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.

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

A delightful science fiction mystery, a fantasy that’s never been classified as such, and both about gendering

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.

“The place stank.” -John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?
Tight and direct. Simple and evocative. With nothing else, you know (or at least I did) the narrator’s gender, their background, their mindset, that the story’s going to be about some kind of unpleasantness, and what to expect.

It’s worth reading the entire opening paragraph because it builds so beautifully off that great opening line: The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the ice-buried cabins of an Antarctic camp know, compounded of reeking human sweat, and the heavy, fish-oil stench of melted seal blubber. An overtone of liniment combated the musty smell of seat-and-snow-drenched furs. The acrid odor of burnt cooking fat, and the animal, not-unleasant smell of dogs, diluted by time, hung in the air.

If you have any doubts after reading the opening line, the rest of the first paragraph leaves no room for questioning. The entire story is a masterclass in storytelling and storycrafing technique for authors and writers of any genre. I offer a full review on Goodreads

“He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” – Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Here is the opening line to an incredible fantasy book that (as far as I know) has never been listed as fantasy. The first line tells the reader that the book is going to be about sex, but not coitus (there’s plenty of that, don’t worry), instead sexual identity. I’ll admit here that transgendering is an oddity to me. So many people feeling a need to specify “He/Him” and “She/Her” in their social profiles. I wonder if this need to publicly self-identity is the outcome of better surgical techniques, increased awareness, or something indicative of the unsurety of our cultural identity as a whole.

Such concerns didn’t exist in Woolf’s time. She was able to write a political novel with a protagonist who could – quite literally – take a long view and the fantasy element is subtly hammered home in the last chapter. Hinted at in the first line, hammered in the last chapter – Yowza!

Nice.

I’ve written a full review on Goodreads.

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.


Yes, this post is about a week late. This blog was transferred and it took a while. Sorry for the delay.

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

An ever increasing sense of confinement starting with the first line

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.

“There was not an inch of room for Lottie and Kezia in the buggy.” – Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude in The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield (Wordsworth Classics)
This line is so elegant and simple it’s deceptive. It’s “not an inch of room for”, not “no room for”. “no room for” would be pedestrian, boring and unimaginative. “not an inch of room for” gives us a hint of character, mood, and atmosphere. We are shown the narrator’s attitude towards the environment the moment we start reading.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2019’s Great Opening Lines)”

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

Salinger and Atwood make the list

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.

“If you really want to hear about it,…” – J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
First, the full opening line is “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

You have the entire book in that opening line. The protagonist’s – Holden Caulfield’s – entire self-concept is revealed, the narrative voice established, you know and understand the main character and what you’re in for. Caulfield is talking to you directly, is reluctant to share anything about himself, and tests the reader’s level of interest before revealing anything. Salinger is essentially setting the reader’s expectations in the opening line. Nicely done!

“Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.” – Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
The subtlety of that line overpowers me. It’s passive voice about a hopeful image. Talk about a killer emotional combination! Combine it with the complete first paragraph – “Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, there buds testing the air like snails’ eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.” – and you have the entire story presaged in a few short sentences, all of which echoes the passive-hopeful promise.

Nice.

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts)

Listen. Understand. Act.

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).

A woman read the opening of a play at a writers’ group I recently attended. She had four characters talking to each other for about eight pages. Not doing anything, just talking.

Ever been at a party and walk up to a group of people talking then discover both they and their conversation are boring as hell?

You look around for another group, one where voices are raised or there’s laughing, one where, even though the people are standing, they’re animated, moving their arms, nodding or shaking their heads to whatever’s being said, stepping back and forth, their bodies demonstrating their feelings about the conversation.

You strategize ways to get out of the boring group and into the interesting group simply because it is interesting!

People reading your story or watching your play behave much the same. If your characters, setting, situation, whatever, is dull, they’ll stop reading, change the channel, get up and leave the theater, take your pick. People need a reason to put their attention on your material. Give it to them.
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts)”