Friday, December 7, 2012


Beginning sentences and paragraphs of novels and short stories are matters of urgency and significance.  How ever slapdash or tradition bound your own beginnings may have been, you have never resorted to beginning either with the word "it."

You have in fact gone out of your way to begin novels or short stories with the word "it," and, as though this may have been the only thing you have ever taught yourself about the craft you seek to pursue with some dignity and companionable tone, you have resisted reading novels or short stories beginning with he word "it."

A number of important factors ride in on the horse of the first sentence, not the least of them the reader's sense of belief and concern, because a reader who picks up a novel or story in the first place has likely done so out of an understanding of the process in the first place and a willingness to continue in the second place.

As a direct consequence of your wish not to be thrown out of your accommodations, you have not read--nor will you--Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities,nor Paul Clifford, the novel from Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  You made exceptions for Miss Austen and Mr. Orwell, but Paul Auster's 1985 venture, City of Glass, had the word twice.  Of course you pardoned Ray Bradbury, for beginning Fahrenheit 451 with an it, because--well, because he was Ray Bradbury, and for a few years at this time of the calendar, you used to deliver his mail.

Most of the time, when a sentence begins with the word "it," you reflexively ask "what?" which fact throws you out of the story like an overbearing usher at a concert, demanding to see your ticket stubs.  The only "what" a reader should have is a "what now?" as opposed to "What was neither the best of times nor the worst of times?" or "What was a truth universally recognized?" although you have to admit Miss Austen was right in there, letting you know before the question had much of an opportunity to distract you.

You have no desire to become distracted from a story.  In fact, you hope to become absorbed in it to the point of knowing you'll be back at it from time to time, hopeful of picking up coded hints about behavior and understanding as they relate to the human condition.  Much as you relive actual events in order to catch some essence of sweetness or wisdom or understanding from the Reality about you, you understand how precious story is, how it builds through its relentless focus on event and action, causing you to reflect on what you may have missed last time through.

Even stories you read more for the choreography of action and movement are stories that do not begin with the word "it."

You want stories to begin with names of persons or with persons in the midst of some activity of some consequence.

All too true that you on occasion begin sentences with the word "it" when you are speaking, even lecturing, but your defense here is that you are attempting to commit to muscle memory ways of beginning sentences with almost any word other than freaking "it."

Regarding these previous paragraphs as a sort of running balance or account, you are aware you have revealed a longstanding feud between you and the word "it."  You have such antagonistic relationships with other, idiosyncratically chosen words,among them "that," which you will go to great lengths to avoid, and the word "as," when used to warn the reader of forthcoming parallelism, such as, "As Jim entered the room..." which takes two separate actions, runs them through the blender, and minimizes the effect of either one.

This is written with the sense of words needing to be chosen with deliberation and care; each has a job and a raft of potential implications.  You want to be sure of two things.  You want assurance you understand what's at stake.  After that, you wish to be sure your characters understand the implications of the drama in which they are appearing.  Only then can such readers as there might be have hopes of "getting" your intent.

It was raining.

What was raining?

It was cold.

What was cold?

Thus two of numerous potentials, illustrated, to show how a single word can and does throw the reader out of the narrative, much in the manner of a hitchhiker, returned to the road after making the mistake of putting the bite on the driver who picked him up.

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