[Note: Who had the bright idea to start a daily countdown blog without having any buffer? Oh, right, me. Well, Once again I am running a little behind schedule. Blogging is secondary to “being a dad,” and so it was relegated accordingly. Since I got to finally see Wreck-It Ralph and I’m still writing the post, it’s a win-win for me. Also, I currently have tomorrow free, aside from watching my hapless Redskins lose again, so I intend to get a two or three post buffer done. By the time NaNo kicks off, I might be on schedule consistently…]
It was a dark and stormy night.
As opening lines go, that one is particular infamous. While I associate it most strongly with the oeuvre of a beagle named Snoopy, because I am allegedly a cultured adult, the phrase was apparently first coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his novel Paul Clifford.
The phrase has gained such notoriety that it has inspired the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, dedicated to composing gloriously bad opening sentences, and 2013’s winner by Chris Wieloch of Brookfield, WI is a fine example of the form:
“She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination”
As the old adage goes: “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This is equally true for your novel, and needs to be kept in mind for NaNoWriMo. Your draft may not be sparkling prose dictated from the heavens by the literary gods, but it’s first sentence and paragraph need to be enough to hook the reader when they indulge in the time honored ritual of flipping through the first couple of pages in a bookshop before trying to buy the novel cheaper online.
Like titles, first sentences are something I struggle with. They tend to be to passive or expository without being evocative. At 2012’s NaNoWriMo kickoff party here in Richmond, Virginia there was a little competition to write your opening sentence on a whiteboard and the best would win a small prize. My entry was:
“It was early February in Texas and the sky rained fire.”
Which I think is quite punchy and would entice to read further. The actual winning sentence was:
“I’m bad at beginnings.”
Which shows that the writers in my area have an appreciation for meta humor, if nothing else. That’s really all I have to say on opening sentences, but I’m still a little ways short of my planned minimum word count of five hundred for this entry, so how about we play a simple game.
Can you match the ten opening sentences below to the novels they came from? And would they encourage you to read further ?
- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
- “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.”
- “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
- “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.”
- “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
- “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
- “All this happened, more or less.”
- “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”
- “We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.
So, those are the lines, do any of them particular grip you? Now here are the titles:
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
- 1984 by George Orwell
- The Crow Road by Iain M. Banks
- The Holy Bible, New King James Version by Various
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- A Study In Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
How do you think you did?
Here’s the answers:
1-D, 2-H, 3-G, 4-A, 5-J, 6-B, 7-C, 8-F, 9-E, 10-I
Do you have any great/horrific openers to share?
(Photo credit goes to Mateusz Stachowski)