Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Resonance by Stating a Bold and Surprising Conclusion at the Top

Stating a bold, surprising conclusion at the top can lend resonance to what follows. In poetry we see an exquisite example of this in T.S. Eliot's opening to "The Wasteland."

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Then there's Dickens' memorable and ever-timely opening to A Tale of Two Cities, which he carries off like a speaker would — with a little "ice-breaking" humor.

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 credulity, 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, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the Lords of the state preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled forever.

In both examples above, the striking conclusion is an opening summary, like the executive summary in a business document. The tale begins after it and resonates because of it.

We see another example of a bold and surprising opening conclusion in the first sentence of A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul:

The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.

Nazruddin, who had sold me the shop cheap, didn't think I would have it easy when I took over.

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