Friday, June 26, 2009

Analysis of My Opening Paragraph: Part 2

This is a continuation of my personal analysis of my opening paragraph. The idea being to put into words what I see when I read it and explain why I am so reluctant to modify this one paragraph, despite advice to the contrary.

For ease of reference, here again is the paragraph in question:

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.
In Part 1 of this analysis, I focused upon the symmetrical relationship between the opening and closing lines. i.e.

Damon Roth built a grand house. ... From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.
I summarized this relationship as follows:

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.

I will now focus on the second line and the next to last line. Here they are together.

An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. ... Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees.
In the paragraph's first sentence I introduced Damon Roth and his house and established the house as a statement about Damon's nature. In the second line I begin to flesh out the metaphor. I also start to establish a relationship to older literary genres. This connection to the other genres culminates in the next to last sentence.

In the paragraph's first sentence, I establish that Damon built the house. With the first words of the second sentence, "An extensive foundation", I establish, subtly I hope, that Damon works on a large scale. That his plans are "extensive" and have a strong "foundation".

The relationship to older literary genres begins with "supported mighty oak limbs". It was quite common in older genres to indulge in personification, i.e. an ontological metaphor where an inanimate object is presented as if it were a person. The object in the metaphor becomes a statement about the person.

"Mighty oak limbs" directly refers to the timbers Damon used to build his house, but indirectly indicate that Damon is a person of great strength, vitality, and power. "oak", in particular, is a symbol of strength, durability, protection, longevity, and re-birth. All characteristics I will associate with Damon throughout the story.

With "reach skyward" I imply several things, again with subtle intent, about Damon. Directly I and still talking about the beams and timbers used to build the house. Indirectly I am saying Damon is reaching for something, that he is looking up to some lofty goal. The word "skyward' itself carries several implications. His plans reach beyond the earth to encompass the whole of creation. Damon is reaching toward heaven, thus implying either a desire to be good, or to be God, or both. It carries the hint of his intent to become (partially) divine by becoming the God Among Men.

The phrase "unwavering in their duty" is simple. The house is still standing, and Damon will not falter in his quest, no matter the cost or burden he must bear.

The phrase "holding soaring gables" gives a physical image of the house. It implies a style of architecture that began in European countries and establishes cultural image of a Medieval/Renaissance/Victorian type of society. This is quite common in modern fantasy and gives the reader a touchstone of what to expect as more details of the society and culture are presented.

With "aloft through the centuries" I establish, for the first time, that this is not a new house. That it is very old and has withstood the test of time. It has successfully survived storms and resisted decay. Since the house is a metaphor for Damon, he too is centuries old and has survived adversity and resisted decay.

Skipping down to the next to last sentence, we begin by concluding the description of the house started in the second sentence. "Only the central tower," again underscores the image of a European style manor or castle, one with at least two wings, and a tall tower in the center. Since the metaphor, and the entire paragraph, is about Damon, the "central tower" must be "central" to Damon's personality and plans. The tower is a reflection of him in a fundamental way.

With that thought in mind, consider the phrase "covered in a spider-web of vines,". A spider-web symbolizes so much it is hard to list them all. Damon is the spider, at the center of the web, sensing the slightest tremor that effects his plans. He ensnares the unwary. In much of literature the spider carries an evil connotation, but it is the spider that traps and kills many of the insects that plague mankind and carry deadly diseases. The spider is cunning, patient, hardworking, skillful, and a lethal foe that poses no harm to those that it cannot consume and do not threaten it. All characteristics I want the reader to see in Damon.

I connect again to older genres with the phrase "was tall enough to break the barricade of trees." The "barricade of trees" refers to the forest surrounding Damon's house that was established in a previous sentence. Forests, particularly in Medieval and Renaissance literature, were often used as a metaphor for the world or mankind as a whole. Therefore this sentence establishes Damon's relationship to the world and the rest of humanity. This image is joined with the tower which is a reflection of Damon.

The tower is taller than everything around it, just as Damon is a larger character than all those who will surround him throughout the story. The image of the tower breaking the barricade of trees expresses his desire to be larger than humanity as a whole. To transcend his own humanity and become the God Among Men.

I spent a long time thinking about each word in this paragraph. I struggled with how it fit into literary traditions, and what it said about my world and my protagonist. Perhaps it is foppish arrogance to see all this in my own work, but I am trying to write something I hope touches on greatness. I do not claim to have achieved greatness, but it is the goal I set for myself. If I fall short it is because of a lack of talent, not a lack of desire or effort.

In my next post I will continue dissecting my personal views of the remainder of the paragraph. I will try to be briefer next time, but my own verbosity will no doubt assert itself as it did this time. Until next time, have fun.

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