But the exercise did highlight something for me about what I don't like to read. The novel that announces itself, importantly and somewhat pompously (to me) in the first couple of paragraphs. Like this:
Michael is sitting with Madeleine in the lounge room of her flat. There is a guitar on the floor. Everywhere, Michael imagines, in all the houses, on all the floors, there are guitars. The guitar and the decade go together. Once, it was the Age of the Piano. Pianos, he imagines, marked the leisurely passing of time in a more leisurely age than this.*Zzzzz. I know there are some of you out there who will have no problem with this as an opening. You'll be intrigued to know who Michael is, why he is imagining these things. Not me. But I think my big complaint about this is the "announcing" tone of voice, that says, "Look at me, I'm thoughtful and deep and literary. And besides, I'm in first person."
How about this one?
This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.This is a story that definitely and deliberately announces itself. The storytelling tone is part of the voice and style, and I've read articles where the author says the tone was how she chose to tell the story. Mind you, there was some criticism of it, with comments that said it sounded too old-fashioned.
"Where are my babies?" said the exhausted mother when the ordeal was through. "Show to me my babies."
The father mouse held the one small mouse up high. "There is only this one," he said. "The others are dead."**
Tone is something that is not much discussed in fiction writing. We tend to talk about voice, which can be confusing. Whose voice? The voice of the main character? The voice of the author? The voice of the story or narrator? What voice do you get when you use third person omniscient? Will it always be a narrator's voice? Take a look at Hemingway sometime. How would you describe the voice in "Hills Like White Elephants"? I'm not sure there is one. But I could certainly describe the tone, how it sounds to me. Passionately dispassionate! So much emotion, kept rigidly at arms length. But I'm afraid, to me, my first excerpt above sounds like "Look at me, look at me!" writing. Feel free to disagree!
* The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll (and yes, I know it won the Miles Franklin)
** The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo