First Line Dilemma

Hey!! I’ve just won the lottery! £2.3m!

Actually that’s not true. Total fabrication. Didn’t even buy a ticket. But it got your attention, right? Which begs the question, what makes a good opening? Some say jump straight in to the action, which can be good advice if the action is intrinsic to the plot later on in the story – opening in the throes of a bar-room brawl or an A&E department on a Saturday night might indeed be action packed, but if that action has nothing to offer other than as a first-line grabber, you may find that your reader will wonder what the point was. Very unsatisfactory. Here’s a little test for you, although the first one is a bit easy. Each of these opening lines is, in effect, a strap line for the entire book. Discuss.

1 Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

2 Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle: it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.

3 Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.

4 It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

5 Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

6 It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed.

7 We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

8 You better not never tell nobody but God.

9 1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.

10 You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

Answers 1: Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier 2: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson 3: Brighton Rock, Graham Greene 4: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath 5: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams 6: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon 7: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson 8: The Color Purple, Alice Walker 9: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, and number 10 – bit of a challenge this one – Frankenstein, Mary Shelley


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