I’ve just read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I highly recommend it. This week, I’ll be examining five techniques he makes use of, and the first is one he uses at the beginning of the prologue:
I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel uncomfortable, as if I were in a stolen uniform, or pretending to be an adult. Today they gave me comfort of a kind. I was wearing the right clothes for a hard day.
Nowhere in the description above is the word “funeral” mentioned, but we get it. We ALSO want to know who died and who the “I” is, and we’re about to be even more confused as we see this person “pretending to be an adult” about to drive and have thoughts about his adult life:
It was only then that I realized where I was going, where I had been going all along, and I grimaced at my own foolishness. I had been driving toward a house that had not existed for decades.”
As you’ll discover if you read the book, there’s a flimsy line between past, present, and future in this fantasy, and we’re given a taste of it here, at the very beginning of the book. And now, there’s even more mystery–the main character is driving toward a house that doesn’t exist? What’s going on?
What happens here, on the very first page, is through a solid description of the clothing the character is wearing and minimal description of where he is and what he’s up to, and a bit of confusion as to why he’s “pretending to be an adult,” mystery is created and pathos is too–we care about this character who seems a bit confused about everything and is obviously dealing with a death on top of it all.
It’s not a funeral; it’s a New Year’s Eve party. Everyone around your main character is having a fantastic time, but show how SHE is uncomfortable in the clothes she’s wearing and the people she’s with. Something else entirely is on her mind, something that’s been bothering her all week. Write the scene.
Coming tomorrow: Gaiman’s use of THE ECHO (the echo, the echo, the echo…)