Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

From The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 29•19

“This book is a train with many cars, moving clumsily along a track at night. One car contains a small supply of coal, which spills out into the passageway when an internal door is opened. You have to step over piles of slippery black grit to get through to the corridor. Another car contains grain, shipped for export. One car is full of musicians and instruments and cheap overnight bags, nearly half an orchestra sitting according to their friendships and rivalries in the seats of the second-class compartment. Another car contains bad dreams. The final car has no seats but is instead of sleeping men, who lie crushed together on their coats in the dark.

The door to that one has been nailed shut from the outside.”

*          *           *           *            *          *           *          *          *

From this intriguing intro, the story begins on the next page with a young woman, Alexander Boyd,  arriving jetlagged in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2008 to teach English. Mishaps start the story off with her taxi driver dropping her off at the wrong hotel. This leads to a chance encounter that propels the story forward. It also creates a deepening mystery when travelers she’s helped leave behind a satchel holding an urn of human remains.

However, even before this inciting incident, mystery is shrouding the story including the phrase ‘self-inflicted exile’ dropped into the second paragraph like a grenade.  Exile never has pleasant connotations, does it? And how does this all connect to the train images in the first paragraphs?

Here’s a link to this effective opening.

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