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dgiharris
03-18-2010, 08:30 AM
For right or wrong, the first few sentences are the most important.

Sure, I look at the cover, read the blurb, but when I open the book to the first page, the author has exactly 20 seconds to sell me on his book.

In our AW SYW submissions/crits, I see so many mistakes in those all important first few sentences. Likewise, I'm sure i'm guilty of a few.

So with that in mind, I wanted to start a thread on Openings (though we have a few around, hopefully this will be a little different adding something new).

Specifically, I'd like us to grab one of our favorite books, and just retype the opening. Be sure to give credit where credit is due.

And bonus points if you analyze the opening and explain why it grabs you.

For me, one of my favorite openings belongs to Anne Bishop and her book, Daughter of the Blood.

I wasn't too impressed with the front cover but the blurb on the back was very interesting.

Then I opened that first page, literally read the first few sentences and immediately knew I had to have this book.


Lucivar Yaslana, the Eyrien half-breed, watched the guards drag the sobbing man to the boat. He felt no sympathy for the condemned man who had led the aborted slave revolt. In the Territory called Pruul, sympathy was a luxury no slave could afford.

He had refused to participate in the revolt. The ringleaders were good men, but they didn't have the strength, the backbone, or the balls to do what was needed. They didn't enjoy seeing blood run. For me, this was a very strong, character centric opening that was able to convey worldbuilding, mood, setting, circumstance, conflict, and voice all within just a few lines. But it was the "They didn't enjoy seeing blood run" that sealed the deal for me.

The writing is as tight as a snare drum, no wasted words, or rather, every word is there for a reason and enhances the imagery.

The rhythym is nice, a combination of long and short sentences that work well together.

Of course, this is all my opinion, but since I was the reader, it was the only opinion that matter :)

I ended up reading the whole series and overall, it is my top 10 of favorite series.

Mel...

ArcticFox
03-18-2010, 09:03 AM
"There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself -- not just sometimes, but always.

When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him -- least of all the things that should have."

~ "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster

I wish I could write an opening half as wonderful as this. One of my most treasured books.

C.M.C.
03-18-2010, 04:51 PM
I still think we give these sorts of things far too much of our attention.

shaldna
03-18-2010, 05:16 PM
I still think we give these sorts of things far too much of our attention.


agreed

Cella
03-18-2010, 05:27 PM
I think it's a valuable exercise, especially for evaluating my own work.

I can't find my favorite book atm but will be back later :)

Alpha Echo
03-18-2010, 05:34 PM
I got the call about Robert Oliver in April 1999, less than a week after he'd pulled a knife in the nineteenth-century collection at the National Gallery. It was a Tuesday, one of those terrible mornings that sometimes come to the Washington area when spring has already been flowery and even hot - ruinous hail and heavy skies, with rumbles of thunder in the suddenly cold air. It was also, by coincidence, exactly a week after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleon, Colorado; I was still thinking obsessively about that event, as I imagined every psychiatrist in the country must have been. My office seemed full of those young people with their sawed-off shotguns, their demonic resentment. How had we failed them and - even more - their innocent victims? The violent weather and the country's gloom seemed to me fused that morning.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova

I love this book. I thought it was excellent. This roped me in immediately because, first of all...someone pulled a knife in an art gallery? Why? What happened?

Also, I live in the Washington area and know about that kind of weather.

Then he mentions Columbine, and who doesn't know about that and are instantly saddened while thinking about it? This guy seems concerned for the kids of today. And he appears to be a psychologist, and psychology has always been an interest of mine.

Plus, I like that last sentence a lot. I don't know why - poetic I guess.

ETA: I don't know if this is my favorite book, but I really have soooo many favorites, it's ridiculous.

backslashbaby
03-18-2010, 05:55 PM
124 WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old--as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny band prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods: the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed. No. Each one fled at once--the moment the house committed what was for him the one insult not to be borne or witnessed a second time. Within two months, in the dead of winter, leaving their grandmother, Baby Suggs; Sethe, their mother; and their little sister, Denver, all by themselves in the gray and white house on Bluestone Road. It didn't have a number then, because Cincinnati didn't stretch that far. In fact, Ohio had been calling itself a state only seventy years when first one brother and then the next stuffed quilt packing into his hat, snatched up his shoes, and crept away from the lively spite the house felt for them.

Toni Morrison's Beloved. Definitely one of my favorites.

The ghost [!], the history, the flow of the thoughts. It's just what I love to read :)

Wayne K
03-18-2010, 06:00 PM
The last thing I want to do on a beautiful fall day is help someone I hate rob dead people. I was done for the day, double parked in Midtown Manhattan waiting for a parking space. Fall was in the air, bringing the camouflage of early darkness to the sins and sinners of Hell’s Kitchen.

This one is mine.

You didn't say good, you said favorite :D

Chris P
03-18-2010, 06:25 PM
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.


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. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece -- all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round -- more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.

I chose this because it's the only opening of about 20 of my favorite books that I even faintly remember. I would probably be surprised if I went back and reread the first page of War and Peace, Don Quixote, Rabbit Run or Memoirs of a Geisha.

I agree with others that we spend too much energy focusing on the openings. If the only thing important to us is the sale (first to the agent and publisher and then to the reader) then by all means obsess on the opening. If we want the reader to remember us and recommend our book to others, then the entire work needs as much attention as the opening. Nobody's saying it doesn't, but I don't remember or recommend books based on the opening paragraphs.

William Haskins
03-18-2010, 06:30 PM
Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't
be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR
MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP
SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it
could have been yesterday. .

wrangler
03-18-2010, 06:33 PM
i can only speak for myself

as a fellow writer, i don't think i can focus too much on any one area of writing. i see it all benefiting me in the end, in fact, i am thoroughly convinced focusing on all areas will work out well for me.

Sophia
03-18-2010, 06:44 PM
I've only bought a book once based solely on the opening lines, and that was The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman:


Milena boiled things. She was frightened of disease. She would boil other people's knives and forks before using them. Other people sometimes found this insulting.

I love the rhythm of it. It's an SF novel, and Ryman gives a lot of necessary information about his future London in the opening pages, but it's all given around the character of Milena, rooting the reader.

shaldna
03-18-2010, 07:37 PM
I think it's a valuable exercise, especially for evaluating my own work.
:)


Wouldn't it be better then to post the first paragraph of your own book, rather than spending hours agonising over someone else's?

I mean, it's useful to see how someone else does it, but there comes a point where we need to stop focusing so much on other people's writing and focus more on our own.

Cella
03-18-2010, 07:40 PM
Okay, here's mine:

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas


On February 24, 1815, the lookout at Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the arrival of the three master Pharon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples. As usual, a costal pilot immediately left the port, sailed hard by the Chateau d’If and boarded the ship between the Cap de Morgiou and the island of Riou.

It grabs me because I love the ocean and have always been captivated by the endless adventure sea merchants must have encountered. The writing is clear but not boring.

Cella
03-18-2010, 07:41 PM
Wouldn't it be better then to post the first paragraph of your own book, rather than spending hours agonising over someone else's?

Hours?

Heh...I was thinking like a few minutes :rolleyes:

shaldna
03-18-2010, 07:59 PM
Hours?

Heh...I was thinking like a few minutes :rolleyes:


You know we can never spend less than five hours on a topic here.

Phaeal
03-18-2010, 09:06 PM
He hardly ever spoke of magic, and when he did it was like a history lesson and no one could bear to listen to him.

This isn't the very first line of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but it's the one that made me wing a prayer to heaven. Yes! Jane Austen has come back to life, and she's decided to write fantasy!

Then there's the child's rhyme that prefaces Ira Levin's ungodly brilliant, should-so-not-be-out-of-print This Perfect Day:


Wei, Christ, Marx and Wood,
Made us humble, made us good.

Wood, Wei, Christ and Marx,
Gave us lovely schools and parks.

Marx, Wood, Wei and Christ,
All but Wei were sacrificed.

Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei,
Led us to this perfect day.

I remember the last couplet giving me shivers the first time I read the book. Even now I can hear those genetically and pharmacologically neutered children chanting.

dgiharris
03-18-2010, 09:49 PM
Wouldn't it be better then to post the first paragraph of your own book, rather than spending hours agonising over someone else's?

I mean, it's useful to see how someone else does it, but there comes a point where we need to stop focusing so much on other people's writing and focus more on our own.

You are missing the point. This isn't 'just' about focusing on someone else's opening paragraph, but focusing on 'why' said paragraph grabs some of us.

The better your understanding of that 'why' the better your ability to write a better opening.

I do agree, we do obsess too much about openings, but at the same time, one of the biggest beginner mistakes is having either a weak opening or the 'wrong' opening.

Besides, having a good opening can only help right? Not to mention if you don't have a good opening odds are the reader isn't going to make it to your earth shattering finale.

Mel...

Shadow_Ferret
03-18-2010, 10:03 PM
Wouldn't it be better then to post the first paragraph of your own book, rather than spending hours agonising over someone else's?

I mean, it's useful to see how someone else does it, but there comes a point where we need to stop focusing so much on other people's writing and focus more on our own.

Improving your writing is a lifelong pursuit. And it's not agonizing, I've heard it as good advice from many professional writers, that to retype parts of your favorite works will often give you an insight into what makes it work much better than just reading it.

If you don't want to play, then move on. Why agonize over it? ;)

Anyway, here's the opening to one of my favorite works:


I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.

Last night Boris discovered the he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

gothicangel
03-18-2010, 10:18 PM
Red Riding: 1974 by David Peace.

"All we ever get is Lord fucking Lucan and wingless bloody crows,' smiled Gilman, like this was the best days of our life:
Friday 13 December 1974.
Waiting for my first Front Page, the Byline Boy at last: Edward Dunford, North of England Crime Correspondent; two days too fucking late.'

gothicangel
03-18-2010, 10:22 PM
i can only speak for myself

as a fellow writer, i don't think i can focus too much on any one area of writing. i see it all benefiting me in the end, in fact, i am thoroughly convinced focusing on all areas will work out well for me.

Maybe if we focus on one area at a time, one sentence at a time then we'll stand a decent chance of writing a kick-ass novel?

My current area of focus is the structure of revenge tragedies.;)

wrangler
03-18-2010, 10:52 PM
Maybe if we focus on one area at a time, one sentence at a time then we'll stand a decent chance of writing a kick-ass novel?

Absolutely! I have a strange feeling that it what is going to work for me.

Sunnyside
03-19-2010, 12:15 AM
Not necessarily my favorite BOOK, but one of my favorite openings ever -- and one I can quote almost verbatim:

"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

"Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

-- Charles Dickens, A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Man, that voice!

DreamWeaver
03-19-2010, 12:26 AM
The man who was not Terrence O'Grady had come quietly.

Yes, that's the entire first paragraph, so I'll give you the second to up the ante:


And that, Sam insisted, was clear proof. Terry had never done anything quietly in his life if there was a way to get a fight out of it.

Agent of Change, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.

So, why do I find this opening fascinating? It makes me wonder why someone is impersonating Terrence O'Grady, and how he is doing it so well that those who know Terrence O'Grady are obviously unsure if it's him or not. Plus, the mention of a fight combined with the foreshadowing of the rather ominous "had come quietly" teases me that violence is on the verge of breaking out. The overtones of Sam's comment tell me the men that are escorting the perhaps-ersatz Terrence O'Grady are themselves prone to violence. So, if the probably fake Terrence O'Grady has come quietly while knowing all this, I am even more curious to know about him and his destination. By the end of three sentences, I am wondering who, how, why, where...and I'm hooked.

eurodan49
03-19-2010, 12:49 AM
Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

shaldna
03-19-2010, 03:24 PM
You are missing the point. This isn't 'just' about focusing on someone else's opening paragraph, but focusing on 'why' said paragraph grabs some of us.

No, I get that point.

But we have so many of these posts, and so few of people actually seeking the same level of critique of thier own work.

I think there's a lot to be learned from studying how other people write, but like I said, there comes a time when you need to start applying this to your own work.

I think it would be more beneficial sometimes for us to look at our own opening paragraphs and see how they work for us as a reader.

I wasn't saying to stop looking at other peoples, I simply think that there comes a time when you can read about writing, or you can write. And all the studying in the world is no substitute for practice.

HisBoyElroy
03-19-2010, 05:26 PM
Here's a first line I love: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." (Orwell's 1984. I write this on a bright cold day in March and, well, I'm afraid it's half-past...)

What has been very helpful in my own writing is to take a paragraph from a random published novel in my chosen genre and re-write it to make it good (the books I read are almost all over-written). This is a VERY instructive exercise, I've found.

dgiharris
03-19-2010, 11:13 PM
No, I get that point.

But we have so many of these posts, and so few of people actually seeking the same level of critique of thier own work.

I think there's a lot to be learned from studying how other people write, but like I said, there comes a time when you need to start applying this to your own work.

I think it would be more beneficial sometimes for us to look at our own opening paragraphs and see how they work for us as a reader.

I wasn't saying to stop looking at other peoples, I simply think that there comes a time when you can read about writing, or you can write. And all the studying in the world is no substitute for practice.

Which is why we have a Share Your Work Forum.

Mel...

the_Unknown
03-19-2010, 11:25 PM
The spring rains had softened the ground, so Dunk had no trouble digging the grave. He chose a spot on the western slope of a low hill, for the old man had always loved to watch the sunset. “Another day done,” he would sigh, “and who knows what the morrow will bring us, eh, Dunk?”

--The Hedge Knight

==========================

BTW, the above story has a lot of good lines and paras, but as for why this opening works:

Establishes setting and characters while carrying the action.

AND

This action gradually reveals/builds the story.

CheshireCat
03-22-2010, 03:08 AM
What I find interesting is that a number of you have posted lines or paragraphs from old or "classic" books as opposed to recently published books.

My agent says she sees, all too often, books written after the style of the author's beloved hero in literature -- whose books probably couldn't get published in today's market.

Something to think about.

shaldna
03-22-2010, 01:13 PM
What I find interesting is that a number of you have posted lines or paragraphs from old or "classic" books as opposed to recently published books.

My agent says she sees, all too often, books written after the style of the author's beloved hero in literature -- whose books probably couldn't get published in today's market.

Something to think about.



That's interesting.

Jamie Stone
03-24-2010, 07:05 AM
In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. What character building in one single paragraph!

wrangler
03-24-2010, 08:52 AM
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. What character building in one single paragraph!

Man, you're right!

Sarashay
03-24-2010, 05:17 PM
The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee


To wake, and not to know where, or who you are, not even to know what you are--whether a thing with legs and arms, or a beast, or a brain in the hull of a great fish--that is a strange awakening. But after a while, uncurling in the darkness, I began to discover myself, and I was a woman.

I love this one because it leaves the narrator and the reader at about the same level of wanting to figure things out.

Etola
03-25-2010, 07:58 PM
For me at least, this thread isn't (and doesn't need to be) an in-depth study of openings so much as it is an opportunity to share those book openings that have moved and impressed us (and I am always about sharing those things that bring us joy!). There are, after all, plenty of threads on AW that aren't about critiquing our own writing so much as they're about "There's this awesome thing I love, and I want to share it with you and tell you why I love it!" What better place than AW to mutually share our love of good writing, and talk about why we love it so?

That said, this isn't the opening to my favorite book of all time (which I don't currently have at hand), but it is from a book that I recently finished and loved, and it's the most that a book's opening paragraph has grabbed me in a long time:



I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they can kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew.

From C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces. The character's voice sounds out with perfect clarity. Right away I felt as if I knew this person and what they were all about.

In particular (and this is one of those things that happens throughout the book), this character has a habit of jumping from very morbid or horrifying or dramatic statements to something comparatively banal. Sometimes the jump is dismissive (as in this paragraph), sometimes it is because the character, Orual, just can't take it all in and must focus on something else, something minor. But I think it's a great technique, used well here.