Saturday, June 26, 2010

Opening Gambit: First Lines From Classic Novels

"I always write a good first line, but I have trouble in writing the others." ~ Moliere

Every time I start a story or a novel I always recall that famous opener in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath:

"To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth."

At once a beautiful and ominous line, it sets the tone of the story completely. Why do I recall it in this context? Truthfully, I've always wanted to write an opening line as devastatingly lovely as the one in Grapes of Wrath. Like a lot of us, I usually don't succeed!

Perusing some of the better opening lines of famous novels gave me a sense of what a successful one is. Here's a compilation of some great opening gambits in Literature (Please, If I missed an obvious one, let me know and I'll add it!)

❝life is hard.❞ ༺༻ the Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck.

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

❝Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.❞ ༺༻ Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Zora Neale Hurston

❝If you're going to read this, don't bother.❞ ༺༻ Choke by Chuck Palahniuk.

❝There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.❞ ༺༻ Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) Alan Paton

❝James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.❞ ༺༻ Goldfinger (1959), Ian Fleming

❝Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.❞ ༺༻ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), C.S. Lewis

❝On they went, singing 'Eternal Memory', and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.❞ ༺༻ Doctor Zhivago (1957), Boris Pasternak

❝In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.❞ ༺༻ The Hobbit (1937), J.R.R. Tolkien

❝The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.❞ ༺༻ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Jules Verne

❝A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.❞ ༺༻ Of Mice and Men (1937), John Steinbeck

❝At ten minutes to three in the morning, the city of wells lay inert, hot and stagnant.❞ ༺༻ In The Heat of the Night

❝No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.❞ ༺༻ The War of the Worlds (1898), H. G. Wells

❝Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.❞ ༺༻ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979), Douglas Adams

❝As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.❞ ༺༻ The Metamorphosis (1915), Franz Kafka

❝All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.❞ ༺༻ Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

❝Who is John Galt?❞ ༺༻ Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

❝It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.❞ ༺༻ The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

❝This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.❞ ༺༻ Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

❝Hapscomb's Texaco sat on US 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston.❞ ༺༻ The Stand, Stephen King

❝If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.❞ ༺༻ The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

❝It was a pleasure to burn.❞ ༺༻ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

❝We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.❞ ༺༻ Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

❝Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.❞ ༺༻ Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

❝In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I've been turning over in my mind ever since.❞ ༺༻ The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❝There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.❞ ༺༻ The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

❝Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.❞ ༺༻ Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

❝No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.❞ ༺༻ The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

❝If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.❞ ༺༻ Herzog by Saul Bellow

❝The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there."❞ ༺༻ In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

❝Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.❞ ༺༻ the Shipping News

❝Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.❞ ༺༻ Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

❝When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.❞ ༺༻ The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

❝It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.❞ ༺༻ Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

❝It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.❞ ༺༻ Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

❝I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.❞ ༺༻ Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

❝I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.❞ ༺༻ Old Man's War by John Scalzi

❝It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.❞ ༺༻ Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

❝All this happened, more or less.❞ ༺༻ Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

❝The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended.❞ ༺༻ 2001 - A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.

❝Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin and I was off on the greatest adventure of my life!❞ ༺༻ Sleep Till Noon by Max Shulman

❝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 far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.❞ ༺༻ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

❝It was a dark and stormy night.❞ ༺༻ A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

If you have any great opening lines to share, leave them in the comment section and let me know. Thanks for playing!

༺༻ David Hunter

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts Too Long for This World: Quotes on Writing and Other Things …

I love posting quotes on Twitter and Facebook, but often they’re chopped up and edited to fit stringent character limits or are just too long to post because friends and followers alike prefer short sound bites, and if a phrase is longer than Gone with the Wind usually they’ll tune out after the first few sentences. It’s a shame because a lot of the longer quotes on writing are very interesting, and I feel a twinge of horror when I have to edit one of them down into small edible bits. Here are a few that you might enjoy. So, uh … enjoy!

❝...After all, all he did was string together a lot of old well-known quotations.❞ ༺༻ H.L. Mencken on Shakespeare

❝You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair; the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.❞ ༺༻ Stephen King ~ On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

❝If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting.❞ ༺༻ Ray Bradbury

❝Do not be grand. Try to get the ordinary into your writing — breakfast tables rather than the solar system; Middletown today, not Mankind through the ages.❞ ༺༻ Darcy O’Brien

❝A writer who does not speak out of a full experience uses torpid words, wooden or lifeless words, such words as "humanitary," which have a paralysis in their tails.❞ ༺༻ Henry David Thoreau

❝The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.❞ ༺༻ Lewis Thomas

❝All the fantasy writers I know have a way of dwelling on their own fears and phobias. A writer spends his life being his own psychiatrist.❞ ༺༻Charles Beaumont

Semicolons . . . signal, rather than shout, a relationship. . . . A semicolon is a compliment from the writer to the reader. It says: "I don’t have to draw you a picture; a hint will do.❞ ༺༻ George Will

❝Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven't been told a million times already – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching. ༺༻ Harlan Ellison

❝In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.❞ ༺༻ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

❝The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.❞ ༺༻ William Styron

❝The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules.❞ ༺༻ John Steinbeck

❝We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—”Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.❞ ༺༻ John Steinbeck

❝When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.❞ ༺༻ Michel de Montaigne

❝Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.❞ ༺༻ Sir Francis Bacon

❝When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me.❞ ༺༻ W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965), 'Of Human Bondage', 1915

❝One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it. I recommend this feeling.❞ ༺༻ Steven Brust

❝The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim isn't to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain.❞ ༺༻ George Buchanan

❝Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.❞ ༺༻ Monica Dickens

❝Writing wasn’t easy to start. After I finally did it, I realized it was the most direct contact possible with the part of myself I thought I had lost, and which I constantly find new things from. Writing also includes the possibility of living many lives as well as living in any time or world possible. I can satisfy my enthusiasm for research, but jump like a calf outside the strict boundaries of science. I can speak about things that are important to me and somebody listens. It’s wonderful!❞ ༺༻ Virpi Hämeen-Anttila

❝Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.❞ ༺༻ Barbara Kingsolver

❝Are we, who want to create, in some way specially talented people? Or has everybody else simply given up, either by preassures of modesty or laziness, and closed their ears from their inner need to create, until that need has died, forgotten and abandoned? When you look at children, you start to think the latter. I still haven't met a child who doesn't love - or who at least hasn't loved - drawing, writing or some other creative activity.❞ ༺༻ Natalia Laurila

❝Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.❞ ༺༻ Susan Sontag

❝Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words – the words live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.❞ ༺༻ J. Michael Straczynski

❝All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.❞ ༺༻ George Orwell

❝I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.❞ ༺༻ Brenda Ueland

I can’t help but to write, I have an inner need for it. If I’m not in the middle of some literary project, I’m utterly lost, unhappy and distressed. As soon as I get started, I calm down.❞ ༺༻ Kaari Utrio

❝Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer - and if so, why?❞ ༺༻ Bennett Cerf

❝The quality which makes man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and masochism. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street.❞ ༺༻ James Jones

❝It's tougher than Himalayan yak jerky on January. But, as any creative person will tell you, there are days when there's absolutely nothing sweeter than creating something from nothing.❞ ༺༻ Richard Krzemien

Got a long quote that won’t fit Twitter? Send it along and I’ll post it in future additions of “Thoughts Too Long …”

Thanks for stopping by the Den. Take care now, and keep scribbling …

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