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.
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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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Aristotle’s “Poetics”

I’ve read a few writing texts and better than half mention Aristotle’s Poetics as the original, the source, what everything else is based on. I managed to kick that gauntlet out of my way for quite a while and finally yielded.

 
Everybody mentions it’s a short book. It is. The PDF version I found is 49 pages (and that includes lots of room where explanations of Greek phrasing and words are made).

Does it have everything you need in a writing text? Yes, if you’re consider just mechanics (what is a plot? What is characterization? What is dialogue?), no if you happen to be a writer also dealing with marketing, contracts, et cetera. Let’s face it, it is an ancient text written by someone at the height of his game. Aristotle was a household name when he wrote this (if you want a writing text by someone still bandaging their scars from their early battles, read Barry Longyear’s Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics).

Aristotle was also a master logician and it shows – my god, does it show – in how explains writing concepts.
Is it accessible? ROFL, are you kidding? This is an ancient text, remember? His examples all come from ancient texts. He painstakingly describes character, sure, but his examples are from Sophocles, Euripides, Thrycine, Inoculene, Phlegmatic, and Spyrochete (yes, I made some of those up. Good for you if you knew which ones).

And it’s dense. Consider your average 300 page writing text squished into 49 pages with just as much raw information.

And some of it’s in Greek. Not even modern Greek, you’ll need to pick up a few things from konic.

So how useful is it?


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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.