Friday, April 20, 2012

Great opening lines

Anthony Ehlers recently did a blog post on opening lines. It's an excellent post, so if you haven't yet read it, you should.

Taking Anthony's post a step further, I'm going to give examples today of great opening lines. Notice how each opening line conveys not only a sense of the author's writing style, but also what the book is about.

The first example is from one of my favourite authors, Georgette Heyer:
“A fox got in amongst the hens last night, and ravished our best layer,” remarked Miss Lanyon. 
- Georgette Heyer, Venetia (1958)
This sentence introduces the main character, the style of the dialogue gives an indication that this is a period piece, and best of all, hidden in these seemingly innocent words, lies the entire story: this book is about a rake's seduction of an innocent young woman.

If Uncle Lazarro hadn't left the mob, I probably wouldn't have a story to tell. 
 - Janice Thompson, Fools Rush In (2009) 
In one sentence you get that this book is going to be fun, probably a little tongue-in-cheek, and that it'll have something to do with both the mob and family. If this opening line piqued your interest, Fools Rush In is free on Amazon Kindle today.

There was a lot to be said for fictional fianc├ęs, decided Charlotte Greenstone as she settled into the saggy vinyl hospital chair for yet another night-time vigil by her dying godmother’s side.
- Kelly Hunter, With This Fling (2011)
In just one sentence, we meet the heroine, set the scene, and receive a vital clue to what this book is about: this is a romance in which a fictional fiance becomes very real.

It is freezing, an extraordinary -18⁰C, and it’s snowing, and in the language which is no longer mine, the snow is qanik - big, almost weightless crystals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverised white frost. - Peter Hoeg, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1995) 
In an instant you not only know that snow and ice are going to feature heavily in this story, but that the storyteller is struggling with identity and her place in the world.
And isn't that language just beautiful? I've re-read this book twice and this opening makes me want to dig it out again.

And finally:
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” 
- The Princess Bride, William Goldman (1973)
Intriguing. How does a book become a favourite without the narrator having read it?
The reader is guaranteed to keep going to find the answer. This opening line also carries clues that this book is going to be all about stories and story-telling.

Re-read the opening lines of some of your favourite novels and try to spot the clues the author has given the reader of what is to come. Does that opening line convey what the author's voice sounds like in the rest of the novel? Can you guess the book's genre just from that opening line?

Now go back and read your own. Can you rewrite your opening sentence so that it works really hard to not only give as much detail as possible, but also to convey a sense of your style, and also to intrigue the reader to keep on reading?

Do you have a favourite line you'd like to share with us?

There are just twelve days left to the closing date of the ROSA Opening Scene contest. Click on the contest icon in the left sidebar for more information.

1 comment:

  1. My favourite line:
    There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.

    It's from Damage by Josephine Hart. Not a romance, but a love story all the same.