Friday, 17 July 2009

Opening Thoughts #1

I'm afraid I only have a few minutes, but I want to quickly jot down some thoughts. Rest assured that I will return to these thoughts very soon.
I'm close to a breakthrough, thanks in no small part to my beautiful and tear-jerkingly kind readers (thank you so much!). I think, perhaps, that breakthroughs occur when a connection is made between two apparently unconnected things. It just so happens that I'm currently studying hypnotherapy and the art of opening a novel ...

I've long contented that the author is a shepherd - that he simply guides the reader. It is within the reader, after all, that the magic occurs; it is the reader who processes our words and the stuff inbetween and makes sense of these things using his own experiences and expectations and so forth. Yes, we are guides. Or, to quote Derren Brown:

'... You can start to realize that in fact you are only guiding your subjects down an easy path to what you want them to experience. You are not making them do anything. Think of it like seduction.'
(Derren Brown: Tricks of the Mind.)

Ooh, I like that. I think I'd rather be a seducer than a shepherd.

What's the purpose of your opening chapter? Why? What are you doing? Why?
If you don't know, then how can you hope to achieve or measure or effectively and irreproachably reproduce any kind of success?

Now, damned if I can find it again, but I will ...
But Nathan Bransford suggests that we don't need to start with a bang - rather, we need to immerse the reader so that she cares about the protag before going off elsewhere - and he points to a comment in one of his posts which details the elements of a good opening.
One of these crucial elements is the immersion through sensory stimulae - you know the score: those sights and sounds et al.
Why why why why why?
Here's Derren again, on inducing the 'trance':

'Appeal to all the senses of your subject by referring to things you'd like them to see, hear, feel, smell or even taste in their hypnotic 'state'. If you have your subject imagine a garden, have him see it vividly, but also refer to the feel of the grass under his feet; the sound of the birds in the trees; even the smell of the flowers. Only when these things are multi-sensory will they seem potent and real. Be sure to allow the subject to fill in the gaps as he wishes, but be careful not to contradict something about a picture you might have suggested. His image of the garden might be quite different from yours. You might refer to a brook which you imagine to be in the garden, but he might have decided to lose himself in a real garden from his childhood which contains no such brook.'

Yep, we've covered the perils, and benefits, of preconceptions and assumptions to death.

N400. On my mind. Too much stimulae = stress. Too little stimulae = boredom.
I can see a paradox.
What happened to those mythical seven (or however many) seconds that you have to grab interest? Why, after all, do so many novels begin with a murder or a confession or peril?
Yes, I can see a paradox.
One of the techniques used in creating a 'trance-like' state, especially popular in group sessions, is to ask the subjects to tense their muscles, and then to release, leading with the resulting sensations which you know they must be feeling.
To create relaxation? Or to create tension?
And we know that one of the guiding lights we can use when constructing emotional topography is to alternate between the two. Vincent Price said that laughter is the safety valve. It releases the pressure. Laughter, itself, can be the physiological response to stress. An old woman falls into a lake. Hysterical! Because she climbs out and we're relieved that she's not hurt. We're relieved. And tears contain some chemically thing which contains (and removes) stress. Tears are stress relief.

Repetitions and patterns, strobing - especially in tone - can also supplement that immersion into a 'trance-like' state. Derren:
'Find phrases that trip mellifluously off the tongue, such as 'enhance the trance' ...'
And Robert Louis Stevenson often referred to the web of words, likening a full-length novel to a long poem. It's all poetry. Then, designed to enhance a receptive state of mind?
Harsh words and tones can break the 'trance'. Why would we ever use them then? Do we want the reader in a perpetual 'trance-like' state? Is that what page-turning is all about? Is that how we can connect deeply to their emotional core - when they are pliant and receptive?

Lots and lots and lots more stuff to come. In the meantime, have a super weekend my maggoty companions, and consider the paradoxes, and the symbiotic nature, of relaxion and stress, and consider what that opening should and should not do.

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