Emotional Writer

I confess. I am an emotional writer. Worst still, it tends to be the negative emotions which send my fingers tapping out the most productive rhythms on my keyboard.

Anger certainly stimulates my creative juices. The memoir I completed earlier this year sprung out of my anger at my father when he died and left me his mess to clean up. As I walked through his house the day after his death and saw the accumulation of stuff, stuff I knew was there but hadn’t paid attention to, I became furious with him. He had had over thirty years to do something about it but never had. My anger turned into a profusion of words and, four years later, a memoir. I have to admit it became almost impossible to write the number of words I needed to as my anger faded over time and my knowledge of my father and his life increased. By the end of my memoir I had wrung the last drop of anger from my system and had made peace with my father in a way which never happened while he was alive.

Sadness and depression are two more emotions which ensure words will flow onto the page. The further I sink into the darkness, the more prolific I am. When I was younger, a teenager, I poured my sorrow into excruciatingly bad poetry. I cringe when I think of it. But at the time it served its purpose. This tossing of words onto a page is therapeutic, a better solution for me than any drug. Thank goodness I concentrate on prose nowadays instead of poetry.

But not all negative emotions spur me on. Hatred does nothing for me. I have tried to pour my hate onto a page but I cannot sustain it. Maybe I just don’t hate anyone enough. I usually decide not to use up energy on people who aren’t worthy of my time. Envy doesn’t work either. I have tried to maintain written resentment, but I can’t. Perhaps I’m content with my life. Or maybe I simply can’t see the point of owning too many material things. Fear does not motivate me. It could be because I am not often afraid. Although certain bumps in the night can raise my heart beat but I certainly don’t race out of bed to write about them.

Strangely enough, being happy does not make me want to write about it. I don’t know why. Maybe I simply like basking in happiness when it hits, like soaking in a hot bath, I just enjoy the moment while it lasts.

Although not an emotion, curiousity often leads me to devising plots and story lines and from there to writing a hesitant few lines, sometimes a chapter. But I have never ventured any further, never tried my hand at detective stories, I don’t have the confidence to pull one off but perhaps I should look at this as a challenge.

The importance of a great opening sentence

The words which have the most importance, which must have the most impact, and can be the most difficult to write, are the words which form the opening sentence of the book you are either writing or reading. I spend days and sometimes weeks before beginning to write, tossing words around in my head like some sort of mixed salad entree, hoping they will fall perfectly on the page, pleasing the eye and tempting the reader to sample more of the story.

Is it best to begin with a statement, or a question? Should the sentence be an enigma or the beginning of a mystery? Perhaps it should set the scene, or the geography of the story, or introduce at least one of the characters.

The memoir I finished writing, the one which is now sitting in a publisher’s office, hopefully about to be read by the said publisher, begins like this “I’ve had time to think about it and you really did choose an awkward time to die.” I’m fond of the line, I can only hope a publisher somewhere will also be fond of it.

But there are so many great opening sentences out there in the world of words and books and literature, some of my favourites are:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between.

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin.

“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” Paul Auster, City of Glass.

Each of the sentences above says just enough to intrigue the reader, drawing them onto the edge of the story and enticing them to the end of the first page, the second, the third and onward until the end of the tale. I wonder how long each of the authors above took to write those sentences? I wonder if they slaved over them as I do, or whether the words simply tumbled off the end of their pen, or tapped onto the page inserted in their typewriter. I wonder how long it will take me to write the opening sentence of the novel I am planning.