Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Poetry Friday: Writing Tip, Paradise Lost and The Golden Compass

It's been fun hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup -- I discovered some new blogs, which is always very cool. So thanks everyone for some great reading! I figure I'd better get going on my Poetry Friday submission now.

I thought I'd share an interesting writing tip. But first, you'll need to know some of my reading quirks: When I pick up a book, I always check out the jacket flap, author's bio if any, and the copyright date. Don't know why, I just always have. If there's a table of contents and a book introduction, I always have to inspect them. I'm not one of those people who delve right into the first page of the book immediately; I like to study the book first.

Let me just tell you, I love books that are introduced by an epigraph -- a thought provoking quote, a verse from the Bible, or an intense passage from a poem. It doesn't matter whether it's light-hearted or totally dark and dreary. These carefully selected words provide me with an idea of what I'm going to find within the pages of the book. Sure, you've got a book description from the jacket flap. But sometimes those descriptions...well, they just don't do the book justice.

Perhaps you'll find this odd, or perhaps it just the writer in me, but I like to research these special introductions to the book, especially if I'm not familiar with it, so I can understand what will be the driving force behind the book. And if Chapter One starts delivering this idea, I am in total anticipation of what this book promises to deliver.

Enter The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I have had this book in my house for quite a few weeks. The book cover didn't really do anything for me, so I read other books instead. I mean the cover is cute and all, but it just didn't draw me in. It took everyone raving about this book, not to mention some interesting questions to find my daemon (mine is Lutheus the snow leopard), before I realized I better get my butt in gear and read this book pronto.

So after I conduct my obligatory checks on The Golden Compass and then delve into the epigraph, my brain gears totally shifted. I was so thrilled I had this book in my greedy little hands. Read this brilliant inscription:

Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage...
(lines 910 - 919)

This epigraph just made me gasp with absolute delight. You see, the book cover just made me see 399 pages of cute adventure story where determined child befriends an intelligent polar bear. Yawn....I can totally wait to read this type of book.

But this intense book introduction and my sketchy remembrance of Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost, is telling me to expect something much, much more thrilling. Let's talk about political intrigue, corruption, drama, struggles, good vs. evil, adventure, sacrifice, and new worlds. Let's talk an understanding of where the epic His Dark Materials Trilogy title comes from. And what this book promises to deliver. One epic to another epic. And I'm thinking, this is a YA book? A YA book? Oh, I'm just gonna love this one.

And when I started Chapter One, I wasn't disappointed. Let me just say that this epigraph was so well chosen as a precursor to this story. Or, it begs me to wonder, did Philip Pullman write The Golden Compass because he was inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost? I was hooked from page 1. This is what I consider perfection at it's finest.

So writers everywhere, here is my humble opinion to those important book introductions. Research carefully what it is you'd like this epigraph to say about your book. Give an interesting hint of what's to come. Make sure it heightens the anticipation. Then deliver the promise, if you can, starting from Chapter One.

To some people, this may seem a minor detail. But my feeling is, if you're going to add an epigraph to your book, then set the stage. And set it well. Reveal those layers. You'll surely get my attention.


Liz in Ink said...

What a great thought and idea! I really like epigraphs in poems, too...

HipWriterMama said...

Of course! Epigraphs. My mind was drawing a blank. One of my friends and I were having a discussion over the right word. I'm going to edit this right now. Thanks!

ros said...

Pullman has said that he was inspired by Paradise Lost. Lots of the imagery in His Dark Materials, as well as the title of the series and of course the major themes, are drawn from Milton's work. The title of the Golden Compass is a mistake. An early working title (before Pullman settled on Northern Lights, as the book is known in the UK) was The Golden Compasses - again a reference to Paradise Lost and the act of creation.