August 14, 2010
I'm one of those people you probably hate who think that the opening line of a book is not only important but possibly (arguably) critical to everything that follows. Standing in a bookstore I'll sometimes decide whether or not to buy a book on the construction and execution of the first line alone. And I actually collect them.
You know what I'm talking about. Just think of the famous, now cliched, line that goes "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Hell everybody knows that one, right?
That's what I mean. I think first lines are important and can be a kind of icon. But (for my writer friends) if you don't - don't start obsessing about it after reading this. Just do your own shtick. Okay? That's just me.
For myself, I'll labor over a goddamn opening line for days. And change it a dozen times. It's got to work right NOW or else it takes too long to get the reader inside and you run the risk of losing them. It has to have some quality, some tangible thing that makes everything else after it work.
Here's some good ones, I think...
"A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father." - from Berg by Ann Quin
"At the beginning of summer I had lunch with my father, the gangster, who was in town for the weekend to transact some of his vague business." - Michael Chabon The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
"I think it is the year 1909." - Opening vignette in the intertwined short stories from Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities
"There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a canker." - The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
"I am merely copying, word for word, what was in the State Gazette today." WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin
"Life and death, dreaming and wakefulness: stations for the perplexed soul." The Journey of Ibn Fattouma by Naguib Mahfouz
Of course it helps if what follows can carry the load. But the tone-setter is right there. It's all in there. Or should be. Story has happened, now you tell it. And why is it interesting enough to read? Because the opening got you.
Yeah okay, another one of my OC things. But, there ya go.