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.

Terry Melia’s “Tales from the Greenhills”

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Now repeat that half a dozen times to get it out of my system.

I completed my third read of Tales from the Greenhills less than fifteen minutes ago. It’s going on my reread shelf.
One of my unwritten rules for realizing a book is stunning is getting to the end and wanting the story to continue, to find out what happens next to the characters (Melia says sequels are in the works. I’m holding him to that).

Another unwritten rule is having the characters sneak up on you such that you don’t realize you’re vested in their lives more than your own, that you care about them as people, not as characters in a story.

Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

 
American readers may have trouble with the language. Remember the first time you saw The Full Monty or Waking Ned Devine? You wanted subtitles for the first ten minutes until you got use to the accents? I had a similar experience reading the dialogue for the first time. I reread sentences to make sure I got the meanings correctly. Once I accepted the vernacular, I realized it was perfect.

Let me focus on that “perfect” part. Future anthropologists will pick up Tales from the Greenhills and realize they have a textbook for late 1970’s Liverpool, England, and the world. This book is so rich with cultural iconography is could be used as a time traveler’s guide to time and place.

Tales from the Greenhills is also a coming-of-age story meets Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, although I didn’t recognize this until half way through my second read and realized fully during my third read. Regarding the Hero’s Journey aspect, Melia couldn’t have done a better job of placing Le Queste de Saint Graal in modern England if he tried (don’t tell him I said that. He’ll prove me wrong and do it). It’s all there and I laughed when I finally recognized the separate characters for their Journey counterparts.

Again and again and again, Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

Do you need to read it three times to appreciate it? No, not at all. However, if you’re an author or writer-wannabe you must read this novel multiple times. Melia does an amazing job with scenes, characterization, mood, place, setting, voice, POV…I need to know this was by accident. If Melia set out to produce this rich a story, I’m going to hang up my writing shifts now, I can’t compete.

I did have the privilege of exchanging comments with Melia during my reading. His attention to detail — this is a movie or should be – think Trainspotting meets Oliver’s Travels — caused me to ask how much was imagined and how much remembered. I won’t give away his answer except that it increased my respect for both him and his work.

The book is also rich in quotable lines; “the only thing money can’t buy is poverty.” If Melia lifted that — good authors borrow, great authors steal — please tell me where so I can play in the treasure.

And last note; the opening scene. The book opens literally with the aftermath of the story. Not the conclusion, the aftermath of the climax. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! As I learned to say in Glasgow, “Pure Dead Brilliant, Jonnie!” Get past the first chapter and the rest of the book builds moment by moment, scene by scene, to the climax. You know it’s coming — you’ve already read the aftermath — and Melia keeps notching up the tension for what you already know is going to happen.

Again, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant.

Okay, the for real last note; the last three paragraphs. I read them and laughed. Oh, Mr. Melia, BRAVO!

Minor technical matters for American audiences
Editing styles in the UK differ slightly from their US counterparts. Some constructions don’t roll smoothly off the American tongue. They’re awkward, not confusing, much like I wrote above regarding dialogue.

I took them as an opportunity to increase my understanding of contemporary British literature and hope I’m a better all-around reader for it.

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.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Jan 2020’s Great Opening Lines)”

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)”

Rita Mae Brown’s “Starting from Scratch”

A Writer’s Mechanic’s Manual for Any Car on the Road

Okay, first thing and before anything else, Get This Book!

I don’t care where you are in your writing career, Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch will give you a chuckle (several hundred, probably) and clarify things that were not only muddy, but had been pushed aside because they were just too damn hard to figure out.

Worry no more, Rita’s got you covered.

 
I didn’t know who Rita Mae Brown was until a friend suggested I give her a read. This was back in the early-mid 1980s. He thought she was brilliant and hilarious.

That didn’t tempt me.

Then he told me she could benchpress 225#.

Yes, I was that much of an assh?le (may still be) that that caught my interest.

But I didn’t pick up one of her books (that I remember) until my first go-round as a writer. That book being Starting from Scratch.

Reading the book recently, it’s obvious I had read it at least once before; there were highlights in it. There were highlights of concepts I remember, if not exact phrasings. Truth be told, I was probably unprepared for the book when I first read it (my copy was published in Feb 1988). I’m glad I kept it around.

Starting from Scratch is a mechanic’s manual of the English language. Brown explains the purpose of first v third person POV with duh! level examples and lots of them. Ditto subjunctive case (trust me, you need to read this section). Ditto strong v weak verbs (another must read). Imagine someone showing you a crescent wrench and a 9/16″ box-end, showing you they can do the same thing, then demonstrating why one works better on these types of nuts, the other works better on those types of nuts.

Her Exercises chapter…remember what I wrote above about being impressed by her bench? Here’s your cardio and resistance training in one incredible package.


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