Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Teases 3

The afficiandos of literary fiction often look down their noses at the tease opening, preferring the classical opening that presents story questions about the core conflict. But don't let their PC tastes rule you. Here's a example of a fabulous tease opening by the Master himself. How about a play that opens this way . . .

At midnight a sentinel slowly paces before his castle post, looking all around as though he expects something to jump out of the dark at him. He steps softly, listening intently for the slightest sound. He is shivering. A soldier approaches, tip-toeing and looking around like a member of a S.W.A.T. team as he nears the sentinel's post. The sentinel makes a slight sound that scares the approaching soldier nearly out of his skin as he flattens himself against the wall in a corner crying "Who's there?" The cry, of course, scares the sentinel nearly out of his skin as he points his weapon and jumps into a combat stance. He is about to say something but stops, perplexed. Then he barks, "No! You identify yourself to me!" The soldier thinks and thinks and finally blurts, "God save the king!" Surely not the password, but the sentinel recognizes the soldier's voice. "Bernardo?" he asks shivering. The soldier steps out to where the sentinel can see him and says, "Yes, it's me." Bernardo is the sentinel's replacement. They are both embarrassed and quickly form an unspoken pact to act like it didn't happen. The sentinel, Francisco, just sarcastically grumbles with double entente that Bernardo comes "most carefully" upon his hour. Bernardo, his eyes still darting about distracted, doesn't get it and says that midnight has already struck. Francisco shakes his head and quickly leaves, excusing his shivering by claiming that it's cold and saying he is dis-eased at heart.

In this brilliant admixture of comedy and terror, the first story question planted in your head is What is the sentinel afraid of? Then the answer seems to appear. The second story question is What is the approaching soldier going to do to the sentinel? Then we are as perplexed as the two characters till we realize that they are both afraid of the same thing, something lurking in the dark. What is it? What are these two so afraid of? Why don't they acknowledge it?

They act like they're afraid of seeing a ghost, don't they? That's because they are afraid of seeing a ghost. The ghost of their recently assassinated king. This is the splendid opening of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Bernardo and Francisco aren't main characters, and the story questions aren't about the core conflict. But the author sinks his hooks into us much deeper this way, reeling us right into his story.

As for the core conflict, give him a minute. Now that he has arrested the groundlings' attention and has created suspense, he is about to start revealing it.

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