Is this a 'wandering' opening?

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Kary English
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Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Kary English » Fri Jul 13, 2012 1:02 pm

Hi, all,

DF's most recent Daily Kick warns about the perils of the "wandering" opening where a character wanders aimlessly while thinking. Dave says this used to be the sitting-on-a-rock opening, but now the character is in motion. What Dave objects to, among other things, is that we are usually not given a destination for the wandering or a reason for it.

That said, I'd like to post a 250 excerpt from a Chapter opening (not a short story opening) where I'm introducing a new character. I'd like to know if you think I'm committing the wandering error. In this passage, I am also trying to incorporate Dave's suggestions re: setting and sensory details in descriptions.

This is not something I will be submitting to the contest, so no anonymity problems are contained herein.
------------------
CHAPTER OPENING

Rennec sat his horse and waited. The last of the afternoon sunlight warmed the side of his face and limned his dark skin and high cheekbones with gold. His breath misted in the crisp, Fall air.

The forest around him was still, but not silent. Two horse-lengths ahead, a small river gurgled in its bed. A cardinal shrilled above him, protesting the passage of a squirrel who carried a final acorn to its nest. Dry leaves rustled in the tree-tops from a breath of wind that did not reach the ground.

Rennec inhaled deeply. The air held the scent of damp leaf mould, cold earth and a sharper note that warned of snow before dawn. He pulled his cloak closer about his shoulders. His body missed the heat of the hastily-banked fire back at camp, and his stomach grumbled at the thought of the stew he'd left to simmer in the coals. Food, fire - both would have to wait. His danger sense wanted him here, on the river's northern bank, a few paces from the ford.

The danger sense. For Rennec, it started like a flit of shadow where no shadow should be, or like the snap of a twig just below the threshold of hearing. The sort of thing that made him look up from a task and scan his surroundings to see what was coming. It built like pressure in the air, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, until it felt as if the sky itself weighed on his chest.

(And what he's waiting for arrives in the next paragraph)
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby s_c_baker » Fri Jul 13, 2012 1:27 pm

I think so.

Or, well, it's not a "wandering" opening since Rennec is just sitting atop a horse.

It has the same underlying problem (if you think it's a problem): we don't know who Rennec is or what he's doing, or why. All we get is a description of his surroundings, and hints that something is going to happen.

I think this is one of those things that bothers judges/editors more than readers. In my experience, readers are generally more willing to put up with slower starts than editors.

Since it's a novel, and not a short story, I don't think this particular opening is problematic--as long as things pick up soon.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Strycher » Fri Jul 13, 2012 1:31 pm

I do kinda think this is what he was talking about.

I don't think you have to include that he's waiting. The description of him waiting, tells us that he's waiting. Removing that line and try reading it backwards:

For Rennec, it started like a flit of shadow where no shadow should be, or like the snap of a twig just below the threshold of hearing. The sort of thing that made him look up from a task and scan his surroundings to see what was coming. It built like pressure in the air, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, until it felt as if the sky itself weighed on his chest.

The danger sense.

Rennec inhaled deeply. The air held the scent of damp leaf mould, cold earth and a sharper note that warned of snow before dawn. He pulled his cloak closer about his shoulders. His body missed the heat of the hastily-banked fire back at camp, and his stomach grumbled at the thought of the stew he'd left to simmer in the coals. Food, fire - both would have to wait. His danger sense wanted him here, on the river's northern bank, a few paces from the ford.

The forest around him was still, but not silent. Two horse-lengths ahead, the small river gurgled in its bed. A cardinal shrilled above him, protesting the passage of a squirrel who carried a final acorn to its nest. Dry leaves rustled in the tree-tops from a breath of wind that did not reach the ground. The last of the afternoon sunlight warmed the side of his face and limned his dark skin and high cheekbones with gold. His breath misted in the crisp, Fall air.


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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby s_c_baker » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:06 pm

Strycher wrote:I do kinda think this is what he was talking about.

I don't think you have to include that he's waiting. The description of him waiting, tells us that he's waiting. Removing that line and try reading it backwards:

For Rennec, it started like a flit of shadow where no shadow should be, or like the snap of a twig just below the threshold of hearing. The sort of thing that made him look up from a task and scan his surroundings to see what was coming. It built like pressure in the air, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, until it felt as if the sky itself weighed on his chest.

The danger sense.

Rennec inhaled deeply. The air held the scent of damp leaf mould, cold earth and a sharper note that warned of snow before dawn. He pulled his cloak closer about his shoulders. His body missed the heat of the hastily-banked fire back at camp, and his stomach grumbled at the thought of the stew he'd left to simmer in the coals. Food, fire - both would have to wait. His danger sense wanted him here, on the river's northern bank, a few paces from the ford.

The forest around him was still, but not silent. Two horse-lengths ahead, the small river gurgled in its bed. A cardinal shrilled above him, protesting the passage of a squirrel who carried a final acorn to its nest. Dry leaves rustled in the tree-tops from a breath of wind that did not reach the ground. The last of the afternoon sunlight warmed the side of his face and limned his dark skin and high cheekbones with gold. His breath misted in the crisp, Fall air.


wotf017

wotf015

I may be crazy, but I think reading it backwards really improves the opening.
For Rennec, it started like a flit of shadow where no shadow should be, or like the snap of a twig just below the threshold of hearing.

is a hell of a lot more interesting as the opening line to a book than
Rennec sat his horse and waited.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Rebecca Birch » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:13 pm

Um, yeah. Wow.

Anybody else now wanting to go switching around paragraph order to see if it works for them, too?
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby s_c_baker » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:14 pm

Rebecca Birch wrote:Um, yeah. Wow.

Anybody else now wanting to go switching around paragraph order to see if it works for them, too?

*closes every short story he's ever written*

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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Kary English » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:14 pm

I've been mulling over Strycher's revisions (I'm a slow muller), and I think I like them. The tension level is higher. Thanks!

To be clear, though, this is an interior chapter, not the opening of a novel.
Last edited by Kary English on Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Grayson Morris » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:15 pm

I agree -- and what a brilliant idea. It wouldn't have occurred to me.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby s_c_baker » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:25 pm

Kary English wrote:I've been mulling over Strycher's revisions, and I think I like them. The tension level is higher. Thanks!

To be clear, though, this is an interior chapter, not the opening of a novel.

Ah, right. You did say that. *ahem*

If it's an interior chapter, I don't think you even need to worry about "wandering."

The reader will already be established in the world and (presumably) with the characters, and will be more forgiving.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Kary English » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:28 pm

I still think Strycher's revision upped the tension, though, and that's a good thing to make sure the hook stays set. We dropped out that Rennec is on a horse, though, so I'll have to sneak that back in.

Kudos (again) to Strycher. I wouldn't have thought of rearranging the paragraphs either, and I think it made a big difference.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Strycher » Fri Jul 13, 2012 2:42 pm

Errrr. I was just applying the Ghost Pigs principle. wotf046

Which is meant for short stories, but you can boil down to: "Most interesting thing in front."

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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby austinDm » Fri Jul 13, 2012 4:00 pm

Strycher wrote:[...] you can boil down to: "Most interesting thing in front."


This is why rearranging it works so well. Opening with the flit of shadow heightens tension, communicates a little about the character (that Rennec possesses a "danger sense"), and begins to set up the setting! It's amazing how simply that worked out just by writing the paragraphs in reverse. Nice one, Stryker wotf009

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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby katsincommand » Fri Jul 13, 2012 5:12 pm

Rebecca Birch wrote:Um, yeah. Wow.

Anybody else now wanting to go switching around paragraph order to see if it works for them, too?


I always do in my revisions. New scenes, new topics, whatever. The first part is like I'm warming up,l then I get to the good stuff. So the second always becomes the first.

Funny that; I'm a 2nd born who is way too bossy to have been 2nd. I should've been first. ;)
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby LDWriter2 » Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:40 pm

Kary English wrote:Hi, all,

DF's most recent Daily Kick warns about the perils of the "wandering" opening where a character wanders aimlessly while thinking. Dave says this used to be the sitting-on-a-rock opening, but now the character is in motion. What Dave objects to, among other things, is that we are usually not given a destination for the wandering or a reason for it.

That said, I'd like to post a 250 excerpt from a Chapter opening (not a short story opening) where I'm introducing a new character. I'd like to know if you think I'm committing the wandering error. In this passage, I am also trying to incorporate Dave's suggestions re: setting and sensory details in descriptions.




This may have been covered somewhere in the forum but are David's kicks for stories and novels? Somethings you can do in novels you don't have time for in stories so does this kick deal with novel writing too?
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby bobsandiego » Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:43 pm

I agree the reversal works better, but don't be too hard on yourself that you would never think of it.
1) you're very close to the problems, as all creators are
2) You're learning, as are we all.
Dilemma and Character as quickly as possible are going general rules. Another good general rule is what si the most important thing to the character at the home the scene opens? It is rarely what things look like.

but I like the style and and the device for the tension.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Dustin Adams » Sat Jul 14, 2012 1:46 am

The Graveyard Book by Neil Awesome Gaiman was eight chapters. Each chapter was a short story - intentionally. Each chapter was 2 years after the previous.

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I mention this because you said this isn't the start of the novel, but of a random chapter.
Suggestion, to you, to all -- start every chapter like it's the first.
Or as close as you can to it.

I start as many subsequent chapters as possible with a new hook-line. I provide as brief a reference to setting as I feel I can get away with to ground or re-ground the reader, and I get to dialog as quickly as possible. (Assuming there's more than one person in the scene, if not, I get that solo person DOING something.)

Incidentally, my finalist started with a bit of a wandering opening. I believe DW may have passed on it. Nothing really happens for a page or so. However, I may be confusing world-building for wandering.

If anyone can provide what they believe are examples of both, highlighting their differences, that would rock.

World-building:
Wandering:

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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby austinDm » Sat Jul 14, 2012 5:52 am

Dustin Adams wrote:I mention this because you said this isn't the start of the novel, but of a random chapter.
Suggestion, to you, to all -- start every chapter like it's the first.
Or as close as you can to it.


I think this is a good point. In most any novel you can think of chapters as individual stories within a whole. Chapters contain their own story arcs just like the novel as a whole will have an arc. Also, I believe Kary said that this chapter introduced a new character, in which case you might as well treat it like a whole new story.

If anyone can provide what they believe are examples of both, highlighting their differences, that would rock.


I would be interested in this too. Throughout the discussion on this thread, I was thinking that the prologue to A Game of Thrones was wandering, but when I went back to reread it, I noticed that there is a lot of dialog. The very first sentence is dialog. Would that preclude wandering or can you wander and talk at the same time?

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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Kary English » Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:31 am

I'm still grappling with the difference between a chapter and a short story, but one of the things that's been suggested to me is *not* to end a chapter with the same amount of closure you use in a short story. Allegedly, this provides the impetus to turn the page to the next chapter, keeping the reader reading instead of feeling the closure, putting the book down, getting up for a snack and risking not coming back.

Not a cliffhanger per se, and not every time, but less closure than one would expect for a short story. So resolve one plotline or problem, but leave something else distinctly UNsolved.

Example:

Short story - characters arrive in exotic locale pursued by bad guys. Much sneaking ensues followed by a covert meeting with a contact that is interrupted when the bad guys attack. Fight scene! Little bit of denouement (finish conversation with covert contact), then the characters escape in a boat.

Chapter - characters arrive in exotic locale pursued by bad guys. Much sneaking ensues followed by a covert meeting with a contact that is interrupted when the bad guys attack. Fight scene! Little bit of denouement (finish conversation with covert contact). END CHAPTER. Intro next chapter with characters escaping in a boat headed for their next adventure.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby s_c_baker » Sat Jul 14, 2012 10:27 am

chapter:scene::novel:short story

wotf007

Dustin, I think the main difference between a 'wandering' opening and one that just builds the world is that the wandering opening has a character in it who isn't doing anything other than observing things--and we don't know why they're doing it or who they are. Worldbuilding, on the other hand, is generally from an omni or cinematic type point of view. (That is: we see the world, we don't see the character seeing the world.)

Please note that I am talking out of my donkey here.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby greenroom » Sat Jul 14, 2012 6:48 pm

austinDm wrote:I would be interested in this too. Throughout the discussion on this thread, I was thinking that the prologue to A Game of Thrones was wandering, but when I went back to reread it, I noticed that there is a lot of dialog. The very first sentence is dialog. Would that preclude wandering or can you wander and talk at the same time?


The prologue to Game of Thrones is in no way wandering. When David Farland said wandering, he wasn't referring to the mere act of moving around in a forest or some such. He was referring to moving around in a forest without purpose.

At the start of game of thrones, you have many different types of purpose/tension present. You have three characters in disagreement over what purpose they want to follow: head back to the wall, or go investigate the dead wildings? So there is purpose and tension. Not to mention mystery: who are the wildings and why are they dead? And a power struggle. Will the new 'lord' or the grizzled veteran win out in deciding which of two concrete paths they will take? And when its the new lord, you just know bad things are coming (so good foreshadowing as well).
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby greenroom » Sat Jul 14, 2012 6:52 pm

Kary English wrote:Example:

Short story - characters arrive in exotic locale pursued by bad guys. Much sneaking ensues followed by a covert meeting with a contact that is interrupted when the bad guys attack. Fight scene! Little bit of denouement (finish conversation with covert contact), then the characters escape in a boat.


I'd suggest that this example wouldn't work as a short story. It doesn't resolve the 'arriving pursued by bad guys' initial incident. Instead, it would need to end with 'covert contacts' information allows them to destroy bad guys (or whoever sent bad guys, or bad guy's evil plan, etc.). Just escaping in a boat with some new information at the end would feel incomplete, more like a chapter than a self-contained short story.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Dustin Adams » Sun Jul 15, 2012 1:53 am

(That is: we see the world, we don't see the character seeing the world.)


Excellent.

For a film example, watch S. Darko, the "Sequel" to Donnie Darko.
Netflix used to have it under instant play, so you could have easily checked out the start where Samantha wanders around the pre-dawn desert observing flowers for 5-10 minutes while the credits roll around her.
But now it's DVD rental only.
I don't recommend burning one of your que on this one folks, I just told you the best part of the movie.

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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Deborah Wolf » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:10 am

I'd say this wanders. It's a nice day, the birds are singing, the squirrels are nuts, and the brook is babbling...and then you find out his danger sense is kicking in. I'd like to see you start with the tension of his danger sense and build from there.

Nicely written, by the way, I'd keep reading. But bring the tension in earlier.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Deborah Wolf » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:18 am

Dustin Adams wrote:Incidentally, my finalist started with a bit of a wandering opening. I believe DW may have passed on it. Nothing really happens for a page or so. However, I may be confusing world-building for wandering.
D


I've begun to think that most world-building can be classified as wandering. As near and dear to your heart as it may be, most of it can probably be left on the slaughterhouse floor, and just give the leaner meat to your readers.
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:33 am

Deborah Wolf wrote:
Dustin Adams wrote:Incidentally, my finalist started with a bit of a wandering opening. I believe DW may have passed on it. Nothing really happens for a page or so. However, I may be confusing world-building for wandering.
D


I've begun to think that most world-building can be classified as wandering. As near and dear to your heart as it may be, most of it can probably be left on the slaughterhouse floor, and just give the leaner meat to your readers.


A nice observation, nicely put!
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Kary English » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:34 pm

Here's another tidbit from the DF workshop - setting is important, and a lot of times, setting means description. Even more to the point (and I kind of hate to muddy the waters with this), DF is a setting guy.

See, the "wandering" opening, or the sitting-on-rock-thinking opening typically gives us a tour of the inside of the characters head. Instead, give a tour of the character's surroundings. Remember the Kicks where DF says he wants to see what's close by, what's in the middle ground and what's in the far backdrop? Where he wants all of the senses? That's setting.

So I'm revising my own opinion of the opening of this chapter. It's a setting piece concurrent with a character introduction. DF hasn't seen it, so possibly I've taken my shiny new hammer and determined incorrectly that this is a nail, but that's what I think at present based on several comments from DF.

That said, you shouldn't spend six pages describing the bark on a single tree (unless you're GRRM?), but grounding your reader in your setting isn't a bad thing at all.

Edit: I should also caveat that this excerpt is from a novel, not a short story, which makes a difference in pacing.

I'll be even more specific here - I asked Dave about the opening for my finalist story. Some of you have read it, and it opens with two characters riding into town (Fruit?! You opened with fruit??). In a certain sense, it's a slow opening. Some beta readers said so, and they had a point. I knew when I submitted it that the writing would have to carry it, that the reader would have to be so taken in by the writing alone that s/he would keep reading. DF says that's exactly what happened - he read it and thought "A-ha, here's someone who understands the importance of setting."
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby morshana » Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:31 pm

Thanks, Kary! Very helpful! wotf007
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Re: Is this a 'wandering' opening?

Postby Deborah Wolf » Thu Sep 20, 2012 6:31 pm

Kary English wrote:Here's another tidbit from the DF workshop - setting is important, and a lot of times, setting means description. Even more to the point (and I kind of hate to muddy the waters with this), DF is a setting guy.


I used to write description that would have Tolkien muttering, "Get to the point, already!" But these days, I find myself more in Stephen King's camp: I tell you there's a rabbit in a box on the table, and let you fill in the details. It's a real challenge to strip the description down to the bare meat without leaving your readers too hungry, but my betas didn't notice it till I said something.

My description of place, history, cultures, etc. is now pretty much embedded in the action, and I don't explain a lot. (I keep the fat and bones in a freezer for my own use, in case I want to indulge in soup at some point).

I can describe to you the life cycles of one of the invented critters in my world, but might include a few words of description at most in my stories.

Same with sex scenes, which is kind of a fun exercise. Pun intended.
Don't mess with fantasy writers; we know whether human is white meat or red, and sweeten our coffee with tears.


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