Just saw this statement on the Good Housekeeping Novel Comp site- what do people think? And can you think of examples that do this?
‘Pull your reader in from page one and open with a powerful, shocking statement.’ Luigi Bonomi, literary agent (his clients include Fern Britton and Josephine Cox… and now Diana Bretherick)
'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.' (1984)
It's bantering language, but the shock is still there.
To be honest, I thought, "Oh, that's not a great one to enter, then, because they want junk"
... but that is indeed a truly great opening line, TD.
I doubt they want 1984, though.
My favourite opening line is:
'The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.' (William Gibson - Neuromancer).
I do find it kind of startling, although in a less obvious way than Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Edited by Skippoo at 19:50:00 on 12 December 2013
"I am going to pack my two shirts with my other socks and my best suit in the little blue cloth my mother used to tie round her hair when she did the house, and I am going from the Valley."
(How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn)
I think Mum had bought it second-hand with a few others, but I remember coming across this book in the bookcase when I was about nineteen and just opening it out of curiosity. Not a shocking opening line and not the type of book I would have chosen to read, but I felt a lump coming to my throat at the powerful emotion. The whole book is written very poetically.
I also like Charles' Dickens opening to A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...
|Pull your reader in from page one and open with a powerful, shocking statement|
Like Catkin, my reaction was: "Oh, no - what does this say about the stuff they want."
Not the best of words to use, surely?
But the examples show that shocking can be stimulating.
If I entered this comp, it would still be with a next-to-zero level of optimism. And besides, I think it might cause rumbles of discontent if a man was to win?
Perhaps 'Sumo Wrestling' or 'Soup-up your Articulated Lorry' should run a novel-writing competition.
|I doubt they want 1984, though.|
No, but Anna was asking for examples from published works, not potential entries to the competition.
Yes, I think "shocking" is (or should be) meant more broadly than you might think.
You do need a body on page one or thereabouts, but it isn't necessarily a dead and dismembered body, and the voice in which we're told about it does as much to draw us in as the fact of it does. I think it's incredibly useful to think of Andrew Stanton's (he of Pixar) suggestion that the opening makes a promise, that sticking with the book/movie will be worth your while. And so the opening needs to be full of that promise: a voice that you'll want to go on listening to, and a situation that is already inherently unstable (maybe that's where the shocking comes in) so that you'll read on to find out what happens.
From my about-to-review-on-the-blog pile of recent ARCs etc.
Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts
|Late in the evening of Thursday, 16 February 1786, the Last Supper was nearing its end.|
Sarah Stovell's Night Flower
|There's times in here I have to check I ain't just gone and died already. All I've got now is a pile of hours, and hours ain't what folk think they are.|
Maria McCann's Ace, King, Knave:
|Provided they are accompanied at all times by Rixam, and on no account venture further than the shallows, Papa has given permission for Mr Zedland to take Sophia boating on the Statue Lake.|
Katherine Clements' forthcoming The Crimson Ribbon:
|Sometimes death comes like an arrow, sudden and swift, an unforeseen shot from an unheeded bow. Sometimes death comes slowly, like the first small sparks of a green-wood fire, smoking and smouldering for the longest time before the kindling flares and the heart of the blaze glows with fierce, consuming heat.|
Charles Palliser's new Rustication:
|Saturday 12th of December, 10 o'clock at night|
I'm baffled by Mother's reception of me. I'm sure she blurted out either William or Willy when I caught her by surprise. But I can't think of anyone of that name she could have taken me for and I don't see how she could have been expecting a visitor at such a late hour in this out-of-the-way place.
M C Scott's The Emperor's Spy
|Sebastos Abdes Pantera was twelve years old and nearly a man on the night he discovered that his father was a traitor.|
I blogged about the Andrew Stanton TED talk here - the talk itself is pure gold and I can't recommend it highly enough to anyone who wants to think hard about storytelling:
http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2012/11/plot-and-story.html Edited by EmmaD at 12:36:00 on 13 December 2013
|No, but Anna was asking for examples from published works, not potential entries to the competition|
No, I know. What I meant was that because they put their requirements that way, that made me doubt that they want a great literary work of the 1984 type.
It was a dark and stormy night...when Snoopy finally admitted to Charlie Brown... that he was gay.
"Me too - cried Charlie."
(How d'ya like them peanuts, Peanuts Corp?)
This thread's reminded me that Stanley Fish's lovely little book How To Write a Sentence, and How To Read One, has a very good chapter on Opening Lines.
Emma, thanks for posting the link to your blog and the TED talk – marvellous!
That TED talk is just genius, isn't it. The bit about making-a-promise is something I haven't quite seen explored anywhere else, and it's SO true. As is the rest of it.
Bored, I've been flicking through my book shelf and looking for opening lines.
What I have noticed is that the books of new novelists seem to have better one-liners than the better-known, commercial novelists. I must point out that most of the books I am looking at are women's fiction, as opposed to crime/thrillers.
The two I like most are:
The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday (The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry).
Heddy Partridge was never my friend. I have to start with that (This perfect world).
I wonder if authors, once their name is better known, no longer have to rely on first lines for the shock factor of drawing the reader in and can, instead, wallow in the luxury of a few sedate paragraphs?
Edited by Sharley at 20:53:00 on 19 December 2013
"Nothing ever begins" - Weaveworld by Clive Barker. (Although the whole first five paragraphs are a brilliant opening).
On the subject of first lines, personally I feel that longer books or the first book in a trilogy/series doesn't need to worry about the first line as much as the first few paragraphs or pages.
I don't pick up a 700 page book and expect to be immersed in a story within a few lines. For me, a longer book or even a series suggests a more in depth story that's worth investing time in so I give it longer to lay out the details.
I'm not saying it can't be done, only that I don't expect it to be.