Come in…

There was a very interesting article in today’s review section, about how authors start novels, because of course how a writer begin a novel is crucial! As a writer I know I want to say, come in, come in, come in and see what happens next! The opening line has to make the reader want to engage and carry on, it has to have a hook, it has to grab the reader and not let him or her go until she has finished the book, and, we hope, put it down with a sigh of contentment and a desire to pick up another by the same author.

The article quotes several memorable opening sentences:

  • The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there
  • Hwœt
  • “So now get up”
  • To the red country and part of the grey country of Oklahoma the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth
  • All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins
  • It was the day my grandmother exploded
  • Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K
  • They threw me off the haycart about noon
  • The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all
  • It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosebergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged,that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife

James Walton who wrote the article, makes a lot of interesting points; there have been many ‘rules of writing’ which offer ‘do’s and don’ts’, but for nearly every one there is a blatant exception. Elmore Leonard, who was a great writer himself, had ten rules, one of which was that a description of weather should never be used for the opening sentence… see the sentences above which contravene his rule magnificently!

The article also mentions what writers have as rules for their own work, which, he implies, they try to offer as guidance for others. Joyce Carol Oates says that the first sentence can only be written after the last sentence has been written. Stephen King thinks nothing can be done until the first sentence is perfect – but look at the trouble the character Joseph Grand had in Camus’s La Peste (The Plague). Louise Doughty, an English novelist I haven’t read is quoted as thinking”getting the first sentence right is key to the magic door that leads to the rest of the book” but in that quote doesn’t mention when the sentence should be written.

I’m not comparing myself to any of these authors, Leonard, Oates, King or Doughty, but my novels develop as they go along in the first draft; I usually have a good idea of the opening scene but the opening line is more elusive. It’s only when the book is finished, that I can properly see it as a whole thing, and then I can play about with the first and the other very important sentence, the last. The only exception to this is in my Radwinter series; the first book, Radwinter which was intended to be a stand alone novel has the main character introducing himself, and describing himself in a rather disparaging way. he introduces his family and sets the premise for the novel, his research into his family tree. The second novel starts in the same way, another introduction, but the main character’s life has changed completely and he has a little more confidence in himself. The pattern followed in the third, and now I’m writing the fourth, the character is bursting with self-confidence, and describes himself more objectively.

The article continues with other points, about tone of the first line, the significance of the first line, and about how the first line might deceive the reader!

Here are the books and authors of the first lines I  took from the article:

  • The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there – The Go-Between, L.P.Hartley
  • Hwœt – Beowulf
  • “So now get up” – Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantell
  • To the red country and part of the grey country of Oklahoma the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth – The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion – Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins – Lolita, Vladimir Nabakov
  • It was the day my grandmother exploded – The Crow Road, Iain Banks
  • Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K – The Trial, Franz Kafka
  • They threw me off the haycart about noon – The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain
  • The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
  • It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosebergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York – The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter – Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  • it is a truth universally acknowledged,that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin

Here is a link to my ebooks:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.