Opening Paragraphs: Case Study #2: The Court of Air Stephen Hunt

Molly Templar sat dejected by the loading platform of the Handsome Lane laundry. An empty cart bore testament to the full tub of clothes inside, bubbling away. At least Molly tried to imagine what dejected would feel like, and scrunched her freckled face to match the mood. In the end though, it was one of the other poorhouse girls, Rachael, who came to fetch her, not the Beadle, so Molly’s player-like mastery of “dejected” went unappreciated.

Observations

The novel opens with one of the protagonist (Molly) who appears to be in some trouble. We then learn of the protagonist’s location, and a brief description of that location. Despite the initial foreboding, Molly does not seem to be “dejected” at all, and is in fact feigning her “dejection” to put on a performance for Beadle, someone who supposedly will not tolerate her lack of remorse. Instead, Rachael appears, a character that requires no pretense from Molly, which may suggest their intimacy as friends, or at the least, a closer or more socially equal relationship.

Analysis

Personally, I was slightly thrown off by the whole play on “dejection”. The opening sentence “Molly Templar sat dejected…” seems to convey that the dejection belongs to Molly herself, yet it is revealed later that she is simply putting on an act. The inconsistency is confusing. What does this say about Molly as a character? Does having a”player-like mastery” for feigning dejection define her personality or her worldview? Is she someone who is used to hiding herself behind a mask? What is the use of depicting Molly in such a manner?

I did finish reading the first chapter, but none of this “dejection stuff” contributes to the so far unfolding plot. Truth to be told, I don’t think this opening is very effective. It did capture my attention with the first sentence, since I was interested in finding out what kind of trouble she was in and what was at stake for her. Then, I found out that she didn’t give a damn, and my ever-perceptive brain didn’t know what to do with the contradiction. I reserved my judgement and continued reading the story, but I still didn’t get a clear sense of who Molly was by the end of the first chapter. Sure, she is elevated in speech (for an orphan girl), she has a strange kinship (or perhaps ability?) towards mechanical parts–but still, who is she? What is her worldview? Her attitude?

I feel like the flashback episode of her entrapment underneath a collapsed building should have been the first chapter, but that’s just me. It would have added a clear sense of conflict, give us readers a powerful reason to care for her and see her come through, and perhaps reveal Molly’s potentials with the machines (which, from the back cover, seems to be an important aspect of her character and this story).

So far, the story has failed to establish a strong sense of character, and some momentum is lost in the inserted paragraphs of back story and world-buildling. The chapter ends with Molly being randomly bought by a brothel, which kind of came out of nowhere. I understand the element of surprise, but what does going to a brothelΒ mean to Molly? No girl wants to end up in a brothel, but how does it impact Molly as the protagonist? And why,Β out of all the other girls in the poorhouse, is Molly chosen?

Perhaps more will be revealed in the subsequent chapters, but since I am someone who is very driven by a story’s character when I read, I am slightly disappointed by the character establishment/foundation that is lacking in this chapter.

Hook

The hook is obviously presenting the character in a moment of distress or conflict. However, since the conflict itself does not bother the protagonist, I don’t see how that is a successful hook (or a successful conflict, for that matter).

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