Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Magic of Beginnings

Beginnings are magical. We all know it — and for those who still harbor doubts, I will only say: "New Year!", "weddings!", "baby showers!" Beginnings are magical and we love them!

And beginnings in books are no less magical than in real life. Strong beginnings — and endings — are essential to good story telling. Book beginnings are the vital opening lines that reach out and grab us, hauling us into full immersion in the world of the story.

Darcy & Elizabeth
"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

Well, we all know that one, right? Immediately, from the get-go, the Inimitable Jane captivates us with her sly irony — and executes a brilliant set-up for a story that has remained enduringly popular for two hundred years. (Two hundred years, fellow writers: two HUNDRED years!)

All of those two hundred-odd years later, here's another that definitely hooked me into the story:

" 'Heads Up!' A warning came through my earpiece as the door flew open. Two men, one average build, one overweight, tumbled past and hit the sidewalk, fists flying. The smell of sour beer and club music blasted out with them, the bass vibrating my bones. A few girls in short-shorts and sparkling tops squealed. The rest of the crowd cheered.

Typical midnight in Newton, Los Angeles."

– Kim Falconer, The Blood In The Beginning

These lines do indeed reach out and haul us into this action story: a great hook and scene-setting for an action-based paranormal story.

Sometimes, though, the beginning catches the reader's attention simply by its brevity:

"Call me Ishmael." – Hermann Melville, Moby Dick

This simple invitation from the narrator of Moby Dick is direct and personal. It both invites the reader in: no, it demands that the reader enter – and yet simultaneously repels, because the readers of Melville's time would have known that Ishmael was the Biblical outcast...

Here is another of my favorite, attention-grabbing, classical beginnings:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

It's a beginning that gets you thinking and smiling wryly at the same time. It's also a beginning that tells you this will be a story about families, chiefly unhappy ones.

In a similar way, the beginning of The Gathering of the Lost (the second book in The Wall Of Night series) speaks to both what Robin Hobb has called the "strange magic" of the series but also its theme of darkness and concealed knowledge and events:

"Malian’s dream was darkness: blackness without stars, water without
light, a tower without a shadow that she remembered climbing—but
that too fell away as she plummeted, diving head first through the

These are just a few examples of both classic novels, and a few Supernatural Underground examples, that illustrate the magic of beginnings.

But how about you – do you have an all-time favorite book opening to share? Do tell me all about it!

PS: To read about endings, check out Kim's fab January post:

The End Is Near 


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is her most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we


Anonymous said...

She had all her teeth.
- Christina Dodd, Castles in the Air

Silence descended upon the forest like a shroud. It was as if all of nature had just drawn its breath in, holding it in fearful anticipation. But of what?
- Hannah Howell, The Beast Within

It was a shriek that startled Calum MacNachton from sleep. Eyes shooting open, he sat up abruptly and cursed as his head slammed into solid rock.
- Lynsay Sands, The Rescue

She was an old woman now. Many believed she had been born so-that she had sprung from the womb that was Tuscany, swathed in bombazine and old black lace, weighed down by her obstinacy and her rosary and her temper, which could, admittedly, be very bad. Sofia Josephina DiBiase Castelli had buried three husbands, her precious daughter, and, sometimes it seemed, even her grandson.
She had seen the world; fallen in love in Paris, married in Florence, and grown old, wise, and weary in London. But once, long ago, she had been as young and as romantic as the starry-eyed lovers who strolled through the square beneath her windows on a Sunday afternoon. And she
was not now so old that she could not recognize the gnawing hunger of
loneliness when she saw it in others.

- Liz Carlyle, No True Gentleman

Elina Shestakova of the Black Bear Riders of the Midnight Mountains of Despair in the Far Reaches of the Steppes of the Outerplains—or just Elina for those who are lazy—carefully made her way up the mountain toward her destiny.
- G. A. Aiken, Light My Fire

Helen Lowe said...

Thanks! You have some great openings there. I particularly like "She had all her teeth." :D

Kim Falconer said...

Great post, Helen, as usual. Thanks for including me in the list.

I love Christina Dodd's "She had all her teeth!" Excellent.

Here are some to add:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.” 1984, George Orwell.

“It was a pleasure to burn.” Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury.

'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' - The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

"The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards." A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin.

"Mother, I am in love with a robot." The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee (this makes me laugh because I am about to tick "I am not a robot" to post!)

There are so many others, I might come back when I think of them!

Thanks again, Helen. :)

Rachel A. Marks said...

Love this! Beginnings are my fave. :)