November 2, 2015

More About Opening Lines

When I posted a piece about opening lines in my work and invited you to compete for prizes by sending in your favorite openings from other novelists’ work, I hoped enough of you would respond to populate, say, a classroom. I pictured a small and genteel group, but instead enough of you responded to form a dangerous mob. I read all your entries, and so many were good that picking the best ten was not easy. But as soon as the winners have provided their addresses, we will announce them, and the limited-edition books will be in the mail within a week.

The following are from winners and near winners. By the way, those who cited various openings of mine are assumed to be vastly intelligent specimens of humanity with impeccable taste, but in all humility (I have a little), I couldn’t award prizes to them. And those who offered openings from their own stories——nice try.

The no-brainer was the 119-word opening sentence of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I’m not going to quote it here, but look it up. It’s the perfect example of how a bravura writer can break all kinds of rules and get away with it.

If you like quick-punch openings, this from the late great Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch should intrigue with its mix of the hard-boiled and the comic: “Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but finished shaving before doing anything about it.”

For purely funny, it’s hard to beat the opening of David Wong’s John Dies at the End: “Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.”

The always lyrical and entertaining Alice Hoffman opened her excellent The Museum of Extraordinary Things with this gem: “You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has ever seen before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.”

With his unerring sense of narrative and comedy, Jim Butcher opened Blood Rites this way: “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”

I was delighted that an old favorite of mine, the late John Nichols, was cited for his opening to The Magic Journey: “Forty years before the Pueblo electricity scam rocked Chamisville a year after April Delaney had returned home to resurrect an embarrassingly radical newspaper called El Carin, April’s father, Dale Rodney McQueen, a sometime prizefighter, medicine-oil hustler, cowpuncher, flesh peddler, and general all-around ne’er-do-well from Muleshoe, Texas, entered Chamisville seated behind the wheel of a rattletrap school bus riddled with bullet holes.” My friends, that does Dickens and Jim Butcher proud.

Thanks for participating (if you did). And if you didn’t participate, what the hell’s wrong with you? We’ll have a couple of more contests, with more limited-edition books as prizes, in the days ahead.

Finally, here is an opening line that delights me and is not from one of my own novels. It is by William Goldman, from his wonderful The Princess Bride: “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”


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