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Arresting Attention

These beginnings showcase the art of the good opening.
| Jun 7, 2017 | 7 comments |

The topic of the hour is superheroes, so I am going add my two cents, or less, to the conversation swirling around this cultural and cinematic phenomenon.

I was never that into superheroes.

On to a new topic. Good openings, endlessly emphasized in modern fiction, are defined by being evocative, and it doesn’t really matter of what. What counts is arresting the attention of the reader, whether through humor, originality, mystery, or a felicitous turn of phrase. Here is a list of beginnings that showcase the art of the good opening, being not only evocative but memorable. You will note that famous, immortal, and timeworn first sentences, such as “Call me Ishmael,” are omitted from this list. You will also note that other famous, immortal, and timeworn first sentences are included. There is no good reason for this.

Please share in the comments any book openings that would complete this list, or whether any opening included makes you want to pick up its book.

 

There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. William E. Barrett, The Lilies of the Field

Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I dreamed of Goliath last night, strangely enough, considering it was Joab, David’s general, who died yesterday. Eleanor Gustafson, The Stones

The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat. Not even black cats would cross his path. Sid Fleischman, The Whipping Boy

These tales concern the doing of things recognized as impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader may well cry aloud, impossible to read about. G. K. Chesterton, Tales of the Long Bow

April is the cruellest month. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

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 may kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

The universe is infinite but bounded, and therefore a beam of light, in whatever direction it may travel, will after billions of centuries return – if powerful enough – to the point of its departure; and it is no different with rumor, that flies about from star to star and makes the rounds of every planet. Stanislaw Lem, “The Seventh Sally

Monsters do, of course, exist. Matt Mikalatos, Night of the Living Dead Christian

The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Technically, the cucumber came first. Phil Vischer, Me, Myself & Bob

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass. Jonathan Rogers, The Charlatan’s Boy

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella. Stephen Lawhead, The Skin Map

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7 Comments on "Arresting Attention"

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Kessie Carroll
Member

I love first lines! One of my favorites is, “The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault,” from one of the Dresden books.

HG Ferguson
Guest

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. Considered by many, myself included, THE best opener ever penned. And all the “rules” she broke, too…

Zachary Holbrook
Guest

“There once was a time when only God knew the day you’d die”
-Nadine Brandes, A Time to Die

“So there I was, tied to an altar made out of outdated encyclopedias, about to be sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil librarians.”
-Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians

“Flying a biplane, especially one as rickety as a war-surplus Curtiss JN-4D, meant being ready for anything. But in Hitch’s thirteen years of experience, this was the first time “anything” had meant bodies falling out of the night sky smack in front of his plane.”
-K.M Weiland, Storming

Paul Lee
Member

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Keith Henry
Guest

The sun was rising, and as the heat simmered in phantom waves the night things crept back into their holes.
—Robert McCammon, Stinger

Kathleen Eavenson
Guest

“His princess was dusty.
Arpien should have expected that. Anything lying undisturbed for a hundred years would gather dust…”
Sarah R. Morin, Waking Beauty (Enclave Publishers, 2015)

Audie Thacker
Member

Just because…

While opening lines might be important, it seems like they can be very much overvalued.

I simply cannot think of any book I’ve read, or tried to read, that I decided to continue reading because “Oh, that’s a catchy opening line”, or decided against it because, “Ugh, that opening line was so bad”.

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