Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Ricardo's dilemma set me thinking (as his dilemmas invariably do):
What constitutes a good opening?
I could look at his six suggested openings and determine instantly which did and didn't work ... but what is the decision-making process used by my head? Tell me head.
Last night, Professor Tudor Parfitt gave me a clue as Channel 4 broadcast a ninety minute documentary charting the Prof's search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant.
Tudor opened by explaining that twenty years ago he began his search for the Ark, and now he believes he has found it. Many will be surprised by his discovery and some will be offended, he suggests!
And so we sit back and watch as his journey unfolds and he heads off to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem - the last known resting place of the Ark.

Then I fell asleep.
Then I woke up five minutes from the end with Tudor showing off a CG representation of some mangy wooden drum. The Ark. A wooden drum.

I've considered on many occasions the importance of anticipation. Here, the anticipation is framed in stark contrast with my slumber.
In those opening minutes, Tudor made promises to me. He promised me an exciting adventure drawn out over twenty years of his life, and a surprising conclusion. I was so annoyed that I had fallen asleep, because I wanted to be a part of this adventure. Tudor had offered me something that I wanted - he had secured anticipation in my heart - and I let us both down.

This simple concept tallies neatly with Sunset Bickham's advice on openings:

Begin with forward movement.

It also tallies with my thoughts on prophesies (and prophetic misdirection) in which the audience is invited to anticipate something that may or may not attain fruition. Perhaps Michael Palin is boarding a ship that will take him across the Yellow Sea and, as he walks up the gangplank, he observes that this ship has been attacked by pirates twelve times in the last month alone!
Or, if we consider the most unputdownable book I have read - Ghost Girl (for shame!) - we witness a teacher on her way to a new life in a new town and a new school with new children.
Or, we can consider Rose Tyler's brief appearance in episode one of the new season of Doctor Who.

A good opening makes promises. It prepares the reader for a particular genre, style and tone, and looks to the future.

What is also apparent reading through ricardo's opening variations is that we need to share this promised journey with someone, be it Professor Tudor Parfitt or Indiana Jones. Without that bond - that poppet - all the emotions in the world have nowhere to lay their weary heads. This is a part of the reader's orientation: who, where, when ..? Until the orientation is complete, the reader remains restless.

Not the Ark of the Covenant

Here's a poem for Prof Parfitt. It's a bit of fun and I have tremendous respect for the chap.

*Ode to Professor Tudor Parfitt*
Professor Tudor Parfitt said he'd found the holy Ark
So I watched with baited breath to see him raise it from the dark;
Then I fell asleep and when I woke he'd found a drum of bark:
Just a shabby, crabby tympanum not worthy of remark.

1 comment:

R1X said...

You can probably watch it all... online :)

Many thoughts - am currently planning a brief blogpost about my anxieties again. Have rewritten the opening, right in there with the main character, and I don't dwell on his painy pain either... but I've weighted it all in anecodtal matches. Here a paragraph on what IS happening, then a paragraph of reminiscence... then...

You get the point. All in moderation and I'm still screwing it up. Almost gave up. Now I'm reading Scar Night, by Alan Campbell, and it's brilliant. Rolls along, amazing like.

Which raises the point - even if I fail, I can't give this stuff up.