Monday, February 21, 2005

Opening lines

Came across a yellowing Sunday Times cutting by Philip Norman, the author and journalist, titled "I've started, so you'll finish":

It can be the best of phrases. It can be the worst of phrases: but your opening sentance is the most important thing you will ever write.

In a side panel titled Opening Lines he gives what he considers examples of the best and the worst opening lines in novels. As an experiment I thought I would jumble them up and leaving out the title and author. Of course most people will recognise where some if not all of them come from and and use this knowledge rather than an assessment of quality. Surprising how many "It was.."s there are! My immediate response is to ask: what question does the reader ask after reading them? 'Who? What? Where? When?' is the journalistic dictum. The only ones left out Why? and How?

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen...."
"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they eleoctrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't even know what I was doing in New York."
"It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet."
"It was the afternoon of my 81 st. birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there..."
" 124 was spiteful."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife."
"Call me Ishmael..."
"Scarlett o'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarlaton twins were...."

Norman relates the Thurber story of when he was a trainee reporter in the 1920s. He was given this advice on how to write news: "Compose a really colourful and interesting opening paragraph. Then say what happened. Then compose another colourful, interesting closing paragraph. Then cross out your first and last paragraphs." Quoting Norman: Thurber obediently turned in a report with what he considered maximum impact upfront: " Dead. That was what the man was when the police pulled him from the Ohio river...."

Check who wrote them:

The Best; The Worst


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