Monday, March 22, 2010

Let’s Get it Started by Austin Camacho

While I was teaching my most recent class on writing basics I mentioned the importance of the first line of a novel. Today’s readers expect a writer to hook them fast and keep their attention. I spend a lot of time agonizing over the first sentence of a book and I know a lot of other writers who do the same. But when questioned, I was hard put to clearly define what a good lead sentence is or how to create one. What will let the reader know what kind of book to expect, create suspense that draws them in, yet doesn’t leave them feeling lost and confused?

In my on line search for enlightenment I came upon an entire web site dedicated to first lines. The Opening Lines section of Wikiquote - http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Opening_lines - is almost a class in itself, an extensive lesson on how to grab the reader at the start of your book. The lines are laid out alphabetically by book title and just in the A section I found great examples of opening with humor:

Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.
The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

Profound, thought provoking starts:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

And beginnings that tell you what the whole book will hinge on:

Who is John Galt?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

I’ll admit that I’m also partial to openings that make you want to know why:

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

I was surprised to see just how many of these familiar books opened with a description of the weather, something I’ve been told is a bad idea. Of course the most famous bad writing example starts there: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Anyway, I found the pages to be a fun read, and I think others who enjoy short works might enjoy trolling thru these opening lines and if they work, you might be looking up the books too.

7 comments:

John Medd said...

If you only read the first and last lines, would you be able to work out what happened in between?

Dana Fredsti said...

Austin, those were great! I have to admit, my juvenile sense of humor cracked up over the first one...

shirley said...

Too bad you can't search by author. My favorite lines were at the beginning of C J Box's first two novels. I defy you to not want to read further.

Mike Dennis said...

Austin, one of my favorite opening lines is "Across the bar a lean blond with a missing front tooth is massaging my tits with his eyes, and I get an idea."
--VOLUNTARY MADNESS by Vicki Hendricks (2000)

Morgan Mandel said...

That hook is so important. I've changed opening lines many times looking for the right one.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Enid Wilson said...

Very interesting. I should have revised more too...

Really Angelic

Anonymous said...

It was a dark and stormy night, huh? How about "What the lighning showed me I didn't want to see?" - ha - I'm visiting blogs and having fun. Am also going to visit some of these interesting writers' pages.
Happy springtime, Austin,
Jackie Griffey