Opening Lines: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This is the blog where we dissect the opening sentences of popular works of fiction. Few people outside of the writing community know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into crafting the perfect Opening Line; and for that reason, I want to bring attention to the incredible work that a writer puts into these first few words. Today we will examine Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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First, let’s look at the blurb:

As the Bennets prepare their five grown daughters to enter into society, each shows personality traits that illuminate their future prospects as wives. Jane, the oldest, is the most demure and traditional, and Lydia, the youngest, the most headstrong and impulsive. Attention centers on haughty second-born Elizabeth, and her blossoming relationship with the dashing but aloof Fitzwilliam Darcy. Adversaries at first in the endless rounds of balls, parties, and social gatherings, they soon develop a grudging respect for one another that blossoms into romance when each comes to appreciate the tender feelings that course beneath the veneer of their propriety and reserve. 

Now, let’s examine the Opening Line:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

This is another example where the author’s voice makes us want to read more and learn more about what’s going on. (Refer to Opening Lines: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.)

Let’s break this down.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

This is obviously something that has been proved true–many times over–that it is now considered to be fact.

“…that a single man in possession of a good fortune…”

Now we know this “truth” concerns single, wealthy men.

“…must be in want of a wife.”

Since this wealthy man is rich and single, he must be in want of a wife.

This is a great line because this “truth” is obviously an opinion, but the voice of the narrator compels us to find out why they believe this.

We want to find out who this person is that considers this universally acknowledged statement as fact. Why do they believe this? Is it because they know this man? Do they know other wealthy men that were single and in want of wives? And what is to come of this single, wealthy man that we know we’ll soon be reading out.

If you want to find out about this mystery man and see if there was any truth to this statement, click on the Barnes & Noble link.

Opening Lines: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

This is the blog where we dissect the opening sentences of popular works of fiction. Few people outside of the writing community know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into crafting the perfect Opening Line; and for that reason, I want to bring attention to the incredible work that a writer puts into these first few words. Today we will examine C.SLewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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First, let’s look at the blurb:

Narnia…the world of wicked dragons and magic spells, where the very best is brought out of even the worst people, where anything can happen (and most often does)…and where the adventure begins. The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries. King Caspian has built it for his voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Mizaz banished when he usurped the throne. The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, and their cousin Eustace to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan’s country at the End of the World.

Now let’s examine the Opening Line:

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I say a writer needs to make the reader ask questions–based on this opening sentence–so that they will continue to read the story.

I will add, sometimes, the author’s voice can be a great driving force to keep the reader going, with or without those questions.

In this opener, C.S. Lewis infuses enough humor to make us wonder, who is Eustace Clarence Scrubb?

Obviously, this name is so bad that when Lewis adds, “he almost deserved it,” he is implying that Eustace himself is also bad.

While this line is humorous, we still ask ourselves, “What was so bad about Eustace Clarence Scrubb that he almost deserved this horrible name?

If you want to find out, click on the Barnes & Noble link.

Opening Lines: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

This is the blog where we dissect the opening sentences of popular works of fiction. Few people outside of the writing community know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into crafting the perfect Opening Line; and for that reason, I want to bring attention to the incredible work that a writer puts into these first few words. Today we will examine Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.

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First, let’s look at her blurb:

Set against the frozen waste of a harsh New England winter, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome is a tale of despair, forbidden emotions, and sexual tensions, published with an introduction and notes by Elizabeth Ammons in Penguin Classics. Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeenie. But when Zeenie’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a ‘hired girl’, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent. 

Now, let’s examine the Opening Line:

“I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.”

This is such a great opening line. I think it could be used in a variety of books. I picture it in a suspense novel, uttered by a detective. Or the horror genre, or comedy, or romance. It’s just that good.

Let’s break it down.

“I had the story…”

There’s a story. There’s always a story.

“…bit by bit, from various people…”

Okay, we’re piecing a story together. We don’t have the whole story, yet. But several people were either involved or witnessed whatever has happened.

“…and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. The narrator is collecting this story from these witnesses, but no one has the same story.

What is the story?

Why is it different? And more importantly, why does it keep changing?

If you want to find out what the story is, click the Barnes & Noble link.

Opening Lines: Beloved by Toni Morrison

This is the blog where we dissect the opening sentences of popular works of fiction. Few people outside of the writing community know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into crafting the perfect Opening Line; and for that reason, I want to bring attention to the incredible work that a writer puts into these first few words. Today we will examine Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

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First, let’s look at the blurb:

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved” is a towering achievement.

Now let’s examine the Opening Line:

“124 was spiteful.”

Short, sweet, and an excellent opener.

Even still, there’s much to examine and even more to ask.

“124…”

We don’t know by the context if this is a living being. (Spoiler Alert: 124 is a building, a home, actually.) If we know nothing about the story and all we have to go by is this first line, we know this number is referring to something that can be spiteful. We can assume it’s a person, but we really don’t know at this point.  Since we do not know if this is referring to a person from the blurb, let’s examine it from a point of view if it were a person.

Who is 124? Why are they simply a number? There are many times, especially in bad businesses, when you might hear someone say, they treat you like your just a number. Is this one of those times? We know that prisoners are typically referred to as numbers in our penal system. Is 124 a prisoner?

“…was spiteful.”

Why was 124 spiteful? Obviously, by the mashup of the no-named, numbered person/thing and the act of them/it being spiteful, we are left wondering what’s happening.

This is like dynamite. They say it comes in small packages, but it’s powerful.

If you want to learn more about who or what 124 is, click on the Barnes & Noble link.

Opening Lines: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This is the blog where we dissect the opening sentences of popular works of fiction. Few people outside of the writing community know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into crafting the perfect Opening Line; and for that reason, I want to bring attention to the incredible work that a writer puts into these first few words. Today we will examine Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

 

First, let’s look at his blurb:

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women — brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul — this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.

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Now, let’s examine the Opening Line:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Let’s break this down because this is interesting, and it’s a perfect example of a great opening line.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia…”

This puts us right in the middle of the action. We have Colonel Aureliano Buenida facing a firing squad.

To be executed by a firing squad is more common in the military or during times of war, but it is a source of capital punishment in some parts of the world.

Many years later implies that what we will be reading is what lead up to this offense, but there are some immediate questions.

Who is Colonel Aureliano Buenida?

Why is he facing the firing squad? Was it a military crime? Is he a prisoner of war? Or does it have to do with the civilian world? Perhaps he’s a murderer receiving a death sentence.

“…was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

And then we have this memory, moments before his execution. I have no idea what might come to mind if I were facing a firing squad, but I think it would also be my family. In this case, he’s remembering an innocent moment he shared with his father.

Is this the author’s way of foreshadowing? Is this memory of innocence in contrast to the guilty act that placed him in front of the firing squad?

What was so special about that day, when he discovered ice with his father?

If you want to find out, click the Barnes & Noble link.

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