By R.J. Harlick
I hope all of you had an enjoyable and relaxing holiday and are now fully recharged ready to take on whatever 2015 will bring, including this first Criminal Mind blog question of the year.
"Some authors think that the opening line of a book is what grabs a reader. Do you agree with this? What are some of your favorite opening lines?”
She inched closer to the edge of the cliff, unsure of what she would find. Fearing the worst, she gingerly peered over the ledge at the rocks below…and presto she had her opening line.
Or if you prefer
She rocked back and forth on her chair, scratching her head, trying to come up with an opening line for the bloody book.
Opening lines don’t come easily, but I find, they are key for getting me into the story I am about to write. Rarely am I satisfied with my first attempts. I will often keep massaging those first words until the final edits. Sometimes I even adjust them slightly when doing a reading from the published book.
And yes, I am one of those authors who believe that not only the opening lines, but the opening paragraphs, the opening scene, the opening chapter are key in capturing a reader’s interest. And for the aspiring writer, a prospective editor or agent’s interest has to be grabbed in those first paragraphs otherwise the manuscript will be chucked into the garbage.
If you have ever attended a Hammett Awards ceremony you would have had an opportunity to experience first hand the importance of good openings. Excerpts from each of the five nominated books are read out. They tend to be short, only a paragraph or two from the opening chapter. I have yet to listen to one of these readings that didn’t capture my attention from the get go. There was a very good reason these books were Hammett finalists.
But as critical as the start is, a writer has to ensure that the rest of the book lives up to the promise of those opening words.
I thought I would let you test your knowledge of crime fiction. I’ve selected opening lines from ten books by well known crime writers. I have also provided a list of twelve writers. I want you to match the opening line with the author and guess the title of the book. I’ll give you a hint. Most books are the first published works by the author. I’ll post the answers at 9:00 EST tonight. So you have all day to test your wits. Please let us know your results in the comments.
What do you think? Do these opening lines entice you to read on?
1. “It was a solecism of the very worst kind. He sneezed loudly, wetly and quite unforgivably into the woman’s face.”
2. Mrs. Ferrars died on the night of the 16th-17th September, a Thursday. I was sent for at eight o’clock on the morning of Friday the 17th. There was nothing to be done. She had been dead some hours.”
3. “The girl screamed once, only the once.
Even that, however, was a minor slip on his part.”
4. “The boy couldn’t see in the dark, but he didn’t need to. Experience and long practice told him it was good.”
5. “The night air was thick and damp. As I drove south along Lake Michigan, I could smell rotting alewives like a faint perfume on the heavy air.”
6. “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.”
7. “Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round.”
8. “The woman stepped into the circle of light and began to undress.”
9. “”Bob Barnes says they got a dead body out on BLM land. He’s on line one.”
She might have knocked, but I didn’t hear it because I was watching the geese.”
10. “It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday.”
1. Gail Bowen
2. Agatha Christie
3. Michael Connelly
4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
5. Elizabeth George
6. P.D. James
7. Craig Johnson
8. Stieg Larsson
9. Sara Paretsky
10. Louise Penny
11. Ian Rankin
12. Peter Robinson