Thursday, 6 July 2017

FIRST LINES by Val Tyler

First lines fascinate me. I try to work out what makes a decent first line and what makes an exceptional one.

I suppose a decent first line draws the reader into the book. It captivates the imagination and entices the us to read on. When I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as a teenager, I was totally captivated by the opening sentence. By the end of the first paragraph I felt as deeply into the story as I usually am by the fourth chapter.

            “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.”
But what makes an opening exceptional? Surely it must do more than draw us in, it must set the tone for the entire story and indicate the story-style. Even more than that, I find the exceptional first lines live with me. My favourites have become well-known family sayings.

I offer you a few of my favourites in no particular order. I leave it to you to decide if they are decent or even exceptional. I wonder how many you know. If you get eight or nine out of ten I’ll take my hat off to you. If you get all ten, I will eat my hat!

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

            The past is another country, they do things differently there.”

“My father had a face that could stop a clock.”

 “You better not never tell nobody but God.” 

            There was a man who had a cross and his name was Macauley.”

            “I returned from the city about three o’clock on that May afternoon pretty much disgusted with life.”

            “Now that I’m dead, I know everything.”

            I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

            "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news."

            ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ 

If you have a favorite, I’d be interested to know what it is.

1.      Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2.      The Go-Between – L P Hartley
3.      The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
4.      The Color Purple – Alice Walker
5.      The Shiralee – D’Arcy Niland
6.      The 39 Steps – John Buchan
7.      The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
8.      I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
9.      Stormbreaker – Anthony Horowitz
10.   Nineteen-eighty-four – George Orwell


Mystica said...

I knew only a few of them and they all are fantastic openers.

Susan Price said...

I knew 4.
"It was the day my grandmother exploded," is a favourite of mine.

And, "I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped."

Joan Lennon said...

These are great! I also like "It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."

Val Tyler said...

Such good opening lines, and I'd not heard of any of them. Thank you.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I recognised 1,2 and 10 - embarrassing, because I have read Thr Eyre Affair and Stotmbreaker, but it *was* a long time ago!

A favourite opening line of mine is from Blaze Of Glory by Michael Pryor: "Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead." It turns out that he is *technically* dead, literally trying to keep body and soul together to avoid real death, after a stuff up in an experiment with death magic. But does that draw you in or what?

Did you ever read The Plague by Camus? I remember very little of the novel, which I had to read for French at university, but there was a character in it who has stuck in my memory. He has been writing the opening line of a novel for twenty years, and has never gone any further, because he wants to get it just right before proceeding further...

Val Tyler said...

No, Sue, I never read The Plague by Camus. What a lively idea. Sounds a little like a 'writer' I know who told me he was going to be a 'best selling author'. I was interested and asked what he had already written (he was in his twenties, recently married with no children and 9-5:00 job). In all seriousness he told me he had not written anything yet because he didn't have the time! I had four children and would start writing at 5:00 in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours before the kids got up. His wife added that he was 'very good'. To my knowledge, two kids and many years later, he has still written nothing.