Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“Arterial blood has sprayed onto the walls; the tannoy is breaking into a staccato and the student nurse, Linda, recalls a childhood wish for invisibility” – Terry Melia’s Tales from the Greenhills

“…has sprayed…”, “…is breaking…”, and “…recalls…” – I’ve written elsewhere that I need to know Melia sweated every word choice. If the word choice above was automatic and obvious, I’m giving up writing. The first sentence of Tales from the Greenhills is present tense, direct address, and action. You are there in the center of it and the action is intense. You see the arterial blood dripping down the walls. The tannoy (British for “loudspeaker”) is making terse, abrupt statements – probably operational rather than informative based on the “arterial blood” line – and we’re given a point-of-view character who is 1) a student – she’s young, 2) a nurse – she should know what she’s doing but from (1) we know she’s in over her head, 3) recalling a childhood – she’s looking for peace, comfort, refuge, safety, 4) invisibility – she wants to get away, hide, be free of what’s happening.

And in twenty-five words.

And it keeps getting better.

Tales from the Greenhills is a must read for authors and writer-wannabes. It is a textbook of style, voice, language, dialogue, setting, …

Sorry, if I’m gushing. It’s that good.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Jan 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

Could Truman Capote sexually identify as an attack helicopter?

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“On the face of it, you wouldn’t think there was any connection between the murder of a dead man and the events that changed my perceptions about my life.” – Sue Grafton’s “J” is for Judgment
In a short twenty-nine words Grafton defines the character, foreshadows the story itself and the plotline. All great.

And then it quickly descends into genre tropes. This is not a bad thing in general and I’m sure there are people who love genre tropes.

Me, not so much. I like my genres with a bit more literary flare and a bit less trope

My loss, and I’m willing to accept that.
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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Nov 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

A powerful opening line that leads to an amazingly weak novel

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“She sleeps beside me, her narrow chest rising and falling, and already I miss her.” – Kristen Harmel’s The Room on Rue AmÈlie
I challenge anyone to read that line and hear anything but a whisper. If not a full whisper, a quiet voice, a voice not wanting to disturb. I further challenge anyone to read that line and not feel an ache. You know something’s going to happen and it’s going to change the narrator’s world completely. Can you read that line and not have a sense of illness? The narrow chest rising and falling followed by already I miss her?

Amazing emotional power in fifteen words, to me. I need to know Harmel worked hard at that opening line. If it just came to her, I should quit the writing business.

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel doesn’t live up to that opening line. By chapter 3 the strong narrative voice is lost, the storycrafting weakens, and the reader is left wondering what happened to the author of the first two chapters. Certainly they left and let someone else take over the writing of the book. There are sparks of the original brilliance here and there, but nothing like the evocative power of that great opening line and the first two chapters.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Nov 2019’s Great Opening Lines)”

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Sep 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

Wipe the dust off your boots and have a long drink of water

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“A sharp clip-crop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.” – Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage
I mention on Goodreads that Riders of the Purple Sage is one of my perennial reads. I started it again this month and stopped with the first line. Prior readings, I wasn’t sensitive to opening lines. Since my last read, I’ve done some studying of opening lines; what works, what doesn’t, and specifically what makes one opening line great and another ho-hum.

Readers unfamiliar with Gray’s work are missing out on so much. He is a old school master storyteller, meaning his storycrafting blends so much and so expediently that the reader is either in or out of the book’s mythos as rapidly as possible.

Case in point, Riders of the Purple Sage‘s opening line, “A sharp clip-crop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.”

You have auditory (the hooves), visual (clouds, cottonwoods, sage), and tactile (yellow dust, heat) sensory information. Strong words; sharp, iron, deadened, died. Juxtaposition; nearby harshness, distant softness.

This first line also foreshadows the story; a near harshness – elegantly demonstrated in the first chapter – yields to a distant warmth and softness (not going to tell you because it’ll give too much away.

I don’t know about you but I want to dust myself off after reading that sentence. And I want a drink of water (which also plays a character development role in the first chapter). I can feel the heat of the sun, the harshness of the environment, and am primed for the conflict to come (again, the near-far juxtaposition).

Must reading, folks. Must!
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Sep 2019’s Great Opening Lines)”

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Aug 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

A Pale View of Unbearable Lightness

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“Niki, the name we finally gave my younger daughter, is not an abbreviation; it was a compromise I reached with her father.” – Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills
I’m amazed at how much is given the reader in that single sentence. I want to know that Ishiguro agonized over it, that it’d been through seventeen-hundred drafts, endless workshoppings, backs-and-forths with dozens of editors.

Either that or it’s one of those amazing flukes the author is unaware of until someone points it out to them.

We’re given the two focal point characters in that opening line; Niki and her mother. We learn that the mother is not happy with the name, but was willing to compromise on something that would be in her life forever – if that’s not character description nothing is.

We learn that “we” made the decision about “my” daughter. Possession but not ownership. Another character descriptive element.

We learn the mother prefers names that are not abbreviations. IE, names that have more meaning, more history. However, the fact that the mother thinks in terms of abbreviations lets us know that the mother sees things confined, constrained, walled-in.

In one sentence, we have the entirety of the book.

Note to readers: I explain in my Goodreads review that this book is a major fail. It’s got a killer opening line and the majority of the book is a worthy read. Ten pages from the end it died for me. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

“The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!” – Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I (incorrectly) reference this book’s opening line in my Writers’ Corner Interview. The opening line offers this philosophical tidbit, the next line, “What does this mad myth signify?” asks the question and the rest of the book explores so many implications it’s staggering. The book’s seven sections dissect the opening posit from many angles (more than seven) and the first line’s theme recursed on every page.

I also appreciate that an opening line inviting readers to think may be a major downer to some. Never-the-less, this opening line prepares you for the exploration that begins in the second paragraph and doesn’t end until the butterfly circles the room and the piano and violin are faintly heard in the last paragraph. Definitely a keeper book.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.