authors, books, In My Opinion, writing

The First Line in Fiction

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Thanks to my friend Allen at Wayne’s Journal who shared with me a list compiled by Jason Parnham “50 Best First Sentences in Fiction” found on-line at Gawker Review of Books. It included Stephen King’s thoughts about voice and how important that first line is for luring the reader to read more. King claims it’s the style or voice that captures the interest of the reader, not so much the genre or the character. Whether to mystify, show a time or place, with few words or with many, every reader is attracted to a style of writing that is clear in that first sentence.

Here are a few of my personal favorites. Can you name the author?

1. “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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

2. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

3. “All this happened, more or less.”

4. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

5. “When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared around the, extending upon his countenance like the rays on a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

6. “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

7. “When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister’s address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money.”

8.  “The terror that would not end for another 28 years, if it ever did, began so far as I can know or tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

9. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

10. “In a hole in the ground their lived a hobbit.”

Most of you know I enjoy writing. Here are some of my openers: 

A. “He reached for the hand that was not there with an ache to grab his thumb, trace the outline of his fingers, or scrape off a lengthy fingernail.”

B.”The aged horse smacked a cloud of flies away from its haunches, and the tip of its tail stung Kay’s arm, waking her from her daydream.”

C. “Peeking out from behind the velvet curtain, she counted twenty-five, faceless heads in the dimmed house.”

D. “Embossed with the letters G. H., he lifted the leather glove off the hotel dresser and rubbed the soft hide with his hand and listened to the blood that gurgled from her neck.”

* * * * * * * *

1. Charles Dickens: A Tale Of Two Cities (1859)

2. Franz Kafka: Metamorphosis (1915)

3. Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five (1969)

4. John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)

5. Thomas Hardy: Far From the Madding Crowd (1874)

6. Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

7. Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie (1900) 

8. Stephen King: It (1986)

9. Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre (1847) 

10. J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937) 

Many of you out there love to write. What are your personal favorites? What have you written?