Monday, February 22, 2021

A priest, a president, and a Boy Scout walk into a bar...Great First Lines

 Q: What’s your favorite first line of a book or story, and why? Then tell us your favorite first line from one of your books and stories, and why.


from Susan


This is a hard question to answer. There can never be one for all time. Reading as many books as I – and you – do every month, let alone every year, trying to remember which one struck you as the “best” is difficult enough. 

But then there’s the problem of what makes a “best.” After all an intriguing first line may lead you by false promises into a very dull story. A quiet line about a woman filling a coffee pot may turn out to be pivotal to understanding a self-effacing character or be chilling because of what we learn in the third paragraph is in the pot. 


The first line, or the first couple of sentences? 

Here’s one sentence – the entire first paragraph is one sentence! – by the inimitable John Mortimer (Rumpole of the Bailey (1978) , in which Rumpole introduces himself in the bloviating, self-celebratory style that is his character: 


“I, Horace Rumpole, barrister at law, 68 next birthday, Old Bailey Hack, husband to Mrs. Hilda Rumpole (known to me only as She Who Must Be Obeyed)…”  and it carries on from there. Rather a grand opening sentence.



Elizabeth Little’s newest novel, Pretty as a Picture (2020), is another first-person soliloquy, as short as Mortimer’s is long and mucho important to the plot:


“They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. 

“That’s not what I’d say.

“I’d say it depends on the picture.”



I’m including the first lines of my own Dressed for Death in Burgundy (2018). I wanted it to pull the reader into the village environment, the season in which the story takes place, the domestic nature of the story, and the wit that I hope is part of my storytelling. Yeah, I’m proud of this one:


“Emile’s new dog was barking again, a deep, rhythmic complaint that had as much to do with the presence of Katherine Goff’s yellow cat sitting beyond the fence as it did with the dog’s desire to be inside, away from the biting December wind.”




Note to fellow writers: Yes, I know Courier is a typewriter font, one that doesn't appear on our manuscript pages, much less in books now that typewriters are merely artifacts and cute, retro pieces of decor. But I'm saluting fingers pushing keys and that's still a thing unless you're one of those amazing people who manage to "write" books by talking into your cell phones.






1 comment:

Jerry House said...

a priest, a president, and a boy scout walk into a bar. The bartender gives the preist a Vesper Martini. He gives the president an el Presidenta. And he gives the boy scout two demerits.