Thursday, 17 September 2009

FIRST LINES


You’d better get it right. It’s your first contact with an agent / publisher / reader. It gives the first clue to style, genre, voice. It sets the tone. It doesn’t need to be extraordinary, or shocking, or outrageously funny. But it does need to be strong.

Here are a few first lines from novels around my house. See if you can guess where they’re from. And what the author’s trying, if anything, to achieve. I’ve underlined what I regard as important words.

An easy one to start with:

1. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

2. Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

3. There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

4. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

5. My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.

6. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone.

7. For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.

8. The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born – we weren’t even conceived.

9. Chapter 2 It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house.

10. My mother began me one evening in 1968 on a table in the café of the town’s only cinema.

11. Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.

12. The first thing that strikes you is how much he's spinning the ball.

Click on comments to see how you got on.

10 comments:

TOM J VOWLER said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TOM J VOWLER said...

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four –George Orwell
2. The Trial – Franz Kafka
3. Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
4. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
6. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
7. Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
8. The Hotel New Hampshire – John Irving
9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
10. The Accidental – Ali Smith
11. Amsterdam – Ian McEwan
12. Shane Warne: Portrait of a Flawed Genius (Don’t know how this one got in.)

Alison said...

I thought that last was Shane Warne! I knew he was a spinner, see ;)

Bill said...

It's funny how many of the openings contain the words: was, were, and even had. New writers are often told to avoid them at all cost.

Paul Lamb said...

I managed to get five of the twelve. Nice collection you have there.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Three of them also mention the weather, Bill, another supposed no-no.

That's good going, Paul, esp if one was #12!

lbdiamond said...

Hi there! I was thinking of posting about the same topic and did a Yahoo! search first. Came across this--great post!!! :)

I hope you don't mind if I do my own version...

lbdiamond said...

Hi there! I was thinking of posting about the same topic and did a Yahoo! search first. Came across this--great post!!! :)

I hope you don't mind if I do my own version...

Marisa Birns said...

I was able to manage 9 of the twelve. Not #12, though.

Yes, I suppose that writing rules are meant to be broken - especially by non-newbie writers who can pull it off. :)

TOM J VOWLER said...

Hello Marisa. Thanks for popping by. Yes, #12 was naughty.