September 27, 2011

First Impressions, Scribbles Edition

I don't like beginnings. That is to say, I don't like writing them; I would rather write anything - even a death scene - than a beginning, whether it be of a whole novel or just of a chapter. I have quite a horror of them, perhaps from hearing the constant refrain, "Create a good hook! You must hook the reader! Create a good hook!" After a while it begins to eat into your soul, and when you open that blank document all you can do is stare as the word pounds over and over in your head, "Hooooooooook!"

However, I do like to admire the work of other writers in this area and pretend that they had as difficult a time producing theirs as I do with mine. Jenny did a post a few days ago on the first sentence of each of some of her favorite books, and although naturally she took some of mine, I wanted to follow her example. So without further ado, and in no particular order...

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."
jane austen, emma

"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."
james fenimore cooper, the last of the mohicans

"As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom's cottage, I reflected that no one on that platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit."
c.s. lewis, perelandra

"The Jubel es Zubleh is a mountain fifty miles and more in length, and so narrow that its tracery on the map gives it a likeness to a caterpillar crawling from the south to the north."
lew wallace, ben-hur

"Hill House, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon's occupation."
anne elisabeth stengl, veiled rose

"Sing, O goddess, the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans."
homer, the iliad

"It was a dark and stormy night."
madeleine l'engle, a wrinkle in time

"In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army."
arthur conan doyle, a study in scarlet

"There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always."
norton juster, the phantom tollbooth

"It is impossible to estimate the significance of the life of C. H. Spurgeon without knowing something of the religious condition of the land at the time when his ministry commenced in the middle of the last century."
iain murray, the forgotten spurgeon

"When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?"
william shakespeare, macbeth

"The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day - a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste."
jean webster, daddy-long-legs

Most of these are simply spectacular beginnings, each in its own way. The opening line of Emma sets the tone for a light, witty read that seems to indicate that the authoress had her tongue in her cheek the whole time she was writing it; The Phantom Tollbooth introduces you to poor Milo, who doesn't know how to spell 'February' and doesn't much care; A Study in Scarlet introduces you to good old John Watson and then gradually slides the reader into the shock of meeting Sherlock Holmes, who first enters the scene flailing a test tube and crying, "I FOUND IT!"

I'm not sure who doesn't love the first line of Daddy-Long-Legs and decide right away that it is the perfect book for a rainy day. And the person who doesn't know the chilling pronouncement of the First Witch in Macbeth obviously never acted the play out with stuffed animals as a child. And then there's The Iliad. One wonders if the person who first wrote down the poem realized how chillingly epic that first line is - wonders if he stopped, sat back, peered at the introduction and remarked, "Hey, that's pretty good!"

I can never decide whether Madeleine L'Engle's beginning for A Wrinkle in Time was frank or tongue-in-cheek, but it certainly is catchy. Veiled Rose begins with a prologue that is actually the almost-end of the book, introducing the reader to the Dragon, then moving back in time to the summer when everything began to happen at Hill House. Even The Forgotten Spurgeon, a biography, grabs the interested reader by the collar; what was the religious condition of Britain at that time?

Granted, at least two of these are not hooks. As much as I love The Last of the Mohicans, I did not remember that opening line and frankly I think I skipped it; and with Ben-Hur, a caterpillar mountain is not the most exciting way of introducing such an epic novel. But these are exceptions, and they work because the rest of the book is splendid and by the time readers are in the middle of the forest with Uncas, Hawkeye, and the rest or escaping a naval battle with Judah Ben-Hur, they don't really care what the first sentence of the book was. For the rest of us mere mortals, hooks are important and we have to muddle through as best we can. But who knows? Maybe some day people will go around quoting the first line of Wordcrafter like they do with Macbeth.

...Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.


  1. I found a lovely one just now:

    "The wind ran along the muddy-gray banks of the river, kicking up those bits of snow that had not fully melted and flinging them into Fiona's mouth."


    I love writing opening sentences. :D Perhaps my favorite of mine is:

    "He always said that I had the measles when he found me on his doorstep back in 2299, and he also said that I was less than a year old."
    ~ Firmament: Radialloy

    Thank you for sharing these!

  2. I'd go around quoting the first line of worcrafter. Unfortunately, I remember books mostly by the pictures they make in my mind.

  3. I'd agree with Grace. Soldier's Cross had a lovely opening sentence.

  4. Oooh, down with writing beginnings! for they simply have no end. I'm currently hacking out the sixth or seventh attempt at a decent start for my main novel. The more you love the story, the harder it is to write, I'm learning.

    I have to say you picked out some marvelous first lines. I particularly loved the Iliad's. Now I want to read the rest! I guess that is what you call a proper 'hook' :)


  5. I like your opening line, Grace; the "back in 2299" especially caught my eye.

    Lilly - Thanks! Glad you liked it!

    Gwyn - I can't count how many versions the opening chapter of Wordcrafter went through, and I dread the day when I'll have to rewrite the first chapter of my WIP. You're right: the more you love a story, the harder it is to write and to be contented with what you've written. I hope you can hammer out the introduction for yours!

  6. I actually love writing the very, very first parts of stories. They hold such a magic and mystery to them--one never knows where the story will go from there. A delightful feeling. But then I probably don't agonize over them as much as I should. "If it's good enough for me, then it's good enough for... me." :P

    Thank you for this little post. I loved reading through all the delightful Story Beginnings, and your thoughts on them. ^.^

  7. Beginning sentences are the single most important reason why I've only finished three good novels! Thank you for giving us some catharsis and vocalizing our collective angst. :-)

  8. Katie - Your stories are so full of magic, of course it bubbles up in the first sentence! I love your writing.

    Vicki - I usually write a horrendous first chapter, then hurry on to the fun parts and ignore it until I finish the story. Then I drag myself back and rewrite it...a lot. The process, in case you couldn't already tell, involves a lot of woe.

  9. I hear you Abigail. I don't like writing beginnings either. I always find it hard to find the right way to start it off in the right way that will hook the reader. And I feel I'm doing a terrible job and the readers will put it down.

    You did an AMAZING job starting The Soldier's Cross. You had me HOOKED right away!

  10. Just curious, What is the first line of Wordcrafter?


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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