Book Trailer for Pilikia

Friday, June 05, 2009

Happy Birthday Ken Follett

Ken Follett is 60 today. He is the author of more than a dozen thrillers including Triple, Eye Of The Needle, and The Key To Rebecca. He won an Edgar for Eye Of the Needle. You can find out more about Follett on his website.

Hearing about his birthday today struck a chord with me because I just started re-reading The Key To Rebecca for the third time. The reason I'm re-reading it (in addition to the fact that it's worth reading over and over) is that I thought I would use it as an example of a great beginning for a post I was writing on Make Mine Mystery. That post had to do with a rule writers often hear, "Don't start with the weather."

I was going to use The Key To Rebecca to make my point, but that part ended up on the cutting room floor. Now his birthday gives me a chance to revisit that point.

The reason for the admonition against starting with the weather, I believe, is that a good beginning throws the reader into the center of a fight. A good beginning should have desire or danger or decision. The main character's goals and/or life should be in jeopardy. It should be something consequential. Weather is usually inconsequential, but sometimes it's not. Even if the weather is consequential, you can have more impact leaving it out as Follett does in The Key To Rebecca.

The book begins famously with the sentence,

The last camel collapsed at noon.
No weather.

We all know what kills camels--the hot desert sun. A lesser writer might have given us a few paragraphs of how hot the sun was on the burning sands. We don't need that. Telling us that the camel collapsed says it all and sets an ominous tone. When you're out of camels, you're in deep doo-doo. In fact, it's not until six paragraphs later, on the next page, that he tells us the sun is relentless and the temperature is reaching 110. By leaving the weather until later, when It's already clear that the weather is the culprit, makes for an unforgettable beginning.

Happy Birthday, Ken Follett!


  1. Helen Ginger said...

    That's for sure one of the all time great opening lines. It drops you right into the middle of the scene, in danger.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Kevin R. Tipple said...

    Over the years, I have read a lot of criticism (and praise) about that line. Seems like the jury is mixed on that one.

    Beyond that fact, I would argue that the weather does exist--it is implied. It might not be as obvious to the average reader as say "It was a dark and stormy night" but is as nearly obvious.