Monday, March 30, 2009

Five great first sentences

1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

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

Few books start out describing the heroine as “not beautiful”. What’s just as interesting, though, is that this particular heroine has clearly found a way around her handicap. She’s learned to snag not one but two men, despite her lack of beauty. Who could resist reading more?

2. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.

It’s difficult to analyze The Last Unicorn’s style because I keep being caught up in it. The alliteration and assonance in the first sentence alone makes it flow and lilt like spring water. It’s music in prose.

3. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

Howard Roark laughed.

I’ve always liked opening lines which introduced the reader to the main character, but what struck me about the start of The Fountainhead was the simplicity and joie d’vivre of it. The story takes some grim turns later, and there are scenes that are painful to read (both in a good and a bad way). But it begins with a character enjoying life, and that’s how it ends, drawing the book together in a circle.

4. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

This sentence neatly spikes the cliché of the Chosen One by hinting to the reader that the Chosen One isn’t going to have a nice easy time of it. He’s being spied on by someone – spied on in a strange, intrusive way. What more are they going to do to him?

5. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

A simple but intriguing start that goes on to assure the reader that hobbits, despite living on the same level as moles, are nothing like them and make full use of the creature comforts of life. It’s the best kind of description – easy to remember, specific, unusual, and written in a let-me-tell-you-a-story style that draws the reader along.


Anonymous said...

They all sound like great first sentences. I don't know if I have any of those lying around. In time I hope to create a few.

GunnerJ said...

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."

Kami said...

"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin." A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

"He sat in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajiaib-Gher--The Wonder House, as the natives called the Lahore Museum." Rudyard Kipling, Kim

"Lest anyone should suppose that I am a cuckoo's child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by lusty peasant stock and sold into indenture in a shortfallen season, I may say that I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me." Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Dart

I never noticed before that I tend to like the long-winded ones. Heh.

fairyhedgehog said...

How about: "It was the day my grandmother exploded." Iain Banks, The Crow Road

Marian said...

I would have to read more after the exploding grandmother. Talk about a hook!

Marian said...

Hey Kami,

In the Winnie-the-Pooh example, it's the "on the back of his head" part that does it for me. It's the kind of detail that makes the scene. You can immediately imagine the little boy trailing his bear behind him by one paw after that.

And Jacqueline Carey's style is lyrical.

Anonymous said...

Morning, Marian, I'm shipping your book tomorrow, sweetie!

Love thses sentences.