First lines are one of the most brilliant things about reading and writing. The first line is that magical boundary between two realities. It can absorb you, encouraging you with every word to hang your disbelief up on the coat rack and cross over to another world.
Yes, I really, really love that first line of a story.
Most of you are writers and know all about the importance of the first line as a hook. You probably also know that reading other people’s work is a good way to learn about the craft of writing.
‘Call me Ishmael’ – Moby Dick. Herman Melville
I love this for the simplicity and the subtleties. It’s still an invitation with something almost intimate implied. The use of ‘call me’ rather than ‘I am’ suggests an alias, and calls into question the integrity of the narrator before the book has even started. The name Ishmael means ‘outcast’ or ‘wanderer’, something which Melville’s original readers would have been aware of. This fits snuggly with his need to take to the sea regularly. So much in three words!
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man with a large fortune must be in want of a wife.’ Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
I wish I could read this line for the first time again. I always hear the irony because I know it is not so much about the marriage habits of young men but what the mother of single daughters feel the marriage habits of young men should be. If I saw it afresh today I don’t know if I’d love it as much as I do having read the book.
I can’t help thinking there is something almost flippant in the tone though. That a single man with a large fortune must be in want of a wife is not a universal truth, but only a truth universally acknowledged. Presumably not everyone, including the young man, would agree?
It also tells you instantly what the book is about. There are going to be rich young men up for grabs and the whole book is about marriage and money. Marriage is mentioned rather than love, so it is a book about social conventions, even though love does get to play a role. The length of the line and the way the words tumble off the tongue also sounds playful, light-hearted and I think that captures the essence of the statement. However, I’m not quite sure that reading it in isolation fully conveys the irony that is instantly apparent when you continue to Mr and Mrs Bennet discussing the let of Netherfield.
Based on all that I’d like my first lines to set the tone of the book, raise questions that encourage the reader onwards, and perhaps be just a little bit quirky. For the moment though there’s this to work with…
When Juliet first saw Mr Birling she decided not to be impressed.
I’m not quite there yet.
Does anyone else have any first lines they love? Or that they are working on right now?
And my internet will be back next week – so hopefully more visually interesting posts on the horizon!