Thursday, January 8, 2015

It was the Best of Lines, It was the Worst of Lines…

by Alan

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?

I’m a big fan of great opening lines. As a reader, I love getting sucked into a compelling story from the get-go. As a writer, it’s a chance to make a bold first impression, and I work diligently to come up with killer opening lines for my books.

A perfect opening line can set the tone for the rest of the book, offer a hint about what’s to come, introduce a fascinating character’s voice, or spark a question in the mind of the reader (ideally, it should accomplish more than one of those things). Perhaps most importantly, a terrific opening line can hook that reader fast and hard, letting you reel him in during the rest of the book.

Some of my favorite ones include:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“Call me Ishmael.” — Moby Dick, Herman Melville.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984, George Orwell

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“It was a pleasure to burn.” — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” — Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier

“This was no time for play. This was no time for fun. This was no time for games. There was work to be done.” — The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Dr. Seuss.

“The next to the last time I saw Tush Bannon alive was the very same day I had that new little boat running the way I wanted it to run, after about six weeks of futzing around with it.” — Pale Gray For Guilt, John D. MacDonald

“You may remember me. Think back. The summer of 1990. I know that’s a while ago, but the wire services picked up the story and I was in every newspaper in the country.” — The Lock Artist, Steve Hamilton

“The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born—we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg.” — The Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving

“When Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus were kids, their fathers worked together at the Coleman Candy plant and carried the stench of warm chocolate back home with them.” — Mystic River, Dennis Lehane.

And the favorite opening line(s) that I wrote:

“Never killed a cop before. Never had to.” — Ride-Along


What about you? What are some of your favorite opening lines?


Paul D. Marks said...

Great selection of lines, Alan. Of those, I have a particular fondness for the one from Anna Karenina. It's always struck a chord with me.

I am not a robot...though sometimes I'm not so sure.

Paul D Brazill said...

Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.

‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’.

Dana King said...

Good list. There are quite a few I like, but, when pressed, I fall back on an accepted master, from James Crumley's THE LAST GOOD KISS:

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon

Meredith Cole said...

Dr. Seuss always knew how to start every story with a bang, didn't he? The other lines are good, too, Alan... Including yours!

Alan Orloff said...

Paul - Thanks. One day the robots will rule the world, so be kind to our future overlords.

Paul B. and Dana - Two excellent additions. Funny how many of the greatest lines are from crime fiction. Not that I'm biased, or anything!

Meredith - Thanks. I wish I could write like the Dr S...

Catriona McPherson said...

I might need to read The Hotel New Hampshire again now - and *that's* a great opening line, no?

Susan C Shea said...

The Lock Artist opening line was perfect for the slow reveal of the story, wasn't it? Good read.

So many good ones in your list. I just tweaked my manuscript in formation last week and think I may have hit on a good opener, so important.

Kristopher said...

The first line from Anna Karenina reminds me of a great article I recently read about translations which used that book as the basis for the study.

Made me once again realize that the translator has a large investment in the meaning of a book.

Here is a link to that very lengthy but fascinating article:

RJ Harlick said...

No opening line list would be complete without the infamous one from A Tale of Two Cities. A terrific list, Alan.

Alan Orloff said...

Catriona - Any first line with a bear in it is good with me!

Susan - I loved The Lock Artist!

Kristopher - Interesting article. I have a lot of respect for translators.

Thanks, RJ! Loved your quiz but I didn't do very well.

Madeline said...

“Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.” From The Luck of the Bodkins (1935) Although it's not a mystery as such, more an amiable farce.