A little over a month ago, literary agent Donald Maass in his monthly contribution on Writer Unboxed wrote about casting the spell on readers to get them immersed in a story that it’s similar to being lulled into a dreamlike state.
This spell casting consists of a narrative voice that charms you to follow it into a story that comes alive (or not, Maass adds). He writes, “Sadly, not every narrative voice quickly takes charge and assures us that it is okay to dream. All should. From the darkest horror to the frothiest comedy, novels can immediately put us under a spell but too often they don’t. The voice relating the tale is far off, timid, or false; a huckster’s voice selling us a sideshow trick or the phony intimacy of a presumptuous stranger.”
Towards the end of the article, he invited readers to share their opening so he could comment. I took the plunge and shared my opening prologue to Julius from Alvah’s perspective. Here it is, warts and all:
The Lower Eastside, November 2008
I am watching you. I have been for a long time.
You sit in the redwood gazebo in the small, neighborhood park that preserves the memory of the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., glancing over your shoulder, you notice the two men in dark overcoats sitting at the plaza across the street. A sigh escapes from your lips as you contemplate your decision.
I am tempted to make my presence known. However, the time isn’t right to offer my counsel. Soon I will be there to guide you. To be your confidant. Your friend.
We are kindred spirits—you and I—no matter how far we’ve been kept apart by decades, distance, and death.
We are fellow travelers—comrades.
You scan the horizon. It is a typical New York winter; the sky is flat, gray-white.
It looks like it might snow.
And you remember.
A day so much like today—a cold Sunday with a flat, gray-white sky.
It’s 1980: Israel and Egypt established diplomatic relations. President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics. The US minimum wage was $3.10.
Yet none of this mattered because you were only ten-years-old.
What mattered was the story your grandfather told you that day and how one man’s name would change the course of your life.
Just an aside, this was fine-tuned many times, especially when I’m feeling stuck—as I often am with this story. This was Don’s response, “Great opening lines, but I must say I quickly lost interest. That’s a disappointment because your story idea and choice of guardian angel POV are so cool.
There’s a lot of information here but less sense that there is something that we urgently need to understand. I’d trade a lot of the intrigue for a little bit of what truly matters in this moment to this angel.”
Sigh. Was I disappointed? Not really. Why? Because it’s just one agent’s opinion, and there are plenty out there to query. Does it need more work or should I completely scrap it? I’ll let you know when I’m done with this final do over.
So…the question is do you agree with Don or would you turn the page, allowing this narrative voice to lull you into the dream?