The Author’s Palette … Setting the Stage
Updated: Mar 8
Storytellers learn quickly that they must bring the reader into the fold of their story. If they don’t, the book is closed.
Something that tweaks the interest of the reader to continue.
For Thaddeus of Beewicke, there are three main players early on: an old man, a young boy, and a fertile mule with a with a keen eye for romance of the ladies—both donkey and horse.
As the first chapter unfolds, the reader discovers in my opening lines:
The weathered white-haired man reappeared from behind the sentinel elm and adjusted his garments. Tall and bony, his rugged frame suggested an austere life lived among the elements. His dusty robes fell to his knees, all gathered about with a wide, tooled leather belt. His sandals were laced in the knee-high, crossed-laced, Imperial fashion. And his eyes—should anyone take the trouble to notice—were of two different colors: one green and one brown.
Retrieving his staff from where it leaned against the trunk, he briefly surveyed the effects of the lingering drought of early summer, patted the tree, and smiled.
“There, now we are both refreshed.”
Regaining the dusty road, Silvestrus shuffled over to his cart and affectionately rubbed the ears of his steadfast gray mule. “Asullus, my old friend, our goal lies but a short way over that hill, I trow, in the village of Beewicke. There you will get water, food, and a well-deserved rest. And I? Well, we shall see. So please lead us there with as much haste as you can manage; however, do not forget at least a degree of decorum.”
The old man hefted himself onto the cart seat, jiggled the reins, and issued a command. The mule snorted and began moving at a plodding pace, resigned to further toil.
A splashing sound drew the traveler’s attention. The old man pulled back on the reins and climbed down to investigate. “Wait here,” he said. “I shall not be long.”
The stream gurgled as it flowed over its rocky bed, forming small pools of backwater. The splashing sound came again, followed by the lilt of a whistled tune. The man made his way down the embankment and peered through the semi-darkness formed by a copse of overhanging willow tree branches. He beheld a boy holding a fishing pole, sitting on a large red rock lodged up against the bank. A nondescript hound sat at his side. The sun shone brighter on the embankment as a cloud passed.
Silvestrus nodded. He knew with certainty that this boy was one of those he sought. He pushed through the branches toward his quarry.
The stage is now set. You know the old man has relieved himself and is thirsty; he’s on a journey of some sort; he and his his mulish companion have been connected for some time; and the object of his quest has, at last, been found.
I could have said that in a few sentences. Instead, the stage was set over seven paragraphs. For those of you who are into sports—it’s what is called “color.” Enhancements are placed to support just the facts. Think of it as fishing … the line is thrown out, bait is dropped in, and slowly, the reader is reeled in. And, hopefully hooked. Hopefully.
It’s smart to avoid a “jarry” opening that would leave a reader with a reader with a “this doesn’t fit” experience. The old man is Silvestrus and he’s on a dusty road with a cart. Tossing in a modern-day automobile would be a wrong fit. “Wordiness” is another kiss of death for the reader. The writer’s palette knows that color is essential, yet sometimes “less is more” and desired.
As a writer, you don’t want’ your reader to be questioning the validity of your craft, especially your craft and skills as the storyteller.
When trust evolves between the two of you, magic happens. And you have the seeding of a super fan … when when she or he waits with pleasure for the next chapter … or book.