What lines set you alight?

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I was going to blog about ‘A world without William Shakespeare’ but the prospect was too horrendous – even if Christopher Marlowe hadn’t been killed so young.

Did that line grab you, or turn you livid with anger?

How important to you is the first line of a book? I admit there have been some great ones. My favourites, and I read these decades ago, are:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. — C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

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But such lists are open to debate, and trying to pick favorites can be a challenge.

Getting that opening right, finding the right words, choosing the moment to start that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer – that’s wrong, although as writers we can suffer.

At the moment, my mind is on openings, partly as I have taken on some beta reading, but also as I am struggling with my own opening line:

“Their eyes stared at Twyla without emotion and followed every move that she made up or down the stairs.”

The real question is – what makes you read on? The opening line or paragraph? The cover and blurb? Reviews?

I can remember days past when I went into a bricks & mortar bookshop and flicked through real books. Aah that smell. I started with the cover and blurb, then sampled the opening, and even flicked further on. Harder of course with e-books, but sampling is an option so I read as far as I can. To me a novel is more than a memorable first line.

Do we stop at “Who’s there?” or tarry longer with the Groundlings?

So what hooks you? What is your favourite opening? Can you envisage no Shakespeare?

Midnight Hamlet at The Globe by TheFella on Flickr

Midnight Hamlet at The Globe by TheFella on Flickr

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6 thoughts on “What lines set you alight?

  1. Characters make or break a story for me, usually. First lines are something I look at though. 🙂

    A world without Shakespeare? That would’ve been a tragedy.

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  2. There’s a lot of debate about this, isn’t it?

    Personally, a book catches me for its cover first (guess what! 😉 ) If I like the cover, I’ll read the blurb. And if I like the blurb, I’ll put the book in my ‘to buy’ list. I very rarely read a blurb and buy the book straightaway, unless it’s from a writer I really like.

    I very rarely read the first page or any pages inside, though lately I’ve started doing it. And yes, the first few lines are crucial for me. I can decide to read the story anyway. I especially do this online, in workshops or on blogs, but I see that rarely the first impression is wrong. If I think, I’m not going to like this, usually I am not. It does happen sometimes that I end up liking it, but that’s very rare.

    So yes, I think the first line, the first para and the first page are indeed very important, that’s why I’ve poured a lot of effort in my openign few sentences in my novel. A LOT of effort… and I’m not sure I’m done yet 😉

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    • Getting it right is a slow process for me as well, Sarah. But it’s worth it. And yes I think you are right it all flows from the cover, to the blurb etc. I try to get a feel for a book before I even add it to my wish list, and like you I don’t often buy first visit, unless recommended or something.

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