CRAFT: Opening scenes–what do you call these?

Remember a while ago how I talked about some novels opening with the equivalent of (in film) an “establishing shot,” a passage that’s in a memoir-type tone or in an omniscient voice . . . after which we “zoom in” and the next paragraph begins the narrative in third person or first person? Well, I’m looking for a few examples of this from the classics and/or from popular novels. If you can think of one off the top of your head, leave me a comment, would you? It’ll be a feather in your cap. (The one off the top of your head, I mean.) I’d also like to know what it’s called, if the technique has a name.

Here’s SORT OF what I mean, from Jane Austen, the opening of _Pride and Prejudice_:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”

From three of my novels (I seem to like doing this sometimes). . . .

(romantic comedy with suspense subplot)

All the Underwoods have guardian angels.

Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life. A few are sure they’ve barely missed out–having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.

Kay Underwood Fisher was one of the latter.

She hadn’t seen her angel, but she knew she definitely had one. Because otherwise, that truck would have taken her out a nanosecond ago.

“Help!” she shouted, flailing her arms from the muddy puddle she’d landed in at the curb. “I think I’ve broken my ankle.”

In a first-person narrative, it’s not quite as unusual to do a bit of musing about philosophy as we open. I know that Vonnegut does this, as does Philip K. Dick.

(women’s fiction with paranormal elements)

My life is filled with little rituals. I don’t know when or how I invented them; I simply know I have them, even if I don’t always rationally believe they work. Like blowing a kiss for luck when I see a black cat. Or whistling at every passing yellow VW.

Since childhood, I’ve acknowledged the power of folk traditions and superstitions. Everyone knocks on wood and avoids the thirteenth floor. Who doesn’t cross her fingers now and then? But the most powerful rite is more abstract: do something selfless, something selfish, then a random, anonymous act of kindness. In that order. Within a span of forty-eight hours.

This is the charm that heals, I hope. This week the ritual started when I gave away my place on the DART train to a kid desperate to get home. Then I indulged in several scanty bras for no reason at all. As for the third, it has to stay anonymous for the magic to work.
And I need some magic in my life right now.

The supermarket is busy, even though it’s ten in the morning on a weekday. While I’m loading my groceries into the back seat, I keep thinking about how my luck has taken such a turn for the worse lately. I suspect I’ve botched one of my rituals-of-three. But how can you undo something when you don’t even know what it is you’ve done? I can’t help wondering what I’m going to do about the jinx I’ve thereby put on myself.

Because luck is everything.

(A Southern Gothic women’s fiction–think _Fried Green Tomatoes_ or _Steel Magnolias_)

Some women pray every night that God will send them a child. Other women pray every morning that He won’t, that He’ll forgive just one more mistake. And you can never predict which one you’ll be when the time comes.

At least that was what Gram always said.

Starla Campbell was stomach sick again, but she couldn’t let herself think about the possibility that she might be P.G., because even though she was pretty sure whose baby it probably was, she wasn’t ready to think about that yet. Especially now that she was just about to get her big break tonight, singing with The Doggetts.

She would just pray this away. She smoothed down her prairie skirt and readjusted the hateful pink gingham peasant blouse that made her look like a real peasant. No sense borrowing trouble. She’d have plenty of time to fret later, if there turned out to be anything to worry about.

Right now she only knew she never wanted tuna casserole again. She cleaned up the restaurant’s rusty employee bathroom after herself as best she could and hurried to repair her makeup; it was already five minutes into her shift, and Lou Ann would throw a hissy if Starla didn’t hustle her little fanny out there to wait on those conventioneers.

Do you like this kind of opening? Why or why not?


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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