Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Jan 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

Salinger and Atwood make the list

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“If you really want to hear about it,…” – J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
First, the full opening line is “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

You have the entire book in that opening line. The protagonist’s – Holden Caulfield’s – entire self-concept is revealed, the narrative voice established, you know and understand the main character and what you’re in for. Caulfield is talking to you directly, is reluctant to share anything about himself, and tests the reader’s level of interest before revealing anything. Salinger is essentially setting the reader’s expectations in the opening line. Nicely done!

“Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.” – Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
The subtlety of that line overpowers me. It’s passive voice about a hopeful image. Talk about a killer emotional combination! Combine it with the complete first paragraph – “Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, there buds testing the air like snails’ eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.” – and you have the entire story presaged in a few short sentences, all of which echoes the passive-hopeful promise.

Nice.

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts)

Listen. Understand. Act.

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).

A woman read the opening of a play at a writers’ group I recently attended. She had four characters talking to each other for about eight pages. Not doing anything, just talking.

Ever been at a party and walk up to a group of people talking then discover both they and their conversation are boring as hell?

You look around for another group, one where voices are raised or there’s laughing, one where, even though the people are standing, they’re animated, moving their arms, nodding or shaking their heads to whatever’s being said, stepping back and forth, their bodies demonstrating their feelings about the conversation.

You strategize ways to get out of the boring group and into the interesting group simply because it is interesting!

People reading your story or watching your play behave much the same. If your characters, setting, situation, whatever, is dull, they’ll stop reading, change the channel, get up and leave the theater, take your pick. People need a reason to put their attention on your material. Give it to them.
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts)”

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)

Tell the same story better

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.

Can I provide specific examples from other authors, no. I may think a given author’s writing sucks or an individual piece of writing sucks and I still respect the fact that they’re putting something out, that they got off the couch.

General examples, sure:
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)”

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck?)

Blame the editor. Sometimes.

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.

What is my definition of “suck”?

Glad you asked because I’m not talking genre. I read poetry, genre, non-fiction, biography, … take a look at my Goodreads reviews. Do a title sort and you’ll see I read books all across the board. Titles beginning with “A” breakdown as follows:

  • Archeology – 1
  • Biography – 1
  • Classics – 1
  • Fantasy – 3
  • Humor – 3
  • Literary Analysis – 2
  • Literary Fiction – 2
  • Marketing – 1
  • Mystery – 3
  • Psychology – 2
  • Science Fiction – 5
  • Social Commentary – 3
Storytelling deals with “Do you have an interesting story to tell?”, storycrafting deals with “Can you tell your story in an interesting way?”

Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck?)”

Stanley Fish’s “How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One”

Is that an adverbial clause in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One was an interesting read that spawned my Great Opening Lines blog posts. I enjoyed it, didn’t always agree with it. The one truly fatal flaw (to me) is the lack of exercises, something like “Here’s a rotten sentence, fix it. See possible solutions in Appendix A”.

 
Fish’s explanations of what makes a sentence worth reading become – to me – increasingly complex as the book progresses. I was bordering on being lost by the time I got to his “First Sentences” chapter and started skimming, looking for the meat – the very thing he warns authors against – too many readers, when unsure of what’s going on – skim until they get to something they can understand.
Continue reading “Stanley Fish’s “How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One””