Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First Sentences -- Don't Start With The Weather?

My personal notes:

Blogger once again did not publish my pre-scheduled blog on Monday, so I had to tweak the darned thing to get my post out there. Probably happened again this morning.

Then I was attacked by a vicious mosquito as I diligently pulled weeds from around my lavender plants. Now I will fret about West Nile Virus for goodness knows how long.

My reading report:

I just completed the ARC for Barbara Fleming's Journeying, to be released in August 2009. More on that in late July when I feature Barbara on my Colorado Author Monday.

Am now reading the new Lomax & Biggs mystery, Flipping Out, by Marshall Karp. I won this one. Free. And it came signed. And it had a lovely note inside from Marshall, encouraging me to tell the world if I love the book. I can only tell you, if it's anything like The Rabbit Factory and Bloodthirsty, I reckon you'll all be getting a book review soon.

And now for today's blog:

Haven't you heard that advice a few times--Don't open your novel with the weather?

Well, I have a lot of books around my house, and I knew there would be some with opening sentences about the weather, so I did a little search. I didn't bother with first-time authors, but went for the big guys, the ones who've been around and can pretty much write what they want the way they want to write it. Here's what I found:

"The first week after Labor Day, after a summer of hot wind and drought that left the cane fields dust blown and spiderwebbed with cracks, rain showers once more danced across the wetlands, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and the sky turned the hard flawless blue of an inverted ceramic bowl."
.....James Lee Burke, Last Car to Elysian Fields: A Dave Robicheaux novel (Simon & Schuster, 2003)

Whew, long sentence, Mr. Burke. But nice. Very nice.

"The morning air off the Mohave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you'll ever breathe in Los Angeles County."
.....Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer (Warner Books, 2005)

Personally, I've never experienced that in LA County, but I'll take Mr. Connelly's word for it.

"It was sullen and gusty and snowing like hell when I went to see Grace."
.....Robert B. Parker, All Our Yesterdays (Delacorte Press, 1994)

I'm already wondering why seeing Grace was so important that the character had to go out in that kind of weather.

"A nasty squall had blown across Pitts Bay earlier in the day, the wind tossing sheets of water against the landmark pink facade of the famed Hamilton Princess Hotel."
.....Margaret Truman, Murder at Union Station: A Capital Crimes Novel (Ballentine Books, 2004)

Hmmm. I haven't read Margaret Truman lately. Maybe I'll make that one next up on my list.

So what does this tell you? First, if you're observant, you'll notice I'm way behind in my reading, because these are older books, and I tend to give unsigned books away after I've read them. More on the topic, however, you'll see that weather can provide a convenient way to identify the story's setting and set the first scene. I know some agents and editors don't like manuscripts that open with weather. I don't understand why. Any thoughts on that?


Carol Kilgore said...

These are masters who tie weather to plot and character, not "It was a dark and stormy night" that then has nothing to do with what happens next.

I love the James Lee Burke opening. Especially since we recently traveled through a lot of cane fields.

The Practical Preserver said...

I like weather. It's a topic everyone can relate to, and, if you use it well, you can set tone, atmosphere, and even conflict (how's that for the mother of all run-on sentences?) Am thinking about London's short story "To Build a Fire." It's all weather.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Just another rule that we can break! 'They' also tell us not to open with a prologue or a phone call, or close a chapter with the protagonist going to sleep.

Mystery Writing is Murder

N A Sharpe said...

LOL, or to have the protagonist waking up from a dream, Elizabeth. I don't know, I can see the suggestion when it is just a weather report, but when used to set the scene or the tone, I think it can be done effectively as you have just demonstrated. Great question, Patricia - I'm not sure that that's a rule I "get".

Nancy, from Just a Thought…

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I get so annoyed with little rules that “experts” and “evaluators”…yes, you may read that as acquisition editors and agents…can toss at you when they have nothing else germane to say about what you’ve written. Think about it…if we all followed every “rule” ever written…that actually fall into the technique category…all our work would look, read, and sound alike. Grrr. Get’s my goat. I want these folks to look beyond these silly little “should doisms.” They don’t always.
I guess you can tell, Betrayal, starts with a Mountain rainstorm, huh? Shrug, well, it does.

Thanks.Best regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Anonymous said...

Here, here! I agree with your other bloggers. Just seeing the title of your blog made me want to stick paper in my typewriter (err, that won't work), okay open a new word document and start typing madly on a new manuscript by describing THE WEATHER!!!!

I hate rules.
Writers must be rebels--every one of us.

Thanks for pointing out all the great excerpts though. Come to think of it, my debut release DOES start out by describing how damned hot it is in Roswell. Good grief. : ) But then there IS that biologically hot body waiting in the desert. . .


Patricia Stoltey said...

Great comments from all of you. I'm happy to know I'm not the only one who likes a hot and stormy beginning. Maybe we should start an underground weather movement. Did I really type that? Sigh.

Terry Odell said...

Well, I was goint to quote the original, which came from Elmore Leonard's 2001 "Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle" but this blog won't let me paste.

His "rules" are all explained, and his elaboration makes it clearer that it's not a 'rule' because he goes on with an ...."Unless...." And I'm too lazy to go back and forth to my file to copy it here.

But yes, you CAN open with the weather -- you just have to do it well.

The dream thing ... that causes a disconnect for the reader, who has just invested time and brain cells "meeting" the new characters and situation in a book, only to find out that it's all basically "wasted" because that isn't what the book is about.


You need to open with a hook. Doesn't matter what it is--weather, prologue, dream, dialogue--all those things the "rule books" tell us not to start with.

If you lure your reader in with the quality of your writing, that's all that counts.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I did not know about Elmore Leonard's "Hooptedoodle," Terry. One more thing added to my To Be Read list which is already soooooooo long.

Terry Odell said...

Patricia - I've posted more information about Elmore's "real" rules on my blog, http://terryodell.blogspot.com/