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JV-Genre and Opening Sentences

CRWR 209 Class 2, Introduction to Genre, Free-Writing and Opening Sentences

John Vigna

on 16 June 2018

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Transcript of JV-Genre and Opening Sentences

From Formula Fiction
to Literary Fiction
and Beyond

Content = MURDER
Mainstream Genre Fiction
Genre Formula Fiction
Popular Fiction
Between Popular and Literary Fiction
Some Differences Between
Popular and Literary Fiction
popular fiction tells a great story that has a lasting effect on the reader

Literary fiction must do that AND ALSO:

offer prose writing at its highest standard
reflect a deep consideration of style and craft
avoid clichés and stereotypes on all levels
strive for emotional and psychological realism
concern itself with a story's meaning, not just its events
offer fresh insight into the human condition
Literary Fiction
Experimental Fiction
What's Experimental Fiction?
fiction that seeks to challenge, subvert or experiment with elements of language, form, structure, content or narrative convention.
does not mean "no rules", but rather that you know the rules and have concrete stylistic, thematic or philosophical reasons for breaking them.
before you experiment, you must build a strong foundation in craft -- you must understand what you're subverting in order to subvert it intelligently.
Where do IDEAS come from?
Real Life
personal experiences
things you witness in the world
news stories
facts or information you learn
family stories
things you're obsessed with
Your Imagination
imaginary situations -- What if?
characters that speak to you
worlds you imagine
life questions you have that can't be easily answered
things you seek to understand (poverty, cruelty, jealousy, etc)
Beginning to Understand Narrative Voice
A) Frank prepared a romantic dinner, eager to share the details of the robbery with his wife.

B) Frank wanted to tell his old lady about the job.

How are these two opening sentences different?
Talent vs Originality
Prep for next class
1. Write 10 first sentences.
• Bring to class on Thursday.

2. Course Readings - see schedule at back of syllabus.

All children, except one, grow up.
- J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.
-Charles Portis, The Dog of the South
I am a forty-one-year-old woman living by myself, in the same one-bedroom flat where I have always lived, in a derelict building on the outskirts of Beijing that is threatened to be demolished by government-backed real estate developers.
-Yiyun Li, Kindness
I hadn't seen my best friend in sixteen years, half of our lives ago, so I didn't recognize him when I pulled him out of the car and hit him in the face.
-Sherman Alexie, The Senator's Son
Never marry a Mexican, my ma said once and always.
-Sandra Cisneros, Never Marry a Mexican
A woman I don't know is boiling tea the Indian way in my kitchen.
-Bharati Mukherjee, The Management of Grief
I got a call at work, and it was my father.
-Alice Munro, The Progress of Love
Provocative character description;
hints at immortality.
Irresistible voice; promise of a search
& character conflict.
Melancholic, resigned.
If you can't catch the readers attention at the start and hold it, there's no use going on.
-Marianne Moore
In our openings, we are most likely to lie.
-Anton Chekhov
Pro Tips:
• Start with action, raw emotion, attitude (Catcher in the Rye), a look back hook.
• Start as close to the ending as possible.
• Begin with people, preferably in action.
Common Errors:
• Begin on an idea
• Generalize
• Start too early when the conflict is nowhere in sight
• Use too much description
• Begin without any sense of a threat or disturbance.
• Begin with backstory
Eight Types of Openings
: “Call me Ishmael.” “I am an invisible man.” “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
That Old chestnut
: “Once upon a time…” “It was a dark and stormy night…”
Character description
: “The obligation to smile and talk continuously, the stupidity of the servants, the clatter of dishes, the long intervals between courses, and the corset she had put on to conceal her pregnancy from her guests…”
: “The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.” (The Red Badge of Courage)
In media res
: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” (One Hundred Years of Solitude)
: “My wound is geography” (Prince of Tides)
A truism of philosophical idea
: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” (Anna Karenina)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
: “When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets, Papa would say, she made the nipping off of the noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.” (Geek Love)
• Sets a storytelling tone and an intimacy that reveals character. (socioeconomic class, education)
• careful of the cliché, but if you’re using it you’re signaling to the reader what type of older story it might be. And do so using fresh information.
• delays the action of the story but gives great insight into the character (Olga, in Chekhov’s “The Birthday Party”)
• Cinematic as if we’re watching through a lens of the character or storyteller.
• we begin in the middle of things. Popular option. Gets the story moving quickly.
• four words that contain the theme of the novel which is discovering what it means to be a southern man and how to live with that burden.
• You rely on generalities instead of specific details, which means the work must then prove to be true.
• reveals character, their voice and we want to find what happens next.
Lecture 2: Genre & Beginnings
The OPENING is a carefully camouflaged set of instructions that tell the reader HOW the story should be read.
What Should Opening Sentences DO?
1) Create tension
2) Raise questions
3) Establish a narrative voice
4) Hint at the type of story that will follow

– Where does this story take place?
– When does this story take place?
– Who is telling the story/Who is the story about?
- Why is the story being told?
- What kind of story is this? What are the rules?
- What are the characters DOING?
Lascaux Caves - Pyrenees Mountains, France.
Simplistic series of events.
Shows a variety of animals and one image of a human being.
Interacting with one another.
It tells of rituals performed and hunting practices.
It tells a story.
Series of cave paintings that date back to 15,000 and 13,000 B.C.
700 B.C. - The Epic of Gilgamesh
Created & spread from Mesopotamia to other parts of Europe and Asia.
The story was carved on stone pillars for all to see, for all to read.
Printed in 200 B.C.
Morality - taught lessons.
Aesop's Fables
Aesop lived in the 500s B.C.
Stories were remembered for hundreds of years without a single shred of paper or other printed material.
Hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt.
Early Writings
Dates back about 5,000 years.
Used for religious documents, and to line tombs and temples with messages to future inhabitants.
Stories about survival and life.
Oral Storytelling
Origin stories
Exploits of goddesses and gods
Creation myths
Mysteries of the world
Make sense of the world
Human emotion
Fairy Tales
Feature animals with human traits & state an explicit lesson (i.e.., Slow but steady wins the race, One good turn deserves another, etc.
The Tortoise and the Hare
Often features supernatural beings like giants, trolls, & fairy godmothers.
Focus on the struggle between good & evil, with good triumphing (always) though sometimes in grotesque, violent ways.
Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood
Teach a lesson or explain a complex spiritual concept through analogy
New Testament - Parables about proper human conduct (The Good Samaritan,Luke 10:25-37) & The Relationship between God & people (The Seed Growing Secretly, Mark 4:26-29
Symbolic stories that teach a moral lesson & in which each character, action & setting stands for specific meaning.
John Bunyan's PILGRIM’S PROGRESS (1678) A Character named Christian, embodies the virtues of Christianity, journey's through a world of temptations & dangers (CITY OF DESTRUCTION, VALLEY OF HUMILIATION, etc.) en route to the celestial city (HEAVEN).
Recount (exaggerate?) amazing achievements of real people.
Praise traits that are valued by society.
Short Story = 6 - 15,000 words
Novella = 17,500 - 50,000 words
Heart of Darkness - Conrad
Novel = 50,000+
A creative act of the imagination.
It's faithfulness to the real-world is not typically assumed by its audience.
Twitter Fiction = 140 characters or less
Twitter Novel = ?
Anne Enright:

The internet ate my novel, but this is much more fun #careerchange #nolookingback oh but #worldsosilentnow Hey!
“The Right Sort” by David Mitchell
More than two hundred & eighty tweets published over one week.
“2020” by Lian Yue
First Chinese-language novel tweeted.
Written in regular installments through the year 2020.
Told "the truth about the world."
Middle Ages - 12C
The average person only ever saw books in church, where the priest read from the Bible.
Books = serious.
Written word = truth.
Origin (of) Story
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