Today is a salute to that most difficult skills of all; writing the opening words of a novel. They should be pithy. Piquant. Vivid. Thoughtful or thought-provoking. Funny is good too. The first sentence needs to catch the imagination, arrest the attention of the most casual of glances. At its finest, it should provide a glimpse of the central theme and set the tone whilst enticing readers not only to continue to the end of the first paragraph but to also have fingers half-way to turning the first page.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Another classic comes from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina:
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
I also have a fondness for the somewhat thoughtful The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. (L.P. Hartley The Go-Between). I read this book as a teenager and it was the first time I became aware of the unreliable narrator and was fascinated to see the story unfold on two levels.
William Gibson’s first sentence to Neuromancer sends a tingle down the spine. I wish I’d written it!
Some first sentences provoke curiosity in the most disengaged reader.
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
'Why?' we ask. But Dodie Smith doesn’t immediately answer the question in I Capture a Castle. She plays with us just a little more...
That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with ours dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy. I can’t say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring – I wrote my best poems while sitting on the hen-house.
The narrator is already vividly alive, the setting strongly drawn in a few lines.
I am in a car park in
The theme is there and so is a sense of voice.
Then there is the genius of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
The same week our chooks were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut.