Monday, October 19, 2009

On first lines...


In Perth last week I was telling my good friend Rowan that I’m not really sure how one should start to write a book. 
A patient smile, then: “It’s easy isn’t it? Don’t you just type ‘Once upon a time’ and go from there?”
He’s got a point. Just start writing.
It made me think about famous first lines and the enigma of how to hook your reader with a single sentence. 
The old cliché is not reserved for Golden Books alone. James Joyce began his ‘practice run’ to Ulysses with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and this pearler: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…” No, apparently it didn’t suck me in either, judging by the dog eared bookmark that’s been stuck on page 83 since time immemorable.
For its slightly shady mystique (say it out loud with an accent) I love: “Call me Ishmael”, from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
For its irrepressible visual image: “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.” AA Milne, Winnie the Pooh.
Because it makes me giggle: “James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death”. Ian Fleming, Goldfinger.
And Nabokov has to get a mention for: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”  Brilliant. But it’s a fine line between provocative and just plain creepy if you’ve seen the movie and can hear the salacious strains of Jeremy Irons’ Humbert Humbert breathing that opener. Err.
Waiting to dream up the ultimate line smacks of pure procrastination. It’s got to be a cracker though.
So while I get started on the plot I’ll put it out there – do you have any opening gems to share?!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Sam McCourt said...

"This is not a story of incredible heroism, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be."
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

coelho said...

you can do it just begin

Brian said...

Captain W.E.Johns knew how to attract my attention with the first sentence of every Biggles adventure story he wrote...here's a few examples;
Biggles in the Baltic - "As the momentous words 'England is now, therefore, in a state of war with Germany' came sombrely over the radio, Major James Bigglesworth, D.S.O., better known as Biggles, switched off and turned to face his friends, Captain the Honourable Algernon Lacey, M.C., and 'Ginger' Hebblethwaite. There was a peculiar smile on his face."
Biggles Sees It Through - "From twenty thousand feet Squadron-Leader James Bigglesworth, D.S.O., better known to his friends as 'Biggles', looked down upon a world that revealed no ore signs of occupation than the moon."
Biggles Flies North - "Biggles was whistling softly as he walked into the breakfast room of his flat in Mount Street, but he broke off as he reached for the letters lying beside his plate."
Biggles in the Jungle - With its ltimeter registeing six thousand feet, a travel-stained amphibian aircraft nosed steadily southward under a Central American sky of azure blue."

Rubyfire writes said...

Ooh they're great ones guys, thanks! Dad I think I need to borrow your Biggles books.
As far as drama goes (say it out loud, booming voice and defiant countenance required) - one of the most arresting opening lines in a poem has to be from John Donne's Holy Sonnet VII:
"At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets and arise, arise
From death you numberless infinities
Of souls..."