Friday, September 16, 2011

What I Aspire To: First pages I just LOVE. The Gunslinger by Stephen King

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

OH, to write a more perfect first line.... Could it be possible? Admittedly, I am a raging S. King fan girl of the highest order... but DAMN. 

With a single sentence King has told us everything we need to know. We may not know who the players are on the deepest levels-- but We know enough. 

The man in black is fleeing. He is not a man who is well known. He is a mystery, but he is not a hero. Heroes don't flee.

The gunslinger is defined by what he does. And he is willing to follow a man into the desert to catch him.

The question of what the character wants is wrapped up nicely in this sentence. The gunslinger wants to catch the man in black. We don't know why.  King doesn't bother us with those boring details in these first pages. No, instead he occupies us with the methodical and all consuming hunt. The taciturn and detached manner of our MC (Who is only referred to as "the gunslinger" until you are well past the 100 page mark) tells us more than any long-winded recitation of history could. His deeply ingrained practicality and self awareness is almost abrasive. If he is our hero, how awful must the man in black be?

But despite the cold, calculating manner of the gunslinger there are glimpses of a reluctant humanity. 

"His hat was gone. So was the horn he once carried; gone for years, that horn, spilled form the hand of a dying friend, and he missed them both."

There's an argument to be made for the "both" referred to is the hat and the horn. But that is the genius here. By referring to his dead friend he tips his cards just a bit, allowing the reader a glimpse at the depth of feeling that is buried inside and the tragedy that makes him so doggedly determined.... all without giving us any detailed back story.

So what do I take away from this? Write a character that is complex and interesting because of what they are doing right now. Have them want something from line one and -- more importantly-- have them going after it. 

** I'd like to do a series of What I Aspire To: First Pages I Love and I invite you to help. If you have something to say about the craft and effectiveness of the first 5 pages of your favorite novel(s) let me know. I'd love to get other writer and reader POV's on this topic. Comment below!**