Monday, February 3, 2014

Calls to Adventures: Opening lines and the promises they make

This year, I have set it as a resolution to read more. Part of that becoming a Hero thing I mentioned last month. Read more to know more to make better choices. (and yes, I feel that reading fiction helps you discover the depth of the world around you and the depth of you).

In today’s world of insta-nowness, writers no longer have a few pages to hook readers. We have a sentence. And if that sentence is any good, we might have a paragraph. As a consumer looking to delve into different genres, writers have about three sentences to hook me.
So opening lines are key to not only getting readers attention, but letting them know the what and how of your novel. Letting them know exactly what kind of adventure they are promising.

I’ve picked out a few of my favorites that I feel really show the author guiding us into their world, telling us what the book is going to be about, and how they are going to tell us that story.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813).

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. - George Orwell, 1984 (1949).

OK. Don't panic. Don't panic. It's only a VISA bill. It's a piece of paper; a few numbers. I mean, just how scary can a few numbers be? - Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic (2001).

“I’ve watched through is eyes, listened through his ears, and I tell you, he’s the one.”- Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game (1997).

Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying the first step to eternal life is you have to die. -Chuck Palahnick Fight Club (1996).

Just to make sure I was getting a full spectrum of first lines for new books to sink my teeth into, here are the first lines of the top five current NY Times Best Sellers:

1. While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt

2. There was a time in Africa when people could fly. THE INVENTION OF WINGS, by Sue Monk Kidd

3. The found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. SYCAMORE ROW, by John Grisham

4. I may have found a solution to the wife problem. THE ROSIE PROJECT, by Graeme Simsion

5. It was all because of the Berlin wall. THE HUSBAND'S SECRET, by Liane Moriarty

All of these first lines not only are intriguing, but tell us exactly how the writer is going to tell the story. We know that Palahnick is going to be insane but a different kind of insane from Kinsella’s rampant fast-paced narration about shopping. Though Simsion’s The Rosie Project seems to be about marriage with its very scientific tone, it is strikingly different from the snarky one that Austen presents about the need for a wife.

Opening lines are the promise that writers make to readers that set the tone for the rest of the book. They are the call to adventure for the readers.

What are some of your favorite first lines that have called you to adventure, or heartbreak, or hilarity?

Amanda Arista
Author, Diaries of an Urban Panther Series


Helen Lowe said...

These are all great first lines, Amanda. I also love the opening lines to Laini Taylor's "Daughter Of Smoke and Bone":

"Once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

Maggie Stiefvater's "The Raven Boys" is also pretty good:

"Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told she would kill her true love."

Kim Falconer said...

Amanda, you said:

Opening lines are the promise that writers make to readers that set the tone for the rest of the book. They are the call to adventure . . .

I'm so tweeting that. It's awesome!

Thank you for a great post.