The Story Sisters, by
Alice Hoffman, was interesting enough, and literary, with some very beautiful pieces
of writing and many fascinating details.
Often the style, however, struck me as choppy. Example:
"The heat had settled on Claire's skin and she looked flushed. She was drinking a glass of vodka and soda. She was a nervous wreck. She didn't know if happiness would suit
her. She wasn't prepared for it." (pg
320, hardcover edition). There are many
examples like this. Lots of sentences of
the same length and structure, starting with "she" or
"they" or a name, all in a row.
I also hated having to read
through the fake language of the sisters. I knew they were speaking in their own
tongue. I didn't need to see it every
The story was dark:
one tragedy or loss after another.
Drugs. Abuse. Emptiness. Death. I really got involved in the characters'
lives, though sometimes I wished there was a little less dwelling on past
wrongs and past errors. They dwelled and
dwelled and dwelled, and let this dwelling ruin their lives, until at some
points I wanted to tell them, "Get over yourselves and try to be
happy!" But this was probably the
message of the book, and a something a lot easier to say than do.
It was a book that held me in its world, even if I didn't completely
love it. From reviews I've read by avid Hoffman fans, this may not be the best example of her work. Explore Alice Hoffman's website for more information about this and other books.
I love tvtropes.org. I was browsing there today and found another
trope that annoys me: This is My
Story. I highly recommend clicking
on the link to read their original explanation, because it brilliantly uses the
trope itself, sickeningly enough that you'll probably never read one of these
stories the same again.
Personally, I think it's a weak opening: "My name is John Smith. My story is important because blah blah
blah." Or, "You may have heard
my story, but everything you've heard is wrong." Or, "You won't believe this story, but
it's mine, and it's the truth." Or, "My name is blah blah and I'm
famous for blah blah." Sometimes
this works, like in The Lovely Bones by
Alice Sebold: "My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was
fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." It works because of the shock value. It's not what you're expecting from a This
is My Story opening. Most of the
time, however, I want you to show me that your story's interesting or important
or unbelievable. Don't tell me.
Moby Dick famously
starts this way. "Call me
Ishmael." TV Tropes also mentions The Name of the Wind, which people raved
about but which I couldn't get into. The
narrator there starts with his name and all the fantastic things he's done and
why you as the reader will have heard of him.
All I could think was, "Great, another wordy braggart who just
won't shut up about himself. That's all
I need in my life." But it
obviously worked for a lot of people.
Mark Twain began Huckleberry Finn thusly: "You don't know about me without you
have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but
that ain't no matter." A variation
on the theme, with a little added product placement. Other classics start similarly, as if writing
a boilerplate introduction paragraph to a five paragraph essay: Robinson
Crusoe, Great Expectations, various others.
I've seen Asimov and Heinlein do it in third person. It extends to kids' books too, like Because of Winn-Dixie.
I found this example on the internet, from Giles Goat-boy, a book I'd never heard
of: "George is my name; my deeds
have been heard of in Tower Hall, and my childhood has been chronicled in the
Journal of Experimental Psychology." Okay, so I kind of like this one, though it
doesn't just go for the "my name is" bit; it goes full on with the
"why I'm interesting" bit.
The Good Soldier
begins, "This is the saddest story I've ever heard." That's like writing a query letter to an
agent and saying, "This is the best book you'll ever read." Automatic reject.
This one's cool, but chiefly because it plays with the trope—and
intrigues the reader: "In a sense,
I am Jacob Horner." John Barth, The
End of the Road. So, in a sense you're not? Makes me want to read.
TV shows use This
is My Story a lot, especially in the opening credits. In fact, I was just walking past a TV in the
other room and heard the beginning of Person of Interest, which did just
what I'd been writing this post about. Ringer,
Desperate Housewives, Burn Notice, etc. are just a few examples. Keep your eyes open and you'll find many
I would challenge you, as a writer, to never start a book
this way unless you can give it a clever twist. Even then, think twice. Overused is…well…overused.