Sunday, March 2, 2014


 Image from A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Notable Novels

First lines.

We have all had the experience of opening a book in the book store and being mesmerized by the first line, the first paragraph, the first stanza,  the first page.  

I have time and next time been hooked by the musicality, the poetry, the imagery in a perfect first line, an entrancing opening, a tantalizing introduction to a new world-- promising unique ideas--promising magic.

First lines.

I remember peeking into Weaveworld  by Clive Barker which begins with these words:  

Nothing ever begins.
There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.

The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator's voice recedes the connection will seem to grow more tenuous for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.
Thus the pagan will be sanctified, the tragic become laughable; great lovers will stoop to sentiment, and demons dwindle to clockwork toys.
Nothing is fixed. In and out a shuttle goes, fact and fiction, mind and matter woven into patterns that may have only this in common: that hidden among them is a filigree that will with time become a world.

I was transfixed. I was hypnotized. How could not read more ?   How could I  leave the store without  this book in my possession?

Recently at OCTELA 2014, Dr. Alexa Sandmann of Kent State University and the National Writing Project- Kent State University shared new award winning children's literature.   I was struck by two opening lines she read to us.                                                   
 One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, 2014 Newbery Honor Book

So it comes to this, I remember thinking on Wednesday, June 7, 1871. The date sticks in my mind because it was the day of my sister's first funeral and I knew it wasn't her last.--which is why I left. That's the long and the short of it.
But surely you'd rather hear the long than the short.

 Paperboy by Vince Vawter, 2014 Newbery Honor Book

I’m typing about the stabbing for a good reason. I can’t talk.
Without stuttering.
Plus I promised Mam I would never tell what happened to my yellow-handle knife. Mam might say that typing is cheating but I need to see the words on paper to make sure everything happened the way my brain remembers it. I trust words on paper a lot more than words in the air.
Yes, I need to buy these two books based on the first lines.  As we heard these lines read aloud in Sandmann's session, there was a collective sigh, and I am sure I was not the only one making a handwritten, digital, or mental note of the wonder of these words..

One of my favorite journals about writing, Poets and Writers, offers a column entitled Page One: Where New And Noteworthy Books Begin  featuring memorable first lines from novels, collections of poetry or stories, memoir and more.  

Here are two intriguing beginnings from the March/April 2014 issue.

 Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi

Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.

 Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor (collection of stories)

We begin with the trouble, but where does the trouble begin?

Click here for the complete column in the current issue of Poets and Writers 

Which first lines do you remember?
Which lines are indelibly etched in your mind?

To jog your memory of wonderful first lines you have read in the past this online collection of first lines may be helpful.

And just for added fun for those of you who may want  to combine your exploration of first lines with  a touch of grammar, check out A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Famous Novels, which analyzes and diagrams 25 notable first lines.(Yes diagram-- like in English class when we were young!)

Which first lines have you read or heard recently that made you want to run to the nearest bookseller to find that book?

Which first lines have compelled you, dragged you, doomed you to diving into a book you may not have planned on reading, invited you into a world you did not know you wanted to visit, and submerged you in words that made you newly alive?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reread the opening lines of several of your favorite books.

What musical or poetic elements strike you in these lines?
What images or ideas compel you to keep reading. 

Using one of these selected opening lines as a model or mentor text,  write your own first lines for a story or poem.  Can you include any of your noted  features in your own lines?

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