by Steve Laube
The opening lines of a novel are like an introduction to the rest of the story. (Karen Ball discussed this over a year ago.) Some have become famous. “It was a dark and stormy night” is the well known beginning of that struggling novelist Snoopy in the cartoon “Peanuts.” It is also the first line of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford (1830) as well as the first line in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. (L’Engle admitted she was having a little fun with her readers by using that line.)
I hope you spend a lot of time thinking about your novel’s first sentence. It is a first impression. Let’s make it a good one. For as John Gardner wrote in his book On Becoming a Novelist:
“We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images.”
It is a wonderful tradition at the Christy Awards to read the opening sentence or two from the winning novelist as the author is making their way to the stage to accept their award.