to understand the intricacies of our language. I have an unwholesome love for grammar that, if I really told you how much I love it, I may frighten you. I enjoy commas and (my personal favorite) semicolons. I live to have spirited (yes, spirited!) discussions about the ways in which punctuation really can make a difference (Let's eat, Grandma! vs. Let's eat Grandma! is one of my most favorite Facebook pages). 

All this incredibly interesting stuff aside, at the heart of it, I love words on a page. Or a screen. Or spoken. Or, or, or - I love them all. Even swear words (hey, there's a time and place for all words). This love of words is what compels me to write every day. At work, I'm blessed to be able to do just that while expanding my mind in technical ways. At home, I can help my children write an essay or book report. And for me, I am more than blessed to have these characters develop in my head, then turn around and surprise me when I put them to paper. 

All those words must follow specific guidelines of my chosen genre, and they must be my own. They must reflect my voice, which must come through each line, loud and clear, without any undue influences.

 That's why those classic lines are a kiss of death for an emerging writer. They've been done numerous times before. You miss who the author is, or what the story was really about. All the voices were the same. 

After such hard work and dedication to my language and imagination, why would I want to use anyone else's words? I think that's the lesson all those blogs, articles, books, tweets and workshops ought to be teaching.

What is it that you love? Share in the comments below! But, full disclosure...


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