Revisiting Some Memorable First Lines

I think as writers, we all too often lose the threads to our stories and struggle to resume the braid of a plot, character development, dialogue, and so on. It seems that stepping back from our own writing is the only logical thing to do. Definitely the sanest. I have found it helpful to peruse books that inspire me to write in the first place. Most of the time, it’s the opening lines to a story that turn out to be great sources of rejuvenation.

Here are some first lines that always recapture me:

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Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”The Gunslinger, Stephen King

This is no doubt one of the most successful opening lines to ever grace the page. It does so many brilliant things in such a short space. A setting and two very important characters are introduced. Both characters are in a state of action. Readers know right away what “a man in black” and a “gunslinger” look like. Questions are raised: why is the man in black fleeing? Why is the gunslinger following him? What will happen when or if the gunslinger catches the man in black? Those are all good questions to have, and it’s what keeps us engaged.

“My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday.”Working for the Devil, Lilith Saintcrow

I was one of those high school kids who thought urban fantasies with sexy, kick-ass female protagonists and on-again/off-again supernatural males was the best thing out there. I’ve wizened up a bit since then, but the Dante Valentine series by Lilith Saintcrow holds a special place in my heart. When anybody asked me what my favorite first sentence was, I’d trot out this little number and watched their reaction with glee. What dark-loving, emo wannabe teenage girl doesn’t want to make people squirm a little in their skins with alternative interests?

Again, more questions. Why is the narrator working for the Devil? What kind of working relationship does she have? (Uh, oh). Does she want to work for the Devil? What else happened on that rainy Monday? More good questions. The reader’s curiosity is piqued, so we keep going. (And no, it’s not one of those relationships).

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft

I only read Lovecraft for the first time last year (yes, I know, very belated), but I immediately fell in love. In many ways, this first line is a true statement: who wants to weave a tapestry of all their insurmountable failures and nightmares over and over, of everything? Obviously, something drastic or overwhelming happened for the narrator to have this mindset. It’s that what happened? that keeps us going (that, and because we know it’s Lovecraft and therefore going to be quite strange).

“This is where the man-beast crawls, its once-virtuous body turned inside out, made raw and skinless, growing vines and sinews backwards through the flesh, stiff primordial feathers pluming in its lungs, thorns and rust knotted to barbed wire in its loins.”The Erstwhile, B. Catling

Wow. Just wow. The lyricism here is just dripping. Right away you can tell this is a book you have to carefully read if only to enjoy the poetics of plot and description. It’s an opening line that makes you think and read over and over. The questions that arise are more metaphorical: what does the man-beast represent? What exactly is being described here? This kind of sentence has me going for pen and paper (or laptop) and trying to create something just as ephemeral.

When an opening line excites the writer in you, engage with it. How does it work? Why does it work? You might just find something to help you return to your own writing.

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