Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In the Beginning...

Famous first words, aren't they? I mean, even people who have never cracked open the Gideon on their hotel nightstand, recognize those three words from the bestselling book of all time.

This is part of my problem when I start a new story. I want that first sentence to be memorable, like these:

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
  2. It was a dark and stormy night.
  3. When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.
  4. When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news.
  5. The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school.
  6. There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.

These are brilliant opening lines from some of my favorite books. They set the tone for the whole story. They make you want to read more.

I haven't written anything this perfect. And yet, there are plenty of books that I love that don't start with a bang. In fact, The Hunger Games opens with Katniss waking up. How many times have we been told not to do that?

So tell me, what are some perfectly ordinary opening lines from some simply wonderful books?

Oh, and the first person to correctly name the six books I quoted above wins my ARC of the new Tony DiTerlizzi book, The Search for WondLa. (Curious about it? Read my review at GoodReads.)


Tricia O'Brien correctly named the books, but since someone asked, here are the answers:

1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle OR Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
3. Savvy by Ingrid Law
4. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
5. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (Book 3 in the Percy Jackson series)
6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


storyqueen said...

I love the start of Where the Wild Things Are: "The day Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind or another........"

Right now, I like the beginning of my new WIP, but it will probably change in revision.

Janet Johnson said...

I'm with you . . . still working to find that amazing first line. And wow, I only know one of the six!

Great post.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I don't know any of them and here I thought I knew books! Opening lines are awesome. The favorite one I just read recently is from Pride & Prejudice.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ooooo, a challenge, Yay!

1--Dickens "Tale of Two Cities"
2--Edward Bulwer-Lytton "Paul Cliford"
3--Ingrid Law " Savvy"
4--Anthony Horwitz "Stormbreaker"
5--Gaiman "The Graveyard Book"

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I typed really fast, hoping to win since I love winning books. Hope I spelled them all right. I had to look two up, I confess. Oh no, I see I missed one!
Rick Riordan "The Titan's CCurse"

Meg said...

I only know two. I need to catch up on my reading!

I doubt I've written anything even remotely memorable.

Unknown said...

I'm afraid once I start pulling books off my shelf to do this, I won't be able to stop.

Adventures in Children's Publishing has a contest this week (it's too late to enter). 100 people submitted their first sentence (which will be posted tomorrow--yes, mine's there). The agent will select 75. Those individuals will then get to post the first two sentences. ETC. It'll be a great example to see what grab the attention and what doesn't. Plus, we get to provide feedback.

Laura Pauling said...

I don't judge a book on a first sentence. I give it at least a few paragraphs and possibly the first chapter, but I usually know right away if I'm going to love it or not.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Shelley: Great one!

Janet: First lines are tough. They can imply so much...

Karen: That IS a good opening line :D

Tricia: Okay, you win! But I have to say that #2 I actually pulled from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I knew she had "stolen" that opening from somewhere. Thanks to you, now I know where! Email me your snail mail address and I'll send the book :)

Meg: We've all had moments of brilliance, sometimes without realizing it. Keep at it!

Stina: I've been watching that contest. It sounds cool :)

Laura: I don't judge the book on the sentence either, but some openings are just SO well done. I want to be able to do that every time :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

I have given up on a snappy opening line. But one that STILL cracks me up is from Kristan Higgins first book. I can't remember the title, but I remember the opening:

I'm a stalker. The good kind.

LOL!! Still makes me chuckle.

Unknown said...

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

I mean, how can you top that for an opening line?

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Those are great lines! I'm with you - I always want my first lines to be GREAT! :-)

Suzanne Casamento said...

Thank you for supporting ordinary opening lines. I'm all worried about the opening of my WIP. "There wasn't much to do to get ready," isn't exactly a zinger, you know?

I just bought "Getting Revenge on Lauen Wood" by Eileen Cook because the first line got me. "Last night I dreamed I dissected Lauren Wood in Earth Sciences class."

How could I stop reading that? ; )

JEM said...

I love good lines period, no matter where in the book they pop up.

I went L'Engle on #2 as well :). That book actually just found its way to my nightstand last night, I'm planning a reread.

Robin Mellom said...

Love this post. I think the first line is hugely important. It sets the tone immediately.

I felt like Stina, that I'd start pulling books off my shelf and wouldn't be able to stop. But after pulling a few, I quickly found my favorite. It's "ordinary" and brilliant.

"There is no lake at Camp Green Lake."

Sherrie Petersen said...

Jennifer: That is a good opening line! I want to be that brilliant!

Elle: I must pull Pride & Prejudice down and read it again. I still have my beat up copy from high school :)

Shannon: The bar is high, isn't it?

Suzanne: Don't stress yourself over it. Some of my favorite books have ordinary openings. I have to keep reminding myself of that!

JEM: Good point -- great lines can come anywhere in the book.

Robin: Great example. I read Holes not long ago with my kids. Such an excellent book :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ah! I knew all but that last one! :)

I love great opening lines. I've only managed to write one book with a catch first line so far, but I love, love, love it. The next book, I'm going to insist on a good opener (at least that's what I keep saying to myself). :)

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