Monday, May 18, 2009

The Implicit Promise

In August, I am planning to attend the Pacific Coast Children's Writer's Workshop. It's an intensive hands-on workshop. In preparation, I'm diving into some of the recommended reading and trying out some of the writing exercises. Since I think it will help me to absorb the information, I'm going to blog about the process and include some of he exercises. So, here we go. This is from Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress. (My adaptation.)

Every story makes an implicit promise to its reader in the opening scene. Two promises, actually--one is emotional, the other is intellectual. Stories should make us feel and think.

The emotional promise is to entertain, thrill, scare, sadden, uplift the reader.

The intellectual promise is to show the reader the world from a differenct perspective, to confirm what the reader already believes about the world, or show the reader a different more interesting world.

A romance promises to entertain, to confirm our belief that love can conquer all, to carry the reader to another world where the main character (and by identification, the reader) is beautiful and loved.

A mystery promises an intellectual challenge, confirmation that we can make sense of the events around us, and the satisfaction that justice prevails.

Let's pull out some books and see for ourselves.

This is the opening paragraph of The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander:

Miss Vesper Holly has the digestive talents of a goat and the mind of a chess master. She is familiar with half a dozen languages and can swear fluently in all of them. She understands the use of a slide rule but prefers doing calculations in her head. She does not hesitate to risk life and limb--mine as well as her own. No doubt she has other qualities as yet undiscovered. I hope not.

The implicit promise: I am in for an adventure. I like Miss Vesper Holly already, and I am certain that she is going to get our narrator into some harrowing situation. The world from Miss Holly Vesper's daring eyes is worth checking out. Already we have two characters and potential conflict. All in one paragraph.

This is the opening of Trembling Earth by Kim L. Siegelson:

The cloud-softened light of early mornglowm lay atop the swamp water like a slick of pure gold. Hamp stood in the stern of his punt boat, letting his pole drag the bottom until he stalled in the gold-tinted channel that led home to Pinder Island.

"Gilded fine as any street in heaven," Pap had said once of such a spectacle--back when pap knew more about heaven than he did about hell.

The implicit promise: This story will take me to an unfamiliar world of the swamp. Hamp knows his way around the swamp, but there's trouble brewing. The trouble centers around his dad. I anticipate sadness. This story is going to confirm to me that father and son relationships are essential, and I hope redeemable.

Now you try it. Pull out the books you're reading and look at the first paragaph or the first page. What implicit promise has the writer made to you?

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