As the saying goes – you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover. BUT, can you judge a book by it’s opening line? Coming up with the first and last lines in a book must be the most difficult part of writing one. How many books have started with “It was a dark and stormy night”? Sure, most of those were authored by Snoopy, but seriously, the first person to use that as their opening line was Bulwer-Lytton in 1830. According to mprnews.org, the book is “Paul Clifford”: “…about a highway robber during the French Revolution. The robber doesn't know he's the son of a well-heeled judge — and he only learns it just in time to be sentenced to death by that very same judge. Don't worry, there's a happy ending: He breaks free and runs away to America to marry his cousin.” Now remember – this first sentence has become a cliché - so better skip that one in your next novel!
As an author, you want to draw your reader in and a good starter line is probably the best way to do that. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way though. In our Library’s book club, we’ve talked about how you should at least read the same number of pages as your age to give a book your best shot. If you’re still not interested by then, give it up. After all, there are way too many books out there to waste time on something that doesn’t interest you, right?
Consider some of these classics and their opening lines – do they grab you?
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: “On February 24, 1815, the lookout at Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples.” Look at it this way, if that didn’t interest you, there are still 1242 pages left to get that party started.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” OK, I think I’ll reread this one since writing about this opener makes me interested all over again!
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: ‘“Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” See, if this family lived near the Town of Florida, they could come to the Library and buy a couple of holiday basket raffle tickets and there would be good cheer all around (yes, this absolutely is a shameless plug for our basket raffle starting on November 29.)
Animal Farm by George Orwell: “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.” I don’t know what a pophole is so I might have to reread this one too just to refresh my memory.
And lastly – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: ‘“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”’ Now I think that’s rather clever of Mr. Twain to incorporate his own shameless plug for a previous novel in this very first line!
What books have you read that made you sit up and take notice from the first line? Are you a connoisseur of great old books and believe you can guess what they are right from the git-go? Well, here’s a quiz from “How Stuff Works” to see if you live up to your own expectations! Have fun and happy reading!