Thanks to Paperback Writer for this amusing list of famous first lines--and what the author could possibly have been thinking. This seemed timely as I start a new story and contemplate a good opening line. . . .
Behind the Lines
Ten Writers' Opening Lines, and What They Were Thinking When They Wrote Them
1. "Call me Ishmael."
Yeah, good name. Not like Herman, you know. Herman. Oy. What am I, a Munster? What kind of mother names her kid that, anyway? I swear, that woman hated me from the minute I was born. I'm never going to write about women. Men only. Big, manly men. Big, manly men who piss off whales, and who aren't named Herman.
2. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so."
How do I start this book off then? Go with the positive claptrap, or the negative claptrap? Oh, ballocks, I'll write both. A big long useless paragraph of both. Let them think it was the dichotomy of my literary genius instead of this bloody damn bipolar disorder.
3. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."
I'm writing this sitting in the kitchen sink. Cool.
4. "Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick."
Decent quote opener. Not as much fun as the thinly-veiled anecdote about the colonel, the misplaced hot dog and how I almost got court martialed for laughing my ass off in a trauma room, but not like this is ever going to get published.
5. "Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur."
Hello, my name is Gabriel, and I have period phobia, so I make my English translator, Sancho, use mostly commas to keep my beautiful prose from being interrupted by that sort of crude punctuation and allow me to drift into endless descriptions of my beautiful vultures which remind me of the prostitutes I ogled as a boy in Cadiz . . . or was it Madrid . . . [margin note: Sancho! My God! Not ellipses! They spawn!]
6. "Shortly before being shot in the back with a tranquilizer dart and dumped half-dazed on a stretcher, right before being stolen from the hospital by silent men in white coats, Elena Baxter stood at the end of a dying child's bed, her hand on a small bare foot, and attempted to perform a miracle."
Baby, you just got backstory-opening-line whomped.
7. "...so then the guy sits up on the stretcher, says 'I don't feel so good,' and turns this incredible shade of blue."
Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has just turned on the fasten your seatbelts sign. So buckle up. Right now.
8. "The day broke gray and dull."
Take that, you dark and stormy night writers.
9. "The last camel collapsed at noon."
What will remind my editor that he hasn't sent me my advance check for this novel yet? Last straw . . . camel . . . got it.
10. "The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper."
I got a big book deal and you didn't, neener neener neener.