The First Pages
I hope you are familiar with some aesthetic concepts like color and volume balance in painting. These concepts become remarkably crucial as we talk about painting a composition. It is very interesting to me that it seems that there is a natural sense of balance, not only in human beings but in other natural beings too. Perhaps, we share similar mental capacities. Have you ever heard about Pierre Brassau, the French artist? He was well received by the critics in the 60s. Rolf Anderberg of the Göteborgs-Posten wrote, "Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brushstrokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer." Well, it turned out that Pierre Brasseau was actually a chimpanzee. Picasso and Miró, each acquired a Brassau painting.
Congo was the name of another fellow painter. What impressed me the most is his sense of balance. If he was confronted with the sketch of a square in the middle of a sheet, he would paint from the center of the page. On the other hand, if he was confronted with the same square on the left side of the sheet, he would begin to draw at the right of the square. This is exactly what would be expected from a human artist. The following image depicts Congo and one of his paintings.
I do not know about you all, but I think it is just beautiful!!! The link directs you to a deeper analysis of Congo as an artist by Desmond Morris.
A Natural Sense Of Balance
It has always seemed to me that the sense of balance is a practical response to a mathematical perception of reality that naturally works inside of our minds. What is small and close to the center is equivalent to something big and away from the center. Doesn't it sound like the law of the lever in physics? When we try to equilibrate some elements along a lever in a harmonic fashion, we are creating a horizontally pleasant arrangement of them.
Ok. Now I would like you to consider the sinusoidal line mentioned in my last article. Could you arrange the several elements of your scene, to include themes, plot and character development, in a sinusoidal wave? Notice that the peaks of this wave represent moments of dramatic intensity. They can be created not only by the accomplishments of the main character throughout the plot but also by highly charged circumstances, intense moments of eroticism, impressive memories from the main character, etc. The valleys would represent, in my particular view, the release of tension by those circumstances, and not necessarily the encounter of another obstacle.
As I said before, maybe the actions in a scene are not dynamic enough for the story to stick to a sinusoidal line. These actions may not be violent, risky, or heroic like in a Mission Impossible movie. Then, you can recall some of your themes to help you reach that wavy storyline. They are not going to create a sinusoidal sequence of actions, but they will add the interest that the plot needs to form a wavy progression influencing the emotions of the reader.
Some Music To Enjoy
The best analogy that I can think of is music (music, not songs). Take, for example, Schubert, Trio op. 100 - Andante con moto (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e52IMaE-3As). In the beginning, the melody is carried by the cello or the piano, but soon, it is divided into the integrative contribution of all the instruments. Sometimes, their contribution is so specific and dosed that, in isolation, they even sound strange and dissociated from the rest. All the instruments together create the illusion of a wavy melody. Try to isolate the sound of one instrument from the others to see what I am referring to. Your wavy story should ideally be composed like this by suitable handling of your themes, plot and character development accompanied by a wise use of language and syntax. As a sort of exercise, I will initiate a chapter from where the story will try to stick to a wavy line.
A Practical Example
I am one of those writers who make guidelines, develop themes, character patterns and intertwine them throughout the novel before I write the first page. Nevertheless, after reading an article about the first chapter (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/critique-10-ways-to-write-a-better-first-chapter-with-specific-word-choices/), I decided to give it a try and initiate the first page of my novel:
Philip, son of Philip the Good, remained staring at the ground after saying everything that had petrified to his mother's maidens. At the same time, he felt as much that his mother deserved it as he shouldn't have said it. However, there was in his harsh words some sort of justice, or revenge, which weighed more, endorsed what was said and dignified the silence throughout the bedroom.
"Do you accuse me of being cruel? " He had answered his mother. "Cruelty was cleaning my own vomit with my hair in the middle of the night when I was a sick child. Cruelty was leaving me without gifts at Christmas when my father was gone. Cruelty was breaking my clay toys with a broom. Cruelty was jumping on the lute that my father left me until it turned into splinters. Cruelty was to pretend, as many times as you could, to send away George with strangers until you see him scream in terror. Cruelty was to destroy the small pond that George had built and kill his fish. Cruelty..."
Felipe paused and sighed.
His mother, exaggeratedly opening her eyes, asked:
"Me? I have never done that!"
The livid maidens looked at the carpet begging to become invisible so that the rage of the mother nor the son would not detect them.
"If I were you, mother," Philip continued, "I would not use the word cruelty until the end of my days, which in your case are not so many."
The Example Dissected
The actions from the plot are very simple. They are not the kind of actions that would create some stress in the reader; not life-threatening, nor danger of any kind. Philip, the feudal Lord, talks to his mother, leaves her bedroom, goes downstairs, crosses the interior garden of the castle, goes upstairs and enters his chambers. Nevertheless, since this simple plot will be on the first pages of a long novel, they must be engaging. We know that, in order to be engaging, the reading must go through a sinusoidal guideline. Most of all, the very first page has to impact the reader and make him interested in the story. The waving emotions in the reader's mind will hardy come from the plot itself; it´s too simple. So, what do we do? We get the emotions we need from managing the themes in the story, selecting them and locating conveniently over the simple plot.
The themes I decided to introduce in this "overture" to my novel are the following: 1) the different personalities and psychological patterns of some of my characters which belong, in general, to the character development theme, 2) the brotherhood between Philip and George, 3) metallurgy: the use of blood in sword forging, 4) a particular pattern in child abuse which belongs more to the main hypothesis of the novel rather than character development and it´s essential for the plot, 5) medieval witch-hunting, 6) abuse of power, 7) medieval peasant's revolts, 8) the deep conflicts between Philip and George.
Yes, Philip talks to her mother, but in what way? I am using the first theme I pointed out before: character development. The short dialogue between them reflects a horrifying past that has affected and molded Philip´s personality. He has been abused by his cruel mother, but he also has learned to be cruel. His last words are cruel to say. His mother shows symptoms of a psychopathic personality: the denial of reality. The past behavior of his mother is against nature; it is not what you would expect from a mother. Although it is just a short conversation, the dialogue is horrifying enough that is engaging. K.M. Weiland commented: "Definitely grabs me." Although the plot for this overture is so simple, the outraging revelations from the dialogue create the first peak in our wavy guideline.
We could consider that we succeded in grabbing the attention of the reader and he is on a peak of the sinusoidal line of reading. Do the same with the first page of your story. Layout the plot of your overture for your first chapter. Decide what themes are relevant for this first chapter. Then, begin to compose the wavy line by adding interest, excitement, deception or pessimism to the plot actions, using references suggested by the themes of your novel. Remember, the valleys of this wavy line represent a release of tension too, not only a moment of defeat or misfortune. Also, notice that the dialogue seems to be isolated by now. The sum of all thematic contributions will create the story in the same way all of the instrumental sounds create the musical idea through the Shubert´s Andante. Now, we can paint a story more naturally, almost by intuition, as Congo painted!
See you in the next blog post and remember... if you can dream of it, you can do it.