Since this is my first “real” post for the brand new Blinking Cursor (here’s the old blog), I thought it would only be appropriate to focus on opening lines. No matter how long-winded or short, the first line of a novel or story is one of the most important aspects in hooking a reader like a trout on a warm summer morning by the lake. First impressions are everything; that line can set the mood or tone of the overall story and even begin the process of worldbuilding (i.e. the creation of the setting and its rules). The stronger the opening, the more likely you’ve managed to catch that reader and ensure she/he will be with you for the long haul. If they try to ditch you, you can always filet them, fry them, and serve them with a side of lemon juice. I’m kidding, of course… maybe.
Before I dig into some of my personal favorites, let’s have a pop quiz! How many of these famous novels can you name given just their opening line? I know Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button is tempting, but try not to cheat! My initial reaction to each line will be in parentheses. Good luck! Answers will follow.
- “Call me Ishmael.” (Can I just call you Ishy instead?)
- “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” (Woo, I’m sweating already!)
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (Thirteen? We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto)
- “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” (Someone’s in a mood, sheesh)
- “All this happened, more or less.” (You sound very trustworthy! Here’s my credit card!)
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Another truth universally acknowledged: anyone with a fortune, man or woman, must also be in want of a pre-nup)
- “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.” (So… uh… which is it, exactly?)
All right, pencils down. I hope you didn’t make any extra markings on the Scantron. Do kids still use those? Do they know what no. 2 pencils are? Anyway, I hope some of these lines rang a bell. One of them even gave away the title of the book. So, feeling pretty confident? Here are the answers: