Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Opening Line: No Once-Upon-A-Times please :)

Elizabeth Gaskell 
I wish I was clever enough to write such captivating openings as I read in famous books! :)
Take the opening paragraph in Wives and Daughters: 
"To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl;"

Isn't that marvelous? It takes a simple opening, and by throwing in a bit of humor, lifts it to a higher plane of literature. I often find that writing opening lines is one of the hardest things of the book. As many authors will tell you, you may a gorgeous, brilliant line on page two, but if the reader isn't captivated from the time they open the book, they may never get to the second page. 
Readers are a most picky race of people. There is a saying "never judge a book by its cover", but even in my own experience I have found that if nothing catches my eye from flipping through the first few pages, I'm much less likely to read the book. 
But how to connect the reader with the principle character on the first page? You could take some notes from Charles Dicken's Great Expectations:
"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. so, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. 
      I gave Pirrip as my father's family name on the authority of his tombstone and my sister--Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith."

Already in that paragraph you have discovered a quaintness of character in little Pip, a rough concept of his age, the fact that his father is dead, and that his sister is married to a blacksmith. Truly remarkable a feat in only three sentences! :) 
There is, of course, always the style of barging into the story with dialog, like Louisa May Alcott does in her Little Women:
" 'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
'It's so dreadful to be poor," sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress. 
'I don't think it's fair for some girls to have lots of pretty things and others girls nothing at all,' added little Amy with an injured sniff. 
'We've got father and mother, and each other, anyhow,' said Beth, contentedly, from her corner."

Again, with only a short paragraph, you are sympathetic towards the girls in this story, know a little about their family, and their personalities. 
Take stock of your own opening lines sometime, and see if you can't harness the words to work harder for you. If you play around with them long enough, you could very well end up with a glittering opening that will captivate the reader. :) ~Rachel

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite opening lines is from Pride & Prejudice.

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.

Right away you get a taste of her humor. :-)