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.

Watch the Vlog!

 

 

Opening Lines: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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 Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex.

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First, let’s look at the blurb:

In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides finds herself drawn to a classmate at her girls’ school in Grosse Point, Michigan. That passion — along with her failure to develop — leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. The explanation for this is a rare genetic mutation — and a guilty secret — that have followed Callie’s grandparents from the crumbling Ottoman Empire to Prohibition-era Detroit and beyond, outlasting the glory days of the Motor City, the race riots of 1967, and the family’s second migration, into the foreign country known as suburbia. Thanks to the gene, Callie is part girl, part boy. And even though the gene’s epic travels have ended, her own odyssey has only begun.

Now, let’s examine the Opening Line:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

Hold on, what? Exactly. That’s how the author wants you to react.

Let’s break this down.

“I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960…”

The very first four words can be interpreted in a religious sense. Most Christians believe in being born again. From those words alone, maybe there’s nothing new here…but hold on, the weirdness is coming.

“…first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960…”

Okay, we’re actually making a comment about age and gender. If the next line were to say, but then again as a woman; still, nothing new here.

Let’s also take the serene January day, which is important. It was a nice day. The reader envisions a calm and peaceful day. Maybe there was a light snow. It might have been picturesque, but that’s all about to change.

“…and then again, as a teenage boy…”

Here’s where everything changes. How does one go from being born a baby girl to being born again as a teenage boy? What’s happening here? Is this metaphorical or literal?

“…in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan in August of 1974.”

In an emergency room? Well, that seems pretty literal. And if this story were about a transgender child who had an operation to reassign her sex, wouldn’t this be scheduled, and not in an emergency room?

The scene has definitely changed. We went from a calm day as a newborn baby in 1960 to the madness of an emergency room 14 years later. When I picture an emergency room, I think of something that happened unexpectedly: an accident or a major health scare. Since this is the when the narrator describes becoming a teenage boy, this alludes to a major plot point.

In this line, becoming a teenage boy appears to be completely unexpected and accidental. So what just happened?

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

Watch the VLOG!

Opening Lines: 1984 by George Orwell

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 George Orwell’s 1984.

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First, let’s look at the blurb:

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101. . .

Now, let’s examine his Opening Line:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

While this opening doesn’t quite address the Who, When, and Where questions, it still leaves us wondering What and Why.

It is true that military time encompasses a 24-hour time set, but typically clocks that strike only go to twelve. This is what makes this line so brilliant.

What is going on here?

Why are the clocks striking thirteen, a number that doesn’t appear on these kinds of clocks?

There is a tone being set here, and thirteen, considered unlucky by most, is at the forefront of what is to come.

And to find out exactly what is to come, click the Barnes & Noble link.

Watch the VLOG!