Monday, 15 March 2010

First Lines

I've been thinking about first lines this week. That rare sentence that makes you want to read the rest of the book to find out where it's going to lead. Two of my favourites are:-
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
I remember reading this in an English lit. lesson in high school and the teacher asking us why we thought George Orwell had written the sentence like that. She stopped us after reading one sentence. I think it was the first time that that had ever occurred to me, that there was more than a story behind the words that there might be a reason why certain words had been chosen.

The second first line is one of my favourite quotes full stop - just beautifully descriptive and true.
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)
And I was trying to think of modern first lines that had the same effect on me. And I'm coming up short. Most stories that I read now, don't seem to have that magic first line. It might be a magic first paragraph, or a magic first page, but not that first line that condenses everything the book is about into one sentence.Not a line that you can look back on from the end of the book and realise when you read the story again that the line will play in your head throughout the re-read.

So, I've tried to find some good first lines from recent fiction. Something actually on my bookshelf. Something with a real fish hook flair. And I've come up with the following.
"I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the obituary. The fact that it had my name on it was sort of a clue."
Touch the Dark, Karen Chance (2006)
Okay, technically the first two lines so it's a little bit of a cheat. But it's the best UF opening I've come up with.

"The dog would not die."
Eyes of Crow, Jeri Smith-Ready (2006)
Certainly made me want to keep on reading.

So is it that I now read completely the wrong sort of books, is the stunning opening line the reserve of the older literary classic? Surely someone has some modern favourites they'd like to share, or maybe one from an old classic they really love, or a comment on why the openings of UF fiction seem to take a little longer to get going. Is it that UF readers are more patient? LOL,based on my own patience quotient I don't think so.

I have a copy of Naked Brunch by Sparkle Hayter to give away to one commenter to this post. Poster chosen at random by the random number generator at on Friday.


Chris said...

Oh, I love Sparkle Hayter!

How about the first line of L.B. Gregg's new m/m romantic suspense, Catch Me If You Can (Romano & Albright, Book 1):

"I felt pretty damn good about the opening, until Shep McNamara strolled through the gallery door with a fresh new haircut and a spray-on tan and I aspirated the green olive floating in my martini."

Sarai said...

You make a good point it is very rare to find an author with a kick butt opening line. Usually its the first couple of lines that really snag your attention. I horrible b/c I mainly base my thought process on or purchases on the cover... how horrible is that.

LesleyW said...

Chris - an opening which makes me laugh is definitely a good one. :)

Sarai - I admit that a good cover can be the difference between me buying and not buying a book. So you're not alone there.

Angiegirl said...

I love this topic. Mostly because I feel just the way you do. A few modern first lines that I love and that immediately captivated me:

"On Christmas morning, Rebecca lost her moral virginity, her sense of humor--and her two best friends. But, other than that, it was a hell of a holiday." --THE ROAD HOME by Ellen Emerson White

"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." --SILENT IN THE GRAVE by Deanna Raybourn

A couple UF favorites:

"I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar." --DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris

"I didn't realize he was a werewolf at first." --MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs

Classic favorites:

"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home." --THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton

"I am going to pack my two shirts with my other socks and my best suit in the little blue cloth my mother used to tie round her hair when she did the house, and I am going from the Valley." --HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY by Richard Llewellyn

Louise said...

This gave me a good writing exercise: to come up with great first lines in for stories of mine.

I don't think anything grabs me by first line or blurb anymore. More like First couple of pages or chapter.

LesleyW said...

Angie - I've added Silent in the Grave to my wishlist. It's great to know there are still some books going for the kickass first line.

Though as Louise says I think most modern popular fiction goes for the opening paragraph or page.

Of course that could just be the books I'm reading.

Nastassia said...

When I was eight,my mother lost me to zombies in a one-card draw. - The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

It was the middle of November.I was supposed to be out jogging,but instead I was sitting at my breakfast table talking about men ,sex,werewolves,vampires,and that thing most unmarried but sexually active women fear most of all- a missed period. - Danse Macabre by Laurell K. Hamilton