Greeting from a very hot and sunny Cyprus!
I recently read an article where Stephen King talks about writing and more specifically, that all important first line. He said there are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. But it’s a tricky thing for him because he just writes and worries about fine-tuning later. It may take him a month or two to write the line he's happy to start his new book with.
But there's one thing I'm sure about. An opening line should invite my readers to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this!
I’ve read some terrific books and some lousy ones. I’ve picked out some of what I consider are the best opening lines. Some books are classics and some contemporary. Have a look and let me know your favourites.
For a bit of fun, I’ve added the first lines of my own novels at the end of the post…some I really like, some maybe not so good…perhaps I’ll change some! I've also included two of my novels which are due to be published later this year, Devil's Brae (psychological thriller) and A Seasonal Affair (contemporary romance).
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell, 1984
The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed. Stephen King, The Gunslinger
Mother died today. Albert Camus, The Stranger
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877).
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
The Primroses were over. Richard Adams, Watership Down
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. PG Wodehouse. The Luck of the Bodkins (1935)
It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers (1980)
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (1963)
The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992)
Billy gathered his treasures together and laid them at the end of his ramshackle bunk in hut nineteen. There wasn’t a lot to account for three years’ incarceration. Faith Mortimer, The Seeds of Time (2012)
Richard glanced at his watch. It was still early. There was plenty of time to do what he wanted that morning. He took a sip of his strong coffee and finished the last of his fried egg, ensuring no trace of the yellow yolk remained on the plate. He smiled; he took after his father. Faith Mortimer, Harvest (2012)
He awoke confused and disorientated, barely able to breathe, his throat obstructed. He heard a voice; soft and persistent, close to his ear. Faith Mortimer, The Assassins’ Village (2011)
Opening the kitchen door, Hermione spotted a vixen standing near the refuse bin. She clapped her hands, and it shot through the hedge at the bottom of the garden. Faith Mortimer, Children of the Plantation (2011)
Playing this game was a major enjoyment. It had been played many times before, and this time, it was proving even more of a thrill. The watcher spotted her immediately. Faith Mortimer, The Surgeon’s Blade (2012)
For some reason, Diana didn’t want to go any nearer the stage, which was surprising since she had once loved it. Instead, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She remembered. Faith Mortimer, Camera Action…Murder! (2012)
Lucille Boudin stood transfixed in front of the Cheval mirror. Holding her arms away from her tall slim body, she turned very slowly, studying her reflection as she did so. The dress was exquisite. Faith Mortimer, A Very French Affair, (2013)
He had been living there for almost as long as she. After the trial and her disgraceful release, he made sure she would never be out of his sight for long. He counted himself lucky: he had time on his side. Faith Mortimer, Childhunt. (2013)
Once upon a time, in the seventeenth Century, it is said that a girl known locally as the Fairy Girl walked in this Glen. Faith Mortimer, Devil’s Brae. (To be published Aug/Sep 2013)
It was a filthy day and everything was going wrong. Faith Mortimer, A Seasonal Affair (To be published, late 2013)
But remember - you can't create a novel based on first lines. A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose -- the story has got to be there, and that's the real work. Yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice -- it's the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there's incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.
Thanks for dropping and happy reading!