18 Apr 2011

O is for Openings.

In writing, as in dating, a lot of attention is paid to opening lines.

Do opening lines really have the ability to draw a potential lover reader into a relationship novel? Maybe, but the rest of the person story will have to live up to those expectations.

Here are 13 opening lines (from novels) that managed to grab my attention and set off my imagination:

'The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault.'
Jim Butcher (Blood Rites)

'Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.'
Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell)

'If I am out of my mind, it’s alright with me, thought Moses Herzog.'
Saul Bellow (Herzog)

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.'
Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

'The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.'
William Gibson (Neuromancer)

'It was the day my grandmother exploded.'
Iain Banks (The Crow Road)

'It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.'
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Love in the Time of Cholera)

'It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.'
Paul Auster (City of Glass)

'All children, except one, grow up.'
J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)

'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.'
Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)

'I looked at my notes and I didn't like them. I'd spent three days at U.S. Robots and might as well have spent them at home with the Encyclopedia Tellurica.'
Isaac Asimov (I, Robot)

'The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.'
Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere)

'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.'
J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)

What are your favourite opening lines?

Image: 'beware of dog' by Justin Lincoln. Available under a creative commons license. © 2006, Justin Lincoln.
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  1. "Prithee, smite the poet in the eye when he would sing to you praises of the month of May. It is a month presided over by the spirits of mischief and madness." from The Marry Month of May O. Henry

  2. @mybabyjohn: That is a brilliant one, thanks. :-)

  3. I'm such a sucker for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice:

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

    And I have not yet read Love in the Time of Cholera, but I admit that opening line drew me in.

  4. @L.G.: yes, it was a contestant, I have to admit :-)

  5. You've chosen some great first lines!

    I still like Virginia Woolf's opening line:
    Mrs. Dalloway decided to buy the flowers herself.

  6. Great topic, KC! I just want to point out the passive voice "It was" in so many of them. I don't think many of them would work in modern lit with the emphasis on action.

    I particularly like the TV one. SO atmospheric!

  7. Very interesting choice for "O". Excellent post. What a difference the opening lines make!!

  8. I love the illustration and you've chosen some great opening lines here. I've just spent far too long looking through novels for opening lines that I love and I'm going to share the one from Joanne Harris' Blackberry Wine. "Wine talks. Everyone knows that."

  9. "Ah, me, this business of dying!" Back Street, by Fanny Hurst.

    Great exercise. Thank you.

    Hello, fellow A-Z Challenger! Here's my latest entry. Come visit either of my blogs when you can and leave some comment love:

    M is for Mindmapping/Full View Outline

    http://www.rockinchairreflections.com (A-Z)
    Twitter: @SolarChief

  10. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (Orwell 1984)

    It's a bright warm day this April and getting warmer as we are on the run in to 'Z'.

  11. @Gail: yes, I had a good look at that one too. If I'd made a top 20, it'd have been in there :-)

    @Toby: good point about the 'it was'. It raises interesting questions about what it is in a novel that makes it stand the test of time! :-)

    @premkumarrao: Thank you :-). They do make a difference, but I think we might place a bit too much value on opening lines. They're worth nothing if the writing falls flat right after.

    @Rosalind: Thank you :-). I had a different idea in mind when I started looking for an image, but when I saw that one, it just fit :-)
    Thanks for the Joanne Harris quote! I read that book in Flemish translation, so I hadn't thought of those lines.

    @Sharlene: Great opening lines. I'd never heard of the book, but you made me want to read it! :-)

    @Bob: I think your version comes quite close to the original. It could make for an interesting novel, about the struggle and hardship towards the end of the alphabet! :-)

  12. "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed" - Stephen King, Dark Tower Book 1.

    Such a simple but so powerful line. Takes you right there into the story...


  13. So true. Great lines, Jim. Thanks! :-)

  14. Can't think of any right now (too early!!) but I LOVE your opening line to this post! Made me laugh.

    - allison writes

  15. Hi allison. Thanks a lot! :-)

  16. I love that first one. "The building was on fire and it wasn't my fault."

  17. There are certainly some great ones there, but there are a few I'm not so crazy about!

  18. @Angela: me too, my mind went all over the place when I read it first :-)

    @Talli: all good. :-) De gustibus ... :-)

  19. "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold." Hunger Games. Loved the pacing of that book.

  20. @Shelli: I loved the Hunger Games! I don't often review books on my blog, but I did one on the trilogy a few months ago.


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