Welcome to this month's trio of reviews. I've also got some tips on how to start a story.
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
I'd read an abridged version of this story and such was my intrigue with it that I opted to buy an unabridged edition. It is a terrific tale of how one man, Robinson Crusoe, uses every ounce of wit and determination he possesses to cheat certain death after being shipwrecked on an uncharted island. We get a detailed documentation of the years he spent on the island and how he lived, from making tools with lumber, to building fortifications, domesticating wild animals and harvesting food - the works! We also witness a display of ever-erratic human emotions in the form of Crusoe's self-reproach ceremonies, applaudable bravery followed by crippling paranoia, spiritual highs and lows, and other such personality meltdowns. However, there is very little by way of action and no significant plot twists - but if you're a lover of stories about escape, survival and romanticised human-ingenuity, you'll probably appreciate this book nonetheless. I did.
Sparrow - Michael Morpurgo
This is the story of Joan of Arc, told from her own perspective as she enters and passes each phase of her life. Sounds promising doesn’t it? I myself thought it would be an interesting way of trying to understand a historical hero, but sadly it didn't quite work. I couldn't get past the fictional aspects of it, therefore Joan's behaviour, speech and thoughts simply didn’t make an impact on me. Michael Morpurgo uses as many of Joan's true statements as possible, but that didn't help either. So although it's a well-written and enjoyable story, it didn't enchant me as much as I'd hoped, what with Joan being my favourite historical person and all.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiyah Vol 10 - Nagaru Tangiawa
I've only ever read one volume of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya before and I didn't like it, mainly because I wasn't fond of the art. But after (reluctantly) reading vol 10 due to strong (almost violent) recommendations (I kid), I was able to look past my disappointment with the illustrations and focus more on the story. Very briefly, TMOHS series is about an average (pffsh, of course) high-school student called Kyon who is (inevitably) the only one that can get eccentric class-mate Haruhi Suzumiya to open up. Very quickly, he finds himself tangled in her web of madness when he accidentally becomes a member of her club dedicated to uncovering mysteries; The SOS Brigade. Here he meets time-traveller Mikuru Asahina, Asperger Itsuki Koizumi and Alien Yuki Nagato. In this volume we have a love crisis! Someone has fallen head-over-heels for Nagato, much to the complete bafflement of the entire Brigade. And mine. I was in stitches from laughing so hard throughout the confession, but after the laughs there is a serious side to the story which I really valued for its uniqueness and understated take on love at first sight, which includes sci-fi elements that make it so awesome. The book ends in a cliff hanger where the Brigade members are amidst yet another mystifying occurrence; trapped in an alternate dimension - in the alps!
Writing Tips: What's a good way to start a story?
Here are three examples of an opening paragraph:
(1) It was a lazy Midsummer's afternoon. The sky was clear and the sun was bright over Fawnbury Street. Terraced and whitewashed houses sprawled comfortably at the end of well-kept lawns. Most people were indoors, it was too hot to be out, except a few hyperactive kids who rattled up and down the pavement clutching crumpled bottles of water, determined to stand up to the searing heat.
(2) I'd missed the bus. Again. Here's how; I leave the house early but half way down the road I realise I've forgot my GCSE Maths textbook. So I run back and grab it. Halfway down the road again, on the exact same spot, I feel the first spit of rain on my nose. I stop to ponder as to whether I should go fetch my umbrella or just wing it. I'm no good with decision making so a good minute or two passes. By this time, it's raining pretty fast and gaining momentum. So I turn around and run once more back home.
"What is it this time?" Mum yells from the kitchen.
"Umbrella." I call back.
(3) Rory took a frightened glance behind him. He couldn't tell if the thing was still chasing him or not, but what he knew for certain was even more terrifying; he'd lost his little sister in the hurry to get away. Rory sat down against a tree and looked at his wounded leg. The cuts dealt to him by the ominous creature were ugly and deep. He tore off a strand of his sleeve and wrapped it around the wound, wincing as the pain intensified, hoping to subdue the bleeding but it didn't help much. The blood only seeped through, making the cloth sag then fall off. Still panting he wiped some sweat of his brow and carried on running.
I'm no psychic but I'll guess you skimmed examples 1 and 2. That's because most of us don't find trivial problems and the weather forecast deeply entertaining. No. 3 is more catchy because something is happening and being human, we always want to know what that is. Therefore, a great way to grab a reader's attention is to start your story with action, speech or an idea.