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.
Can you recognize any of the following first lines (without Googling them?). Give your best guess in the comments below. (Author? Book title?) The answers will be posted in the comments later this afternoon.
1) “It is 348 years, six months and nineteen days ago today that the citizens of Paris were awakened by the pealing of all the bells in the triple precincts of the City, the University and the Town.”
2) “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
3) “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”
4) “Alex Stafford was just like Mama said. He was tall and dark, and Sarah had never seen anyone so beautiful.”
5) “Rayford Steele’s mind was on a woman he had never touched.”
6) “On that November afternoon when I first saw Cutter Gap, the crumbling chimney of Alice Henderson’s cabin stood stark against the sky, blackened by the flames that had consumed the house.”
7) “Crazy lights swirled against the evening sky. Day morphed into the merriment of night. Cotton candy and hot dogs.”
8) “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
9) “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out at either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.”
10) “It all began with the aurochs.”
Well, I can only recognize one for certain (#5 Left Behind), another at a guess (#6 Christy). Will just have to wait and see what the others are 😉
“It all began with the aurochs.” Yes! One of my favourites ever, by a favourite writer. Stephen Lawhead inspires me.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Huh. Nothing from Snooki or Twilight…said the woman who is clearly self-righteous, un-pubbed and holier than them.
Ellie, you are right. #5 is from LEFT BEHIND.
And #6 is from CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall.
C.L. You are correct! #10 is from PARADISE WAR by Stephen Lawhead.
Jennifer? THAT was funny.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Thanks, I’m here all week.
And at ACFW next week. Where I will be the one literally holding her hand over her mouth because I’ll be forcing myself to act all grown-uppy and polite.
Okay, since we’re taking turns naming them, I’ll claim #3 as The Hunger Games. Next!
Rebecca Barlow Jordan
I believe #4 is from Redeeming Love–a powerful novel.
Rick and Rebecca are correct.
The “group” now has five of the ten.
Most definitely #2 is the opening to Hemingway’s _The Sun Also Rises_.
It’s been a long time since I read it, but I’m guessing #1 is The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.
#10 is Confederacy of Dunces.
Sorry, meant #9 is Confederacy of Dunces.
Eight out of ten correct.
Only missing #7 and #8.
Steve, I’m embarrassed to say I only truly got one. I recognized Rayford’s name and had one of those moments when the book title fell off my tongue. Funny how tastes in fiction vary so much. Great post and lots of fun!! I actually enjoyed seeing one that broke the rule of waking up.
I must say, you readers are an impressive group! As promised, here are the answers to the ten examples above…
1. from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, by Victor Hugo
2. from The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
3. from The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
4. from Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers
5. from Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
6. from Christy by Catherine Marshall
7. from Nightshade by Ronie Kendig
8. from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
9. from A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
10. from The Paradise War (book one of “Song of Albion”) by Stephen Lawhead
Getting in here late… those first lines are great! I’m feeling incredibly uncultured because I only recognized Christy! For shame… LOL Great post! Thanks for putting the fire underneath me to make sure my first line(s) are killer!
Getting on here super late… but I was excited to recognize the lines from The Hunger Games and Redeeming Love! two books that I LOVE!!!