Opening Sentences

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”

Recognize that quotation? The last three words make it impossible to miss. One sentence, fifty-nine words, as I count them, in the opening to Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. No tip toeing slowly into the lake for Poe’s audience. He entices the reader along the pier and plunges him head first into the depths. In fifty-nine words Poe engages the reader, visually, mentally and emotionally with that of the lone rider. Ominous at the start, the story can only build to horror.

After working for several days on revisions of chapter fifteen of my book, Steeple in the Distance, I found myself still unsatisfied. My lab rate failed to become connected emotionally to the characters in the chapter. I was not surprised, even I as the author sensed a disconnect. I left the work for contemplation over the weekend.  As we visited at our son’s during those days, the above quote came into the discussion. It pointed me to the problem. I had failed to begin with a strong sense of direction, a foundation that would build to the conclusion of the chapter. I had failed in my opening sentence(s). (Any fifty-nine word sentence certainly would have every modern editor slashing and hacking it into submission. My plea, “Poe did it, why can’t I?” would rightly go unheeded.)

“Try again.” Poe encourages me. The Monday duties of my day job, wife-ing, mothering, housekeeping, will give me ample opportunity to contemplate the words required to open the chapter. Words that will satisfy myself, my lab rat, and Poe as well.

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