Thoughts on writing and marketing

I love odd starts in novels. Ones that, for instance

Trip you up and make you ask yourself what the writer meant by that

Encapsulate the general theme of the novel by looking at a specific or allegorical item

Plant you in the story immediately

I read a lot of openings that are competent, and a few that make me settle back, happy in the knowledge that in the next few hours my mind is going to be driven on some wild path by a master of the craft.

Pulling books at random from the shelves, here’s a couple of good opening sentences:

“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”

Cazaril heard the mounted horsemen on the road before he saw them.

And there are many more. I’d love to hear some of your favorite opening paragraphs or lines…

While you’re off scrambling to submit openings that you love, here’s something different. Reading my Sunday papers today, I came across this opening sentence:

In handbooks on Chinese traditional painting, an advice commonly given to the artist who wishes to learn to paint trees is to sketch them in winter, for then, without the seductive yet confusing and blurring effect of their leafy mass, through their stark nudity they can best reveal their inner structure and specific character.

So wrong? Long! Complex! Passive voice!

Okay, let me give you the context. It’s not a novel, it’s an analysis of Chinese history and culture, and this is a summary of the book – that the great outward show too often hides the inner truth.

http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Shadows-Simon-Leys/dp/0140047875/

(By the way, I have not read the book, I’m just taken by that opening)

But this art of capturing the essence of a story in a sentence leads me to movie taglines and loglines. (Not that I’ve been approached by Hollywood. Yet.)

Loglines are short descriptions that summarize a film; protagonist, task, antagonist, stakes. These are fun to think up for famous movies.

Frodo, a plucky and resourceful hobbit, must creep into the lands of the lord of darkness, Sauron, to destroy a powerful, magical ring before the armies of evil sweep out and plunge the world of Middle Earth into everlasting night.

This is the movie equivalent of the novel’s “elevator pitch” – a summary of the novel that takes thirty seconds or less.

A tagline (sometimes strapline) is something quite different. They’re the descriptions that end up on the posters advertising the movie. And for LotR, there’s only one possible:

One ring to rule them all.

So what would the logline and tagline be for SoH? 🙂

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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first book, 'Sleight of Hand' is available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/Sa0D3n

18 responses to “Thoughts on writing and marketing”

  1. Jon.Gray says :

    Ok, two of my favorite opening lines are, “Call me Ishmael,” and “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…etc.” There are many more. I need an opening line to really grab me and SoH did just that, for me anyway. I haven’t been able to come up with a log line for SoH, but I( do have a tagline; “Vampires are the flickering illusions of Hollywood…we are the Athanate…”. Just a thought.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      “Call me Ishmael” is one of the truly great lines. Did the novel live up to it? Certainly, it’s there in the pantheon of modern American greats. It’s also an opener, IMO, that grabs even better after you’ve read the story.

      “The best of times” is another great line. I wonder at Dickens’ writing methods & thoughts. I think (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that this would have been serialized and he *had* to catch the readers with the opening scenes. I also kinda agree with Libro that some of his books seem to use filler – he was contracted for 20 sections or whatever and so 20 he had to write. For a much less well known book, have a look at the wonderful, powerful opening paragraphs of Bleak House :

      http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/bleakhouse/2/

      I recommend you do *not* read the rest of the book. 🙂

      The movie tagline that sorta laughs at Hollywood. It might work! It’s certainly what I use for the novel equivalent (see the poster I did for the conference). Thanks.

  2. elkwood says :

    i like that jon

  3. Lauren Sweet says :

    Couldn’t resist the opening line question! One of my favorites is from Silhouette in Scarlet by Elizabeth Peters, the third in her humorous suspense series starring Vicky Bliss: “This time it wasn’t my fault.”

  4. Libro Vore says :

    Please, please, not ‘Tale of Two Cities’! What a worthless, meandering pile of randomness introduced by a pithy phrase! Quote Shakespeare, at least. How about “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”

    To the point, Banquo. I suggest the following longline for SoH:

    Amber Farrell, ex-Special Ops, ex-cop, ex-accountant, was changed when she was almost killed by what DoD called a ‘vampire’. Now, while she’s trying to make a living as a private investigator and wondering if she’s slowly turning into a bloodsucker, she finds the nightlife in Denver is a whole lot more complicated than she thought.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      I think at least half of Shakespeare’s opening lines work wonderfully.

      Nice counterpoint. I’d leave out the cop and accountant, but it’s a good twist to highlight the central ambiguity by saying “what DoD called a ‘vampire'”.

      The whole of SoH as a storyline would be too complex for a movie. This logline illustrates that by focusing on one of the central arcs.

      • Libro Vore says :

        I agree, and apparently that’s the current wisdom–miniseries or series rather than movie. Game of Thrones rather than Ender’s Game. This isn’t a new observation, however–the Dune miniseries was far better, and more comprehensible, than the movie.

      • Mark Henwick says :

        Dune was one of those SciFi greats that was doomed in translation to the screen. When it came out as a novel, a lot of the supporting story infrastructure was still fresh, but they couldn’t seriously address the special effects. By the time they had the special effects, we’d seen too many ninjas, desert warriors, scary mental skills, elite imperial stormtroopers, etc. and we’d had too much recent history on the politics of monopolising essential products.

        Then they tried to condense it into a movie. Bleh.

        Must go watch the TV series.

        I thought Ender’s Game was okay, but such a lot of subtlety is lost.

  5. Richard says :

    amber farrell is about to find out she is not becoming a vampire. there is no such thing as a vampire, there is only Athanate

  6. Jon.Gray says :

    I said it was a great opening line. I also like the ending line, but the stuff in the middle? I muddled through it because it was required reading for “World Lit” my sophomore tear; that was 1962, I think.

    The “Bite Back” series needs a two hour series opener, and then a five to ten year run as a TV series. Start practicing script writing Mark.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Yeah, Bleak House was my set book at school. My opinion might be skewed by that!

      I’m going to sub-contract the script writing and just maintain editorial control – I have too many novels banging around inside my head!

      • Jon.Gray says :

        Well, okay, as long as you don’t let them go too far afield with the story line; they quite often think they know better than the original author. As for those novels banging around in your head? Let them out. Soon. I’m suffering withdrawals and I’m jonesing for another bite!

      • Libro Vore says :

        I hope one of them is Diana’s back-story. Way mysterious, she is.

      • Mark Henwick says :

        Diana’s back story would be like the Encyclopedia Britannica.
        There will be some little glimpses over the next couple of books and a little more detail of why she’s like she is.

        She’s a very powerful figure to put as the PoV character of a complete novel. I may do a novella or short story instead. But not this year – I’m too far behind.

  7. Richard says :

    I know what jon means by withdrawls. I’m just not finding much out there lately. the stories are OK but the authors can’t seem to create the emotional connection with the characters.

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