Writing a column, like writing a book, begins with a compelling opening line. Sometimes those lines come easily, sometimes not so much. While struggling with an opening line for today's column, I checked out the American Book Review's list of Best First Lines to see if it could inspire me. Here's what I found:
1. "Call me Ishmael."-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick
I'm sorry, but with today's trend in names -- Apple, Prince, North --the name "Ishmael" just doesn't work for me. Melville should have gone with something like, "Call me Justin" or maybe "Give a shout-out to L'il Wayne."
2. "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." -- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Not my style. Sounds like the beginning of a romance novel to me. If Nabokov were to write the book today, he'd need to use a word like "biceps," not "loins." And "Lolita" sounds like a hooker's name. He should try Kimberly or Khloe.
3. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." -- George Orwell, 1984
Okay, if you want your writing to ring of verisimilitude, then don't start a book with a clock that strikes thirteen. That just isn't plausible. Get an editor, Orwell.
4. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...." -- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Vague, vague, vague. I've always been told to be specific when writing. Then he goes on to contradict himself. If only he'd started with "It was a dark and stormy night ..." Now that's an opening.
5. "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter." -- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Obviously Twain should have reviewed Strunk and White before writing that opening line. My English teacher would have given him a D-.
6. "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like ... but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." -- J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.
For an opening line, this is really off-putting. I mean, if the author doesn't even want to "go into it," then why should I bother to read it? Hey, we all had lousy childhoods. Get over yourself and write something uplifting, like "50 Shades of Grey" or "Grumpy Cats."
7. "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." -- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.
This is a misleading opening line. It sounds like a book about gardening. If I wanted a gardening book, then I'd buy a gardening book. Woolf should have started her story with a hook, something like, "Mrs. Dalloway, an escaped mental patient who'd murdered her gardener that morning, decided to bury him under the roses because he'd make good mulch." See how that line grabs the reader in a way that "buying flowers" just doesn't?
Maybe I'll stick to the classic, "Once upon a time," and see where that takes me. Then all I'll need is the stuff that goes between that and "Happily Ever After."
Contact Penny Warner at www.pennywarner.com.