July 2, 2012

A Writer's Life - It was a dark and stormy night ...

And boy was it ever. It was downright soggy if you ask me. Even more importantly would you want to read a novel that starts with these lines? Too cliche? Can't blame you.

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to hook the reader with the first few lines? A bit of a make or break kind of thing in case you like to read the first page or so before deciding whether to buy a book or not. Sure, some might judge a book by its cover, but we're not superficial like that (alright, not all the time, anyway).

Some authors might take hours, days, years to find the perfect first line. Others will jot them down in a minute. And you'll never be able to tell which one will lure the reader in. The author must wait how the reader reacts, quite simply.

The first sentence carries a heavy burden, all the responsibility, all the magic. Sometimes quite successfully, then not so much. But let's not dwell on those awful first lines that make otherwise good books look like they need a new haircut to get a first date. Let's revel in the beauty of books whose first sentence have charmed us over the years.

Call me Ishmael.
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

It was a pleasure to burn.
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.
The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
The Trial (Franz Kafka)

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. 
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Newromancer (William Gibson)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
The Catcher In The Rye (J D Salinger)

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
The End Of The Affair (Graham Greene)

And last but not least, the cliche obviously does work ...

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Paul Clifford (Edward George Bulwer-Lytton)

For those further interested, you might want to check out the Best First Lines of Novels which features famous first sentences from 100 novels.

How about yourself? Any favorite opening lines you want to share? Please do!

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