Jun 10, 2012

The brilliance of Graceling, a bloghop and a winner

 Thanks to everyone who stopped by last week and voted in an informal poll. I had to take it off my blog due to a weird formatting glitch but the results were helpful.

 Tied for first place was diagramming of successful YA, and a fun bloghop. For the next several Mondays, I'll be examining passages from popular YA books (if you have a title suggestion, let me know) and preparing for a Most Embarrassing Writing Moment bloghop sometime in July.  I need a co-host or three. It'll be a one-day hop with a People's Choice prize-to-be-determined. If you're interested in co-hosting, email me.

Random.org choose Michelle of Books on the Run to receive an ARC of ARTICLE 5. Yay! Michelle, I'll be emailing you soon.
Now, on to examining the brilliance that is Kristen Cashore's Graceling...
I first read this book as an ARC when I was working in a middle school library in 2009. The cover caught me first - that shiny, glinting sword with the girl's eye peering out at me. And then the blurb mentioning a female spy/fighter who was Graced with kick ass power.  (I mean that literally: Katsa is able to kick anyone's ass.) Right away, Cashore appealed to the latent ass-kicker in me because even though I've never been in a physical fight in my life, that hasn't meant part of me didn't want to be. I'm just too small (and too smart) to pit myself against the odds. My teeth are fine where they are, thank you. But if I could kick ass with impunity...well, then, BRING IT ON.
So I was hooked enough to flip open the cover. The first paragraph is all about setting - the dungeon, the smell of moss and damp, the feel of cold stone and flickering torch light. As a reader, I love tactile hints of setting  - they draw me in, give my brain lots of clues to trick myself into going into that hypnotic state only good writers create. But Cashore doesn't stay here long. She tells me in the third paragraph why we're here: Katsa has been sent for the guards. It was for them she was sent first.

As a reader, I'm wonder what the heck that means and turn the page. Katsa dispatches four guards before amazement had even registered in their eyes. There was only one more guard, sitting before the cell bars at the end of the corridor. He scrambled to his feet and slid his sword from his sheath. Katsa walked toward him, certain the the torch at her back hid her face, and particularly her eyes, from his sight. She measured his size, the way he moved, the steadiness of the arm that held the sword toward her.
"Stop there. It's clear enough what you are." His voice was even. He was brave, this one. He cut the air with his sword, in warning. "You don't frighten me."
He lunged toward her. She ducked under his blade and whirled her foot out, clipping his temple. He dropped to the ground.

Cashore shows me four things in this short piece of writing. (There would be five if I'd included the first two graphs of setting but I didn't want to make this post super long.)
BLUE - character building -  Katsa is a fast and efficient fighter. She's been trained and she doesn't waste time.
GREEN - play to engage reader sympathy - Katsa notices the guard's behavior with approval; it shows us both her business-like attitude and her fairness. It's important we root for her despite her ass-kicking abilities and showing us her other qualities makes us like her. A few sentences later, this impression is reinforced when she treats the knocked-out guards gently.
YELLOW - backstory/worldbuilding. Her eyes give away what she is, although her attempt to hide this from her next opponent isn't successful. He's guessed it from everything that's just happened. This tells us that her ability is widely recognized and feared in her world.
RED  - mystery. Why does she hide what she is? It isn't for her protection (she obviously needs none) so I have to read on to figure it out.
Cashore does all this in less than 500 words. Her writing is tightly designed to give your brain all the tools it needs to stay engaged - setting, sympathy, intrigue, mystery, a hint of a world to explore. This is exactly what agents are talking about when they say: write tight, keep it moving, hook me fast.

What are some other examples of great opening scenes?



8 comments:

Madeleine Maddocks said...

Thought provoking comments highlighted here. There is such a richness that can be created in just a few lines of prose.

Emily R. King said...

I just finished this book last night. It was SO good. I devoured it in two days. And I admit to having a huge crush on Po. The ending made me teary!

Alleged Author said...

Now I'm definitely going to have to read it. My TBR pile is piling up!

Nicole said...

I got this book from the library a while back and didn't actually get around to reading it. *head-desk* I've heard so many great things, I've gotta go give it another try.

elizabeth seckman said...

You have this down to a science! How very impressive!

Daisy Carter said...

Excellent post! I love this idea of diagramming (which is why I voted for it, lol).

I just read the sample for Shatter Me and was hooked by the opening. It was crazy original and sucked me right in. So looking forward to reading the rest of it!

Lisa Regan said...

I love the way you broke that down. That kind of thing helps me learn as a writer, big time! Great post!

Deana said...

Graceling was amazing. I couldn't put out down! I really like how your taking good books to break down the writing. Great idea!
And I would really like to help with your blogfest, but I'm getting ready to start packing for a move...again and it might get crazy.