Friday, June 19, 2009

Analysis of My Opening Paragraph: Part 1

A few months ago I wrote about the purpose of the opening sentence, and mentioned the opening paragraph to my epic, Gods Among Men. In that post I said:

I wrote the opening over and over, trying one starting point after another, until I finally found a formulation that felt right.

My final choice for the opening sentence introduces my central character and established a starting scene. It leads naturally into a first paragraph crafted to inform the astute reader what to expect from the whole story. The first paragraph is mirrored by the last paragraph of the entire multi-volume epic. Thus Gods Among Men is framed by two paragraphs designed to fit together. They form the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega.... is the right starting point for the tale I want to tell. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that a different opening might be better. Perhaps, but replacing that paragraph, to me, undermines a structure important to the overall plot.

In this post I want to explore a little of what I see in this paragraph and why I think it is so important to the overall story. Here then is the opening to Gods Among Men.

Damon Roth built a grand house. An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. Wide windows were the manor’s great eyes, searching in all directions from behind a gothic countenance. Color-stained eyes framed the world in a kaleidoscope of possibilities. Clear eyes actualized only one: a well-maintained garden of flowers and shrubs, a manicured lawn sloping gently away, and a resplendent thicket of trees that concealed the mansion from the world. Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees. From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.
The first two words identify the protagonist, Damon Roth. It tells the reader to watch this person. In addition, the name "Damon" carries symbolic connotations that I exploit throughout the story.

"Built" marks him as a person of action and accomplishment, someone who plans, implements those plans, and sees them through to completion. "a grand house" tells the reader Damon is capable of working on a large scale, of having a vision of a end result and successfully navigating the difficulties to see that vision fulfilled.

The first sentence is symmetrically linked to the last one.

From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.
"From there" implies the tower mentioned in the next to last sentence, but that tower is located at Damon's grand house, mentioned in the first sentence. "Wizard Roth" informs the reader that this is a fantasy story and that Damon Roth has magical powers.

"changed himself" is the pivot point of the paragraph and the story as a whole. In two words it tells you that everything that follows is because Damon Roth wants to change who he is. His motivations are not for power or riches, but to become a different person. Whatever else happens, no matter the appearance or people affected, everything in the end is about Damon Roth and his personal quest.

The two words "changed himself" define the emotional center of the story, and raise a series of questions. What is it Damon wants to change about himself? Why does he want to change? What does he want to change into? Does he want a physical, spiritual, and/or psychological change?

One additional question is raised: How does Damon plan on changing himself? That is answered by the closing phrase, "by changing the world." The scope is defined, the world as a whole is about to be reordered by Damon Roth.

With just the opening and closing sentences, the reader has been told this is an epic fantasy whose central character is willing and capable of challenging the established order to achieve a personal goal.

The opening and closing lines of this paragraph are symmetrical in that they focus upon a central theme. Who is Damon Roth? What is he planning? When is he going to act? Where is he at? Why is he doing the things he does? How far will he go to achieve his goals? The rest of a story is to answer these questions.

The other sentences in the opening paragraph have a similar symmetry, something I will discuss further in the second part of my analysis.

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