Novel Openings in Third Person Omniscient

As someone writing a novel in the third person omniscient point of view, I’ve gotten some conflicting advice about the best way to “hook” the reader. Tales are told of agents rejecting based on the first sentence. The first paragraph, everybody seems to say, is crucial. But most of the so-called rules I’ve seen for how to start a novel are tailored to those written in first person or in third person limited, perspectives in which it’s important to quickly connect to the main character. The omniscient point of view can be completely different.

But you don’t have to just take my word for it. In this post, I will be giving examples of openings from published novels, from famous classics to books published in more recent years. In doing so, I hope to outline a variety of approaches for writers to learn from and perhaps even apply to their own novels.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

This first example is one of the most famous. This one incredibly long sentence conveys a seemingly impossible duality. How can anything be simultaneously the worst and the best? How can it be true that wisdom coexists with foolishness and light with dark? And yet, when we reach the turn of the sentence and find this seemingly impossible time compared with “the present period”, we see a glint of humor that makes it all fall into place. I can almost read the newspaper headlines crying out over everything that’s awful, at the same time that politicians declare that everything has gotten better during their time in office or will get better if only they are elected. In any given time, isn’t it true that “the noisiest authorities” will describe everything according to extremes and nothing by half measures?

This, then, serves to give the reader the impression of a narrator who has insight into the human condition, who knows the present as well as the past and will be able to tell the story of this particular period of the past in a way that makes it real for readers of the present day. The style tells us the narrator will do this eloquently and with the appropriate level of gravity while also providing a degree of levity that will prevent the book from becoming an endless slog through tragedy.

For readers who know this book is set during the period of the French Revolution, and especially those who take a view on those events that is similar to Dickens’, I imagine that they will indeed be drawn in by the promise of hearing the story this narrator has to tell. Expectations have been set, and the attention has been drawn, not by the main character the reader will be spending the rest of the book with but by the narrator who will be guiding the way.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice takes a similar approach, showing a narrator with insight and a sense of humor. This narrator is speaking tongue-in-cheek, with full knowledge of the fact that a man’s level of wealth has little to do with how badly he might want a wife. What it does affect is how much the eligible women (and the parents of eligible women) around him insist that he must want a wife. And that is a beautiful opening to a story surrounding a family full of eligible daughters, with a mother quite insistent on making them the best matches they can make while espousing ideas cut from the same cloth. While A Tale of Two Cities sets the stage for historical fiction, Pride and Prejudice sets it for what is known as a novel of manners, all in a single sentence.

This technique of an insightful opening that captures something important about the book to follow is seen in many other examples also.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

Matilda by Roald Dahl

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Anna Karenina features more than one unhappy family, and its plot depends upon the reader’s interest in examining each and watching the events of their lives play out.

Matilda‘s opening sentence is undoubtedly true of many families, which sets us up to trust the narrator as an impartial observer and judge of children. Because we see so clearly that this narrator would never praise an average or slightly above-average child as having “qualities of genius” in the way that many parents would, the reader is able to trust that the main character Matilda must truly be extraordinary when the narrator cites her as an exception to the rule.

The opening of Their Eyes Were Watching God takes a similar twist, as in the second paragraph the narrator turns to the experience of women, as opposed to that of the men who watch for ships. This book is about a woman, in a time when women are not treated as equals, especially when racism is also thrown into the mix. Yet they still have wishes, as the main character shows while she reflects upon her life, starting with her youthful hopes and ending with the burial she’s just come back from as the first chapter opens. The full beginning does a perfect job of setting expectations, as all the previous ones have, although its promise is for a story very different.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”

Comparing this narrator to that of A Tale of Two Cities reveals starkly different viewpoints. The omniscient narrator, while certainly all-knowing, is not a monolith, to be found exactly the same in every single book one reads.

Similarly, the omniscient narrator is not bound to always begin by revealing some truth of the human condition. For a book focused entirely on humor, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, starting off in such a way would actually undercut the light-hearted tone. Instead, it starts by showing off how a narrator removed from the world is uniquely suited to make witty commentary on it.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

In all cases, these are the sort of openings you wouldn’t be able to have if the story were written in third person limited. Odds are, the main character does not and would never have these sorts of thoughts. The main character does not have an outside view of their own life or an understanding of the future or the opportunity to peer into the lives of others. Sweeping commentaries, satire, and thought-provoking wisdom would all be lost if these books were written in a different way, and their openings would fail if they didn’t reflect exactly these aspects that make their books so strong.

Another example of a book that starts by showing off the powerful narrative voice that will move the story forward is Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old—as soon as merely looking in the mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard).”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Here we certainly see a strong narrative voice, speaking clearly and even a bit conversationally, as if aware of an audience being spoken to. It reveals the problem at hand instantly, in a style that makes the reader really feel that baby’s spite, and the storytelling is all the more strengthened by the narrator’s ability to reveal the thoughts of multiple characters who likely never told anyone else the exact moment that made them choose to run away.

We also see that characters are introduced, though it’s not immediately clear who is going to be the main character or if there even will be only one. What is clear is what the story is about. For the omniscient narrator, it’s not at all necessary to start with a main character. In fact, there are many examples of books starting with another character instead.

“’Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Charlotte’s Web is not a book about a little girl named Fern, although she does feature in it. The main character is actually a pig named Wilbur, and he’s about to meet an unfortunate fate by Papa’s axe until Fern steps in to put a stop to it. This opening, in my opinion, is effective because a child reading the story might not immediately understand why they should have sympathy for a pig. Perhaps they think of pigs as dirty creatures who roll around in the mud and aren’t particularly appealing. It is by watching Fern defend Wilbur that the reader comes to understand that he should be defended, creating an open-mindedness that pays dividends when Charlotte the spider comes into the story as well.

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Here again, we start with someone other than the main character. The main character is Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, but again this main character’s life is about to change as a result of what is being set up in the first sentence.

This example is also worth noting, I think, because it shows that the narrator can choose to refer to the characters in any way that fits their style. Fern was introduced in a familiar way, by first name only, while here Bilbo is announced with his full name, including his title and where he lives. The narrator can start close to the characters, as in third person limited, or start from farther away in order to give the readers context. This can be especially helpful in a fantasy world or when introducing a character who is not as ordinary as Fern. While she certainly has a special sense of compassion, it’s easy enough to understand that she lives with her mother and father on a farm much like those the reader is already familiar with. Hobbiton, on the other hand, is unlike anything the reader has seen unless they’ve previously read The Hobbit.

That book, incidentally, begins by setting the scene of this delightful fantasy location and giving the reader a much-needed sense of what the characters who live within it are like.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Howl’s Moving Castle is another fantasy novel that begins by telling the reader something important about the world that leads into something important about the character who is going to be focused on.

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Other fantasy novels might show the uniqueness of a character through a twist on the formula of the “universally truthful” one-liner.

“All children, except one, grow up.”

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Here, we begin to reach the examples of books that do begin directly with mention of the main character or characters, but it’s important to note that the narrator’s presence is also felt.

“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

In this example, all four of the main characters are introduced, but this is clearly done from an outside perspective. The narrator refers to them all at once, from a time in the future, and in the sort of voice an adult uses when explaining things to children. This is another way of setting expectations for how the story is going to be told, as does the “Once there were” wording that calls to mind a fairy tale while not being exactly the same as one.

This is an example that’s particularly heavy on what writers refer to as “telling” as opposed to “showing”. Instead of plainly stating that something is going to happen to the children while they’re away from London because of the war, Lewis could have taken the time to show a scene in which the air raid sirens go off while the children are still in London, show their parents making the decision to send them away, and so on. Some writers I know would probably even say he should have, but in my opinion, that would drag the opening out unnecessarily and would not provide nearly the same level of clarity to younger readers about what’s going on. This isn’t a story about the war. It’s a story about a magic wardrobe that takes the children on an adventure in another world.

The ability to tell the reader what they need to know and move along can actually be a strength of the omniscient point of view, and removing instances of “telling” can destroy the power of the narrator. Writers need to understand that this point of view simply operates differently from others.

The description of characters, in particular, is a way in which the differences can stand out. While in first person novels, the writer may struggle to find an excuse to provide the main character’s physical description, resulting in a lot of looking into mirrors and so on, a writer of omniscient can start the book by simply telling you. And they can tell you through a narrator who sees the character in a different way than they see themselves, showing how you, the reader, might look at them if you were there.

“Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible,—or from one of our elder poets,—in a paragraph of today’s newspaper. She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense.”

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This opening gets right to the point of who the main character is, seeking to catch the reader’s attention with an interesting character in the same way a novel written in first person or third person limited might. The difference is in who’s narrating.

This is perhaps the most subtle of the examples, which is why I saved it for last. There can be a danger for an amateur writer to slip into third person limited, or something closely resembling it, accidentally. It certainly is possible to use an opening like this one and find success with it, but I hope by now you’re able to pick up on the way the narrator is keeping a hand on the wheel throughout.

If you start very close to a character and the narrator is nowhere to be found, readers will likely be surprised and perhaps even confused when the narrator pulls away to reveal something that character does not know or to focus on another character instead. This was a mistake I made before doing my research.

If you are also writing a novel in this point of view, I encourage you to do yours as well and not to listen to advice tailor-made for other kinds of books. Read some of these examples if they interest you or seek out other ones and learn exactly the techniques these authors used to make it work. Your opening should suit your book, and if you chose your point of view for a good reason, there’s also a good reason to open it accordingly.

Visiting My Local Bookstore

I didn’t realize there was a bookstore where I live until last weekend, when I decided to Google it. Clearly, I don’t get out much, but I’m happy to have found a place worth getting out for.

My sense of direction is so bad I often say I could get lost inside a paper bag, so I’m honestly proud of myself just for finding it without much trouble. It was on a downtown street I knew fairly well, though I’d never been to that part of it before. Even more luckily, I was able to find a nice parking spot nearby.

Inside, the selection was small, which was about what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised to find several titles I recognized and had enjoyed reading in the past, as well as a few that are on the list of books I want to read sometime soon. Even better, it had exactly what I was hoping for: all three Lord of the Rings books, plus The Hobbit! While I was thinking the store might offer one or more individually, I was thrilled to find them in a lovely box set that looks excellent on my bookshelf, and I picked up a used hardcover of A Tale of Two Cities as a bonus.

A box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Each of the four paperbacks inside has matching font and similar design but in a different color.
The box set I bought (not my picture because I don’t have a good camera)

I also found out while exploring the store’s website that they host events for writers, including workshops and an open mic night. While checking out, I picked up a paper listing all the dates and times and got some more details from the owner, and I was back a few days later to listen to some local writers whose talents just amazed me. There were poets, essay and short story writers, and even singer-songwriters with their guitars. There was a great variety, and everyone was so good it was honestly intimidating.

I came in with the first few pages of my novel just in case I got pushed into reading something, but I’m ultimately glad I held off. The owner did ask if I’d like to, but there was no pressure at all, which I really appreciate. I was nervous enough just being in a brand new situation, and having time to sit back and absorb it all definitely helped, especially because it seemed like there was understanding rather than judgment. Hearing what the others presented, I got a feel for what the expectations are. I found out what the standard length of time should be and also saw that most people read pieces that are complete, so when I do go back with something, it’ll be a short piece, at least to start with.

I’m half convinced I’ll still be blushing and/or shaking even with this preparation, but I’m looking forward to getting more practice with this so that I hopefully get better. If (when?) I do publish a novel, I definitely want to be able to do readings at libraries and bookstores and wherever else I’m able.

The takeaway for readers is that you can look forward to a review of The Hobbit coming soon! And also an update on my own reading performance… if I don’t lose my nerve.

Should You Read Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko?

The cover of Raybearer, depicting a young woman wearing earrings, necklace, dots of face paint, and hair braided with gold, which spreads out behind the head to create a halo effect

“I shouldn’t have been surprised that fairies exist.

“When elephants passed by in a lumbering sea beneath my window, flecks of light whispered in the dust, dancing above the rows of tusks and leather. I leaned precariously over the sill, hoping to catch a fleck before a servant wrestled me inside.”

– Opening of Raybearer

Raybearer is a young adult fantasy novel about a young girl (later a teenager) whose mother has been trying to use her to carry out a personal vendetta from the moment she was conceived. Raised in an isolated house with only a rotating cast of servants she’s not allowed to touch and a mother who barely speaks to her on the rare occasions she’s actually present, Tarisai grows up longing for love and human connection. When she’s finally sent away to fulfill her mother’s mysterious wish, she finds a group of friends who become even closer than family, but the shadow of who–and what–she is hangs over her. As a half-djinn, she’s magically compelled to carry out her mother’s wish, even if it means killing someone she’s come to love. And her other half? Try as it might, it can’t escape the growing feeling that continuing to play the role that her new family asks of her is denying her true self. And that, in its own way, could prove just as destructive.

For me, this book is one that got better and better as it went along. At first, I was simply taking note of several features that seem to be popular in the current market for YA fantasy and wondering if I’d spend the entire book feeling down about the awful situation of the main character, but once Tarisai left the house where she was raised, the plot caught my attention for real and made the whole beginning section worth it. I enjoyed the world building, the subversion of certain expectations, and the gradual unfolding of various mysteries about the world, the society, and the characters themselves.

While I don’t generally enjoy books that give the impression that teenagers are or can be more capable than adults when it comes to seemingly everything, I understand that’s generally a staple of young adult fiction in which the protagonist has to be the hero. Apart from that, a few plot elements that seemed a little too convenient, and a few areas that seemed a little lacking in polish, I have nothing to complain about. The book was definitely enjoyable, and I know my standards have been partially shaped by what are considered actual literary masterpieces, so I imagine other readers wouldn’t even notice, wouldn’t even care, or would even disagree with me.

As for who this book appeals to, I think it certainly would appeal to those who like a diverse cast of characters, themes of feminism and empowerment, and a fantasy world not based strictly on the US and/or Europe. I also think it would appeal more broadly to those who enjoy modern YA fantasy with a strong leading character who ends up taking charge of the action. I imagine many teenagers could relate to the main character, and they especially, I think, could feel a powerful connection to this book through stepping into her shoes and experiencing it all as if through their own eyes. If the plot description that I gave above struck a chord with you, give it a read! If you stick through the beginning, I doubt that you’ll be disappointed.

Should You Read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

The cover of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, showing Hyde as Jekyll's shadow, ominously raising his cane as if to strike.

“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty, and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life.”

– Opening of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A strange, deformed man haunts the streets, trampling over fallen children and seemingly wresting money from the good Dr. Jekyll to escape the consequences of his misdeeds. Jekyll has even gone so far as to make this mysterious Mr. Hyde the sole benefactor of his will, against all advice from Mr. Utterson, his lawyer. Utterson suspects blackmail, and he’s determined not to rest until he’s helped his dear friend and client escape with his life. For surely, he thinks, Hyde must be tempted to murder Jekyll in order to usurp him. Utterson doesn’t know how right he is, though not at all in the way that he suspects.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic horror novel, and one that has been referenced so often in modern culture that I knew its biggest secret going in. For me, the surprises and the appeal were in discovering the way in which the story was told. Much of the plot involves watching Mr. Utterson and others slowly uncovering the mystery, and, for me, this resulted in a very interesting dramatic irony. I knew exactly what the characters were missing, but I didn’t know all the twists and turns of the plot, how the characters would react to them, or how the story would reach its end. For me, this was enough to maintain interest, and I think other readers would have a similar experience if they have only a surface-level knowledge of the plot.

This is a short book, certainly a quick read, and I found it to be a good example of British literature of the nineteenth century. Characters’ physical descriptions are meant to signify aspects of their personalities, houses and the weather are likewise described with obvious symbolism, the omniscient narrator tells you what the characters are like, and the characters have over-the-top reactions whenever anything remotely horrifying happens. Because of this, combined with how easy it is to read, I think it would make a great introductory book for anyone looking to get into British classics from the same time period without immediately jumping in the deep end.

I also found it interesting as a window into the past, seeing how people lived and spoke and how they told their stories. I would recommend it if you have a similar interest, or if, somehow, you actually don’t know the secret behind this particular mystery. If that’s the case, I recommend you go out and read it right now. And then come back and tell the rest of us how the ending struck you. I’m very curious to know.

Should You Read Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh?

The cover of Hyperbole and a Half, showing a cartoon version of the author and one of her dogs on a yellow background.

“When I was ten years old, I wrote a letter to my future self and buried it in my backyard. Seventeen years later, I remembered that I was supposed to dig it up two years earlier.

“I looked forward to getting a nostalgic glimpse into my childhood–perhaps I would marvel at my own innocence or see the first glimmer of my current aspirations. As it turns out, it just made me feel real weird about myself.”

– Opening of Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half is a cross between a memoir and a graphic novel. Organized into a series of vignettes that often read like comedy sketches, it covers such diverse topics as the author’s childhood, the joys and difficulties of dog ownership, and struggles with self-improvement, motivation, and depression.

The writing is intertwined with drawings that can appear comically amateurish, particularly when it comes to the author’s depiction of herself with stick arms and a triangle of blond hair sticking up like a party hat, but the author is clearly an expert of the style, making the visual jokes land just as well if not better than those based in text. It reminds me of a friend who jokingly prides himself in his ability to use Microsoft Paint, except that Allie Brosh could certainly draw circles around him in her software of choice. Something about taking a simple tool or a simple art style and turning it into something really impressive is charming to me, and, in this case, that certainly added to the book’s ability to make me laugh.

And this book did make me laugh, from the introduction to the About the Author section on the back cover flap. I laughed out loud more times than I can count. Every time I finished one story, I was eager for the next.

In terms of substance, I also appreciated the honest depiction of another person’s life and perspective on the world. The section related to the author’s struggles with depression, while certainly not the most light-hearted, was one of my favorites because of how clearly it depicted a true experience that many people could relate to and yet was entirely unique. Depression is too often misunderstood, and one aspect of that, I think, is that people forget that not everyone experiences it in the same way. Other types of misunderstanding are more common, and I loved the way this section depicted the author’s well-meaning friends and loved ones and explained how their words and actions were received by her depressive mind. It’s natural to want to help, and it’s the unfortunate reality of depression that it’s extremely difficult to know how. This section alone, in my opinion, provides enormous value in a way that’s very easy to absorb.

My biggest criticism for this book is the language in the first section about the author’s dog, which I personally found distasteful. There is also swearing scattered throughout, so I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t care for that style of humor. If you only want to avoid the r word, though, just skip the second story. The rest of the book calls the dog “simple”, and you won’t have any trouble understanding anything that follows.

With those caveats, I would recommend this book to just about anybody else. It’s an incredibly enjoyable read, great for a laugh, and definitely kept my interest. For anyone who has a friend or loved one going through depression–or, heck, anyone who has the awareness that they might someday–I would highly recommend reading the section related to depression, even if you skip the rest of the book entirely. I don’t know why you would, though. If that’s the sort of mission you’re on, you probably deserve a smile and a laugh.

Should You Read 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke?

The cover of 2001: A Space Odyssey, red with black dotted lines coming out from a circular yellow center

“The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight. In this barren and desiccated land, only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to survive.”

– Opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic science fiction novel divided into three parts. The first follows the ancestors of humanity as they have a strange encounter that changes the course of human history. The second follows a scientist who journeys to the moon to investigate a top-secret discovery. And the last follows an astronaut on a journey to Saturn, although the real purpose of his mission is not told to him until disaster strikes.

I should mention that I’ve never seen the movie that was developed at the same time as this novel. I typically prefer books to movies, and therefore I was interested in reading this book but feel no particular compulsion to watch the movie. As such, this review will not contain any comparisons or an answer to the question of which is better. If you haven’t seen the movie either and are considering whether to read the book, I hope this will be helpful to you.

I will admit that I was aware of the movie going into this, and I knew one particular plot point from what is the third portion of the book (I think I saw a clip at some point), so I was surprised to find that the opening is not about space travel at all. That being said, once I got into it, I quite enjoyed reading about the man-apes, as Clarke envisioned them. It was fascinating to see what he thought they were like or what he thought they might have been like and to wonder about the mystery that begins unfolding here. The second section was, to my mind, a little slow, while the third started slow, picked way up, then disappointed me. I don’t recommend reading this if you’re looking for an exciting or action-packed plot.

What did the book have instead? Lots of descriptions of space, space travel, and the technology that humans use to live in and travel through space. I’m no expert on the science shown here, but it read to me as being quite believable, and there were many times when I did believe the author was presenting details as they truly are. If you haven’t read or watched much science fiction, perhaps many of the ideas would surprise you and catch your interest as well. I suspect that at the time it was written this was a large part of the appeal, as of course no one had created anything inspired by it yet.

I couldn’t help but notice that it is very much a product of its time, both in terms of the level of advancement of the scientific ideas and the portrayal of female characters. The latter wasn’t at the level where it was upsetting, but it was certainly noticeable to this reader. One line that gives a good idea of what I’m talking about is this: “[Space pods] were usually christened with feminine names, perhaps in recognition of the fact that their personalities were sometimes slightly unpredictable.” Coming from the omniscient narrator, that certainly helps explain in my mind why this depiction of “the future” focuses so heavily on men and seems to put them in every single position of power or influence in society. Some readers, I’m sure, will not mind this in the slightest. Others like myself will likely find it interesting, a view into the mindsets of the past as well as the futuristic speculations of the past. In the year 2022, I personally find it interesting to consider how the real 2001 turned out so differently than what Clarke predicted.

In the end, I found this book enjoyable enough. I’m glad I read it in order to understand the cultural relevance and the impact it’s had on what has come since. I also enjoyed seeing the writing techniques used and was intrigued to find that the book is so beloved in spite of what I wouldn’t have expected to be widely considered a compelling plot structure. If you like space and space travel or if you’re a science fiction buff, a lover of classic literature, or an aspiring science fiction writer, I would recommend giving this one a read. If you’re looking for good representation, action, or new ideas, I’d go with a modern science fiction book instead. Perhaps The World Gives Way, which I reviewed previously.

How to Create a New Character Sketch Template for Scrivener

The default character sketch template in Scrivener works well enough if you want to track a few key details about the characters in your novel. It can also be edited to add more information or take it away. But have you ever wanted to just start from scratch and create a brand-new template of your own that works exactly the way you like it? This post will show you how.

The first thing to do, of course, is consider what you want your new template to look like. One thing I knew starting out was that there were many things I didn’t like about the Scrivener default template. For one thing, it has headings in bold, which seems just fine until you try to add text and find that it also appears in bold. For example, if you type “Protagonist” after “Role in Story:”, it appears in the exact same font and formatting, meaning headings don’t look like headings at all! For a while, I went to the trouble of highlighting the text I’d added and manually readjusting, but that’s a hassle I don’t need in my life. I decided the best thing to do was to have bold headings on a separate line, with secondary headings beneath it in the same font I would use for adding information. Now I have a bold header for “Identity” with lines beneath like “Name:” and “Gender:”. Much better.

One tip I did take from Scrivener’s default, though, is that you can set the Synopsis section to display a picture instead of text. While this section might typically display an overview of events in a particular scene, here it can be used as a reference photo. For those wondering how to do this, simply look for the up and down arrows in the Synopsis section and click the image as opposed to the notecard.

The synopsis section of Scrivener, showing the option to select an image to display instead of text.

Additional reference photos, documents, and links can be added in the Document References section below, so it’s important to consider what you’d like in the main section of your template as opposed to what could optionally be added here. If you’re not sure how to do this, click the plus sign with the downward arrow. I used the “Look Up & Add External Reference” option because I had images saved to my hard drive. “Create External Reference” can also be used to link to a web page, but I prefer not to use this for anything I can download because websites can change or disappear. I tend to use it instead for links to sites I often use for writing purposes, like favorite baby name sites.

Here’s an example sheet for one of my characters that includes an image of her favorite hairstyle on top and reference photos for the uniform she wears below.

An example of a character sheet in Scrivener, showing character information, synopsis image, and links to reference photos

To open the linked references, I like to right click and use “Open in Default Editor” so that the image comes up in a separate window I can close when finished.

If you want more tips about how to come up with categories for your template or to see a full sample of my template, check out my previous post on creating character sheets for fiction writing.

Once you’re ready to create the template, go down to the Templates section and create a plain document. After that, you can name it, change its icon, and style it up however you want.

Creating a new text document in Scrivener

It’s just that easy! Now, whenever you want to use it, you can create a document as “New From Template” and select the one you made. Use it for as many characters you want and enjoy!

Should You Read How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann?

How to Be Eaten tells the stories of a variety of fairytale characters from their perspectives, modernized and with some twists. Each one of them is suffering from the trauma of what they’ve experienced as well as from the unwanted media attention. One thing all these women have in common is that their stories are being told for them–and they’re being told very badly.

“The women gather in the YMCA basement rec room: hard linoleum floors, half-windows along one wall, view of sidewalk and brick. It’s a Friday, just after six, and above them the city of New York bustles. Up there, people are teeming out of subway stations and into the hot sun, rushing toward tourist traps, toward restaurants, toward parties and friends.

“Whatever people do on a Friday, the women in the basement are not doing it.”

– Opening of How to Be Eaten

How to Be Eaten tells the stories of a variety of fairytale characters from their perspectives, modernized and with some twists. Each one of them is suffering from the trauma of what they’ve experienced as well as from the unwanted media attention. One thing all these women have in common is that their stories are being told for them–and they’re being told very badly. From victim blaming to sexist assumptions, the worst of society is on display, and the reader is left wondering if these characters will ever be able to find peace.

I sometimes get bored with twisted fairytale plotlines because you can anticipate what’s going to happen, but the clever thing about this book is that it starts with all the characters having already been through the experiences you would know them for, which creates a totally different plot. Combined with the modernization, the inclusion of a character who isn’t from a classic fairytale at all, and the fact that some of the women have names that leave you guessing about the story they’re from all help add to add surprises also. I particularly enjoyed the role reality television plays in the story, as that really added something fresh and hammered home the fact that the problematic stories our culture is telling are not all passed down from the distant past.

Certainly, this book makes no secret about being feminist, so you’re more likely to enjoy it if you enjoy reading the type of book that makes you think about these sorts of topics. You might also enjoy it if you like a book that has a larger cast. In this book, each woman tells her own story in first person, separated and introduced by sections written in third person, which makes for a variety of different voices in the spotlight. It’s largely realistic, with certain aspects of fantasy that are depicted in such a way that many characters aren’t sure whether to believe that these things really happened, so I would also recommend it to people who like just a dash of the impossible to spice things up.

Overall, it is a book that I enjoyed, and I had to force myself to take breaks to absorb everything that I’d just read before going back to my swift page-turning. If you decide to give it a try, I predict you’ll also find it a quick read!

Should You Read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams?

The cover of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, showing a shining door plate against the background of a dark landscape

“This time there would be no witnesses.

“This time there was just the dead earth, a rumble of thunder, and the onset of that interminable light drizzle from the northeast by which so many of the world’s most momentous events seem to be accompanied.”

– Opening of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency tells the tale of an Electric Monk, an old college professor who’s apparently paid to do nothing, a computer programmer whose software makes music out of accounting figures, his overbearing and eccentric boss, his sensible but nearly fed-up girlfriend, and, of course, a private detective who swears that because of the fundamental interconnectedness of everything, it’s perfectly reasonable to attempt to charge people for trips to Bermuda in search of their lost cats. When the eccentric boss is unexpectedly gunned down and the programmer seems to be the police’s top suspect, Dirk takes his new client on a wild adventure to clear his name, discover the true culprit, and maybe even save the world. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Gently does not eliminate the impossible, and in this case he might just be onto something.

Douglas Adams is an author well known for his humorous and light-hearted writing style, and this book was no exception. Although he’s better known for his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, I found the two Dirk Gently books (this one and the sequel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul) to be easier to enjoy, as I personally had a difficult time getting over the fact that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy opens with the destruction of Earth. Don’t get me wrong, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy still got a few good laughs out of me, but the Dirk Gently books are more my cup of tea.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency starts out very slowly and requires a good deal of patience and concentration before it really starts to ramp up, in my opinion, but I found that when I did give it that focus I was very much rewarded. In fact, this is the sort of book where the astute reader can pick up on vital clues and get the satisfaction of seeing all the pieces fall in place by the ending. It rewards the reader who goes slowly and enjoys every little humor-laced paragraph along the way.

And for me, one of the main attractions is that it did make me smile throughout rather than getting dragged down into sadness while the characters faced their struggles. Certainly, it’s important to read books on serious topics, just as it’s important to stay aware of current events even when they’re frightening or tragic, but there’s also such a thing as too much. Sometimes all you want is to balance it all out with a book that just makes you feel good. This is that kind of book. I recommend it to anyone else who’s looking for the same.

Character Sheet Template for Fiction Writing

Character sheets can be a great way of brainstorming and organizing information about characters. Especially in a book or book series in which there are many characters or certain characters that appear infrequently, it can be an extremely helpful reference for maintaining continuity. In this post, I’m going to lay out some tips for designing your own character sheet and also provide mine as a sample to use if you would like it.

I recently took some time to develop a template that’s specifically tailored to the fantasy/sci fi series I’m writing. Whereas in the past, I had looked up and copied from other examples, making adjustments on an as-needed basis, this time I really sat down and thought about my characters and what’s important to know about them. Because I had a number of characters already well-fleshed out, thinking about how I would describe them really helped me come up with categories I could use more broadly. One of my characters, for example, is left-handed, which is important to a particular scene, and writing that on her character sheet made me realize the dominant hand of other characters could make a difference in certain action scenes and would be helpful to note down.

I use character sheets both as a way to remember information about a character (what color were those eyes?) and as a way to ask myself questions about a new or underdeveloped character. Because of this, it can be really helpful to have categories for everything I want. Because I reference them often, however, it also helps to not have categories I don’t often make use of.

I find it also helps to have the information I search for most often display at the top. I arranged it so that in Scrivener, my preferred word processor, I can see it all without scrolling. Once I do scroll, I see the sort of detailed information that I might need to reference but that I more often use when fleshing out a character. Finally, I have references to their relationships with other characters, which can be a jumping off point to another character sheet. These are all good things to consider when making your own sheet.

…but if you want to copy mine, feel free to do so. You will notice that the last two sections are very specific to my particular fictional world, though. You may also notice other information that you won’t be filling in very often for your particular characters, like political party, which matters more in my story because it has characters deeply involved in politics.

I recommend using my template as a jumping off point, something to get you started as you think about what would best suit your particular needs. Everyone has a name, gender, age, and so on, but beyond that, consider your book and your characters. What do you want to know about them? What details do you often forget when writing a scene with a character you haven’t depicted in a while? What character traits are important in your fictional world that wouldn’t be in my template at all? These are the questions that will truly help you create the character sheet of your dreams. Good luck!

My Template

Identity
Name:
Reason for Name:
Nickname/Alias/Code Name:
Reason for Nickname:
Gender:
Orientation:
Religion/Moral Philosophy:
Political Party:

Current Situation
Job Title/School Level:
Lives:
Economic Class:

Appearance
Age:
Hair:
Eyes:
Skin color:
Height:
Weight:
Face:
Body:
Dominant Hand:
Favorite/Most Common Outfit:

Background
Hometown:
Cultural Heritage:
First Language:
Historical Events Witnessed:
Important Life Events:
Regrets:

Skills
Professional Qualifications:
Talents:
Languages:

Qualities
Disabilities/Allergies/Chronic Illnesses:
Strengths:
Weaknesses:

Desires
Primary Yearning:
Goals:
Wishes:
Dream Job:

Favorites

Other
Fears:
Secrets:
Habits:
Hobbies:

Family
Parent 1:
Parent 2:
Siblings:
Children:
Other:

Relationships
Friends:
Enemies:
Significant Other/Partner:
Crush:
Exes:

Magic
Tier Level:
Specialty Spells:
Amount of Allied Magic:
First Spell:
Arrested For:

Tech
Implants:
Genetic Modifications: