“Begin at the beginning, and when you come to the end, stop”

First off, you all have my deepest apologies for not posing last Saturday. My brain had become a squash, and squashes don’t talk, they don’t think, they don’t move, and they certainly don’t write. They just sit there and look cute and make good projectile weapons. That’s what I am.

BUT, today you got something. I started reading All the President’s Men this week (ah, look it’s me reading more nonfiction.) (Oh, and I also finished reading Two Towers this week and *drumroll* onto the Return of the King! Honestly I’m really sad that I’m near finishing because it’s been such a comfort to reread all the books) and was struck by the opening line. Just gold. SO, since opening lines are as important to writers as they are to readers, I decided to rummage through my bookshelves and find some good punches. (And now I have to put all the books away….)

Without further ado, here are the first lines I gathered and my commentary.

June 17, 1972. Nine o’clock Saturday morning.

All the President’s Men: Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Obviously I had to put this one in here. There’s something I just really like about an opening line that sets the scene, but sets it quickly and with urgency. Year, date, place, whatever. It kinda gets us over the weird hump of when you start a book and are trying to figure out where you are and stuff (do you ever start a book and for the full first paragraph you have absolutely no idea what’s going on? It’s the worst.) It’s like five words and I already have an image of where I am. It’s simple.

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit

The Hobbit: JRR Tolkien

Iconic, obviously.

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

Scaramouche Rafael Sabatini.

I FORGOT ABOUT THIS LINE. I used to have an obsession about this line, and honestly still do. It’s. So. Good.

On the 24th of February, 1815, the watch tower of Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the arrival of the three master Pharaon, from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.

The Count of Monte Cristo: Alexander Dumas

So, this is similar to what I mentioned before, about setting the place quickly, but this sentence is a little more….clunky. It gets confusing with all the weird names and doesn’t have much feeling to it. And the problem lies in that it draws are attention to things that aren’t important. The name of the port, where the ship has been. All those things don’t really end up having an impact on the story (now the name of the ship does, because the reader will need to remember it)(of course then maybe Dumas’ audience knew all those place names well *shrugs*)

At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary.

Black Hawk Down: Mark Bowden

(had to throw at least ONE other nonfiction in here) We meet one of the main people in the story, we know he’s in some sort of aerial vehicle (helicopter), that the situation is tense, and he’s Catholic. Eight words. BOOM.

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.

The Giver: Lois Lowry

This one is fun because it’s a bit more mysterious and slightly threatening since a lot of us associate December with Christmas (or New Year’s or some sort of happy celebration) so we’re all just wondering what on earth Jonas could be afraid of.

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

The Maze Runner: James Dashner

Again, mysterious, but we can see the setting AND we get a distinct feeling of “ew, that’s creepy” which sets the tone for the rest of the book(s).

First she was small. She was very, very small, and that was good because no one could see her. Only Grandam could see her. No, go farther back than that.

Cry of Stone: Michael D O’Brien

I honestly cheated on it because it’s *ahem* two lines. BUT I COULDN’T HELP IT. I honestly almost included more lines and soon enough I would have just typed out the whole book. (His writing is just so gorgeous. I don’t know how to describe it except that I just feel like I could eat his writing. I know that makes no sense but just bear with me. I just feel like his writing is so luscious that I can physically taste it).

Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.

Little Dorrit: Charles Dickens

*breaths in deep* ah yes, the glorious simple and sweet setting. Of course the only thing bad about this is eventually it’s gonna be way longer than thirty years ago. But I guess Dickens wasn’t figuring people would be reading it over a hundred years later.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on it being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities: Charles Dickens

WELL, I had to include this one because it’s iconic, but also because that’s all one sentence. One. Sentence. Now that’s a run on sentence. (I was also going to include the opening line of Oliver Twist because it is too a glorious run on with no end in sight, but it was kinda boring going on about the workhouse, so I thought I would skip that one.)

All children, except one, grow up.

Peter Pan: J.M Barrie

This line makes me emotional for some reason.

Flashback to when I played Curly in Peter Pan (I look sad because I was about to be thrown off the plank) (don’t worry I was saved)

And there you have it! What are some of your favorite first lines? Do you struggle writing them? When you start a new story, do you think about them? (I usually start to think, but most of the time I get stuck so I just bust past it and worry about it later)

(Title quote from Lewis Carroll, btw)

8 responses to ““Begin at the beginning, and when you come to the end, stop””

  1. This was sooooooo fun to read all the opening lines!! And I definitely feel the same way about Michael D’Obrien. His writing is very tangible.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to be able to recite the entire opener from memory but, first lines only: “This is where the dragons went.” (Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!)

    It’s fascinating to analyze opening lines and just opening lines. There’s a fun writing prompt where you grab a bunch of opening lines, write them on paper, stick them in a bag or a hat or something, draw one randomly and write based on that opener–works best if you have a group of people and you get someone else’s favorite opening line and have never read the book it comes from.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AHHH that’s such a good opening line.

      Ooo! That sounds like a lot fun. Might have to try that sometime (I feel like that would even make a good party game, if the people were bookish)


  3. Ah, I do love a good opening line. Except, I can never remember any of the iconic ones after I read them, lol. (Must be that brain squash you mentioned.) I think Peter Pan is my favorite. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. the pandemic has turned us all into squashes.

      Peter Pan’s is just soooooo good.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. francisbethesda Avatar

    It makes me emotional too

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Curly….I remember that ballet! Marvelous photo…..Love, Marie

    On Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 8:00 AM Bernadette Benda wrote:

    > BernadetteMichael posted: ” First off, you all have my deepest apologies > for not posing last Saturday. My brain had become a squash, and squashes > don’t talk, they don’t think, they don’t move, and they certainly don’t > write. They just sit there and look cute and make good projectil” >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. […] Last week we talked about opening lines, this week we’re talking about ENDING lines. […]


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