Observation Journal — staring at sentences

On these observation journal pages, I got further into first sentences — specifically other people’s (previously I’d been playing with hypothetical ones of my own).

It is difficult to say what makes a good first line, since I suspect the answer is that it is followed by a good book. So this exercise was, first, one of readerly appreciation (and a very enjoyable and soothing one — I highly recommend it).

But I think (or hope) the closer you read something the more the patterns of it get into your bones and thoughts.

Double-page spread of observation journal. On the right, five things seen, heard, and done, and a picture of a drawing board. On the right, densely handwritten notes analysing sentences.

So here I was breaking down some of my favourite first lines to see what I liked about them.

It looks complicated, but that’s because it’s crowded. The process itself (adapted from a style analysis exercise in a grammar course I used to tutor) was simple:

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Harriette Wilson’s Daleks

In celebration of the launch of the Georgette Heyer, History, and Historical Fiction, which contains my chapter, “Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on science fiction”, here is a Georgian Dalek (only shown previously to supporters of the calendar over on Patreon, who occasionally get glimpses of other works in progress).

Pen and ink drawing of a Dalek carrying parcels for a lady in Regency dress, while a man in uniform calls up to a Dalek in a window.

This drawing is for the splendid, risqué (though really not), human, ridiculous Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, infamous Regency courtesan but also basically Lydia Bennet if she had lived her best life. 

Scandal! Black pudding! Rivalries! Patent medicine! Bracing walks! Byron! Coconuts! Self-improvement! The Duke of Wellington! 

You can find the book on Project Gutenberg, but I recommend the edition with Lesley Blanch’s introduction and the correspondence with Byron in the appendix. 

I know this is Harriette Wilson, rather than Heyer, but as proof of my credentials, Heyer has featured in the Dalek Game previously (from ages ago, before I finally worked out that I do in fact also like recently-written Regencies (although still for largely for other reasons than I enjoy Heyer), and fell among romance writers, and started playing in the fringes of that genre, too.

Pen-and-ink drawing of a Dalek in a Regency dress
Regency Dalek
Pen and Ink drawing of a Dalek peering out from behind a stage curtain
The Reluctant Dalek

I still do draw the Daleks occasionally! I’m slowly building up a stock to start posting again, but occasionally supporters of the calendar over on Patreon get to catch a glimpse of various works in progress.