Thursday, January 31, 2008

Love at First...Sentence?

We talk a lot in the writing world about the need to grab our reader’s interest in the opening pages of a book. Not until the American Title Contest though, did I give serious thought to the potential power of the first sentence.

Certainly some books have incredible, memorable openings:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

“Call me Ishmael.”(Melville, Moby Dick)

But those are well-loved classics. Would we think those lines so great if we didn’t know the stories that follow them?

Curious about how the authors of today are crafting their first lines, I grabbed a few favorite books off my shelf. See what you think of these opening sentences:

1. There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.
2. His footsteps were soundless, but Victoria felt him moving.
3. Anthony Bridgerton had always known he would die young.
4. I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first.
5. One fine August evening in South Carolina, Agnes Crandall stirred raspberries and sugar in her heavy nonstick frying pan and defended her fiancĂ© to the only man she’d ever trusted.

As with the classics above, my opinion isn’t unbiased because I know the stories that follow them, but all five of these first lines set a tone and pull me right along to the next sentence. The books and their clever authors are:

1. Janet Evanovich, One for the Money.
2. Colleen Gleason, Rises the Night
3. Julia Quinn, The Viscount who Loved Me
4. Patricia Briggs, Moon Called
5. Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, Agnes and the Hitman

What are the opening lines of some of your favorite books – and was it “love at first sentence?”


Colleen Gleason said...

Thanks for the compliment, Holli!

One of my favorite first lines is from a JD Robb book (can't remember which one, or exactly how the line goes) but, from memory, it's something like: "summer came in like a bitch in heat" or something along those lines.

That I can still recall most of it with all the books I've read is a testament to its memorability.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

"She needed to lose her virginity--and fast" Shamara by Catherine Spangler.

Holli Bertram said...

Colleen - love the Nora quote. Really fits with the tone of the "In Death" books and is extremely descriptive :).

Anitra - that's a first sentence that makes me want to run out and get the book!

angel24990 said...

"The Doctor woke up afraid." The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. I love all of Anne Rice's first sentences. I am Lestat. I am immortal. I like short to the point, pull you in sentences...The Classics just don't do it for me....;-). You will be happy to know that i actually purchased 6 new books, one being Stephen King's new one.....the rest just Anne Rice paperbacks....I never kept those from the used book store. I may even read them....:-)

Savanna Kougar said...

As a reader I never really paid attention to the first sentence, except how it pulled me into the story and created the mood. Truthfully, first lines have never stuck with me. However, with the American Title IV, it became a whole new ballgame. I luv, to paraphrase, 'he didn't know he was a werewolf'. That's just too kool for some reason. Here's to the great first line in our novels.

Holli Bertram said...

Angel - glad you bought some new books! I don't read much of Stephen King (except his "On Writing" book). I'm afraid he'd keep me up at night.

Savanna - The werewolf book by Patricia Briggs is amazing. I just discovered her books this month and love them.

joartis said...

Three favorites from my recent reading are:
"My name is Nicolette Dazincourt DeLande, and I have committed murder," from Betrayal, by Gwen Hunter; "Malcolm Hinson saw it first, hanging from the tree like a piece of cotton cloth," from The Grass Widow by Teri Holbrook, and "The sky was a seamless blue, empty as a murderer's heart." Wow! What mystery, intrigue--what hooks!
joanna mckethan

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Holli, very apt topic considering the first round of American Title. I do like a hooky first line, but I will read on even if the first line doesn't intrigue me if I think I'll like the book. These three authors are my first line queens: Laurell K. Hamilton, Janet Evanovitch and Linda Palmer. Here's a first line from Linda Palmer's cosy mystery Love You Madly: "Don't worry Julie--he'll be wearing a Speedo under the sheet."

I've just taken an excellent online course on 'Openings' with Mary Buckham. I understand the importance of first lines in modern fiction and what goes into a hooky first sentence now.

Holli Bertram said...

Joanna, that Holbrook quote really grabs me. I want to know what was hanging from the tree like a piece of cotton cloth!

Helen, Linda Palmer sounds like fun author, I'll have to check out her cozy mysteries. Sounds like an excellent online course.
I wonder - with the amount of things we have at our fingertips to distract us during our entertainment time - is the importance of a hooky first line or paragraph more important now than in past generations?