I didn’t hear it coming.
For an opening line I think it works. What do you think?
See what coming? Exactly!
The reader is going keep reading to find out, and isn’t that the overarching purpose of the first sentence—to compel the reader to read the second sentence. Etc.
I was going to write a blog piece on “openings.” By examining the first paragraphs of my upcoming book, The Writer in Love, I would assess the effectiveness of my beginning, see if it…
- Established a Central Question
- Made a promise
- Set a trajectory
But that opening line got hold of me and wouldn’t let go. It wanted this blog post all to itself.
I sure didn’t see that coming.
Then it hit me—that line echoed far beyond Page One. So innocently tossed onto the page many months ago, it infected the entire manuscript, becoming a major motif throughout the book.
The cheetah is the first and most obvious thing I didn’t see coming. It approached me from behind and grabbed my hand in its mouth and wouldn’t let to. True story. I didn’t see it coming was the perfect way to establish an essential fact of fiction:
Protagonists never see it coming.
Drama depends on it.
Protagonists don’t see what coming? That which will destroy them. For their own good! It’s amazing how many times we can hear the poets and the mystics say something like this…
“Our body is a ship that sails on deep blue waters. What is our goal? To be shipwrecked!”
And still we complain, “I didn’t see it coming.”
Neither do writers see it coming.
We get in over our heads, trust me. We get excited about creating the kinds of payoffs that give readers their money’s worth. We find ourselves writing about characters whose only way out of Act II is to surrender to the storm, and by that I mean forsake who they’ve always thought they were.
I didn’t see that I was laying a trap for myself by trying to write in depth about such sacred story mechanics. I was in way over my head. I was drowning, myself. I almost quit. I didn’t see that coming, either.
I wrote a scene in which I drown. (That was fun.) I didn’t see that coming, either.
I never expected to take almost two years to write The Writer in Love.
To be honest, I never anticipated becoming a writer. I was going to be a mapmaker.
I never thought I’d have children until I tended my grandfather on his deathbed.
Nor did I imagine my children having children!
I didn’t foresee my website vanishing a few weeks ago. I thought I’d lost everything. I was resigned to starting over, but most of it is resurrected, and with a new design. Look, I’m blogging again!
The cool thing about blogging is you can start with a line like, I didn’t see it coming, and see where it goes. Because we don’t write to explain, we write to find out.
We might equally say that we live to find out.
I’ve found out a lot while writing The Writer in Love. And it all started with this opening scene:
I didn’t hear it coming.
It hadn’t finished devouring the bait when my Bolex ran out of film, so I retreated but slowly, walking away through the elephant grass when it surprised me from behind by clamping down on my hand hard enough to hold me but not break the skin. The growl in its guts, I could feel the vibration in my arm if you can imagine that. And then in my own belly. It’s a funny thing when your life stops suddenly dead in its tracks, it’s not funny at all because there you are for the first time without a future. As for the past, well, it’s your fault—my fault!—I had been carrying the bloody bait in that hand. Of course, the cat could smell it. I could see that now.
I should have seen it coming.