Monday, 18 July 2011

Where to Begin? : Opening Lines

Ever since I first learned how to hold a pencil I have loved writing stories. Over the years I have written everything from poetry to short stories, journal entries to essays, and have even won a few local writing contests! As I was thumbing through some of the twenty or so novels that I had started as a teen (and never finished) last night, I was struck with the realization that since starting university I haven't given myself time to do any real creative writing. While I always have ideas for stories floating around in my head, I've sadly been to overwhelmed with school and work to find the quiet time that I need to jot down my thoughts.

As a result I've made a new goal for myself to do some creative writing at least once a day for the rest of the summer! Whether its for 5 minutes or 2 hours, anything is better than nothing! The one thing that has always plagued me as a writer, however, is where to begin! I often find the opening line to a poem, story, or essay to be the most difficult part of the entire writing experience. I'll often spend hours agonizing over one sentence in an attempt to get it just right (I'm a bit of a perfectionist...), as the opening line can be crucial in setting the tone of everything which follows in its wake.

This got me to thinking about the opening lines to some of my favourite poems and books. I wonder, for instance, how long it took Jane Austen to pen the infamous opening to her novel Pride and Prejudice? And what about J.K. Rowling's bestseller Harry Potter? In appreciation and admiration of these great authors, I've included a list below (in no particular order) of some of my favourite opening lines, and those from other popular books. In  my search I stumbled upon a blog which actually dedicates itself to opening lines of novels, so if you are interested check out Novel Openings!

What do you guys think? Do you find the opening line the most difficult in your own writing? What are some of your favourite opening lines?

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

2. Call me Ishmael. Herman Melville, Moby Dick 

3. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca

4. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

5. Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.  L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

6. Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
7. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

8. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book', thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?' Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

9. Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

10. No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey


Jenny said...

I love opening lines. If it's clever and intriguing it drawn me in instantly. I've even started putting the first sentence of books on my reviews.

Ikhlas said...

I totally agree with you, Natalie! School and work and life in general often keep me from writing too, so often that I even forget to keep up with it.

I find poems or short stories, or even a few lines, can help with this. But alas, what to begin with?

Beginnings are definitely hard for me too. I recently started a new novel, for which I saw staring at my computer for 2 hours wondering where to start.

I think its important to remember that those magical first lines of classics and bestsellers may not initially have been the first lines a writer ever wrote. Just let your fingers take control and write whatever comes to mind (or heart) and shove the more self-conscious person (the editor) into the back of your mind.

Wish you luck with your writing!!

Post a Comment