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Thread: Openings: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

  1. #1
    A Work in Progress aadams73's Avatar
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    Openings: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

    Yes, I hear some of you weeping. Dan Brown. We love him, we hate him, we fear his hair. (Ok, I fear his hair.) But like him or not, his books sell.

    I haven't read this book, but I still think it's worth looking at the opening.

    The secret is how to die.

    Since the beginning of time, the secret had always been how to die.
    So Dan grabs me with the first two lines. There's a secret, he even tells us what it is, but what does it mean? I'm curious enough to read on.

    The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms. The skull was hollow, like a bowl, filled with bloodred wine.

    Drink it, he told himself. You have nothing to fear.
    I have problems with this. It's...both weak and strong. On the one hand I want to pull out my red pen and slice out the bits in red. On the other, he's drinking wine out of a human skull. This is not some person sitting in a restaurant enjoying a fine meal; we have someone doing something unusual, thinking aberrant thoughts.

    As was tradition, he had begun this journey adorned in the ritualistic garb of a medieval heretic being led to the gallows, his loose-fitting shirt gaping open to reveal his pale chest, his left pant leg rolled up to the knee, and his right sleeve rolled up to the elbow. Around his neck hung a heavy rope noose—a "cable-tow" as the brethren called it. Tonight, however, like the brethren bearing witness, he was dressed as a master.
    We learn more about this character. He's ritualistic. He's progressed, in this this ritual, from a novice to something more. Is it time for him to pass some kind of test, perhaps? And why the noose? Is this a sacrifice?

    We learn more about the writer, too. He eschews fancy prose in favor of extremely simplistic descriptions. We all strive to create good and interesting prose, but sometimes simple sells best.

    The assembly of brothers encircling him all were adorned in their full regalia of lambskin aprons, sashes, and white gloves. Around their necks hung ceremonial jewels that glistened like ghostly eyes in the muted light. Many of these men held powerful stations in life, and yet the initiate knew their worldly ranks meant nothing within these walls. Here all men were equals, sworn brothers sharing a mystical bond.
    Again with the simplistic descriptions. They're almost too bland, but the author has propped them up by ramping the creep factor. This is ritual is bigger than one man. Brown is pulling that camera back to show us a little more of the picture.

    As he surveyed the daunting assembly, the initiate wondered who on the outside would ever believe that this collection of men would assemble in one place . . . much less this place. The room looked like a holy sanctuary from the ancient world.
    So this character isn't entirely comfortable with the situation. And something about the other men present must be unusual if it's difficult to believe they'd be a part of this ritual.

    Here the author orients us in time...sort of. It looks like it's from the ancient world, but it's not.

    The truth, however, was stranger still.

    I am just blocks away from the White House.
    Location: Washington DC.

    Time: sometime between 1800 and today.

    But he uses just blocks, which to me suggests a casualness of speech, so I'm guessing it's set about now.

    This is the first page, and usually as much as I read to determine whether or not I'll buy the book.

    My personal feelings aside, I believe this would have been acquired regardless of whether or not The DaVinci Code had sold a bazillion copies. It's perfect for the genre and the readers who like a page-flipper ala James Patterson. And there's no denying people like secrets and rituals--and secret rituals.

    Something else we all need to remember, and I often forget this: we're writing for readers. They're the ones who buy our books, so it's our job to entertain them. Writers are a somewhat tight knit community, we love good writing, but we're not a true sampling of all the readers out there. We expect more. Your average non-writing reader is just looking to be entertained.

    Dan Brown entertains them.

    Anyway, hit me with it, folks. Does it work for you or not? If not, can you see why this works for your average reader?

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  2. #2
    The grad students did it NeuroFizz's Avatar
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    I think it is a decent opening, but I always like to have some fun with the anatomy in a situation like this...I wonder how they kept the wine in the skull. The spinal cord exits through the foramen magnum, which is a gigantic hole in the bottom of the skull. And there are other, smaller holes in the base of the skull that would leak wine. If the skull is upside down, they'd have to use a straw to drink through the foramen magnum or it would become a large dribble cup. Thinking about this gives me the giggles, not because there are not solutions to this in the writing and not because it detracts from the opening of the story. I giggle because of the way my brain turns on these things while I'm reading. I envision this deathly serious ceremony with the character dribbling wine down the front of his robe and having to dab his chin with a hankie. Would I read on? I'm not a fan of Dan Brown's stories. But I'd give this one a shot in the bookstore--read on to see how it develops.
    Last edited by NeuroFizz; 02-25-2010 at 05:10 PM.
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  3. #3
    The cake is a lie. But still cake. shaldna's Avatar
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    I can't read Dan Brown for too long. He has some really great ideas, but he's just not a very good writer. And I think he's trying too hard to be Michael Crichton (and failing)
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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW samripley's Avatar
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    I remember when I was thirteen or so and The Da Vinci Code was really popular. I read it, but I wasn't too wowed by him. This opening seems interesting and I'd probably even keep reading if I liked his genre of books, but now I keep thinking about NeuroFizz said, hahah.

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  5. #5
    Toughen up. gothicangel's Avatar
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    I found the first line a bit 'so what?'

  6. #6
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    Never read Brown either, but FWIW:

    I hate the first and last line. The first one is redundant. It reads like he was deciding between present and past tense and lined them up together to see which one read best. The first line is the rough draft, and the second is the final. And the shift back to 1st person present in the last line is weird.

    There are WAY too many descriptions to weed through, IMO. This opening has a raging case of "overwritten". Just from this one section:

    The assembly of brothers encircling him all <---assembly implies "all", repeating it is redundant were adorned in their full regalia of lambskin aprons, sashes, and white gloves. Around their necks hung ceremonial jewels that glistened like ghostly eyes in the muted light. Many of these men held powerful stations in life, and yet the initiate knew their worldly ranks meant nothing within these walls. Here all men were equals, sworn brothers sharing a mystical bond.


    Look at the number of words with adjectives in front of them. Too many. "lambskin" and "white" are needed to describe the vestments, but other things can be inferred from the text, like "powerful", "sworn", and "mystical".


    I will disagree with "thirty-four" not being needed. That could be an important detail of the ritual. There's a religious connotation to it since Christ was crucified at 33 and Brown's books seem to have religious notes to them.

  7. #7
    delicate #!&@*#! flower Perks's Avatar
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    I'm with you aadams, I see why people pick up his books. I like more compelling prose, but I'm not immune to a skull full of wine and a bunch of bigwigs standing around in lambskin aprons and white gloves. Now there's an image for you.

    I wish the language was better. I don't see why we can't have freaky-ritual-cabalistic fun and strong, well-crafted words, but if wishes were horses, I'd be up to my neck in horseshit. Structurally, I get the feeling Dan Brown works hard. Sometimes that's enough.

    I've read Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. Then I read Deception Point. Ugh. Horrible. Vowed to never read Dan Brown again, but can't say it's a promise that has teeth to defend itself in the face of a long, boring plane ride.

    Now that I have my Barnes & Noble Nook, though, I can tote a list of top choices around with me at all times, so my to-be-read list is pretty darned awesome just now and Dan Brown isn't on it.

  8. #8
    Omar's comin' DVGuru's Avatar
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    The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms.
    The bulk of Dan Brown's readers will read that line and never give it a second thought. When I talked to my friends (who are not writers) about The Da Vinci Code, they didn't know he was considered a bad writer. Why should they? The story entertained them. His writing was coherent enough for them to understand the plot. I think that's all that matters to the majority of readers who aren't also writing their own novels.

  9. #9
    An old, sappy, and happy one. Requiescat In Pace CACTUSWENDY's Avatar
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    Cool

    34 is like the 34 degrees of the Masons. The jewels around the necks, the look of the room they are in....Masons. The lambskin apron is also Masons. The white gloves are Masons. I'm guessing this has to do with the Masons and one of their ceremonies.
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  10. #10
    Back from the dead lucidzfl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DVGuru View Post
    The bulk of Dan Brown's readers will read that line and never give it a second thought. When I talked to my friends (who are not writers) about The Da Vinci Code, they didn't know he was considered a bad writer. Why should they? The story entertained them. His writing was coherent enough for them to understand the plot. I think that's all that matters to the majority of readers who aren't also writing their own novels.
    Except that I agree with the 33 yr old christ part. 34 may be important. Not just description. He didn't say the 34 year old blonde, blue eyed, 6 foot tall, 180 lb man from pawtusky.
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  11. #11
    Learning to read more, post less
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    Dan Brown tells a very good story, and he has pretty good characters. These are the important things, and what makes most books sell.

    But the man can't write worth spit, and it's incredibly rare for me to say this about a best-selling writer.

  12. #12
    The cake is a lie. But still cake. shaldna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CACTUSWENDY View Post
    34 is like the 34 degrees of the Masons. The jewels around the necks, the look of the room they are in....Masons. The lambskin apron is also Masons. The white gloves are Masons. I'm guessing this has to do with the Masons and one of their ceremonies.

    the thing is, there's an awesome documentary that tony robinson did recently about this very subject, and in particular about the lost symbol and how it really relates to modern masons.

    he was welcomed warmly by the masons he spoke to, taken into thier lodges, shown around, he was free to ask questions, all of which were answered honestly and frankly.

    belfast is a masonic town, and I know alot of masons. people are pretty open about it here. it's certainly not the huge secret society that dan brown seems to think it is.
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  13. #13
    delicate #!&@*#! flower Perks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    But the man can't write worth spit, and it's incredibly rare for me to say this about a best-selling writer.
    Lol! Holy hell, JR, you ain't just whistlin' Dixie. I've never seen you say that before. It must be dire.

  14. #14
    Mostly harmless SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aadams73 View Post
    Anyway, hit me with it, folks. Does it work for you or not? If not, can you see why this works for your average reader?
    I'm OK with every word of every sentence you quoted, nothing put me off. Nothing tickled my curiosity either, but I'd give it a few more pages. Even though I know he's going to disappoint me eventually (I still haven't gone back to finish Angels & Demons).

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  15. #15
    Whatever I did, I didn't do it. Phaeal's Avatar
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    Nothing special, but clear enough. Will work for the intended audience. What would stop me, in particular (the clunky intimate-distant POV, probably meant to keep the identity of the character under wraps; the overdose of modifiers) would probably not bother the target reader. I mean, whether you're barely literate or an Oxford don, if you're reading Brown, you're in it for the sensational story line, not the elegance of prose. As long as he can deliver the right brand of sensation, he's doing the job he was hired to do.

    As a lover of good pulp fiction, I wanted to like Brown, but I actually find his storytelling not pulpy-flamboyant enough -- too ponderously portentous. So I'll stick to Preston and Child, in tandem and separately. They are the masters of good pulp, in my book (and on my bookshelf.)
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  16. #16
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    The first line sets up false expectations for me.

    It leads me to expect a lot of existential philosophizing, but I know that's not where we're headed. (But i haven't read it... knowing Brown, probably not.)

  17. #17
    Oh, really?
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    I found it an opening to compel readers to buy the book, although I could say, cynically, that it could have been copied and pasted from the initiation ceremony undergone by freemasons, once a strict secret but widely available nowadays, with a few words added to give it colour. Not even that many words have been added.

    The few blocks from the White House sets the tone; the arguably most powerful institution in the western world has long ago infiltrated the White House and every ruling cartel in our world.

    Fifty years ago, their secrets were secrets, their revelations being punishable with instant and painful death, but today the secret ceremonies are well documented and probably disbelieved by most people.

    But when Kings and Presidents still take those ancient oaths and act upon them, it’s something that is bound to interest a great many readers.

    Those rituals and beliefs go back long before a possibly gay man was nailed to the cross and scholars started writing bibles.

    (The top publishing scene in both the US and the UK is a perfect example of Masonic influence to this day).

  18. #18
    Sheriff Bullwinkle the Poet says: RJK's Avatar
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    His writing skills aside, I enjoyed Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code. He fell far short of the mark with The Lost Symbol.

  19. #19
    What happened? ChristineR's Avatar
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    I haven't read it, but my take on it was "Oh, not the masons. Again." How many books are based on the whole "Masons are evil and secretly rule the world" idea? I'm still trying to wash From Hell out of my brain.

    The writing style didn't bother me. It might be a little overwritten, but it's hardly Bulwer-Lytton caliber. There's a place for purple prose.
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  20. #20
    Token mad scientist. RemusShepherd's Avatar
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    I've never read Dan Brown before, although I have seen the movies. I like this opening. It has a clear hook, it reads fast, and although there's a lot of descriptive detail it doesn't bog down or get flowery.

    The only thing I can see cutting is 'thirty-four year old'. Unless -- as some posters have stated -- that number is relevant later. I might add a little -- "The skull was hollow, like a bowl, lined with fired clay and filled with bloodred wine." That should satisfy the 'you can't drink from a skull' people. (Replace 'fired clay' with 'beaten gold' or silver, if they suit the theme better. Can't tell from this short excerpt.)

    There are quite a few early cues that this is not medieval times. Mentioning his dress as 'ritualistic garb of a medieval heretic' tells us that this is not normal for the time he's in. The fact that he's even wearing pants tells us it isn't ancient. There are some subtle clues being delivered here, and I can tell the author has put a lot of thought into just how to sneak them in.

    I really like this. It's simple and fast paced. That's what I like to read and that's what I like to write. You've convinced me that I may have to try Dan Brown.
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  21. #21
    Horror Man seun's Avatar
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    I'm staying a billion miles away from this thread.

  22. #22
    Back from the dead lucidzfl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seun View Post
    I'm staying a billion miles away from this thread.
    Bullshit! YOU JUST POSTED HERE YOU DAMN LYING LIAR!
    Poof!

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Nateskate's Avatar
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    To be honest, I'd be interested from just this opening. I do think it's good writing. It's not a Genre I like, and still a part of me says 'read on', because curiosity was stirred. Another part of me says, "You'll regret it..."

    However, I can't get past knowing Brown noodled with history to sell books, and that's a major stumbling block for me.

  24. #24
    Grinning jgold's Avatar
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    Not a winner for me, but I think it's fine. Nothing extraordinarily good or bad here. It sets up a small mystery/hook with the White House line, and I'm mildly curious as to what happens next... but I'm a little tired of the secret society theme (and the voice isn't strong enough to overcome that obstacle), so I'd give it a pass regardless.

    As far as the prose, it's not meant to be memorable or noteworthy. The style is cookie-cutter and plot-driven. It gets the job done, but it has no flavor. It's written for people who just want to see what happens next and feel compelled to keep reading... which is kinda the whole point of an opening scene.

    It works.
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  25. #25
    Toughen up. gothicangel's Avatar
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    He really blew a great chance at character development. Maybe if he had focused on the skull and how the character reacted to it would have helped.

    But characterisation isn't one of Mr Brown's strengths.

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