The class video began with author Amber Dermont whom in the first half explains the purpose of a novel’s opening line(s). Author Robert Anthony Siegel concludes the session on how writers can use haiku to create opening lines.
Aside from stressing giving some serious thought about our own opening lines, it also inspired a similar topic. If you remember, my “5 Ways to Spice Up Your Novel” post touches on opening lines. Number #4 “No Info Dumping Please” mentioned how author’s bog down their story at the start. The true beginning of the story isn’t found until several paragraphs or pages later. This is how readers lose interest.
A moderator provided the answer with a quote from Joan Didion from her interview in The Paris Review. RE: “The last sentence in a piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. It should make you go back and start reading from page one.”
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always read the last lines of a book first. I’d would flip to the back of a book and how it ends determines whether I’d want to read it or not. A book can’t start well and not end well. The opening and closing lines of a novel share a circuitous fate. They have to both lure in the reader and keep them coming back to read the story anew.
They are the attractive bookends that hints at the amazing story in between. And they deserve just as much deliberation as the plot, setting, characterization, etc. So when you write your novel, think of how you want it to begin. And how you want it to end. Then write it with originality and emotion. Be straightforward and descriptive.
Food for thought: What are your favorite opening and closing lines from novels? And why?
Here’s mine from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
- O- “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”
C-“Tom’s most well now, and got his bullet around his neck on a watch-guard for a watch, and is always seeing what time it is, and so there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d ‘a’ knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t ‘a’ tackled it, and ain’t a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”
I find Huck’s crass assessment of Mark Twain and the story’s prequel hilarious. And it does not end there but ends on his dislike from being “sivilize.” It makes you wonder why he finds that so horrible. Needless to say Huck Finn is a free spirit.
- O- Jonathan Harker’s Journal
May. Bistritz. __Left Munich at 8:35 P. M, on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible.
C-“Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.”
Here the opening lines contrasts from the closing lines. The novel starts off with a normal everyday scene of a traveler in a distant land. Yet the end hints to an amazing adventure. It makes you question how and what happened. As well as instilling the urge to relive it all again. And watch everything unfold as it turns from something ordinary to extraordinary.